"And what shall I do about this man Fortunat, who called upon me?"
The baron reflected for a moment. "The safest thing would be to take no action whatever at present," he replied. "If he has any evil designs, a visit or a letter from you would only hasten them."
By the way Madame d'Argeles shook her head, it was easy to see that she had very little hope. "All this will end badly," she murmured.
The baron shared her opinion, but he did not think it wise or kind to discourage her. "Nonsense!" he said lightly, "luck is going to change; it is always changing."
Then as he heard the clock strike, he sprang from his arm-chair in dismay. "Two o'clock," he exclaimed, "and Kami-Bey is waiting for me. I certainly haven't been wasting time here, but I ought to have been at the Grand Hotel at noon. Kami is quite capable of suspecting a man of any knavery. These Turks are strange creatures. It's true that I am now a winner to the tune of two hundred and eighty thousand francs." He settled his hat firmly on his head, and opening the door, he added: "Good-by, my dear madame, I will soon see you again, and in the meantime don't deviate in the least from your usual habits. Our success depends, in a great measure, upon the fancied security of our enemies!"
Madame d'Argeles considered this advice so sensible that half an hour later she went out for her daily drive in the Bois, little suspecting that M. Fortunat's spy, Victor Chupin, was dogging her carriage. It was most imprudent on her part to have gone to Wilkie's house on her return. She incurred such a risk of awakening suspicion by wandering about near her son's home that she seldom allowed herself that pleasure, but sometimes her anxiety overpowered her reason. So, on this occasion, she ordered the coachman to stop near the Rue du Helder, and she reached the street just in time to betray her secret to Victor Chupin, and receive a foul insult from M. Wilkie. The latter's cruel words stabbed her to the heart, and yet she tried to construe them as mere proofs of her son's honesty of feeling--as proof of his scorn for the depraved creatures who haunt the boulevards each evening. But though her energy was indomitable, her physical strength was not equal to her will. On returning home, she felt so ill that she was obliged to go to bed. She shivered with cold, and yet the blood that flowed in her veins seemed to her like molten lead. The physician who was summoned declared that her illness was a mere trifle, but prescribed rest and quiet. And as he was a very discerning man, he added, not without a malicious smile, that any excess is injurious--excess of pleasure as well as any other. As it was Sunday, Madame d'Argeles was able to obey the physician, and so she closed her doors against every one, the baron excepted. Still, fearing that this seclusion might seem a little strange, she ordered her concierge to tell any visitors that she had gone into the country, and would not return until her usual reception- day. She would then be compelled to open her doors as usual. For what would the habitues of the house, who had played there every Monday for years, say if they found the doors closed? She was less her own mistress than an actress--she had no right to weep or suffer in solitude.
So, at about seven o'clock on Monday evening, although still grievously suffering both in mind and body, she arranged herself to receive her guests. From among all her dresses, she chose the same dark robe she had worn on the night when Pascal Ferailleur was ruined at her house; and as she was even paler than usual, she tried to conceal the fact by a prodigal use of rouge. At ten o'clock, when the first arrivals entered the brilliantly lighted rooms, they found her seated as usual on the sofa, near the fire, with the same eternal, unchangeable smile upon her lips. There were at least forty persons in the room, and the gambling had become quite animated when the baron entered. Madame d'Argeles read in his eyes that he was the bearer of good news. "Everything is going on well," he whispered, as he shook hands with her. "I have seen M. Ferailleur--I wouldn't give ten sous for Valorsay's and Coralth's chances."
This intelligence revived Madame d'Argeles's drooping spirits, and she received M. de Coralth with perfect composure when he came to pay his respects to her soon afterward. For he had the impudence to come, in order to dispel any suspicions that might have been aroused anent his complicity in the card-cheating affair. The hostess's calmness amazed him. Was she still ignorant of her brother's death and the complications arising from it, or was she only acting a part? He was so anxious and undecided, that instead of mingling with the groups of talkers, he at once took a seat at the card-table, whence he could watch the poor woman's every movement.