Saturday, October 13, 2007



Translated from the French of
A novel in two parts. Part Two of this novel is found in the volume:
Baron Trigault's Vengeance
It was a Thursday evening, the fifteenth of October; and although
only half-past six o'clock, it had been dark for some time
already. The weather was cold, and the sky was as black as ink,
while the wind blew tempestuously, and the rain fell in torrents.
The servants at the Hotel de Chalusse, one of the most magnificent
mansions in the Rue de Courcelles in Paris, were assembled in the
porter's lodge, a little building comprising a couple of rooms
standing on the right hand side of the great gateway. Here, as in
all large mansions, the "concierge" or porter, M. Bourigeau, was a
person of immense importance, always able and disposed to make any
one who was inclined to doubt his authority, feel it in cruel
fashion. As could be easily seen, he held all the other servants
in his power. He could let them absent themselves without leave,
if he chose, and conceal all returns late at night after the
closing of public balls and wine-shops. Thus, it is needless to
say that M. Bourigeau and his wife were treated by their fellowservants
with the most servile adulation.
The owner of the house was not at home that evening, so that M.
Casimir, the count's head valet, was serving coffee for the
benefit of all the retainers. And while the company sipped the
fragrant beverage which had been generously tinctured with cognac,
provided by the butler, they all united in abusing their common
enemy, the master of the house. For the time being, a pert little
waiting-maid, with an odious turn-up nose, had the floor. She was
addressing her remarks to a big, burly, and rather insolentlooking
fellow, who had been added only the evening before to the
corps of footmen. "The place is really intolerable," she was
saying. "The wages are high, the food of the very best, the
livery just such as would show off a good-looking man to the best
advantage, and Madame Leon, the housekeeper, who has entire charge
of everything, is not too lynx-eyed."
"And the work?"
"A mere nothing. Think, there are eighteen of us to serve only
two persons, the count and Mademoiselle Marguerite. But then
there is never any pleasure, never any amusement here."
"What! is one bored then?"
"Bored to death. This grand house is worse than a tomb. No
receptions, no dinners--nothing. Would you believe it, I have
never seen the reception-rooms! They are always closed; and the
furniture is dropping to pieces under its coverings. There are
not three visitors in the course of a month."
She was evidently incensed, and the new footman seemed to share
her indignation. "Why, how is it?" he exclaimed. "Is the count
an owl? A man who's not yet fifty years old, and who's said to be
worth several millions."
"Yes, millions; you may safely say it--and perhaps ten, perhaps
twenty millions too."
"Then all the more reason why there should be something going on
here. What does he do with himself alone, all the blessed day?"
"Nothing. He reads in the library, or wanders about the garden.
Sometimes, in the evening, he drives with Mademoiselle Marguerite
to the Bois de Boulogne in a closed carriage; but that seldom
happens. Besides, there is no such thing as teasing the poor man.
I've been in the house for six months, and I've never heard him
say anything but: 'yes'; 'no'; 'do this'; 'very well'; 'retire.'
You would think these are the only words he knows. Ask M. Casimir
if I'm not right."
"Our guv'nor isn't very gay, that's a fact," responded the valet.
The footman was listening with a serious air, as if greatly
interested in the character of the people whom he was to serve.
"And mademoiselle," he asked, "what does she say to such an
"Bless me! during the six months she has been here, she has never
once complained."
"If she is bored," added M. Casimir, "she conceals it bravely."
"Naturally enough," sneered the waiting-maid, with an ironical
gesture; "each month that mademoiselle remains here, brings her
too much money for her to complain."
By the laugh that greeted this reply, and by the looks the older
servants exchanged, the new-comer must have realized that he had
discovered the secret skeleton hidden in every house. "What!
what!" he exclaimed, on fire with curiosity; "is there really
anything in that? To tell the truth, I was inclined to doubt it."
His companions were evidently about to tell him all they knew, or
rather all they thought they knew, when the front-door bell rang
"There he comes!" exclaimed the concierge; "but he's in too much
of a hurry; hell have to wait awhile."
He sullenly pulled the cord, however; the heavy door swayed on its
hinges, and a cab-driver, breathless and hatless, burst into the
room, crying, "Help! help!"
The servants sprang to their feet.
"Make haste!" continued the driver. "I was bringing a gentleman
here--you must know him. He's outside, in my vehicle----"
Without pausing to listen any longer, the servants rushed out, and
the driver's incoherent explanation at once became intelligible.
At the bottom of the cab, a roomy four-wheeler, a man was lying
all of a heap, speechless and motionless. He must have fallen
forward, face downward, and owing to the jolting of the vehicle
his head had slipped under the front seat.
"Poor devil!" muttered M. Casimir, "he must have had a stroke of
apoplexy." The valet was peering into the vehicle as he spoke, and
his comrades were approaching, when suddenly he drew back,
uttering a cry of horror. "Ah, my God! it is the count!"
Whenever there is an accident in Paris, a throng of inquisitive
spectators seems to spring up from the very pavement, and indeed
more than fifty persons had already congregated round about the
vehicle. This circumstance restored M. Casimir's composure; or,
at least, some portion of it. "You must drive into the
courtyard," he said, addressing the cabman. "M. Bourigeau, open
the gate, if you please." And then, turning to another servant, he
"And you must make haste and fetch a physician--no matter who.
Run to the nearest doctor, and don't return until you bring one
with you."
The concierge had opened the gate, but the driver had disappeared;
they called him, and on receiving no reply the valet seized the
reins and skilfully guided the cab through the gateway.
Having escaped the scrutiny of the crowd, it now remained to
remove the count from the vehicle, and this was a difficult task,
on account of the singular position of his body; still, they
succeeded at last, by opening both doors of the cab, the three
strongest men uniting in their efforts. Then they placed him in a
large arm-chair, carried him to his own room, and speedily had him
undressed and in bed.
He had so far given no sign of life; and as he lay there with his
head weighing heavily on the pillow, you might have thought that
all was over. His most intimate friend would scarcely have
recognized him. His features were swollen and discolored; his eyes
were closed, and a dark purple circle, looking almost like a
terrible bruise, extended round them. A spasm had twisted his
lips, and his distorted mouth, which was drawn on one side and
hung half open imparted a most sinister expression to his face.
In spite of every precaution, he had been wounded as he was
removed from the cab. His forehead had been grazed by a piece of
iron, and a tiny stream of blood was trickling down upon his face.
However, he still breathed; and by listening attentively, one
could distinguish a faint rattling in his throat.
The servants, who had been so garrulous a few moments before, were
silent now. They lingered in the room, exchanging glances of mute
consternation. Their faces were pale and sad, and there were
tears in the eyes of some of them. What was passing in their
minds? Perhaps they were overcome by that unconquerable fear
which sudden and unexpected death always provokes. Perhaps they
unconsciously loved this master, whose bread they ate. Perhaps
their grief was only selfishness, and they were merely wondering
what would become of them, where they should find another
situation, and if it would prove a good one. Not knowing what to
do, they talked together in subdued voices, each suggesting some
remedy he had heard spoken of for such cases. The more sensible
among them were proposing to go and inform mademoiselle or Madame
Leon, whose rooms were on the floor above, when the rustling of a
skirt against the door suddenly made them turn. The person whom
they called "mademoiselle" was standing on the threshold.
Mademoiselle Marguerite was a beautiful young girl, about twenty
years of age. She was a brunette of medium height, with big
gloomy eyes shaded by thick eyebrows. Heavy masses of jet-black
hair wreathed her lofty but rather sad and thoughtful forehead.
There was something peculiar in her face--an expression of
concentrated suffering, and a sort of proud resignation, mingled
with timidity.
"What has happened?" she asked, gently. "What is the cause of all
the noise I have heard? I have rung three times and the bell was
not answered."
No one ventured to reply, and in her surprise she cast a hasty
glance around. From where she stood, she could not see the bed
stationed in an alcove; but she instantly noted the dejected
attitude of the servants, the clothing scattered about the floor,
and the disorder that pervaded this magnificent but severely
furnished chamber, which was only lighted by the lamp which M.
Bourigeau, the concierge, carried. A sudden dread seized her; she
shuddered, and in a faltering voice she added: "Why are you all
here? Speak, tell me what has happened."
M. Casimir stepped forward. "A great misfortune, mademoiselle, a
terrible misfortune. The count----"
And he paused, frightened by what he was about to say.
But Mademoiselle Marguerite had understood him. She clasped both
hands to her heart, as if she had received a fatal wound, and
uttered the single word: "Lost!"
The next moment she turned as pale as death, her head drooped, her
eyes closed, and she staggered as if about to fall. Two maids
sprang forward to support her, but she gently repulsed them,
murmuring, "Thanks! thanks! I am strong now."
She was, in fact, sufficiently strong to conquer her weakness.
She summoned all her resolution, and, paler than a statue, with
set teeth and dry, glittering eyes, she approached the alcove.
She stood there for a moment perfectly motionless, murmuring a few
unintelligible words; but at last, crushed by her sorrow, she sank
upon her knees beside the bed, buried her face in the counterpane
and wept.
Deeply moved by the sight of this despair, the servants held their
breath, wondering how it would all end. It ended suddenly. The
girl sprang from her knees, as if a gleam of hope had darted
through her heart. "A physician!" she said, eagerly.
"I have sent for one, mademoiselle," replied M. Casimir. And
hearing a voice and a sound of footsteps on the staircase, he
added: "And fortunately, here he comes."
The doctor entered. He was a young man, although his head was
almost quite bald. He was short, very thin, clean-shaven, and
clad in black from head to foot. Without a word, without a bow,
he walked straight to the bedside, lifted the unconscious man's
eyelids, felt his pulse, and uncovered his chest, applying his ear
to it. "This is a serious case," he said at the close of his
Mademoiselle Marguerite, who had followed his movements with the
most poignant anxiety, could not repress a sob. "But all hope is
not lost, is it, monsieur?" she asked in a beseeching voice, with
hands clasped in passionate entreaty. "You will save him, will
you not--you will save him?"
"One may always hope for the best."
This was the doctor's only answer. He had drawn his case of
instruments from his pocket, and was testing the points of his
lancets on the tip of his finger. When he had found one to his
liking: "I must ask you, mademoiselle," said he, "to order these
women to retire, and to retire yourself. The men will remain to
assist me, if I require help."
She obeyed submissively, but instead of returning to her own room,
she remained in the hall, seating herself upon the lower step of
the staircase near the door, counting the seconds, and drawing a
thousand conjectures from the slightest sound.
Meanwhile, inside the room, the physician was proceeding slowly,
not from temperament however, but from principle. Dr. Jodon--for
such was his name--was an ambitious man who played a part.
Educated by a "prince of science," more celebrated for the money
he gained than for the cures he effected, he copied his master's
method, his gestures, and even the inflections of his voice. By
casting in people's eyes the same powder as his teacher had
employed, he hoped to obtain the same results: a large practice
and an immense fortune. In his secret heart he was by no means
disconcerted by his patient's condition; on the contrary, he did
not consider the count's state nearly as precarious as it really
But bleeding and cupping alike failed to bring the sick man to
consciousness. He remained speechless and motionless; the only
result obtained, was that his breathing became a trifle easier.
Finding his endeavors fruitless, the doctor at last declared that
all immediate remedies were exhausted, that "the women" might be
allowed to return, and that nothing now remained but to wait for
the effect of the remedies he was about to prescribe, and which
they must procure from the nearest chemist.
Any other man would have been touched by the agony of entreaty
contained in the glance that Mademoiselle Marguerite cast upon the
physician as she returned into the room; but it did not affect him
in the least. He calmly said, "I cannot give my decision as yet."
"My God!" murmured the unhappy girl; "oh, my God, have mercy upon
But the doctor, copying his model, had stationed himself near the
fireplace, with his elbow leaning on the mantel-shelf, in a
graceful, though rather pompous attitude. "Now," he said,
addressing his remarks to M. Casimir, "I desire to make a few
inquiries. Is this the first time the Count de Chalusse has had
such an attack?"
"Yes, sir--at least since I have been in attendance upon him."
"Very good. That is a chance in our favor. Tell me--have you
ever heard him complain of vertigo, or of a buzzing in his ears?"
Mademoiselle Marguerite seemed inclined to volunteer some remark,
but the doctor imposed silence upon her by a gesture, and
continued his examination. "Is the count a great eater?" he
inquired. "Does he drink heavily?"
"The count is moderation itself, monsieur, and he always takes a
great deal of water with his wine."
The doctor listened with an air of intent thoughtfulness, his head
slightly inclined forward, his brow contracted, and his under lip
puffed out, while from time to time he stroked his beardless chin.
He was copying his master. "The devil!" he said, sotto voce.
"There must be some cause for such an attack, however. Nothing in
the count's constitution predisposes him to such an accident----"
Then, suddenly turning toward Mademoiselle Marguerite: "Do you
know, mademoiselle, whether the count has experienced any very
violent emotion during the past few days?"
"Something occurred this very morning, which seemed to annoy him
very much."
"Ah! now we have it," said the doctor, with the air of an oracle.
"Why did you not tell me all this at first? It will be necessary
for you to give me the particulars, mademoiselle."
The young girl hesitated. The servants were dazed by the doctor's
manner; but Mademoiselle Marguerite was far from sharing their awe
and admiration. She would have given anything to have had the
regular physician of the household there instead of him! As for
this coarse examination in the presence of all these servants, and
by the bedside of a man who, in spite of his apparent
unconsciousness, was, perhaps, able to hear and to comprehend, she
looked upon it as a breach of delicacy, even of propriety.
"It is of the most urgent importance that I should be fully
informed of these particulars," repeated the physician
After such an assertion, further hesitation was out of the
question. Mademoiselle Marguerite seemed to collect her thoughts,
and then she sadly said: "Just as we sat down to breakfast this
morning, a letter was handed to the count. No sooner had his eyes
fallen upon it, than he turned as white as his napkin. He rose
from his seat and began to walk hastily up and down the diningroom,
uttering exclamations of anger and sorrow. I spoke to him,
but he did not seem to hear me. However, after a few moments, he
resumed his seat at the table, and began to eat----"
"As usual?"
"He ate more than usual, monsieur. Only I must tell you that it
seemed to me he was scarcely conscious of what he was doing. Four
or five times he left the table, and then came back again. At
last, after quite a struggle, he seemed to come to some decision.
He tore the letter to pieces, and threw the pieces out of the
window that opens upon the garden."
Mademoiselle Marguerite expressed herself with the utmost
simplicity, and there was certainly nothing particularly
extraordinary in her story. Still, those around her listened with
breathless curiosity, as though they were expecting some startling
revelation, so much does the human mind abhor that which is
natural and incline to that which is mysterious.
Without seeming to notice the effect she had produced, and
addressing herself to the physician alone, the girl continued:
"After the letter was destroyed, M. de Chalusse seemed himself
again. Coffee was served, and he afterward lighted a cigar as
usual. However, he soon let it go out. I dared not disturb him
by any remarks; but suddenly he said to me: 'It's strange, but I
feel very uncomfortable.' A moment passed, without either of us
speaking, and then he added: 'I am certainly not well. Will you
do me the favor to go to my room for me? Here is the key of my
escritoire; open it, and on the upper shelf you will find a small
bottle which please bring to me.' I noticed with some surprise
that M. de Chalusse, who usually speaks very distinctly, stammered
and hesitated considerably in making this request, but,
unfortunately, I did not think much about it at the time. I did
as he requested, and he poured eight or ten drops of the contents
of the vial into a glass of water, and swallowed it."
So intense was Dr. Jodon's interest that he became himself again.
He forgot to attitudinize. "And after that?" he asked, eagerly.
"After that, M. de Chalusse seemed to feel much better, and
retired to his study as usual. I fancied that any annoyance the
letter had caused him was forgotten; but I was wrong, for in the
afternoon he sent a message, through Madame Leon, requesting me to
join him in the garden. I hastened there, very much surprised,
for the weather was extremely disagreeable. 'Dear Marguerite,' he
said, on seeing me, 'help me to find the fragments of that letter
which I flung from the window this morning. I would give half my
fortune for an address which it must certainly have contained, but
which I quite overlooked in my anger.' I helped him as he asked.
He might have reasonably hoped to succeed, for it was raining when
the scraps of paper were thrown out, and instead of flying through
the air, they fell directly on to the ground. We succeeded in
finding a large number of the scraps, but what M. de Chalusse so
particularly wanted was not to be read on any one of them. Several
times he spoke of his regret, and cursed his precipitation."
M. Bourigeau, the concierge, and M. Casimir exchanged a
significant smile. They had seen the count searching for the
remnants of this letter, and had thought him little better than an
idiot. But now everything was explained.
"I was much grieved at the count's disappointment," continued
Mademoiselle Marguerite, "but suddenly he exclaimed, joyfully:
'That address--why, such a person will give it to me--what a fool
I am!'"
The physician evinced such absorbing interest in this narrative
that he forgot to retain his usual impassive attitude. "Such a
person! Who--who was this person?" he inquired eagerly, without
apparently realizing the impropriety of his question.
But the girl felt indignant. She silenced her indiscreet
questioner with a haughty glance, and in the driest possible tone,
replied: "I have forgotten the name."
Cut to the quick, the doctor suddenly resumed his master's pose;
but all the same his imperturbable sang-froid was sensibly
impaired. "Believe me, mademoiselle, that interest alone--a most
respectful interest--"
She did not even seem to hear his excuse, but resumed: "I know,
however, monsieur, that M. de Chalusse intended applying to the
police if he failed to obtain this address from the person in
question. After this he appeared to be entirely at ease. At
three o'clock he rang for his valet, and ordered dinner two hours
earlier than usual. We sat down to table at about half-past four.
At five he rose, kissed me gayly, and left the house on foot,
telling me that he was confident of success, and that he did not
expect to return before midnight." The poor child's firmness now
gave way; her eyes filled with tears, and it was in a voice choked
with sobs that she added, pointing to M. de Chalusse: "But at
half-past six they brought him back as you see him now----"
An interval of silence ensued, so deep that one could hear the
faint breathing of the unconscious man still lying motionless on
his bed. However, the particulars of the attack were yet to be
learned; and it was M. Casimir whom the physician next addressed.
"What did the driver who brought your master home say to you?"
"Oh! almost nothing, sir; not ten words."
"You must find this man and bring him to me."
Two servants rushed out in search of him. He could not be far
away, for his vehicle was still standing in the courtyard. They
found him in a wine-shop near by. Some of the inquisitive
spectators who had been disappointed in their curiosity by
Casimir's thoughtfulness had treated him to some liquor, and in
exchange he had told them all he knew about the affair. He had
quite recovered from his fright, and was cheerful, even gay.
"Come make haste, you are wanted," said the servants.
He emptied his glass and followed them with very bad grace,
muttering and swearing between his set teeth. The doctor, strange
to say, was considerate enough to go out into the hall to question
him; but no information of value was gained by the man's answers.
He declared that the gentleman had hired him at twelve o'clock,
hoping by this means to extort pay for five hours' driving, which,
joined to the liberal gratuity he could not fail to obtain, would
remunerate him handsomely for his day's work. Living is dear, it
should be remembered, and a fellow makes as much as he can.
When the cabby had gone off, still growling, although a couple of
louis had been placed in his hand, the doctor returned to his
patient. He involuntarily assumed his accustomed attitude, with
crossed arms, a gloomy expression of countenance, and his forehead
furrowed as if with thought and anxiety. But this time he was not
acting a part. In spite, or rather by reason of, the full
explanation that had been given him, he found something suspicious
and mysterious in the whole affair. A thousand vague and
undefinable suspicions crossed his mind. Was he in presence of a
crime? Certainly, evidently not. But what was the cause then of
the mystery and reticence he detected? Was he upon the track of
some lamentable family secret--one of those terrible scandals,
concealed for a long time, but which at last burst forth with
startling effect? The prospect of being mixed up in such an
affair caused him infinite pleasure. It would bring him into
notice; he would be mentioned in the papers; and his increased
practice would fill his hands with gold.
But what could he do to ingratiate himself with these people,
impose himself upon them if needs be? He reflected for some time,
and finally what he thought an excellent plan occurred to him. He
approached Mademoiselle Marguerite, who was weeping in an armchair,
and touched her gently on the shoulder. She sprang to her
feet at once. "One more question, mademoiselle," said he,
imparting as much solemnity to his tone as he could. "Do you know
what liquid it was that M. de Chalusse took this morning?"
"Alas! no, monsieur."
"It is very important that I should know. The accuracy of my
diagnosis is dependent upon it. What has become of the vial?"
"I think M. de Chalusse replaced it in his escritoire."
The physician pointed to an article of furniture to the left of
the fireplace: "There?" he asked.
"Yes, monsieur."
He deliberated, but at last conquering his hesitation, he said:
"Could we not obtain this vial?"
Mademoiselle Marguerite blushed. "I haven't the key," she
faltered, in evident embarrassment.
M. Casimir approached: "It must be in the count's pocket, and if
mademoiselle will allow me----"
But she stepped back with outstretched arms as if to protect the
escritoire. "No," she exclaimed, "no--the escritoire shall not be
touched. I will not permit it----"
"But, mademoiselle," insisted the doctor, "your father----"
"The Count de Chalusse is not my father!"
Dr. Jodon was greatly disconcerted by Mademoiselle Marguerite's
vehemence. "Ah!" said he, in three different tones, "ah! ah!"
In less than a second, a thousand strange and contradictory
suppositions darted through his brain. Who, then, could this girl
be, if she were not Mademoiselle de Chalusse? What right had she
in that house? How was it that she reigned as a sovereign there?
Above all, why this angry outburst for no other apparent cause
than a very natural and exceedingly insignificant request on his
However, she had regained her self-possession, and it was easy to
see by her manner that she was seeking some means of escape from
threatened danger. At last she found it. "Casimir," she said,
authoritatively, "search M. de Chalusse's pocket for the key of
his escritoire."
Astonished by what he regarded as a new caprice, the valet obeyed.
He gathered up the garments strewn over the floor, and eventually
drew a key from one of the waistcoat pockets. Mademoiselle
Marguerite took it from him, and then in a determined tone,
exclaimed: "A hammer."
It was brought; whereupon, to the profound amazement of the
physician, she knelt down beside the fireplace, laid the key upon
one of the andirons, and with a heavy blow of the hammer, broke it
into fragments. "Now," said she, quietly, "my mind will be at
rest. I am certain," she added, turning toward the servants,
"that M. de Chalusse would approve what I have done. When he
recovers, he will have another key made."
The explanation was superfluous. All the servants understood the
motive that had influenced her, and were saying to themselves,
"Mademoiselle is right. It would not do to touch the escritoire
of a dying man. Who knows but what there are millions in it? If
anything were missed, why any of us might be accused. But if the
key is destroyed, it will be impossible to suspect any one."
However, the physician's conjectures were of an entirely different
nature. "What can there be in that escritoire which she desires
to conceal?" he thought.
But there was no excuse for prolonging his visit. Once more he
examined the sick man, whose condition remained unchanged; and
then, after explaining what was to be done in his absence, he
declared that he must leave at once, as he had a number of
important visits to make; he added, however, that he would return
about midnight.
"Madame Leon and I will watch over M. de Chalusse," replied
Mademoiselle Marguerite; "that is sufficient assurance, monsieur,
that your orders will be obeyed to the letter. Only--you will not
take offence, I trust, if I ask the count's regular physician to
meet you in consultation."
Such a proposal was anything but pleasing to M. Jodon, who had met
with the same misfortune in this aristocratic neighborhood several
times before. When an accident happened, he was summoned because
he chanced to be close at hand, but just as he was flattering
himself that he had gained a desirable patient, he found himself
in presence of some celebrated physician, who had come from a
distance in his carriage. Accustomed to such disappointments, he
knew how to conceal his dissatisfaction.
"Were I in your place, mademoiselle, I should do precisely what
you suggest," he answered, "and should you think it unnecessary
for me to call, I----"
"Oh! monsieur, on the contrary, I shall certainly expect you."
"In that case, very well." Thereupon he bowed and left the room.
But Mademoiselle Marguerite followed him on to the landing. "You
know, monsieur," she said, speaking rapidly in an undertone, "that
I am not M. de Chalusse's daughter. You may, therefore, tell me
the truth. Is his condition hopeless?"
"Alarming--yes; hopeless--no."
"But, monsieur, this terrible unconsciousness----"
"It usually follows such an attack as he has been the victim of.
Still we may hope that the paralysis will gradually disappear, and
the power of motion return after a time."
Mademoiselle Marguerite was listening, pale, agitated, and
embarrassed. It was evident that she had a question on her lips
which she scarcely dared to ask. At last, however, summoning all
her courage, she exclaimed: "And if M. de Chalusse should not
recover, will he die without regaining consciousness--without
being able to speak?"
"I am unable to say, mademoiselle--the count's malady is one of
those which set at naught all the hypotheses of science."
She thanked him sadly, sent a servant to summon Madame Leon, and
returned to the count's room.
As for the doctor, he said to himself as he went downstairs, "What
a strange girl! Is she afraid that the count will regain
consciousness? or, on the contrary, does she wish him to speak?
Is there any question of a will under all this? What else can it
be? What is at stake?" His preoccupation was so intense that he
almost forgot where he was going, and he paused on every step. It
was not until the fresh air of the courtyard blew upon his face,
reminding him of the realities of life, that the charlatanesque
element in his nature regained the ascendency. "My friend," he
said, addressing M. Casimir, who was lighting him out, "you must
at once have some straw spread over the street so as to deaden the
sound of the vehicles. And to-morrow, you must inform the
commissary of police."
Ten minutes later a thick bed of straw had been strewed across the
thoroughfare, and the drivers of passing vehicles involuntarily
slackened their speed, for every one in Paris knows what this
signifies. M. Casimir personally superintended the work which was
intrusted to the grooms, and he was about to return indoors again,
when a young man, who had been walking up and down in front of the
mansion for more than an hour, hastily approached him. He was a
beardless fellow with a strangely wrinkled face, as leaden-tinted
as that of a confirmed absinthe-drinker. His general expression
was shrewd, and at the same time impudent, and surprising audacity
gleamed in his eyes. "What do you want?" asked M. Casimir.
The young fellow bowed humbly, and replied, "Ah, don't you
recognize me, monsieur? I'm Toto--excuse me--Victor Chupin,
employed by M. Isidore Fortunat."
"Oh, yes. I recollect."
"I came, in obedience to my employer's orders, to inquire if you
had obtained the information you promised him; but seeing that
something had happened at your house, I didn't dare go in, but
decided to watch for you----"
"And you did quite right, my lad. I have no information to give
you--ah, yes! stop! The Marquis de Valorsay was closeted with the
count for two hours yesterday. But what good will that do? The
count has been taken suddenly ill, and he will scarcely live
through the night."
Victor Chupin was thunderstruck. "Impossible!" he cried. "Is it
for him that the straw has been strewed in the street?"
"It's for him."
"What a lucky fellow! No one would go to such expense for me! But
I have an idea that my guv'nor will hardly laugh when I tell him
this. Still, thank you all the same, m'sieur, and au revoir." He
was darting off when a sudden thought detained him. "Excuse me,"
said he, with conjuror like volubility; "I was so horrified that I
forgot business. Tell me, m'sieur, if the count dies, you'll take
charge of the funeral arrangements, won't you? Very well; a word
of advice then. Don't go to the regular undertakers, but come to
me: here's my address"--proffering a card--"I will treat with the
undertakers for you, and take charge of everything. It will be
much better and far cheaper for you, on account of certain
arrangements I've made with these parties. Everything, to the
very last plume, is warranted to give perfect satisfaction. Each
item will be specified in the bill, and can be verified during the
ceremony, no payment exacted until after delivery. Well, is it
The valet shrugged his shoulders. "Nonsense!" said he,
carelessly; "what is all that to me?"
"Ah! I forgot to mention that there would be a commission of two
hundred francs to divide between us."
"That's consideration. Give me your card, and rely on me. My
compliments to M. Fortunat, please." And so saying, he re-entered
the house.
Victor Chupin drew a huge silver watch from his pocket and
consulted it. "Five minutes to eight," he growled, "and the
guv'nor expects me at eight precisely. I shall have to stretch
out my legs."
M. Isidore Fortunat resided at No. 27 Place de la Bourse, on the
third floor. He had a handsome suite of apartments: a drawingroom,
a dining-room, a bed-room, a large outer office where his
clerks worked, and a private one, which was the sanctuary of his
thoughts and meditations. The whole cost him only six thousand
francs a year, a mere trifle as rents go nowadays. His lease
entitled him, moreover, to the use of a room ten feet square, up
under the eaves, where he lodged his servant, Madame Dodelin, a
woman of forty-six or thereabouts, who had met with reverses of
fortune, and who now took such good charge of his establishment,
that his table--for he ate at home--was truly fit for a sybarite.
Having been established here for five years or more, M. Fortunat
was very well known in the neighborhood, and, as he paid his rent
promptly, and met all his obligations without demur, he was
generally respected. Besides, people knew very well from what
source M. Fortunat derived his income. He gave his attention to
contested claims, liquidations, the recovery of legacies, and so
on, as was shown by the inscription in large letters which figured
on the elegant brass plate adorning his door. He must have had a
prosperous business, for he employed six collectors in addition to
the clerks who wrote all day long in his office; and his clients
were so numerous that the concierge was often heard to complain of
the way they ran up and down the stairs, declaring that it was
worse than a procession.
To be just, we must add that M. Fortunat's appearance, manners and
conduct were of a nature to quiet all suspicions. He was some
thirty-eight years of age, extremely methodical in his habits,
gentle and refined in his manner, intelligent, very good-looking,
and always dressed in perfect taste. He was accused of being, in
business matters, as cold, as polished, and as hard as one of the
marble slabs of the Morgue; but then, no one was obliged to employ
him unless they chose to do so. This much is certain: he did not
frequent cafes or places of amusement. If he went out at all
after dinner, it was only to pass the evening at the house of some
rich client in the neighborhood. He detested the smell of
tobacco, and was inclined to be devout--never failing to attend
eight o'clock mass on Sunday mornings. His housekeeper suspected
him of matrimonial designs, and perhaps she was right.
On the evening that the Count de Chalusse was struck with apoplexy
M. Isidore Fortunat had been dining alone and was sipping a cup of
tea when the door-bell rang, announcing the arrival of a visitor.
Madame Dodelin hastened to open the door, and in walked Victor
Chupin, breathless from his hurried walk. It had not taken him
twenty-five minutes to cover the distance which separates the Rue
de Courcelles from the Place de la Bourse.
"You are late, Victor," said M. Fortunat, quietly.
"That's true, monsieur, but it isn't my fault. Everything was in
confusion down there, and I was obliged to wait "
"How is that? Why?"
"The Count de Chalusse was stricken with apoplexy this evening,
and he is probably dead by this time."
M. Fortunat sprang from his chair with a livid face and trembling
lips. "Stricken with apoplexy!" he exclaimed in a husky voice.
"I am ruined!"
Then, fearing Madame Dodelin's curiosity, he seized the lamp and
rushed into his office, crying to Chupin: "Follow me."
Chupin obeyed without a word, for he was a shrewd fellow, and knew
how to make the best of a trying situation. He was not usually
allowed to enter this private room, the floor of which was covered
with a magnificent carpet; and so, after carefully closing the
door, he remained standing, hat in hand, and looking somewhat
intimidated. But M. Fortunat seemed to have forgotten his
presence. After depositing the lamp on the mantel-shelf, he
walked several times round and round the room like a hunted beast
seeking for some means of egress.
"If the count is dead," he muttered, "the Marquis de Valorsay is
lost! Farewell to the millions!"
The blow was so cruel, and so entirely unexpected, that he could
not, would not believe in its reality. He walked straight to
Chupin, and caught him by the collar, as if the young fellow had
been the cause of this misfortune. "It isn't possible," said he;
"the count CANNOT be dead. You are deceiving me, or they deceived
you. You must have misunderstood--you only wished to give some
excuse for your delay perhaps. Speak, say something!"
As a rule, Chupin was not easily impressed, but he felt almost
frightened by his employer's agitation. "I only repeated what M.
Casimir told me, monsieur," was his reply.
He then wished to furnish some particulars, but M. Fortunat had
already resumed his furious tramp to and fro, giving vent to his
wrath and despair in incoherent exclamations. "Forty thousand
francs lost!" he exclaimed. "Forty thousand francs, counted out
there on my desk! I see them yet, counted and placed in the hand
of the Marquis de Valorsay in exchange for his signature. My
savings for a number of years, and I have only a worthless scrap
of paper to show for them. That cursed marquis! And he was to
come here this evening, and I was to give him ten thousand francs
more. They are lying there in that drawer. Let him come, the
wretch, let him come!"
Anger had positively brought foam to M. Fortunat's lips, and any
one seeing him then would subsequently have had but little
confidence in his customary good-natured air and unctuous
politeness. "And yet the marquis is as much to be pitied as I
am," he continued. "He loses as much, even more! And such a sure
thing it seemed, too! What speculation can a fellow engage in
after this? And a man must put his money somewhere; he can't bury
it in the ground!"
Chupin listened with an air of profound commiseration; but it was
only assumed. He was inwardly jubilant, for his interest in the
affair was in direct opposition to that of his employer. Indeed,
if M. Fortunat lost forty thousand francs by the Count de
Chalusse's death, Chupin expected to make a hundred francs
commission on the funeral.
"Still, he may have made a will!" pursued M. Fortunat. "But no,
I'm sure he hasn't. A poor devil who has only a few sous to leave
behind him always takes this precaution. He thinks he may be run
over by an omnibus and suddenly killed, and he always writes and
signs his last wishes. But millionaires don't think of such
things; they believe themselves immortal!" He paused to reflect
for a moment, for power of reflection had returned to him. His
excitement had quickly spent itself by reason of its very
violence. "This much is certain," he resumed, slowly, and in a
more composed voice, "whether the count has made a will or not,
Valorsay will lose the millions he expected from Chalusse. If
there is no will, Mademoiselle Marguerite won't have a sou, and
then, good evening! If there is one, this devil of a girl,
suddenly becoming her own mistress, and wealthy into the bargain,
will send Monsieur de Valorsay about his business, especially if
she loves another, as he himself admits--and in that case, again
good evening!"
M. Fortunat drew out his handkerchief, and, pausing in front of
the looking-glass, wiped the perspiration from his brow, and
arranged his disordered hair. He was one of those men who may be
stunned, but never crushed, by a catastrophe. "In conclusion," he
muttered, "I must enter my forty thousand francs as an item in the
profit and loss account. It only remains to be seen if it would
not be possible to regain them in the same affair." He was again
master of himself, and never had his mind been more clear. He
seated himself at his desk, leant his elbows upon it, rested his
head on his hands, and remained for some time perfectly
motionless; but there was triumph in his gesture when he at last
looked up again.
"I am safe," he muttered, so low that Chupin could not hear him.
"What a fool I was! If there is no will a fourth of the millions
shall be mine! Ah, when a man knows his ground, he never need lose
the battle! But I must act quickly," he added, "very quickly." And
so speaking, he rose and glanced at the clock. "Nine o'clock,"
said he. "I must open the campaign this very evening."
Motionless in his dark corner, Chupin still retained his
commiserating attitude; but he was so oppressed with curiosity
that he could scarcely breathe. He opened his eyes and ears to
the utmost, and watched his employer's slightest movements with
intense interest.
Prompt to act when he had once decided upon his course, M.
Fortunat now drew from his desk a large portfolio, crammed full of
letters, receipts, bills, deeds of property, and old parchments.
"I can certainly discover the necessary pretext here," he
murmured, rummaging through the mass of papers. But he did not at
once find what he sought, and he was growing impatient, as could
be seen by his feverish haste, when all at once he paused with a
sigh of relief. "At last!"
He held in his hand a soiled and crumpled note of hand, affixed by
a pin to a huissier's protest, thus proving conclusively that it
had been dishonored. M. Fortunat waved these strips of paper
triumphantly, and with a satisfied air exclaimed: "It is here
that I must strike; it is here--if Casimir hasn't deceived me--
that I shall find the indispensable information I need."
He was in such haste that he did not wait to put his portfolio in
order. He threw it with the papers it had contained into the
drawer of his desk again, and, approaching Chupin, he asked, "It
was you, was it not, Victor, who obtained that information
respecting the solvency of the Vantrassons, husband and wife, who
let out furnished rooms?"
"Yes, monsieur, and I gave you the answer: nothing to hope for----"
"I know; but that doesn't matter. Do you remember their address?"
"Perfectly. They are now living on the Asnieres Road, beyond the
fortifications, on the right hand side."
"What is the number?"
Chupin hesitated, reflected for a moment, and then began to
scratch his head furiously, as he was in the habit of doing
whenever his memory failed him and he wished to recall it to duty.
"I'm not sure whether the number is eighteen or forty-six," he
said, at last; "that is----"
"Never mind," interrupted M. Fortunat. "If I sent you to the
house could you find it?"
"Oh--yes, m'sieur--at once- with my eyes shut. I can see the
place perfectly--a rickety old barrack. There is a tract of
unoccupied land on one side, and a kitchen-garden in the rear."
"Very well; you shall accompany me there."
Chupin seemed astonished by this strange proposal. "What,
m'sieur," said he, "do you think of going there at this time of
"Why not? Shall we find the establishment closed?"
"No; certainly not. Vantrasson doesn't merely keep furnished
rooms; he's a grocer, and sells liquor too. His place is open
until eleven o'clock at least. But if you are going there to
present a bill, it's perhaps a little late. If I were in your
place, m'sieur, I should wait till to-morrow. It's raining, and
the streets are deserted. It's an out-of-the-way place too; and
in such cases, a man has been known to settle his account with
whatever came handiest--with a cudgel, or a bullet, for instance."
"Are you afraid?"
This question seemed so utterly absurd to Chupin that he was not
in the least offended by it; his only answer was a disdainful
shrug of the shoulders.
"Then we will go," remarked M. Fortunat. "While I'm getting
ready, go and hire a cab, and see that you get a good horse."
Chupin was off in an instant, tearing down the staircase like a
tempest. There was a cab-stand only a few steps from the house,
but he preferred to run to the jobmaster's stables in the Rue
"Cab, sir!" shouted several men, as they saw him approaching.
He made no reply, but began to examine the horses with the air of
a connoisseur, until at last he found an animal that suited him.
Thereupon he beckoned to the driver, and going to the little
office where a woman sat reading: "My five sous, if you please,"
he said, authoritatively.
The woman looked at him. Most jobmasters are in the habit of
giving five sous to any servant who comes in search of a cab for
his master; and this was the custom here. But the keeper of the
office, who felt sure that Chupin was not a servant, hesitated;
and this made the young fellow angry. "Make haste," he cried,
imperiously. "If you don't, I shall run to the nearest stand."
The woman at once threw him five sous, which he pocketed with a
satisfied grin. They were his--rightfully his--since he had taken
the trouble to gain them. He then hastily returned to the office
to inform his employer that the cab was waiting at the door, and
found himself face to face with a sight which made him open his
eyes to their widest extent.
M. Fortunat had profited by his clerk's absence, not to disguise
himself--that would be saying too much--but to make some changes
in his appearance. He had arrayed himself in a long overcoat,
shiny with grease and wear, and falling below his knees; in place
of his elegant satin cravat he had knotted a gaudy silk
neckerchief about his throat; his boots were worn, and out of
shape; and his hat would have been treated with contempt even by a
dealer in old clothes. Of the prosperous Fortunat, so favorably
known round about the Place de la Bourse, naught remained save his
face and his hands. Another Fortunat had taken his place, more
than needy in aspect--wretched, famished, gaunt with hunger, ready
for any desperate deed. And, yet, he seemed at ease in this garb;
it yielded to his every movement, as if he had worn it for a long
time. The butterfly had become a chrysalis again. Chupin's
admiring smile must have repaid him for his trouble. Since the
young clerk evinced approval, M. Fortunat felt sure that
Vantrasson would take him for what he wished to appear--a poor
devil of an agent, who was acting on some other person's behalf.
"Let us start at once," said he.
But just as he was leaving the ante-room, he remembered an order
of great importance which he wished to give. He called Madame
Dodelin, and without paying the slightest heed to her astonishment
at seeing him thus attired: "If the Marquis de Valorsay comes, in
my absence," said he--" and he WILL come--ask him to wait for me.
I shall return before midnight. Don't take him into my office--he
can wait in the drawing-room."
This last order was certainly unnecessary, since M. Fortunat had
closed and double-locked his office door and placed the key
carefully in his own pocket. But perhaps he had forgotten this
circumstance. There were now no traces of his recent anger and
disappointment. He was in excellent humor; and you might have
supposed that he was starting on an enterprise from which he
expected to derive both pleasure and profit.
Chupin was climbing to a place on the box beside the driver when
his employer bade him take a seat inside the vehicle. They were
not long in reaching their destination, for the horse was really a
good one, and the driver had been stimulated by the promise of a
magnificent gratuity. In fact, M. Fortunat and his companion
reached the Asnieres Road in less than forty minutes.
In obedience to the orders he had received before starting, the
cabman drew up on the right hand side of the road, at about a
hundred paces from the city gate, beyond the fortifications.
"Well, sir, here you are! Are you satisfied?" he inquired, as he
opened the door.
"Perfectly satisfied," replied M. Fortunat. "Here is your
promised gratuity. Now, you have only to wait for us. Don't stir
from this place. Do you understand?"
But the driver shook his head. "Excuse me," he said, "but if it's
all the same to you, I will station myself over there near the
gate. Here, you see, I should be afraid to go to sleep, while
over there----"
"Very well; suit yourself," M. Fortunat replied.
This precaution on the driver's part convinced him that Chupin had
not exaggerated the evil reputation of this quarter of the
Parisian suburbs. And, indeed, there was little of a reassuring
character in the aspect of this broad road, quite deserted at this
hour, and shrouded in the darkness of a tempestuous night. The
rain had ceased falling, but the wind blew with increased
violence, twisting the branches off the trees, tearing slates from
the roofs, and shaking the street-lamps so furiously as to
extinguish the gas. They could not see a step before them; the
mud was ankle-deep, and not a person, not a solitary soul was
"Are we almost there?" M. Fortunat asked every ten paces.
"Almost there, m'sieur."
Chupin said this; but to tell the truth, he knew nothing about it.
He tried to discover where he was, but did not succeed. Houses
were becoming scanty, and vacant plots of building ground more
numerous; it was only with the greatest difficulty that one could
occasionally discern a light. At last, however, after a quarter
of an hour's hard struggling, Chupin uttered a joyful cry. "Here
we are, m'sieur--look!" said he.
A large building, five stories high, sinister of aspect, and
standing quite alone, could just be distinguished in the darkness.
It was already falling to pieces, and yet it was not entirely
completed. Plainly enough, the speculator who had undertaken the
enterprise had not been rich enough to complete it. On seeing the
many closely pierced windows of the facade, a passer-by could not
fail to divine for what purpose the building had been erected; and
in order that no one should remain in ignorance of it, this
inscription: "Furnished Rooms," figured in letters three feet
high, between the third and fourth floors. The inside
arrangements could be easily divined: innumerable rooms, all small
and inconvenient, and let out at exorbitant rentals.
However, Victor Chupin's memory had misled him. This establishment
was not on the right, but on the left-hand side of the road, a
perfect mire through which M. Fortunat and his companion were
obliged to cross. Their eyes having become accustomed to the
darkness, they could discern sundry details as they approached the
building. The ground floor comprised two shops, one of which was
closed, but the other was still open, and a faint light gleamed
through the soiled red curtains. Over the frontage appeared the
shop-keeper's name, Vantrasson, while on either side, in smaller
letters, were the words: "Groceries and Provisions--Foreign and
French Wines." Everything about this den denoted abject poverty
and low debauchery.
M. Fortunat certainly did not recoil, but before entering the shop
he was not sorry to have an opportunity to reconnoitre. He
approached cautiously, and peered through the window at a place
where a rent in the curtain allowed him some view of the interior.
Behind the counter a woman who looked some fifty years of age was
seated, mending a soiled dress by the light of a smoking lamp.
She was short and very stout. She seemed literally weighed down,
and puffed out by an unwholesome and unnatural mass of superfluous
flesh; and she was as white as if her veins had been filled with
water, instead of blood. Her hanging cheeks, her receding
forehead, and her thin lips, imparted an alarming expression of
wickedness and cunning to her countenance. At the farther end of
the store Fortunat could vaguely discern the figure of a man
seated on a stool. He seemed to be asleep, for his crossed arms
rested on a table, with his head leaning on them.
"Good luck!" whispered Chupin in his employer's ear; "there is not
a customer in the place. Vantrasson and his wife are alone." This
circumstance was by no means displeasing to M. Fortunat, as could
be seen by his expression of face. "So, m'sieur," continued
Chupin, "you need have no fears. I'll remain here and watch,
while you go in."
M. Fortunat did so. On hearing the door open and shut, the woman
laid down her work. "What can I do for monsieur?" she asked, in a
wheedling voice.
M. Fortunat did not reply at once; but he drew the note with which
he had provided himself from his pocket, and displayed it. "I am
a huissier's clerk," he then exclaimed; "and I called in reference
to this little matter--a note of hand for five hundred and eightythree
francs, value received in goods, signed Vantrasson, and made
payable to the order of a person named Barutin."
"An execution!" said the woman, whose voice suddenly soured.
"Vantrasson, wake up, and come and see about this."
This summons was unnecessary. On hearing the words "note of
hand," the man had lifted his head; and at the name of Barutin, he
rose and approached with a heavy, uncertain step, as if he had not
yet slept off his intoxication. He was younger than his wife,
tall, with a well-proportioned and athletic form. His features
were regular, but the abuse of alcohol and all sorts of excesses
had greatly marred them, and their present expression was one of
ferocious brutishness. "What's that you are talking about?" he
asked in a harsh, grating voice. "Is it to mock people that you
come and ask for money on the 15th of October--rent day? Where
have you seen any money left after the landlord has made his
round? Besides, what is this bill? Give it me to look at."
M. Fortunat was not guilty of such folly; he did not intrust the
paper to Vantrasson's hand, but held it a little distance from
him, and then read it aloud.
When he had finished: "That note fell due eighteen months ago,"
declared Vantrasson. "It is worth nothing now "
"You are mistaken--a note of this kind is of value any time within
five years after the day it goes to protest."
"Possibly; but as Barutin has failed, and gone no one knows where,
I am released----"
"Another mistake on your part. You owe these five hundred and
eighty-three francs to the person who bought this note at
Barutin's sale, and who has given my employer orders to prosecute----"
The blood had risen to Vantrasson's face. "And what of that? Do
you suppose I've never been sued for debts before? Even the king
can't take anything from a person who possesses nothing; and I own
nothing. My furniture is all pawned or mortgaged, and my stock is
not worth a hundred francs. When your employer finds it useless
to waste money in worrying me, he'll let me alone. You can't
injure a man like me."
"Do you really think so?"
"I'm sure of it."
"Unfortunately you are again mistaken, for although the holder of
the note doesn't care so very much about obtaining his dues, he'll
spend his own money like water to make trouble for you." And
thereupon M. Fortunat began to draw a vivid and frightful picture
of a poor debtor pursued by a rich creditor who harassed him, and
tortured him, and hounded him everywhere, until not even a change
of clothing was left him.
Vantrasson rolled his eyes and brandished his formidable fist in
the most defiant manner; but his wife was evidently much alarmed.
At last she could bear it no longer, and rising hastily she led
her husband to the rear of the shop, saying: "Come, I must speak
with you."
He followed her, and they remained for some little time conversing
together in a low tone, but with excited gestures. When they
returned, the woman opened the conversation. "Alas! sir," she
said to M. Fortunat, "we have no money just now; business is so
very bad, and if you prosecute us, we are lost. What can be done?
You look like an honest man; give us your advice."
M. Fortunat did not reply at once; he was apparently absorbed in
thought, but suddenly he exclaimed: "One owes a duty to
unfortunate folks, and I'm going to tell you the exact truth. My
employer, who isn't a bad man at heart, hasn't the slightest
desire for revenge. He said to me: 'Go and see these Vantrassons,
and if they seem to be worthy people, propose a compromise. If
they choose to accept it, I shall be quite satisfied.'"
"And what is this compromise?"
"It is this: you must write an acknowledgment of the debt on a
sheet of stamped paper, together with a promise to pay a little on
account each month. In exchange I will give you this note of
The husband and wife exchanged glances, and it was the woman who
said: "We accept."
But to carry out this arrangement it was necessary to have a sheet
of stamped paper, and the spurious clerk had neglected to provide
himself with some. This circumstance seemed to annoy him greatly,
and you might almost have sworn that he regretted the concession
he had promised. Did he think of going? Madame Vantrasson feared
so, and turning eagerly to her husband, she exclaimed: "Run to
the tobacco shop in the Rue de Levis; you will find some paper
He started off at once, and M. Fortunat breathed freely again. He
had certainly retained his composure admirably during the
interview, but more than once he had fancied that Vantrasson was
about to spring on him, crush him with his brawny hands, tear the
note from him, burn it, and then throw him, Fortunat, out into the
street, helpless and nearly dead. But now that danger had passed
and Madame Vantrasson, fearing he might tire of waiting, was
prodigal in her attentions. She brought him the only unbroken
chair in the establishment, and insisted that he should partake of
some refreshment--a glass of wine at the very least. While
rummaging among the bottles, she alternately thanked him and
complained, declaring she had a right to repine, since she had
known better days--but fate had been against her ever since her
marriage, though she had little thought she would end her days in
such misery, after having been so happy in the Count de Chalusse's
household many years before.
