He pitched the very name at her character plainly?—called her what she is?’
The baroness could have borne to hear it: she had no feminine horror of the staining epithet for that sex. But a sense of the distinction between camps and courts restrained the soldier. He spoke of a discharge of cuttlefish ink at the character of the girl, and added: ’The bath’s a black one for her, and they had better keep it private. Regrettable, no doubt, but it ’s probably true, and he ’s out of his mind. It would be dangerous to check him: he’d force his best friend to fight. Leczel is with him and gives him head. It ’s about time for me to go back to him, for there may be business.’
The baroness thought it improbable. She was hoping that with Alvan’s eruption the drop-scene would fall.
Tresten spoke of the possibility. He knew the contents of the letter, and knew further that a copy of it, with none of the pregnant syllables expunged, had been forwarded to Prince Marko. He counselled calm waiting for a certain number of hours. The baroness committed herself to a promise to wait. Now that Alvan had broken off from the baleful girl, the worst must have been passed, she thought.
He had broken with the girl: she reviewed him under the light of that sole fact. So the edge of the cloud obscuring him was lifted, and he would again be the man she prized and hoped much of! How thickly he had been obscured was visible to her through a retreating sensation of scorn of him for his mad excesses, which she had not known herself to entertain while he was writhing in the toils, and very bluntly and dismissingly felt now that his madness was at its climax. An outrageous lunatic fit, that promised to release him from his fatal passion, seemed, on the contrary, respectable in essence if not in the display. Wives he should have by fifties and hundreds if he wanted them, she thought in her great-heartedness, reflecting on the one whose threatened pretensions to be his mate were slain by the title flung at her, and merited. The word (she could guess it) was an impassable gulf, a wound beyond healing. It pronounced in a single breath the girl’s right name and his pledge of a return to sanity. For it was the insanest he could do; it uttered anathema on his love of her; it painted his white glow of unreason and fierce ire at the scorn which her behaviour flung upon every part of his character that was tenderest with him. After speaking such things a man comes to his senses or he dies. So thought the baroness, and she was not more than commonly curious to hear how the Rudigers had taken the insult they had brought on themselves, and not unwilling to wait to see Alvan till he was cool. His vanity, when threatening to bleed to the death, would not be civil to the surgeon before the second or third dressing of his wound.
In the house of the Rudigers there was commotion. Clotilde sat apart from it, locked in her chamber. She had performed her crowning act of obedience to her father by declining the interview with Alvan, and as a consequence she was full of grovelling revolt.