But her heart throbbed as if it would burst as she ascended the General's staircase, and anxiety checked her breathing as she rang the bell. "What if Madame de Fondege and Madame Leon had returned, and the abstraction of the letter been discovered!" Fortunately, Madame de Fondege required more than an hour to purchase the materials for the elaborate toilette she had dreamt of. The ladies were still out, and Mademoiselle Marguerite found everything in the same condition as she had left it. She carefully placed the letter in the drawer again, locked it, and put the key in the pocket of Madame Leon's dress. Then she breathed freely once more; and, for the first time in six days, she felt something very like joy in her heart. Now she had no fear of the Marquis de Valorsay. She had him in her power. He would destroy his letter the next day, and think that he was annihilating all proofs of his infamy. Not so. At the decisive moment, at the very moment of his triumph, she would produce the photograph of this letter, and crush him. And she--only a young girl--had outwitted this consummate scoundrel!" I have not been unworthy of Pascal," she said to herself, with a flash of pride.
However, her nature was not one of those weak ones which are become intoxicated by the first symptom of success, and then relax in their efforts. When her excitement had abated a little, she was inclined to disparage rather than to exaggerate the advantage she had gained. What she desired was a complete, startling, incontestable victory. It was not enough to prove Valorsay's GUILT--she was resolved to penetrate his designs, to discover why he pursued her so desperately. And, though she felt that she possessed a formidable weapon of defence, she could not drive away her gloomy forebodings when she thought of the threats contained in the marquis's letter. "Thanks to the assistance of one of my friends," he wrote, "I can place this proud girl in a perilous, terribly perilous, position, from which she cannot possibly extricate herself unaided."
These words persistently lingered in Mademoiselle Marguerite's mind. What was the danger hanging over her? whence would it come? and in what form? What abominable machination might she not expect from the villain who had deliberately dishonored Pascal? How would he attack her? Would he strive to ruin her reputation, or did he intend to forcibly abduct her? Would he attempt to decoy her into a trap where she would be subjected to the insults of the vilest wretches? A thousand frightful memories of the time when she was an apprentice drove her nearly frantic. "I will never go out unarmed," she thought, "and woe to the man who raises his hand against me!"
The vagueness of the threat increased her fears. No one is courageous enough to confront an unknown, mysterious, and always imminent danger without sometimes faltering. Nor was this all. The marquis was not her only enemy. She had the Fondege family to dread--these dangerous hypocrites, who had taken her to their home so that they might ruin her the more surely. M. de Valorsay wrote that he had no fears of the Fondeges--that he understood their little game. What was their little game? No doubt they were resolved that she should become their son's wife, even if they were obliged to use force to win her consent. At this thought a sudden terror seized her soul, so full of peace and hope an instant before. When she was attacked, would she have time to produce and use the facsimile of Valorsay's letter?" I must reveal my secret to a friend--to a trusty friend--who will avenge me!" she muttered.
Fortunately she had a friend in whom she could safely confide--the old magistrate who had given her such proofs of sympathy. She felt that she needed the advice of a riper experience than her own, and the thought of consulting him at once occurred to her. She was alone; she had no spy to fear; and it would be folly not to profit by the few moments of liberty that remained. So she drew her writing-case from her trunk, and, after barricading her door to prevent a surprise, she wrote her friend an account of the events which had taken place since their last interview. She told him everything with rare precision and accuracy of detail, sending him a copy of Valorsay's letter, and informing him that, in case any misfortune befell her, he could obtain the facsimiles from Carjat. She finished her letter, but did not seal it. "If anything should happen before I have an opportunity to post it, I will add a postscript," she said to herself.
She had made all possible haste, fearing that Madame de Fondege and Madame Leon might return at any moment. But this was truly a chimerical apprehension. It was nearly six o'clock when the two shoppers made their appearance, wearied with the labors of the day, but in fine spirits. Besides purchasing every requisite for that wonderful costume of hers, the General's wife had found some laces of rare beauty, which she had secured for the mere trifle of four thousand francs. "It was one of those opportunities one ought always to profit by," she said, as she displayed her purchase. "Besides, it is the same with lace as with diamonds, you should purchase them when you can--then you have them. It isn't an outlay--it's an investment." Subtle reasoning that has cost many a husband dear!
On her side, Madame Leon proudly showed her dear young lady a very pretty present which Madame de Fondege had given her. "So money is no longer lacking in this household," thought Mademoiselle Marguerite, all the more confirmed in her suspicions.
The General came in a little later, accompanied by a friend, and Marguerite soon discovered that the worthy man had spent the day as profitably as his wife. He too was quite tired out; and he had reason to be fatigued. First, he had purchased the horses belonging to the ruined spendthrift, and he had paid five thousand francs for them, a mere trifle for such animals. Less than an hour after the purchase he had refused almost double that amount from a celebrated connoisseur in horse-flesh, M. de Breulh- Faverlay. This excellent speculation had put him in such good humor that he had been unable to resist the temptation of purchasing a beautiful saddle-horse, which they let him have for a hundred louis. He had not been foolish, for he was sure that he could sell the animal again at an advance of a thousand francs whenever he wished to do so. "So," remarked his friend, "if you bought such a horse every day, you would make three hundred and sixty-five thousand francs a year."