A Marriage Contract/Chapter IV
The next day Elie Magus (who happened at that time to be in Bordeaux) obeyed Madame Evangelista's summons, believing, from general rumor as to the marriage of Comte Paul with Mademoiselle Natalie, that it concerned a purchase of jewels for the bride. The Jew was, therefore, astonished when he learned that, on the contrary, he was sent for to estimate the value of the mother-in-law's property. The instinct of his race, as well as certain insidious questions, made him aware that the value of the diamonds was included in the marriage-contract. The stones were not to be sold, and yet he was to estimate them as if some private person were buying them from a dealer. Jewellers alone know how to distinguish between the diamonds of Asia and those of Brazil. The stones of Golconda and Visapur are known by a whiteness and glittering brilliancy which others have not,—the water of the Brazilian diamonds having a yellow tinge which reduces their selling value. Madame Evangelista's necklace and ear-rings, being composed entirely of Asiatic diamonds, were valued by Elie Magus at two hundred and fifty thousand francs. As for the "Discreto," he pronounced it one of the finest diamonds in the possession of private persons; it was known to the trade and valued at one hundred thousand francs. On hearing this estimate, which proved to her the lavishness of her husband, Madame Evangelista asked the old Jew whether she should be able to obtain that money immediately.
"Madame," replied the Jew, "if you wish to sell I can give you only seventy-five thousand for the brilliant, and one hundred and sixty thousand for the necklace and earrings."
"Why such reduction?"
"Madame," replied Magus, "the finer the diamond, the longer we keep it unsold. The rarity of such investments is one reason for the high value set upon precious stones. As the merchant cannot lose the interest of his money, this additional sum, joined to the rise and fall to which such merchandise is subject, explains the difference between the price of purchase and the price of sale. By owning these diamonds you have lost the interest on three hundred thousand francs for twenty years. If you wear your jewels ten times a year, it costs you three thousand francs each evening to put them on. How many beautiful gowns you could buy with that sum. Those who own diamonds are, therefore, very foolish; but, luckily for us, women are never willing to understand the calculation."
"I thank you for explaining it to me, and I shall profit by it."
"Do you wish to sell?" asked Magus, eagerly.
"What are the other jewels worth?"
The Jew examined the gold of the settings, held the pearls to the light, scrutinized the rubies, the diadems, clasps, bracelets, and chains, and said, in a mumbling tone:—
"A good many Portuguese diamonds from Brazil are among them. They are not worth more than a hundred thousand to me. But," he added, "a dealer would sell them to a customer for one hundred and fifty thousand, at least."
"I shall keep them," said Madame Evangelista.
"You are wrong," replied Elie Magus. "With the income from the sum they represent you could buy just as fine diamonds in five years, and have the capital to boot."
This singular conference became known, and corroborated certain rumors excited by the discussion of the contract. The servants of the house, overhearing high voices, supposed the difficulties greater than they really were. Their gossip with other valets spread the information, which from the lower regions rose to the ears of the masters. The attention of society, and of the town in general, became so fixed on the marriage of two persons equally rich and well-born, that every one, great and small, busied themselves about the matter, and in less than a week the strangest rumors were bruited about.
"Madame Evangelista sells her house; she must be ruined. She offered her diamonds to Elie Magus. Nothing is really settled between herself and the Comte de Manerville. Is it probable that the marriage will ever take place?"
To this question some answered yes, and others said no. The two notaries, when questioned, denied these calumnies, and declared that the difficulties arose only from the official delay in constituting the entail. But when public opinion has taken a trend in one direction it is very difficult to turn it back. Though Paul went every day to Madame Evangelista's house, and though the notaries denied these assertions continually, the whispered calumny went on. Young girls, and their mothers and aunts, vexed at a marriage they had dreamed of for themselves or for their families, could not forgive the Spanish ladies for their happiness, as authors cannot forgive each other for their success. A few persons revenged themselves for the twenty-years luxury and grandeur of the family of Evangelista, which had lain heavily on their self-love. A leading personage at the prefecture declared that the notaries could have chosen no other language and followed no other conduct in the case of a rupture. The time actually required for the establishment of the entail confirmed the suspicions of the Bordeaux provincials.