To all appearance, M. Fortunat listened with the mere superficial
interest which ordinary politeness requires one to show, but in
reality his heart was filled with intense delight. Coming here
without any clearly-defined plan, circumstances had served him a
thousand times better than he could reasonably have hoped. He had
preserved his power over the Vantrassons, had won their
confidence, had succeeded in obtaining a tete-a-tete with the
wife, and to crown all, this woman alluded, of her own accord, to
the very subject upon which he was longing to question her.
"Ah! if I were only back in the Count's household again," she
exclaimed. "Six hundred francs a year, and gifts worth double
that amount. Those were good times for me. But you know how it
is--one is never content with one's lot, and then the heart is
She had not succeeded in finding the sweet wine which she proposed
to her guest; so in its place she substituted a mixture of ratafia
and brandy in two large glasses which she placed upon the counter.
"One evening, to my sorrow," she resumed, "I met Vantrasson at a
ball. It was the 13th day of the month. I might have known no
good would come of it. Ah, you should have seen him at that time,
in full uniform. He belonged to the Paris Guards then. All the
women were crazy about soldiers, and my head was turned, too----"
Her tone, her gestures, and the compression of her thin lips,
revealed the bitterness of her disappointment and her unavailing
regret. "Ah, these handsome men!" she continued; "don't talk to
me about them! This one had heard of my savings. I had nineteen
thousand francs, so he begged me to marry him, and I was fool
enough to consent. Yes, fool--for I was forty, and he was only
thirty. I might have known it was my money that he wanted, and
not me. However, I gave up my situation, and even purchased a
substitute for him, in order that I might have him all to myself."
She had gradually warmed with her theme, as she described her
confidence and blind credulity, and then, with a tragic gesture,
as if she desired to drive away these cruel memories, she suddenly
seized her glass and emptied it at a draught.
Chupin, who was still at his post outside, experienced a thrill of
envy, and involuntarily licked his lips. "A mixed ratafia," he
said, longingly. "I shouldn't object to one myself."
However, this choice compound seemed to inspire Madame Vantrasson
with renewed energy, for, with still greater earnestness, she
resumed: "At first, all went well. We employed my savings in
purchasing the Hotel des Espagnes, in the Rue Notre Dame des
Victoires, and business prospered; there was never a vacant room.
But any person who has drank, sir, will drink again. Vantrasson
kept sober for a few months, but gradually he fell into his old
habits. He was in such a condition most of the time that he was
scarcely able to ask for food. And if that had been all! But,
unfortunately, he was too handsome a man to be a good husband.
One night he didn't come home, and the next day, when I ventured
to reproach him--very gently, I assure you--he answered me with an
oath and a blow. All our happiness was over! Monsieur declared
that he was master, and would do as he liked. He drank and
carried away all the wine from the cellar--he took all the money--
he remained away for weeks together; and if I complained--more
Her voice trembled, and a tear gathered in her eye; but, wiping it
away with the back of her hand, she resumed: "Vantrasson was
always drunk, and I spent my time in crying my very eyes out.
Business became very bad, and soon everybody left the house. We
were obliged to sell it. We did so, and bought a small cafe. But
by the end of the year we lost that. Fortunately, I still had a
little money left, and so I bought a stock of groceries in my own
name; but in less than six months the stock was eaten up, and we
were cast into the street. What was to be done? Vantrasson drank
worse than ever; he demanded money when he knew that I had none to
give him, and he treated me even more cruelly than before. I lost
courage--and yet one must live! Oh, you wouldn't believe it if I
told you how we have lived for the past four years." She did not
tell him, but contented herself with adding, "When you begin to go
down hill, there is no such thing as stopping; you roll lower and
lower, until you reach the bottom, as we have done. Here we live,
no one knows how; we have to pay our rent each week, and if we are
driven from this place, I see no refuge but the river."
"If I had been in your position, I should have left my husband,"
M. Fortunat ventured to remark.
"Yes--it would have been better, no doubt. People advised me to
do so, and I tried. Three or four times I went away, and yet I
always returned--it was stronger than myself. Besides, I'm his
wife; I've paid dearly for him; he's mine--I won't yield him to
any one else. He beats me, no doubt; I despise him, I hate him,
and yet I----" She poured out part of a glass of brandy, and
swallowed it; then, with a gesture of rage, she added: "I can't
give him up! It's fate! As it is now, it will be until the end,
until he starves, or I----"
M. Fortunat's countenance wore an expression of profound
commiseration. A looker-on would have supposed him interested and
sympathetic to the last degree; but in reality, he was furious.
Time was passing, and the conversation was wandering farther and
farther from the object of his visit. "I am surprised, madame,"
said he, "that you never applied to your former employer, the
Count de Chalusse."
"Alas! I did apply to him for assistance several times----"
"With what result?"
"The first time I went to him he received me; I told him my
troubles, and he gave me bank-notes to the amount of five thousand
M. Fortunat raised his hands to the ceiling. "Five thousand
francs!" he repeated, in a tone of astonishment; "this count must
be very rich----"
"So rich, monsieur, that he doesn't know how much he's worth. He
owns, nobody knows how many houses in Paris, chateaux in every
part of the country, entire villages, forests--his gold comes in
by the shovelful."
The spurious clerk closed his eyes, as if he were dazzled by this
vision of wealth.
"The second time I went to the count's house," resumed Madame
Vantrasson, "I didn't see him, but he sent me a thousand francs.
The third and last time they gave me twenty francs at the door,
and told me that the count had gone on a journey. I understood
that I could hope for no further help from him. Besides, all the
servants had been changed. One morning, without any apparent
reason, M. de Chalusse dismissed all the old servants, so they
told me. He even sent away the concierge and the housekeeper."
"Why didn't you apply to his wife?"
"M. de Chalusse isn't married. He never has been married."
From the expression of solicitude upon her guest's features,
Madame Vantrasson supposed he was racking his brain to discover
some mode of escape from her present difficulties. "If I were in
your place," he said, "I should try to interest his relatives and
family in my case----"
"The count has no relatives."
"He hasn't, indeed. During the ten years I was in his service, I
heard him say more than a dozen times that he alone was left of
all his family--that all the others were dead. People pretend
that this is the reason why he is so immensely rich."
M. Fortunat's interest was no longer assumed; he was rapidly
approaching the real object of his visit. "No relatives!" he
muttered. "Who, then, will inherit his millions when he dies?"
Madame Vantrasson jerked her head. "Who can say?" she replied.
"Everything will go to the government, probably, unless---- But
no, that's impossible."
"What's impossible?"
"Nothing. I was thinking of the count's sister, Mademoiselle
"His sister! Why, you said just now that he had no relatives."
"It's the same as if he hadn't; no one knows what has become of
her, poor creature! Some say that she married; others declare that
she died. It's quite a romance."
M. Isidore Fortunat was literally upon the rack; and to make his
sufferings still more horrible, he dared not ask any direct
question, nor allow his curiosity to become manifest, for fear of
alarming the woman. "Let me see," said he; "I think--I am sure
that I have heard--or that I have read--I cannot say which--some
story about a Mademoiselle de Chalusse. It was something
terrible, wasn't it?"
"Terrible, indeed. But what I was speaking of happened a long
time ago--twenty-five or twenty-six years ago, at the very least.
I was still in my own part of the country--at Besancon. No one
knows the exact truth about the affair."
"What! not even you?"
"Oh! I--that's an entirely different thing. When I entered the
count's service, six years later, there was still an old gardener
who knew the whole story, and who told it to me, making me swear
that I would never betray his confidence."
Lavish of details as she had been in telling her own story, it was
evident that she was determined to exercise a prudent reserve in
everything connected with the De Chalusse family; and M. Fortunat
inwardly cursed this, to him, most unseasonable discretion. But
he was experienced in these examinations, and he had at his
command little tricks for loosening tongues, which even an
investigating magistrate might have envied. Without seeming to
attach the slightest importance to Madame Vantrasson's narrative,
he rose with a startled air, like a man who suddenly realizes that
he has forgotten himself. "Zounds!" he exclaimed, "we sit here
gossiping, and it's growing late. I really can't wait for your
husband. If I remain here any longer, I shall miss the last
omnibus; and I live on the other side of the river, near the
"But our agreement, monsieur?"
"We will draw that up at some future time. I shall be passing
again, or I will send one of my colleagues to see you."
It was Madame Vantrasson's turn to tremble now. She feared, if
she allowed this supposed clerk to go without signing the
agreement, that the person who came in his stead might not prove
so accommodating; and even if he called again himself, he might
not be so kindly disposed. "Wait just a moment longer, monsieur,"
she pleaded; "my husband will soon be back, and the last omnibus
doesn't leave the Rue de Levis until midnight."
"I wouldn't refuse, but this part of the suburbs is so lonely."
"Vantrasson will see you on your way." And, resolved to detain him
at any cost, she poured out a fresh glass of liquor for him, and
said: "Where were we? Oh, yes! I was about to tell you
Mademoiselle Hermine's story."
Concealing his delight with an assumed air of resignation, M.
Fortunat reseated himself, to the intense disgust of Chupin, who
was thoroughly tired of waiting outside in the cold.
"I must tell you," began Madame Vantrasson, "that when this
happened--at least twenty-five years ago--the De Chalusse family
lived in the Rue Saint-Dominique. They occupied a superb mansion,
with extensive grounds, full of splendid trees like those in the
Tuileries gardens. Mademoiselle Hermine, who was then about
eighteen or nineteen years old, was, according to all accounts,
the prettiest young creature ever seen. Her skin was as white as
milk, she had a profusion of golden hair, and her eyes were as
blue as forget-me-nots. She was very kind and generous, they say,
only, like all the rest of the family, she was very haughty and
obstinate--oh, obstinate enough to allow herself to be roasted
alive over a slow fire rather than yield an inch. That's the
count's nature exactly. Having served him, I know something about
it, to be sure, and----"
"Excuse me," interrupted M. Fortunat, who was determined to
prevent these digressions, "and Mademoiselle Hermine?"
"I was coming to her. Although she was very beautiful and
immensely rich, she had no suitors--for it was generally
understood that she was to marry a marquis, whose father was a
particular friend of the family. The parents had arranged the
matter between them years before, and nothing was wanting but the
young lady's consent; but Mademoiselle Hermine absolutely refused
to hear the marquis's name mentioned.
They did everything to persuade her to consent to this marriage;
they employed prayers and threats alike, but they might as well
have talked to a stone. When they asked her why she refused to
marry the marquis, she replied, 'Because'--and that was all. In
fact, at last she declared she would leave home and take refuge in
a convent, if they didn't cease to torment her. Her relatives
were certain there must be some reason for her refusal. It isn't
natural for a girl to reject a suitor who is young, handsome,
rich, and a marquis besides. Her friends suspected there was
something she wouldn't confess; and M. Raymond swore that he would
watch his sister, and discover her secret."
"M. Raymond is the present Count de Chalusse, suppose?" inquired
M. Fortunat.
"Yes, monsieur. Such was the state of matters when, one night,
the gardener thought he heard a noise in the pavilion, at the end
of the garden. This pavilion was very large. I have seen it. It
contained a sitting-room, a billiard-room, and a large fencinghall.
Naturally enough, the gardener got up to go and see what
was the matter. As he left the house, he fancied he saw two
persons moving about among the trees. He ran after them, but
could find nothing. They had made their escape through a small
gate leading from the garden into the street. When the gardener
was telling me this story, he declared again and again that he had
fancied the noise he had heard was made by some of the servants
trying to leave the house secretly, and for this reason he didn't
give the alarm. However, he hurried to the pavilion, but on seeing
no light there, he went back to bed with an easy mind."
"And it was Mademoiselle Hermine eloping with a lover?" asked M.
Madame Vantrasson seemed as disappointed as an actor who has been
deprived of an opportunity of producing a grand effect. "Wait a
moment," she replied, "and you'll see. The night passed, morning
came, and then the breakfast hour. But Mademoiselle Hermine did
not make her appearance. Some one was sent to rap at her door--
there was no answer. The door was opened--the young lady was not
in her room, and the bed had not even been disturbed. In a few
moments the whole household was in the wildest commotion; the
mother weeping, and the father half wild with rage and sorrow. Of
course, the next thought was of Mademoiselle Hermine's brother,
and he was sent for. But, he, too, was not in his room, and his
bed had not been touched. The excitement was becoming frenzy,
when it occurred to the gardener to mention what he had heard and
seen on the previous night. They hastened to the pavilion, and
discovered what? Why, M. Raymond stretched upon the ground,
stiff, cold, and motionless, weltering in his own blood. One of
his rigid hands still grasped a sword. They lifted him up,
carried him to the house, laid him upon his bed, and sent for a
physician. He had received two dangerous wounds; one in the
throat, the other in the breast. For more than a month he hung
between life and death, and six weeks elapsed before he had
strength to relate what had happened. He was lighting a cigar at
his window when he thought he saw a woman's form flit through the
garden. A suspicion that it might be his sister flashed through
his mind; so he hastened down, stole noiselessly into the
pavilion, and there he found his sister and a young man who was
absolutely unknown to him. He might have killed the intruder, but
instead of doing so, he told him they would fight then and there.
Weapons were within reach, and they fought, with the result that
Raymond was wounded twice, in quick succession, and fell. His
adversary, supposing him dead, thereupon fled from the spot,
taking Mademoiselle Hermine with him."
At this point in her narrative Madame Vantrasson evinced a desire
to pause and draw a breath, and perhaps partake of some slight
refreshment; but M. Fortunat was impatient. The woman's husband
might return at any moment. "And, after that?" he inquired.
"After that--well--M. Raymond recovered, and in about three
months' time he was out again; but the parents, who were old
folks, had received their death-blow. They never rallied from the
shock. Perhaps they felt that it was their own hard-heartedness
and obstinacy that had caused their daughter's ruin--and remorse
is hard to bear. They waned perceptibly from day to day, and
during the following year they were borne to the cemetery within
two months of each other."
From the spurious clerk's demeanor it was easy to see that he had
ceased thinking about his omnibus, and his hostess felt both
reassured and flattered. "And Mademoiselle Hermine?" he inquired,
"Alas! monsieur, no one ever knew where she went, or what became
of her."
"Didn't they try to find her?"
"They searched for her everywhere, for I don't know how long; all
the ablest detectives in France and in foreign countries tried to
find her, but not one of them succeeded in discovering the
slightest trace of her whereabouts. M. Raymond promised an
enormous sum to the man who would find his sister's betrayer. He
wished to kill him, and he sought for him for years; but all in
"And did they never receive any tidings of this unfortunate girl?"
"I was told that they heard from her twice. On the morning
following her flight her parents received a letter, in which she
implored their forgiveness. Five or six months later, she wrote
again to say that she knew her brother was not dead. She
confessed that she was a wicked, ungrateful girl--that she had
been mad; but she said that her punishment had come, and it was
terrible. She added that every link was severed between herself
and her friends, and she hoped they would forget her as completely
as if she had never existed. She went so far as to say that her
children should never know who their mother was, and that never in
her life again would she utter the name which she had so
It was the old, sad story of a ruined girl paying for a moment's
madness with her happiness and all her after life. A terrible
drama, no doubt; but one that is of such frequent occurrence that
it seems as commonplace as life itself. Thus any one who was
acquainted with M. Isidore Fortunat would have been surprised to
see how greatly he was moved by such a trifle. "Poor girl!" said
he, in view of saying something. And then, in a tone of assumed
carelessness, he inquired: "Did they never discover what
scoundrel carried Mademoiselle de Chalusse away?"
"Never. Who he was, whence he came, whether he was young or old,
how he became acquainted with Mademoiselle Hermine--these
questions were never answered. It was rumored at one time that he
was an American, a captain in the navy; but that was only a rumor.
To tell the truth, they never even discovered his name."
"What, not even his name?"
"Not even his name."
Unable to master his emotion, M. Fortunat had at least the
presence of mind to rise and step back into the darker part of the
shop. But his gesture of disappointment and the muttered oath
that fell from his lips did not escape Madame Vantrasson. She was
startled, and from that moment she looked upon the supposed clerk
with evident distrust. It was not long before he again resumed
his seat nearer the counter, still a trifle pale, perhaps, but
apparently calm. Two questions more seemed indispensable to him,
and yet either one of them would be sure to arouse suspicion.
Nevertheless, he resolved to incur the risk of betraying himself.
And, after all, what would it matter now? Did he not possess the
information he had wished for, at least as much of it as it was in
this woman's power to impart?" I can scarcely tell you, my dear
madame, how much your narrative has interested me," he began. "I
can confess now that I am slightly acquainted with the Count de
Chalusse, and that I have frequently visited the house in the Rue
de Courcelles, where he now resides."
"You!" exclaimed the woman, taking a hasty inventory of M.
Fortunat's toilette.
"Yes, I--on the part of my employer, understand. Each time I've
been to visit M. de Chalusse's I've seen a young lady whom I took
for his daughter there. I was wrong, no doubt, since he isn't a
married man--"
He paused. Astonishment and anger seemed to be almost suffocating
his hostess. Without understanding how or why, she felt convinced
that she had been duped; and if she had obeyed her first impulse
she would have attacked M. Isidore then and there. If she
restrained this impulse, if she made an effort to control herself,
it was only because she thought she held a better revenge in
"A young lady in the count's house!" she said, thoughtfully.
"That's scarcely possible. I've never seen her; I've never heard
her spoken of. How long has she been there?"
"For six or seven months?"
"In that case, I can't absolutely deny it. It's two years since I
set foot in the count's house."
"I fancied this young lady might be the count's niece Mademoiselle
Hermine's daughter."
Madame Vantrasson shook her head. "Put that fancy out of your
head," she remarked. "The count said that his sister was dead to
him from the evening of her flight."
"Who CAN this young girl be, then?"
"Bless me! I don't know. What sort of a looking person is she?"
"Very tall; a brunette."
"How old is she?"
"Eighteen or nineteen."
The woman made a rapid calculation on her fingers. "Nine and four
are thirteen," she muttered, "and five are eighteen. Ah, ha!--why
not? I must look into this."
"What did you say?"
"Nothing; a little reflection I was making to myself. Do you know
this young lady's name?"
"It's Marguerite."
The woman's face clouded. "No; it can't be then," she muttered,
in a scarcely audible voice.
M. Fortunat was on coals of fire. It was evident that this
frightful creature, even if she knew nothing definite, had some
idea, some vague suspicion of the truth. How could he compel her
to speak now that she was on her guard? He had not time to
ascertain, for the door suddenly opened, and Vantrasson appeared
on the threshold. He was scarcely sober when he left the shop,
but now he was fairly drunk; his heavy shamble had become a
stagger. "Oh, you wretch, you brigand!" howled his wife; "you've
been drinking again!"
He succeeded in maintaining his equilibrium, and, gazing at her
with the phlegmatic stare peculiar to intoxicated men, he replied:
"Well, what of that! Can't I have a little pleasure with my
friends? I came across a couple of men who were just taking their
fifteenth glass; why should I refuse a compliment?"
"You can't hold yourself up."
"That's true." And to prove it he tumbled on to a chair.
A torrent of abuse now flowed from Madame Vantrasson's lips! M.
Fortunat only imperfectly distinguished the words "thief," "spy,"
and "detective;" but he could not mistake the meaning of the looks
which she alternately gave her husband and himself. "It's a
fortunate thing for you that my husband is in this condition," her
glances plainly implied, "otherwise there would be an explanation,
and then we should see--"
"I've had a lucky escape," thought the spurious clerk. But as
matters stood there was nothing to fear. It was a case where one
could show a brave front to the enemy without incurring the
slightest danger. "Let your husband alone," said he. "If he has
only brought the paper that he was sent to fetch, I sha'n't have
lost my evening to oblige you."
Vantrasson had brought not one sheet of stamped paper, but two. A
bad pen and some muddy ink were produced, and M. Fortunat began to
draw up an acknowledgment according to the established formula.
However, it was necessary to mention the name of the creditor of
whom he had spoken, and not wishing to state his own, he used that
of poor Victor Chupin, who was at that very moment shivering at
the door, little suspecting what liberty was being taken with his
"Chupin!" repeated the vixen, as if to engrave the name on her
memory; "Victor Chupin! I should just like to see him," she added,
When the document was finished, it became necessary to wake
Vantrasson, so that he might sign it. He did so with very good
grace, and his wife appended her signature beside her husband's.
Thereupon M. Fortunat gave them in exchange the note which had
served as a pretext for his visit. "And above all," he remarked,
as he opened the door to go, "don't forget that you are to pay
something on account each month."
"Go to the devil, and your account with you!" growled Madame
But Fortunat did not hear this. He was already walking down the
road by the side of Chupin, who was saying: "Well, here you are,
at last, m'sieur! I thought you had taken a lease of that old
barrack. If ever I come here again, I'll bring a foot-warmer with
But one of those fits of profound abstraction to which determined
seekers after truth are subject had taken possession of M.
Fortunat, and made him oblivious of all surrounding circumstances.
His heart had been full of hope when he reached the Asnieres Road,
but he went away gloomy and despondent; and quite unconscious of
the darkness, the mud, and the rain, which was again falling, he
silently plodded along in the middle of the highway. Chupin was
obliged to stop him at the city gate, and remind him that the cab
was waiting.
"That's true," was M. Fortunat's only answer. He entered the
vehicle, certainly without knowing it; and as they rolled
homeward, the thoughts that filled his brain to overflowing found
vent in a sort of monologue, of which Chupin now and then caught a
few words. "What a piece of business!" he muttered--"what a piece
of business! I've had seven years' experience in such matters, and
yet I've never met with an affair so shrouded in mystery. My
forty thousand francs are in a precarious condition. Certainly
I've lost money before through heirs whose existence I hadn't even
suspected; but by reinstating these same heirs in their rights,
I've regained my lost money, and received a handsome reward in
addition; but in this case all is darkness; there isn't a single
gleam of light--not the slightest clew. If I could only find
them! But how can I search for people whose names I don't even
know--for people who have escaped all the inquiries of the police?
And where shall I look for them--in Europe, in America? It would
be sheer madness! To whom, then, will the count's millions go?"
It was only the sudden stoppage of the cab in front of his own
door that recalled M. Fortunat to the realities of life. "Here
are twenty francs, Victor," he said to Chupin. "Pay the driver,
and keep the rest yourself."
As he spoke, he sprang nimbly to the ground. A handsome brougham,
drawn by two horses, was standing before the house. "The Marquis
de Valorsay's carriage," muttered M. Fortunat. "He has been very
patient; he has waited for me--or, rather, he has waited for my
ten thousand francs. Well, we shall see."
M. Fortunat had scarcely started off on his visit to the
Vantrassons when the Marquis de Valorsay reached the Place de la
"Monsieur has gone out," said Madame Dodelin, as she opened the
"You must be mistaken, my good woman."
"No, no; my master said you would, perhaps, wait for him."
"Very well; I will do so."
Faithful to the orders she had received, the servant conducted the
visitor to the drawing-room, lit the tapers in the candelabra, and
retired. "This is very strange!" growled the marquis. "Monsieur
Fortunat makes an appointment, Monsieur Fortunat expects me to
wait for him! What will happen next?" However, he drew a newspaper
from his pocket, threw himself into an arm-chair, and waited.
By his habits and tastes, the Marquis de Valorsay belonged to that
section of the aristocracy which has coined the term "high life"
in view of describing its own manners and customs. The matters
that engrossed the marquis's frivolous mind were club-life and
first performances at the opera and the leading theatres, social
duties and visits to the fashionable watering-places, racing and
the shooting and hunting seasons, together with his mistress and
his tailor.
He considered that to ride in a steeple-chase was an act of
prowess worthy of his ancestors; and when he galloped past the
stand, clad as a jockey, in top-boots and a violet silk jacket, he
believed he read admiration in every eye. This was his every-day
life, which had been enlivened by a few salient episodes: two
duels, an elopement with a married woman, a twenty-six hours'
seance at the gaming table, and a fall from his horse, while
hunting, which nearly cost him his life. These acts of valor had
raised him considerably in the estimation of his friends, and
procured him a celebrity of which he was not a little proud. The
newspaper reporters were constantly mentioning his name, and the
sporting journals never failed to chronicle his departure from
Paris or his arrival in the city.
Unfortunately, such a life of busy idleness has its trials and its
vicissitudes, and M. de Valorsay was a living proof of this. He
was only thirty-three, but in spite of the care he expended upon
his toilette, he looked at least forty. Wrinkles were beginning
to show themselves; it required all the skill of his valet to
conceal the bald spots on his cranium; and since his fall from his
horse, he had been troubled by a slight stiffness in his right
leg, which stiffness became perfect lameness in threatening
weather. Premature lassitude pervaded his entire person, and when
he relaxed in vigilance even his eyes betrayed a distaste for
everything--weariness, satiety as it were. All the same, however,
he bore himself with an undeniable air of distinction, albeit the
haughtiness of his manner indicated an exaggerated idea of his own
importance. He was indeed in the habit of treating all those whom
he considered his inferiors with supercilious sufficiency.
The clock on M. Fortunat's mantel-shelf struck eleven at last and
the marquis rose to his feet with a muttered oath. "This is too
much!" he growled, angrily.
He looked about for a bell, and seeing none, he was reduced to the
dire necessity of opening the door himself, and calling some one.
Madame Dodelin answered the summons. "Monsieur said he would
return before midnight," she replied; "so he will certainly be
here. There is no one like him for punctuality. Won't monsieur
have patience a little longer?"
"Well, I will wait a few moments; but, my good woman, light the
fire; my feet are frozen!"
M. Fortunat's drawing-room being used but seldom, was really as
frigid as an iceberg; and to make matters still worse, M. de
Valorsay was in evening dress, with only a light overcoat. The
servant hesitated for an instant, thinking this visitor difficult
to please, and inclined to make himself very much at home, still
she obeyed.
"I think I ought to go," muttered the marquis. "I really think I
ought to go." And yet he remained. Necessity, it should be
remembered, effectually quiets the revolts of pride.
Left an orphan in his early childhood, placed in possession of an
immense fortune at the age of twenty-three, M. de Valorsay had
entered life like a famished man enters a dining-room. His name
entitled him to a high position in the social world; and he
installed himself at table without asking how much the banquet
might cost him. It cost him dear, as he discovered at the end of
the first year, on noting that his disbursements had considerably
exceeded his large income. It was very evident that if he went on
in this way, each twelvemonth would deepen an abyss where in the
one hundred and sixty thousand francs a year, left him by his
father, would finally be swallowed up. But he had plenty of time
to reflect upon this unpleasant possibility ere it could come to
pass! And, besides, he found his present life so delightful, and
he obtained so much gratification for his money, that he was
unwilling to make any change. He possessed several fine estates,
and he found plenty of men who were only too glad to lend him
money on such excellent security. He borrowed timidly at first,
but more boldly when he discovered what a mere trifle a mortgage
is. Moreover, his wants increased in proportion to his vanity.
Occupying a certain position in the opinion of his acquaintances,
he did not wish to descend from the heights to which they had
exalted him; and the very fact that he had been foolishly
extravagant one year made it necessary for him to be guilty of
similar folly during the succeeding twelvemonth. He failed to pay
his creditors the interest that was due on his loans. They did
not ask him for it; and perhaps he forgot that it was slowly but
surely accumulating, and that at the end of a certain number of
years the amount of his indebtedness would be doubled. He never
thought what the end would be. He became absolutely ignorant of
the condition of his affairs, and really arrived at the conclusion
that his resources were inexhaustible. He believed this until one
day when on going to his lawyer for some money, that gentleman
coldly said: "You requested me to obtain one hundred thousand
francs for you, Monsieur le Marquis--but I have only been able to
procure fifty thousand--here they are. And do not hope for more.
All your real estate is encumbered beyond its value. Your
creditors will probably leave you in undisturbed possession for
another year--it will be to their interest--but when it has
elapsed they will take possession of their own, as they have a
perfect right to do." Then, with a meaning smile, the smile of a
wily prime minister, he added: "If I were in your place, Monsieur
le Marquis, I would profit by this year of grace. You undoubtedly
understand what I mean. I have the honor to wish you goodmorning."
What an awakening--after a glorious dream that had lasted for ten
years. M. de Valorsay was stunned--crushed. For three days he
remained immured in his own room, obstinately refusing to receive
any one. "The marquis is ill," was his valet's answer to every
M. de Valorsay felt that he must have time to regain his mental
equilibrium--to look his situation calmly in the face. It was a
frightful one, for his ruin was complete, absolute. He could save
nothing from the wreck. What was to become of him? What could he
do? He set his wits to work; but he found that he was incapable
of plying any kind of avocation. All the energy he had been
endowed with by nature had been squandered--exhausted in pandering
to his self-conceit. If he had been younger he might have turned
soldier; but at his age he had not even this resource. Then it
was that his notary's smile recurred to his mind. "His advice was
decidedly good," he muttered. "All is not yet lost; one way of
escape still remains--marriage."
And why, indeed, shouldn't he marry, and marry a rich wife too?
No one knew anything about his misfortune; for a year at least, he
would retain all the advantages that wealth bestows upon its
possessor. His name alone was a great advantage. It would be
very strange if he could not find some manufacturer's or banker's
daughter who would be only too delighted to have a marquisial
coronet emblazoned on her carriage panels.
Having arrived at this conclusion, M. de Valorsay began his
search, and it was not long before he thought he had found what he
was seeking. But something was still necessary. The bestowers of
large dowers are inclined to be suspicious; they like to have a
clear understanding as to the financial position of the suitors
who present themselves, and they not unfrequently ask for
information. Accordingly, before committing himself, M. de
Valorsay understood that it was necessary he should provide
himself with an intelligent and devoted adviser. There must be
some one to hold his creditors in check, to silence them, and
obtain sundry concessions from them--in a word, some one to
interest them in his success. With this object in view, M. de
Valorsay applied to his notary; but the latter utterly refused to
mix himself up in any such affair, and declared that the marquis's
suggestion was almost an insult. Then touched, perhaps, by his
client's apparent despair, he said, "But I can mention a person
who might be of service to you. Go to M. Isidore Fortunat, No. 27
Place de la Bourse. If you succeed in interesting him in your
marriage, it is an accomplished fact."
It was under these circumstances that the marquis became
acquainted with M. Fortunat. M. de Valorsay was a man of no
little penetration, and on his first visit he carefully weighed
his new acquaintance. He found him to be the very counsellor he
desired--prudent, and at the same time courageous; fertile in
expedients; a thorough master of the art of evading the law, and
not at all troubled by scruples. With such an adviser, it would
be mere child's play to conceal his financial embarrassments and
deceive the most suspicious father-in-law. So M. de Valorsay did
not hesitate a moment. He frankly disclosed his pecuniary
condition and his matrimonial hopes, and concluded by promising M.
Fortunat a certain percentage on the bride's dowry, to be paid on
the day following the marriage.
After a prolonged conference, the agreement was drawn up and
signed, and that very day M. Fortunat took the nobleman's
interests in hand. How heartily, and with what confidence in his
success, is shown by the fact that he had advanced forty thousand
francs for his client's use, out of his own private purse. After
such a proof of confidence the marquis could hardly have been
dissatisfied with his adviser; in point of fact, he was delighted
with him, and all the more so, as this invaluable man always
treated him with extreme deference, verging on servility. And in
M. de Valorsay's eyes this was a great consideration; for he was
becoming more arrogant and more irascible in proportion as his
right to be so diminished. Secretly disgusted with himself, and
deeply humiliated by the shameful intrigue to which he had
stooped, he took a secret satisfaction in crushing his accomplice
with his imaginary superiority and lordly disdain. According as
his humor was good or bad, he called him "my dear extortioner,"
"Mons. Fortunat," or "Master Twenty-per-cent." But though these
sneers and insults drove the obsequious smile from M. Fortunat's
lips, he was quite capable of including them in the bill under the
head of sundries.
The unvarying deference and submission which M. de Valorsay's
adviser displayed made his failure to keep the present appointment
all the more remarkable. Such neglect of the commonest rules of
courtesy was inconceivable on the part of so polite a man; and the
marquis's anger gradually changed to anxiety. "What can have
happened?" he thought.
He was trying to decide whether he should leave or stay, when he
heard a key grate in the lock of the outer door, and then some
quick steps along the ante-room. "At last--here he is!" he
muttered, with a sigh of relief.
He expected to see M. Fortunat enter the room at once, but he was
disappointed. The agent had no desire to show himself in the garb
which he had assumed for his excursion with Chupin; and so he had
hastened to his room to don his wonted habiliments. He also
desired a few moments for deliberation.
If--as was most probably the case--M. de Valorsay were ignorant of
the Count de Chalusse's critical condition, was it advisable to
tell him of it? M. Fortunat thought not, judging with reason that
this would lead to a discussion and very possibly to a rupture,
and he wished to avoid anything of the kind until he was quite
certain of the count's death.
Meanwhile the marquis was thinking--he was a trifle late about it--
that he had done wrong to wait in that drawing-room for three
mortal hours. Was such conduct worthy of him? Had he shown
himself proper respect? Would not M. Fortunat construe this as an
acknowledgment of the importance of his services and his client's
urgent need? Would he not become more exacting, more exorbitant
in his demands? If the marquis could have made his escape
unheard, he would, no doubt, have done so; but this was out of the
question. So he resorted to a stratagem which seemed to him
likely to save his compromised dignity. He stretched himself out
in his arm-chair, closed his eyes, and pretended to doze. Then,
when M. Fortunat at last entered the drawing-room he sprang up as
if he were suddenly aroused from slumber, rubbed his eyes, and
exclaimed: "Eh! what's that? Upon my word I must have been
But M. Fortunat was not deceived. He noticed, on the floor, a
torn and crumpled newspaper, which betrayed the impatience and
anger his client had experienced during his long waiting. "Well,"
resumed the marquis, "what time is it? Half-past twelve? This is
a pretty time to keep an appointment fixed for ten o'clock. This
is presuming on my good-nature, M. Fortunat! Do you know that my
carriage has been waiting below ever since half-past nine, and
that my horses have, perhaps, taken cold? A pair of horses worth
six hundred louis!"
M. Fortunat listened to these reproaches with the deepest
humility. "You must excuse me, Monsieur le Marquis," said he.
"If I remained out so much later than usual, it was only because
your business interests detained me."
"Zounds! that is about the same as if it had been your own
business that detained you!" And well pleased with this joke, he
added, "Ah well! How are affairs progressing?"
"On my side as well as could be desired."
The marquis had resumed his seat in the chimney-corner, and was
poking the fire with a haughty, but poorly assumed air of
indifference. "I am listening," he said carelessly.
"In that case, Monsieur le Marquis, I will state the facts in a
few words, without going into particulars. Thanks to an expedient
devised by me, we shall obtain for twenty hours a release from all
the mortgages that now encumber your estates. On that very day we
will request a certificate from the recorder. This certificate
will declare that your estates are free from all encumbrances; you
will show this statement to M. de Chalusse, and all his doubts--
that is, if he has any--will vanish. The plan was very simple;
the only difficulty was about raising the money, but I have
succeeded in doing so. All your creditors but two lent themselves
very readily to the arrangement. I have now won the consent of
the two who at first refused, but we shall have to pay dearly for
it. It will cost you about twenty-six thousand francs."
M. de Valorsay was so delighted that he could not refrain from
clapping his hands. "Then the affair is virtually concluded," he
exclaimed. "In less than a month Mademoiselle Marguerite will be
the Marquise de Valorsay, and I shall have a hundred thousand
francs a year again." Then, noting how gravely M. Fortunat shook
his head: "Ah! so you doubt it!" he cried. "Very well; now it is
your turn to listen. Yesterday I had a long conference with the
Count de Chalusse, and everything has been settled. We exchanged
our word of honor, Master Twenty-per-cent. The count does things
in a princely fashion; he gives Mademoiselle Marguerite two
"Two millions!" the other repeated like an echo.
"Yes, my dear miser, neither more nor less. Only for private
reasons, which he did not explain, the count stipulates that only
two hundred thousand francs shall appear in the marriage contract.
The remaining eighteen hundred thousand francs, he gives to me
unreservedly and unconditionally. Upon my word, I think this very
charming. How does it strike you?"
M. Fortunat made no reply. M. de Valorsay's gayety, instead of
cheering, saddened him. "Ah! my fine fellow," he thought, "you
would sing a different song if you knew that by this time M. de
Chalusse is probably dead, and that most likely Mademoiselle
Marguerite has only her beautiful eyes left her, and will dim them
in weeping for her vanished millions."
But this brilliant scion of the aristocracy had no suspicion of
the real state of affairs, for he continued: "You will say,
perhaps, it is strange, that I, Ange-Marie Robert Dalbou, Marquis
de Valorsay, should marry a girl whose father and mother no one
knows, and whose only name is Marguerite. In this respect it is
true that the match is not exactly a brilliant one. Still, as it
will appear that she merely has a fortune of two hundred thousand
francs, no one will accuse me of marrying for money on the
strength of my name. On the contrary, it will seem to be a lovematch,
and people will suppose that I have grown young again." He
paused, incensed by M. Fortunat's lack of enthusiasm. "Judging
from your long face, Master Twenty-per-cent, one would fancy you
doubted my success," he said.
"It is always best to doubt," replied his adviser,
The marquis shrugged his shoulders. "Even when one has triumphed
over all obstacles?" he asked sneeringly.
"Then, tell me, if you please, what prevents this marriage from
being a foregone conclusion?"
"Mademoiselle Marguerite's consent, Monsieur le Marquis."
It was as if a glass of ice-water had been thrown in M. de
Valorsay's face. He started, turned as pale as death, and then
exclaimed: "I shall have that; I am sure of it."
You could not say that M. Fortunat was angry. Such a man, as cold
and as smooth as a hundred franc piece, has no useless passions.
But he was intensely irritated to hear his client foolishly
chanting the paeons of victory, while he was compelled to conceal
his grief at the loss of his forty thousand francs, deep in the
recesses of his heart. So, far from being touched by the
marquis's evident alarm, it pleased him to be able to turn the
dagger in the wound he had just inflicted. "You must excuse my
incredulity," said he. "It comes entirely from something you,
yourself, told me about a week ago."
"What did I tell you?"
"That you suspected Mademoiselle Marguerite of a--how shall I
express it?--of a secret preference for some other person."
The gloomiest despondency had now followed the marquis's
enthusiasm and exultation. He was evidently in torture. "I more
than suspected it," said he.
"I was certain of it, thanks to the count's house-keeper, Madame
Leon, a miserable old woman whom I have hired to look after my
interests. She has been watching Mademoiselle Marguerite, and saw
a letter written by her----"
"Certainly nothing has passed that Mademoiselle Marguerite has any
cause to blush for. The letter, which is now in my possession,
contains unmistakable proofs of that. She might proudly avow the
love she has inspired, and which she undoubtedly returns. Yet----"
M. Fortunat's gaze was so intent that it became unbearable. "You
see, then," he began, "that I had good cause to fear "
Exasperated beyond endurance, M. de Valorsay sprang up so
violently that he overturned his chair. "No!" he exclaimed, "no,
a thousand times no! You are wrong--for the man who loves
Mademoiselle Marguerite is now ruined. Yes, such is really the
case. While we are sitting here, at this very moment, he is lost--
irredeemably lost. Between him and the woman whom I wish to
marry--whom I SHALL marry--I have dug so broad and deep an abyss
that the strongest love cannot overleap it. It is better and
worse than if I had killed him. Dead, he would have been mourned,
perhaps; while now, the lowest and most degraded woman would turn
from him in disgust, or, even if she loved him, she would not dare
to confess it."
M. Fortunat seemed greatly disturbed. "Have you then put into
execution the project--the plan you spoke of?" he faltered. "I
thought you were only jesting."
The marquis lowered his head. "Yes," he answered.
His companion stood for a moment as if petrified, and then
suddenly exclaimed: "What! You have done that--you--a gentleman?"
M. de Valorsay paced the floor in a state of intense agitation.
Had he caught a glimpse of his own face in the looking-glass, it
would have frightened him. "A gentleman!" he repeated, in a tone
of suppressed rage; "a gentleman! That word is in everybody's
mouth, nowadays. Pray, what do you understand by a gentleman,
Mons. Fortunat? No doubt, you mean a heroic idiot who passed
through life with a lofty mien, clad in all the virtues, as
stoical as Job, and as resigned as a martyr--a sort of moral Don
Quixote, preaching the austerest virtue, and practising it? But,
unfortunately, nobility of soul and of purpose are expensive
luxuries, and I am a ruined man. I am no saint! I love life and
all that makes life beautiful and desirable--and to procure its
pleasures I must fight with the weapons of the age. No doubt, it
is grand to be honest; but in my case it is so impossible, that I
prefer to be dishonest--to commit an act of shameful infamy which
will yield a hundred thousand francs a year. This man is in my
way--I suppress him--so much the worse for him--he has no business
to be in my way. If I could have met him openly, I would have
dispatched him according to the accepted code of honor; but, then,
I should have had to renounce all idea of marrying Mademoiselle
Marguerite, so I was obliged to find some other way. I could not
choose my means. The drowning man does not reject the plank,
which is his only chance of salvation, because it chances to be
His gestures were even more forcible than his words; and when he
concluded, he threw himself on to the sofa, holding his head
tightly between his hands, as if he felt that it was bursting.
Anger choked his utterance--not anger so much as something he
would not confess, the quickening of his own conscience and the
revolt of every honorable instinct; for, in spite of his sins of
omission, and of commission, never, until this day, had he
actually violated any clause of the code acknowledged by men of
"You have been guilty of a most infamous act, Monsieur le
Marquis," said M. Fortunat, coldly.
"Oh! no moralizing, if you please."
"Only evil will come of it."
The marquis shrugged his shoulders, and in a tone of bitter scorn,
retorted: "Come, Mons. Fortunat, if you wish to lose the forty
thousand francs you advanced to me, it's easy enough to do so.
Run to Madame d'Argeles's house, ask for M. de Coralth, and tell
him I countermand my order. My rival will be saved, and will
marry Mademoiselle Marguerite and her millions."
M. Fortunat remained silent. He could not tell the marquis: "My
forty thousand francs are lost already. I know that only too
well. Mademoiselle Marguerite is no longer the possessor of
millions, and you have committed a useless crime." However, it
was this conviction which imparted such an accent of eagerness to
his words as he continued to plead the cause of virtue and of
honesty. Would he have said as much if he had entertained any
great hope of the success of the marquis's matrimonial enterprise?
It is doubtful, still we must do M. Fortunat the justice to admit
that he was really and sincerely horrified by what he had
unhesitatingly styled an "infamous act."
The marquis listened to his agent for a few moments in silence,
and then rose to his feet again. "All this is very true," he
interrupted; "but I am, nevertheless, anxious to learn the result
of my little plot. For this reason, Monsieur Fortunat, give me at
once the five hundred louis you promised me, and I will then bid
you good-evening."
The agent had been preparing himself for this moment, and yet he
trembled. "I am deeply grieved, monsieur," he replied, with a
doleful smile; "it was this matter that kept me out so much later
than usual this evening. I hoped to have obtained the money from
a banker, who has always accommodated me before--M. Prosper
Bertomy, you know him: he married M. Andre Fauvel's niece----"
"Yes, I know; proceed, if you please."
"Ah, well! it was impossible for me to procure the money."
The marquis had hitherto been pale, but now his face flushed
crimson. "This is a jest, I suppose," said he.
There was a moment's silence, which the marquis probably spent in
reflecting upon the probable consequences of this disappointment,
for it was in an almost threatening tone that he eventually
exclaimed: "You know that I must have this money at once--that I
must have it."
M. Fortunat would certainly have preferred to lose a good pound of
flesh rather than the sum of money mentioned; but, on the other
hand, he felt that it would not do for him to sever his connection
with his client until the death of the Count de Chalusse was
certain; and being anxious to save his money and to keep his
client, his embarrassment was extreme. "It was the most
unfortunate thing in the world," he stammered; "I apprehended no
difficulty whatever--" Then, suddenly clapping his hand to his
forehead, he exclaimed: "But, Monsieur le Marquis, couldn't you
borrow this amount from one of your friends, the Duke de Champdoce
or the Count de Commarin?--that would be a good idea."
M. de Valorsay was anything but unsophisticated, and his natural
shrewdness had been rendered much more acute by the difficulties
with which he had recently been obliged to contend. M. Fortunat's
confusion had not escaped his keen glance; and this last
suggestion aroused his suspicions at once. "What!" he said,
slowly, and with an air of evident distrust. "YOU give me this
advice, Master Twenty-per-cent. This is wonderful! How long is it
since your opinions have undergone such a change?"
"My opinions?"
"Yes. Didn't you say to me during our first interview; 'The thing
that will save you, is that you have never in your while life
borrowed a louis from a friend. An ordinary creditor only thinks
of a large interest; and if that is paid him he holds his peace.
A friend is never satisfied until everybody knows that he has
generously obliged you. It is far better to apply to a usurer.' I
thought all that very sensible, and I quite agreed with you when
you added: 'So, Monsieur le Marquis, no borrowing of this kind
until after your marriage--not on any pretext whatever. Go
without eating rather than do it. Your credit is still good; but
it is being slowly undermined--and the indiscretion of a friend
who chanced to say: "I think Valorsay is hard up," might fire the
train, and then you'd explode.'"
M. Fortunat's embarrassment was really painful to witness. He was
not usually wanting in courage, but the events of the evening had
shaken his confidence and his composure. The hope of gain and the
fear of loss had deprived him of his wonted clearness of mind.
Feeling that he had just committed a terrible blunder, he racked
his brain to find some way of repairing it, and finding none, his
confusion increased.
"Did you, or didn't you, use that language?" insisted M. de
Valorsay. "What have you to say in reply?"
"What circumstances?"
"Urgent need--necessity. There is no rule without its exceptions.
I did not imagine you would be so rash. I have advanced you forty
thousand francs in less than five months--it is outrageous. If I
were in your place, I would be more reasonable--I would economize----"
He paused! in fact, he was compelled to pause by the piercing
glance which M. de Valorsay turned upon him. He was furious with
himself. "I am losing my wits," he thought.
"Still more wise counsel," remarked the ruined nobleman
ironically. "While you are about it, why don't you advise me to
sell my horses and carriages, and establish myself in a garret in
the Rue Amelot? Such a course would seem very natural, wouldn't
it? and, of course, it would inspire M. de Chalusse with boundless
"But without going to such extremes----"
"Hold your tongue!" interrupted the marquis, violently. "Better
than any one else you know that I cannot retrench, although the
reality no longer exists. I am condemned, cost what it may, to
keep up appearances. That is my only hope of salvation. I have
gambled, given expensive suppers, indulged in dissipation of every
kind, and I must continue to do so. I have come to hate Ninette
Simplon, for whom I have committed so many acts of folly, and yet
I still keep her--to show that I am rolling in wealth. I have
thrown thousand-franc notes out of the window, and I mustn't stop
throwing them. Indeed, what would people say if I stopped! Why,
'Valorsay is a ruined man!' Then, farewell to my hopes of marrying
an heiress. And so I am always gay and smiling; that is part of
my role. What would my servants--the twenty spies that I pay--
what would they think if they saw me thoughtful or disturbed? You
would scarcely believe it, M. Fortunat, but I have positively been
reduced to dining on credit at my club, because I had paid, that
morning, for a month's provender for my horses! It is true I have
many valuable articles in my house, but I cannot dispose of them.
People would recognize them at once; besides, they form a part of
my stock-in-trade. An actor doesn't sell his costumes because
he's hungry--he goes without food--and when it's time for the
curtain to rise, he dons his satin and velvet garments, and,
despite his empty stomach, he chants the praises of a bountiful
table and rare old wine. That is what I am doing--I, Robert
Dalbou, Marquis de Valorsay! At the races at Vincennes, about a
fortnight ago, I was bowling along the boulevard behind my fourin-
hand, when I heard a laborer say, 'How happy those rich people
must be!' Happy, indeed! Why, I envied him his lot. He was sure
that the morrow would be like the day that preceded it. On that
occasion my entire fortune consisted of a single louis, which I
had won at baccarat the evening before. As I entered the
enclosure, Isabelle, the flower-girl, handed me a rose for my
button-hole. I gave her my louis--but I longed to strangle her!"
He paused for a moment, and then, in a frenzy of passion, he
advanced toward M. Fortunat, who instinctively retreated into the
protecting embrasure of a window. "And for eight months I have
lived this horrible life!" he resumed. "For eight months each
moment has been so much torture. Ah! better poverty, prison, and
shame! And now, when the prize is almost won, actuated either by
treason or caprice, you try to make all my toil and all my
suffering unavailing. You try to thwart me on the very threshold
of success! No! I swear, by God's sacred name, it shall not be! I
will rather crush you, you miserable scoundrel--crush you like a
venomous reptile!"
There was such a ring of fury in his voice that the crystals of
the candelabra vibrated; and Madame Dodelin, in her kitchen, heard
it, and shuddered. "Some one will certainly do M. Fortunat an
injury one of these days," she thought.
It was not by any means the first time that M. Fortunat had found
himself at variance with clients of a sanguine temperament; but he
had always escaped safe and sound, so that, after all, he was not
particularly alarmed in the present instance, as was proved by the
fact that he was still calm enough to reflect and plan. "In
forty-eight hours I shall be certain of the count's fate," he
thought; "he will be dead, or he will be in a fair way to
recovery--so by promising to give this frenzied man what he
desires on the day after to-morrow, I shall incur no risk."
Taking advantage of an opportunity which M. de Valorsay furnished,
on pausing to draw breath, he hastily exclaimed, "Really, Monsieur
le Marquis, I cannot understand your anger."
"What! scoundrel!"
"Excuse me. Before insulting me, permit me to explain----"
"No explanation--five hundred louis!"
