“I have been at the Bois de Boulogne. In the morning I went out to make some purchases; later, knowing that the Duchess of Champdoce is a little unwell, and does not go out, I went to lunch with her; after that, as the weather was so fine”—
Count Ville-Handry could endure it no longer.
Seizing his daughter by the wrists, he lifted her bodily, and, dragging her up to the Countess Sarah, he hurled out,—
“On your knees, unhappy child! on your knees, and ask the best and noblest of women to pardon you for all these insults!”
“You hurt me terribly, father,” said the young girl coldly.
But the countess had already thrown herself between them.
“For Heaven’s sake, madam,” she said, “spare your father!”
And, as Henrietta measured her from head to foot with an insulting glance, she went on,—
“Dear count, don’t you see that your violence is killing me?”
Promptly Count Ville-Handry let his daughter go, and, drawing back, he said,—
“Thank her, thank this angel of goodness who intercedes in your behalf! But have a care! my patience is at an end. There are such things as houses of correction for rebellious children and perverse daughters.”
She interrupted him by a gesture, and exclaimed with startling energy,—
“Be it so, father! Choose among all these houses the very strictest, and send me there. Whatever I may have to suffer there, it will be better than being here, as long as I see in the place of my mother that—woman!”
“Wretch!” howled the count.
He was suffocating. By a violent effort he tore off his cravat; and, conscious that he was no longer master of himself, he cried to his daughter,—
“Leave me, leave me! or I answer for nothing.” She hesitated a moment.
Then, casting upon the countess one more look full of defiance, she slowly went out of the room.
“Well, I am sure the count can boast that he has had a curious wedding-day.”
This was the way the servants spoke at the moment when Henrietta left the reception-room. She heard it; and without knowing whether they approved her conduct, or laughed at it, she felt gratified, so eager is passion for encouragement from anywhere.
But she had not yet gone half-way up the stairs which led to her own rooms, when she was held at the place by the sound of all the bells of the house, which had been set in motion by a furious hand. She bent over the balusters to listen. The servants were rushing about; the vestibule resounded with hurried steps; and she distinguished the imperious voice of M. Ernest, the count’s valet, who called out,—
“Salts, quick! Fresh water. The countess has a nervous attack.”
A bitter smile curled Henrietta’s lips.
“At least,” she said to herself, “I shall have poisoned this woman’s joy.” And, fearing to be caught thus listening, she went up stairs.