"They will keep the ball going through the winter; then, in the spring, they will go to some watering-place, and we shall learn before the year is out that the marriage is off."
"And, of course, we shall be given to understand," said others, "for the sake of the honor of the two families, that the difficulties did not come from either side, but the chancellor refused to consent; you may be sure it will be some quibble about that entail which will cause the rupture."
"Madame Evangelista," some said, "lived in a style that the mines of Valencia couldn't meet. When the time came to melt the bell, and pay the daughter's patrimony, nothing would be found to pay it with."
The occasion was excellent to add up the spendings of the handsome widow and prove, categorically, her ruin. Rumors were so rife that bets were made for and against the marriage. By the laws of worldly jurisprudence this gossip was not allowed to reach the ears of the parties concerned. No one was enemy or friend enough to Paul or to Madame Evangelista to inform either of what was being said. Paul had some business at Lanstrac, and used the occasion to make a hunting-party for several of the young men of Bordeaux,—a sort of farewell, as it were, to his bachelor life. This hunting party was accepted by society as a signal confirmation of public suspicion.
When this event occurred, Madame de Gyas, who had a daughter to marry, thought it high time to sound the matter, and to condole, with joyful heart, the blow received by the Evangelistas. Natalie and her mother were somewhat surprised to see the lengthened face of the marquise, and they asked at once if anything distressing had happened to her.
"Can it be," she replied, "that you are ignorant of the rumors that are circulating? Though I think them false myself, I have come to learn the truth in order to stop this gossip, at any rate among the circle of my own friends. To be the dupes or the accomplices of such an error is too false a position for true friends to occupy."
"But what is it? what has happened?" asked mother and daughter.
Madame de Gyas thereupon allowed herself the happiness of repeating all the current gossip, not sparing her two friends a single stab. Natalie and Madame Evangelista looked at each other and laughed, but they fully understood the meaning of the tale and the motives of their friend. The Spanish lady took her revenge very much as Celimene took hers on Arsinoe.
"My dear, are you ignorant—you who know the provinces so well—can you be ignorant of what a mother is capable when she has on her hands a daughter whom she cannot marry for want of 'dot' and lovers, want of beauty, want of mind, and, sometimes, want of everything? Why, a mother in that position would rob a diligence or commit a murder, or wait for a man at the corner of a street—she would sacrifice herself twenty times over, if she was a mother at all. Now, as you and I both know, there are many such in that situation in Bordeaux, and no doubt they attribute to us their own thoughts and actions. Naturalists have depicted the habits and customs of many ferocious animals, but they have forgotten the mother and daughter in quest of a husband. Such women are hyenas, going about, as the Psalmist says, seeking whom they may devour, and adding to the instinct of the brute the intellect of man, and the genius of woman. I can understand that those little spiders, Mademoiselle de Belor, Mademoiselle de Trans, and others, after working so long at their webs without catching a fly, without so much as hearing a buzz, should be furious; I can even forgive their spiteful speeches. But that you, who can marry your daughter when you please, you, who are rich and titled, you who have nothing of the provincial about you, whose daughter is clever and possesses fine qualities, with beauty and the power to choose—that you, so distinguished from the rest by your Parisian grace, should have paid the least heed to this talk does really surprise me. Am I bound to account to the public for the marriage stipulations which our notaries think necessary under the political circumstances of my son-in-law's future life? Has the mania for public discussion made its way into families? Ought I to convoke in writing the fathers and mothers of the province to come here and give their vote on the clauses of our marriage contract?"
A torrent of epigram flowed over Bordeaux. Madame Evangelista was about to leave the city, and could safely scan her friends and enemies, caricature them and lash them as she pleased, with nothing to fear in return. Accordingly, she now gave vent to her secret observations and her latent dislikes as she sought for the reason why this or that person denied the shining of the sun at mid-day.
"But, my dear," said the Marquise de Gyas, "this stay of the count at Lanstrac, these parties given to young men under such circumstances—"
"Ah! my dear," said the great lady, interrupting the marquise, "do you suppose that we adopt the pettiness of bourgeois customs? Is Count Paul held in bonds like a man who might seek to get away? Think you we ought to watch him with a squad of gendarmes lest some provincial conspiracy should get him away from us?"