"Have the kindness to allow me to finish. Yes, I know that you
are in urgent need of money--not by-and-by, but now. To-day I was
unable to procure it, nor can I promise it to-morrow; but on the
day after to-morrow, Saturday, I shall certainly have it ready for
The marquis seemed to be trying to read his agent's very soul.
"Are you in earnest?" he asked. "Show your hand. If you don't
intend to help me out of my embarrassment, say so."
"Ah, Monsieur le Marquis, am I not as much interested in your
success as you yourself can be? Have you not received abundant
proofs of my devotion?"
"Then I can rely upon you."
"Absolutely." And seeing a lingering doubt in his client's eyes,
M. Fortunat added, "You have my word of honor!"
The clock struck three. The marquis took his hat and started
toward the door. But M. Fortunat, in whose heart the word
scoundrel was still rankling, stopped him. "Are you going to that
lady's house now? What is she called? I've forgotten her name.
Ah, yes, I remember now. Madame d'Argeles, isn't she called?
It's at her place, I believe, that the reputation of Mademoiselle
Marguerite's favored lover is to be ruined."
The marquis turned angrily. "What do you take me for, Master
Twenty-per-cent?" he rudely asked. "That is one of those things
no well-bred gentleman will do himself. But in Paris people can
be found to do any kind of dirty work, if you are willing to pay
them for it."
"Then how will you know the result?"
"Why, twenty minutes after the affair is over, M. de Coralth will
be at my house. He is there even now, perhaps." And as this
subject was anything but pleasant, he hastened away, exclaiming,
"Get to bed, my dear extortioner. Au revoir. And, above all,
remember your promise."
"My respects, Monsieur le Marquis."
But when the door closed, M. Fortunat's expression immediately
changed. "Ah! you insult me!" he muttered sullenly. "You rob me,
and you call me a scoundrel into the bargain. You shall pay
dearly for it, my fine fellow, no matter what may happen!"
It is in vain that the law has endeavored to shield private life
from prying eyes. The scribes who pander to Parisian curiosity
surmount all obstacles and brave every danger. Thanks to the
"High Life" reporters, every newspaper reader is aware that twice
a week--Mondays and Thursdays--Madame Lia d'Argeles holds a
reception at her charming mansion in the Rue de Berry. Her guests
find plenty of amusement there. They seldom dance; but cardplaying
begins at midnight, and a dainty supper is served before
the departure of the guests.
It was on leaving one of these little entertainments that that
unfortunate young man, Jules Chazel, a cashier in a large bankinghouse,
committed suicide by blowing out his brains. The brilliant
frequenters of Madame d'Argeles's entertainments considered this
act proof of exceeding bad taste and deplorable weakness on his
part. "The fellow was a coward," they declared. "Why, he had
lost hardly a thousand louis!"
He had lost only that, it is true--a mere trifle as times go.
Only the money was not his; he had taken it from the safe which
was confided to his keeping, expecting, probably, to double the
amount in a single night. In the morning, when he found himself
alone, without a penny, and the deficit staring him in the face,
the voice of conscience cried, "You are a thief!" and he lost his
The event created a great sensation at the time, and the Petit
Journal published a curious story concerning this unfortunate
young man's mother. The poor woman--she was a widow--sold all she
possessed, even the bed on which she slept, and when she had
succeeded in gathering together twenty thousand francs--the ransom
of her son's honor--she carried them to the banker by whom her boy
had been employed. He took them, without even asking the mother
if she had enough left to purchase her dinner that evening; and
the fine gentleman, who had won and pocketed Jules Chazel's stolen
gold, thought the banker's conduct perfectly natural and just. It
is true that Madame d'Argeles was in despair during forty-eight
hours or so; for the police had begun a sort of investigation, and
she feared this might frighten her visitors and empty her drawingrooms.
Not at all, however; on the contrary, she had good cause
to congratulate herself upon the notoriety she gained through this
suicide. For five days she was the talk of Paris, and Alfred
d'Aunay even published her portrait in the Illustrated Chronicle.
Still, no one was able to say exactly who Madame Lia d'Argeles
was. Who was she, and whence did she come? How had she lived
until she sprang up, full grown, in the sunshine of the
fashionable world? Did the splendid mansion in the Rue de Berry
really belong to her? Was she as rich as she was supposed to be?
Where had she acquired such manners, the manners of a thorough
woman of the world, with her many accomplishments, as well as her
remarkable skill as a musician? Everything connected with her was
a subject of conjecture, even to the name inscribed upon her
visiting cards--"Lia d'Argeles."
But no matter. Her house was always filled to over-flowing; and
at the very moment when the Marquis de Valorsay and M. Fortunat
were speaking of her, a dozen coroneted carriages stood before her
door, and her rooms were thronged with guests. It was a little
past midnight, and the bi-weekly card party had just been made up,
when a footman announced, "Monsieur le Vicomte de Coralth!
Monsieur Pascal Ferailleur!"
Few of the players deigned to raise their heads. But one man
growled, "Good--two more players!" And four or five young men
exclaimed, "Ah! here's Ferdinand! Good evening, my dear fellow!"
M. de Coralth was very young and remarkably good-looking, almost
too good-looking, indeed; for his handsomeness was somewhat
startling and unnatural. He had an exceedingly fair complexion,
and large, melting black eyes, while a woman might have envied him
his wavy brown hair and the exquisite delicacy of his skin. He
dressed with great care and taste, and even coquettishly; his
turn-down collar left his firm white throat uncovered, and his
rose-tinted gloves fitted as perfectly as the skin upon his soft,
delicate hands. He bowed familiarly on entering, and with a
rather complacent smile on his lips, he approached Madame
d'Argeles, who, half reclining in an easy chair near the fireplace,
was conversing with two elderly gentlemen of grave and
distinguished bearing. "How late you are, viscount," she remarked
carelessly. "What have you been doing to-day? I fancied I saw
you in the Bois, in the Marquis de Valorsay's dog-cart."
A slight flush suffused M. de Coralth's cheeks, and to hide it,
perhaps, he turned toward the visitor who had entered with him,
and drew him toward Madame d'Argeles, saying, "Allow me, madame,
to present to you one of my great friends, M. Pascal Ferailleur,
an advocate whose name will be known to fame some day."
"Your friends are always welcome at my house, my dear viscount,"
replied Madame d'Argeles. And before Pascal had concluded his
bow, she averted her head, and resumed her interrupted
The new-comer, however, was worthy of more than that cursory
notice. He was a young man of five or six-and-twenty, darkcomplexioned
and tall; each movement of his person was imbued with
that natural grace which is the result of perfect harmony of the
muscles, and of more than common vigor. His features were
irregular, but they gave evidence of energy, kindness of heart,
and honesty of purpose. A man possessing such a proud,
intelligent, and open brow, such a clear, straightforward gaze,
and such finely-cut lips, could be no ordinary one. Deserted by
his sponsor, who was shaking hands right and left, he seated
himself on a sofa a little in the background; not because he was
embarrassed, but because he felt that instinctive distrust of self
which frequently seizes hold of a person on entering a crowd of
strangers. He did his best to conceal his curiosity, but
nevertheless he looked and listened with all his might.
The salon, was an immense apartment, divided into two rooms by
sliding doors and hangings. When Madame d'Argeles gave a ball,
the rooms were thrown into one; but, as a general rule, one room
was occupied by the card-players, and the other served as a refuge
for those who wished to chat. The card-room, into which Pascal
had been ushered, was an apartment of noble proportions, furnished
in a style of tasteful magnificence. The tints of the carpet were
subdued; there was not too much gilding on the cornices; the clock
upon the mantel-shelf was chaste and elegant in design. The only
thing at all peculiar about the room and its appointments was a
reflector, ingeniously arranged above the chandelier in such a way
as to throw the full glare of the candles upon the card-table
which stood directly beneath it. The table itself was adorned
with a rich tapestry cover, but this was visible only at the
corners, for it was covered, in turn, with a green baize cloth
considerably the worse for wear. Madame d'Argeles's guests were
probably not over fifty in number, but they all seemed to belong
to the very best society. The majority of them were men of forty
or thereabouts; several wore decorations, and two or three of the
eldest were treated with marked deference. Certain well-known
names which Pascal overheard surprised him greatly. "What! these
men here?" he said to himself; "and I--I regarded my visit as a
sort of clandestine frolic."
There were only seven or eight ladies present, none of them being
especially attractive. Their toilettes were very costly, but in
rather doubtful taste, and they wore a profusion of diamonds.
Pascal noticed that these ladies were treated with perfect
indifference, and that, whenever the gentlemen spoke to them, they
assumed an air of politeness which was too exaggerated not to be
A score of persons were seated at the card-table, and the guests
who had retired into the adjoining salon were silently watching
the progress of the game, or quietly chatting in the corners of
the room. It surprised him to note that every one spoke in very
low tones; there was something very like respect, even awe, in
this subdued murmur. One might have supposed that those present
were celebrating the rites of some mysterious worship. And is not
gaming a species of idolatry, symbolized by cards, and which has
its images, its fetishes, its miracles, its fanatics, and its
Occasionally, above the accompaniment of whispers, rose the
strange and incoherent exclamations of the players: "Here are
twenty louis! I take it--I pass! The play is made! Banco!"
"What a strange gathering!" thought Pascal Ferailleur. "What
singular people!" And he turned his attention to the mistress of
the house, as if he hoped to decipher the solution of the enigma
on her face.
But Madame Lia d'Argeles defied all analysis. She was one of
those women whose uncertain age varies according to their mood,
between the thirties and the fifties; one who did not look over
thirty in the evening, but who would have been charged with being
more than fifty the next morning. In her youth she must have been
very beautiful, and she was still good-looking, though she had
grown somewhat stout, and her face had become a trifle heavy, thus
marring the symmetry of her very delicate features. A perfect
blonde, she had eyes of so clear a blue that they seemed almost
faded. The whiteness of her skin was so unnatural that it almost
startled one. It was the dull, lifeless white which suggests an
excessive use of cosmetics and rice powder, and long baths, late
hours, and sleep at day-time, in a darkened room. Her face was
utterly devoid of expression. One might have fancied that its
muscles had become relaxed after terrible efforts to feign or to
conceal some violent emotions; and there was something melancholy,
almost terrifying in the eternal, and perhaps involuntary smile,
which curved her lips. She wore a dress of black velvet, with
slashed sleeves and bodice, a new design of the famous manmilliner,
Van Klopen.
Pascal was engaged in these observations when M. de Coralth,
having made his round, came and sat down on the sofa beside him.
"Well, what do you think of it?" he inquired.
"Upon my word!" replied the young advocate, "I am infinitely
obliged to you for inviting me to accompany you here. I am
intensely amused."
"Good! My philosopher is captivated."
"Not captivated, but interested, I confess." Then, in the tone of
good-humor which was habitual to him, he added: "As for being the
sage you call me, that's all nonsense. And to prove it, I'm going
to risk my louis with the rest."
M. de Coralth seemed amazed, but a close observer might have
detected a gleam of triumph in his eyes. "You are going to play--
"Yes. Why not?"
"Take care!"
"Of what, pray? The worst I can do is to lose what I have in my
pocket--something over two hundred francs."
The viscount shook his head thoughtfully. "It isn't that which
one has cause to fear. The devil always has a hand in this
business, and the first time a man plays he's sure to win."
"And is that a misfortune?"
"Yes, because the recollection of these first winnings is sure to
lure you back to the gaming-table again. You go back, you lose,
you try to recover your money, and that's the end of it--you
become a gambler."
Pascal Ferailleur's smile was the smile of a man who has full
confidence in himself. "My brain is not so easily turned, I
hope," said he. "I have the thought of my name, and the fortune I
must make, as ballast for it."
"I beseech you not to play," insisted the viscount. "Listen to
me; you don't know what this passion for play is; the strongest
and the coldest natures succumb--don't play."
He had raised his voice, as if he intended to be overheard by two
guests who had just approached the sofa. They did indeed hear
him. "Can I believe my own eyes and ears!" exclaimed one of them,
an elderly man. "Can this really be Ferdinand who is trying to
shake the allegiance of the votaries of our noble lady--the Queen
of Spades?"
M. de Coralth turned quickly round: "Yes, it is indeed I," he
answered. "I have purchased with my patrimony the right of
saying: 'Distrust yourself, and don't do as I've done,' to an
inexperienced friend."
The wisest counsels, given in a certain fashion, never fail to
produce an effect diametrically opposed to that which they
seemingly aim at. M. de Coralth's persistence, and the importance
he attached to a mere trifle, could not fail to annoy the most
patient man in the world, and in fact his patronizing tone really
irritated Pascal. "You are free, my friend, to do as you please,"
said he; "but I----"
"Are you resolved?" interrupted the viscount.
"So be it, then. You are no longer a child, and I have warned
you. Let us play, then." Thereupon they approached the table;
room was made for them, and they seated themselves, Pascal being
on M. Ferdinand de Coralth's right-hand side.
The guests were playing "Baccarat tournant," a game of terrible
and infantile simplicity. There are no such things as skill or
combination possible in it; science and calculation are useless.
Chance alone decides, and decides with the rapidity of lightning.
Amateurs certainly assert that, with great coolness and long
practice, one can, in a measure at least, avert prolonged illluck.
Maybe they are right, but it is not conclusively proved.
Each person takes the cards in his turn, risks what he chooses,
and when his stakes are covered, deals. If he wins, he is free to
follow up his vein of good-luck, or to pass the deal. When he
loses, the deal passes at once to the next player on the right.
A moment sufficed for Pascal Ferailleur to learn the rules of the
game. It was already Ferdinand's deal. M. de Coralth staked a
hundred francs; the bet was taken; he dealt, lost, and handed the
cards to Pascal.
The play, which had been rather timid at first--since it was
necessary, as they say, to try the luck--had now become bolder.
Several players had large piles of gold before them, and the heavy
artillery--that is to say, bank-notes--were beginning to put in
appearance. But Pascal had no false pride. "I stake a louis!"
said he
The smallness of the sum attracted instant attention, and two or
three voices replied: "Taken!"
He dealt, and won. "Two louis!" he said again. this wager was
also taken; he won, and his run of luck was so remarkable that, in
a wonderfully short space of time, he won six hundred francs.
"Pass the deal," whispered Ferdinand, and Pascal followed this
advice. "Not because I desire to keep my winnings," he whispered
in M. de Coralth's ear, "but because I wish to have enough to play
until the end of the evening without risking anything."
But such prudence was unnecessary so far as he was concerned.
When the deal came to him again, fortune favored him even more
than before. He started with a hundred francs, and doubling them
each time in six successive deals, he won more than three thousand
"The devil! Monsieur is in luck."--"Zounds! And he is playing for
the first time."--"That accounts for it. The inexperienced always
Pascal could not fail to hear these comments. The blood mantled
over his cheeks, and, conscious that he was flushing, he, as
usually happens, flushed still more. His good fortune embarrassed
him, as was evident, and he played most recklessly. Still his
good luck did not desert him; and do what he would he won--won
continually. In fact, by four o'clock in the morning he had
thirty-five thousand francs before him.
For some time he had been the object of close attention. "Do you
know this gentleman?" inquired one of the guests.
"No. He came with Coralth."
"He is an advocate, I understand."
And all these whispered doubts and suspicions, these questions
fraught with an evil significance, these uncharitable replies,
grew into a malevolent murmur, which resounded in Pascal's ears
and bewildered him. He was really becoming most uncomfortable,
when Madame d'Argeles approached the card-table and exclaimed:
"This is the third time, gentlemen, that you have been told that
supper is ready. What gentleman will offer me his arm?"
There was an evident unwillingness to leave the table, but an old
gentleman who had been losing heavily rose to his feet. "Yes, let
us go to supper!" he exclaimed; "perhaps that will change the
This was a decisive consideration. The room emptied as if by
magic; and no one was left at the table but Pascal, who scarcely
knew what to do with all the gold piled up before him. He
succeeded, however, in distributing it in his pockets, and was
about to join the other guests in the dining-room, when Madame
d'Argeles abruptly barred his passage.
"I desire a word with you, monsieur," she said. Her face still
retained its strange immobility, and the same stereotyped smile
played about her lips. And yet her agitation was so evident that
Pascal, in spite of his own uneasiness, noticed it, and was
astonished by it.
"I am at your service, madame," he stammered, bowing.
She at once took his arm, and led him to the embrasure of a
window. "I am a stranger to you, monsieur," she said, very
hurriedly, and in very low tones, "and yet I must ask, and you
must grant me, a great favor."
"Speak, madame."
She hesitated, as if at a loss for words, and then all of a sudden
she said, eagerly: "You will leave this house at once, without
warning any one, and while the other guests are at supper."
Pascal's astonishment changed into stupor.
"Why am I to go?" he asked.
"Because--but, no; I cannot tell you. Consider it only a caprice
on my part--it is so; but I entreat you, don't refuse me. Do me
this favor, and I shall be eternally grateful."
There was such an agony of supplication in her voice and her
attitude, that Pascal was touched. A vague presentiment of some
terrible, irreparable misfortune disturbed his own heart.
Nevertheless, he sadly shook his head, and bitterly exclaimed:
"You are, perhaps, not aware that I have just won over thirty
thousand francs."
"Yes, I am aware of it. And this is only another, and still
stronger reason why you should protect yourself against possible
loss. It is well to pattern after Charlemagne* in this house.
The other night, the Count d'Antas quietly made his escape
bareheaded. He took a thousand louis away with him, and left his
hat in exchange. The count is a brave man; and far from indulging
in blame, every one applauded him the next day. Come, you have
decided, I see--you will go; and to be still more safe, I will
show you out through the servants' hall, then no one can possibly
see you."
* French gamblers use this expression which they explain by the
fact that Charlemagne departed this life with all his possessions
intact, having always added to his dominions without ever
experiencing a loss. Historically this is no doubt incorrect, hut
none the less, the expression prevails in France.--[TRANS.]
Pascal had almost decided to yield to her entreaties; but this
proposed retreat through the back-door was too revolting to his
pride to be thought of for a moment. "I will never consent to
such a thing," he declared. "What would they think of me?
Besides I owe them their revenge and I shall give it to them."
Neither Madame d'Argeles nor Pascal had noticed M. de Coralth, who
in the meantime had stolen into the room on tiptoe, and had been
listening to their conversation, concealed behind the folds of a
heavy curtain. He now suddenly revealed his presence. "Ah! my
dear friend," he exclaimed, in a winning tone. "While I honor
your scruples, I must say that I think madame is a hundred times
right. If I were in your place, if I had won what you have won, I
shouldn't hesitate. Others might think what they pleased; you
have the money, that is the main thing."
For the second time, the viscount's intervention decided Pascal.
"I shall remain," he said, resolutely.
But Madame d'Argeles laid her hand imploringly on his arm. "I
entreat you, monsieur," said she. "Go now, there is still time "
"Yes, go," said the viscount, approvingly, "it would be a most
excellent move. Retreat and save the cash."
These words were like the drop which makes the cup overflow.
Crimson with anger and assailed by the strangest suspicions,
Pascal turned from Madame d'Argeles and hastened into the diningroom.
The conversation ceased entirely on his arrival there. He
could not fail to understand that he had been the subject of it.
A secret instinct warned him that all the men around him were his
enemies--though he knew not why--and that they were plotting
against him. He also perceived that his slightest movements were
watched and commented upon. However he was a brave man; his
conscience did not reproach him in the least, and he was one of
those persons who, rather than wait for danger, provoke it.
So, with an almost defiant air, he seated himself beside a young
lady dressed in pink tulle, and began to laugh and chat with her.
He possessed a ready wit, and what is even better, tact; and for a
quarter of an hour astonished those around him by his brilliant
sallies. Champagne was flowing freely; and he drank four or five
glasses in quick succession. Was he really conscious of what he
was doing and saying? He subsequently declared that he was not,
that he acted under the influence of a sort of hallucination
similar to that produced by the inhalation of carbonic gas.
However, the guests did not linger long at the supper-table. "Let
us go back!" cried the old gentleman, who had insisted upon the
suspension of the game; "we are wasting a deal of precious time
Pascal rose with the others, and in his haste to enter the
adjoining room he jostled two men who were talking together near
the door. "So it is understood," said one of them.
"Yes, yes, leave it to me; I will act as executioner."
This word sent all Pascal's blood bounding to his heart. "Who is
to be executed?" he thought? "I am evidently to be the victim. But
what does it all mean?"
Meanwhile the players at the green table had changed places, and
Pascal found himself seated not on Ferdinand's right, but directly
opposite him, and between two men about his own age--one of them
being the person who had announced his intention of acting as
executioner. All eyes were fixed upon the unfortunate advocate
when it came his turn to deal. He staked two hundred louis, and
lost them. There was a slight commotion round the table; and one
of the players who had lost most heavily, remarked in an
undertone: "Don't look so hard at the gentleman--he won't have any
more luck."
As Pascal heard this ironical remark, uttered in a tone which made
it as insulting as a blow, a gleam of light darted through his
puzzled brain. He suspected at last, what any person less honest
than himself would have long before understood. He thought of
rising and demanding an apology; but he was stunned, almost
overcome by the horrors of his situation. His ears tingled, and
it seemed to him as if the beating of his heart were suspended.
However the game proceeded; but no one paid any attention to it.
The stakes were insignificant, and loss or gain drew no
exclamation from any one. The attention of the entire party was
concentrated on Pascal; and he, with despair in his heart,
followed the movements of the cards, which were passing from hand
to hand, and fast approaching him again. When they reached him
the silence became breathless, menacing, even sinister. The
ladies, and the guests who were not playing, approached and leaned
over the table in evident anxiety. "My God!" thought Pascal, "my
God, if I can only lose!"
He was as pale as death; the perspiration trickled down from his
hair upon his temples, and his hands trembled so much that he
could scarcely hold the cards. "I will stake four thousand
francs," he faltered.
"I take your bet," answered a voice.
Alas! the unfortunate fellow's wish was not gratified; he won.
Then in the midst of the wildest confusion, he exclaimed: "Here
are eight thousand francs!"
But as he began to deal the cards, his neighbor sprang up, seized
him roughly by the hands and cried: "This time I'm sure of it--
you are a thief!"
With a bound, Pascal was on his feet. While his peril had been
vague and undetermined, his energy had been paralyzed. But it was
restored to him intact when his danger declared itself in all its
horror. He pushed away the man who had caught his hands, with
such violence that he sent him reeling under a sofa; then he
stepped back and surveyed the excited throng with an air of menace
and defiance. Useless! Seven or eight players sprang upon him and
overpowered him, as if he had been the vilest criminal.
Meanwhile, the executioner, as he had styled himself, had risen to
his feet with his cravat untied, and his clothes in wild disorder.
"Yes," he said, addressing Pascal, "you are a thief! I saw you
slip other cards among those which were handed to you."
"Wretch!" gasped Pascal.
"I saw you--and I am going to prove it." So saying he turned to
the mistress of the house, who had dropped into an arm-chair, and
imperiously asked, "How many packs have we used?"
"Then there ought to be two hundred and sixty cards upon the
Thereupon he counted them slowly and with particular care, and he
found no fewer than three hundred and seven. "Well, scoundrel!"
he cried; "are you still bold enough to deny it?"
Pascal had no desire to deny it. He knew that words would weigh
as nothing against this material, tangible, incontrovertible
proof. Forty-seven cards had been fraudulently inserted among the
others. Certainly not by him! But by whom? Still he, alone, had
been the gainer through the deception.
"You see that the coward will not even defend himself!" exclaimed
one of the women.
He did not deign to turn his head. What did the insult matter to
him? He knew himself to be innocent, and yet he felt that he was
sinking to the lowest depths of infamy--he beheld himself
disgraced, branded, ruined. And realizing that he must meet facts
with facts, he besought God to grant him an idea, an inspiration,
that would unmask the real culprit.
But another person came to his aid. With a boldness which no one
would have expected on his part, M. de Coralth placed himself in
front of Pascal, and in a voice which betokened more indignation
than sorrow, he exclaimed: "This is a terrible mistake,
gentlemen. Pascal Ferailleur is my friend; and his past vouches
for his present. Go to the Palais de Justice, and make inquiries
respecting his character there. They will tell you how utterly
impossible it is that this man can be guilty of the ignoble act he
is accused of."
No one made any reply. In the opinion of all his listeners,
Ferdinand was simply fulfilling a duty which it would have been
difficult for him to escape. The old gentleman who had decided
the suspension and the resumption of the game, gave audible
expression to the prevailing sentiment of the party. He was a
portly man, who puffed like a porpoise when he talked, and whom
his companions called the baron. "Your words do you honor--really
do you honor," he said, addressing Ferdinand--"and no possible
blame can attach to you. That your friend is not an honest man is
no fault of yours. There is no outward sign to distinguish
Pascal had so far not opened his lips. After struggling for a
moment in the hands of his captors, he now stood perfectly
motionless, glancing furiously around him as if hoping to discover
the coward who had prepared the trap into which he had fallen.
For he felt certain that he was the victim of some atrocious
conspiracy, though it was impossible for him to divine what motive
had actuated his enemies. Suddenly those who were holding him
felt him tremble. He raised his head; he fancied he could detect
a ray of hope. "Shall I be allowed to speak in my own defence?"
he asked.
He tried to free himself; but those beside him would not relax
their hold, so he desisted, and then, in a voice husky with
emotion, he exclaimed: "I am innocent! I am the victim of an
infamous plot. Who the author of it is I do not know. But there
is some one here who must know." Angry exclamations and sneering
laughs interrupted him. "Would you condemn me unheard?" he
resumed, raising his voice. "Listen to me. About an hour ago,
while you were at supper, Madame d'Argeles almost threw herself at
my feet as she entreated me to leave this house. Her agitation
astonished me. Now I understand it."
The gentleman known as the baron turned toward Madame d'Argeles:
"Is what this man says true?"
She was greatly agitated, but she answered: "Yes."
"Why were you so anxious for him to go?"
"I don't know--a presentiment--it seemed to me that something was
going to happen."
The least observant of the party could not fail to notice Madame
d'Argeles's hesitation and confusion; but even the shrewdest were
deceived. They supposed that she had seen the act committed, and
had tried to induce the culprit to make his escape, in order to
avoid a scandal.
Pascal saw he could expect no assistance from this source. "M. de
Coralth could assure you," he began.
"Oh, enough of that," interrupted a player. "I myself heard M. de
Coralth do his best to persuade you not to play."
So the unfortunate fellow's last and only hope had vanished.
Still he made a supreme effort, and addressing Madame d'Argeles:
"Madame," he said, in a voice trembling with anguish?" I entreat
you, tell what you know. Will you allow an honorable man to be
ruined before your very eyes? Will you abandon an innocent man
whom you could save by a single word?" But she remained silent;
and Pascal staggered as if some one had dealt him a terrible blow.
"It is all over!" he muttered.
No one heard him; everybody was listening to the baron, who seemed
to be very much put out. "We are wasting precious time with all
this," said he. "We should have made at least five rounds while
this absurd scene has been going on. We must put an end to it.
What are you going to do with this fellow? I am in favor of
sending for a commissary of police."
Such was not at all the opinion of the majority of the guests.
Four or five of the ladies took flight at the bare suggestion and
several men--the most aristocratic of the company--became angry at
once. "Are you mad?" said one of them. "Do you want to see us all
summoned as witnesses? You have probably forgotten that Garcia
affair, and that rumpus at Jenny Fancy's house. A fine thing it
would be to see, no one knows how many great names mixed up with
those of sharpers and notorious women!"
Naturally of a florid complexion, the baron's face now became
scarlet. "So it's fear of scandal that deters you! Zounds, sir! a
man's courage should equal his vices. Look at me."
Celebrated for his income of eight hundred thousand francs a year,
for his estates in Burgundy, for his passion for gaming, his
horses, and his cook, the baron wielded a mighty influence.
Still, on this occasion he did not carry the day, for it was
decided that the "sharper " should be allowed to depart
unmolested. "Make him at least return the money," growled a
loser; "compel him to disgorge."
"His winnings are there upon the table."
"Don't believe it," cried the baron. "All these scoundrels have
secret pockets in which they stow away their plunder. Search him
by all means."
"That's it--search him!"
Crushed by this unexpected, undeserved and incomprehensible
misfortune, Pascal had almost yielded to his fate. But the
shameful cry: "Search him!" kindled terrible wrath in his brain.
He shook off his assailants as a lion shakes off the hounds that
have attacked him, and, reaching the fireplace with a single
bound, he snatched up a heavy bronze candelabrum and brandished it
in the air, crying: "The first who approaches is a dead man!"
He was ready to strike, there was no doubt about it; and such a
weapon in the hands of a determined man, becomes positively
terrible. The danger seemed so great and so certain that his
enemies paused--each encouraging his neighbor with his glance; but
no one was inclined to engage in this struggle, by which the
victor would merely gain a few bank-notes. "Stand back, and allow
me to retire?" said Pascal, imperiously. They still hesitated;
but finally made way. And, formidable in his indignation and
audacity, he reached the door of the room unmolested, and
This superb outburst of outraged honor, this marvellous energy--
succeeding, as it did, the most complete mental prostration--and
these terrible threats, had proved so prompt and awe-inspiring
that no one had thought of cutting off Pascal's retreat. The
guests had not recovered from their stupor, but were still
standing silent and intimidated when they heard the outer door
close after him.
It was a woman who at last broke the spell. "Ah, well!" she
exclaimed, in a tone of intense admiration, "that handsome fellow
is level-headed!"
"He naturally desired to save his plunder!"
It was the same expression that M. de Coralth had employed; and
which had, perhaps, prevented Pascal from yielding to Madame
d'Argeles's entreaties. Everybody applauded the sentiment--
everybody, the baron excepted. This rich man, whose passions had
dragged him into the vilest dens of Europe, was thoroughly
acquainted with sharpers and scoundrels of every type, from those
who ride in their carriages down to the bare-footed vagabond. He
knew the thief who grovels at his victim's feet, humbly confessing
his crime, the desperate knave who swallows the notes he has
stolen, the abject wretch who bares his back to receive the blows
he deserves, and the rascal who boldly confronts his accusers and
protests his innocence with the indignation of an honest man. But
never, in any of these scoundrels, had the baron seen the proud,
steadfast glance with which this man had awed his accusers.
With this thought uppermost in his mind he drew the person who had
seized Pascal's hands at the card-table a little aside. "Tell
me," said he, "did you actually see that young man slip the cards
into the pack?"
"No, not exactly. But you know what we agreed at supper? We were
sure that he was cheating; and it was necessary to find some
pretext for counting the cards."
"What if he shouldn't be guilty, after all?"
"Who else could be guilty then? He was the only winner."
To this terrible argument--the same which had silenced Pascal--the
baron made no reply. Indeed his intervention became necessary
elsewhere, for the other guests were beginning to talk loudly and
excitedly around the pile of gold and bank-notes which Pascal had
left on the table. They had counted it, and found it to amount to
the sum of thirty-six thousand three hundred and twenty francs;
and it was the question of dividing it properly among the losers
which was causing all this uproar. Among these guests, who
belonged to the highest society--among these judges who had so
summarily convicted an innocent man, and suggested the searching
of a supposed sharper only a moment before--there were several who
unblushingly misrepresented their losses. This was undeniable;
for on adding the various amounts that were claimed together a
grand total of ninety-one thousand francs was reached. Had this
man who had just fled taken the difference between the two sums
away with him? A difference amounting almost to fifty-five
thousand francs? No, this was impossible; the supposition could
not be entertained for a moment. However, the discussion might
have taken an unfortunate turn, had it not been for the baron. In
all matters relating to cards, his word was law. He quietly said,
"It is all right;" and they submitted.
Nevertheless, he absolutely refused to take his share of the
money; and after the division, rubbing his hands as if he were
delighted to see this disagreeable affair concluded, he exclaimed:
"It is only six o'clock; we have still time for a few rounds."
But the other guests, pale, disturbed, and secretly ashamed of
themselves, were eager to depart, and in fact they were already
hastening to the cloak-room. "At least play a game of ecarte,"
cried the baron, "a simple game of ecarte, at twenty louis a
But no one listened, and he reluctantly prepared to follow his
departing friends, who bowed to Madame d'Argeles on the landing,
as they filed by, M. de Coralth, who was among the last to retire,
had already reached the staircase, and descended two or three
steps, when Madame d'Argeles called to him. "Remain," said she; "I
want to speak with you."
"You will excuse me," he began; "I----"
But she again bade him "remain" in such an imperious tone that he
dared not resist. He reascended the stairs, very much after the
manner of a man who is being dragged into a dentist's office, and
followed Madame d'Argeles into a small boudoir at the end of the
gambling-room. As soon as the door was closed and locked, the
mistress of the house turned to her prisoner. "Now you will
explain," said she. "It was you who brought M. Pascal Ferailleur
"Alas! I know only too well that I ought to beg your forgiveness.
However, this affair will cost me dear myself. It has already
embroiled me in a difficulty with that fool of a Rochecote, with
whom I shall have to fight in less than a couple of hours."
"Where did you make his acquaintance?"
Madame d'Argeles's sempiternal smile had altogether disappeared.
"I am speaking seriously," said she, with a threatening ring in
her voice. "How did you happen to become acquainted with M.
"That can be very easily explained. Seven or eight months ago I
had need of an advocate's services, and he was recommended to me.
He managed my case very cleverly, and we kept up the
"What is his position?"
M. de Coralth's features wore an expression of exceeding weariness
as if he greatly longed to go to sleep. He had indeed installed
himself in a large arm-chair, in a semi-recumbent position. "Upon
my word, I don't know," he replied. "Pascal had always seemed to
be the most irreproachable man in the world--a man you might call
a philosopher! He lives in a retired part of the city, near the
Pantheon, with his mother, who is a widow, a very respectable
woman, always dressed in black. When she opened the door for me,
on the occasion of my first visit, I thought some old family
portrait had stepped down from its frame to receive me. I judge
them to be in comfortable circumstances. Pascal has the
reputation of being a remarkable man, and people supposed he would
rise very high in his profession."
"But now he is ruined; his career is finished."
"Certainly! You can be quite sure that by this evening all Paris
will know what occurred here last night."
He paused, meeting Madame Argeles's look of withering scorn with a
cleverly assumed air of astonishment. "You are a villain!
Monsieur de Coralth," she said, indignantly.
"I--and why?"
"Because it was you who slipped those cards, which made M.
Ferailleur win, into the pack; I saw you do it! And yielding to my
entreaties, the young fellow was about to leave the house when
you, intentionally, prevented him from saving himself. Oh! don't
deny it."
M. de Coralth rose in the coolest possible manner. "I deny
nothing, my dear lady," he replied, "absolutely nothing. You and
I understand each other."
Confounded by his unblushing impudence, Madame d'Argeles remained
speechless for a moment. "You confess it!" she cried, at last.
"You dare to confess it! Were you not afraid that I might speak
and state what I had seen?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "No one would have believed you," he
"Yes, I should have been believed, Monsieur de Coralth, for I
could have given proofs. You must have forgotten that I know you,
that your past life is no secret to me, that I know who you are,
and what dishonored name you hide beneath your borrowed title! I
could have told my guests that you are married--that you have
abandoned your wife and child, leaving them to perish in want and
misery--I could have told them where you obtain the thirty or
forty thousand francs you spend each year. You must have
forgotten that Rose told me everything, Monsieur--Paul!"
She had struck the right place this time, and with such precision
that M. de Coralth turned livid, and made a furious gesture, as if
he were about to fell her to the ground. "Ah, take care!" he
exclaimed; "take care!"
But his rage speedily subsided, and with his usual indifferent
manner, and in a bantering tone, he said: "Well, what of that? Do
you fancy that the world doesn't already suspect what you could
reveal? People have suspected me of being even worse than I am.
When you proclaim on the housetops that I am an adventurer, folks
will only laugh at you, and I shall be none the worse for it. A
matter that would crush a dozen men like Pascal Ferailleur would
not injure me in the least. I am accustomed to it. I must have
luxury and enjoyment, everything that is pleasant and beautiful--
and to procure all this, I do my very best. It is true that I
don't derive my income from my estate in Brie; but I have plenty
of money, and that is the essential thing. Besides, it is so
difficult to earn a livelihood nowadays, and the love of luxury is
so intense that no one knows at night what he may do--or, rather,
what he won't do--the next day. And last, but not least, the
people who ought to be despised are so numerous that contempt is
an impossibility. A Parisian who happened to be so absurdly
pretentious as to refuse to shake hands with such of his
acquaintances as were not irreproachable characters, might walk
for hours on the Boulevards without finding an occasion to take
his hands out of his pockets."
M. de Coralth talked well enough, and yet, in point of fact, all
this was sheer bravado on his part. He knew better than any one
else, on what a frail and uncertain basis his brilliant existence
was established. Certainly, society does show great indulgence to
people of doubtful reputation. It shuts its eyes and refuses to
look or listen. But this is all the more reason why it should be
pitiless when a person's guilt is positively established. Thus,
although he assumed an air of insolent security, the "viscount"
anxiously watched the effect of his words upon Madame d'Argeles.
Fortunately for himself, he saw that she was abashed by his
cynicism; and so he resumed: "Besides, as our friend, the baron,
would say, we are wasting precious time in discussing improbable,
and even impossible, suppositions. I was sufficiently well
acquainted with your heart and your intelligence, my dear madame,
to be sure that you would not speak a word to my disparagement."
"Indeed! What prevented me from doing so?"
"I did; or perhaps I ought rather to say, your own good sense,
which closed your mouth when Monsieur Pascal entreated you to
speak in his defence. I am entitled to considerable indulgence,
madame, and a great deal ought to be forgiven me. My mother,
unfortunately, was an honest woman, who did not furnish me with
the means of gratifying every whim."
Madame d'Argeles recoiled as if a serpent had suddenly crossed her
"What do you mean?" she faltered.
"You know as well as I do."
"I don't understand you--explain yourself."
With the impatient gesture of a man who finds himself compelled to
answer an idle question, and assuming an air of hypocritical
commiseration, he replied: "Well, since you insist upon it, I
know, in Paris--in the Rue de Helder, to be more exact--a nice
young fellow, whose lot I have often envied. He has wanted for
nothing since the day he came into the world. At school, he had
three times as much money as his richest playfellow. When his
studies were finished, a tutor was provided--with his pockets full
of gold--to conduct this favored youth to Italy, Egypt, and
Greece. He is now studying law; and four times a year, with
unvarying punctuality, he receives a letter from London containing
five thousand francs. This is all the more remarkable, as this
young man has neither a father nor a mother. He is alone in the
world with his income of twenty thousand francs. I have heard him
say, jestingly. that some good fairy must be watching over him;
but I know that he believes himself to be the illegitimate son of
some great English nobleman. Sometimes, when he has drunk a
little too much, he talks of going in search of my lord, his
The effect M. de Coralth had created by these words must have been
extremely gratifying to him, for Madame d'Argeles had fallen back
in her chair, almost fainting. "So, my dear madame," he
continued, "if I ever had any reason to fancy that you intended
causing me any trouble, I should go to this charming youth and
say: 'My good fellow, you are strangely deceived. Your money
doesn't come from the treasure-box of an English peer, but from a
small gambling den with which I am very well acquainted, having
often had occasion to swell its revenues with my franc-pieces.'
And if he mourned his vanished dreams, I should tell him: 'You are
wrong; for, if the great nobleman is lost, the good fairy remains.
She is none other than your mother, a very worthy person, whose
only object in life is your comfort and advancement.' And if he
doubted my word, I should bring him to his mother's house some
baccarat night; and there would be a scene of recognition worthy
of Fargueil's genius."
Any man but M. de Coralth would have had some compassion, for
Madame d'Argeles was evidently suffering agony. "It is as I
feared!" she moaned, in a scarcely audible voice.
However, he heard her. "What!" he exclaimed in a tone of intense
astonishment; "did you really doubt it? No; I can't believe it; it
would be doing injustice to your intelligence and experience. Are
people like ourselves obliged to talk in order to understand each
other? Should I ever have ventured to do what I have done, in your
house, if I had not known the secret of your maternal tenderness,
delicacy of feeling, and devotion?"
She was weeping; big tears were rolling down her face, tracing a
broad furrow through the powder on her cheeks. "He knows
everything!" she murmured; "he knows everything!"
"By the merest chance, I assure you. As I don't like folks to
meddle with my affairs, I never meddle with theirs. As I have
just said, it was entirely the work of chance. One April
afternoon I came to invite you to a drive in the Bois. I was
ushered into this very room where we are sitting now, and found
you writing. I said I would wait until you finished your letter;
but some one called you, and you hastily left the room. How it
was that I happened to approach your writing-table I cannot
explain; but I did approach it, and read your unfinished letter.
Upon my word it touched me deeply. I can give no better proof of
the truth of my assertion than the fact that I can repeat it,
almost word for word, even now. 'DEAR SIR,'--you wrote to your
London correspondent--'I send you three thousand francs, in
addition to the five thousand for the regular quarterly payment.
Forward the money without delay. I fear the poor boy is greatly
annoyed by his creditors. Yesterday I had the happiness of seeing
him in the Rue de Helder, and I found him looking pale and
careworn. When you send him this money, forward at the same time
a letter of fatherly advice. It is true, he ought to work and win
an honorable position for himself; but think of the dangers and
temptation that beset him, alone and friendless, in this corrupt
city.' There, my dear lady, your letter ended; but the name and
address were given, and it was easy enough to understand it. You
remember, perhaps, a little incident that occurred after your
return. On perceiving that you had forgotten your letter, you
turned pale and glanced at me. 'Have you read it, and do you
understand it?' your eyes asked; while mine replied: 'Yes, but I
shall be silent.'"
"And I shall be silent too," said Madame d'Argeles.
M. de Coralth took her hand and raised it to his lips. "I knew we
should understand each other," he remarked, gravely. "I am not
bad at heart, believe me; and if I had possessed money of my own,
or a mother like you----"
She averted her face, fearing perhaps that M. de Coralth might
read her opinion of him in her eyes; but after a short pause she
exclaimed beseechingly: "Now that I am your accomplice, let me
entreat you to do all you possibly can to prevent last night's
affair from being noised abroad."
"If not for M. Ferailleur's sake, for the sake of his poor widowed
"Pascal must be put out of the way!"
"Why do you say that? Do you hate him so much then? What has he
done to you?"
"To me, personally? Nothing--I even feel actual sympathy for him."
Madame d'Argeles was confounded. "What!" she stammered; "it
wasn't on your own account that you did this?"
"Why, no."
She sprang to her feet, and quivering with scorn and indignation,
cried: "Ah! then the deed is even more infamous--even more
cowardly!" But alarmed by the threatening gleam in M. de Coralth's
eyes, she went no further.
"A truce to these disagreeable truths," said he, coldly. "If we
expressed our opinions of each other without reserve, in this
world, we should soon come to hard words. Do you think I acted
for my own pleasure? Suppose some one had seen me when I slipped
the cards into the pack. If that had happened, I should have been
"And you think that no one suspects you?"
"No one. I lost more than a hundred louis myself. If Pascal
belonged to our set, people might investigate the matter, perhaps;
but to-morrow it will be forgotten."
"And will he have no suspicions?"
"He will have no proofs to offer, in any case."
Madame d'Argeles seemed to resign herself to the inevitable. "I
hope you will, at least, tell me on whose behalf you acted," she
"Impossible," replied M. de Coralth. And, consulting his watch,
he added, "But I am forgetting myself; I am forgetting that that
idiot of a Rochecote is waiting for a sword-thrust. So go to
sleep, my dear lady, and--till we meet again."
She accompanied him so far as the landing. "It is quite certain
that he is hastening to the house of M. Ferailleur's enemy," she
thought. And, calling her confidential servant, "Quick, Job," she
said; "follow M. de Coralth. I want to know where he is going.
And, above all, take care that he doesn't see you."
If through the length and breadth of Paris there is a really
quiet, peaceful street, a refuge for the thoughtfully inclined, it
is surely the broad Rue d'Ulm, which starts from the Place du
Pantheon, and finishes abruptly at the Rue des Feuillantines. The
shops are unassuming, and so few that one can easily count them.
There is a wine-shop on the left-hand side, at the corner of the
Rue de la Vieille-Estrapade; then a little toy-shop, then a
washerwoman's and then a book-binder's establishment; while on the
right-hand you will find the office of the Bulletin, with a
locksmith's, a fruiterer's, and a baker's--that is all. Along the
rest of the street run several spacious buildings, somewhat
austere in appearance, though some of them are surrounded by large
gardens. Here stands the Convent of the Sisters of the Cross,
with the House of Our Lady of Adoration; while further on, near
the Rue des Feuillantines, you find the Normal School, with the
office of the General Omnibus Company hard by. At day-time you
mostly meet grave and thoughtful faces in the street: priests,
savants, professors, and clerks employed in the adjacent public
libraries. The only stir is round about the omnibus office; and
if occasional bursts of laughter are heard they are sure to come
from the Normal School. After nightfall, a person might suppose
himself to be at least a hundred leagues from the Boulevard
Montmartre and the Opera-House, in some quiet old provincial town,
at Poitiers, for instance. And it is only on listening
attentively that you can catch even a faint echo of the tumult of
It was in this street--"out of the world," as M. de Coralth
expressed it--that Pascal Ferailleur resided with his mother.
They occupied a second floor, a pretty suite of five rooms,
looking out upon a garden. Their rent was high. Indeed, they
paid fourteen hundred francs a year. But this was a burden which
Pascal's profession imposed upon him; for he, of course, required
a private office and a little waiting-room for his clients. With
this exception, the mother and son led a straightened, simple
life. Their only servant was a woman who came at seven o'clock to
do the heavy work, went home again at twelve, and did not return
again until the evening, to serve dinner. Madame Ferailleur
attended to everything, not blushing in the least when she was
compelled to open the door for some client. Besides, she could do
this without the least risk of encountering disrespect, so
imposing and dignified were her manners and her person.
M. de Coralth had shown excellent judgment when he compared her to
a family portrait. She was, in fact, exactly the person a painter
would select to represent some old burgher's wife--a chaste and
loving spouse, a devoted mother, an incomparable housewife--in one
phrase, the faithful guardian of her husband's domestic happiness.
She had just passed her fiftieth birthday, and looked fully her
age. She had suffered. A close observer would have detected
traces of weeping about her wrinkled eyelids; and the twinge of
her lips was expressive of cruel anguish, heroically endured.
Still, she was not severe, nor even too sedate; and the few
friends who visited her were often really astonished at her wit.
Besides, she was one of those women who have no history, and who
find happiness in what others would call duty. Her life could be
summed up in a single sentence: she had loved; she had mourned.
The daughter of a petty clerk in one of the government
departments, and merely dowered with a modest portion of three
thousand francs, she had married a young man as poor as herself,
but intelligent and industrious, whom she loved, and who adored
her. This young man on marrying had sworn that he would make a
fortune; not that he cared for money for himself, but he wished to
provide his idol with every luxury. His love, enhancing his
energy, no doubt hastened his success. Attached as a chemist to a
large manufacturing establishment, his services soon became so
invaluable to his employers that they gave him a considerable
interest in the business. His name even obtained an honorable
place among modern inventors; and we are indebted to him for the
discovery of one of those brilliant colors that are extracted from
common coal. At the end of ten years he had become a man of
means. He loved his wife as fondly as on the day of their
marriage, and he had a son--Pascal.
Unfortunate fellow! One day, in the full sunshine of happiness and
success, while he was engaged in a series of experiments for the
purpose of obtaining a durable, and at the same time perfectly
harmless, green, the chemicals exploded, smashing the mortar which
he held, and wounding him horribly about the head and chest. A
fortnight later he died, apparently calm, but in reality a prey to
bitter regrets. It was a terrible blow for his poor wife, and the
thought of her son alone reconciled her to life. Pascal was now
everything to her--her present and her future; and she solemnly
vowed that she would make a noble man of him. But alas!
misfortunes never come singly. One of her husband's friends, who
acted as administrator to the estate, took a contemptible
advantage of her inexperience. She went to sleep one night
possessing an income of fifteen thousand francs, but she awoke to
find herself ruined--so completely ruined that she did not know
where to obtain her dinner for that same evening. Had she been
alone in the world, she would not have grieved much over the
catastrophe, but she was sadly affected by the thought that her
son's future was, perhaps, irrevocably blighted, and that, in any
case, this disaster would condemn him to enter life through the
cramped and gloomy portals of poverty.
However, Madame Ferailleur was of too courageous and too proud a
nature not to meet this danger with virile energy. She wasted no
time in useless lamentations. She determined to repair the harm
as far as it was in her power to repair it, resolving that her
son's studies at the college of Louis-the-Great should not be
interrupted, even if she had to labor with her own hands. And
when she spoke of manual toil, it was no wild, unmeaning
exaggeration born of sorrow and a passing flash of courage. She
found employment as a day-servant and in sewing for large shops,
until she at last obtained a situation as clerk in the
establishment where her husband had been a partner. To obtain
this she was obliged to acquire a knowledge of bookkeeping, but
she was amply repaid for her trouble; for the situation was worth
eighteen hundred francs a year, besides food and lodging. Then
only did her efforts momentarily abate; she felt that her arduous
task was drawing to a happy close. Pascal's expenses at school
amounted to about nine hundred francs a year; she did not spend
more than one hundred on herself; and thus she was able to save
nearly eight hundred francs year.
It must be admitted that she was admirably seconded in her efforts
by her son. Pascal was only twelve years old when his mother said
to him: "I have ruined you, my son. Nothing remains of the
fortune which your father accumulated by dint of toil and selfsacrifice.
You will be obliged to rely upon yourself, my boy.
God grant that in years to come you will not reproach me for my
The child did not throw himself into her arms, but holding his
head proudly erect, he answered: "I shall love you even more, dear
mother, if that be possible. As for the fortune which my father
left you, I will restore it to you again. I am no longer a
school-boy, I am a man--as you shall see."
