Cousin Betty/Section 42
Lisbeth returned to dine in the Rue Louis-le-Grand, despair written on her face. She explained and bewailed the terms of the marriage-contract, but found Celestine and her husband insensible to the disastrous news.
"You have provoked your father, my children. Madame Marneffe swears that you shall receive Monsieur Crevel's wife and go to her house," said she.
"Never!" said Victorin.
"Never!" said Celestine.
"Never!" said Hortense.
Lisbeth was possessed by the wish to crush the haughty attitude assumed by all the Hulots.
"She seems to have arms that she can turn against you," she replied. "I do not know all about it, but I shall find out. She spoke vaguely of some history of two hundred thousand francs in which Adeline is implicated."
The Baroness fell gently backward on the sofa she was sitting on in a fit of hysterical sobbing.
"Go there, go, my children!" she cried. "Receive the woman! Monsieur Crevel is an infamous wretch. He deserves the worst punishment imaginable.—Do as the woman desires you! She is a monster—she knows all!"
After gasping out these words with tears and sobs, Madame Hulot collected her strength to go to her room, leaning on her daughter and Celestine.
"What is the meaning of all this?" cried Lisbeth, left alone with Victorin.
The lawyer stood rigid, in very natural dismay, and did not hear her.
"What is the matter, my dear Victorin?"
"I am horrified!" said he, and his face scowled darkly. "Woe to anybody who hurts my mother! I have no scruples then. I would crush that woman like a viper if I could!—What, does she attack my mother's life, my mother's honor?"
"She said, but do not repeat it, my dear Victorin—she said you should all fall lower even than your father. And she scolded Crevel roundly for not having shut your mouths with this secret that seems to be such a terror to Adeline."
A doctor was sent for, for the Baroness was evidently worse. He gave her a draught containing a large dose of opium, and Adeline, having swallowed it, fell into a deep sleep; but the whole family were greatly alarmed.
Early next morning Victorin went out, and on his way to the Courts called at the Prefecture of the Police, where he begged Vautrin, the head of the detective department, to send him Madame de Saint-Esteve.
"We are forbidden, monsieur, to meddle in your affairs; but Madame de Saint-Esteve is in business, and will attend to your orders," replied this famous police officer.
On his return home, the unhappy lawyer was told that his mother's reason was in danger. Doctor Bianchon, Doctor Larabit, and Professor Angard had met in consultation, and were prepared to apply heroic remedies to hinder the rush of blood to the head. At the moment when Victorin was listening to Doctor Bianchon, who was giving him, at some length, his reasons for hoping that the crisis might be got over, the man-servant announced that a client, Madame de Saint-Esteve, was waiting to see him. Victorin left Bianchon in the middle of a sentence and flew downstairs like a madman.
"Is there any hereditary lunacy in the family?" said Bianchon, addressing Larabit.
The doctors departed, leaving a hospital attendant, instructed by them, to watch Madame Hulot.
"A whole life of virtue!——" was the only sentence the sufferer had spoken since the attack.
Lisbeth never left Adeline's bedside; she sat up all night, and was much admired by the two younger women.
"Well, my dear Madame de Saint-Esteve," said Victorin, showing the dreadful old woman into his study and carefully shutting the doors, "how are we getting on?"
"Ah, ha! my dear friend," said she, looking at Victorin with cold irony. "So you have thought things over?"
"Have you done anything?"
"Will you pay fifty thousand francs?"
"Yes," replied Victorin, "for we must get on. Do you know that by one single phrase that woman has endangered my mother's life and reason? So, I say, get on."
"We have got on!" replied the old woman.
"Well?" cried Victorin, with a gulp.
"Well, you do not cry off the expenses?"
"On the contrary."
"They run up to twenty-three thousand francs already."
Victorin looked helplessly at the woman.
"Well, could we hoodwink you, you, one of the shining lights of the law?" said she. "For that sum we have secured a maid's conscience and a picture by Raphael.—It is not dear."
Hulot, still bewildered, sat with wide open eyes.
"Well, then," his visitor went on, "we have purchased the honesty of Mademoiselle Reine Tousard, a damsel from whom Madame Marneffe has no secrets—"
"But if you shy, say so."
"I will play blindfold," he replied. "My mother has told me that that couple deserve the worst torments—"
"The rack is out of date," said the old woman.
"You answer for the result?"
"Leave it all to me," said the woman; "your vengeance is simmering."
She looked at the clock; it was six.
"Your avenger is dressing; the fires are lighted at the Rocher de Cancale; the horses are pawing the ground; my irons are getting hot.—Oh, I know your Madame Marneffe by heart!—Everything is ready. And there are some boluses in the rat-trap; I will tell you to-morrow morning if the mouse is poisoned. I believe she will be; good evening, my son."
"Do you know English?"
"Well, my son, thou shalt be King. That is to say, you shall come into your inheritance," said the dreadful old witch, foreseen by Shakespeare, and who seemed to know her Shakespeare.
She left Hulot amazed at the door of his study.
"The consultation is for to-morrow!" said she, with the gracious air of a regular client.
She saw two persons coming, and wished to pass in their eyes a pinchbeck countess.
"What impudence!" thought Hulot, bowing to his pretended client.