"Be assured, my dearest friend, that it gives me the greatest pleasure to—"
Here her words were interrupted by a footman who entered the room to announce Paul. Like many lovers, Paul thought it charming to ride twelve miles to spend an hour with Natalie. He had left his friends while hunting, and came in booted and spurred, and whip in hand.
"Dear Paul," said Natalie, "you don't know what an answer you are giving to madame."
When Paul heard of the gossip that was current in Bordeaux, he laughed instead of being angry.
"These worthy people have found out, perhaps, that there will be no wedding festivities, according to provincial usages, no marriage at mid-day in the church, and they are furious. Well, my dear mother," he added, kissing her hand, "let us pacify them with a ball on the day when we sign the contract, just as the government flings a fete to the people in the great square of the Champs-Elysees, and we will give our dear friends the dolorous pleasure of signing a marriage-contract such as they have seldom heard of in the provinces."
This little incident proved of great importance. Madame Evangelista invited all Bordeaux to witness the signature of the contract, and showed her intention of displaying in this last fete a luxury which should refute the foolish lies of the community.
The preparations for this event required over a month, and it was called the fete of the camellias. Immense quantities of that beautiful flower were massed on the staircase, and in the antechamber and supper-room. During this month the formalities for constituting the entail were concluded in Paris; the estates adjoining Lanstrac were purchased, the banns were published, and all doubts finally dissipated. Friends and enemies thought only of preparing their toilets for the coming fete.
The time occupied by these events obscured the difficulties raised by the first discussion, and swept into oblivion the words and arguments of that stormy conference. Neither Paul nor his mother-in-law continued to think of them. Were they not, after all, as Madame Evangelista had said, the affair of the two notaries?
But—to whom has it never happened, when life is in its fullest flow, to be suddenly changed by the voice of memory, raised, perhaps, too late, reminding us of some important new fact, some threatened danger? On the morning of the day when the contract was to be signed and the fete given, one of these flashes of the soul illuminated the mind of Madame Evangelista during the semi-somnolence of her waking hour. The words that she herself had uttered at the moment when Mathias acceded to Solonet's conditions, "Questa coda non e di questo gatto," were cried aloud in her mind by that voice of memory. In spite of her incapacity for business, Madame Evangelista's shrewdness told her:—
"If so clever a notary as Mathias was pacified, it must have been that he saw compensation at the cost of some one."
That some one could not be Paul, as she had blindly hoped. Could it be that her daughter's fortune was to pay the costs of war? She resolved to demand explanations on the tenor of the contract, not reflecting on the course she would have to take in case she found her interests seriously compromised. This day had so powerful an influence on Paul de Manerville's conjugal life that it is necessary to explain certain of the external circumstances which accompanied it.
Madame Evangelista had shrunk from no expense for this dazzling fete. The court-yard was gravelled and converted into a tent, and filled with shrubs, although it was winter. The camellias, of which so much had been said from Angouleme to Dax, were banked on the staircase and in the vestibules. Wall partitions had disappeared to enlarge the supper-room and the ball-room where the dancing was to be. Bordeaux, a city famous for the luxury of colonial fortunes, was on a tiptoe of expectation for this scene of fairyland. About eight o'clock, as the last discussion of the contract was taking place within the house, the inquisitive populace, anxious to see the ladies in full dress getting out of their carriages, formed in two hedges on either side of the porte-cochere. Thus the sumptuous atmosphere of a fete acted upon all minds at the moment when the contract was being signed, illuminating colored lamps lighted up the shrubs, and the wheels of the arriving guests echoed from the court-yard. The two notaries had dined with the bridal pair and their mother. Mathias's head-clerk, whose business it was to receive the signatures of the guests during the evening (taking due care that the contract was not surreptitiously read by the signers), was also present at the dinner.
No bridal toilet was ever comparable with that of Natalie, whose beauty, decked with laces and satin, her hair coquettishly falling in a myriad of curls about her throat, resembled that of a flower encased in its foliage. Madame Evangelista, robed in a gown of cherry velvet, a color judiciously chosen to heighten the brilliancy of her skin and her black hair and eyes, glowed with the beauty of a woman at forty, and wore her pearl necklace, clasped with the "Discreto," a visible contradiction to the late calumnies.