One could not fail to perceive that he had taken a solemn vow.
Although he possessed a remarkable mind, and the power of
acquiring knowledge rapidly, he had, so far, worked indifferently,
and then only by fits and starts, whenever examination time drew
near. But from that day forward he did not lose a moment. His
remarks, which were at once comical and touching, were those of
the head of a family, deeply impressed by a sense of his own
responsibility. "You see," he said to his companions, who were
astonished at his sudden thirst for knowledge, "I can't afford to
wear out my breeches on the college forms, now that my poor mother
has to pay for them with her work."
His good-humor was not in the least impaired by his resolve not to
spend a single penny of his pocket money. With a tact unusual at
his age, or indeed at any other, he bore his misfortunes simply
and proudly, without any of the servile humility or sullen envy
which so often accompanies poverty. For three years in succession
the highest prizes at the competitions rewarded him for his
efforts; but these successes, far from elating him unduly, seemed
to afford him but little satisfaction. "This is only glory," he
thought; and his great ambition was to support himself.
He was soon able to do so, thanks to the kindness of the headmaster,
who offered him his tuition gratis if he would assist in
superintending some of the lower classes. Thus one day when
Madame Ferailleur presented herself as usual to make her quarterly
payment, the steward replied: "You owe us nothing, madame;
everything has been paid by your son."
She almost fainted; after bearing adversity so bravely, this
happiness proved too much for her. She could scarcely believe it.
A long explanation was necessary to convince her of the truth, and
then big tears, tears of joy this time, gushed from her eyes.
In this way, Pascal Ferailleur paid all the expenses of his
education until he had won his degree, arming himself so as to
resist the trials that awaited him, and giving abundant proof of
energy and ability. He wished to be a lawyer; and the law, he was
forced to admit, is a profession which is almost beyond the reach
of penniless young men. But there are no insurmountable obstacles
for those whose hearts are really set on an object. On the very
day that Pascal inscribed his name as a student at the law school,
he entered an advocate's office as a clerk. His duties, which
were extremely tiresome at first, had the two-fold advantage of
familiarizing him with the forms of legal procedure, and of
furnishing him with the means of prosecuting his studies. After
he had been in the office six months, his employer agreed to pay
him eight hundred francs a year, which were increased to fifteen
hundred at the end of the second twelvemonth. In three years,
when he had passed his final examination qualifying him to
practise, his patron raised him to the position of head-clerk,
with a salary of three thousand francs, which Pascal was moreover
able to increase considerably by drawing up documents for busy
attorneys, and assisting them in the preparation of their least
important cases.
It was certainly something wonderful to have achieved such a
result in so short a time; but the most difficult part of his task
had still to be accomplished. It was a perilous undertaking to
abandon an assured position, to cast a certainty aside for the
chances of life at the bar. It was a grave step--so grave,
indeed, that Pascal hesitated for a long time. He was threatened
with the danger that always threatens subordinates who are useful
to their superiors. He felt that his employer, who was in the
habit of relieving himself of his heaviest duties by intrusting
them to him, would not be likely to forgive him for leaving. And
on starting on his own account, he could ill afford to dispense
with this lawyer's good-will. The patronage that could scarcely
fail to follow him from an office where he had served for four
years was the most substantial basis of his calculations for the
future. Eventually he succeeded to his satisfaction, though not
without some difficulty, and only by employing that supreme
finesse which consists in absolute frankness.
Before his office had been open a fortnight, he had seven or eight
briefs waiting their turn upon his desk, and his first efforts
were such as win the approving smile of old judges, and draw from
them the prediction: "That young man will rise in his profession."
He had not desired to make any display of his knowledge or talent,
but merely to win the cases confided to him; and, unlike many
beginners, he evinced no inclination to shine at his clients'
expense. Rare modesty, and it served him well. His first ten
months of practice brought him about eight thousand francs,
absorbed in part by the expense attaching to a suitable office.
The second year his fees increased by about one-half, and, feeling
that his position was now assured, he insisted that his mother
should resign her clerkship. He proved to her what was indeed the
truth--that by superintending his establishment, she would save
more than she made in her present position.
From that time the mother and the son had good reason to believe
that their heroic energy had conquered fate. Clients became so
numerous that Pascal found it necessary to draw nearer the
business centre, and his rent was consequently doubled; but the
income he derived from his profession increased so rapidly that he
soon had twelve thousand francs safely invested as a resource
against any emergency. Madame Ferailleur now laid aside the
mourning she had worn since her husband's death. She felt that
she owed it to Pascal; and, besides, after believing there was no
more happiness left for her on earth, her heart rejoiced at her
son's success.
Pascal was thus on the high-road to fame, when a complication in
M. Ferdinand de Coralth's affair, brought that young nobleman to
his office. The trouble arose from a little stock exchange
operation which M. Ferdinand had engaged in--an affair which
savored a trifle of knavery. It was strange, but Pascal rather
took a liking to M. de Coralth. The honest worker felt interested
in this dashing adventurer; he was almost dazzled by his brilliant
vices, his wit, his hardihood, conceit, marvellous assurance, and
careless impudence; and he studied this specimen of the Parisian
flora with no little curiosity. M. de Coralth certainly did not
confide the secret of his life and his resources to Pascal but the
latter's intelligence should have told him to distrust a man who
treated the requirements of morality even more than cavalierly,
and who had infinitely more wants than scruples. However, the
young advocate seemed to have no suspicions; they exchanged visits
occasionally, and it was Pascal himself who one day requested the
viscount to take him to one of those "Reunions in High Life" which
the newspapers describe in such glowing terms.
Madame Ferailleur was playing a game of whist with a party of old
friends, according to her custom every Thursday evening, when M.
de Coralth called to invite the young advocate to accompany him to
Madame d'Argeles's reception. Pascal considered his friend's
invitation exceedingly well timed. He dressed himself with more
than ordinary care, and, as usual before going out, he approached
his mother to kiss her and wish her good-bye. "How fine you are!"
she said, smiling.
"I am going to a soiree, my dear mother," he replied; "and it is
probable that I shall not return until very late. So don't wait
for me, I beg of you; promise me to go to bed at your usual hour."
"Have you the night-key?"
"Very well, then; I will not wait for you. When you come in you
will find your candle and some matches on the buffet in the anteroom.
And wrap yourself up well, for it is very cold." Then
raising her forehead to her son's lips, she gayly added: "A
pleasant evening to you, my boy!"
Faithful to her promise, Madame Ferailleur retired at the usual
hour; but she could not sleep. She certainly had no cause for
anxiety, and yet the thought that her son was not at home filled
her heart with vague misgivings such as she had never previously
felt under similar circumstances. Possibly it was because she did
not know where Pascal was going. Possibly M. de Coralth was the
cause of her strange disquietude, for she utterly disliked the
viscount. Her woman's instinct warned her that there was
something unwholesome about this young man's peculiar
handsomeness, and that it was not safe to trust to his professions
of friendship. At all events, she lay awake and heard the clock
of the neighboring Normal School strike each successive hour--two,
three, and four. "How late Pascal stays," she said to herself.
And suddenly a fear more poignant even than her presentiments
darted through her mind. She sprang out of bed and rushed to the
window. She fancied she had heard a terrible cry of distress in
the deserted street. At that very moment, the insulting word
"thief" was being hurled in her son's face. But the street was
silent, and deciding that she had been mistaken, she went back to
bed laughing at herself for her fears; and at last she fell
asleep. But judge of her terror in the morning when, on rising to
let the servant in, she saw Pascal's candle still standing on the
buffet. Was it possible that he had not returned? She hastened to
his room--he was not there. And it was nearly eight o'clock.
This was the first time that Pascal had spent a night from home
without warning his mother in advance; and such an act on the part
of a man of his character was sufficient proof that something
extraordinary had occurred. In an instant all the dangers that
lurk in Paris after nightfall flashed through her mind. She
remembered all the stories she had read of men decoyed into dark
corners, of men stabbed at the turn of some deserted street, or
thrown into the Seine while crossing one of the bridges. What
should she do? Her first impulse was to run to the Commissary of
Police's office or to the house of Pascal's friend; but on the
other hand, she dared not go out, for fear he might return in her
absence. Thus, in an agony of suspense, she waited--counting the
seconds by the quick throbbings of her temples, and straining her
ears to catch the slightest sound.
At last, about half-past eight o'clock, she heard a heavy,
uncertain footfall on the stairs. She flew to the door and beheld
her son. His clothes were torn and disordered; his cravat was
missing, he wore no overcoat, and he was bareheaded. He looked
very pale, and his teeth were chattering. His eyes stared
vacantly, and his features had an almost idiotic expression.
"Pascal, what has happened to you?" she asked.
He trembled from head to foot as the sound of her voice suddenly
roused him from his stupor. "Nothing," he stammered; "nothing at
all." And as his mother pressed him with questions, he pushed her
gently aside and went on to his room.
"Poor child!" murmured Madame Ferailleur, at once grieved and
reassured; "and he is always so temperate. Some one must have
forced him to drink."
She was entirely wrong in her surmise, and yet Pascal's sensations
were exactly like those of an intoxicated man. How he had
returned home, by what road, and what had happened on the way, he
could not tell. He had found his way back mechanically, merely by
force of habit--physical memory, as it might be called. He had a
vague impression, however, that he had sat down for some time on a
bench in the Champs-Elysees, that he had felt extremely cold, and
that he had been accosted by a policeman, who threatened him with
arrest if he did not move on. The last thing he could clearly
recollect was rushing from Madame d'Argeles's house in the Rue de
Berry. He knew that he had descended the staircase slowly and
deliberately; that the servants in the vestibule had stood aside
to allow him to pass; and that, while crossing the courtyard, he
had thrown away the candelabrum with which he had defended
himself. After that, he remembered nothing distinctly. On
reaching the street he had been overcome by the fresh air, just as
a carouser is overcome on emerging from a heated dining-room.
Perhaps the champagne which he had drank had contributed to this
cerebral disorder. At all events, even now, in his own room,
seated in his own arm-chair, and surrounded by familiar objects,
he did not succeed in regaining the possession of his faculties.
He had barely strength enough to throw himself on to the bed, and
in a moment he was sleeping with that heavy slumber which so often
seizes hold of one on the occasion of a great crisis, and which
has so frequently been observed among persons condemned to death,
on the night preceding their execution. Four or five times his
mother came to listen at the door. Once she entered, and seeing
her son sleeping soundly, she could not repress a smile of
satisfaction. "Poor Pascal!" she thought; "he can bear no excess
but excess of work. Heavens! how surprised and mortified he will
be when he awakes!"
Alas! it was not a trifling mortification, but despair, which
awaited the sleeper on his wakening; for the past, the present,
and the future were presented simultaneously and visionlike to his
imagination. Although he had scarcely regained the full use of
his faculties, he was, to some extent, at least capable of
reflection and deliberation, and he tried to look the situation
bravely in the face. First, as to the past, he had not the shadow
of a doubt. He realized that he had fallen into a vile trap, and
the person who had laid it for him was undoubtedly M. de Coralth,
who, seated at his right, had prepared the "hands" with which he
had won. This was evident. It seemed equally proven that Madame
d'Argeles knew the real culprit--possibly she had detected him in
the act, possibly he had taken her into his confidence. But what
he could not fathom was M. de Coralth's motive. What could have
prompted the viscount to commit such an atrocious act? The
incentive must have been very powerful, since he had naturally
incurred the danger of detection and of being considered an
accomplice at the least. And then what influence had closed
Madame d'Argeles's lips? But after all, what was the use of these
conjectures? It was an actual, unanswerable, and terrible fact
that this infamous plot had been successful, and that Pascal was
dishonored. He was honesty itself, and yet he was accused--more
than that, CONVICTED--of cheating at cards! He was innocent, and
yet he could furnish no proofs of his innocence. He knew the real
culprit, and yet he could see no way of unmasking him or even of
accusing him. Do what he would, this atrocious, incomprehensive
calumny would crush him. The bar was closed against him; his
career was ended. And the terrible conviction that there was no
escape from the abyss into which he had fallen made his reason
totter--he felt that he was incapable of deciding on the best
course, and that he must have a friend's advice.
Full of this idea, he hastily changed his clothes, and hurried
from his room. His mother was watching for him--inclined to laugh
at him a little; but a single glance warned her that her son was
in terrible trouble, and that some dire misfortune had certainly
befallen him. "Pascal, in heaven's name, what has happened?" she
"A slight difficulty--a mere trifle," he replied.
"Where are you going?"
"To the Palais de Justice." And such was really the case, for he
hoped to meet his most intimate friend there.
Contrary to his usual custom, he took the little staircase on the
right, leading to the grand vestibule, where several lawyers were
assembled, earnestly engaged in conversation. They were evidently
astonished to see Pascal, and their conversation abruptly ceased
on his approach. They assumed a grave look and turned away their
heads in disgust. The unfortunate man at once realized the truth,
and pressed his hand to his forehead, with a despairing gesture,
as he murmured: "Already!--already!"
However, he passed on, and not seeing his friend, he hurried to
the little conference hall, where he found five of his fellowadvocates.
On Pascal's entrance, two of them at once left the
hall, while two of the others pretended to be very busily engaged
in examining a brief which lay open on the table. The fifth, who
did not move, was not the friend Pascal sought, but an old college
comrade named Dartelle. Pascal walked straight toward him.
"Well?" he asked.
Dartelle handed him a Figaro, still damp from the printing-press,
but crumpled and worn, as if it had already passed through more
than a hundred hands. "Read!" said he.
Pascal read as follows: "There was great sensation and a terrible
scandal last night at the residence of Madame d'A----, a wellknown
star of the first magnitude. A score of gentlemen of high
rank and immense wealth were enjoying a quiet game of baccarat,
when it was observed that M. F---- was winning in a most
extraordinary manner. He was watched and detected in the very act
of dexterously slipping some cards into the pack he held. Crushed
by the overpowering evidence against him, he allowed himself to be
searched, and without much demur consented to refund the fruit of
his knavery, to the amount of two thousand louis. The strangest
thing connected with this scandal is, that M. F----, who is an
advocate by profession, has always enjoyed an enviable reputation
for integrity; and, unfortunately, this prank cannot be attributed
to a momentary fit of madness, for the fact that he had provided
himself with these cards in advance proves the act to have been
premeditated. One of the persons present was especially
displeased. This was the Viscount de C----, who had introduced M.
F---- to Madame d'A----. Extremely annoyed by this contretemps,
he took umbrage at an offensive remark made by M. de R----, and it
was rumored that these gentlemen would cross swords at daybreak
this morning.
"LATER INTELLIGENCE.--We learn at the moment of going to press
that an encounter has just taken place between M. de R---- and M.
de C----. M. de R---- received a slight wound in the side, but
his condition is sufficiently satisfactory not to alarm his
The paper slipped from Pascal's hand. His features were almost
unrecognizable in his passion and despair. "It is an infamous
lie!" he said, hoarsely. "I am innocent; I swear it upon my
honor!" Dartelle averted his face, but not quickly enough to
prevent Pascal from noticing the look of withering scorn in his
eyes. Then, feeling that he was condemned, that his sentence was
irrevocable, and that there was no longer any hope: "I know the
only thing that remains for me to do!" he murmured.
Dartelle turned, his eyes glistening with tears. He seized
Pascal's hands and pressed them with sorrowful tenderness, as if
taking leave of a friend who is about to die. "Courage!" he
Pascal fled like a madman. "Yes," he repeated, as he rushed along
the Boulevard Saint-Michel, "that is the only thing left me to
When he reached home he entered his office, double-locked the
door, and wrote two letters--one to his mother, the other to the
president of the order of Advocates. After a moment's thought he
began a third, but tore it into pieces before he had completed it.
Then, without an instant's hesitation, and like a man who had
fully decided upon his course, he took a revolver and a box of
cartridges from a drawer in his desk. "Poor mother!" he murmured;
"it will kill her--but my disgrace would kill her too. Better
shorten the agony."
He little fancied at that supreme moment that each of his
gestures, each contraction of his features, were viewed by the
mother whose name he faltered. Since her son had left her to go
to the Palais de Justice, the poor woman had remained almost crazy
with anxiety; and when she heard him return and lock himself in
his office--a thing he had never done before--a fearful
presentiment was aroused in her mind. Gliding into her son's
bedroom, she at once approached the door communicating with his
office. The upper part of this portal was of glass; it was
possible to see what was occurring in the adjoining room. When
Madame Ferailleur perceived Pascal seat himself at his desk and
begin to write, she felt a trifle reassured, and almost thought of
going away. But a vague dread, stronger than reason or will,
riveted her to the spot. A few moments later, when she saw the
revolver in her son's hand, she understood everything. Her blood
froze in her veins; and yet she had sufficient self-control to
repress the cry of terror which sprang to her lips. She realized
that the danger was terrible, imminent, extreme. Her heart,
rather than her bewildered reason, told her that her son's life
hung on a single thread. The slightest sound, a word, a rap on
the door might hasten the unfortunate man's deed.
An inspiration from heaven came to the poor mother. Pascal had
contented himself with locking the door leading to the ante-room.
He had forgotten this one, or neglected it, not thinking that
anybody would approach his office through his bedroom. But his
mother perceived that this door opened toward her. So, turning
the knob with the utmost caution, she flung it suddenly open, and
reaching her son's side with a single bound, she clasped him
closely in her arms. "Pascal, wretched boy! what would you do?"
He was so surprised that his weapon fell from his hand, and he
sank back almost fainting in his arm-chair. The idea of denying
his intention never once occurred to him; besides, he was unable
to articulate a word. But on his desk there lay a letter
addressed to his mother which would speak for him.
Madame Ferailleur took it, tore the envelope open, and read:
"Forgive me--I'm about to die. It must be so. I cannot survive
dishonor; and I am dishonored."
"Dishonored!--you!" exclaimed the heartbroken mother. "My God!
what does this mean? Speak. I implore you: tell me all--you
must. I command you to do so. I command you!"
He complied with this at once supplicating and imperious behest,
and related in a despairing voice the events which had wrought his
woe. He did not omit a single particular, but tried rather to
exaggerate than palliate the horrors of his situation. Perhaps he
found a strange satisfaction in proving to himself that there was
no hope left; possibly he believed his mother would say: "Yes, you
are right; and death is your only refuge!"
As Madame Ferailleur listened, however, her eyes dilated with fear
and horror, and she scarcely realized whether she were awake or in
the midst of some frightful dream. For this was one of those
unexpected catastrophes which are beyond the range of human
foresight or even imagination, and which her mind could scarcely
conceive or admit. But SHE did not doubt him, even though his
friends had doubted him. Indeed, if he had himself told her that
he was guilty of cheating at cards, she would have refused to
believe him. When his story was ended, she exclaimed: "And you
wished to kill yourself? Did you not think, senseless boy, that
your death would give an appearance of truth to this vile
With a mother's wonderful, sublime instinct, she had found the
most powerful reason that could be urged to induce Pascal to live.
"Did you not feel, my son, that it showed a lack of courage on
your part to brand yourself and your name with eternal infamy, in
order to escape your present sufferings? This thought ought to
have stayed your hand. An honest name is a sacred trust which no
one has a right to abuse. Your father bequeathed it to you, pure
and untarnished, and so you must preserve it. If others try to
cover it with opprobrium, you must live to defend it."
He lowered his head despondently, and in a tone of profound
discouragement, he replied: "But what can I do? How can I escape
from the web which has been woven around me with such fiendish
cunning? If I had possessed my usual presence of mind at the
moment of the accusation, I might have defended and justified
myself, perhaps. But now the misfortune is irreparable. How can
I unmask the traitor, and what proofs of his guilt can I cast in
his face?"
"All the same, you ought not to yield without a struggle,"
interrupted Madame Ferailleur, sternly. "It is wrong to abandon a
task because it is difficult; it must be accepted, and, even if
one perish in the struggle, there is, at least, the satisfaction
of feeling that one has not failed in duty."
"But, mother----"
"I must not keep the truth from you, Pascal! What! are you lacking
in energy? Come, my son, rise and raise your head. I shall not
let you fight alone. I will fight with you."
Without speaking a word, Pascal caught hold of his mother's hands
and pressed them to his lips. His face was wet with tears. His
overstrained nerves relaxed under the soothing influence of
maternal tenderness and devotion. Reason, too, had regained her
ascendency. His mother's noble words found an echo in his own
heart, and he now looked upon suicide as an act of madness and
cowardice. Madame Ferailleur felt that the victory was assured,
but this did not suffice; she wished to enlist Pascal in her
plans. "It is evident," she resumed, "that M. de Coralth is the
author of this abominable plot. But what could have been his
object? Has he any reason to fear you, Pascal? Has he confided to
you, or have you discovered, any secret that might ruin him if it
were divulged?"
"No, mother."
"Then he must be the vile instrument of some even more despicable
being. Reflect, my son. Have you wounded any of your friends?
Are you sure that you are in nobody's way? Consider carefully.
Your profession has its dangers; and those who adopt it must
expect to make bitter enemies."
Pascal trembled. It seemed to him as if a ray of light at last
illumined the darkness--a dim and uncertain ray, it is true, but
still a gleam of light.
"Who knows!" he muttered; "who knows!"
Madame Ferailleur reflected a few moments, and the nature of her
reflections brought a flush to her brow. "This is one of those
cases in which a mother should overstep reserve," said she. "If
you had a mistress, my son----"
"I have none," he answered, promptly. Then his own face flushed,
and after an instant's hesitation, he added: "But I entertain the
most profound and reverent love for a young girl, the most
beautiful and chaste being on earth--a girl who, in intelligence
and heart, is worthy of you, my own mother."
Madame Ferailleur nodded her head gravely, as much as to say that
she had expected to find a woman at the bottom of the mystery.
"And who is this young girl?" she inquired. "What is her name?"
"Marguerite who?"
Pascal's embarrassment increased. "She has no other name," he
replied, hurriedly, "and she does not know her parents. She
formerly lived in our street with her companion, Madame Leon, and
an old female servant. It was there that I saw her for the first
time. She now lives in the house of the Count de Chalusse, in the
Rue de Courcelles."
"In what capacity?"
"The count has always taken care of her--she owes her education to
him. He acts as her guardian; and although she has never spoken
to me on the subject, I fancy that the Count de Chalusse is her
"And does this girl love you, Pascal?"
"I believe so, mother. She has promised me that she will have no
other husband than myself."
"And the count?"
"He doesn't know--he doesn't even suspect anything about it. Day
after day I have been trying to gather courage to tell you
everything, and to ask you to go to the Count de Chalusse. But my
position is so modest as yet. The count is immensely rich, and he
intends to give Marguerite an enormous fortune--two millions, I
Madame Ferailleur interrupted him with a gesture. "Look no
further," she said; "you have found the explanation."
Pascal sprang to his feet with crimson cheeks, flaming eyes, and
quivering lips. "It may be so," he exclaimed; "it may be so! The
count's immense fortune may have tempted some miserable scoundrel.
Who knows but some one may have been watching Marguerite, and have
discovered that I am an obstacle?"
"Something told me that my suspicions were correct," said Madame
Ferailleur. "I had no proofs, and yet I felt sure of it."
Pascal was absorbed in thought. "And what a strange coincidence,"
he eventually remarked. "Do you know, the last time I saw
Marguerite, a week ago, she seemed so sad and anxious that I felt
alarmed. I questioned her, but at first she would not answer.
After a little while, however, as I insisted, she said: 'Ah, well,
I fear the count is planning a marriage for me. M. de Chalusse
has not said a word to me on the subject, but he has recently had
several long conferences in private with a young man whose father
rendered him a great service in former years. And this young man,
whenever I meet him, looks at me in such a peculiar manner.'"
"What is his name?" asked Madame Ferailleur.
"I don't know--she didn't mention it; and her words so disturbed
me that I did not think of asking. But she will tell me. This
evening, if I don't succeed in obtaining an interview, I will
write to her. If your suspicions are correct, mother, our secret
is in the hands of three persons, and so it is a secret no longer----"
He paused suddenly to listen. The noise of a spirited altercation
between the servant and some visitor, came from the ante-room. "I
tell you that he IS at home," said some one in a panting voice,
"and I must see him and speak with him at once. It is such an
urgent matter that I left a card-party just at the most critical
moment to come here."
"I assure you, monsieur, that M. Ferailleur has gone out."
"Very well; I will wait for him, then. Take me to a room where I
can sit down."
Pascal turned pale, for he recognized the voice of the individual
who had suggested searching him at Madame d'Argeles's house.
Nevertheless, he opened the door; and a man, with a face like a
full moon, and who was puffing and panting like a locomotive, came
forward with the assurance of a person who thinks he may do
anything he chooses by reason of his wealth. "Zounds!" he
exclaimed. "I knew perfectly well that you were here. You don't
recognize me, perhaps, my dear sir. I am Baron Trigault--I came
The words died away on his lips, and he became as embarrassed as
if he had not possessed an income of eight hundred thousand francs
a year. The fact is he had just perceived Madame Ferailleur. He
bowed to her, and then, with a significant glance at Pascal he
said: "I should like to speak to you in private, monsieur, in
reference to a matter--"
Great as was Pascal's astonishment, he showed none of it on his
face. "You can speak in my mother's presence," he replied,
coldly; "she knows everything."
The baron's surprise found vent in a positive distortion of his
features. "Ah!" said he, in three different tones; "ah! ah!" And
as no one had offered him a seat, he approached an arm-chair and
took possession of it, exclaiming, "You will allow me, I trust?
Those stairs have put me in such a state!"
In spite of his unwieldy appearance, this wealthy man was endowed
with great natural shrewdness and an unusually active mind. And
while he pretended to be engaged in recovering his breath he
studied the room and its occupants. A revolver was lying on the
floor beside a torn and crumpled letter, and tears were still
glittering in the eyes of Madame Ferailleur and her son. A keen
observer needed no further explanation of the scene.
"I will not conceal from you, monsieur," began the baron, "that I
have been led here by certain compunctions of conscience." And,
misinterpreting a gesture which Pascal made, "I mean what I say,"
he continued; "compunctions of conscience. I have them
occasionally. Your departure this morning, after that deplorable
scene, caused certain doubts and suspicions to arise in my mind;
and I said to myself, 'We have been too hasty; perhaps this young
man may not be guilty.'"
"Monsieur!" interrupted Pascal, in a threatening tone.
"Excuse me, allow me to finish, if you please. Reflection, I must
confess, only confirmed this impression, and increased my doubts.
'The devil!' I said to myself again; 'if this young man is
innocent, the culprit must be one of the habitues of Madame
d'Argeles's house--that is to say, a man with whom I play twice a
week, and whom I shall play with again next Monday.' And then I
became uneasy, and here I am!" Was the absurd reason which the
baron gave for his visit the true one? It was difficult to decide.
"I came," he continued, "thinking that a look at your home would
teach me something; and now I have seen it, I am ready to take my
oath that you are the victim of a vile conspiracy."
So saying he noisily blew his nose, but this did not prevent him
from observing the quiet joy of Pascal and his mother. They were
amazed. But although these words were calculated to make them
feel intensely happy, they still looked at their visitor with
distrust. It is not natural for a person to interest himself in
other people's misfortunes, unless he has some special motive for
doing so; and what could this singular man's object be?
However, he did not seem in the slightest degree disconcerted by
the glacial reserve with which his advances were received. "It is
clear that you are in some one's way," he resumed, "and that this
some one has invented this method of ruining you. There can be no
question about it. The intention became manifest to my mind the
moment I read the paragraph concerning you in the Figaro. Have
you seen it? Yes? Well, what do you think of it? I would be
willing to swear that it was written from notes furnished by your
enemy. Moreover, the particulars are incorrect, and I am going to
write a line of correction which I shall take to the office
myself." So saying he transported his unwieldy person to Pascal's
desk, and hastily wrote as follows:
"As a witness of the scene that took place at Madame d'A----s's
house last night, allow me to make an important correction. It is
only too true that extra cards were introduced into the pack, but
that they were introduced by M. F---- is not proven, since he was
NOT SEEN to do it. I know that appearances are against him, but
he nevertheless possesses my entire confidence and esteem.
Meanwhile Madame Ferailleur and her son had exchanged significant
glances. Their impressions were the same. This man could not be
an enemy. When the baron had finished his letter, and had read it
aloud, Pascal, who was deeply moved, exclaimed: "I do not know how
to express my gratitude to you, monsieur; but if you really wish
to serve me, pray don't send that note. It would cause you a
great deal of trouble and annoyance, and I should none the less be
obliged to relinquish the practice of my profession--besides, I am
especially anxious to be forgotten for a time."
"So be it--I understand you; you hope to discover the traitor, and
you do not wish to put him on his guard. I approve of your
prudence. But remember my words: if you ever need a helping hand,
rap at my door; and when you hold the necessary proofs, I will
furnish you with the means of rendering your justification even
more startling than the affront." He prepared to go, but before
crossing the threshold, he turned and said: "In future I shall
watch the fingers of the player who sits on my left hand. And if
I were in your place, I would obtain the notes from which that
newspaper article was written. One never knows the benefit that
may be derived, at a certain moment, from a page of writing."
As he started off, Madame Ferailleur sprang from her chair.
"Pascal," she exclaimed, "that man knows something, and your
enemies are his; I read it in his eyes. He, too, distrusts M. de
"I understood him, mother, and my mind is made up. I must
disappear. From this moment Pascal Ferailleur no longer exists."
That same evening two large vans were standing outside Madame
Ferailleur's house. She had sold her furniture without reserve,
and was starting to join her son, who had already left for Le
Havre, she said, in view of sailing to America.
"There are a number of patients waiting for me. I will drop in
again about midnight. I still have several urgent visits to
make." Thus had Dr. Jodon spoken to Mademoiselle Marguerite; and
yet, when he left the Hotel de Chalusse, after assuring himself
that Casimir would have some straw spread over the street, the
doctor quietly walked home. The visits he had spoken of merely
existed in his imagination; but it was a part of his role to
appear to be overrun with patients. To tell the truth, the only
patient he had had to attend to that week was a superannuated
porter, living in the Rue de la Pepiniere, and whom he visited
twice a day, for want of something better to do. The remainder of
his time was spent in waiting for patients who never came, and in
cursing the profession of medicine, which was ruined, he declared,
by excessive competition, combined with certain rules of decorum
which hampered young practitioners beyond endurance.
However, if Dr. Jodon had devoted one-half of the time he spent in
cursing and building castles in the air to study, he might have,
perhaps, raised his little skill to the height of his immense
ambition. But neither work nor patience formed any part of his
system. He was a man of the present age, and wished to rise
speedily with as little trouble as possible. A certain amount of
display and assurance, a little luck, and a good deal of
advertising would, in his opinion, suffice to bring about this
result. It was with this conviction, indeed, that he had taken up
his abode in the Rue de Courcelles, situated in one of the most
aristocratic quarters of Paris. But so far, events had shown his
theory to be incorrect. In spite of the greatest economy, very
cleverly concealed, he had seen the little capital which
constituted his entire fortune dwindle away. He had originally
possessed but twenty thousand francs, a sum which in no wise
corresponded with his lofty pretensions. He had paid his rent
that very morning; and he could not close his eyes to the fact
that the time was near at hand when he would be unable to pay it.
What should he do then? When he thought of this contingency, and
it was a subject that filled his mind to the exclusion of all
other matters, he felt the fires of wrath and hatred kindle in his
soul. He utterly refused to regard himself as the cause of his
own misfortunes; on the contrary, following the example of many
other disappointed individuals, he railed at mankind and
everything in general--at circumstances, envious acquaintances,
and enemies, whom he certainly did not possess.
At times he was capable of doing almost anything to gratify his
lust for gold, for the privations which he had endured so long
were like oil cast upon the flame of covetousness which was ever
burning in his breast. In calmer moments he asked himself at what
other door he could knock, in view of hastening the arrival of
Fortune. Sometimes he thought of turning dentist, or of trying to
find some capitalist who would join him in manufacturing one of
those patent medicines which are warranted to yield their
promoters a hundred thousand francs a year. On other occasions he
dreamed of establishing a monster pharmacy, or of opening a
private hospital. But money was needed to carry out any one of
these plans, and he had no money. There was the rub. However the
time was fast approaching when he must decide upon his course; he
could not possibly hold out much longer.
His third year of practice in the Rue de Courcelles had not
yielded him enough to pay his servant's wages. For he had a
servant, of course. He had a valet for the same reason as he had
a suite of rooms of a superficially sumptuous aspect. Faithful to
his system, or, rather, to his master's system, he had sacrificed
everything to show. The display of gilding in his apartments was
such as to make a man of taste shut his eyes to escape the sight
of it. There were gorgeous carpets and hangings, frescoed
ceilings, spurious objects of virtu, and pier-tables loaded with
ornaments. An unsophisticated youth from the country would
certainly have been dazzled; but it would not do to examine these
things too closely. There was more cotton than silk in the velvet
covering of the furniture; and if various statuettes placed on
brackets at a certain height had been closely inspected, it would
have been found that they were of mere plaster, hidden beneath a
coating of green paint, sprinkled with copper filings. This
plaster, playing the part of bronze, was in perfect keeping with
the man, his system, and the present age.
When the doctor reached home, his first question to his servant
was as usual: "Has any one called?"
"No one."
The doctor sighed, and passing through his superb waiting-room, he
entered his consulting sanctum, and seated himself in the chimney
corner beside an infinitesimal fire. He was even more thoughtful
than usual. The scene which he had just witnessed at the Count de
Chalusse's house recurred to his mind, and he turned it over and
over again in his brain, striving to find some way by which he
might derive an advantage from the mystery. For he was more than
ever convinced that there was a mystery. He had been engrossed in
these thoughts for some time, when his meditations were disturbed
by a ring at the bell. Who could be calling at this hour?
The question was answered by his servant, who appeared and
informed him that a lady, who was in a great hurry, was waiting in
the reception-room. "Very well," was his reply; "but it is best
to let her wait a few moments." For he had at least this merit: he
never deviated from his system. Under no circumstances whatever
would he have admitted a patient immediately; he wished him to
wait so that he might have an opportunity of reflecting on the
advantages of consulting a physician whose time was constantly
However, when ten minutes or so had elapsed, he opened the door,
and a tall lady came quickly forward, throwing back the veil which
had concealed her face. She must have been over forty-five; and
if she had ever been handsome, there was nothing to indicate it
now. She had brown hair, thickly sprinkled with gray, but very
coarse and abundant, and growing low over her forehead; her nose
was broad and flat; her lips were thick, and her eyes were dull
and expressionless. However, her manners were gentle and rather
melancholy; and one would have judged her to be somewhat of a
devotee. Still for the time being she seemed greatly agitated.
She seated herself at the doctor's invitation; and without waiting
for him to ask any questions: "I ought to tell you at once,
monsieur," she began, "that I am the Count de Chalusse's housekeeper."
In spite of his self-control, the doctor bounded from his chair.
"Madame Leon?" he asked, in a tone of intense surprise.
She bowed, compressing her thick lips. "I am known by that name--
yes, monsieur. But it is only my Christian name. The one I have
a right to bear would not accord with my present position.
Reverses of fortune are not rare in these days; and were it not
for the consoling influences of religion, one would not have
strength to endure them."
The physician was greatly puzzled. "What can she want of me?" he
Meanwhile, she had resumed speaking: "I was much reduced in
circumstances--at the end of my resources, indeed--when M. de
Chalusse--a family friend--requested me to act as companion to a
young girl in whom he was interested--Mademoiselle Marguerite. I
accepted the position; and I thank God every day that I did so,
for I feel a mother's affection for this young girl, and she loves
me as fondly as if she were my own daughter." In support of her
assertion, she drew a handkerchief from her pocket, and succeeded
in forcing a few tears to her eyes. "Under these circumstances,
doctor," she continued, "you cannot fail to understand that the
interests of my dearly beloved Marguerite bring me to you. I was
shut up in my own room when M. de Chalusse was brought home, and I
did not hear of his illness until after your departure. Perhaps
you might say that I ought to have waited until your next visit;
but I had not sufficient patience to do so. One cannot submit
without a struggle to the torture of suspense, when the future of
a beloved daughter is at stake. So here I am." She paused to take
breath, and then added, "I have come, monsieur, to ask you to tell
me the exact truth respecting the count's condition."
The doctor was expecting something very different, but
nevertheless he replied with all due gravity and self-possession.
"It is my painful duty to tell you, madame, that there is scarcely
any hope, and that I expect a fatal termination within twenty-four
hours, unless the patient should regain consciousness."
The housekeeper turned pale. "Then all is lost," she faltered,
"all is lost!" And unable to articulate another word she rose to
her feet, bowed, and abruptly left the room.
Before the grate, with his mouth half open, and his right arm
extended in an interrupted gesture, the doctor stood speechless
and disconcerted. It was only when the outer door closed with a
bang that he seemed restored to consciousness. And as he heard
the noise he sprang forward as if to recall his visitor. "Ah!" he
exclaimed, with an oath, "the miserable old woman was mocking me!"
And urged on by a wild, irrational impulse, he caught up his hat
and darted out in pursuit. Madame Leon was considerably in
advance of him, and was walking very quickly; still, by quickening
his pace, he might have overtaken her. However, he did not join
her, for he scarcely knew what excuse to offer for such a strange
proceeding; he contented himself by cautiously following her at a
little distance. Suddenly she stopped short. It was in front of
a tobacconist's shop, where there was a post-office letter-box.
The shop was closed, but the box was there with its little slit
for letters to be dropped into it. Madame Leon evidently
hesitated. She paused, as one always does before venturing upon a
decisive act, from which there will be no return, whatever may be
the consequences. An observer never remains twenty minutes before
a letter-box without witnessing this pantomime so expressive of
irresolution. At last, however, she shrugged her shoulders with a
gesture which eloquently expressed the result of her
deliberations; and drawing a letter from her bosom, she dropped it
into the box, and then hastened on more quickly than before.
"There is not the slightest doubt," thought the doctor, "that
letter had been prepared in advance, and whether it should be sent
or not depended on the answer I gave."
We have already said that M. Jodon was not a wealthy man, and yet
he would willingly have given a hundred-franc note to have known
the contents of this letter, or even the name of the person to
whom it was addressed. But his chase was almost ended. Madame
Leon had reached the Hotel de Chalusse, and now went in. Should
he follow her? His curiosity was torturing him to such a degree
that he had an idea of doing so; and it required an heroic effort
of will to resist the temptation successfully. But a gleam of
common sense warned him that this would be a terrible blunder.
Once already during the evening his conduct had attracted
attention; and he began to realize that there was a better way of
winning confidence than by intruding almost forcibly into other
people's affairs. Accordingly he thoughtfully retraced his steps,
feeling intensely disgusted with himself. "What a fool I am!" he
grumbled. "If I had kept the old woman in suspense, instead of
blurting out the truth, I might have learned the real object of
her visit; for she had an object. But what was it?"
The doctor spent the two hours that remained to him before making
his second visit in trying to discover it. But, although nothing
prevented him from exploring the boundless fields of improbable
possibilities, he could think of nothing satisfactory. There was
only one certain point, that Madame Leon and Mademoiselle
Marguerite were equally interested in the question as to whether
the count would regain consciousness or not. As to their
interests in the matter, the doctor felt confident that they were
not identical; he was persuaded that a secret enmity existed
between them, and that the housekeeper had visited him without
Mademoiselle Marguerite's knowledge. For he was not deceived by
Madame Leon, or by her pretended devotion to Mademoiselle
Marguerite. Her manner, her smooth words, her tone of pious
resignation, and the allusion to the grand name she had the right
to bear, were all calculated to impose upon one; but she had been
too much disconcerted toward the last to remember her part. Dr.
Jodon lacked the courage to return to his sumptuous rooms, and it
was in a little cafe that he thus reflected upon the situation,
while drinking some execrable beer brewed in Paris out of a glass
manufactured in Bavaria.
At last midnight sounded--the hour had come. Still the doctor did
not move. Having been obliged to wait himself, he wished, in
revenge, to make the others wait, and it was not until the cafe
closed that he again walked up the Rue de Courcelles. Madame Leon
had left the gate ajar, and the doctor had no difficulty in making
his way into the courtyard. As in the earlier part of the
evening, the servants were assembled in the concierge's lodge; but
the careless gayety which shone upon their faces a few hours
before had given place to evident anxiety respecting their future
prospects. Through the windows of the lodge they could be seen
standing round the two choice spirits of the household, M.
Bourigeau, the concierge, and M. Casimir, the valet, who were
engaged in earnest conversation. And if the doctor had listened,
he would have heard such words as "wages," and "legacies," and
"remuneration for faithful service," and "annuities" repeated over
and over again.
But M. Jodon did not listen. Thinking he should find some servant
inside, he entered the house. However, there was nobody to
announce his presence; the door closed noiselessly behind him, the
heavy carpet which covered the marble steps stifled the sound of
his footsteps, and he ascended the first flight without seeing any
one. The door opening into the count's room was open, the room
itself being brilliantly lighted by a large fire, and a lamp which
stood on a corner of the mantel-shelf. Instinctively the doctor
paused and looked in. There had been no change since his first
visit. The count was still lying motionless on his pillows; his
face was swollen, his eyelids were closed, but he still breathed,
as was shown by the regular movement of the covering over his
chest. Madame Leon and Mademoiselle Marguerite were his only
attendants. The housekeeper, who sat back a little in the shade,
was half reclining in an arm-chair with her hands clasped in her
lap, her lips firmly compressed, and her eyes fixed upon vacancy.
Pale but calm, and more imposing and more beautiful than ever,
Mademoiselle Marguerite was kneeling beside the bed, eagerly
watching for some sign of renewed life and intelligence on the
count's face.
A little ashamed of his indiscretion, the doctor retreated seven
or eight steps down the stairs, and then ascended them again,
coughing slightly, so as to announce his approach. This time he
was heard. for Mademoiselle Marguerite came to the door to meet
him. "Well?" he inquired.
He advanced toward the bed, but before he had time to examine his
patient Mademoiselle Marguerite handed him a scrap of paper. "The
physician who usually attends M. de Chalusse has been here in your
absence, monsieur," said she. "This is his prescription, and we
have already administered a few drops of the potion."
M. Jodon, who was expecting this blow, bowed coldly.
"I must add," continued Mademoiselle Marguerite, "that the doctor
approved of all that had been done; and I beg you will unite your
skill with his in treating the case."
Unfortunately all the medical skill of the faculty would have
availed nothing here. After another examination, Dr. Jodon
declared that it would be necessary to wait for the action of
nature, but that he must be informed of the slightest change in
the sick man's condition. "And I will tell my servant to wake me
at once if I am sent for," he added.
He was already leaving the room, when Madame Leon barred his
passage. "Isn't it true, doctor, that one attentive person would
suffice to watch over the count?" she asked.
"Most assuredly," he answered.
The housekeeper turned toward Mademoiselle Marguerite. "Ah, you
see, my dear young lady," she said, "what did I tell you? Listen
to me; take a little rest. Watching is not suitable work for one
of your age----"
"It is useless to insist," interrupted the young girl, resolutely.
"I shall remain here. I shall watch over him myself."
The housekeeper made no reply; but it seemed to the doctor that
the two women exchanged singular glances. "The devil!" he
muttered, as he took his departure; "one might think that they
distrusted each other!"
Perhaps he was right; but at all events he had scarcely left the
house before Madame Leon again urged her dear young lady to take a
few hours' rest. "What can you fear?" she insisted, in her
wheedling voice. "Sha'n't I be here? Do you suppose your old Leon
capable of losing herself in sleep, when your future depends upon
a word from that poor man lying there?"
"Pray, cease."
"Ah, no! my dear young lady; my love for you compels me "
"Oh, enough!" interrupted Mademoiselle Marguerite; "enough, Leon!"
Her tone was so determined that the housekeeper was compelled to
yield; but not without a deep sigh, not without an imploring
glance to Heaven, as if calling upon Providence to witness the
purity of her motives and the usefulness of her praiseworthy
efforts. "At least, my dear lady, wrap yourself up warmly. Shall
I go and bring you your heavy travelling shawl?"
"Thanks, my dear Leon--Annette will bring it."
"Then, pray, send for it. But we are not going to watch alone?
What should we do if we needed anything?"
"I will call," replied Marguerite.
This was unnecessary, for Dr. Jodon's departure from the house had
put an abrupt termination to the servants' conference; and they
were now assembled on the landing, anxious and breathless, and
peering eagerly into the sick-room.
Mademoiselle Marguerite went toward them. "Madame Leon and myself
will remain with the count," she said. "Annette"--this was the
woman whom she liked best of all the servants "Casimir and a
footman will spend the night in the little side salon. The others
may retire."
Her orders were obeyed. Two o'clock sounded from the church-tower
near by, and then the solemn and terrible silence was only broken
by the hard breathing of the unconscious man and the implacable
ticktack of the clock on the mantel-shelf, numbering the seconds
which were left for him to live. From the streets outside, not a
sound reached this princely abode, which stood between a vast
courtyard and a garden as large as a park. Moreover, the straw
which had been spread over the paving-stones effectually deadened
the rumble of the few vehicles that passed. Enveloped in a soft,
warm shawl, Madame Leon had again taken possession of her armchair,
and while she pretended to be reading a prayer-book, she
kept a close watch over her dear young lady, as if she were
striving to discover her in-most thoughts. Mademoiselle
Marguerite did not suspect this affectionate espionage. Besides,
what would it have mattered to her? She had rolled a low arm-chair
near the bedside, seated herself in it, and her eyes were fixed
upon M. de Chalusse. Two or three times she started violently,
and once even she said to Madame Leon: "Come--come and see!"
It seemed to her that there was a faint change in the patient's
face; but it was only a fancy--she had been deceived by the
shadows that played about the room, caused by the capricious flame
in the grate. The hours were creeping on, and the housekeeper,
wearying at last of her fruitless watch, dropped asleep; her head
fell forward on to her breast, her prayer-book slipped from her
hands, and finally she began to snore. But Mademoiselle
Marguerite did not perceive this, absorbed as she was in thoughts
which, by reason of their very profundity, had ceased to be
sorrowful. Perhaps she felt she was keeping a last vigil over her
happiness, and that with the final breath of this dying man all
her girlhood's dreams and all her dearest hopes would take flight
for evermore. Undoubtedly her thoughts flew to the man to whom
she had promised her life--to Pascal, to the unfortunate fellow
whose honor was being stolen from him at that very moment, in a
fashionable gaming-house.
About five o'clock the air became so close that she felt a sudden
faintness, and opened the window to obtain a breath of fresh air.
The noise aroused Madame Leon from her slumbers. She rose,
yawned, and rather sullenly declared that she felt very queer, and
would certainly fall ill if she did not take some refreshment. It
became necessary to summon M. Casimir, who brought her a glass of
Madeira and some biscuits. "Now I feel better," she murmured,
after her repast. "My excessive sensibility will be the death of
me." And so saying, she dropped asleep again.
Mademoiselle Marguerite had meanwhile returned to her seat; but
her thoughts gradually became confused, her eyelids grew heavy,
and although she struggled, she at last fell asleep in her turn,
with her head resting on the count's bed. It was daylight when a
strange and terrible shock awoke her. It seemed to her as if an
icy hand, some dead person's hand, was gently stroking her head,
and tenderly caressing her hair. She at once sprang to her feet.
The sick man had regained consciousness; his eyes were open and
his right arm was moving. Mademoiselle Marguerite darted to the
bell-rope and pulled it violently, and as a servant appeared in
answer to the summons, she cried: "Run for the physician who lives
near here--quick!--and tell him that the count is conscious."
In an instant, almost, the sick-room was full of servants, but the
girl did not perceive it. She had approached M. de Chalusse, and
taking his hand, she tenderly asked: "You hear me, do you not,
monsieur? Do you understand me?"
His lips moved; but only a hollow, rattling sound, which was
absolutely unintelligible, came from his throat. Still, he
understood her; as it was easy to see by his gestures--despairing
and painful ones, for paralysis had not released its hold on its
victim, and it was only with great difficulty that he could
slightly move his right arm. He evidently desired something. But
They mentioned the different articles in the room--everything
indeed that they could think of. But in vain, until the
housekeeper suddenly exclaimed: "He wishes to write."
That was, indeed, what he desired. With the hand that was
comparatively free, with the hoarse rattle that was his only
voice, M. de Chalusse answered, "Yes, yes!" and his eyes even
turned to Madame Leon with an expression of joy and gratitude.
They raised him on his pillows, and brought him a small writingdesk,
with some paper, and a pen that had been dipped in ink. But
like those around him, he had himself over-estimated his strength;
if he could move his hand, he could not CONTROL its movements.
After a terrible effort and intense suffering, however, he
succeeded in tracing a few words, the meaning of which it was
impossible to understand. It was only with the greatest
difficulty that these words could be deciphered--"My entire
fortune--give--friends--against----" This signified nothing.
In despair, he dropped the pen, and his glance and his hand turned
to that part of the room opposite his bed. "Monsieur means his
escritoire, perhaps?"
"Yes, yes," the sick man hoarsely answered.
"Perhaps the count wishes that it should be opened?"
"Yes, yes!" was the reply again.
"My God!" exclaimed Mademoiselle Marguerite, with a gesture of
despair; "what have I done? I have broken the key. I feared the
responsibility which would fall upon us all."
The expression of the count's face had become absolutely
frightful. It indicated utter discouragement, the most bitter
suffering, the most horrible despair. His soul was writhing in a
body from which life had fled. Intelligence, mind, and will were
fast bound in a corpse which they could not electrify. The
consciousness of his own powerlessness caused him a paroxysm of
frantic rage; his hands clinched, the veins in his throat swelled,
his eyes almost started from their sockets, and in a harsh, shrill
voice that had nothing human in it, he exclaimed: "Marguerite!--
despoiled!--take care!--your mother!" And this was all--it was the
supreme effort that broke the last link that bound the soul to
"A priest!" cried Madame Leon!" A priest! In the name of Heaven,
go for a priest!"
