"Madame has not yet returned," said the concierge, who knew that his mistress had only just risen from her bed, "but I don't think it will be long. And if monsieur wishes--"
"No," replied M. Wilkie brusquely, and he was going off in a furious passion, when, on crossing the street, he chanced to turn his head and notice that the reception rooms were brilliantly lighted up. "Ah! I think that a very shabby trick!" grumbled the intelligent youth. "They won't succeed in playing that game on me again. Why, she's there now!"
It occurred to him that Madame d'Argeles had perhaps described him to her servants, and had given them strict orders not to admit him. "I'll find out if that is the case, even if I have to wait here until to-morrow morning," he thought, angrily. However, he had not been on guard very long, when he saw a brougham stop in front of the mansion, whereupon the gate opened, as if by enchantment. The vehicle entered the courtyard, deposited its occupants, and drove away. A second carriage soon appeared, then a third, and then five or six in quick succession. "And does she think I'll wear out my shoe-leather here, while everybody else is allowed to enter?" he grumbled. "Never!--I've an idea." And, without giving himself time for further deliberation, he returned to his rooms, arrayed himself in evening-dress, and sent for his carriage. "You will drive to No.--in the Rue de Berry," he said. "There is a soiree there, and you can drive directly into the courtyard." The coachman obeyed, and M. Wilkie realized that his idea was really an excellent one.
As soon as he alighted, the doors were thrown open, and he ascended a handsome staircase, heavily carpeted, and adorned with flowers. Two liveried footmen were standing at the door of the drawing-room, and one of them advanced to relieve Wilkie of his overcoat, but his services were declined. "I don't wish to go in," said the young man roughly. "I wish to speak with Madame d'Argeles in private. She is expecting me--inform her. Here is my card."
The servant was hesitating, when Job, suspecting some mystery perhaps, approached. "Take in the gentleman's card," he said, with an air of authority; and, opening the door of a small room on the left-hand side of the staircase, he invited Wilkie to enter, saying, "If monsieur will be kind enough to take a seat, I will summon madame at once."
M. Wilkie sank into an arm-chair, considerably overcome. The air of luxury that pervaded the entire establishment, the liveried servants, the lights and flowers, all impressed him much more deeply than he would have been willing to confess. And in spite of his affected arrogance, he felt that the superb assurance which was the dominant trait in his character was deserting him. In his breast, moreover, in the place where physiologists locate the heart, he felt certain extraordinary movements which strongly resembled palpitations. For the first time it occurred to him that this woman, whose peace he had come to destroy, was not only the heiress of the Count de Chalusse's millions, but also his mother, that is to say, the good fairy whose protection had followed him everywhere since he entered the world. The thought that he was about to commit an atrocious act entered his mind, but he drove it away. It was too late now to draw back, or even to reflect.
Suddenly a door opposite the one by which he had entered opened, and Madame d'Argeles appeared on the threshold. She was no longer the woman whose anguish and terror had alarmed her guests. During the brief moment of respite which fate had granted her, she had summoned all her energy and courage, and had mastered her despair. She felt that her salvation depended upon her calmness, and she had succeeded in appearing calm, haughty, and disdainful--as impassive as if she had been a statue. "Was it you, sir, who sent me this card?" she inquired.
Greatly disconcerted, M. Wilkie could only bow and stammer out an almost unintelligible answer. "Excuse me! I am much grieved, upon my word! I disturb you, perhaps----"