To fully explain this scene, it is necessary to say that Paul and Natalie sat together on a sofa beside the fireplace and paid no attention to the reading of the documents. Equally childish and equally happy, regarding life as a cloudless sky, rich, young, and loving, they chattered to each other in a low voice, sinking into whispers. Arming his love with the presence of legality, Paul took delight in kissing the tips of Natalie's fingers, in lightly touching her snowy shoulders and the waving curls of her hair, hiding from the eyes of others these joys of illegal emancipation. Natalie played with a screen of peacock's feathers given to her by Paul,—a gift which is to love, according to superstitious belief in certain countries, as dangerous an omen as the gift of scissors or other cutting instruments, which recall, no doubt, the Parces of antiquity.
Seated beside the two notaries, Madame Evangelista gave her closest attention to the reading of the documents. After listening to the guardianship account, most ably written out by Solonet, in which Natalie's share of the three million and more francs left by Monsieur Evangelista was shown to be the much-debated eleven hundred and fifty-six thousand, Madame Evangelista said to the heedless young couple:—
"Come, listen, listen, my children; this is your marriage contract."
The clerk drank a glass of iced-water, Solonet and Mathias blew their noses, Paul and Natalie looked at the four personages before them, listened to the preamble, and returned to their chatter. The statement of the property brought by each party; the general deed of gift in the event of death without issue; the deed of gift of one-fourth in life-interest and one-fourth in capital without interest, allowed by the Code, whatever be the number of the children; the constitution of a common fund for husband and wife; the settlement of the diamonds on the wife, the library and horses on the husband, were duly read and passed without observations. Then followed the constitution of the entail. When all was read and nothing remained but to sign the contract, Madame Evangelista demanded to know what would be the ultimate effect of the entail.
"An entail, madam," replied Solonet, "means an inalienable right to the inheritance of certain property belonging to both husband and wife, which is settled from generation to generation on the eldest son of the house, without, however, depriving him of his right to share in the division of the rest of the property."
"What will be the effect of this on my daughter's rights?"
Maitre Mathias, incapable of disguising the truth, replied:—
"Madame, an entail being an appanage, or portion of property set aside for this purpose from the fortunes of husband and wife, it follows that if the wife dies first, leaving several children, one of them a son, Monsieur de Manerville will owe those children three hundred and sixty thousand francs only, from which he will deduct his fourth in life-interest and his fourth in capital. Thus his debt to those children will be reduced to one hundred and sixty thousand francs, or thereabouts, exclusive of his savings and profits from the common fund constituted for husband and wife. If, on the contrary, he dies first, leaving a male heir, Madame de Manerville has a right to three hundred and sixty thousand francs only, and to her deeds of gift of such of her husband's property as is not included in the entail, to the diamonds now settled upon her, and to her profits and savings from the common fund."
The effect of Maitre Mathias's astute and far-sighted policy were now plainly seen.
"My daughter is ruined," said Madame Evangelista in a low voice.
The old and the young notary both overheard the words.
"Is it ruin," replied Mathias, speaking gently, "to constitute for her family an indestructible fortune?"
The younger notary, seeing the expression of his client's face, thought it judicious in him to state the disaster in plain terms.
"We tried to trick them out of three hundred thousand francs," he whispered to the angry woman. "They have actually laid hold of eight hundred thousand; it is a loss of four hundred thousand from our interests for the benefit of the children. You must now either break the marriage off at once, or carry it through," concluded Solonet.
It is impossible to describe the moment of silence that followed. Maitre Mathias waited in triumph the signature of the two persons who had expected to rob his client. Natalie, not competent to understand that she had lost half her fortune, and Paul, ignorant that the house of Manerville had gained it, were laughing and chattering still. Solonet and Madame Evangelista gazed at each other; the one endeavoring to conceal his indifference, the other repressing the rush of a crowd of bitter feelings.