"Rather for a notary," suggested M. Casimir. "You see he wishes
to make a will."
But at that moment the physician entered, pale and breathless. He
walked straight to the bedside, glanced at the motionless form,
and solemnly exclaimed: "The Count de Chalusse is dead!"
There was a moment's stupor--the stupor which always follows
death, especially when death comes suddenly and unexpectedly. A
feeling of mingled wonder, selfishness, and fear pervaded the
group of servants. "Yes, it is over!" muttered the doctor; "it is
all over!"
And as he was familiar with these painful scenes, and had lost
none of his self-possession, he furtively studied Mademoiselle
Marguerite's features and attitude. She seemed thunderstruck.
With dry, fixed eyes and contracted features, she stood rooted to
her place, gazing at the lifeless form as if she were expecting
some miracle--as if she still hoped to hear those rigid lips
reveal the secret which he had tried in vain to disclose, and
which he had carried with him to the grave.
The physician was the only person who observed this. The other
occupants of the room were exchanging looks of distress. Some of
the women had fallen upon their knees, and were sobbing and
praying in the same breath. But Madame Leon's sobs could be heard
above the rest. They were at first inarticulate moans, but
suddenly she sprang toward Mademoiselle Marguerite, and clasping
her in her arms, she cried: "What a misfortune! My dearest child,
what a loss!" Utterly incapable of uttering a word, the poor girl
tried to free herself from this close embrace, but the housekeeper
would not be repulsed, and continued: "Weep, my dear young lady,
weep! Do not refuse to give vent to your sorrow."
She herself displayed so little self-control that the physician
reprimanded her with considerable severity, whereat her emotion
increased, and with her handkerchief pressed to her eyes, she
sobbed: "Yes, doctor, yes; you are right; I ought to moderate my
grief. But pray, doctor, remove my beloved Marguerite from this
scene, which is too terrible for her young and tender heart.
Persuade her to retire to her own room, so that she may ask God
for strength to bear the misfortune which has befallen her."
The poor girl had certainly no intention of leaving the room, but
before she could say so, M. Casimir stepped forward. "I think,"
he dryly observed, "that mademoiselle had better remain here."
"Eh?" said Madame Leon, looking up suddenly. "And why, if you
Anger had dried the housekeeper's tears. "What do you mean?" she
asked. "Do you pretend to prevent mademoiselle from doing as she
chooses in her own house?"
M. Casimir gave vent to a contemptuous whistle, which, twenty-four
hours earlier, would have been punished with a heavy blow from the
man who was now lying there--dead. "Her own house!" he answered;
"her own house! Yesterday I shouldn't have denied it; but to-day
it's quite another thing. Is she a relative? No, she isn't. What
are you talking about, then? We are all equals here."
He spoke so impudently that even the doctor felt indignant.
"Scoundrel!" said he.
But the valet turned toward him with an air which proved that he
was well acquainted with the doctor's servant, and, consequently,
with all the secrets of the master's life. "Call your own valet a
scoundrel, if you choose," he retorted, "but not me. Your duties
here are over, aren't they? So leave us to manage our own affairs.
Thank heaven, I know what I'm talking about. Everybody knows that
caution must be exercised in a dead man's house, especially when
that house is full of money, and when, instead of relatives, there
are--persons who--who are there nobody knows how or why. In case
any valuables were missed, who would be accused of taking them?
Why, the poor servants, of course. Ah, they have broad shoulders!
Their trunks would be searched; and even if nothing were found,
they would be sent to prison all the same. In the meantime other
people would escape with the booty. No, Lisette! No one will stir
from this room until the arrival of the justice----"
Madame Leon was bursting with rage. "All right!" she interrupted;
"I'm going to send for the count's particular friend, General----"
"I don't care a fig for your general."
It was Mademoiselle Marguerite who put an end to this indecent
dispute. Its increasing violence had aroused her from her stupor.
Casimir's impudence brought a flush to her forehead, and stepping
forward with haughty resolution, she exclaimed: "You forget that
one never raises one's voice in the chamber of death." Her words
were so true, and her manner so majestic, that M. Casimir was
silenced. Then, pointing to the door, she coldly added: "Go for
the justice of the peace, and don't set foot here again, except in
his company."
He bowed, stammered an unintelligible apology, and left the room.
"She always gets the best of me," he growled, as he went
downstairs. "But seals shall be put on everything."
When he entered the porter's lodge, M. Bourigeau was just getting
up, having slept all night, while his wife watched. "Quick,"
ordered M. Casimir; "make haste and finish dressing, and run for
the justice of the peace--we must have him here at once.
Everything must be done regularly and in order, upstairs."
The concierge was in despair. "Heavens!" he exclaimed; "so the
master's dead! What a misfortune!"
"You may well say so; and this is the second time such a thing has
happened to me. I remember now what a shrewd fellow named Chupin
once said to me. 'If I were a servant,' he remarked, 'before
entering a man's service, I'd make him insure his life for my
benefit in one of those new-fangled companies, so that I might
step into a handsome fortune if he took it into his head to die.'
But make haste, Bourigeau."
"That's a famous idea, but scarcely practicable," growled the
"I don't know whether it is or not. But at all events I'm
terribly annoyed. The count was giving me enormous wages, and I
had got him nicely into my ways. Well, after all, I shall only
have to begin again!"
M. Bourigeau had not yet attained to the heights of such serene
philosophy, and as he buttoned his overcoat, he groaned: "Ah!
you're not situated as I am, Casimir. You've only yourself to
look out for. I have my furniture; and if I don't succeed in
finding a position where I can have two rooms, I shall be obliged
to sell part of it. What a blessed nuisance!"
As soon as he was dressed he started off on his mission; and M.
Casimir, who dared not return to the house, began walking slowly
to and fro in front of the lodge. He had made some thirty turns
or so, and was beginning to feel impatient, when he saw Victor
Chupin approaching. "You are always on hand at the right moment,"
remarked M. Casimir. "It's all over!"
Chupin turned eagerly. "Then our bargain holds?" he exclaimed.
"You understand what I mean--the funeral, you know."
"It isn't certain that I shall have anything to do with it; but
call again in three hours from now."
"All right, I'll be here."
"And M. Fortunat?" asked Casimir.
"He received what he called a 'violent shock' last evening, but
he's better this morning. He instructed me to tell you that he
should look for you between twelve and one--you know where."
"I'll endeavor to be there, although it may be difficult for me to
get away. If I go, however, I'll show him the letter that caused
the count's illness; for the count threw it away, after tearing it
into several pieces, and I found some of the bits which escaped
his notice as well as mademoiselle's. It's a strange letter, upon
my word!"
Chupin gazed at the valet with a look of mingled wonder and
admiration. "By Jove!" he exclaimed, "how fortunate a man must be
to secure a valet like you!"
His companion smiled complacently, but all of a sudden he
remarked: "Make haste and go. I see Bourigeau in the distance,
bringing the justice of the peace."
The magistrate who was now approaching the Chalusse mansion in the
concierge's company, exemplified in a remarkable manner all the
ideas that are awakened in one's mind by the grand yet simple
title of "Justice of the Peace." He was the very person you would
like to think of as the family magistrate; as the promoter of
friendly feeling; as the guardian of the rights of the absent, the
young, and the weak; as the just arbiter in unfortunate
differences between those who are closely related; a sage of wide
experience and boundless benevolence; a judge whose paternal
justice dispenses with all pomp and display, and who is allowed by
French statutes to hold his court by his own fireside, providing
the doors stand open. He was considerably over fifty, tall, and
very thin, with bent shoulders. His clothes were rather oldfashioned
in cut, but by no means ridiculous. The expression of
his face was gentleness itself; but it would not have done to
presume upon this gentleness, for his glance was keen and
piercing--like the glance of all who are expert in diving into
consciences, and discovering the secrets hidden there. Moreover,
like all men who are accustomed to deliberate in public, his
features were expressionless. He could see and hear everything,
suspect and understand everything, without letting a muscle of his
face move. And yet the habitues of his audience-chamber, and his
clerks, pretended that they could always detect the nature of his
impressions. A ring which he wore upon one of his fingers served
as a barometer for those who knew him. If a difficult case, or
one that embarrassed his conscience, presented itself, his eyes
fixed themselves obstinately upon this ring. If he were satisfied
that everything was right, he looked up again, and began playing
with the ring, slipping it up and down between the first and
second joint of his finger; but if he were displeased, he abruptly
turned the bezel inside.
In appearance, he was sufficiently imposing to intimidate even M.
Casimir. The proud valet bowed low as the magistrate approached,
and with his heart in his mouth, and in an obsequious voice he
said: "It was I who took the liberty of sending for you,
"Ah!" said the magistrate, who already knew as much about the
Hotel de Chalusse, and the events of the past twelve hours, as M.
Casimir himself; for on his way to the house, he had turned
Bourigeau inside out like a glove, by means of a dozen gentle
"If monsieur wishes I will explain," resumed M. Casimir.
"Nothing! It is quite unnecessary. Usher us in."
This "us" astonished the valet; but before they reached the house
it was explained to him. He discovered a man of flourishing and
even jovial mien who was walking along in the magistrate's shadow
carrying a large black portfolio under his arm. This was
evidently the clerk. He seemed to be as pleased with his
employment as he was with himself; and as he followed M. Casimir,
he examined the adornments of the mansion, the mosaics in the
vestibule, the statuary and the frescoed walls with an appraiser's
eye. Perhaps he was calculating how many years' salary it would
require to pay for the decorating of this one staircase.
On the threshold of the death room the magistrate paused. There
had been some change during M. Casimir's absence. The doctor had
left. The bed had been rearranged, and several candles were
burning on a table covered with a white cloth. Madame Leon had
gone to her own room, accompanied by two servants, to fetch a
vessel of holy water and a branch of withered palm. She was now
engaged in repeating the prayers for the dead, pausing from time
to time to dip the palm branch in the holy water, and sprinkle the
bed. Both windows had been opened in spite of the cold. On the
marble hearth stood a chafing-dish full of embers from which rose
spiral rings of smoke, filling the room with a pungent odor as a
servant poured some vinegar and sugar on to the coals.
As the magistrate appeared, every one rose up. Then, after
bestowing prolonged scrutiny upon the room and its occupants, he
respectfully removed his hat, and walked in. "Why are so many
people here?" he inquired.
"I suggested that they should remain," replied M. Casimir,
"You are--suspicious," interrupted the magistrate.
His clerk had already drawn a pen and some paper from his
portfolio, and was engaged in reading the decision, rendered by
the magistrate at the request of one Bourigeau, and in virtue of
which, seals were about to be affixed to the deceased nobleman's
personal effects. Since the magistrate had entered the room, his
eyes had not once wandered from Mademoiselle Marguerite, who was
standing near the fireplace, looking pale but composed. At last
he approached her, and in a tone of deep sympathy: "Are you
Mademoiselle Marguerite?" he asked.
She raised her clear eyes, rendered more beautiful than ever, by
the tears that trembled on her lashes, and in a faltering voice,
replied: "Yes, monsieur."
"Are you a relative? Are you connected in any way with the Count
de Chalusse? Have you any right to his property?"
"No, monsieur."
"Excuse me, mademoiselle, but these questions are indispensable.
Who intrusted you to the care of M. de Chalusse, and by what
right? Was it your father or your mother?"
"I have neither father nor mother, monsieur. I am alone in the
world--utterly alone."
The magistrate glanced keenly round the room. "Ah! I understand,"
said he, at last; "advantage has been taken of your isolation to
treat you with disrespect, to insult you, perhaps."
Every head drooped, and M. Casimir bitterly regretted that he had
not remained below in the courtyard. Mademoiselle Marguerite
looked at the magistrate in astonishment, for she was amazed by
his penetration. She was ignorant of his conversation with
Bourigeau on the road, and did not know that through the
concierge's ridiculous statements and accusations, the magistrate
had succeeded in discovering at least a portion of the truth.
"I shall have the honor of asking for a few moments' conversation
with you presently, mademoiselle," he said. "But first, one
question. I am told that the Count de Chalusse entertained a very
lively affection for you. Are you sure that he has not taken care
to provide for your future? Are you sure that he has not left a
The girl shook her head. "He made one in my favor some time ago,"
she replied. "I saw it; he gave it to me to read; but it was
destroyed a fortnight after my arrival here, and in compliance
with my request."
Madame Leon had hitherto been dumb with fear, but, conquering her
weakness, she now decided to draw near and take part in the
conversation. "How can you say that, my dear young lady?" she
exclaimed. "You know that the count--God rest his soul!--was an
extremely cautious man. I am certain that there is a will
The magistrate's eyes were fixed on his ring. "It would be well
to look, perhaps, before affixing the seals. You have a right to
require this; so, if you wish----"
But she made no reply.
"Oh, yes!" insisted Madame Leon; "pray look, monsieur."
"But where should we be likely to find a will?"
"Certainly in this room--in this escritoire, or in one of the
deceased count's cabinets."
The magistrate had learnt the story of the key from Bourigeau, but
all the same he asked: "Where is the key to this escritoire?"
"Alas! monsieur," replied Mademoiselle Marguerite, "I broke it
last night when M. de Chalusse was brought home unconscious. I
hoped to avert what has, nevertheless, happened. Besides, I knew
that his escritoire contained something over two millions in gold
and bank-notes."
Two millions--there! The occupants of the room stood aghast. Even
the clerk was so startled that he let a blot fall upon his paper.
Two millions! The magistrate was evidently reflecting. "Hum!" he
murmured, meditatively. Then, as if deciding on his course, he
"Let a locksmith be sent for."
A servant went in search of one; and while they were waiting for
his return, the magistrate sat down beside his clerk and talked to
him in a low voice. At last the locksmith appeared, with his bag
of tools hanging over his shoulder, and set to work at once. He
found his task a difficult one. His pick-locks would not catch,
and he was talking of filing the bolt, when, by chance, he found
the joint, and the door flew open. But the escritoire was empty.
There were only a few papers, and a bottle about three-quarters
full of a crimson liquid on the shelf. Had M. de Chalusse rose
and shook off his winding sheet, the consternation would not have
been greater. The same instinctive fear thrilled the hearts of
everybody present. An enormous fortune had disappeared. The same
suspicions would rest upon them all. And each servant already saw
himself arrested, imprisoned, and dragged before a law court.
However, anger speedily followed bewilderment, and a furious
clamor arose. "A robbery has been committed!" cried the servants,
in concert. "Mademoiselle had the key. It is wrong to suspect
the innocent!"
Revolting as this exhibition was, it did not modify the
magistrate's calmness. He had witnessed too many such scenes in
the course of his career, and, at least, a score of times he had
been compelled to interpose between children who had come to blows
over their inheritance before their father's body was even cold.
"Silence!" he commanded sternly. And as the tumult did not cease,
as the servants continued to cry, "The thief must be found. We
shall have no difficulty in discovering the culprit," the
magistrate exclaimed, still more imperiously: "Another word, and
you all leave the room."
They were silenced; but there was a mute eloquence about their
looks and gestures which it was impossible to misunderstand.
Every eye was fixed upon Mademoiselle Marguerite with an almost
ferocious expression. She knew it only too well; but, sublime in
her energy, she stood, with her head proudly erect, facing the
storm, and disdaining to answer these vile imputations. However
she had a protector near by--the magistrate in person. "If this
treasure has been diverted from the inheritance," said he, "the
thief will be discovered and punished. But I wish to have one
point explained--who said that Mademoiselle Marguerite had the key
of the escritoire?"
"I did," replied a footman. "I was in the dining-room yesterday
morning when the count gave it to her."
"For what purpose did he give it to her?"
"That she might obtain this vial--I recognized it at once. She
brought it down to him."
"Did she return the key?"
"Yes; she gave it to him when she handed him the vial, and I saw
him put it in his pocket."
The magistrate pointed to the bottle which was standing on the
shelf. "Then the count himself must have put the vial back in its
place," said he. "Further comment is unnecessary; for, if the
money had then been missing, he could not have failed to discover
the fact." No one had any reply to make to this quiet defence,
which was, at the same time, a complete vindication. "And,
besides," continued the magistrate, "who told you that this
immense sum would be found here? Did you know it? Which one of you
knew it?" And as nobody still ventured any remark, he added in an
even more severe tone, and without seeming to notice Mademoiselle
Marguerite's look of gratitude, "It is by no means a proof of
honesty to be so extremely suspicious. Would it not have been
easier to suppose that the deceased had placed the money somewhere
else, and that it will yet be found?"
The clerk had been even less disturbed than the magistrate. He
also was blase, having witnessed too many of those frightful and
shameless dramas which are enacted at a dead man's bedside, to be
surprised at anything. If he had deigned to glance at the
escritoire, it was only because he was curious to see how small a
space would suffice to contain two millions; and then he had begun
to calculate how many years he would be obliged to remain a clerk
before he could succeed in amassing such a fabulous sum. However,
hearing his superior express the intention of continuing the
search for the will, and the missing treasure, he abruptly
abandoned his calculation, and exclaimed, "Then, I suppose, I can
commence my report, monsieur?"
"Yes," replied the magistrate, "write as follows:" And in a
monotonous voice he began to dictate the prescribed formula, an
unnecessary proceeding, for the clerk was quite as familiar with
it as the magistrate himself:--"On the 16th of October, 186-, at
nine o'clock in the morning, in compliance with the request of the
servants of the deceased Louis-Henri-Raymond de Durtal, Count de
Chalusse, and in the interest of his presumptive heirs, and all
others connected with him, and in accordance with the requirements
of clauses 819 (Code Napoleon) and 909 (Code of Procedure), we,
justice of the peace, accompanied by our clerk, visited the
residence of the deceased aforesaid, in the Rue de Courcelles,
where, having entered a bedroom opening on to the courtyard, and
lighted by two windows looking toward the south, we found the body
of the deceased aforesaid, lying on his bed, and covered with a
sheet. In this room were----" He paused in his dictation, and
addressing the clerk, "Take down the names of all present," said
he. "That will require some little time, and, meanwhile, I will
continue my search."
They had, in fact, only examined the shelf of the escritoire, and
the drawers were still to be inspected. In the first which he
opened, the magistrate found ample proofs of the accuracy of the
information which had been furnished him by Mademoiselle
Marguerite. The drawer contained a memorandum which established
the fact that the Credit Foncier had lent M. de Chalusse the sum
of eight hundred and fifty thousand francs, which had been
remitted to him on the Saturday preceding his death. Beside this
document lay a second memorandum, signed by a stockbroker named
Pell, setting forth that the latter had sold for the count
securities of various descriptions to the amount of fourteen
hundred and twenty-three thousand francs, which sum had been paid
to the count on the preceding Tuesday, partly in bank-notes and
partly in gold. It was thus evident that M. de Chalusse had
received a grand total of two million two hundred and seventythree
thousand francs within the past six days.
In the drawer which was next opened, the magistrate only found a
number of deeds, bonds, leases, and mortgages; but they proved
that public rumor, far from exaggerating the figures of the
count's fortune, had diminished it, and this made it difficult to
explain why he had contracted a loan. The third and last drawer
contained twenty-eight thousand francs, in packages of twentyfranc
pieces. Finally, in a small casket, the magistrate found a
packet of letters, yellow with age and bound together with a broad
piece of blue velvet; as well as three or four withered bouquets,
and a woman's glove, which had been worn by a hand of marvellous
smallness. These were evidently the relics of some great passion
of many years before; and the magistrate looked at them for a
moment with a sigh.
His own interest prevented him from noticing Mademoiselle
Marguerite's agitation. She had almost fainted on perceiving
these souvenirs of the count's past life so suddenly exhumed.
However, the examination of the escritoire being over, and the
clerk having completed his task of recording the names of all the
servants, the magistrate said, in a loud voice, "I shall now
proceed to affix the seals; but, before doing so, I shall take a
portion of the money found in this desk, and set it apart for the
expenses of the household, in accordance with the law. Who will
take charge of this money?"
"Oh, not I!" exclaimed Madame Leon.
"I will take charge of it," said M. Casimir.
"Then here are eight thousand francs, for which you will be held
M. Casimir being a prudent man, counted the money himself, and
after doing so, "Who will attend to the count's obsequies?" he
"You, and without loss of time."
Proud of his new importance, the valet hastily left the room, his
self-complacency increased by the thought that he was to breakfast
with M. Isidore Fortunat, and would afterward share a fat
commission with Victor Chupin.
However, the magistrate had already resumed his dictation: "And at
this moment we have affixed bands of white tape, sealed at either
end with red wax, bearing the impress of our seal as justice of
the peace, to wit: In the aforesaid chamber of the deceased:
First, A band of tape, covering the keyhole of the lock of the
escritoire, which had been previously opened by a locksmith
summoned by us, and closed again by the said locksmith----" And so
the magistrate and his clerk went from one piece of furniture to
another, duly specifying in the report each instance in which the
seals were affixed.
From the count's bedroom they passed into his study, followed by
Mademoiselle Marguerite, Madame Leon, and the servants. By noon
every article of furniture in which M. de Chalusse would have been
likely to deposit his valuables or a will, had been searched, and
nothing, absolutely nothing, had been found. The magistrate had
pursued his investigation with the feverish energy which the most
self-possessed of men are apt to display under such circumstances,
especially when influenced by the conviction that the object they
are seeking is somewhere within their reach, perhaps under their
very hand. Indeed, he was persuaded--he was sure--he would, in
fact, have sworn that the Count de Chalusse had taken all the
precautions natural in childless men, who have no near relatives
to inherit their fortune, or who have placed their interest and
affections beyond their family circle. And when he was obliged to
abandon his search, his gesture indicated anger rather than
discouragement; for apparent evidence had not shaken his
conviction in the least. So he stood motionless, with his eyes
riveted on his ring, as if waiting some miraculous inspiration
from it. "For the count's only fault, I am sure, was in being too
cautious," he muttered. "This is frequently the case, and it
would be quite in keeping with the character of this man, judging
from what I know of him."
Madame Leon lifted her hands to heaven. "Ah, yes! such was,
indeed, his nature," she remarked, approvingly. "Never, no never,
have I seen such a suspicious and distrustful person as he was.
Not in reference to money--no, indeed--for he left that lying
about everywhere; but about his papers. He locked them up with
the greatest care, as if he feared that some terrible secret might
evaporate from them. It was a mania with him. If he had a letter
to write, he barricaded his door, as if he were about to commit
some horrible crime. More than once have I seen him----" The
words died away on her lips, and she remained motionless and
abashed, like a person who has just escaped some great peril. One
word more, and involuntarily, without even knowing it, she would
have confessed her besetting sin, which was listening at, and
peering through, the keyholes of the doors that were closed
against her. Still, she deluded herself with the belief that this
slight indiscretion of her overready tongue had escaped the
magistrate's notice.
He certainly did not seem to be conscious of it, for he was giving
his attention entirely to Mademoiselle Marguerite, who seemed to
have regained the cold reserve and melancholy resignation habitual
to her. "You see, mademoiselle," he remarked, "that I have done
all that is in my power to do. We must now leave the search to
chance, and to the person who takes the inventory. Who knows what
surprise may be in store for us in this immense house, of which we
have only explored three rooms?"
She shook her head gently and replied: "I can never be
sufficiently grateful for your kindness, monsieur, and for the
great service you rendered me in crushing that infamous
accusation. As regards the rest, I have never expected anything--
I do not expect anything now."
She believed what she said, and her tone of voice proved this so
unmistakably that the magistrate was surprised and somewhat
disturbed. "Come, come, my young lady," he said, with almost
paternal kindness of manner, "you ought not to despond. Still,
you must have certain reasons for speaking as you do; and as I am
free for an hour, we are going to have a plain talk, as if we were
father and daughter."
On hearing these words, the clerk rose with a cloud on his jovial
face. He impatiently jingled his bunch of keys; for as the seals
are successively affixed, each key is confided to the clerk, to
remain in his hands until the seals are removed.
"I understand," said the magistrate. "Your stomach, which is more
exacting in its demands than mine, is not satisfied with a cup of
chocolate till dinner-time. So, go and get your lunch; on your
return, you will find me here. You may now conclude the report,
and request these parties to sign it."
Urged on by hunger, the clerk hastily mumbled over the remainder
of the formula, called all the names that he had inserted in the
report, and each of the servants advanced in turn, signed his or
her name, or made a cross, and then retired. Madame Leon read in
the judge's face that she also was expected to withdraw; and she
was reluctantly leaving the room, when Mademoiselle Marguerite
detained her to ask: "Are you quite sure that nothing has come for
me to-day?"
"Nothing, mademoiselle; I went in person to inquire of the
"Did you post my letter last night?"
"Oh! my dear young lady, can you doubt it?"
The young girl stifled a sigh, and then, with a gesture of
dismissal, she remarked, "M. de Fondege must be sent for."
"The General?"
"I will send for him at once," replied the housekeeper; and
thereupon she left the room, closing the door behind her with a
vicious slam.
The justice of the peace and Mademoiselle Marguerite were at last
alone in M. de Chalusse's study. This room, which the count had
preferred above all others, was a spacious, magnificent, but
rather gloomy apartment, with lofty walls and dark, richly carved
furniture. Its present aspect was more than ever solemn and
lugubrious, for it gave one a chill to see the bands of white tape
affixed to the locks of the cabinets and bookcases. When the
magistrate had installed himself in the count's arm-chair, and the
girl had taken a seat near him, they remained looking at each
other in silence for a few moments. The magistrate was asking
himself how he should begin. Having fathomed Mademoiselle
Marguerite's extreme sensitiveness and reserve, he said to himself
that if he offended or alarmed her, she would refuse him her
confidence, in which case he would be powerless to serve her as he
wished to do. He had, in fact, an almost passionate desire to be
of service to her, feeling himself drawn toward her by an
inexplicable feeling of sympathy, in which esteem, respect, and
admiration alike were blended, though he had only known her for a
few hours. Still, he must make a beginning. "Mademoiselle," he
said, at last, "I abstained from questioning you before the
servants--and if I take the liberty of doing so now, it is not,
believe me, out of any idle curiosity; moreover, you are not
compelled to answer me. But you are young--and I am an old man;
and it is my duty--even if my heart did not urge me to do so--to
offer you the aid of my experience----"
"Speak, monsieur," interrupted Marguerite. "I will answer your
questions frankly, or else not answer them at all."
"To resume, then," said he, "I am told that M. de Chalusse has no
relatives, near or remote. Is this the truth?"
"So far as I know--yes, monsieur. Still, I have heard it said
that a sister of his, Mademoiselle Hermine de Chalusse, abandoned
her home twenty-five or thirty years ago, when she was about my
age, and that she has never received her share of the enormous
fortune left by her parents."
"And has this sister never given any sign of life?"
"Never! Still, monsieur, I have promised you to be perfectly
frank. That letter which the Count de Chalusse received
yesterday, that letter which I regard as the cause of his death--
well, I have a presentiment that it came from his sister. It
could only have been written by her or--by that other person whose
letters--and souvenirs--you found in the escritoire."
"And--this other person--who can she be?" As the young girl made
no reply, the magistrate did not insist, but continued: "And you,
my child, who are you?"
She made a gesture of sorrowful resignation, and then, in a voice
faltering with emotion, she answered: "I do not know, monsieur.
Perhaps I am the count's daughter. I should be telling an untruth
if I said that was not my belief. Yes, I believe it, but I have
never been certain of it. Sometimes I have believed, sometimes I
have doubted it. On certain days I have said to myself, 'Yes, it
must be so!' and I have longed to throw my arms around his neck.
But at other times I have exclaimed: 'No, it isn't possible!' and
I have almost hated him. Besides, he never said a word on the
subject--never a decisive word, at least. When I saw him for the
first time, six years ago, I judged by the manner in which he
forbade me to call him 'father,' that he would never answer any
question I might ask on the subject."
If there was a man in the world inaccessible to idle curiosity, it
was certainly this magistrate, whose profession condemned him to
listen every day to family grievances, neighborly quarrels,
complaints, accusations, and slander. And yet as he listened to
Mademoiselle Marguerite, he experienced that strange disquietude
which seizes hold of a person when a puzzling problem is
presented. "Allow me to believe that many decisive proofs may
have escaped your notice on account of your inexperience," he
But interrupting him with a gesture, she sadly remarked: "You are
mistaken; I am not inexperienced."
He could not help smiling at what he considered her self-conceit.
"Poor child!" said he; "how old are you? Eighteen?"
She shook her head. "Yes, by my certificate of birth I am only
eighteen; but by the sufferings I have endured I am, perhaps,
older than you are, monsieur, despite your white hair. Those who
have lived such a life as I have, are never young; they are old in
suffering, even in their childhood. And if by experience you mean
lack of confidence, a knowledge of good and evil, distrust of
everything and everybody, mine, young girl though I be, will no
doubt equal yours." She paused, hesitated for a moment, and then
continued: "But why should I wait for you to question me? It is
neither sincere nor dignified on my part to do so. The person who
claims counsel owes absolute frankness to his adviser. I will
speak to you as if I were communing with my own soul. I will tell
you what no person has ever known--no one, not even Pascal. And
believe me, my past life was full of bitter misery, although you
find me here in this splendid house. But I have nothing to
conceal; and if I have cause to blush, it is for others, not for
Perhaps she was impelled by an irresistible desire to relieve her
overburdened heart, after long years of self-restraint; perhaps
she no longer felt sure of herself, and desired some other advice
than the dictates of her conscience, in presence of the calamity
which had befallen her. At all events, too much engrossed in her
own thoughts to heed the magistrate's surprise, or hear the words
he faltered, she rose from her seat, and, with her hands pressed
tightly on her throbbing brow, she began to tell the story of her
"My first recollections," she said, "are of a narrow, cheerless
courtyard, surrounded by grim and massive walls, so high that I
could scarcely see the top of them. At noontime in summer the sun
visited one little corner, where there was a stone bench; but in
winter it never showed itself at all. There were five or six
small, scrubby trees, with moss-grown trunks and feeble branches,
which put forth a few yellow leaves at springtime. We were some
thirty children who assembled in this courtyard--children from
five to eight years old, all clad alike in brown dresses, with a
little blue handkerchief tied about our shoulders. We all wore
blue caps on week-days, and white ones on Sundays, with woollen
stockings, thick shoes, and a black ribbon, with a large metal
cross dangling from our necks. Among us moved the good sisters,
silent and sad, with their hands crossed in their large sleeves,
their faces as white as their snowy caps, and their long strings
of beads, set off with numerous copper medals, clanking when they
walked like prisoners' chains. As a rule, each face wore the same
expression of resignation, unvarying gentleness, and inexhaustible
patience. But there were some who wore it only as one wears a
mask--some whose eyes gleamed at times with passion, and who
vented their cold, bitter anger upon us defenceless children.
However, there was one sister, still young and very fair, whose
manner was so gentle and so sad that even I, with my mere
infantile intelligence, felt that she must have some terrible
sorrow. During play-time she often took me on her knee and
embraced me with convulsive tenderness, murmuring: 'Dear little
one! darling little one!' Sometimes her endearments were irksome
to me, but I never allowed her to see it, for fear of making her
still more sad; and in my heart I was content and proud to suffer
for and with her. Poor sister! I owe her the only happy hours of
my infancy. She was called Sister Calliste. I do not know what
has become of her, but often, when my heart fails me, I think of
her, and even now I cannot mention her name without tears."
Mademoiselle Marguerite was indeed weeping--big tears which she
made no attempt to conceal were coursing down her cheeks. It cost
her a great effort to continue: "You have already understood,
monsieur, what I myself did not know for several years. I was in
a foundling asylum, and I was a foundling myself. I cannot say
that we lacked anything; and I should be ungrateful if I did not
say and feel that these good sisters were charity personified.
But, alas! their hearts had only a certain amount of tenderness to
distribute between thirty poor little girls, and so each child's
portion was small; the caresses were the same for all, and I
longed to be loved differently, to have kind words and caresses
for myself alone. We slept in little white beds with snowy
curtains, in a clean, well-ventilated dormitory, in the centre of
which stood a statue of the Virgin, who seemed to smile on us all
alike. In winter we had a fire. Our clothes were warm and neat;
our food was excellent. We were taught to read and write, to sew
and embroider. There was a recreation hour between all the
exercises. Those who were studious and good were rewarded; and
twice a week we were taken into the country for a long walk. It
was during one of these excursions that I learned from the talk of
the passers-by, what we were, and what we were called. Sometimes,
in the afternoon, we were visited by elegantly-attired ladies, who
were accompanied by their own children, radiant with health and
happiness. The good sisters told us that these were 'pious
ladies,' or 'charitable ladies,' whom we must love and respect,
and whom we must never forget to mention in our prayers. They
always brought us toys and cakes. Sometimes the establishment was
visited by priests and grave old gentlemen, whose sternness of
manner alarmed us. They peered into every nook and corner, asked
questions about everything, assured themselves that everything was
in its place, and some of them even tasted our soup. They were
always satisfied; and the lady superior led them through the
building, and bowed to them, exclaiming: 'We love them so much,
the poor little dears! 'And the gentlemen replied: 'Yes, yes, my
dear sister, they are very fortunate.' And the gentlemen were
right. Poor laborers' children are often obliged to endure
privations which we knew nothing of; they are often obliged to
make their supper off a piece of dry bread--but, then, the crust
is given them by their mother, with a kiss."
The magistrate, who was extremely ill at ease, had not yet
succeeded in finding a syllable to offer in reply. Indeed,
Mademoiselle Marguerite had not given him an opportunity to speak,
so rapidly had this long-repressed flood of recollections poured
from her lips. When she spoke the word "mother," the magistrate
fancied she would show some sign of emotion.
But he was mistaken. On the contrary, her voice became harsher,
and a flash of anger, as it were, darted from her eyes.
"I suffered exceedingly in that asylum," she resumed. "Sister
Calliste left the establishment, and all the surroundings chilled
and repelled me. My only few hours of happiness were on Sundays,
when we attended church. As the great organ pealed, and as I
watched the priests officiating at the altar in their gorgeous
vestments, I forgot my own sorrows. It seemed to me that I was
ascending on the clouds of incense to the celestial sphere which
the sisters so often talked to us about, and where they said each
little girl would find her mother."
Mademoiselle Marguerite hesitated for an instant, as if she were
somewhat unwilling to give utterance to her thoughts; but at last,
forcing herself to continue, she said: "Yes, I suffered
exceedingly in that foundling asylum. Almost all my little
companions were spiteful, unattractive in person, sallow, thin,
and afflicted with all kinds of diseases, as if they were not
unfortunate enough in being abandoned by their parents. And--to
my shame, monsieur, I must confess it--these unfortunate little
beings inspired me with unconquerable repugnance, with disgust
bordering on aversion. I would rather have pressed my lips to a
red-hot iron than to the forehead of one of these children. I did
not reason on the subject, alas! I was only eight or nine years
old; but I felt this antipathy in every fibre of my being. The
others knew it too; and, in revenge, they ironically styled me
'the lady,' and left me severely alone. But sometimes, during
playtime, when the good sisters' backs were turned, the children
attacked me, beat me, and scratched my face and tore my clothes.
I endured these onslaughts uncomplainingly, for I was conscious
that I deserved them. But how many reprimands my torn clothes
cost me! How many times I received only a dry crust for my supper,
after being soundly scolded and called 'little careless.' But as I
was quiet, studious, and industrious, a quicker learner than the
majority of my companions, the sisters were fond of me. They said
that I was a promising girl, and that they would have no
difficulty in finding me a nice home with some of the rich and
pious ladies who have a share in managing institutions of this
kind. The only fault the sisters found with me was that I was
sullen. But such was not really the case; I was only sad and
resigned. Everything around me so depressed and saddened me that
I withdrew into myself, and buried all my thoughts and aspirations
deep in my heart. If I had naturally been a bad child, I scarcely
know what would have been the result of this. I have often asked
myself the question in all sincerity, but I have been unable to
reply, for one cannot be an impartial judge respecting one's self.
However, this much is certain, although childhood generally leaves
a train of pleasant recollections in a young girl's life, mine was
only fraught with torture and misery, desperate struggles, and
humiliation. I was unwilling to be confirmed because I did not
wish to wear a certain dress, which a 'benevolent lady' had
presented for the use of the asylum, and which had belonged to a
little girl of my own age who had died of consumption. The
thought of arraying myself in this dress to approach the holy
table frightened and revolted me as much as if I had been
sentenced to drape myself in a winding-sheet. And yet it was the
prettiest dress of all--white muslin beautifully embroidered. It
had been ardently coveted by the other children, and had been
given to me as a sort of reward of merit. And I dared not explain
the cause of my unconquerable repugnance. Who would have
understood me? I should only have been accused of undue
sensitiveness and pride, absurd in one of my humble position. I
was then only twelve years old; but no one knew the struggle in my
mind save the old priest, my confessor. I could confess
everything to him; he understood me, and did not reproach me.
Still he answered: 'You must wear this dress, my child, for your
pride must be broken. Go--I shall impose no other penance on
you.' I obeyed him, full of superstitious terror; for it seemed to
me that this was a frightful omen which would bring me misfortune,
my whole life through. And I was confirmed in the dead girl's
embroidered dress."
During the five-and-twenty years that he had held the position of
justice of the peace, the magistrate had listened to many
confessions, wrung from wretched souls by stern necessity, or
sorrow, but never had his heart been moved as it now was, by this
narrative, told with such uncomplaining anguish, and in a tone of
such sincerity. However she resumed her story. "The confirmation
over, our life became as gloomily monotonous as before; we read
the same pious books and did the same work at the same hours as
formerly. It seemed to me that I was stifling in this atmosphere.
I gasped for breath, and thought that anything would be preferable
to this semblance of existence, which was not real life. I was
thinking of applying for the 'good situation,' which had so often
been mentioned to me, when one morning I was summoned into the
steward's office--a mysterious and frightful place to us children.
He himself was a stout, dirty man, wearing large blue spectacles
and a black silk skullcap; and from morning until night, summer
and winter, he sat writing at a desk behind a little grating, hung
with green curtains. Round the room were ranged the registers, in
which our names were recorded and our appearances described,
together with the boxes containing the articles found upon us,
which were carefully preserved to assist in identifying us should
occasion arise. I entered this office with a throbbing heart. In
addition to the stout gentleman and the Lady Superior, I found
there a thin, wiry man, with cunning eyes, and a portly woman,
with a coarse but rather good-natured face. The superior at once
informed me that I was in the presence of M. and Madame Greloux,
bookbinders, who had come to the asylum in search of two
apprentices, and she asked me if I should like to be one of them.
Ah! monsieur, it seemed to me that heaven had opened before me and
I boldly replied: 'Yes.' The gentleman in the black skullcap
immediately emerged from his place behind the grating to explain
my obligations and duties to me at length, especially insisting
upon the point, that I ought to be grateful--I, a miserable
foundling, reared by public charity--for the generosity which this
good gentleman and lady showed in offering to take charge of me
and employ me in their workshop. I must confess that I could not
clearly realize in what this great generosity which he so highly
praised consisted, nor did I perceive any reason why I should be
particularly grateful. Still, to all the conditions imposed upon
me, I answered, 'Yes, yes, yes!' so heartily that Madame Greloux
seemed greatly pleased. 'It is evident that the child will be
glad to get away,' she said to herself. Then the superior began
to enumerate the obligations my employers would incur, repeating
again and again that I was one of the very best girls in the
asylum--pious, obedient, and industrious, reading and writing to
perfection, and knowing how to sew and embroider as only those who
are taught in such institutions can. She made Madame Greloux
promise to watch over me as she would have watched over her own
daughter; never to leave me alone; to take me to church, and allow
me an occasional Sunday afternoon, so that I might pay a visit to
the asylum. The gentleman with the spectacles and the skullcap
then reminded the bookbinder of the duties of an employer toward
his apprentices, and turning to a bookcase behind him, he even
took down a large volume from which he read extract after extract,
which I listened to without understanding a word, though I was
quite sure that the book was written in French. At last, when the
man and his wife had said 'Amen' to everything, the gentleman with
the spectacles drew up a document which we all signed in turn. I
belonged to a master?"
She paused. Here her childhood ended. But almost immediately she
resumed: "My recollections of these people are not altogether
unpleasant. They were harassed and wearied by their efforts to
support their son in a style of living far above their position;
but, despite their sacrifices, their son had no affection for
them, and on this account I pitied them. However, not only was
the husband gloomy and quick-tempered, but his wife also was
subject to fits of passion, so that the apprentices often had a
hard time of it. Still, between Madame Greloux's tempests of
wrath there were occasional gleams of sunshine. After beating us
for nothing, she would exclaim, with quite as little reason, 'Come
and kiss me, and don't pout any more. Here are four sous; go and
buy yourself some cakes.'"
The justice started in his arm-chair. Was it, indeed,
Mademoiselle Marguerite who was speaking, the proud young girl
with a queenlike bearing, whose voice rang out like crystal? Was
it she indeed, who imitated the harsh, coarse dialect of the lower
classes with such accuracy of intonation? Ah! at that moment, as
her past life rose so vividly before her, it seemed to her as if
she were still in the years gone by, and she fancied she could
still hear the voice of the bookbinder's wife.
She did not even notice the magistrate's astonishment. "I had
left the asylum," she continued, "and that was everything to me.
I felt that a new and different life was beginning, and that was
enough. I flattered myself that I might win a more earnest and
sincere affection among these honest, industrious toilers, than I
had found in the asylum; and to win it and deserve it, I neglected
nothing that good-will could suggest, or strength allow. My
patrons no doubt fathomed my desire, and naturally enough, perhaps
unconsciously, they took advantage of my wish to please. I can
scarcely blame them. I had entered their home under certain
conditions in view of learning a profession; they gradually made
me their servant--it was praiseworthy economy on their part. What
I had at first done of my own freewill and from a wish to please,
at last became my daily task, which I was rigidly required to
fulfil. Compelled to rise long before any one else in the house,
I was expected to have everything in order by the time the others
made their appearance with their eyes still heavy with sleep. It
is true that my benefactors rewarded me after their fashion. On
Sundays they took me with them on their excursions into the
country, so as to give me a rest, they said, after the week's
work. And I followed them along the dusty highways in the hot
sunshine, panting, perspiring, and tottering under the weight of a
heavy basket of provisions, which were eaten on the grass or in
the woods, and the remnants of which fell to me. Madame Greloux's
brother generally accompanied us; and his name would have lingered
in my memory, even if it had not been a peculiar one. He was
called Vantrasson. He was a tall, robust man. with eyes that
made me tremble whenever he fixed them upon me. He was a soldier;
intensely proud of his uniform; a great talker, and enchanted with
himself. He evidently thought himself irresistible. It was from
that man's mouth that I heard the first coarse word at which my
unsophisticated heart took offence. It was not to be the last
one. He finally told me that he had taken a fancy to me, and I
was obliged to complain to Madame Greloux of her brother's
persecutions. But she only laughed at me, and said: 'Nonsense!
He's merely talking to hear himself talk.' Yes, that was her
answer. And yet she was an honest woman, a devoted wife, and a
fond mother. Ah! if she had had a daughter. But with a poor
apprentice, who has neither father nor mother, one need not be
over-fastidious. She had made a great many promises to the lady
superior, but she fancied that the utterance of a few commonplace
words of warning relieved her of all further obligations. 'And so
much the worse for those who allow themselves to be fooled,' she
always added in conclusion.
"Fortunately, my pride, which I had so often been reproached with,
shielded me. My condition might be humble, but my spirit was
lofty. It was a blessing from God, this pride of mine, for it
saved me from temptation, while so many fell around me. I slept,
with the other apprentices, in the attic, where we were entirely
beyond the control of those who should have been our guardians.
That is to say, when the day's toil was over, and the work-shop
closed, we were free--abandoned to our own instincts, and the most
pernicious influences. And neither evil advice nor bad example
was wanting. The women employed in the bindery in nowise
restrained themselves in our presence, and we heard them tell
marvellous stories that dazzled many a poor girl. They did not
talk as they did from any evil design, or out of a spirit of
calculation, but from pure thoughtlessness, and because they were
quite devoid of moral sense. And they never tired of telling us
of the pleasures of life, of fine dinners at restaurants, gay
excursions to Joinville-le-Pont, and masked balls at Montparnasse
or the Elysee Montmartre. Ah! experience is quickly gained in
these work-shops. Sometimes those who went off at night with
ragged dresses and worn-out shoes, returned the next morning in
superb toilettes to say that they resigned their situations, as
they were not made for work, and intended to live like ladies.
They departed radiant, but often before a month was over they came
back, emaciated, hollow-eyed, and despairing, and humbly begged
for a little work."
She paused, so crushed by the weight of these sad memories as to
lose consciousness of the present. And the judge also remained
silent, not daring to question her. And, besides, what good would
it do? What could she tell him about these poor little apprentices
that he did not know already? If he was surprised at anything, it
was that this beautiful young girl, who had been left alone and
defenceless, had possessed sufficient strength of character to
escape the horrible dangers that threatened her.
However, it was not long before Mademoiselle Marguerite shook off
the torpor which had stolen over her. "I ought not to boast of my
strength, sir," she resumed. "Besides my pride, I had a hope to
sustain me--a hope which I clung to with the tenacity of despair.
I wished to become expert at my profession, for I had learned that
skilled workers were always in demand, and could always command
good wages. So when my household duties were over, I still found
time to learn the business, and made such rapid progress that I
astonished even my employer. I knew that I should soon be able to
make five or six francs a day; and this prospect was pleasant
enough to make me forget the present, well-nigh intolerable as it
sometimes was. During the last winter that I spent with my
employers, their orders were so numerous and pressing that they
worked on Sundays as well as on week days, and it was with
difficulty that I obtained an hour twice a month to pay a visit to
the good sisters who had cared for me in my childhood. I had
never failed in this duty, and indeed it had now become my only
pleasure. My employer's conscience compelled him to pay me a
trifle occasionally for the additional toil he imposed upon me,
and the few francs I thus received I carried to the poor children
at the asylum. After living all my life on public charity, I was
able to give in my turn; and this thought gratified my pride, and
increased my importance in my own eyes. I was nearly fifteen, and
my term of apprenticeship had almost expired, when one bright day
in March, I saw one of the lay sisters of the asylum enter the
work-room. She was in a flutter of excitement; her face was
crimson, and she was so breathless from her hurried ascent of the
stairs that she gasped rather than said to me: 'Quick! come--
follow me! Some one is waiting for you!' 'Who?--where?'--'Make
haste! Ah! my dear child, if you only knew----' I hesitated; but
Madame Greloux pushed me toward the door, exclaiming: 'Be off, you
little stupid!' I followed the sister without thinking of changing
my dress--without even removing the kitchen apron I wore.
Downstairs, at the front door, stood the most magnificent carriage
I had ever seen in my life. Its rich silk cushions were so
beautiful that I scarcely dared to enter it; and I was all the
more intimidated by a footman in gorgeous livery, who respectfully
opened the door at our approach. 'You must get into the
carriage,' said the sister; 'it was sent for you.' I obeyed her,
and before I had recovered from my astonishment we had reached the
asylum, and I was ushered into the office where the contract which
bound me as an apprentice had been signed. As soon as I entered,
the superior took me by the hand and led me toward a gentleman who
was sitting near the window. 'Marguerite,' said she, 'salute
Monsieur le Comte de Chalusse.'"
For some little time there had been a noise of footsteps and a
subdued murmur of voices in the vestibule. Annoyed by this
interruption, although he perfectly understood its cause, the
magistrate rose and hastily opened the door. He was not mistaken.
His clerk had returned from lunch, and the time of waiting seemed
extremely long to him. "Ah! it's you," said the magistrate.
"Very well! begin your inventory. It won't be long before I join
you." And closing the door he resumed his seat again.
Mademoiselle Marguerite was so absorbed in her narrative that she
scarcely noticed this incident, and he had not seated himself
before she resumed. "In all my life, I had never seen such an
imposing looking person as the Count de Chalusse. His manner,
attire, and features could not fail to inspire a child like me
with fear and respect. I was so awed that I had scarcely enough
presence of mind to bow to him. He glanced at me coldly, and
exclaimed: 'Ah! is this the young girl you were speaking of?' The
count's tone betrayed such disagreeable surprise that the superior
was dismayed. She looked at me, and seemed indignant at my more
than modest attire. 'It's a shame to allow a child to leave home
dressed in this fashion,' she angrily exclaimed. And she almost
tore my huge apron off me, and then with her own hands began to
arrange my hair as if to display me to better advantage. 'Ah!
these employers,' she exclaimed, 'the best of them are bad. How
they do deceive you. It's impossible to place any confidence in
their promises. Still, one can't always be at their heels.'
"But the superior's efforts were wasted, for M. de Chalusse had
turned away and had begun talking with some gentlemen near by.
For the office was full that morning. Five or six gentlemen, whom
I recognized as the directors of the asylum, were standing round
the steward in the black skullcap. They were evidently talking
about me. I was certain of this by the glances they gave me,
glances which, however, were full of kindness. The superior
joined the group and began speaking with unusual vivacity, while
standing in the recess of a window, I listened with all my might.
But I must have overestimated my intelligence, for I could gain no
meaning whatever from the phrases which followed each other in
rapid succession; though the words 'adoption,' 'emancipation,'
'dowry,' 'compensation,' 'reimbursement for sums expended,'
recurred again and again. I was only certain of one point: the
Count de Chalusse wished something, and these gentlemen were
specifying other things in exchange. To each of their demands he
answered: 'Yes, yes--it's granted. That's understood.' But at
last he began to grow impatient, and in a voice which impressed
one with the idea that he was accustomed to command, he exclaimed,
'I will do whatever you wish. Do you desire anything more?' The
gentlemen at once became silent, and the superior hastily declared
that M. de Chalusse was a thousand times too good, but that one
could expect no less of him, the last representative of one of the
greatest and oldest families of France.
