" I did not see anything about it soon enough ! " he raged. " Henri had told me to leave it all to him. And not a word have I had from him. Even if I had applied, I should not have got them.
What malice ! Blanche is broken-hearted. I will never forgive him for her grief. It is not as if I had been seeking a gift at his hands—he could have made money for us without its costing him more than a postage stamp. An opportunity to do such a service for a friend comes to a man once in a lifetime. No; his spite against me for nothing is so intense that deliberately he turns his back on the chance ! It is disgusting. We could not believe, we could not think it possible he had been such a swine, after all his promises. So I got his address from the bonne and telegraphed to him. You should see his answer—the letter of a stranger : ' On consideration, he had not cared to take the responsibility of recommending an investment to me.' Liar ! Blanche cried the whole night through. I will never speak another word to him as long as I live. And I do not want to see Elise either. Blanche's own cousin, to show such animosity ! What a despicable pair ! "
" Words will not express my regret," I said. " And I am amazed at Henri's attitude. But you cannot be sure that Elise knows anything about it".
" Why should she not know? " he scoffed.
" I do not suppose that Henri can feel very proud of himself—he may not have confided in her. Besides, Elise said she meant to go on seeing you, the same as ever. That being so, she would hardly encourage him to break his word to you in the meanwhile. I think you are being unfair to Elise".
" Henri has been more unfair to my poor Blanche," he bellowed. " I do not hear so much of your sympathy for tar".
It was an infamous reply to make, but he was in the mood to quarrel with anyone that was handy, and I had the magnanimity to let it pass. I was sympathising sincerely with Blanche, and I sympathised even more when I saw her. She spoke with less vehemence than Jacques, but it was evident he had not exaggerated her dejection. " It seems incredible," she said. " It shows that you never really know anyone; nothing could have persuaded me that Henri had it in him to behave so badly. If you had heard him talking to us about the shares—what a benefit they would be to us ! And now, to avenge himself for an imaginary wrong-" She gave a gulp. " You don't think Elise knows? Ah, yes; he and she are one in everything, I assure you ! What it would have meant to us, to get dividends ! However small the sums might have been, what a godsend to poor Jacques, driving his pen all day ! He is working harder than ever to make up for lost time—he has had to put the thought of the pot of pansies aside for the present—and I could cry as I watch him. By the way, you were going to try to find a plot for that. Did you ? "
" Nothing occurred to me," I said.
I could say nothing to cheer her, either then, or later, though I often looked in at the flat and did my best. And, to inflame the indignation, the shares rose. They rose, and went on rising. And Jacques, who had hitherto never so much as glanced at closing prices, developed a morbid interest in following their advance. I shall not forget the day, about three months after the issue, when I learnt that they were quoted at forty francs, and that, if Henri had kept his word, my host and hostess would have doubled their capital. I shall not forget it for two reasons. 1. The lamentations they gave way to were exceedingly trying to me. 2. On that very afternoon Elise walked in.
I had not known that she was back, else I should have prepared her for the situation. Blanche, ignoring the proffered embrace, tendered the tips of her fingers, and Jacques bowed, as to a woman he had never seen before. Elise turned very pale. Her scared eyes sought mine, and I tried by the warmth of my greeting to mitigate the moment for her.
" What is the matter? " she faltered of us all.
" It is only surprise at your visit," said Blanche sarcastically.
Impossible to avert it. The storm broke.
Just as I surmised, Elise had been unaware of Henri's misdeed. But though her consternation was only too apparent, Jacques and Blanche were in no mood to let it influence them. The tirade against Henri to which Jacques condemned her was bad to bear. She quivered under it. She could do nothing but stammer painfully, " I forbid you to insult my husband; I forbid you to insult my husband ! " Blanche knew how to stab, too, in her pathetic voice.
" Ah, it is useless to talk, Elise," she sobbed.
"As a rich woman, you do not understand what three thousand francs would have done for us ! Three thousand francs ! We have been scraping for eight years to put by as much as that, and if Henri had been fair to us we should have doubled our means already. Three thousand francs ! To Jacques, who in all his life has never had a sou that wasn't wrung out of his poor tired head ! It is the wickedness towards him that I resent—towards him, and our child. And what is the cause ? That Henri is unmanly enough to hate another for his own mistake. Ah, it is too petty and contemptible of him for words ! "
" But remember it is not Elise's fault," I begged. I saw that she could endure no more. " Say these things to Henri, both of you, if you must—not to her! "
" Blanche is in no need of your corrections," shouted Jacques hysterically. " Attend to your own affairs. My wife talks to her cousin as she thinks fit. It is always Elise you champion. If you feel so deeply for our enemies, I wonder that you come here".
I could scarcely credit my ears. But I said very quietly, with dignity, " Indeed ? I shall not put you to the trouble of wondering twice".
And, as Blanche remained silent—for which she was very culpable, for I looked towards her as I moved—I offered my arm to Elise, who was so much deranged that she could hardly get down the interminable staircase, and took her home in a cab.