After suffering in her own mind the struggles of remorse, after blaming Paul as the cause of her dishonesty, Madame Evangelista had decided to employ those shameful manoeuvres to cast on him the burden of her own unfaithful guardianship, considering him her victim. But now, in a moment, she perceived that where she thought she triumphed she was about to perish, and her victim was her own daughter. Guilty without profit, she saw herself the dupe of an honorable old man, whose respect she had doubtless lost. Her secret conduct must have inspired the stipulation of old Mathias; and Mathias must have enlightened Paul. Horrible reflection! Even if he had not yet done so, as soon as that contract was signed the old wolf would surely warn his client of the dangers he had run and had now escaped, were it only to receive the praise of his sagacity. He would put him on his guard against the wily woman who had lowered herself to this conspiracy; he would destroy the empire she had conquered over her son-in-law! Feeble natures, once warned, turn obstinate, and are never won again. At the first discussion of the contract she had reckoned on Paul's weakness, and on the impossibility he would feel of breaking off a marriage so far advanced. But now, she herself was far more tightly bound. Three months earlier Paul had no real obstacles to prevent the rupture; now, all Bordeaux knew that the notaries had smoothed the difficulties; the banns were published; the wedding was to take place immediately; the friends of both families were at that moment arriving for the fete, and to witness the contract. How could she postpone the marriage at this late hour? The cause of the rupture would surely be made known; Maitre Mathias's stern honor was too well known in Bordeaux; his word would be believed in preference to hers. The scoffers would turn against her and against her daughter. No, she could not break it off; she must yield!
These reflections, so cruelly sound, fell upon Madame Evangelista's brain like a water-spout and split it. Though she still maintained the dignity and reserve of a diplomatist, her chin was shaken by that apoplectic movement which showed the anger of Catherine the Second on the famous day when, seated on her throne and in presence of her court (very much in the present circumstances of Madame Evangelista), she was braved by the King of Sweden. Solonet observed that play of the muscles, which revealed the birth of a mortal hatred, a lurid storm to which there was no lightning. At this moment Madame Evangelista vowed to her son-in-law one of those unquenchable hatreds the seeds of which were left by the Moors in the atmosphere of Spain.
"Monsieur," she said, bending to the ear of her notary, "you called that stipulation balderdash; it seems to me that nothing could have been more clear."
"Madame, allow me—"
"Monsieur," she continued, paying no heed to his interruption, "if you did not perceive the effect of that entail at the time of our first conference, it is very extraordinary that it did not occur to you in the silence of your study. This can hardly be incapacity."
The young notary drew his client into the next room, saying to himself, as he did so:—
"I get a three-thousand franc fee for the guardianship account, three thousand for the contract, six thousand on the sale of the house, fifteen thousand in all—better not be angry."
He closed the door, cast on Madame Evangelista the cool look of a business man, and said:—
"Madame, having, for your sake, passed—as I did—the proper limits of legal craft, do you seriously intend to reward my devotion by such language?"
"Madame, I did not, it is true, calculate the effect of the deeds of gift. But if you do not wish Comte Paul for your son-in-law you are not obliged to accept him. The contract is not signed. Give your fete, and postpone the signing. It is far better to brave Bordeaux than sacrifice yourself."
"How can I justify such a course to society, which is already prejudiced against us by the slow conclusion of the marriage?"
"By some error committed in Paris; some missing document not sent with the rest," replied Solonet.
"But those purchases of land near Lanstrac?"
"Monsieur de Manerville will be at no loss to find another bride and another dowry."
"Yes, he'll lose nothing; but we lose all, all!"
"You?" replied Solonet; "why, you can easily find another count who will cost you less money, if a title is the chief object of this marriage."
"No, no! we can't stake our honor in that way. I am caught in a trap, monsieur. All Bordeaux will ring with this to-morrow. Our solemn words are pledged—"
"You wish the happiness of Mademoiselle Natalie."
"Above all things."
"To be happy in France," said the notary, "means being mistress of the home. She can lead that fool of a Manerville by the nose if she chooses; he is so dull he has actually seen nothing of all this. Even if he now distrusts you, he will always trust his wife; and his wife is YOU, is she not? The count's fate is still within your power if you choose to play the cards in your hand."
"If that were true, monsieur, I know not what I would not do to show my gratitude," she said, in a transport of feeling that colored her cheeks.
"Let us now return to the others, madame," said Solonet. "Listen carefully to what I shall say; and then—you shall think me incapable if you choose."
"My dear friend," said the young notary to Maitre Mathias, "in spite of your great ability, you have not foreseen either the case of Monsieur de Manerville dying without children, nor that in which he leaves only female issue. In either of those cases the entail would pass to the Manervilles, or, at any rate, give rise to suits on their part. I think, therefore, it is necessary to stipulate that in the first case the entailed property shall pass under the general deed of gift between husband and wife; and in the second case that the entail shall be declared void. This agreement concerns the wife's interest."