"I cannot describe the surprise and indignation that were raging
in my soul. I divined--I felt that it was MY fate, MY future, MY
life that were being decided, and I was not even consulted on the
matter. They were disposing of me as if they were sure in advance
of my consent. My pride revolted at the thought, but I could not
find a word to say in protest. Crimson with shame, confused and
furious, I was wondering how I could interfere, when suddenly the
consultation ceased and the gentlemen at once surrounded me. One
of them, a little old man with a vapid smile and twinkling eyes,
tapped me on the cheek, and said: 'So she is as good as she is
pretty!' I could have struck him; but all the others laughed
approvingly, with the exception of M. de Chalusse, whose manner
became more and more frigid, and whose lips wore a constrained
smile, as if he had resolved to keep his temper despite all
provocation. It seemed to me that he was suffering terribly, and
I afterward learned that I had not been mistaken. Far from
imitating the old gentleman's manner, he bowed to me very gravely,
with an air of deference that quite abashed me, and went away
after saying that he would return the next day to conclude the
"I was at last left alone with the superior, whom I longed to
question, but she gave me no time to do so, for with extreme
volubility she began to tell me of my surprising good fortune,
which was an unanswerable and conclusive proof of the kindness and
protection of Providence. 'The count,' she said, 'was to become
my guardian. He would certainly give me a dowry; and by and by,
if I were grateful to him for his goodness, he would adopt me, a
poor, fatherless and motherless girl, and I should bear the great
name of Durtal de Chalusse, and inherit an immense fortune.' In
conclusion, she said that there was no limit to the count's
generosity, that he had consented to reimburse the asylum the
money that had been spent on me, that he had offered to dower, I
do not know how many poor girls, and that he had promised to build
a chapel for the use of the establishment. This was all true,
incredible as it might seem. That very morning, M. de Chalusse
had called at the asylum, declared that he was old and childless,
a bachelor without any near relatives, and that he wished to adopt
a poor orphan. They had given him a list of all the children in
the institution, and he had chosen me. 'A mere chance, my dear
Marguerite,' repeated the superior. 'A mere chance--or rather a
true miracle.' It did, indeed, seem a miracle, but I was more
surprised than elated. I longed to be alone, so as to deliberate
and reflect, for I knew that I was free to accept or decline this
dazzling offer.
"I timidly asked permission to return to my employers to inform
them of what had happened and consult with them; but my request
was refused. The superior told me that I must deliberate and
decide alone; and that when once my decision was taken, there
could be no change. So I remained at the asylum, and dined at the
superior's table; and during the night I occupied the room of a
sister who was absent. What surprised me most of all was the
deference with which I was treated. The sisters all seemed to
consider me a person of great importance. And yet I hesitated.
"My indecision may seem absurd and hypocritical; but it was really
sincere. My present situation was certainly by no means an
enviable one. But the worst was over; my term as an apprentice
had nearly expired, and my future seemed assured. My future! What
could it be with the Count de Chalusse? It was painted in such
brilliant colors that it frightened me. Why had the count chosen
me in preference to any of the other girls? Was it really chance
which had decided him in his choice? On reflecting, the miracle
seemed to me to have been prepared in advance, and I fancied that
it must conceal some mystery. More than this, the thought of
yielding myself up to a stranger terrified me. Forty-eight hours
had been granted me to consider my decision, and till the very
last instant I remained in doubt. Who knows? Perhaps it would
have been better for me if I had returned to my humble life. At
all events, I should have been spared a great deal of sorrow and
humiliation. But I lacked the courage; and when the time expired,
I consented to the new arrangement.
"Should I live a thousand years I shall never forget the day I
left the foundling asylum to become the Count de Chalusse's ward.
It was a Saturday, and I had given my answer to the superior on
the evening before. The next morning I received a visit from my
former employers, who, having been informed of the great change in
my prospects, had come to bid me good-bye. The cancelling of my
apprenticeship had at first caused some trouble, but eventually
the count's gold silenced their objections. Still, they were
sorry to part with me, as I plainly saw. Their eyes were moist
with tears. They were sorry to lose the poor little servant who
had served them so faithfully. At the same time, however, I
noticed evident constraint in their manner. They no longer said
'thee' and 'thou' to me; they no longer spoke roughly; but they
said 'you,' and addressed me as 'mademoiselle.' Poor people! they
awkwardly apologized for having ventured to accept my services,
declaring in the same breath that they should never be able to
replace me at the same price. Madame Greloux, moreover, declared
that she should never forgive herself for not having sharply
reproved her brother for his abominable conduct. He was a goodfor-
nothing fellow, she said, as was proved by the fact that he
had dared to raise his eyes to me. For the first time in my life,
I felt that I was sincerely loved; and I was so deeply touched
that if my decision had not been written and signed, I should
certainly have returned to live with these worthy people. But it
was too late. A sister came to tell me that the superior wished
to see me. I bade Father and Mother Greloux farewell and went
"In the superior's room, a lady and two shop-girls, laden with
boxes and parcels, were waiting for me. It was a dressmaker who
had come with some clothes suited to my new station in life. I
was told that she had been sent by the Count de Chalusse. This
great nobleman thought of everything; and, although he had thirty
servants to do his bidding, he never disdained to occupy himself
with the pettiest details. So, for the first time, I was arrayed
in rustling silk and clinging cashmere. My toilette was no
trifling affair. All the good sisters clustered round me, and
tried to beautify me with the same care and patience as they would
have displayed in adorning the Virgin's statue for a fete-day. A
secret instinct warned me that they were overdoing the matter, and
that they were making me look ridiculous; but I did not mind. I
allowed them to please themselves I could still feel Madame
Greloux's tears on my hand, and the scene seemed to me as
lugubrious as the last toilette of a prisoner under sentence of
death. When they had completed their task, I heard a buzz of
admiration round me. If the sisters were worthy of belief, they
had never seen such a wonderful transformation. Those who were in
the class-rooms or thee sewing-room, were summoned to view and
admire me, and some of the elder children were also admitted.
Perhaps I was intended as an example for the latter, for I heard
the lady superior say to them, 'You see, my dear children, the
result of good behavior. Be diligent and dutiful, like our dear
Marguerite, and God will reward you as He has rewarded her.' And,
meantime, miserable in my finery, I waited--waited for M. de
Chalusse, who was coming to take me away.
"At the appointed hour he appeared, with the same air of haughty
reserve, that had so awed me on the occasion of our first meeting.
He scarcely deigned to look at me, and although I watched him with
poignant anxiety, I could read neither blame nor approval on his
face. 'You see that your wishes have been scrupulously obeyed,
Monsieur le Comte,' said the superior. 'I thank you,' he replied;
'and I shall prove the extent of my gratitude to the poor children
under your charge.' Then, turning to me: 'Marguerite,' he said,
'take leave of--your mothers, and tell them that you will never
forget their kindness.'"
The girl paused, for her emotion had rendered her words almost
unintelligible. But, with an effort, she speedily conquered her
"It was only then," she continued, "that I realized how much I
loved these poor nuns, whom I had sometimes almost cursed. I felt
now how close the ties were, that bound me to this hospitable
roof, and to these unfortunate children, my companions in misery
and loneliness. It seemed to me as if my heart were breaking; and
the superior, who was generally so impassible, appeared scarcely
less moved than myself. At last, M. de Chalusse took me by the
hand and led me away. In the street there was a carriage waiting
for us, not such a beautiful one as that which had been sent to
fetch me from my workshop, but a much larger one, with trunks and
boxes piled on its roof. It was drawn by four gray horses. I
felt more dead than alive, as I entered the carriage and took the
seat which the count pointed out. He sat down opposite to me.
All the sisters had assembled at the door of the asylum, and even
the superior wept without making any attempt to hide her tears.
'Farewell!' they all cried; 'farewell, farewell, dear child! Don't
forget your old friends. We shall pray for your happiness.' Alas!
God could not have heard their prayers. At a sign from M. de
Chalusse, a footman closed the door, the postilions cracked their
whips, and the heavy vehicle rolled away.
"The die was cast. Henceforth, an impassable gulf was to separate
me from this asylum, whither I had been carried in my infancy half
dead, and wrapped in swaddling clothes, from which every mark that
could possibly lead to identification had been carefully cut away.
Whatever my future might prove, I felt that my past was gone
forever. But I was too greatly agitated even to think; and
crouching in a corner of the carriage, I watched M. de Chalusse
with the poignant anxiety a slave displays as he studies his new
master. Ah! monsieur, what a wondrous change! A mask seemed to
have fallen from the count's face; his lips quivered, a tender
light beamed in his eyes, and he drew me to him, exclaiming: 'Oh,
Marguerite! my beloved Marguerite! At last--at last!' He sobbed--
this old man, whom I had thought as cold and as insensible as
marble; he crushed me in his close embrace, he almost smothered me
with kisses. And I was frightfully agitated by the strange,
indefinable feeling, kindled in my heart; but I no longer trembled
with fear. An inward voice whispered that this was but the
renewal of a former tie--one which had somehow been mysteriously
broken. However, as I remembered the superior's assertion that it
was a miracle in my favor--a wonderful interposition of
Providence, I had courage enough to ask: 'So it was not chance
that guided you in your choice?'
"My question seemed to take him by surprise. 'Poor Marguerite!'
he murmured, 'dearly beloved child! for years I have been laboring
to bring about this chance!' Instantly all the romantic stories I
had heard in the asylum recurred to my mind. And Heaven knows
there are plenty of these stories transmitted by the sisters from
generation to generation, till they have become a sort of Golden
Legend for poor foundlings. That sad formula, 'Father and mother
unknown,' which figures on certificates of birth, acts as a
dangerous stimulant for unhealthy imaginations, and leaves an open
door for the most extravagant hopes. And thus influenced, I fixed
my eyes on the face of the Count de Chalusse, striving to discover
some resemblance in his features to my own. But he did not seem
to notice my intent gaze, and following his train of thought, he
muttered: 'Chance! It was necessary that they should think so, and
they did think so. And yet the cleverest detectives in Paris,
from old Tabaret to Fortunat, both masters in the art of following
up a clue, had exhausted their resources in helping me in my
despairing search.' The agony of suspense I was enduring had
become intolerable; and unable to restrain myself longer, I
exclaimed, with a wildly throbbing heart: 'Then, you are my
father, Monsieur le Comte?' He pressed his hand to my lips with
such violence that he hurt me, and then, in a voice quivering with
excitement, he replied: 'Imprudent girl! What can you mean? Forget
that unfortunate idea. Never utter the name of father--you hear
me--never! I forbid it!' He had become extremely pale, and he
looked anxiously around him, as if he feared that some one had
overheard me--as if he had forgotten that we were alone in a
carriage which was dashing onward at full speed!
"I was stupefied and alarmed by the sudden terror which M. de
Chalusse had displayed and could not control. What could it all
mean? What sorrowful recollections, what mysterious apprehensions,
had my words aroused in the count's mind? I could not understand
or imagine why he should regard my question as strange or
unnatural. On the contrary, I thought it perfectly natural,
dictated as it had been by circumstances, and by the count's own
words and manner. And, in spite of my confusion and agitation,
the inexplicable voice which we call presentiment whispered in my
heart: 'He has forbidden you to CALL him father, but he has not
said that he is not your father.' However, I had not time to
reflect or to question M. de Chalusse any more, though at that
moment I should have had the courage to do so; afterward I did not
"Our carriage had drawn up outside the railway station, and the
next instant we alighted. Then, for the first time, I learned the
magical power of money, I, a poor girl--reared by public charity--
and who for three years had worked for my daily bread. M. de
Chalusse found the servants, who were to accompany us, awaiting
him. They had thought of everything, and made every possible
arrangement for our comfort. I had scarcely time to glance round
me before we were on the platform in front of a train, which was
ready to start. I perceived the very carriage that had brought us
to the station already fastened on a low open truck, and I was
advancing to climb into it, when M. de Chalusse stopped me. 'Not
there,' said he, 'come with me.' I followed him, and he led me to
a magnificent saloon carriage, much higher and roomier than the
others, and emblazoned with the Chalusse coat-of-arms. 'This is
our carriage, dear Marguerite, he said. I got in. The whistle
sounded; and the train started off."
Mademoiselle Marguerite was growing very tired. Big drops of
perspiration stood out on her forehead, she panted for breath, and
her voice began to fail her.
The magistrate was almost frightened. "Pray rest a little,
mademoiselle," he entreated, "there is no hurry."
But she shook her head and replied: "It is better to go on. I
should never have courage to begin again if I paused." And
thereupon she continued: "I had never gone farther than
Versailles. This journey was at first as delightful as a glimpse
into fairy-land. Our carriage was one of those costly whims which
some millionaires indulge in. It consisted of a central saloon--a
perfect chef-d'oeuvre of taste and luxury--with two compartments
at either end, furnished with comfortable sleeping accommodation.
And all this, the count seemed never weary of repeating, was mine--
mine alone. Leaning back on the velvet cushions, I gazed at the
changing landscape, as the train rushed madly on. Leaning over
me, M. de Chalusse named all the towns and villages we passed:
Brunoy, Melun, Fontainebleau, Villeneuve, Sens, Laroche. And each
time the train stopped the servants came to ask if we wished for
anything. When we reached Lyons, in the middle of the night, we
found a delicious supper awaiting us. It was served as soon as we
alighted, and in due time we were warned that the train was ready
to start, and then we resumed our journey. You can imagine,
perhaps, how marvellous all this seemed to a poor little
apprentice, whose only ambition a week before was to earn five
francs a day. What a change indeed! At last the count made me
retire to one of the compartments, where I soon fell asleep,
abandoning my efforts to distinguish what was dreamlike in my
situation from reality. However, when I woke up I became terribly
anxious. I asked myself what was awaiting me at the end of this
long journey. M. de Chalusse's manner continued kind, and even
affectionate; but he had regained his accustomed reserve and selfcontrol,
and I realized that it would be useless on my part to
question him. At last, after a thirty hours' journey by rail, we
again entered the count's berline, drawn by post-horses, and
eventually M. de Chalusse said to me: 'Here is Cannes--we are at
our journey's end.'
"In this town, which is one of the most charming that overlook the
blue waters of the Mediterranean, the count owned a palace
embowered among lovely orange-trees, only a few steps from the
sea, and in full view of the myrtle and laurel groves which deck
the isles of Sainte Marguerite. He told me that he proposed
spending a few months here in seclusion, so as to give me time to
accustom myself to my new position and the luxury that surrounded
me. I was, indeed, extremely awkward, and my excessive timidity
was increased by my pride. I did not know what to say, or what to
do. I did not know how to use my hands, nor how to walk, nor how
to carry myself. Everything embarrassed and frightened me; and I
was conscious of my awkwardness, without being able to remedy it.
I saw my blunders, and knew that I spoke a different language to
that which was spoken around me. And yet the memory of Cannes
will ever be dear to me. For there I first met the only friend I
have now left in this world. I did not exchange a word with him,
but by the quickened throbbings of my heart, when our eyes met, I
felt that he would exert a powerful influence over my life, and
events have since proved that I was not deceived. At that time,
however, he was a stranger to me; and nothing on earth would have
induced me to make inquiries concerning him. It was only by
chance I learned that he lived in Paris, that his name was Pascal,
and that he had come south as a companion to a sick friend.
"By a single word the count could have insured the happiness of my
life and his own, but he did not speak it. He was the kindest and
most indulgent of guardians, and I was often affected to tears by
his tenderness. But, although my slightest wish was law, he did
not grant me his confidence. The secret--the mystery that stood
between us--was like a wall of ice. Still, I was gradually
becoming accustomed to my new life, and my mind was regaining its
equilibrium, when one evening the count returned home more
agitated and excited, if possible, than on the day of my departure
from the asylum. He summoned his valet, and, in a tone that
admitted no reply, he exclaimed, 'I wish to leave Cannes at once--
I must start in less than an hour--so procure some post-horses
instantly.' And in answer to my inquiring glance, he said: 'It
must be. It would be folly to hesitate. Each moment increases
the peril that threatens us.'
"I was very young, inexperienced, and totally ignorant of life;
but my sufferings, my loneliness, and the prospect of being
compelled to rely upon myself, had imparted to my mind that
precocious maturity which is so often observed among the children
of the poor. Knowing from the very first that there was some
mystery connected with the count's life, I had studied him with a
child's patient sagacity--a sagacity which is all the more
dangerous, as it is unsuspected--and I had come to the conclusion
that a constant dread rendered his life a burden. Could it be for
himself that he trembled, this great nobleman, who was so powerful
by reason of his exalted rank, his connections, and his wealth?
Certainly not. Was it for me, then? Undoubtedly it was. But why?
It had not taken me long to discover that he was concealing me,
or, at least, that he endeavored by all means in his power to
prevent my presence in his house from being known beyond a very
limited circle of friends. Our hurried departure from Cannes
confirmed me in my impression.
"It might have been truly called a flight. We left that same
evening at eleven o'clock, in a pouring rain, with the first
horses that could be procured. Our only attendant was the count's
valet--not Casimir, the man who insulted me a little while ago--
but another man, an old and valued servant, who has since died,
unfortunately, and who possessed his master's entire confidence.
The other servants were dismissed with a princely gratuity, and
told to disperse two days after our departure. We did not return
to Paris, but journeyed toward the Italian frontier, and on
arriving at Nice in the dead of night, we drove directly to the
quay. The postilions unharnessed the horses, and we remained in
the carriage. The valet, however, hastened off, and more than two
hours elapsed before he returned. He declared that he had found
it very difficult to procure what he wished for, but that at last,
by a prodigal outlay of money, he had succeeded in overcoming all
obstacles. What M. de Chalusse desired was a vessel ready for
sea, and the bark which the valet had chartered now came up to the
quay. Our carriage was put on board, we went below, and before
daybreak we were under way.
"Three days later we were in Genoa, registered under a false name
in a second class hotel. While we were on the open sea, the count
had seemed to be less agitated, but now he was far from calm, and
the precautions he took proved that he still feared pursuit. A
malefactor flying from justice could not have taken greater pains
to mislead the detectives on his track. And facts proved
conclusively that I was the sole cause of the count's
apprehension. On one occasion I even heard him discussing with
his valet the feasibility of clothing me in masculine attire. And
it was only the difficulty of obtaining a suitable costume that
prevented him from carrying this project into execution. I ought
to mention, however, that the servant did not share his master's
anxiety, for three or four times I overheard him saying: 'The
count is too good to worry himself so much about such bad stock.
Besides, she won't overtake us. It isn't certain that she has
even followed us. How can she know anything about it?' She! Who
was she? This is what I racked my brain to discover, but without
success. I must confess, monsieur, that being of a practical
nature, and not in the least degree romantic, I arrived at the
conclusion that the peril chiefly existed in the count's
imagination, or that he greatly exaggerated it. Still he suffered
none the less on that account, as was shown by the fact that the
following month was spent in hurried journeys from one Italian
city to another.
"It was the end of May before M. de Chalusse would consent to
return to France; and then we went direct to Lyons. We had spent
a couple of days there, when the count informed me that prudence
required us to separate for a time--that our safety demanded this
sacrifice. And without giving me time to say a word, he began to
explain the advantages that would accrue from such an arrangement.
I was extremely ignorant, and he wished me to profit by our
temporary separation to raise my knowledge to a level with my new
social position. He had, accordingly, made arrangements for me to
enter the convent of Sainte-Marthe, an educational establishment
which is as celebrated in the department of the Rhone as the
Convent des Oiseaux is in Paris. He added that it would not be
prudent for him to visit me; and he made me solemnly promise that
I would never mention his name to any of my schoolmates. I was to
send any letters I might write to an address which he would give
me, and he would sign his answers with a fictitious name. He also
told me that the lady superior of Sainte-Marthe knew his secret,
and that I could confide in her. He was so restless and so
miserably unhappy on the day when he acquainted me with these
plans, that I really believed him insane. Nevertheless, I replied
that I would obey him, and to tell the truth, I was not ill
pleased at the thought of the change. My life with M. de Chalusse
was a monotonous and cheerless one. I was almost dying of ennui,
for I had been accustomed to work, bustle, and confusion with the
Greloux, and I felt delighted at the prospect of finding myself
among companions of my own age.
"Unfortunately, M. de Chalusse had forgotten one circumstance,
which made my two years' sojourn at Sainte-Marthe a lingering and
cruel agony. At first I was kindly treated by my schoolmates. A
new pupil is always welcome, for her arrival relieves the monotony
of convent-life. But it was not long before my companions wished
to know my name; and I had none other than Marguerite to give
them. They were astonished and wished to know who my parents
were. I could not tell an untruth; and I was obliged to confess
that I knew nothing at all respecting my father or my mother.
After that 'the bastard'--for such was the name they gave me--was
soon condemned to isolation. No one would associate with me
during play-time. No one would sit beside me in the school-room.
At the piano lesson, the girl who played after me pretended to
wipe the keyboard carefully before commencing her exercises. I
struggled bravely against this unjust ostracism; but all in vain.
I was so unlike these other girls in character and disposition,
and I had, moreover, been guilty of a great imprudence. I had
been silly enough to show my companions the costly jewels which M.
de Chalusse had given me, but which I never wore. And on two
occasions I had proved to them that I had more money at my
disposal than all the other pupils together. If I had been poor,
they would, perhaps, have treated me with affected sympathy; but
as I was rich, I became an enemy. It was war; and one of those
merciless wars which sometimes rage so furiously in convents,
despite their seeming quiet.
"I should surprise you, monsieur, if I told you what refined
torture these daughters of noblemen invented to gratify their
petty spite. I might have complained to the superior, but I
scorned to do so. I buried my sorrow deep in my heart, as I had
done years before; and I firmly resolved never to show ought but a
smiling, placid face, so as to prove to my enemies that they were
powerless to disturb my peace of mind. Study became my refuge and
consolation; and I plunged into work with the energy of despair.
I should probably still live at Sainte-Marthe now, had it not been
for a trivial circumstance. One day I had a quarrel with my most
determined enemy, a girl named Anais de Rochecote. I was a
thousand times right; and I would not yield. The superior dared
not tell me I was wrong. Anais was furious, and wrote I don't
know what falsehoods to her mother. Madame de Rochecote thereupon
interested the mothers of five or six other pupils in her
daughter's quarrel, and one evening these ladies came in a body,
and nobly and courageously demanded that the 'bastard' should be
expelled. It was impossible, outrageous, monstrous, they
declared, that their daughters should be compelled to associate
with a girl like me--a nameless girl, who humiliated the other
girls with her ill-gotten wealth. The superior tried to take my
part; but these ladies declared they would take their daughters
from the convent if I were not sent away. There was no help for
it: I was sacrificed. Summoned by telegraph, M. de Chalusse
hastened to Lyons, and two days later I left Sainte-Marthe with
jeers and opprobrious epithets ringing in my ears."
Once before, that very morning, the magistrate had witnessed a
display of the virile energy with which misfortune and suffering
had endowed this proud but naturally timid girl. But he was none
the less surprised at the sudden explosion of hatred which he now
beheld; for it was hatred. The way in which Mademoiselle
Marguerite's voice had quivered as she pronounced the name of
Anais de Rochecote proved, unmistakably, that hers was one of
those haughty natures that never forget an insult. All signs of
fatigue had now disappeared. She had sprung from her chair, and
remembrance of the shameful, cowardly affront she had received had
brought a vivid flush to her cheeks and a bright gleam to her
"This atrocious humiliation happened scarcely a year ago,
monsieur," she resumed; "and there is but little left for me to
tell you. My expulsion from Sainte-Marthe made M. de Chalusse
frantic with indignation. He knew something that I was ignorant
of--that Madame de Rochecote, who enacted the part of a severe and
implacable censor, was famed for the laxity of her morals. The
count's first impulse was to wreak vengeance on my persecutors;
for, in spite of his usual coolness, M. de Chalusse had a furious
temper at times. It was only with the greatest difficulty that I
dissuaded him from challenging General de Rochecote, who was
living at the time. However, it now became necessary to make some
other arrangements for me. M. de Chalusse offered to find another
school, promising to take such precautions as would insure my
peace of mind. But I interrupted him before he had spoken a dozen
words, declaring I would rather return to the book-binders than
chance another such experiment. And what I said I meant. A
subterfuge--a fictitious name, for instance--could alone shield me
from persecution similar to what I had endured at Sainte-Marthe.
But I knew that I was incapable of playing such a part--I felt
that I should somehow confess everything. My firmness imparted
some resolution to M. de Chalusse. He exclaimed, with an oath,
that I was right--that he was weary of all this deception and
concealment, and that he would make arrangements to have me near
him. 'Yes,' he concluded, embracing me, 'the die is cast, come
what may!'
"However, these measures required a certain delay; and, in the
meantime, he decided to install me in Paris, which is the only
place where one can successfully hide from prying eyes. He
purchased a small but convenient house, surrounded by a garden, in
the neighborhood of the Luxembourg Palace, and here he installed
me, with two old women and a trusty man-servant. As I needed a
chaperon, he went in quest of one, and found Madame Leon."
On hearing this name, the magistrate gave the young girl a
searching look, as if he hoped to discover what estimate she had
formed of the housekeeper's character, as well as what degree of
confidence she had granted her. But Mademoiselle Marguerite's
face remained unaltered in expression.
"After so many trials," she resumed, "I thought I should now find
rest and peace. Yes, I believed so; and the few months I spent in
that quiet house will be the happiest of my life--I am sure of it.
Judge of my surprise when, on going down into the little garden on
the second day after my arrival, I saw the young man whom I had
met at Cannes, and whose face had lingered in my memory for more
than two years as the type of all that was best and noblest in the
human countenance. He was standing near the gate. A cloud passed
before my eyes. What mysterious freak of fate had caused him to
pause there at that particular moment? This much is certain, he
recognized me as I had recognized him. He bowed, smiling
somewhat, and I fled indoors again, indignant with myself for not
being angry at his audacity. I made many plans that day, but the
next morning, at the same hour, I hid myself behind a Venetian
blind, and saw him pause at the gate, and gaze at the garden with
evident anxiety. I soon learned that he lived near by, with his
widowed mother; and twice a day, when he went to the Palais de
Justice and returned, he passed my home."
Her cheeks were crimson now, her eyes were lowered, and she was
evidently embarrassed. But suddenly, as if ashamed of her
blushes, she proudly raised her head, and said, in a firmer voice:
"Shall I tell you our simple story? Is it necessary? I should not
have concealed anything that has passed from my mother, if I had
been so happy as to possess a mother. A few moments' conversation
now and then, the exchange of a few letters, the pressure of a
hand through the garden gate, and that is all. Still, I have been
guilty of a grave and irreparable fault: I have disobeyed the one
rule of my life--frankness; and I am cruelly punished for doing
so. I did not tell all this to M. de Chalusse--in fact, I dared
not. I was ashamed of my cowardice; from day to day I vowed that
I would confess everything, and yet I procrastinated. I said to
myself every night, 'It shall be done to-morrow; but when the
morrow came I said, 'I will give myself another day--just one more
day.' Indeed, my courage failed me when I thought of the count's
aristocratic prejudices; and besides, I knew how ambitious he was
for my future. On the other hand, moreover, Pascal was always
pleading: 'Don't speak now. My circumstances are constantly
improving. The day is not far off when I shall be able to offer
you wealth and fame. When that day comes I will go to your
guardian and ask him for your hand; but in Heaven's name don't
speak now.' I understood Pascal's motives well enough. The
count's immense fortune frightened him, and he feared that he
would be accused of being a fortune-hunter. So I waited, with
that secret anguish which still haunts those who have been unhappy
even when their present is peaceful, and their future seems
bright. I kept my secret, saying to myself that such happiness
was not meant for me, that it would soon take flight.
"It took flight all too soon. One morning I heard a carriage draw
up outside our door, and the next moment the Count de Chalusse
entered the sitting-room. 'Everything is ready to receive you at
the Hotel de Chalusse, Marguerite,' said he, 'come!' He
ceremoniously offered me his arm, and I accompanied him. I could
not even leave a message for Pascal, for I had never made a
confidante of Madame Leon. Still, a faint hope sustained me. I
thought that the precautions taken by M. de Chalusse would
somewhat dispel the uncertainty of my position, and furnish me at
least with some idea of the vague danger which threatened me. But
no. His efforts, so far as I could discover, had been confined to
changing his servants. Our life in this grand house was the same
as it had been at Cannes--even more secluded, if that were
possible. The count had aged considerably. It was evident that
he was sinking beneath the burden of some ever-present sorrow. 'I
am condemning you to a cheerless and melancholy youth,' he
sometimes said to me, 'but it will not last forever--patience,
patience!' Did he really love me? I think so. But his affection
showed itself in a strange manner. Sometimes his voice was so
tender that my heart was touched. At others there was a look of
hatred in his eyes which terrified me. Occasionally he was severe
almost to brutality, and then the next moment he would implore me
to forgive him, order the carriage, take me with him to his
jewellers', and insist upon me accepting some costly ornaments.
Madame Leon declares that my jewels are worth more than twenty
thousand francs. At times I wondered if his capricious affection
and sternness were really intended for myself. It often seemed to
me that I was only a shadow--the phantom of some absent person, in
his eyes. It is certain that he often requested me to dress
myself or to arrange my hair in a certain fashion, to wear such
and such a color, or to use a particular perfume which he gave me.
Frequently, when I was moving about the house, he suddenly
exclaimed: 'Marguerite! I entreat you, remain just where you are!'
"I obeyed him, but the illusion had already vanished. A sob or an
oath would come from his lips, and then in an angry voice he would
bid me leave the room."
The magistrate did not raise his eyes from his talismanic ring; it
might have been supposed that it had fascinated him. Still, his
expression denoted profound commiseration, and he shook his head
thoughtfully. The idea had occurred to him that this unfortunate
young girl had been the victim, not precisely of a madman, but of
one of those maniacs who have just enough reason left to invent
the tortures they inflict upon those around them.
Speaking more slowly than before, as if she were desirous of
attracting increased attention on the magistrate's part,
Mademoiselle Marguerite now continued: "If I reminded M. de
Chalusse of a person whom he had formerly loved, that person may
have been my mother. I say, MAY HAVE BEEN, because I am not
certain of it. All my efforts to discover the truth were
unavailing. M. de Chalusse seemed to take a malicious pleasure in
destroying all my carefully-arranged theories, and in upsetting
the conjectures which he had encouraged himself only twenty-four
hours previously. Heaven only knows how anxiously I listened to
his slightest word! And it can be easily understood why I did so.
My strange and compromising connection with him drove me nearly
frantic. It was not strange that people's suspicions were
aroused. True, he had changed all his servants before my arrival
here; but he had requested Madame Leon to remain with me, and who
can tell what reports she may have circulated? It has often
happened that when returning from mass on Sundays, I have
overheard persons say, 'Look! there is the Count de Chalusse's
mistress!' Oh! not a single humiliation has been spared me--not a
single one! However, on one point I did not feel the shadow of a
doubt. The count had known my mother. He frequently alluded to
her, sometimes with an outburst of passion which made me think
that he had once adored, and still loved her; sometimes, with
insults and curses which impressed me with the idea that she had
cruelly injured him. But most frequently he reproached her for
having unhesitatingly sacrificed me to insure her own safety. He
said she could have had no heart; and that it was an unheard of,
incomprehensible, and monstrous thing that a woman could enjoy
luxury and wealth, undisturbed by remorse, knowing that her
innocent and defenceless child was exposed all the while to the
hardships and temptations of abject poverty. I was also certain
that my mother was a married woman, for M. de Chalusse alluded to
her husband more than once. He hated him with a terrible hatred.
One evening, when he was more communicative than usual, he gave me
to understand that the great danger he dreaded for me came either
from my mother or her husband. He afterward did his best to
counteract this impression; but he did not succeed in convincing
me that his previous assertion was untrue."
The magistrate looked searchingly at Mademoiselle Marguerite.
"Then those letters which we found just now in the escritoire are
from your mother, mademoiselle?" he remarked.
The girl blushed. She had previously been questioned respecting
these letters, and she had then made no reply. Now, she hesitated
for a moment, and then quietly said: "Your opinion coincides with
mine, monsieur."
Thereupon, as if she wished to avoid any further questioning on
the subject, she hurriedly continued: "At last a new and even
greater trouble came--a positive calamity, which made me forget
the disgrace attached to my birth. One morning at breakfast,
about a month ago, the count informed me that he expected two
guests to dinner that evening. This was such an unusual
occurrence that I was struck speechless with astonishment. 'It is
extraordinary, I admit,' he added, gayly; 'but it is nevertheless
true. M. de Fondege and the Marquis de Valorsay will dine here
this evening. So, my dear Marguerite, look your prettiest in
honor of our old friend.' At six o'clock the two gentlemen
arrived together. I was well acquainted with M. de Fondege--the
general, as he was commonly called. He was the count's only
intimate friend, and often visited us. But I had never before
seen the Marquis de Valorsay, nor had I ever heard his name until
M. de Chalusse mentioned it that morning. I don't pretend to
judge him. I will only say that as soon as I saw him, the dislike
I felt for him bordered on aversion. My false position rendered
his close scrutiny actually painful to me, and his attentions and
compliments pleased me no better. At dinner he addressed his
conversation exclusively to me, and I particularly remember a
certain picture he drew of a model household, which positively
disgusted me. In his opinion, a husband ought to content himself
with being his wife's prime minister--the slave of her slightest
caprice. He intended, if he married, to allow the Marquise de
Valorsay perfect freedom, with an unlimited amount of money, the
handsomest carriages, and the most magnificent diamonds in Paris--
everything, indeed, that could gratify her vanity, and render her
existence a fairylike dream. 'With such ideas on her husband's
part the marchioness will be very difficult to please if she is
not contented with her lot,' he added, glancing covertly at me.
This exasperated me beyond endurance, and I dryly replied: 'The
mere thought of such a husband would drive me to the shelter of a
convent.' He seemed considerably disconcerted; and I noticed that
the general, I mean M. de Fondege, gave him a mischievous look.
"However, when the gentlemen had gone, M. de Chalusse scolded me
severely. He said that my sentimental philosophy was quite out of
place in a drawing-room, and that my ideas of life, marriage, and
duty could only have been gained in a foundling asylum. As I
attempted to reply, he interrupted me to sound the praises of the
Marquis de Valorsay, who not only came of an ancient family, and
possessed immense, unencumbered estates, but was a talented,
handsome man into the bargain; in short, one of those favored
mortals whom all young girls sigh for. The scales fell from my
eyes. I instantly understood that M. de Chalusse had selected the
Marquis de Valorsay to be my husband, and thus the marquis had
designedly explained his matrimonial programme for my benefit. It
was a snare to catch the bird. I felt indignant that he should
suppose me so wanting in delicacy of feeling and nobility of
character as to be dazzled by the life of display and facile
pleasure which he had depicted. I had disliked him at first, and
now I despised him; for it was impossible to misunderstand the
shameless proposal concealed beneath his half-jesting words. He
offered me my liberty in exchange for my fortune. That is only a
fair contract, one might say. Perhaps so; but if he were willing
to do this for a certain amount of money, what would he not do for
a sum twice or thrice as large? Such were my impressions, though I
asked myself again and again if I were not mistaken. No; the
events that followed only confirmed my suspicions. Three days
later the marquis came again. His visit was to the count, and
they held a long conference in this study. Having occasion to
enter the room, after the marquis's departure, I noticed on the
table a number of title deeds which he had probably brought for
the count's inspection. On the following week there was another
conference, and this time a lawyer was present. Any further
doubts I might have felt were dispelled by Madame Leon, who was
always well informed--thanks to her habit of listening at the
keyholes. 'They are talking of marrying you to the Marquis de
Valorsay--I heard them,' she remarked to me.
"However, the information did not terrify me. I had profited by
the time allowed me for reflection, and I had decided upon the
course I should pursue. I am timid, but I am not weak; and I was
determined to resist M. de Chalusse's will in this matter, even if
it became necessary for me to leave his house, and renounce all
hopes of the wealth he had promised me. Still I said nothing to
Pascal of my mental struggle and final determination. I did not
wish to bind him by the advice which he would certainly have given
me. I had his troth, and that sufficed. And it was with a thrill
of joy that I said to myself: 'What does it matter if M. de
Chalusse should be so angered by my refusal to obey him as to
drive me from his house? It will rather be so much the better;
Pascal will protect me.'
"But resistance is only possible when you are attacked; and M. de
Chalusse did not even allude to the subject--perhaps because
affairs had not yet been satisfactorily arranged between the
marquis and himself--possibly because he wished to deprive me of
the power to oppose him by taking me unawares. It would have been
great imprudence on my part to broach the subject myself, and so I
waited calmly and resignedly, storing up all my energy for the
decisive hour. I willingly confess that I am not a heroine of
romance--I do not look upon money with the contempt it deserves.
I was resolved to wed solely in accordance with the dictates of my
heart; but I wished, and HOPED, that M. de Chalusse would give me,
not a fortune, but a modest dowry. He had become more
communicative than usual on money matters, and took no pains to
conceal the fact that he was engaged in raising the largest
possible amount of ready cash. He received frequent visits from
his stockbroker, and sometimes when the latter had left him, he
showed me rolls of bank-notes and packages of bonds, saying, as he
did so: 'You see that your future is assured, my dear Marguerite.'
"I am only doing the count justice when I say that my future was a
subject of constant anxiety to him during the last few months of
his life. Less than a fortnight after he had taken me from the
asylum, he drew up a will, in which he adopted me and made me his
sole legatee. But he afterward destroyed this document on the
plea that it did not afford me sufficient security; and a dozen
others shared the same fate. For his mind was constantly occupied
with the subject, and he seemed to have a presentiment that his
death would be a sudden one. I am forced to admit that he seemed
less anxious to endow me with his fortune than to frustrate the
hopes of some persons I did not know. When he burned his last
will in my presence, he remarked: 'This document is useless: they
would contest it, and probably succeed in having it set aside. I
have thought of a better way; I have found an expedient which will
provide for all emergencies.' And as I ventured some timid
objection--for it was repugnant to my sense of honor to act as an
instrument of vengeance or injustice, or assist, even passively,
in despoiling any person of his rightful inheritance--he harshly,
almost brutally, replied: 'Mind your own business! I will
disappoint the folks who are waiting for my property as they
deserve to be disappointed. They covet my estates do they! Very
well, they shall have them. I will leave them my property, but
they shall find it mortgaged to its full value.'
"Unfortunate man! all his plans have failed. The heirs whom he
hated so bitterly, and whom I don't even know, whose existence
people have not even suspected, can now come, and they will find
the wealth he was determined to deprive them of intact. He
dreamed of a brilliant destiny for me--a proud name, and the rank
of a marchioness--and he has not even succeeded in protecting me
from the most shameful insults. I have been accused of theft
before his body was even cold. He wished to make me rich,
frightfully rich, and he has not left me enough to buy my bread--
literally, not enough to buy bread. He was in constant terror
concerning my safety, and he died without even telling me what
were the mysterious dangers which threatened me; without even
telling me something which I am morally certain of--that he was my
father. He raised me against my will to the highest social
position--he placed that wonderful talisman, gold, in my hand; he
showed me the world at my feet; and suddenly he allowed me to fall
even to lower depths of misery than those in which he found me.
Ah! M. de Chalusse, it would have been far better for me if you
had left me in the foundling asylum to have earned my own bread.
And yet, I freely forgive you."
Mademoiselle Marguerite reflected for a moment, questioning her
memory to ascertain if she had told everything--if she had
forgotten any particulars of importance. And as it seemed to her
that she had nothing more to add, she approached the magistrate,
and, with impressive solemnity of tone and manner, exclaimed: "My
life up to the present hour is now as well known to you as it is
to myself. You know what even the friend, who is my only hope,
does not know as yet. And now, when I tell him what I really am,
will he think me unworthy of him?"
The magistrate sprang to his feet, impelled by an irresistible
force. Two big tears, the first he had shed for years, trembled
on his eyelashes, and coursed down his furrowed cheeks. "You are
a noble creature, my child," he replied, in a voice faltering with
emotion; "and if I had a son, I should deem myself fortunate if he
chose a wife like you."
She clasped her hands, with a gesture of intense joy and relief,
and then sank into an arm-chair, murmuring: "Oh, thanks, monsieur,
thanks!" For she was thinking of Pascal; and she had feared he
might shrink from her when she fully revealed to him her wretched,
sorrowful past, of which he was entirely ignorant. But the
magistrate's words had reassured her.
The clock on the mantel-shelf struck half-past four. The
magistrate and Mademoiselle Marguerite could hear stealthy
footsteps in the hall, and a rustling near the door. The servants
were prowling round about the study, wondering what was the reason
of this prolonged conference. "I must see how the clerk is
progressing with the inventory." said the magistrate. "Excuse me
if I absent myself for a moment; I will soon return." And so
saying he rose and left the room.
But it was only a pretext. He really wished to conceal his
emotion and regain his composure, for he had been deeply affected
by the young girl's narrative. He also needed time for
reflection, for the situation had become extremely complicated
since Mademoiselle Marguerite had informed him of the existence of
heirs--of those mysterious enemies who had poisoned the count's
peace. These persons would, of course, require to know what had
become of the millions deposited in the escritoire, and who would
be held accountable for the missing treasure? Mademoiselle
Marguerite, unquestionably. Such were the thoughts that flitted
through the magistrate's mind as he listened to his clerk's
report. Nor was this all; for having solicited Mademoiselle
Marguerite's confidence, he must now advise her. And this was a
matter of some difficulty.
However, when he returned to the study he was quite self-possessed
and impassive again, and he was pleased to see that on her side
the unfortunate girl had, to some extent, at least, recovered her
wonted composure. "Let us now discuss the situation calmly," he
began. "I shall convince you that your prospects are not so
frightful as you imagine. But before speaking of the future, will
you allow me to refer to the past?" The girl bowed her consent.
"Let us first of all consider the subject of the missing millions.
They were certainly in the escritoire when M. de Chalusse replaced
the vial; but now they are not to be found, so that the count must
have taken them away with him."
"That thought occurred to me also."
"Did the treasure form a large package?"
"Yes, it was large; but it could have been easily concealed under
the cloak which M. de Chalusse wore."
"Very good! What was the time when he left the house?"
"About five o'clock."
"When was he brought back?"
"At about half-past six."
"Where did the cabman pick him up?"
"Near the church of Notre Dame de Lorette, so he told me."
"Do you know the driver's number?"
"Casimir asked him for it, I believe."
Had any one inquired the reason of this semi-official examination,
the magistrate would have replied that Mademoiselle Marguerite's
interests alone influenced him in the course he was taking. This
was quite true; and yet, without being altogether conscious of the
fact, he was also impelled by another motive. This affair
interested, almost fascinated, him on account of its mysterious
surroundings, and influenced by the desire for arriving at the
truth which is inherent in every human heart, he was anxious to
solve the riddle. After a few moments' thoughtful silence, he
remarked: "So the point of departure in our investigation, if
there is an investigation, will be this: M. de Chalusse left the
house with two millions in his possession; and while he was
absent, he either disposed of that enormous sum--or else it was
stolen from him."
Mademoiselle Marguerite shuddered. "Oh! stolen," she faltered.
"Yes, my child--anything is possible. We must consider the
situation in every possible light. But to continue. Where was M.
de Chalusse going?"
"To the house of a gentleman who would, he thought, be able to
furnish the address given in the letter he had torn up."
"What was this gentleman's name?"
The magistrate wrote the name down on his tablets, and then,
resuming his examination, he said: "Now, in reference to this
unfortunate letter which, in your opinion, was the cause of the
count's death, what did it say?"
"I don't know, monsieur. It is true that I helped the count in
collecting the fragments, but I did not read what was written on
"That is of little account. The main thing is to ascertain who
wrote the letter. You told me that it could only have come from
the sister who disappeared thirty years ago, or else from your
"That was, and still is, my opinion."
The magistrate toyed with his ring; and a smile of satisfaction
stole over his face. "Very well!" he exclaimed, "in less than
five minutes I shall be able to tell you whether the letter was
from your mother or not. My method is perfectly simple. I have
only to compare the handwriting with that of the letters found in
the escritoire."
Mademoiselle Marguerite sprang up, exclaiming: "What a happy
But without seeming to notice the girl's surprise, he added:
"Where are the remnants of this letter which you and the count
picked up in the garden?"
"M. de Chalusse placed them in his pocket."
"They must be found. Tell the count's valet to look for them."
The girl rang; but M. Casimir, who was supposed to be engaged in
making preparations for the funeral, was not in the house.
However, another servant and Madame Leon offered their services,
and certainly displayed the most laudable zeal, but their search
was fruitless; the fragments of the letter could not be found.
"How unfortunate!" muttered the magistrate, as he watched them
turn the pockets of the count's clothes inside out. "What a
fatality! That letter would probably have solved the mystery."
Compelled to submit to this disappointment, he returned to the
study; but he was evidently discouraged. Although he did not
consider the mystery insoluble, far from it, he realized that time
and research would be required to arrive at a solution, and that
the affair was quite beyond his province. One hope alone
By carefully studying the last words which M. de Chalusse had
written and spoken he might arrive at the intention which had
dictated them. Experience had wonderfully sharpened his
penetration, and perhaps he might discover a hidden meaning which
would throw light upon all this doubt and uncertainty.
Accordingly, he asked Mademoiselle Marguerite for the paper upon
which the count had endeavored to pen his last wishes; and in
addition he requested her to write on a card the dying man's last
words in the order they had been uttered. But on combining the
written and the spoken words the only result obtained was as
follows:--"My entire fortune--give--friends--against--Marguerite--
despoiled--your mother--take care." These twelve incoherent words
revealed the count's absorbing and poignant anxiety concerning his
fortune and Marguerite's future, and also the fear and aversion
with which Marguerite's mother inspired him. But that was all;
the sense was not precise enough for any practical purpose.
Certainly the word "give" needed no explanation. It was plain
that the count had endeavored to write, "I give my entire
fortune." The meaning of the word "despoiled" was also clear. It
had evidently been wrung from the half-unconscious man by the
horrible thought that Marguerite--his own daughter,
unquestionably--would not have a penny of all the millions he had
intended for her. "Take care" also explained itself. But there
were two words which seemed absolutely incomprehensible to the
magistrate, and which he vainly strove to connect with the others
in an intelligible manner. These were the words "friends" and
"against," and they were the most legibly written of all. For the
thirtieth time the magistrate was repeating them in an undertone,
when a rap came at the door, and almost immediately Madame Leon
entered the room.
"What is it?" inquired Mademoiselle Marguerite.
Laying a package of letters, addressed to M. de Chalusse, on the
desk, the housekeeper replied: "These have just come by the post
for the poor count. Heaven rest his soul!" And then handing a
newspaper to Mademoiselle Marguerite, she added, in an unctuous
tone: "And some one left this paper for mademoiselle at the same
"This paper--for me? You must be mistaken."
"Not at all. I was in the concierge's lodge when the messenger
brought it; and he said it was for Mademoiselle Marguerite, from
one of her friends." And with these words she made one of her very
best courtesies, and withdrew.
The girl had taken the newspaper, and now, with an air of
astonishment and apprehension, she slowly unfolded it. What first
attracted her attention was a paragraph on the first page marked
round with red chalk. The paper had evidently been sent in order
that she might read this particular passage, and accordingly she
began to peruse it. "There was a great sensation and a terrible
scandal last evening at the residence of Madame d'A----, a well
known star of the first magnitude----"
It was the shameful article which described the events that had
robbed Pascal of his honor. And to make assurance doubly sure, to
prevent the least mistake concerning the printed initials, the
coward who sent the paper had appended the names of the persons
mixed up in the affair, at full length, in pencil. He had written
d'Argeles, Pascal Ferailleur, Ferdinand de Coralth, Rochecote.
And yet, in spite of these precautions, the girl did not at first
seize the full meaning of the article; and she was obliged to read
it over again. But when she finally understood it--when the
horrible truth burst upon her--the paper fell from her nerveless
hands, she turned as pale as death, and, gasping for breath,
leaned heavily against the wall for support.
Her features expressed such terrible suffering that the magistrate
sprang from his chair with a bound. "What has happened?" he
eagerly asked.
She tried to reply, but finding herself unable to do so, she
pointed to the paper lying upon the floor, and gasped: "There!
The magistrate understood everything at the first glance; and this
man, who had witnessed so much misery--who had been the confidant
of so many martyrs--was filled with consternation at thought of
the misfortunes which destiny was heaping upon this defenceless
girl. He approached her, and led her gently to an arm-chair, upon
which she sank, half fainting. "Poor child!" he murmured. "The
man you had chosen--the man whom you would have sacrificed
everything for--is Pascal Ferailleur, is he not?"
"Yes, it is he."
"He is an advocate?"
"As I have already told you, monsieur."
"Does he live in the Rue d'Ulm?"
The magistrate shook his head sadly. "It is the same," said he.
"I also know him, my poor child; and I loved and honored him.
Yesterday I should have told you that he was worthy of you. He
was above slander. But now, see what depths love of play has
brought him to. He is a thief!"
Mademoiselle Marguerite's weakness vanished. She sprang from her
chair, and indignantly faced the magistrate. "It is false!" she
cried, vehemently; "and what that paper says is false as well!"
Had her reason been affected by so many successive blows? It
seemed likely; for, livid a moment before, her face had now turned
scarlet. She trembled nervously from head to foot, and there was
a gleam of insanity in her big black eyes.
