On hearing these words, M. Wilkie sprang up in dismay. "Excuse me," he said, "I don't understand you. You propose to set me to work in M. Patterson's factory? Well, to tell the truth, that doesn't suit me at all."
It was impossible to mistake M. Wilkie's manner, his tone, or gesture. They revealed him in his true character. Madame d'Argeles saw her terrible mistake at once. The bandage fell from her eyes. She had taken her dreams for realities, and the desires of her own heart for those of her son. She rose, trembling with sorrow and with indignation. "Wilkie!" she exclaimed, "Wilkie, wretched boy! what did you dare to hope?"
And, without giving him time to reply, she continued: "Then it was only idle curiosity that brought you here. You wished to know the source of the money which you spend like water. Very well, you may see for yourself. This is a gambling house; one of those establishments frequented by distinguished personages, which the police ignore, or which they cannot suppress. The hubbub you hear is made by the players. Men are ruined here. Some poor wretches have blown their brains out on leaving the house; others have parted with the last vestige of honor here. And the business pays me well. One louis out of every hundred that change hands falls to my share. This is the source of your wealth, my son."
This anger, which succeeded such deep grief--this outburst of disdain, following such abject humility--considerably astonished M. Wilkie. "Allow me to ask----" he began.
But he was not allowed a hearing. "Fool!" continued Madame d'Argeles, "did nothing warn you that in coming here you would deprive yourself forever of the income you received? Did no inward voice tell you that all would be changed when you compelled me, Lia d'Argeles, to say, 'Well, yes, it is true; you are my son? ' So long as you did not know who and what I was, I had a mother's right to watch over you. I could help you without disgracing you, without despising you. But now that you know me, and know what I am, I can do nothing more for you--nothing! I would rather let you starve than succor you, for I would rather see you dead than dishonored by my money."
"What! would you still consent to receive the allowance I have made you, even if I consented to continue it?"
Had a viper raised its head in M. Wilkie's path he would not have recoiled more quickly. "Never!" he exclaimed. "Ah, no! What do you take me for?"
This repugnance was sincere; there could be no doubt of that, and it seemed to give Madame d'Argeles a ray of hope. "I have misjudged him," she thought. "Poor Wilkie! Evil advice has led him astray; but he is not bad at heart. In that case, my poor child," she said aloud, "you must see that a new life is about to commence for you. What do you intend to do? How will you gain a livelihood? People must have food, and clothes, and a roof to shelter them. These things cost money. And where will you obtain it--you who rebel at the very word work? Ah! if I had only listened to M. Patterson. He was not blind like myself. He was always telling me that I was spoiling you, and ruining your future by giving you so much money. Do you know that you have spent more than fifty thousand francs during the past two years? How have you squandered them? Have you been to the law-school a dozen times? No. But you can be seen at the races, at the opera, in the fashionable restaurants, and at every place of amusement where a young man can squander money. And who are your associates? Dissipated and heartless idlers, grooms, gamblers, and abandoned women."