"No, no!" exclaimed the elderly gentleman, in evident dismay. "You must strike the iron while it's hot."
"To promise and to keep one's promises are two different things."
"Tell him----" But he stopped short, calling her attention with a gesture to the messenger, whose eyes were glittering with intense curiosity.
She understood. So filling a glass with some liquor, she placed it before Chupin, and offered him a cigar, saying: "Take a seat-- here's something to keep you from feeling impatient while you wait here." Thereupon she followed the old gentleman into the adjoining room, and closed the door.
Even if Chupin had not possessed the precocious penetration he owed to his life of adventure, the young woman and the old gentleman had said enough to enable him to form a correct estimate of the situation. He was certain now that he knew the contents of the letter as perfectly as if he had read it. M. de Coralth's anger, and his order to make haste, were both explained. Moreover, Chupin distinctly saw what connection there was between the letter to the baroness and the letter to Madame Paul. He understood that one was the natural consequence of the other. Deserted by her husband, Madame Paul had at last become weary of poverty and privations. She had instituted a search for her husband, and, having found him, she had written to him in this style: "I consent to abstain from interfering with you, but only on conditions that you provide means of subsistence for me, your lawfully wedded wife, and for your child. If you refuse, I shall urge my claims, and ruin you. The scandal won't be of much use to me, it's true, but at least I shall no longer be obliged to endure the torture of knowing that you are surrounded by every luxury while I am dying of starvation."
Yes, she had evidently written that. It might not be the precise text; but no doubt it was the purport of her letter. On receiving it, Coralth had become alarmed. He knew only too well that if his wife made herself known and revealed his past, it would be all over with him. But he had no money. Charming young men like the Viscount de Coralth never have any money on hand. So, in this emergency, the dashing young fellow had written to his wife imploring her to have patience, and to the baroness, entreating, or rather commanding her to advance him a certain sum at once.
This was no doubt the case, and yet there was one circumstance which puzzled Chupin exceedingly. In former years, he had heard it asserted that Mademoiselle Flavie was the very personification of pride, and that she adored her husband even to madness. Had this great love vanished? Had poverty and sorrow broken her spirit to such a degree that she was willing to stoop to such shameful concessions! If she were acquainted with her husband's present life, how did it happen that she did not prefer starvation, or the alms-house and a pauper's grave to his assistance? Chupin could understand how, in a moment of passion, she might be driven to denounce her husband in the presence of his fashionable acquaintances, how she might be impelled to ruin him so as to avenge herself; but he could not possibly understand how she could consent to profit by the ignominy of the man she loved. "The plan isn't hers," said Chupin to himself, after a moment's reflection. "It's probably the work of that stout old gentleman."
There was a means of verifying his suspicions, for on returning into the adjoining room, Madame Paul had not taken her son with her. He was still sitting on the muddy floor of the shop, playing with his dilapidated horse. Chupin called him. "Come here, my little fellow," said he.