"Both clauses seem to me perfectly just," said Maitre Mathias. "As to their ratification, Monsieur le comte can, doubtless, come to an understanding with the chancellor, if necessary."
Solonet took a pen and added this momentous clause on the margin of the contract. Paul and Natalie paid no attention to the matter; but Madame Evangelista dropped her eyes while Maitre Mathias read the added sentence aloud.
"We will now sign," said the mother.
The volume of voice which Madame Evangelista repressed as she uttered those words betrayed her violent emotion. She was thinking to herself: "No, my daughter shall not be ruined—but he! My daughter shall have the name, the title, and the fortune. If she should some day discover that she does not love him, that she loves another, irresistibly, Paul shall be driven out of France! My daughter shall be free, and happy, and rich."
If Maitre Mathias understood how to analyze business interests, he knew little of the analysis of human passions. He accepted Madame Evangelista's words as an honorable "amende," instead of judging them for what they were, a declaration of war. While Solonet and his clerk superintended Natalie as she signed the documents,—an operation which took time,—Mathias took Paul aside and told him the meaning of the stipulation by which he had saved him from ultimate pain.
"The whole affair is now 'en regle.' I hold the documents. But the contract contains a rescript for the diamonds; you must ask for them. Business is business. Diamonds are going up just now, but may go down. The purchase of those new domains justifies you in turning everything into money that you can. Therefore, Monsieur le comte, have no false modesty in this matter. The first payment is due after the formalities are over. The sum is two hundred thousand francs; put the diamonds into that. You have the lien on this house, which will be sold at once, and will pay the rest. If you have the courage to spend only fifty thousand francs for the next three years, you can save the two hundred thousand francs you are now obliged to pay. If you plant vineyards on your new estates, you can get an income of over twenty-five thousand francs upon them. You may be said, in short, to have made a good marriage."
Paul pressed the hand of his old friend very affectionately, a gesture which did not escape Madame Evangelista, who now came forward to offer him the pen. Suspicion became certainty to her mind. She was confident that Paul and Mathias had come to an understanding about her. Rage and hatred sent the blood surging through her veins to her heart. The worst had come.
After verifying that all the documents were duly signed and the initials of the parties affixed to the bottom of the leaves, Maitre Mathias looked from Paul to his mother-in-law, and seeing that his client did not intend to speak of the diamonds, he said:—
"I do not suppose there can be any doubt about the transfer of the diamonds, as you are now one family."
"It would be more regular if Madame Evangelista made them over now, as Monsieur de Manerville has become responsible for the guardianship funds, and we never know who may live or die," said Solonet, who thought he saw in this circumstance fresh cause of anger in the mother-in-law against the son-in-law.
"Ah! mother," cried Paul, "it would be insulting to us all to do that,—'Summum jus, summum injuria,' monsieur," he said to Solonet.
"And I," said Madame Evangelista, led by the hatred now surging in her heart to see a direct insult to her in the indirect appeal of Maitre Mathias, "I will tear that contract up if you do not take them."
She left the room in one of those furious passions which long for the power to destroy everything, and which the sense of impotence drives almost to madness.
"For Heaven's sake, take them, Paul," whispered Natalie in his ear. "My mother is angry; I shall know why to-night, and I will tell you. We must pacify her."
Calmed by this first outburst, madame kept the necklace and ear-rings, which she was wearing, and brought the other jewels, valued at one hundred and fifty thousand francs by Elie Magus. Accustomed to the sight of family diamonds in all valuations of inheritance, Maitre Mathias and Solonet examined these jewels in their cases and exclaimed upon their duty.
"You will lose nothing, after all, upon the 'dot,' Monsieur le comte," said Solonet, bringing the color to Paul's face.
"Yes," said Mathias, "these jewels will meet the first payment on the purchase of the new estate."
"And the costs of the contract," added Solonet.
Hatred feeds, like love, on little things; the least thing strengthens it; as one beloved can do no evil, so the person hated can do no good. Madame Evangelista assigned to hypocrisy the natural embarrassment of Paul, who was unwilling to take the jewels, and not knowing where to put the cases, longed to fling them from the window. Madame Evangelista spurred him with a glance which seemed to say, "Take your property from here."