"If she doesn't weep, she is lost," thought the magistrate. And,
instead of encouraging her to hope, he deemed it best to try and
destroy what he considered a dangerous illusion. "Alas! my poor
child," he said sadly, "you must not deceive yourself. The
newspapers are often hasty in their judgment; but an article like
that is only published when proof of its truth is furnished by
witnesses of unimpeachable veracity."
She shrugged her shoulders as if she were listening to some
monstrous absurdities, and then thoughtfully muttered: "Ah! now
Pascal's silence is explained: now I understand why he has not yet
replied to the letter I wrote him last night."
The magistrate persevered, however, and added: "So, after the
article you have just read, no one can entertain the shadow of a
Mademoiselle Marguerite hastily interrupted him. "But I have not
doubted him for a second!" she exclaimed. "Doubt Pascal! I doubt
Pascal! I would sooner doubt myself. I might commit a
dishonorable act; I am only a poor, weak, ignorant girl, while he--
he---- You don't know, then, that he was my conscience? Before
undertaking anything, before deciding upon anything, if ever I
felt any doubt, I asked myself, 'What would he do? ' And the mere
thought of him is sufficient to banish any unworthy idea from my
heart." Her tone and manner betokened complete and unwavering
confidence; and her faith imparted an almost sublime expression to
her face. "If I was overcome, monsieur," she continued, "it was
only because I was appalled by the audacity of the accusation.
How was it possible to make Pascal even SEEM to be guilty of a
dishonorable act? This is beyond my powers of comprehension. I am
only certain of one thing--that he is innocent. If the whole
world rose to testify against him, it would not shake my faith in
him, and even if he confessed that he was guilty I should be more
likely to believe that he was crazed than culpable!"
A bitter smile curved her lips, she was beginning to judge the
situation more correctly, and in a calmer tone she resumed:
"Moreover, what does circumstantial evidence prove? Did you not
this morning hear all our servants declaring that I was
accountable for M. de Chalusse's millions? Who knows what might
have happened if it had not been for your intervention? Perhaps,
by this time, I should have been in prison."
"This is not a parallel case, my child."
"It IS a parallel case, monsieur. Suppose, for one moment, that I
had been formally accused--what do you think Pascal would have
replied if people had gone to him, and said, 'Marguerite is a
thief?' He would have laughed them to scorn, and have exclaimed,
The magistrate's mind was made up. In his opinion, Pascal
Ferailleur was guilty. Still it was useless to argue with the
girl, for he felt that he should not be able to convince her.
However, he determined, if possible, to ascertain her plans in
order to oppose them, if they seemed to him at all dangerous.
"Perhaps you are right, my child," he conceded, "still, this
unfortunate affair must change all your arrangements."
"Rather, it modifies them." Surprised by her calmness, he looked
at her inquiringly. "An hour ago," she added, "I had resolved to
go to Pascal and claim his aid and protection as one claims an
undeniable right or the fulfilment of a solemn promise; but now--"
"Well?" eagerly asked the magistrate.
"I am still resolved to go to him--but as an humble suppliant.
And I shall say to him, 'You are suffering, but no sorrow is
intolerable when there are two to bear the burden; and so, here I
am. Everything else may fail you--your dearest friends may basely
desert you; but here am I. Whatever your plans may be--whether
you have decided to leave Europe or to remain in Paris to watch
for your hour of vengeance, you will need a faithful, trusty
companion--a confidant--and here I am! Wife, friend, sister--I
will be which ever you desire. I am yours--yours
unconditionally.'" And as if in reply to a gesture of surprise
which escaped the magistrate, she added: "He is unhappy--I am
free--I love him!"
The magistrate was struck dumb with astonishment. He knew that
she would surely do what she said; he had realized that she was
one of those generous, heroic women who are capable of any
sacrifice for the man they love--a woman who would never shrink
from what she considered to be her duty, who was utterly incapable
of weak hesitancy or selfish calculation.
"Fortunately, my dear young lady, your devotion will no doubt be
useless," he said at last.
"And why?"
"Because M. Ferailleur owes it to you, and, what is more, he owes
it to himself, not to accept such a sacrifice." Failing to
understand his meaning, she looked at him inquiringly. "You will
forgive me, I trust," he continued, "if I warn you to prepare for
a disappointment. Innocent or guilty, M. Ferailleur is--
disgraced. Unless something little short of a miracle comes to
help him, his career is ended. This is one of those charges--one
of those slanders, if you prefer that term, which a man can never
shake off. So how can you hope that he will consent to link your
destiny to his?"
She had not thought of this objection, and it seemed to her a
terrible one. Tears came to her dark eyes, and in a despondent
voice she murmured: "God grant that he will not evince such cruel
generosity. The only great and true misfortune that could strike
me now would be to have him repel me. M. de Chalusse's death
leaves me without means--without bread; but now I can almost bless
my poverty since it enables me to ask him what would become of me
if he abandoned me, and who would protect me if he refused to do
so. The brilliant career he dreamed of is ended, you say. Ah,
well! I will console him, and though we are unfortunate, we may
yet be happy. Our enemies are triumphant--so be it: we should
only tarnish our honor by stooping to contend against such
villainy. But in some new land, in America, perhaps, we shall be
able to find some quiet spot where we can begin a new and better
career." It was almost impossible to believe that it was
Mademoiselle Marguerite, usually so haughtily reserved, who was
now speaking with such passionate vehemence. And to whom was she
talking in this fashion? To a stranger, whom she saw for the first
time. But she was urged on by circumstances, the influence of
which was stronger than her own will. They had led her to reveal
her dearest and most sacred feelings and to display her real
nature free from any kind of disguise.
However, the magistrate concealed the emotion and sympathy which
filled his heart and refused to admit that the girl's hopes were
likely to be realized. "And if M. Ferailleur refused to accept
your sacrifice?" he asked.
"It is not a sacrifice, monsieur."
"No matter; but supposing he refused it, what should you do?"
"What should I do?" she muttered. "I don't know. Still I should
have no difficulty in earning a livelihood. I have been told that
I have a remarkable voice. I might, perhaps, go upon the stage."
The magistrate sprang from his arm-chair. "You become an actress,
"Under such circumstances it would little matter what became of
"But you don't suspect--you cannot imagine----"
He was at a loss for words to explain the nature of his objections
to such a career; and it was Mademoiselle Marguerite who found
them for him. "I suspect that theatrical life is an abominable
life for a woman," she said, gravely; "but I know that there are
many noble and chaste women who have adopted the profession. That
is enough for me. My pride is a sufficient protection. It
preserved me as an apprentice; it would preserve me as an actress.
I might be slandered; but that is not an irremediable misfortune.
I despise the world too much to be troubled by its opinion so long
as I have the approval of my own conscience. And why should I not
become a great artiste if I consecrated all the intelligence,
passion, energy, and will I might possess, to my art?"
Hearing a knock at the door she paused; and a moment later a
footman entered with lights, for night was falling. He was
closely followed by another servant, who said: "Mademoiselle, the
Marquis de Valorsay is below, and wishes to know if mademoiselle
will grant him the honor of an interview."
On hearing M. de Valorsay's name, Mademoiselle Marguerite and the
magistrate exchanged glances full of wondering conjecture. The
girl was undecided what course to pursue; but the magistrate put
an end to her perplexity. "Ask the marquis to come up," he said
to the servant.
The footman left the room; and, as soon as he had disappeared,
Mademoiselle Marguerite exclaimed: "What, monsieur! after all I
have told you, you still wish me to receive him?"
"It is absolutely necessary that you should do so. You must know
what he wishes and what hope brings him here. Calm yourself, and
submit to necessity."
In a sort of bewilderment, the girl hastily arranged her
disordered dress, and caught up her wavy hair which had fallen
over her shoulders. "Ah! monsieur," she remarked, "don't you
understand that he still believes me to be the count's heiress? In
his eyes, I am still surrounded by the glamor of the millions
which are mine no longer."
"Hush! here he comes!"
The Marquis de Valorsay was indeed upon the threshold, and a
moment later he entered the room. He was clad with the exquisite
taste of those intelligent gentlemen to whom the color of a pair
of trousers is a momentous matter, and whose ambition is satisfied
if they are regarded as a sovereign authority respecting the cut
of a waistcoat. As a rule, his expression of face merely denoted
supreme contentment with himself and indifference as to others,
but now, strange to say, he looked grave and almost solemn. His
right leg--the unfortunate limb which had been broken when he fell
from his horse in Ireland--seemed stiff, and dragged a trifle more
than usual, but this was probably solely due to the influence of
the atmosphere. He bowed to Mademoiselle Marguerite with every
mark of profound respect, and without seeming to notice the
magistrate's presence.
"You will excuse me, I trust, mademoiselle," said he, "in having
insisted upon seeing you, so that I might express my deep
sympathy. I have just heard of the terrible misfortune which has
befallen you--the sudden death of your father."
She drew back as if she were terrified, and repeated: "My father!"
The marquis did not evince the slightest surprise. "I know," said
he, in a voice which he tried to make as feeling as possible, "I
know that M. de Chalusse kept this fact concealed from you; but he
confided his secret to me."
"To you?" interrupted the magistrate, who was unable to restrain
himself any longer.
The marquis turned haughtily to this old man dressed in black, and
in the dry tone one uses in speaking to an indiscreet inferior, he
replied: "To me, yes, monsieur; and he acquainted me not only by
word of mouth, but in writing also, with the motives which
influenced him, expressing his fixed intention, not only of
recognizing Mademoiselle Marguerite as his daughter, but also of
adopting her in order to insure her undisputed right to his
fortune and his name."
"Ah!" said the magistrate as if suddenly enlightened; "ah! ah!"
But without noticing this exclamation which was, at least,
remarkable in tone, M. de Valorsay again turned to Mademoiselle
Marguerite, and continued: "Your ignorance on this subject,
mademoiselle, convinces me that your servants have not deceived me
in telling me that M. de Chalusse was struck down without the
slightest warning. But they have told me one thing which I cannot
believe. They have told me that the count made no provision for
you, that he left no will, and that--excuse a liberty which is
prompted only by the most respectful interest--and that, the
result of this incomprehensible and culpable neglect is that you
are ruined and almost without means. Can this be possible?"
"It is the exact truth, monsieur," replied Mademoiselle
Marguerite. "I am reduced to the necessity of working for my
daily bread."
She spoke these words with a sort of satisfaction, expecting that
the marquis would betray his disappointed covetousness by some
significant gesture or exclamation, and she was already prepared
to rejoice at his confusion. But her expectations were not
realized. Instead of evincing the slightest dismay or even
regret, M. de Valorsay drew a long breath, as if a great burden
had been lifted from his heart, and his eyes sparkled with
apparent delight. "Then I may venture to speak," he exclaimed,
with unconcealed satisfaction, "I will speak, rnademoiselle, if
you will deign to allow me."
She looked at him with anxious curiosity, wondering what was to
come. "Speak, monsieur," she faltered.
"I will obey you, mademoiselle," he said, bowing again. "But
first, allow me to tell you how great my hopes have been. M. de
Chalusse's death is an irreparable misfortune for me as for
yourself. He had allowed me, mademoiselle, to aspire to the honor
of becoming a suitor for your hand. If he did not speak to you on
the subject, it was only because he wished to leave you absolutely
free, and impose upon me the difficult task of winning your
consent. But between him and me everything had been arranged in
principle, and he was to give a dowry of three millions of francs
to Mademoiselle Marguerite de Chalusse, his daughter."
"I am no longer Mademoiselle de Chalusse, Monsieur le Marquis, and
I am no longer the possessor of a fortune."
He felt the sharp sting of this retort, for the blood rose to his
cheeks, still he did not lose his composure. "If you were still
rich, mademoiselle," he replied, in the reproachful tone of an
honest man who feels that he is misunderstood, "I should, perhaps,
have strength to keep the sentiments with which you have inspired
me a secret in my own heart; but--" He rose, and with a gesture
which was not devoid of grace, and in a full ringing voice he
added: "But you are no longer the possessor of millions; and so I
may tell you, Mademoiselle Marguerite, that I love you. Will you
be my wife?"
The poor girl was obliged to exercise all her powers of selfcontrol
to restrain an exclamation of dismay. It was indeed more
than dismay; she was absolutely terrified by the Marquis de
Valorsay's unexpected declaration, and she could only falter:
"Monsieur! monsieur!"
But with an air of winning frankness he continued: "Need I tell
you who I am, mademoiselle? No; that is unnecessary. The fact
that my suit was approved of by M. de Chalusse is the best
recommendation I can offer you. The pure and stainless name I
bear is one of the proudest in France; and though my fortune may
have been somewhat impaired by youthful folly, it is still more
than sufficient to maintain an establishment in keeping with my
Mademoiselle Marguerite was still powerless to reply. Her
presence of mind had entirely deserted her, and her tongue seemed
to cleave to her palate. She glanced entreatingly at the old
magistrate, as if imploring his intervention, but he was so
absorbed in contemplating his wonderful ring, that one might have
imagined he was oblivious of all that was going on around him.
"I am aware that I have so far not been fortunate enough to please
you, mademoiselle," continued the marquis. "M. de Chalusse did
not conceal it from me--I remember, alas! that I advocated in your
presence a number of stupid theories, which must have given you a
very poor opinion of me. But you will forgive me, I trust. My
ideas have entirely changed since I have learned to understand and
appreciate your vigorous intellect and nobility of soul. I
thoughtlessly spoke to you in the language which is usually
addressed to young ladies of our rank of life--frivolous beauties,
who are spoiled by vanity and luxury, and who look upon marriage
only as a means of enfranchisement."
His words were disjointed as if emotion choked his utterance. At
times, it seemed as if he could scarcely command his feelings; and
then his voice became so faint and trembling that it was scarcely
However, by allowing him to continue, by listening to what he
said, Mademoiselle Marguerite was encouraging him, even more--
virtually binding herself. She understood that this was the case,
and making a powerful effort, she interrupted him, saying: "I
assure you, Monsieur le Marquis, that I am deeply touched--and
grateful--but I am no longer free."
"Pray, mademoiselle, pray do not reply to-day. Grant me a little
time to overcome your prejudices."
She shook her head, and in a firmer voice, replied: "I have no
prejudices; but for some time past already, my future has been
decided, irrevocably decided."
He seemed thunderstruck, and his manner apparently indicated that
the possibility of a repulse had never entered his mind. His eyes
wandered restlessly from Mademoiselle Marguerite to the
countenance of the old magistrate, who remained as impassive as a
sphinx, and at last they lighted on a newspaper which was lying on
the floor at the young girl's feet. "Do not deprive me of all
hope," he murmured.
She made no answer, and understanding her silence, he was about to
retire when the door suddenly opened and a servant announced:
"Monsieur de Fondege."
Mademoiselle Marguerite touched the magistrate on the shoulder to
attract his attention. "This gentleman is M. de Chalusse's friend
whom I sent for this morning."
At the same moment a man who looked some sixty years of age
entered the room. He was very tall, and as straight as the letter
I, being arrayed in a long blue frock-coat, while his neck, which
was as red and as wrinkled as that of a turkey-cock, was encased
in a very high and stiff satin cravat. On seeing his ruddy face,
his closely cropped hair, his little eyes twinkling under his
bushy eyebrows, and his formidable mustaches a la Victor Emmanuel,
you would have immediately exclaimed: "That man is an old
A great mistake! M. de Fondege had never been in the service, and
it was only in mockery of his somewhat bellicose manners and
appearance that some twenty years previously his friends had
dubbed him "the General." However, the appellation had clung to
him. The nickname had been changed to a title, and now M. de
Fondege was known as "the General" everywhere. He was invited and
announced as "the General." Many people believed that he had
really been one, and perhaps he fancied so himself, for he had
long been in the habit of inscribing "General A. de Fondege" on
his visiting cards. The nickname had had a decisive influence on
his life. He had endeavored to show himself worthy of it, and the
manners he had at first assumed, eventually became natural ones.
He seemed to be the conventional old soldier--irascible and jovial
at the same time; brusk and kind; at once frank, sensible and
brutal; as simple as a child, and yet as true as steel. He swore
the most tremendous oaths in a deep bass voice, and whenever he
talked his arms revolved like the sails of a windmill. However,
Madame de Fondege, who was a very angular lady, with a sharp nose
and very thin lips, assured people that her husband was not so
terrible as he appeared. He was not considered very shrewd, and
he pretended to have an intense dislike for business matters. No
one knew anything precise about his fortune, but he had a great
many friends who invited him to dinner, and they all declared that
he was in very comfortable circumstances.
On entering the study this worthy man did not pay the slightest
attention to the Marquis de Valorsay, although they were intimate
friends. He walked straight up to Mademoiselle Marguerite, caught
her in his long arms, and pressed her to his heart, brushing her
face with his huge mustaches as he pretended to kiss her.
"Courage, my dear," he growled; "courage. Don't give way. Follow
my example. Look at me!" So saying he stepped back, and it was
really amusing to see the extraordinary effort he made to combine
a soldier's stoicism with a friend's sorrow. "You must wonder at
my delay, my dear," he resumed, "but it was not my fault. I was
at Madame de Rochecote's when I was informed that your messenger
was at home waiting for me. I returned, and heard the frightful
news. It was a thunderbolt. A friend of thirty years' standing!
A thousand thunderclaps! I acted as his second when he fought his
first duel. Poor Chalusse!
A man as sturdy as an oak, and who ought to have outlived us all.
But it is always so; the best soldiers always file by first at
The Marquis de Valorsay had beaten a retreat, the magistrate was
hidden in a dark corner, and Mademoiselle Marguerite, who was
accustomed to the General's manner, remained silent, being well
aware that there was no chance of putting in a word as long as he
had possession of the floor. "Fortunately, poor Chalusse was a
prudent man," continued M. de Fondege. "He loved you devotedly,
my dear, as his testamentary provisions must have shown you."
"His provisions?"
"Yes, most certainly. Surely you don't mean to try and conceal
anything from one who knows all. Ah! you will be one of the
greatest catches in Europe, and you will have plenty of suitors."
Mademoiselle Marguerite sadly shook her head. "You are mistaken,
General; the count left no will, and has made no provision
whatever for me."
M. de Fondege trembled, turned a trifle pale, and in a faltering
voice, exclaimed: "What! You tell me that? Chalusse! A thousand
thunderclaps! It isn't possible."
"The count was stricken with apoplexy in a cab. He went out about
five o'clock, on foot, and a little before seven he was brought
home unconscious. Where he had been we don't know."
"You don't know? you don't know?"
"Alas! no; and he was only able to utter a few incoherent words
before he died." Thereupon the poor girl began a brief account of
what had taken place during the last four-and-twenty hours. Had
she been less absorbed in her narrative she would have noticed
that the General was not listening to her. He was sitting at the
count's desk and was toying with the letters which Madame Leon had
brought into the room a short time previously. One of them
especially seemed to attract his attention, to exercise a sort of
fascination over him as it were. He looked at it with hungry
eyes, and whenever he touched it, his hand trembled, or
involuntarily clinched. His face, moreover, had become livid; his
eyes twitched nervously; he seemed to have a difficulty in
breathing, and big drops of perspiration trickled down his
forehead. If the magistrate were able to see the General's face,
he must certainly have been of opinion that a terrible conflict
was raging in his mind. The struggle lasted indeed for fully five
minutes, and then suddenly, certain that no one saw him, he caught
up the letter in question and slipped it into his pocket.
Poor Marguerite was now finishing her story: "You see, monsieur,
that, far from being an heiress, as you suppose, I am homeless and
penniless," she said.
The General had risen from his chair, and was striding up and down
the room with every token of intense agitation. "It's true," he
said apparently unconscious of his words. "She's ruined--lost--
the misfortune is complete!" Then, suddenly pausing with folded
arms in front of Mademoiselle Marguerite: "What are you going to
do?" he asked.
"God will not forsake me, General," she replied.
He turned on his heel and resumed his promenade, wildly
gesticulating and indulging in a furious monologue which was
certainly not very easy to follow. "Frightful! terrible!" he
growled. "The daughter of an old comrade--zounds!--of a friend of
thirty years' standing--to be left in such a plight! Never, a
thousand thunderclaps!--never! Poor child!--a heart of gold, and
as pretty as an angel! This horrible Paris would devour her at a
single mouthful! It would be a crime--an abomination! It sha'n't
be!--the old veterans are here, firm as rocks!"
Thereupon, approaching the poor girl again, he exclaimed in a
coarse but seemingly feeling voice: "Mademoiselle Marguerite."
"You are acquainted with my son, Gustave Fondege, are you not?"
"I think I have heard you speak of him to M. de Chalusse several
The General tugged furiously at his mustaches as was his wont
whenever he was perplexed or embarrassed. "My son," he resumed,
"is twenty-seven. He's now a lieutenant of hussars, and will soon
be promoted to the rank of captain. He's a handsome fellow, sure
to make his way in the world, for he's not wanting in spirit. As
I never attempt to hide the truth, I must confess that he's a
trifle dissipated; but his heart is all right, and a charming
little wife would soon turn him from the error of his ways, and
he'd become the pearl of husbands." He paused, passed his
forefinger three or four times between his collar and his neck,
and then, in a half-strangled voice, he added: "Mademoiselle
Marguerite, I have the honor to ask for your hand in marriage on
behalf of Lieutenant Gustave de Fondege, my son."
There was a dangerous gleam of anger in Mademoiselle Marguerite's
eyes, as she coldly replied: "I am honored by your request,
monsieur; but my future is already decided."
Some seconds elapsed before M. de Fondege could recover his powers
of speech. "This is a piece of foolishness," he faltered, at last
with singular agitation." Let me hope that you will reconsider the
matter. And if Gustave doesn't please you, we will find some one
better. But under no circumstances will Chalusse's old comrade
ever desert you. I shall send Madame de Fondege to see you this
evening. She's a good woman and you will understand each other.
Come, answer me, what do you say to it?"
His persistence irritated the poor girl beyond endurance, and to
put an end to the painful scene, she at last asked: "Would you not
like to look--for the last time--at M. de Chalusse?"
"Ah! yes, certainly--an old friend of thirty years' standing." So
saying he advanced toward the door leading into the death-room,
but on reaching the threshold, he cried in sudden terror: "Oh! no,
no, I could not." And with these words he withdrew or rather he
fled from the room down the stairs.
As long as the General had been there, the magistrate had given no
sign of life. But seated beyond the circle of light cast by the
lamps, he had remained an attentive spectator of the scene, and
now that he found himself once more alone with Mademoiselle
Marguerite he came forward, and leaning against the mantelpiece
and looking her full in the face he exclaimed: "Well, my child?"
The girl trembled like a culprit awaiting sentence of death, and
it was in a hollow voice that she replied: "I understood--"
"What?" insisted the pitiless magistrate.
She raised her beautiful eyes, in which angry tears were still
glittering, and then answered in a voice which quivered with
suppressed passion, "I have fathomed the infamy of those two men
who have just left the house. I understood the insult their
apparent generosity conceals. They had questioned the servants,
and had ascertained that two millions were missing. Ah, the
scoundrels! They believe that I have stolen those millions; and
they came to ask me to share the ill-gotten wealth with them.
What an insult! and to think that I am powerless to avenge it! Ah!
the servants' suspicions were nothing in comparison with this. At
least, they did not ask for a share of the booty as the price of
their silence!"
The magistrate shook his head as if this explanation scarcely
satisfied him. "There is something else, there is certainly
something else," he repeated. But the doors were still open, so
he closed them carefully, and then returned to the girl he was so
desirous of advising. "I wish to tell you," he said, "that you
have mistaken the motives which induced these gentlemen to ask for
your hand in marriage."
"Do you believe, then, that you have fathomed them?"
"I could almost swear that I had. Didn't you remark a great
difference in their manner? Didn't one of them, the marquis,
behave with all the calmness and composure which are the result of
reflection and calculation? The other, on the contrary, acted most
precipitately, as if he had suddenly come to a determination, and
formed a plan on the impulse of the moment."
Mademoiselle Marguerite reflected.
"That's true," she said, "that's indeed true. Now I recollect the
"And this is my explanation of it," resumed the magistrate. "'The
Marquis de Valorsay,' I said to myself, 'must have proofs in his
possession that Mademoiselle Marguerite is the count's daughter--
written and conclusive proofs, that is certain--probably a
voluntary admission of the fact from the father. Who can prove
that M. de Valorsay does not possess this acknowledgment? In fact,
he must possess it. He hinted it himself.' Accordingly on hearing
of the count's sudden death, he said to himself, 'If Marguerite
was my wife, and if I could prove her to be M. de Chalusse's
daughter, I should obtain several millions.' Whereupon he
consulted his legal adviser who assured him that it would be the
best course he could pursue; and so he came here. You repulsed
him, but he will soon make another assault, you may rest assured
of that. And some day or other he will come to you and say,
'Whether we marry or not, let us divide.'"
Mademoiselle Marguerite was amazed. The magistrate's words seemed
to dispel the mist which had hitherto hidden the truth from view.
"Yes," she exclaimed, "yes, you are right, monsieur."
He was silent for a moment, and then he resumed: "I understand M.
de Fondege's motive less clearly; but still I have some clue. He
had not questioned the servants. That is evident from the fact
that on his arrival here he believed you to be the sole legatee.
He was also aware that M. de Chalusse had taken certain
precautions we are ignorant of, but which he is no doubt fully
acquainted with. What you told him about your poverty amazed him,
and he immediately evinced a desire to atone for the count's
neglect with as much eagerness as if he were the cause of this
negligence himself. And, indeed, judging by the agitation he
displayed when he was imploring you to become his son's wife, one
might almost imagine that the sight of your misery awakened a
remorse which he was endeavoring to quiet. Now, draw your own
The wretched girl looked questioningly at the magistrate as if she
hesitated to trust the thoughts which his words had awakened in
her mind. "Then you think, monsieur," she said, with evident
reluctance, "you think, you suppose, that the General is
acquainted with the whereabouts of the missing millions?"
"Quite correct," answered the magistrate, and then as if he feared
that he had gone too far, he added: "but draw your own conclusions
respecting the matter. You have the whole night before you. We
will talk it over again to-morrow, and if I can be of service to
you in any way, I shall be only too glad."
"But, monsieur--"
"Oh--to-morrow, to-morrow--I must go to dinner now; besides, my
clerk must be getting terribly impatient."
The clerk was, indeed, out of temper. Not that he had finished
taking an inventory of the appurtenances of this immense house,
but because he considered that he had done quite enough work for
one day. And yet his discontent was sensibly diminished when he
calculated the amount he would receive for his pains. During the
nine years he had held this office he had never made such an
extensive inventory before. He seemed somewhat dazzled, and as he
followed his superior out of the house, he remarked: "Do you know,
monsieur, that as nearly as I can discover the deceased's fortune
must amount to more than twenty millions--an income of a million a
year! And to think that the poor young lady shouldn't have a penny
of it. I suspect she's crying her eyes out."
But the clerk was mistaken. Mademoiselle Marguerite was then
questioning M. Casimir respecting the arrangements which he had
made for the funeral, and when this sad duty was concluded, she
consented to take a little food standing in front of the sideboard
in the dining-room. Then she went to kneel in the count's room,
where four members of the parochial clergy were reciting the
prayers for the dead.
She was so exhausted with fatigue that she could scarcely speak,
and her eyelids were heavy with sleep. But she had another task
to fulfil, a task which she deemed a sacred duty. She sent a
servant for a cab, threw a shawl over her shoulders, and left the
house accompanied by Madame Leon. The cabman drove as fast as
possible to the house where Pascal and his mother resided in the
Rue d'Ulm; but on arriving there, the front door was found to be
closed, and the light in the vestibule was extinguished.
Marguerite was obliged to ring five or six times before the
concierge made his appearance.
"I wish to see Monsieur Ferailleur," she quietly said.
The man glanced at her scornfully, and then replied: "He no longer
lives here. The landlord doesn't want any thieves in his house.
He's sold his rubbish and started for America, with his old witch
of a mother."
So saying he closed the door again, and Marguerite was so
overwhelmed by this last and unexpected misfortune, that she could
hardly stagger back to the vehicle. "Gone!" she murmured; "gone!
without a thought of me! Or does he believe me to be like all the
rest? But I will find him again. That man Fortunat, who
ascertained addresses for M. de Chalusse, will find Pascal for
Few people have any idea of the great number of estates which, in
default of heirs to claim them, annually revert to the government.
The treasury derives large sums from this source every year. And
this is easily explained, for nowadays family ties are becoming
less and less binding. Brothers cease to meet; their children no
longer know each other; and the members of the second generation
are as perfect strangers as though they were not united by a bond
of consanguinity. The young man whom love of adventure lures to a
far-off country, and the young girl who marries against her
parents' wishes, soon cease to exist for their relatives. No one
even inquires what has become of them. Those who remain at home
are afraid to ask whether they are prosperous or unfortunate, lest
they should be called upon to assist the wanderers. Forgotten
themselves, the adventurers in their turn soon forget. If fortune
smiles upon them, they are careful not to inform their relatives.
Poor--they have been cast off; wealthy--they themselves deny their
kindred. Having become rich unaided, they find an egotistical
satisfaction in spending their money alone in accordance with
their own fancies. Now when a man of this class dies what
happens? The servants and people around him profit of his
loneliness and isolation, and the justice of the peace is only
summoned to affix the seals, after they have removed all the
portable property. An inventory is taken, and after a few
formalities, as no heirs present themselves, the court declares
the inheritance to be in abeyance, and appoints a trustee.
This trustee's duties are very simple. He manages the property
and remits the income to the Treasury until a legal judgment
declares the estate the property of the country, regardless of any
heirs who may present themselves in future.
"If I only had a twentieth part of the money that is lost in this
way, my fortune would be made," exclaimed a shrewd man, some
thirty years ago.
The person who spoke was Antoine Vaudore. For six months he
secretly nursed the idea, studying it, examining it in all
respects, weighing its advantages and disadvantages, and at last
he decided that it was a good one. That same year, indeed,
assisted by a little capital which he had obtained no one knew
how, he created a new, strange, and untried profession to supply a
new demand.
Thus Vaudore was the first man who made heir-hunting a profession.
As will be generally admitted, it is not a profession that can be
successfully followed by a craven. It requires the exercise of
unusual shrewdness, untiring activity, extraordinary energy and
courage, as well as great tact and varied knowledge. The man who
would follow it successfully must possess the boldness of a
gambler, the sang-froid of a duelist, the keen perceptive powers
and patience of a detective, and the resources and quick wit of
the shrewdest attorney.
It is easier to decry the profession than to exercise it. To
begin with, the heir-hunter must be posted up with information
respecting unclaimed inheritances, and he must have sufficient
acquaintance with the legal world to be able to obtain information
from the clerks of the different courts, notaries, and so on.
When he learns that a man has died without any known heirs, his
first care is to ascertain the amount of unclaimed property, to
see if it will pay him to take up the case. If he finds that the
inheritance is a valuable one, he begins operations without delay.
He must first ascertain the deceased's full name and age. It is
easy to procure this information; but it is more difficult to
discover the name of the place where the deceased was born, his
profession, what countries he lived in, his tastes and mode of
life--in a word, everything that constitutes a complete biography.
However, when he has armed himself with the more indispensable
facts, our agent opens the campaign with extreme prudence, for it
would be ruinous to awake suspicion. It is curious to observe the
incomparable address which the agent displays in his efforts to
learn the particulars of the deceased's life, by consulting his
friends, his enemies, his debtors, and all who ever knew him,
until at last some one is found who says: "Such and such a man--
why, he came from our part of the country. I never knew HIM, but
I am acquainted with one of his brothers--with one of his uncles--
or with one of his nephews."
Very often years of constant research, a large outlay of money,
and costly and skilful advertising in all the European journals,
are necessary before this result is reached. And it is only when
it has been attained that the agent can take time to breathe. But
now the chances are greatly in his favor. The worst is over. The
portion of his task which depended on chance alone is concluded.
The rest is a matter of skill, tact, and shrewdness. The
detective must give place to the crafty lawyer. The agent must
confer with this heir, who has been discovered at the cost of so
much time and trouble and induce him to bestow a portion of this
prospective wealth on the person who is able to establish his
claim. There must be an agreement in writing clearly stating what
proportion--a tenth, a third, or a half--the agent will be
entitled to. The negotiation is a very delicate and difficult
one, requiring prodigious presence of mind, and an amount of
duplicity which would make the most astute diplomatist turn pale
with envy. Occasionally, the heir suspects the truth, sneers at
the proposition, and hurries off to claim the whole of the
inheritance that belongs to him. The agent may then bid his hopes
farewell. He has worked and spent money for nothing.
However, such a misfortune is of rare occurrence. On hearing of
the unexpected good fortune that has befallen him, the heir is
generally unsuspicious, and willingly promises to pay the amount
demanded of him. A contract is drawn up and signed; and then, but
only then, does the agent take his client into his confidence.
"You are the relative of such a person, are you not?" "Yes." "Very
well. He is dead, and you are his heir. Thank Providence, and
make haste to claim your money."
As a rule, the heir loyally fulfils his obligation. But sometimes
it happens that, when he has obtained undisputed possession of the
property, he declares that he has been swindled, and refuses to
fulfil his part of the contract. Then the case must go to the
courts. It is true, however, that the judgment of the tribunals
generally recalls the refractory client to a sense of gratitude
and humility.
Now our friend M. Isidore Fortunat was a hunter of missing heirs.
Undoubtedly he often engaged in other business which was a trifle
less respectable; but heir-hunting was one of the best and most
substantial sources of his income. So we can readily understand
why he so quickly left off lamenting that forty thousand francs
lent to the Marquis de Valorsay.
Changing his tactics, he said to himself that, even if he had lost
this amount through M. de Chalusse's sudden death, it was much
less than he might obtain if he succeeded in discovering the
unknown heirs to so many millions. And he had some reason to hope
that he would be able to do so. Having been employed by M. de
Chalusse when the latter was seeking Mademoiselle Marguerite, M.
Fortunat had gained some valuable information respecting his
client, and the additional particulars which he had obtained from
Madame Vantrasson elated him to such an extent that more than once
he exclaimed: "Ah, well! it is, perhaps, a blessing in disguise,
after all."
Still, M. Isidore Fortunat slept but little after his stormy
interview with the Marquis de Valorsay. A loss of forty thousand
francs is not likely to impart a roseate hue to one's dreams--and
M. Fortunat prized his money as if it had been the very marrow of
his bones. By way of consolation, he assured himself that he
would not merely regain the sum, but triple it; and yet this
encouragement did not entirely restore his peace of mind. The
gain was only a possibility, and the loss was a certainty. So he
twisted, and turned, and tossed on his bed as if it had been a hot
gridiron, exhausting himself in surmises, and preparing his mind
for the difficulties which he would be obliged to overcome.
His plan was a simple one, but its execution was fraught with
difficulties. "I must discover M. de Chalusse's sister, if she is
still living--I must discover her children, if she is dead," he
said to himself. It was easy to SAY this; but how was he to do
it? How could he hope to find this unfortunate girl, who had
abandoned her home thirty years previously, to fly, no one knew
where, or with whom? How was he to gain any idea of the life she
had lived, or the fate that had befallen her? At what point on the
social scale, and in what country, should he begin his
investigations? These daughters of noble houses, who desert the
paternal roof in a moment of madness, generally die most miserably
after a wretched life. The girl of the lower classes is armed
against misfortune, and has been trained for the conflict. She
can measure and calculate the force of her fall, and regulate and
control it to a certain extent. But the others cannot. They have
never known privation and hardship, and are, therefore,
defenceless. And for the very reason that they have been hurled
from a great height, they often fall down into the lowest depths
of infamy.
"If morning would only come," sighed M. Isidore Fortunat, as he
tossed restlessly to and fro. "As soon as morning comes I will
set to work!"
But just before daybreak he fell asleep; and at nine o'clock he
was still slumbering so soundly that Madame Dodelin, his
housekeeper, had considerable difficulty in waking him. "Your
clerks have come," she exclaimed, shaking him vigorously; "and two
clients are waiting for you in the reception-room."
He sprang up, hastily dressed himself, and went into his office.
It cost him no little effort to receive his visitors that morning;
but it would have been folly to neglect all his other business for
the uncertain Chalusse affair. The first client who entered was a
man still young, of common, even vulgar appearance. Not being
acquainted with M. Fortunat, he deemed it proper to introduce
himself without delay. "My name is Leplaintre, and I am a coal
merchant," said he. "I was recommended to call on you by my
friend Bouscat, who was formerly in the wine trade."
M. Fortunat bowed. "Pray be seated," was his reply. "I remember
your friend very well. If I am not mistaken I gave him some
advice with reference to his third failure."
"Precisely; and it is because I find myself in the same fix as
Bouscat that I have called on you. Business is very bad, and I
have notes to a large amount overdue, so that--"
"You will be obliged to go into bankruptcy."
"Alas! I fear so."
M. Fortunat already knew what his client desired, but it was
against his principles to meet these propositions more than half
way. "Will you state your case?" said he.
The coal merchant blushed. It was hard to confess the truth; but
the effort had to be made. "This is my case," he replied, at
last. "Among my creditors I have several enemies, who will refuse
me a release. They would like to deprive me of everything I
possess. And in that case, what would become of me? Is it right
that I should be compelled to starve?"
"It is a bad outlook."
"It is, indeed, monsieur; and for this reason, I desire--if
possible, if I can do so without danger--for I am an honest man,
monsieur--I wish to retain a little property--secretly, of course,
not for myself, by any means, but I have a young wife and----"
M. Fortunat took compassion on the man's embarrassment. "In
short," he interrupted, "you wish to conceal a part of your
capital from your creditors?"
On hearing this precise and formal statement of his honorable
intentions, the coal-merchant trembled. His feelings of integrity
would not have been alarmed by a periphrasis, but this plain
speaking shocked him. "Oh, monsieur!" he protested, "I would
rather blow my brains out than defraud my creditors of a single
penny that was rightfully theirs. What I am doing is for their
interest, you understand. I shall begin business again under my
wife's name; and if I succeed, they shall be paid--yes, monsieur,
every sou, with interest. Ah! if I had only myself to think of,
it would be quite different; but I have two children, two little
girls, so that----"
"Very well," replied M. Fortunat. "I should suggest to you the
same expedient as I suggested to your friend Bouscat. But you
must gather a little ready money together before going into
"I can do that by secretly disposing of a part of my stock, so----"
"In that case, you are saved. Sell it and put the money beyond
your creditors' reach."
The worthy merchant scratched his ear in evident perplexity.
"Excuse me," said he. "I had thought of this plan; but it seemed
to me--dishonorable--and--also very dangerous. How could I
explain this decrease in my stock? My creditors hate me. If they
suspected anything, they would accuse me of fraud, and perhaps
throw me into prison; and then----"
M. Fortunat shrugged his shoulders. "When I give advice," he
roughly replied, "I furnish the means of following it without
danger. Listen to me attentively. Let us suppose, for a moment,
that some time ago you purchased, at a very high figure, a
quantity of stocks and shares, which are to-day almost worthless,
could not this unfortunate investment account for the absence of
the sum which you wish to set aside? Your creditors would be
obliged to value these securities, not at their present, but at
their former value."
"Evidently; but, unfortunately, I do not possess any such
"You can purchase them."
The coal-merchant opened his eyes in astonishment. "Excuse me,"
he muttered, "I don't exactly understand you."
He did not understand in the least; but M. Fortunat enlightened
him by opening his safe, and displaying an enormous bundle of
stocks and shares which had flooded the country a few years
previously, and ruined a great many poor, ignorant fools which
were hungering for wealth; among them were shares in the Tifila
Mining Company, the Berchem Coal Mines, the Greenland Fisheries,
the Mutual Trust and Loan Association, and so on. There had been
a time when each of these securities would have fetched five
hundred or a thousand francs at the Bourse, but now they were not
worth the paper on which they were printed.
"Let us suppose, my dear sir," resumed M. Fortunat, "that you had
a drawer full of these securities----"
But the other did not allow him to finish. "I see," he exclaimed;
"I see--I can sell my stock, and put the proceeds in my pocket
with perfect safety. There is enough to represent my capital a
thousand times over."
And, in a paroxysm of delight, he added:
"Give me enough of these shares to represent a capital of one
hundred and twenty thousand francs; and give me some of each kind.
I should like my creditors to have a variety."
Thereupon M. Fortunat counted out a pile of these worthless
securities as carefully as if he had been handling bank-notes; and
his client at the same time drew out his pocketbook.
"How much do I owe you?" he inquired.
"Three thousand francs."
The honest merchant bounded from his chair. "Three thousand
francs!" he repeated. "You must be jesting. That trash is not
worth a louis."
"I would not even give five francs for it," rejoined M. Fortunat,
coldly; "but it is true that I don't desire to purchase these
shares in my creditors' interest. With you it is quite a
different matter--this trash, as you very justly call it, will
save you at least a hundred thousand francs. I ask only three per
cent., which is certainly not dear. Still, you know, I don't
force any one to purchase them." And, in a terribly significant
tone, he added: "You can undoubtedly buy similar securities on
better terms; but take care you don't arouse your creditors'
suspicions by applying elsewhere."
"He would betray me, the scoundrel!" thought the merchant. And,
realizing that he had fallen into a trap, "Here are three thousand
francs," he sighed; "but at least, my dear sir, give me good
measure, and throw in a few thousand francs more."
The coal-merchant smiled the ghastly smile of a man who sees no
way of escape from imposition, and has, therefore, resolved to
submit with the best grace possible. But M. Fortunat's gravity
did not relax. He gave what he had promised--neither more nor
less--in exchange for the bank-notes, and even gravely exclaimed:
"See if the amount is correct."
His client pocketed the shares without counting them: but before
leaving the room he made his estimable adviser promise to assist
him at the decisive moment, and help him to prepare one of those
clear financial statements which make creditors say: "This is an
honest man who has been extremely unfortunate."
M. Fortunat was admirably fitted to render this little service;
for he devoted such part of his time as was not spent in hunting
for missing heirs to difficult liquidations, and he had indeed
made bankruptcy a specialty in which he was without a rival. The
business was a remunerative one, thanks to the expedient he had
revealed to the coal-merchant--an expedient which is common enough
nowadays, but of which he might almost be called the inventor. It
consisted in compelling the persons who asked for his advice to
purchase worthless shares at whatever price he chose to set upon
them, and they were forced to submit, under penalty of
denunciation and exposure.
The client who followed the coal-merchant proved to be a simple
creature, who had called to ask for some advice respecting a
slight difficulty between himself and his landlord. M. Fortunat
speedily disposed of him, and then, opening the door leading into
the outer office, he called: "Cashier!"
A shabbily-dressed man, some thirty-five years of age, at once
entered the private sanctum, carrying a money-bag in one hand and
a ledger in the other.
"How many debtors were visited yesterday?" inquired M. Fortunat.
"Two hundred and thirty-seven."
"What was the amount collected?"
"Eighty-nine francs."
M. Isidore Fortunat's grimace was expressive of satisfaction.
"Not bad," said he, "not at all bad."
Then a singular performance began. M. Fortunat called over the
names of his debtors, one by one, and the cashier answered each
name by reading a memorandum written against it on the margin of a
list he held. "Such a one," said the agent, "and such a one--and
such----" Whereupon the cashier replied: "Has paid two francs--was
not at home--paid twenty sous--would not pay anything."
How did it happen that M. Fortunat had so many debtors? This
question can be easily answered. In settling bankrupts' estates
it was easy for him to purchase a large number of debts which were
considered worthless, at a trifling cost, and he reaped a
bountiful harvest on a field which would have yielded nothing to
another person. It was not because he was rigorous in his
demands; he conquered by patience, gentleness, and politeness, but
also by unwearying perseverance and tenacity. When he decided
that a debtor was to pay him a certain sum, it was paid. He never
relaxed in his efforts. Every other day some one was sent to
visit the debtor, to follow him, and harass him; he was surrounded
by M. Fortunat's agents; they pursued him to his office, shop, or
cafe--everywhere, continually, incessantly--and always with the
most perfect urbanity. At last even the most determined
succumbed; to escape this frightful persecution, they, somehow or
other, found the money to satisfy M. Fortunat's claim. Besides
Victor Chupin, he had five other agents whose business it was to
visit these poor wretches. A list was assigned to each man every
morning; and when evening came, he made his report to the cashier,
who in turn reported to his employer. This branch of industry
added considerably to the profits of M. Fortunat's other business,
and was the third and last string to his bow.
The report proceeded as usual, but it was quite evident that M.
Fortunat's thoughts were elsewhere. He paused each moment to
listen eagerly for the slightest sound outside, for before
receiving the coal-merchant he had told Victor Chupin to run to
the Rue de Courcelles and ask M. Casimir for news of the Count de
Chalusse. He had done this more than an hour before; and Victor
Chupin, who was usually so prompt, had not yet made his
At last, however, he returned, whereupon M. Fortunat dismissed the
cashier, and addressed his messenger: "Well?" he asked.
"He is no longer living. They think he died without a will, and
that the pretty young lady will be turned out of the house."
This information agreed so perfectly with M. Fortunat's
presentiments that he did not even wince, but calmly asked: "Will
Casimir keep his appointment?"
"He told me that he would endeavor to come, and I'd wager a
hundred to one that he will be there; he would travel ten leagues
to put something good into his stomach."
M. Fortunat's opinion coincided with Chupin's. "Very well," said
he. "Only you were a long time on the road, Victor."
"That's true, m'sieur; but I had a little matter of my own to
attend to--a matter of a hundred francs, if you please."
M. Fortunat knit his brows angrily. "It's only right to attend to
business," said he; "but you think too much of money, Victor--
altogether too much. You are insatiable."
The young man proudly lifted his head, and with an air of
importance, replied: "I have so many responsibilities----"
"Yes, indeed, m'sieur. And why not? My poor, good mother hasn't
been able to work for a year, and who would care for her if I
didn't? Certainly not my father, the good-for-nothing scamp, who
squandered all the Duke de Sairmeuse's money without giving us a
sou of it. Besides, I'm like other men, I'm anxious to be rich,
and enjoy myself. I should like to ride in my carriage like other
people do. And whenever a gamin, such as I was once, opened the
door for ME, I should put a five-franc piece in his hand----"
He was interrupted by Madame Dodelin, the worthy housekeeper, who
rushed into the room without knocking, in a terrible state of
excitement. "Monsieur!" she exclaimed, in the same tone as if she
would have called "Fire!" "here is Monsieur de Valorsay."
M. Fortunat sprang up and turned extremely pale. "What to the
devil brings him here?" he anxiously stammered. "Tell him that
I've gone out--tell him--"
But it was useless, for the marquis at that very moment entered
the room, and the agent could only dismiss his housekeeper and
M. de Valorsay seemed to be very angry, and it looked as if he
meant to give vent to his passion. Indeed, as soon as he was
alone with M. Fortunat, he began: "So this is the way you betray
your friends, Master Twenty-per-Cent! Why did you deceive me last
night about the ten thousand francs you had promised me? Why
didn't you tell me the truth? You knew of the misfortune that had
befallen M. de Chalusse. I heard of it first scarcely an hour ago
through a letter from Madame Leon."
M. Fortunat hesitated somewhat. He was a quiet man, opposed to
violence of any kind; and it seemed to him that M. de Valorsay was
twisting and turning his cane in a most ominous manner. "I must
confess, Monsieur le Marquis," he at last replied, "that I had not
the courage to tell you of the dreadful misfortune which had
befallen us."
"Certainly. If you lose the hope of several millions, I also lose
the amount I advanced to you, forty thousand francs--my entire
fortune. And yet, you see that I don't complain. Do as I do--
confess that the game is lost."
The marquis was listening with an air of suppressed wrath; his
face was crimson, there was a dark frown on his brow, and his
hands were clinched. He was apparently furious with passion, but
in reality he was perfectly self-possessed. The best proof that
can be given of his coolness is that he was carefully studying M.
Fortunat's face, and trying to discover the agent's real
intentions under his meaningless words. He had expected to find
"his dear extortioner" exasperated by his loss, cursing and
swearing, and demanding his money--but not at all. He found him
more gentle and calm, colder and more reserved than ever; brimful
of resignation indeed, and preaching submission to the inevitable.
"What can this mean?" he thought, with an anxious heart. "What
mischief is the scoundrel plotting now? I'd wager a thousand to
one that he's forging some thunderbolt to crush me." And, in a
haughty tone, he said aloud:
"In a word, you desert me."
With a deprecatory gesture, M. Fortunat exclaimed: "I desert you,
Monsieur le Marquis! What have I done that you should think so ill
of me? Alas! circumstances are the only traitors. I shouldn't
like to deprive you of the courage you so much need, but,
honestly, it would be folly to struggle against destiny. How can
you hope to succeed in your plans? Have you not resorted to every
possible expedient to prolong your apparently brilliant existence
until the present time? Are you not at such a point that you must
marry Mademoiselle Marguerite in a month's time, or perish? And
now the count's millions are lost! If I might be allowed to give
you some advice, I should say, 'The shipwreck is inevitable; think
only of saving yourself.' By tact and shrewdness, you might yet
save something from your creditors. Compromise with them. And if
you need my services, here I am. Go to Nice, and give me a power
of attorney to act for you. From the debris of your fortune, I
will undertake to guarantee you a competence which would satisfy
many an ambitious man."
The marquis laughed sneeringly. "Excellent!" he exclaimed. "You
would rid yourself of me and recover your forty thousand francs at
the same time. A very clever arrangement."
M. Fortunat realized that his client understood him; but what did
it matter?" I assure you----" he began.
