The Count's Millions
Mademoiselle Marguerite sprang to her feet, quivering with indignation. Her eyes
sparkled and her lips trembled as she threw back her head with a superb gesture of scorn,
which loosened her beautiful dark hair, and caused it to fall in rippling masses over her
shoulders. "Ah! Madame de Fondege is here!" she repeated, in a tone of crushing
contempt--"Madame de Fondege, your wife, here!"
It seemed to her an impossibility to receive the hypocrite who had written the letter of the
previous evening--the accomplice of the scoundrels who took advantage of her
wretchedness and isolation. Her heart revolted at the thought of meeting this woman, who
had neither conscience nor shame, who could stoop so low as to intrigue for the millions
which she fancied had been stolen. Mademoiselle Marguerite was about to forbid her to
enter, or to retire herself, when the thought of her determination to act stealthily
restrained her. She instantly realized her imprudence, and, mastering herself with a great
effort, she murmured: "Madame de Fondege is too kind! How can I ever express my
Madame de Fondege must have heard this, for at the same moment she entered the room.
She was short, and very stout--a faded blonde, with her complexion spoilt by a multitude
of freckles. She had very large hands, broad, thick feet, and a shrill voice; and the
vulgarity of her appearance was all the more noticeable on account of her pretensions to
elegance. For although her father had been a wood-merchant, she boasted of her exalted
birth, and endeavored to impress people with the magnificence of her style of living,
though her fortune was problematical, and her household conducted in the most frugal
style. Her attire suggested a continual conflict between elegance and economy--between
real poverty and feigned prodigality. She wore a corsage and overskirt of black satin; but
the upper part of the underskirt, which was not visible, was made of lute-string costing
thirty sous a yard, and her laces were Chantilly only in appearance. Still, her love of
finery had never carried her so far as shop-lifting, or induced her to part with her honor
for gewgaws--irregularities which are so common nowadays, even among wives and
mothers of families, that people are no longer astonished to hear of them.
No--Madame de Fondege was a faithful wife, in the strict and legal sense of the word.
But how she revenged herself! She was "virtuous;" but so dangerously virtuous that one
might have supposed she was so against her will, and that she bitterly regretted it. She
ruled her husband with a rod of iron. And he who was so terrible in appearance, he who
twirled his ferocious mustaches in such a threatening manner, he who swore horribly
enough to make an old hussar blush, became more submissive than a child, and more
timid than a lamb when he was beside his wife. He trembled when she turned her pale
blue eyes upon him in a certain fashion. And woe to him if he ventured to rebel. She
suppressed his pocket-money, and during these penitential seasons he was reduced to the
necessity of asking his friends to lend him twenty- franc pieces, which he generally
forgot to return.