"Dear Natalie," said Paul, "put away these jewels; they are yours; I give them to you."
Natalie locked them into the drawer of a console. At this instant the noise of the carriages in the court-yard and the murmur of voices in the receptions-rooms became so loud that Natalie and her mother were forced to appear. The salons were filled in a few moments, and the fete began.
"Profit by the honeymoon to sell those diamonds," said the old notary to Paul as he went away.
While waiting for the dancing to begin, whispers went round about the marriage, and doubts were expressed as to the future of the promised couple.
"Is it finally arranged?" said one of the leading personages of the town to Madame Evangelista.
"We had so many documents to read and sign that I fear we are rather late," she replied; "but perhaps we are excusable."
"As for me, I heard nothing," said Natalie, giving her hand to her lover to open the ball.
"Both of those young persons are extravagant, and the mother is not of a kind to check them," said a dowager.
"But they have founded an entail, I am told, worth fifty thousand francs a year."
"In that I see the hand of our worthy Monsieur Mathias," said a magistrate. "If it is really true, he has done it to save the future of the family."
"Natalie is too handsome not to be horribly coquettish. After a couple of years of marriage," said one young woman, "I wouldn't answer for Monsieur de Manerville's happiness in his home."
"The Pink of Fashion will then need staking," said Solonet, laughing.
"Don't you think Madame Evangelista looks annoyed?" asked another.
"But, my dear, I have just been told that all she is able to keep is twenty-five thousand francs a year, and what is that to her?"
"Yes, she has robbed herself for Natalie. Monsieur de Manerville has been so exacting—"
"Extremely exacting," put in Maitre Solonet. "But before long he will be peer of France. The Maulincours and the Vidame de Pamiers will use their influence. He belongs to the faubourg Saint-Germain."
"Oh! he is received there, and that is all," said a lady, who had tried to obtain him as a son-in-law. "Mademoiselle Evangelista, as the daughter of a merchant, will certainly not open the doors of the chapter-house of Cologne to him!"
"She is grand-niece to the Duke of Casa-Reale."
"Through the female line!"
The topic was presently exhausted. The card-players went to the tables, the young people danced, the supper was served, and the ball was not over till morning, when the first gleams of the coming day whitened the windows.
Having said adieu to Paul, who was the last to go away, Madame Evangelista went to her daughter's room; for her own had been taken by the architect to enlarge the scene of the fete. Though Natalie and her mother were overcome with sleep, they said a few words to each other as soon as they were alone.
"Tell me, mother dear, what was the matter with you?"
"My darling, I learned this evening to what lengths a mother's tenderness can go. You know nothing of business, and you are ignorant of the suspicions to which my integrity has been exposed. I have trampled my pride under foot, for your happiness and my reputation were at stake."
"Are you talking of the diamonds? Poor boy, he wept; he did not want them; I have them."
"Sleep now, my child. We will talk business when we wake—for," she added, sighing, "you and I have business now; another person has come between us."
"Ah! my dear mother, Paul will never be an obstacle to our happiness, yours and mine," murmured Natalie, as she went to sleep.
"Poor darling! she little knows that the man has ruined her."
Madame Evangelista's soul was seized at that moment with the first idea of avarice, a vice to which many become a prey as they grow aged. It came into her mind to recover in her daughter's interest the whole of the property left by her husband. She told herself that her honor demanded it. Her devotion to Natalie made her, in a moment, as shrewd and calculating as she had hitherto been careless and wasteful. She resolved to turn her capital to account, after investing a part of it in the Funds, which were then selling at eighty francs. A passion often changes the whole character in a moment; an indiscreet person becomes a diplomatist, a coward is suddenly brave. Hate made this prodigal woman a miser. Chance and luck might serve the project of vengeance, still undefined and confused, which she would now mature in her mind. She fell asleep, muttering to herself, "To-morrow!" By an unexplained phenomenon, the effects of which are familiar to all thinkers, her mind, during sleep, marshalled its ideas, enlightened them, classed them, prepared a means by which she was to rule Paul's life, and showed her a plan which she began to carry out on that very to-morrow.