FERRAGUS

第29章

For the first time in five years Madame Jules slept alone in her bed, and was compelled to admit a physician into that sacred chamber. These in themselves were two keen pangs. Desplein found Madame Jules very ill. Never was a violent emotion more untimely. He would say nothing definite, and postponed till the morrow giving any opinion, after leaving a few directions, which were not executed, the emotions of the heart causing all bodily cares to be forgotten.

When morning dawned, Clemence had not yet slept. Her mind was absorbed in the low murmur of a conversation which lasted several hours between the brothers; but the thickness of the walls allowed no word which could betray the object of this long conference to reach her ears.

Monsieur Desmarets, the notary, went away at last. The stillness of the night, and the singular activity of the senses given by powerful emotion, enabled Clemence to distinguish the scratching of a pen and the involuntary movements of a person engaged in writing. Those who are habitually up at night, and who observe the different acoustic effects produced in absolute silence, know that a slight echo can be readily perceived in the very places where louder but more equable and continued murmurs are not distinct. At four o'clock the sound ceased.

Clemence rose, anxious and trembling. Then, with bare feet and without a wrapper, forgetting her illness and her moist condition, the poor woman opened the door softly without noise and looked into the next room. She saw her husband sitting, with a pen in his hand, asleep in his arm-chair. The candles had burned to the sockets. She slowly advanced and read on an envelope, already sealed, the words, "This is my will."

She knelt down as if before an open grave and kissed her husband's hand. He woke instantly.

"Jules, my friend, they grant some days to criminals condemned to death," she said, looking at him with eyes that blazed with fever and with love. "Your innocent wife asks only two. Leave me free for two days, and--wait! After that, I shall die happy--at least, you will regret me."

"Clemence, I grant them."

Then, as she kissed her husband's hands in the tender transport of her heart, Jules, under the spell of that cry of innocence, took her in his arms and kissed her forehead, though ashamed to feel himself still under subjection to the power of that noble beauty.

On the morrow, after taking a few hours' rest, Jules entered his wife's room, obeying mechanically his invariable custom of not leaving the house without a word to her. Clemence was sleeping. A ray of light passing through a chink in the upper blind of a window fell across the face of the dejected woman. Already suffering had impaired her forehead and the freshness of her lips. A lover's eye could not fail to notice the appearance of dark blotches, and a sickly pallor in place of the uniform tone of the cheeks and the pure ivory whiteness of the skin,--two points at which the sentiments of her noble soul were artlessly wont to show themselves.

"She suffers," thought Jules. "Poor Clemence! May God protect us!"

He kissed her very softly on the forehead. She woke, saw her husband, and remembered all. Unable to speak, she took his hand, her eyes filling with tears.

"I am innocent," she said, ending her dream.

"You will not go out to-day, will you?" asked Jules.

"No, I feel too weak to leave my bed."

"If you should change your mind, wait till I return," said Jules.

Then he went down to the porter's lodge.

"Fouguereau, you will watch the door yourself to-day. I wish to know exactly who comes to the house, and who leaves it."

Then he threw himself into a hackney-coach, and was driven to the hotel de Maulincour, where he asked for the baron.

"Monsieur is ill," they told him.

Jules insisted on entering, and gave his name. If he could not see the baron, he wished to see the vidame or the dowager. He waited some time in the salon, where Madame de Maulincour finally came to him and told him that her grandson was much too ill to receive him.

"I know, madame, the nature of his illness from the letter you did me the honor to write, and I beg you to believe--"

"A letter to you, monsieur, written by me!" cried the dowager, interrupting him. "I have written you no letter. What was I made to say in that letter, monsieur?"

"Madame," replied Jules, "intending to see Monsieur de Maulincour to-day, I thought it best to preserve the letter in spite of its injunction to destroy it. There it is."

Madame de Maulincour put on her spectacles, and the moment she cast her eyes on the paper she showed the utmost surprise.

"Monsieur," she said, "my writing is so perfectly imitated that, if the matter were not so recent, I might be deceived myself. My grandson is ill, it is true; but his reason has never for a moment been affected. We are the puppets of some evil-minded person or persons; and yet I cannot imagine the object of a trick like this. You shall see my grandson, monsieur, and you will at once perceive that he is perfectly sound in mind."

She rang the bell, and sent to ask if the baron felt able to receive Monsieur Desmarets. The servant returned with an affirmative answer.

Jules went to the baron's room, where he found him in an arm-chair near the fire. Too feeble to move, the unfortunate man merely bowed his head with a melancholy gesture. The Vidame de Pamiers was sitting with him.

"Monsieur le baron," said Jules, "I have something to say which makes it desirable that I should see you alone."

"Monsieur," replied Auguste, "Monsieur le vidame knows about this affair; you can speak fearlessly before him."

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