He ended by getting angry and taking up, as a practical man, the cudgels on behalf of Pretty-boy.
"Hold your tongue," said he. "I tell you again that it must be so; it absolutely must.
And who knows?
Perhaps we shall not regret it.
With men of that stamp one never knows what may happen.
You saw how he overthrew in three articles that fool of a Laroche-Mathieu, and how he did it with dignity, which was infernally difficult in his position as the husband.
At all events, we shall see.
It always comes to this, that we are nailed.
We cannot get out of it."
She felt a longing to scream, to roll on the ground, to tear her hair out.
She said at length, in exasperated tones: "He shall not have her.
I won't have it."
Walter rose, picked up his lamp, and remarked:
"There, you are stupid, just like all women.
You never do anything except from passion.
You do not know how to bend yourself to circumstances. You are stupid.
I will tell you that he shall marry her.
It must be."
He went out, shuffling along in his slippers.
He traversed--a comical phantom in his nightshirt--the broad corridor of the huge slumbering house, and noiselessly re-entered his room.
Madame Walter remained standing, torn by intolerable grief.
She did not yet quite understand it.
She was only conscious of suffering.
Then it seemed to her that she could not remain there motionless till daylight.
She felt within her a violent necessity of fleeing, of running away, of seeking help, of being succored.
She sought whom she could summon to her.
She could not find one.
A priest; yes, a priest!
She would throw herself at his feet, acknowledge everything, confess her fault and her despair.
He would understand that this wretch must not marry Susan, and would prevent it.
She must have a priest at once.
But where could she find one?
Whither could she go?
Yet she could not remain like that.
Then there passed before her eyes, like a vision, the calm figure of Jesus walking on the waters.
She saw it as she saw it in the picture.
So he was calling her.
He was saying:
"Come to me; come and kneel at my feet.
I will console you, and inspire you with what should be done."
She took her candle, left the room, and went downstairs to the conservatory.
The picture of Jesus was right at the end of it in a small drawing-room, shut off by a glass door, in order that the dampness of the soil should not damage the canvas.
It formed a kind of chapel in a forest of strange trees.
When Madame Walter entered the winter garden, never having seen it before save full of light, she was struck by its obscure profundity.
The dense plants of the tropics made the atmosphere thick with their heavy breath; and the doors no longer being open, the air of this strange wood, enclosed beneath a glass roof, entered the chest with difficulty; intoxicated, caused pleasure and pain, and imparted a confused sensation of enervation, pleasure, and death.
The poor woman walked slowly, oppressed by the shadows, amidst which appeared, by the flickering light of her candle, extravagant plants, recalling monsters, living creatures, hideous deformities.
All at once she caught sight of the picture of Christ.
She opened the door separating her from it, and fell on her knees.