But the marquis silenced him with a contemptuous gesture. "Let us
stop this nonsense," said he. "We understand each other better
than that. I have never made any attempt to deceive you, nor have
I ever supposed that I had succeeded in doing so, and pray do me
the honor to consider me as shrewd as yourself." And still
refusing to listen to the agent, he continued: "If I have come to
you, it is only because the case is not so desperate as you
suppose. I still hold some valuable cards which you are ignorant
of. In your opinion, and every one else's, Mademoiselle
Marguerite is ruined. But I know that she is still worth three
millions, at the very least."
"Mademoiselle Marguerite?"
"Yes, Monsieur Twenty-per-Cent. Let her become my wife, and the
very next day I will place her in possession of an income of a
hundred and fifty thousand francs. But she must marry me first;
and this scornful maiden will not grant me her hand unless I can
convince her of my love and disinterestedness."
"But your rival?"
M. de Valorsay gave a nervous start, but quickly controlled
himself. "He no longer exists. Read this day's Figaro, and you
will be edified. I have no rival now. If I can only conceal my
financial embarrassment a little longer, she is mine. A
friendless and homeless girl cannot defend herself long in Paris--
especially when she has an adviser like Madame Leon. Oh! I shall
win her! I shall have her!--she is a necessity to me. Now you can
judge if it would be wise on your part to deprive me of your
assistance. Would you like to know what I want? Simply this--the
means to sustain me two or three months longer--some thirty
thousand francs. You can procure the money--will you? It would
make, in all, seventy thousand francs that I should owe you, and I
will promise to pay you two hundred and fifty thousand if I
succeed--and I shall succeed! Such profit is worth some risk.
Reflect, and decide. But no more subterfuges, if you please. Let
your answer be plain yes or no."
Without a second's hesitation, M. Fortunat replied, "No."
The flush on the marquis's face deepened, and his voice became a
trifle harsher; but that was all. "Confess, then, that you have
resolved to ruin me," he said. "You refuse before you have heard
me to the end. Wait, at least, until I have told you my plans,
and shown you the solid foundation which my hopes rest upon."
But M. Fortunat had resolved to listen to nothing. He wished for
no explanations, so distrustful was he of himself--so much did he
fear that his adventurous nature would urge him to incur further
risk. He was positively afraid of the Marquis de Valorsay's
eloquence; besides, he knew well enough that the person who
consents to listen is at least half convinced. "Tell me nothing,
monsieur," he hastily answered; "it would be useless. I haven't
the money. If I had given you ten thousand francs last night, I
should have been compelled to borrow them of M. Prosper Bertomy.
And even if I had the money, I should still say ' Impossible.'
Every man has his system--his theory, you know. Mine is, never to
run after my money. With me, whatever I may lose, I regard it as
finally lost; I think no more about it, and turn to something
else. So your forty thousand francs have already been entered on
my profit and loss account. And yet it would be easy enough for
you to repay me, if you would follow my advice and go quietly into
"Never!" interrupted M. de Valorsay; "never! I do not wish to
temporize," he continued. "I will save all, or save nothing. If
you refuse me your help, I shall apply elsewhere. I will never
give my good friends, who detest me, and whom I cordially hate in
return, the delicious joy of seeing the Marquis de Valorsay fall
step by step from the high position he has occupied. I will never
truckle to the men whom I have eclipsed for fifteen years. No,
never! I would rather die, or even commit the greatest crime!"
He suddenly checked himself, a trifle astonished, perhaps, by his
own plain-speaking; and, for a moment, he and M. Fortunat looked
into each other's eyes, striving to divine their respective secret
The marquis was the first to speak. "And so," said he, in a tone
which he strove to make persuasive, but which was threatening
instead, "it is settled--your decision is final?"
"You will not even condescend to listen to my explanation?"
"It would be a loss of time."
On receiving this cruel reply, M. de Valorsay struck the desk such
a formidable blow with his clenched fist that several bundles of
papers fell to the floor. His anger was not feigned now. "What
are you plotting, then?" he exclaimed; "and what do you intend to
do? What is your object in betraying me? Take care! It is my life
that I am going to defend, and as truly as there is a God in
heaven, I shall defend it well. A man who is determined to blow
his brains out if he is defeated, is a terribly dangerous
adversary. Woe to you, if I ever find you standing between me and
the Count de Chalusse's millions!"
Every drop of blood had fled from M. Fortunat's face, still his
mien was composed and dignified. "You do wrong to threaten me,"
said he. "I don't fear you in the least. If I were your enemy, I
should bring suit against you for the forty thousand francs you
owe me. I should not obtain my money, of course, but I could
shatter the tottering edifice of your fortune by a single blow.
Besides, you forget that I possess a copy of our agreement, signed
by your own hand, and that I have only to show it to Mademoiselle
Marguerite to give her a just opinion of your disinterestedness.
Let us sever our connection now, monsieur, and each go his own way
without reference to the other. If you should succeed you will
repay me."
Victory perched upon the agent's banner, and it was with a feeling
of pride that he saw his noble client depart, white and speechless
with rage. "What a rascal that marquis is," he muttered. "I
would certainly warn Mademoiselle Marguerite, poor girl, if I were
not so much afraid of him."
M. Casimir, the deceased Count de Chalusse's valet, was neither
better nor worse than most of his fellows. Old men tell us that
there formerly existed a race of faithful servants, who considered
themselves a part of the family that employed them, and who
unhesitatingly embraced its interests and its ideas. At the same
time their masters requited their devotion by efficacious
protection and provision for the future. But such masters and
such servants are nowadays only found in the old melodramas
performed at the Ambigu, in "The Emigre," for instance, or in "The
Last of the Chateauvieux." At present servants wander from one
house to another, looking on their abode as a mere inn where they
may find shelter till they are disposed for another journey. And
families receive them as transient, and not unfrequently as
dangerous, guests, whom it is always wise to treat with distrust.
The key of the wine-cellar is not confided to these unreliable
inmates; they are intrusted with the charge of little else than
the children--a practice which is often productive of terrible
M. Casimir was no doubt honest, in the strict sense of the word.
He would have scorned to rob his master of a ten-sous piece; and
yet he would not have hesitated in the least to defraud him of a
hundred francs, if an opportunity had presented itself. Vain and
rapacious in disposition, he consoled himself by refusing to obey
any one save his employer, by envying him with his whole heart,
and by cursing fate for not having made him the Count de Chalusse
instead of the Count de Chalusse's servant. As he received high
wages, he served passably well; but he employed the best part of
his energy in watching the count. He scented some great family
secret in the household, and he felt angry and humiliated that
this secret had not been intrusted to his discretion. And if he
had discovered nothing, it was because M. de Chalusse had been
caution personified, as Madame Leon had declared.
Thus it happened that when M. Casimir saw Mademoiselle Marguerite
and the count searching in the garden for the fragments of a
letter destroyed in a paroxysm of rage which he had personally
witnessed, his natural curiosity was heightened to such a degree
as to become unendurable. He would have given a month's wages,
and something over, to have known the contents of that letter, the
fragments of which were being so carefully collected by the count.
And when he heard M. de Chalusse tell Mademoiselle Marguerite that
the most important part of the letter was still lacking, and saw
his master relinquish his fruitless search, the worthy valet vowed
that he would be more skilful or more fortunate than his master;
and after diligent effort, he actually succeeded in recovering
five tiny scraps of paper, which had been blown into the
They were covered with delicate handwriting, a lady's
unquestionably; but he was utterly unable to extract the slightest
meaning from them. Nevertheless, he preserved them with jealous
care, and was careful not to say that he had found them. The
incoherent words which he had deciphered on these scraps of paper
mixed strangely in his brain, and he grew more and more anxious to
learn what connection there was between this letter and the
count's attack. This explains his extreme readiness to search the
count's clothes when Mademoiselle Marguerite told him to look for
the key of the escritoire. And fortune favored him, for he not
only found the key, but he also discovered the torn fragments of
the letter, and having crumpled them up in the palm of his hand,
he contrived to slip them into his pocket. Fruitless dexterity!
M. Casimir had joined these scraps to the fragments he had found
himself, he had read and re-read the epistle, but it told him
nothing; or, at least, the information it conveyed was so vague
and incomplete that it heightened his curiosity all the more.
Once he almost decided to give the letter to Mademoiselle
Marguerite, but he resisted this impulse, saying to himself: "Ah,
no; I'm not such a fool! It might be of use to her."
And M. Casimir had no desire to be of service to this unhappy
girl, who had always treated him with kindness. He hated her,
under the pretence that she was not in her proper place, that no
one knew who or what she was, and that it was absurd that he--he,
Casimir--should be compelled to receive orders from her. The
infamous slander which Mademoiselle Marguerite had overheard on
her way home from church, "There goes the rich Count de Chalusse's
mistress," was M. Casimir's work. He had sworn to be avenged on
this haughty creature; and no one can say what he might have
attempted, if it had not been for the intervention of the
magistrate. Imperatively called to order, M. Casimir consoled
himself by the thought that the magistrate had intrusted him with
eight thousand francs and the charge of the establishment.
Nothing could have pleased him better. First and foremost, it
afforded him a magnificent opportunity to display his authority
and act the master, and it also enabled him to carry out his
compact with Victor Chupin, and repair to the rendezvous which M.
Isidore Fortunat had appointed.
Leaving his comrades to watch the magistrate's operations, he sent
M. Bourigeau to report the count's death at the district mayor's
office, and then lighting a cigar he walked out of the house, and
strolled leisurely up the Rue de Courcelles. The place appointed
for his meeting with M. Fortunat was on the Boulevard Haussmann,
almost opposite Binder's, the famous carriage builder. Although
it was rather a wine-shop than a restaurant, a capital breakfast
could be obtained there as M. Casimir had ascertained to his
satisfaction several times before. "Has no one called for me?" he
asked, as he went in.
"No one."
He consulted his watch, and evinced considerable surprise. "Not
yet noon!" he exclaimed. "I'm in advance; and as that is the
case, give me a glass of absinthe and a newspaper."
He was obeyed with far more alacrity than his deceased master had
ever required him to show, and he forthwith plunged into the
report of the doings at the Bourse, with the eagerness of a man
who has an all-sufficient reason for his anxiety in a drawer at
home. Having emptied one glass of absinthe, he was about to order
a second, when he felt a tap on the shoulder, and on turning round
he beheld M. Isidore Fortunat.
In accordance with his wont, the agent was attired in a style of
severe elegance--with gloves and boots fitting him to perfection--
but an unusually winning smile played upon his lips. "You see I
have been waiting for you," exclaimed M. Casimir.
"I am late, it's true," replied M. Fortunat, "but we will do our
best to make up for lost time; for, I trust, you will do me the
honor of breakfasting with me?"
"Really, I don't know that I ought."
"Yes, yes, you must. They will give us a private room; we must
have a talk."
It was certainly not for the pleasure of the thing that M.
Fortunat cultivated M. Casimir's acquaintance, and entertained him
at breakfast. M. Fortunat, who was a very proud man, considered
this connection somewhat beneath his dignity; but at first,
circumstances, and afterward interest, had required him to
overcome his repugnance. It was through the Count de Chalusse
that he had made M. Casimir's acquaintance. While the count was
employing the agent he had frequently sent his valet to him with
messages and letters. Naturally, M. Casimir had talked on these
occasions, and the agent had listened to him; hence this
superficial friendship. Subsequently when the marriage
contemplated by the Marquis de Valorsay was in course of
preparation, M. Fortunat had profited of the opportunity to make
the count's servant his spy; and it had been easy to find a
pretext for continuing the acquaintance, as M. Casimir was a
speculator, or rather a dabbler in stocks and shares. So,
whenever he needed information, M. Fortunat invited M. Casimir to
breakfast, knowing the potent influence of a good bottle of wine
offered at the right moment. It is needless to say that he
exercised uncommon care in the composition of the menu on a day
like this when his future course depended, perhaps, on a word more
or less.
M. Casimir's eye sparkled as he took his seat at the table
opposite his entertainer. The crafty agent had chosen a little
room looking out on to the boulevard. Not that it was more
spacious or elegant than the others, but it was isolated, and this
was a very great advantage; for every one knows how unsafe and
perfidious are those so-called private rooms which are merely
separated from each other by a thin partition, scarcely thicker
than a sheet of paper. It was not long before M. Fortunat had
reason to congratulate himself on his foresight, for the breakfast
began with a dish of shrimps, and M. Casimir had not finished his
twelfth, washed down by a glass of chablis, before he declared
that he could see no impropriety in confiding certain things to a
The events of the morning had completely turned his head; and
gratified vanity and good cheer excited him to such a degree that
he discoursed with unwonted volubility. With total disregard of
prudence, he talked with inexcusable freedom of the Count de
Chalusse, and M. de Valorsay, and especially of his enemy,
Mademoiselle Marguerite. "For it is she," he exclaimed, rapping
on the table with his knife--"it is she who has taken the missing
millions! How she did it, no one will ever know, for she has not
an equal in craftiness; but it's she who has stolen them, I'm sure
of it! I would have taken my oath to that effect before the
magistrate, and I would have proved it, too, if he hadn't taken
her part because she's pretty--for she is devilishly pretty."
Even if M. Fortunat had wished to put in a word or two, he could
have found no opportunity. But his guest's loquacity did not
displease him; it gave him an opportunity for reflection. Strange
thoughts arose in his mind, and connecting M. Casimir's
affirmations with the assurances of the Marquis de Valorsay, he
was amazed at the coincidence. "It's very singular!" he thought.
"Has this girl really stolen the money? and has the marquis
discovered the fact through Madame Leon, and determined to profit
by the theft? In that case, I may get my money back, after all! I
must look into the matter."
A partridge and a bottle of Pomard followed the shrimps and
chablis; and M. Casimir's loquacity increased, and his voice rose
higher and higher. He wandered from one absurd story to another,
and from slander to slander, until suddenly, and without the
slightest warning, he began to speak of the mysterious letter
which he considered the undoubted cause of the count's illness.
At the first word respecting this missive, M. Fortunat started
violently. "Nonsense!" said he, with an incredulous air. "Why
the devil should this letter have had such an influence?"
"I don't know. But it is certain--it had." And, in support of
his assertion, he told M. Fortunat how the count had destroyed the
letter almost without reading it, and how he had afterward
searched for the fragments, in order to find an address it had
contained. "And I'm quite sure," said the valet, "that the count
intended to apply to you for the address of the person who wrote
the letter."
"Are you sure of that?"
"As sure as I am of drinking Pomard!" exclaimed M. Casimir,
draining his glass.
Rarely had the agent experienced such emotion. He did not doubt
but what this missive contained the solution of the mystery.
"Were the scraps of this letter found?" he asked.
"I have them," cried the valet, triumphantly. "I have them in my
pocket, and, what's more, I have the whole of them!"
This declaration made M. Fortunat turn pale with delight.
"Indeed--indeed!" said he; "it must be a strange production."
His companion pursed up his lips disdainfully. "May be so, may be
not," he retorted. "It's impossible to understand a word of it.
The only thing certain about it is that it was written by a
"Yes, by a former mistress, undoubtedly. And, naturally, she asks
for money for a child. Women of that class always do so. They've
tried the game with me more than a dozen times, but I'm not so
easily caught." And bursting with vanity, he related three or four
love affairs in which, according to his own account, he must have
played a most ignoble part.
If M. Fortunat's chair had been a gridiron, heated by an excellent
fire, he could not have felt more uncomfortable. After pouring
out bumper after bumper for his guest, he perceived that he had
gone too far, and that it would not be easy to check him. "And
this letter?" he interrupted, at last.
"You promised to let me read it."
"That's true--that's quite true; but it would be as well to have
some mocha first, would it not? What if we ordered some mocha,
Coffee was served, and when the waiter had closed the door, M.
Casimir drew the letter, the scraps of which were fixed together,
from his pocket, and unfolded it, saying: "Attention; I'm going to
This did not suit M. Fortunat's fancy. He would infinitely have
preferred perusing it himself; but it is impossible to argue with
an intoxicated man, and so M. Casimir with a more and more
indistinct enunciation read as follows: "'Paris, October 14, 186--
.' So the lady lives in Paris, as usual. After this she puts
neither 'monsieur,' nor 'my friend,' nor 'dear count,' nothing at
all. She begins abruptly: 'Once before, many years ago, I came to
you as a suppliant. You were pitiless, and did not even deign to
answer me. And yet, as I told you, I was on the verge of a
terrible precipice; my brain was reeling, vertigo had seized hold
of me. Deserted, I was wandering about Paris, homeless and
penniless, and my child was starving!'"
M. Casimir paused to laugh. "That's like all the rest of them,"
he exclaimed; "that is exactly like all the rest! I've ten such
letters in my drawer, even more imperative in their demands. If
you'll come home with me after breakfast, I'll show them to you.
We'll have a hearty laugh over them!"
"Let us finish this first."
"Of course." And he resumed: "'If I had been alone. I should not
have hesitated. I was so wretched that death seemed a refuge to
me. But what was to become of my child? Should I kill him, and
destroy myself afterward? I thought of doing so, but I lacked the
courage. And what I implored you in pity to give me, was
rightfully mine. I had only to present myself at your house and
demand it. Alas! I did not know that then. I believed myself
bound by a solemn oath, and you inspired me with inexpressible
terror. And still I could not see my child die of starvation
before my very eyes. So I abandoned myself to my fate, and I have
sunk so low that I have been obliged to separate from my son. He
must not know the shame to which he owes his livelihood. And he
is ignorant even of my existence.'"
M. Fortunat was as motionless as if he had been turned to stone.
After the information he had obtained respecting the count's past,
and after the story told him by Madame Vantrasson, he could
scarcely doubt. "This letter," he thought, "can only be from
Mademoiselle Hermine de Chalusse."
However, M. Casimir resumed his reading: "'If I apply to you
again, if from the depth of infamy into which I have fallen, I
again call upon you for help, it is because I am at the end of my
resources--because, before I die, I must see my son's future
assured. It is not a fortune that I ask for him, but sufficient
to live upon, and I expect to receive it from you.'"
Once more the valet paused in his perusal of the letter to remark:
"There it is again sufficient to live upon, and I expect to
receive it from you!--Excellent! Women are remarkable creatures,
upon my word! But listen to the rest! 'It is absolutely
necessary that I should see you as soon as possible. Oblige me,
therefore, by calling to-morrow, October 15th, at the Hotel de
Homburg, in the Rue du Helder. You will ask for Madame Lucy
Huntley, and they will conduct you to me. I shall expect you from
three o'clock to six. Come. I implore you, come. It is painful
to me to add that if I do not hear from you, I am resolved to
demand and OBTAIN--no matter what may be the consequences--the
means which I have, so far, asked of you on my bended knees and
with clasped hands.'"
Having finished the letter, M. Casimir laid it on the table, and
poured out a glassful of brandy, which he drained at a single
draught. "And that's all," he remarked. "No signature--not even
an initial. It was a so-called respectable woman who wrote that.
They never sign their notes, the hussies! for fear of compromising
themselves, as I've reason to know." And so saying, he laughed the
idiotic laugh of a man who has been drinking immoderately. "If I
had time," he resumed, "I should make some inquiries about this
Madame Lucy Huntley--a feigned name, evidently. I should like to
know---- But what's the matter with you, Monsieur Fortunat? You
are as pale as death. Are you ill?"
To tell the truth, the agent did look as if he were indisposed.
"Thanks," he stammered. "I'm very well, only I just remembered
that some one is waiting for me."
"A client."
"Nonsense!" rejoined the valet; "make some excuse; let him go
about his business. Aren't you rich enough? Pour us out another
glass of wine; it will make you all right again."
M. Fortunat complied, but he performed the task so awkwardly, or,
rather, so skilfully, that he drew toward him, with his sleeve,
the letter which was lying beside M. Casimir's plate. "To your
health," said the valet. "To yours," replied M. Fortunat. And in
drawing back the arm he had extended to chink glasses with his
guest, he caused the letter to fall on his knees.
M. Casimir, who had not observed this successful manoeuvre, was
trying to light his cigar; and while vainly consuming a large
quantity of matches in the attempt, he exclaimed: "What you just
said, my friend, means that you would like to desert me. That
won't do, my dear fellow! You are going home with me; and I will
read you some love-letters from a woman of the world. Then we
will go to Mourloup's, and play a game of billiards. That's the
place to enjoy one's self. You'll see Joseph, of the Commarin
household, a splendid comedian."
"Very well; but first I must settle the score here."
"Yes, pay."
M. Fortunat rang for his bill. He had obtained more information
than he expected; he had the letter in his pocket, and he had now
only one desire, to rid himself of M. Casimir. But this was no
easy task. Drunken men cling tenaciously to their friends; and M.
Fortunat was asking himself what strategy he could employ, when
the waiter entered, and said: "There's a very light-complexioned
man here, who looks as if he were a huissier's clerk. He wishes
to speak with you, gentlemen."
"Ah! it's Chupin!" exclaimed the valet. "He is a friend. Let him
come in, and bring us another glass. 'The more the merrier,' as
the saying goes."
What could Chupin want? M. Fortunat had no idea, but he was none
the less grateful for his coming, being determined to hand this
troublesome Casimir over to his keeping. On entering the room
Chupin realized the valet's condition at the first glance, and his
face clouded. He bowed politely to M. Fortunat, but addressed
Casimir in an extremely discontented tone. "It's three o'clock,"
said he, "and I've come, as we agreed, to arrange with you about
the count's funeral."
These words had the effect of a cold shower-bath on M. Casimir.
"Upon my word, I had forgotten--forgotten entirely, upon my word!'
And the thought of his condition, and the responsibility he had
accepted, coming upon him at the same time, he continued: "Good
Heavens! I'm in a nice state! It is all I can do to stand. What
will they think at the house? What will they say?"
M. Fortunat had drawn his clerk a little on one side. "Victor,"
said he, quickly and earnestly, "I must go at once. Everything
has been paid for; but in case you need some money for a cab or
anything of the sort, here are ten francs. If there's any you
don't use, keep it for yourself. I leave this fool in your
charge, take care of him."
The sight of the ten-franc piece made Chupin's face brighten a
little. "Very well," he replied. "I understand the business. I
served my apprenticeship as a 'guardian angel' when my grandmother
kept the Poivriere."*
* See "Lecoq the Detective" by Emile Gaboriau
"Above all, don't let him return home in his present state."
"Have no fears, monsieur, I must talk business with him, and so I
shall have him all right in a jiffy." And as M. Fortunat made his
escape, Chupin beckoned to the waiter, and said:
"Fetch me some very strong coffee, a handful of salt, and a lemon.
There's nothing better for bringing a drunken man to his senses."
M. Fortunat left the restaurant, almost on the run, for he feared
that he might be pursued and overtaken by M. Casimir. But after
he had gone a couple of hundred paces, he paused, not so much to
take breath, as to collect his scattered wits; and though the
weather was cold, he seated himself on a bench to reflect.
Never in all his changeful life had he known such intense anxiety
and torturing suspense as he had just experienced in that little
room in the restaurant. He had longed for positive information
and he had obtained it; but it had upset all his plans and
annihilated all his hopes. Imagining that the count's heirs had
been lost sight of, he had determined to find them and make a
bargain with them, before they learned that they were worth their
millions. But on the contrary, these heirs were close at hand,
watching M. de Chalusse, and knowing their rights so well that
they were ready to fight for them. "For it was certainly the
count's sister who wrote the letter which I have in my pocket," he
murmured. "Not wishing to receive him at her own home, she
prudently appointed a meeting at a hotel. But what about this
name of Huntley? Is it really hers, or is it only assumed for the
occasion? Is it the name of the man who enticed her from home, or
is it the name given to the son from whom she has separated
But after all what was the use of all these conjectures? There was
but one certain and positive thing, and this was that the money he
had counted upon had escaped him; and he experienced as acute a
pang as if he had lost forty thousand francs a second time.
Perhaps, at that moment, he was sorry that he had severed his
connection with the marquis. Still, he was not the man to
despond, however desperate his plight might appear, without an
attempt to better his situation. He knew how many surprising and
sudden changes in fortune have been brought about by some
apparently trivial action. "I must discover this sister," he said
to himself--" I must ascertain her position and her plans. If she
has no one to advise her, I will offer my services; and who knows----"
A cab was passing; M. Fortunat hailed it, and ordered the Jehu to
drive him to the Rue du Helder, No. 43, Hotel de Homburg.
Was it by chance or premeditation that this establishment had
received the name of one of the gambling dens of Europe? Perhaps
the following information may serve to answer the question. The
Hotel de Homburg was one of those flash hostelries frequented by
adventurers of distinction, who are attracted to Paris by the
millions that are annually squandered there. Spurious counts and
questionable Russian princesses were sure to find a cordial
welcome there with princely luxury, moderate prices, and--but very
little confidence. Each person was called by the title which it
pleased him to give on his arrival--Excellency or Prince,
according to his fancy. He could also find numerous servants
carefully drilled to play the part of old family retainers, and
carriages upon which the most elaborate coat-of-arms could be
painted at an hour's notice. Nor was there any difficulty
whatever in immediately procuring all the accessories of a life of
grandeur--all that is needful to dazzle the unsuspecting, to throw
dust in people's eyes, and to dupe one's chance acquaintances.
All these things were provided without delay, by the month, by the
day or by the hour, just as the applicant pleased. But there was
no such thing as credit there. Bills were presented every
evening, to those lodgers who did not pay in advance: and he who
could not, or would not, settle the score, even if he were
Excellency or Prince, was requested to depart at once, and his
trunks were held as security.
When M. Fortunat entered the office of the hotel, a woman, with a
crafty looking face, was holding a conference with an elderly
gentleman, who had a black velvet skullcap on his head, and a
magnifying glass in his hand. They applied their eyes to the
glass in turn, and were engaged in examining some very handsome
diamonds, which had no doubt been offered in lieu of money by some
noble but impecunious foreigner. On hearing M. Fortunat enter,
the woman looked up.
"What do you desire, monsieur?" she inquired, politely.
"I wish to see Madame Lucy Huntley."
The woman did not reply at first, but raised her eyes to the
ceiling, as if she were reading there the list of all the
foreigners of distinction who honored the Hotel de Homburg by
their presence at that moment. "Lucy Huntley!" she repeated. "I
don't recollect that name! I don't think there's such a person in
the house--Lucy Huntley! What kind of a person is she?"
For many reasons M. Fortunat could not answer. First of all, he
did not know. But he was not in the least disconcerted, and he
avoided the question without the slightest embarrassment, at the
same time trying to quicken the woman's faulty memory. "The
person I wished to see was here on Friday, between three and six
in the afternoon; and she was waiting for a visitor with an
anxiety which could not possibly have escaped your notice."
This detail quickened the memory of the man with the magnifying
glass--none other than the woman's husband and landlord of the
hotel. "Ah! the gentleman is speaking of the lady of No. 2--you
remember--the same who insisted upon having the large private
"To be sure," replied the wife; "where could my wits have been!"
And turning to M. Fortunat: "Excuse my forgetfulness," she added.
"The lady is no longer in the house; she only remained here for a
few hours."
This reply did not surprise M. Fortunat--he had expected it; and
yet he assumed an air of the utmost consternation. "Only a few
hours!" he repeated, like a despairing echo.
"Yes, monsieur. She arrived here about eleven o'clock in the
morning, with only a large valise by way of luggage, and she left
that same evening at eight o'clock."
"Alas! and where was she going?"
"She didn't tell me."
You might have sworn that M. Fortunat was about to burst into
tears. "Poor Lucy!" said he, in a tragical tone; "it was for me,
madame, that she was waiting. But it was only this morning that I
received her letter appointing a meeting here. She must have been
in despair. The post can't be depended on!"
The husband and wife simultaneously shrugged their shoulders, and
the expression of their faces unmistakably implied: "What can we
do about it? It is no business of ours. Don't trouble us."
But M. Fortunat was not the man to be dismayed by such a trifle.
"She was taken to the railway station, no doubt," he insisted.
"Really, I know nothing about it."
"You told me just now that she had a large valise, so she could
not have left your hotel on foot. She must have asked for a
vehicle. Who was sent to fetch it? One of your boys? If I could
find the driver I should, perhaps, be able to obtain some valuable
information from him."
The husband and wife exchanged a whole volume of suspicions in a
single glance. M. Isidore Fortunat's appearance was incontestably
respectable, but they were well aware that those strange men
styled detectives are perfectly conversant with the art of
dressing to perfection. So the hotelkeeper quickly decided on his
course. "Your idea is an excellent one," he said to M. Fortunat.
"This lady must certainly have taken a vehicle on leaving; and
what is more, it must have been a vehicle belonging to the hotel.
If you will follow me, we will make some inquiries on the
And rising with a willingness that augured well for their success,
he led the agent into the courtyard, where five or six vehicles
were stationed, while the drivers lounged on a bench, chatting and
smoking their pipes "Which of you was employed by a lady yesterday
evening at about eight o'clock?"
"What sort of a person was she?"
"She was a handsome woman, between thirty and forty years' old,
very fair, rather stout, and dressed in black. She had a large
Russia-leather travelling-bag."
"I took her," answered one of the drivers promptly. M. Fortunat
advanced toward the man with open arms, and with such eagerness
that it might have been supposed he meant to embrace him. "Ah, my
worthy fellow!" he exclaimed, "you can save my life!"
The driver looked exceedingly pleased. He was thinking that this
gentleman would certainly requite his salvation by a magnificent
gratuity. "What do you want of me?" he asked.
"Tell me where you drove this lady?"
"I took her to the Rue de Berry."
"To what number?"
"Ah, I can't tell. I've forgotten it."
But M. Fortunat no longer felt any anxiety. "Very good," said he.
"You've forgotten it--that's not at all strange. But you would
know the house again, wouldn't you?"
"Undoubtedly I should."
"Will you take me there?"
"Certainly, sir. This is my vehicle."
The hunter of missing heirs at once climbed inside; but it was not
until the carriage had left the courtyard that the landlord
returned to his office. "That man must be a detective," he
remarked to his wife.
"So I fancy."
"It's strange we're not acquainted with him. He must be a new
member of the force."
But M. Fortunat was quite indifferent as to what impression he had
left behind him at the Hotel de Homburg, for he never expected to
set foot there again. The one essential thing was that he had
obtained the information he wished for, and even a description of
the lady, and he felt that he was now really on the track. The
vehicle soon reached the Rue de Berry, and drew up in front of a
charming little private house. "Here we are, monsieur," said the
driver, bowing at the door.
M. Fortunat sprang nimbly on to the pavement, and handed five
francs to the coachman, who went off growling and swearing, for he
thought the reward a contemptibly small one, coming as it did from
a man whose life had been saved, according to his own confession.
However, the person the Jehu anathematized certainly did not hear
him. Standing motionless where he had alighted, M. Fortunat
scrutinized the house in front of him with close attention. "So
she lives here," he muttered. "This is the place; but I can't
present myself without knowing her name. I must make some
There was a wine-shop some fifty paces distant, and thither M.
Fortunat hastened, and ordered a glass of currant syrup. As he
slowly sipped the beverage, he pointed to the house in question,
with an air of well-assumed indifference, and asked: "Whom does
that pretty dwelling belong to?"
"To Madame Lia d'Argeles," answered the landlady.
M. Fortunat started. He well remembered that this was the name
the Marquis de Valorsay had mentioned when speaking of the vile
conspiracy he had planned. It was at this woman's house that the
man whom Mademoiselle Marguerite loved had been disgraced! Still
he managed to master his surprise, and in a light, frank tone he
resumed: "What a pretty name! And what does this lady do?"
"What does she do? Why, she amuses herself."
M. Fortunat seemed astonished. "Dash it!" said he. "She must
amuse herself to good purpose to have a house like that. Is she
"That depends on taste. She's no longer young, at any rate; but
she has superb golden hair. And, oh! how white she is--as white
as snow, monsieur--as white as snow! She has a fine figure as
well, and a most distinguished bearing--pays cash, too, to the
very last farthing."
There could no longer be any doubt. The portrait sketched by the
wine-vendor fully corresponded with the description given by the
hotelkeeper in the Rue de Helder. Accordingly, M. Fortunat
drained his glass, and threw fifty centimes on the counter. Then,
crossing the street, he boldly rang at the door of Madame
d'Argeles's house. If any one had asked him what he proposed
doing and saying if he succeeded in effecting an entrance, he
might have replied with perfect sincerity, "I don't know." The
fact is, he had but one aim, one settled purpose in his mind. He
was obstinately, FURIOUSLY resolved to derive some benefit, small
or great, from this mysterious affair. As for the means of
execution, he relied entirely on his audacity and sang-froid,
convinced that they would not fail him when the decisive moment
came. "First of all, I must see this lady," he said to himself.
"The first words will depend solely upon my first impressions.
After that, I shall be guided by circumstances."
An old serving-man, in a quiet, tasteful livery, opened the door,
whereupon M. Fortunat, in a tone of authority, asked: "Madame Lia
"Madame does not receive on Friday," was the reply.
With a petulant gesture, M. Fortunat rejoined: "All the same I
must speak with her to-day. It is on a matter of the greatest
importance. Give her my card." So saying, he held out a bit of
pasteboard, on which, below his name, were inscribed the words:
"Liquidations. Settlements effected for insolvent parties."
"Ah! that's a different thing," said the servant. "Will monsieur
take the trouble to follow me?"
M. Fortunat did take the trouble; and he was conducted into a
large drawing-room where he was requested to sit down and await
madame's coming. Left to himself, he began an inventory of the
apartment, as a general studies the ground on which he is about to
give battle. No trace remained of the unfortunate scene of the
previous night, save a broken candelabrum on the chimney-piece.
It was the one which Pascal Ferailleur had armed himself with,
when they talked of searching him, and which he had thrown down in
the courtyard, as he left the house. But this detail did not
attract M. Fortunat's attention. The only thing that puzzled him
was the large reflector placed above the chandelier, and it took
him some time to fathom with what object it was placed there.
Without precisely intimidating him, the luxurious appointments of
the house aroused his astonishment. "Everything here is in
princely style," he muttered, "and this shows that all the
lunatics are not at Charenton yet. If Madame d'Argeles lacked
bread in days gone by, she does so no longer--that's evident."
Naturally enough this reflection led him to wonder why such a rich
woman should become the Marquis de Valorsay's accomplice, and lend
a hand in so vile and cowardly a plot, which horrified even him--
Fortunat. "For she must be an accomplice," he thought.
And he marvelled at the freak of fate which had connected the
unfortunate man who had been sacrificed with the unacknowledged
daughter, and the cast-off sister, of the Count de Chalusse. A
vague presentiment, the mysterious voice of instinct, warned him,
moreover, that his profit in the affair would depend upon the
antagonism, or alliance, of Mademoiselle Marguerite and Madame
d'Argeles. But his meditations were suddenly interrupted by the
sound of a discussion in an adjoining room. He stepped eagerly
forward, hoping to hear something, and he did hear a man saying in
a coarse voice: "What! I leave an interesting game, and lose
precious time in coming to offer you my services, and you receive
me like this! Zounds! madame, this will teach me not to meddle
with what doesn't concern me, in future. So, good-bye, my dear
lady. You'll learn some day, to your cost, the real nature of
this villain of a Coralth whom you now defend so warmly."
This name of Coralth was also one of those which were engraven
upon M. Fortunat's memory; and yet he did not notice it at the
moment. His attention was so absorbed by what he had just heard
that he could not fix his mind upon the object of his mission; and
he only abandoned his conjectures on hearing a rustling of skirts
against the panels of the door leading into the hall.
The next moment Madame Lia d'Argeles entered the room. She was
arrayed in a very elegant dressing-gown of gray cashmere, with
blue satin trimmings, her hair was beautifully arranged, and she
had neglected none of the usual artifices of the toilette-table;
still any one would have considered her to be over forty years of
age. Her sad face wore an expression of melancholy resignation;
and there were signs of recent tears in her swollen eyes,
surrounded by bluish circles. She glanced at her visitor, and, in
anything but an encouraging tone exclaimed: "You desired to speak
with me, I believe?"
M. Fortunat bowed, almost disconcerted. He had expected to meet
one of those stupid, ignorant young women, who make themselves
conspicuous at the afternoon promenade in the Bois de Boulogne;
and he found himself in the presence of an evidently cultivated
and imperious woman, who, even in her degradation, retained all
her pride of race, and awed him, despite all his coolness and
assurance. "I do, indeed, madame, wish to confer with you
respecting some important interests," he answered.
She sank on to a chair; and, without asking her visitor to take a
seat: "Explain yourself," she said, briefly.
M. Fortunat's knowledge of the importance of the game in which he
had already risked so much had already restored his presence of
mind. He had only needed a glance to form a true estimate of
Madame d'Argeles's character; and he realized that it would
require a sudden, powerful, and well-directed blow to shatter her
composure. "I have the unpleasant duty of informing you of a
great misfortune, madame," he began. "A person who is very dear
to you, and who is nearly related to you, was a victim of a
frightful accident yesterday evening and died this morning."
This gloomy preamble did not seem to produce the slightest effect
on Madame d'Argeles. "Whom are you speaking of?" she coldly
M. Fortunat assumed his most solemn manner as he replied: "Of your
brother, madame--of the Count de Chalusse."
She sprang up, and a convulsive shudder shook her from head to
foot. "Raymond is dead!" she faltered.
"Alas! yes, madame. Struck with death at the very moment he was
repairing to the appointment you had given him at the Hotel de
This clever falsehood, which was not entirely one, would, so the
agent thought, be of advantage to him, since it would prove he was
acquainted with previous events. But Madame d'Argeles did not
seem to notice, or even to hear the remark. She had fallen back
in her arm-chair, paler than death. "How did he die?" she asked.
"From an attack of apoplexy."
"My God!" exclaimed the wretched woman, who now suspected the
truth; "my God, forgive me. It was my letter that killed him!"
and she wept as if her heart were breaking--this woman who had
suffered and wept so much.
It is needless to say that M. Fortunat was moved with sympathy; he
always evinced a respectful sympathy for the woes of others; but
in the present instance, his emotion was greatly mitigated by the
satisfaction he felt at having succeeded so quickly and so
completely. Madame d'Argeles had confessed everything! This was
indeed a victory, for it must be admitted that he had trembled
lest she should deny all, and bid him leave the house. He still
saw many difficulties between his pocket and the Count de
Chalusse's money; but he did not despair of conquering them after
such a successful beginning. And he was muttering some words of
consolation, when Madame d'Argeles suddenly looked up and said: "I
must see him--I will see him once more! Come, monsieur!" But a
terrible memory rooted her to the spot and with a despairing
gesture, and in a voice quivering with anguish she exclaimed:
"No, no--I cannot even do that."
M. Fortunat was not a little disturbed; and it was with a look of
something very like consternation that he glanced at Madame
d'Argeles, who had reseated herself and was now sobbing violently,
with her face hidden on the arm of her chair. "What prevents
her?" he thought. "Why this sudden terror now that her brother is
dead? Is she unwilling to confess that she is a Chalusse? She must
make up her mind to it, however, if she wishes to receive the
count's property--and she must make up her mind to it, for my
sake, if not for her own."
He remained silent, until it seemed to him that Madame d'Argeles
was calmer, then: "Excuse me, madame," he began, "for breaking in
upon your very natural grief, but duty requires me to remind you
of your interests."
With the passive docility of those who are wretched, she wiped
away her tears, and replied, gently: "I am listening, monsieur."
He had had time to prepare his discourse. "First of all, madame,"
he remarked, "I must tell you that I was the count's confidential
agent. In him I lose a protector. Respect alone prevents me from
saying a friend. He had no secrets from me." M. Fortunat saw so
plainly that Madame d'Argeles did not understand a word of this
sentimental exordium that he thought it necessary to add: "I tell
you this, not so much to gain your consideration and good-will, as
to explain to you how I became acquainted with these matters
relating to your family--how I became aware of your existence, for
instance, which no one else suspected." He paused, hoping for some
reply, a word, a sign, but not receiving this encouragement, he
continued: "I must, first of all, call your attention to the
peculiar situation of M. de Chalusse, and to the circumstances
which immediately preceded and attended his departure from life.
His death was so unexpected that he was unable to make any
disposition of his property by will, or even to indicate his last
wishes. This, madame, is fortunate for you. M. de Chalusse had
certain prejudices against you, as you are aware. Poor count. He
certainly had the best heart in the world, and yet hatred with him
was almost barbaric in its intensity. There can be no doubt
whatever, that he had determined to deprive you of your
inheritance. With this intention he had already begun to convert
his estates into ready money, and had he lived six months longer
you would not have received a penny."
With a gesture of indifference, which was difficult to explain
after the vehemence and the threatening tone of her letter, Madame
d'Argeles murmured:
"Ah, well! what does it matter?"
"What does it matter?" repeated M. Fortunat. "I see, madame, that
your grief prevents you from realizing the extent of the peril you
have escaped. M. de Chalusse had other, and more powerful reasons
even than his hatred for wishing to deprive you of your share of
his property. He had sworn that he would give a princely fortune
to his beloved daughter."
For the first time, Madame d'Argeles's features assumed an
expression of surprise. "What, my brother had a child?"
"Yes, madame, an illegitimate daughter, Mademoiselle Marguerite, a
lovely and charming girl whom I had the pleasure of restoring to
his care some years ago. She has been living with him for six
months or so; and he was about to marry her, with an enormous
dowry, to a nobleman bearing one of the proudest names in France,
the Marquis de Valorsay."
The name shook Madame d'Argeles as if she had experienced the
shock of an electric battery, and springing to her feet, with
flashing eyes: "You say that my brother's daughter was to marry M.
de Valorsay?" she asked.
"It was decided--the marquis adored her."
"But she--she did not love him--confess that she did not love
M. Fortunat did not know what to reply. The question took him
completely by surprise; and feeling that his answer would have a
very considerable influence upon what might follow, he hesitated.
"Will you answer me?" insisted Madame d'Argeles, imperiously.
"She loved another, did she not?"
"To tell the truth, I believe she did," the agent stammered. "But
I have no proof of it, madame."
"Ah! the wretch!" she exclaimed with a threatening gesture; "the
traitor! the infamous scoundrel! Now I understand it all. And to
think that it occurred in my house. But no; it was best so, I can
still repair everything." And darting to the bell-rope, she pulled
it violently.
A servant at once appeared. "Job," she said, "hasten after Baron
Trigault--he left the house a moment ago and bring him back. I
must speak with him. If you do not overtake him, go to his club,
to his house, to the houses of his friends, go to every place
where there is any chance of finding him. Make haste, and do not
return without him."
And as the man turned to obey, she added: "My carriage must be in
the courtyard. Take it."
Meanwhile M. Fortunat's expression of countenance had undergone a
marked change. "Well!" thought he, "I have just made a mess of
it! M. Valorsay is unmasked; and now, may I be hung, if he ever
marries Mademoiselle Marguerite. Certainly, I do not owe much to
the scoundrel, for he has defrauded me of forty thousand francs,
but what will he say when he discovers what I've done? He will
never believe me if I tell him that it was an involuntary blunder,
and Heaven only knows what revenge he will plan! A man of his
disposition, knowing that he is ruined, is capable of anything! So
much the worse for me. Before night I shall warn the commissary
of police in my district, and I shall not go out unarmed!"
The servant went off, and Madame d'Argeles then turned to her
visitor again. But she seemed literally transfigured by the storm
of passion which was raging in her heart and mind; her cheeks were
crimson, and an unwonted energy sparkled in her eyes. "Let us
finish this business," she said, curtly; "I am expecting some
M. Fortunat bowed with a rather pompous, but at the same time
obsequious air. "I have only a few more words to say," he
declared. "M. de Chalusse having no other heir, I have come to
acquaint you with your rights."
"Very good; continue, if you please."
"You have only to present yourself, and establish your identity,
to be put in possession of your brother's property."
Madame d'Argeles gave the agent a look of mingled irony and
distrust; and after a moment's reflection, she replied: "I am very
grateful for your interest, monsieur; but if I have any rights, it
is not my intention to urge them."
It seemed to M. Fortunat as if he were suddenly falling from some
immense height. "You are not in earnest," he exclaimed, "or you
are ignorant of the fact that M. de Chalusse leaves perhaps twenty
millions behind him."
"My course is decided on, monsieur; irrevocably decided on."
"Very well, madame; but it often happens that the court institutes
inquiries for the heirs of large fortunes, and this may happen in
your case."
"I should reply that I was not a member of the Chalusse family,
and that would end it. Startled by the news of my brother's
death, I allowed my secret to escape me. I shall know how to keep
it in future."
Anger succeeded astonishment in M. Fortunat's mind. "Madame,
madame, what can you be thinking of?" he cried, impetuously.
"Accept--in Heaven's name--accept this inheritance; if not for
yourself, for the sake of----"
In his excitement, he was about to commit a terrible blunder. He
saw it in time, and checked himself.
"For the sake of whom?" asked Madame d'Argeles, in an altered
"For the sake of Mademoiselle Marguerite, madame; for the sake of
this poor child, who is your niece. The count never having
acknowledged her as his daughter, she will be left actually
without bread, while her father's millions go to enrich the
"That will suffice, monsieur; I will think of it. And now,
The dismissal was so imperious that M. Fortunat bowed and went
off, completely bewildered by this denouement. "She's crazy!" he
said to himself. "Crazy in the fullest sense of the word. She
refuses the count's millions from a silly fear of telling people
that she belongs to the Chalusse family. She threatened her
brother, but she would never have carried her threats into
execution. And she prefers her present position to such a
fortune. What lunacy!" But, although he was disappointed and
angry, he did not by any means despair. "Fortunately for me," he
thought, "this proud and haughty lady has a son somewhere in the
world. And she'll do for him what she would not consent to do for
herself. Through her, with a little patience and Victor Chupin's
aid, I shall succeed in discovering this boy. He must be an
intelligent youth--and we'll see if he surrenders his millions as
easily as his mamma does."
It is a terrible task to break suddenly with one's past, without
even having had time for preparation; to renounce the life one has
so far lived, to return to the starting point, and begin existence
anew; to abandon everything--the position one has gained, the work
one has become familiar with, every fondly cherished hope, and
friend, and habit; to forsake the known to plunge into the
unknown, to leave the certain for the uncertain, and desert light
for darkness; to cast one's identity aside, assume a strange
individuality, become a living lie, change name, position, face,
and clothes--in one phrase, to cease to be one's self, in order to
become some one else.
This is indeed, a terrible ordeal, and requires an amount of
resolution and energy which few human beings possess. The boldest
hesitate before such a sacrifice, and many a man has surrendered
himself to justice rather than resort to this last extremity. And
yet this was what Pascal Ferailleur had the courage to do, on the
morrow of the shameful conspiracy that had deprived him of his
good name. When his mother's exhortations and Baron Trigault's
encouraging words had restored his wonted clearness of perception,
the only course he felt disposed to pursue was to disappear and
fly from the storm of slander and contempt; and then, in a secure
hiding-place, to watch for the time and opportunity of
rehabilitation and revenge.
Madame Ferailleur and her son made all needful arrangements. "I
shall start out at once," said Pascal, "and before two hours have
elapsed I shall have found a modest lodging, where we must conceal
ourselves for the present. I know a locality that will suit us,
and where no one will certainly ever think of looking for us."
"And I," asked Madame Ferailleur, "what shall I do in the
"You, mother; you must, at once, sell all that we possess here--
everything--even my books. You will only keep such of our linen
and clothes as you can pack in three or four trunks. We are
undoubtedly watched; and so it is of the utmost importance that
every one should imagine I have left Paris, and that you are going
to join me."
"And when everything is sold, and my trunks are ready?"
"Then, mother, you must send some one for a cab, and order the
driver to take you to the Western Railway Station, where you will
have the trunks removed from the cab and placed in the baggageroom,
as if you did not intend to leave Paris till the next day."
"Very good, I will do so; even if any one is watching us, he won't
be likely to suspect this ruse. But afterward?"
"Afterward, mother, you must go to the waiting-room upstairs, and
you will find me there. I will then take you to the rooms I shall
have rented, and to-morrow we'll send a messenger with the receipt
the railway people will give you, to fetch our luggage for us."
Madame Ferailleur approved of this plan, deeming herself fortunate
in this great calamity that despair had not destroyed her son's
energy and resources of mind. "Shall we retain our name, Pascal?"
"Oh, no. That would be an unpardonable imprudence."
"What name shall we take, then? I must know, for they may ask me
at the station."
He reflected for a moment and then said: "We'll take your maiden
name, mother. It will bring us good luck. Our new lodgings shall
be hired in the name of the Widow Maumejan."
They talked for some time longer, anxious to take every precaution
that prudence could suggest. And when they were convinced that
they had forgotten nothing, Madame Ferailleur suggested that
Pascal should start off. But before doing so he had a sacred duty
to perform. "I must warn Marguerite," he muttered. And seating
himself at his desk, he wrote his beloved a concise and exact
account of the events which had taken place. He told her of the
course he intended to pursue; and promised her that she should
know his new abode as soon as he knew it himself. In conclusion,
he entreated her to grant him an interview, in which he could give
her the full particulars of the affair and acquaint her with his
hopes. As for exculpating himself, even by so much as a single
word--as for explaining the snare he had been the victim of, the
idea never once occurred to him. He was worthy of Mademoiselle
Marguerite; he knew that not a doubt would disturb the perfect
faith she had in his honor.
Leaning over her son's shoulder, Madame Ferailleur read what he
had written. "Do you intend to trust this letter to the post?"
she inquired. "Are you sure, perfectly sure, that it will reach
Mademoiselle Marguerite, and not some one else who might use it
against you?"
Pascal shook his head. "I know how to insure its safe receipt,"
he replied. "Some time ago, Marguerite told me that if ever any
great peril threatened us, I might call for the housekeeper at the
Chalusse mansion and intrust my message to her. The danger is
sufficiently great to justify such a course in the present
instance. So I shall pass down the Rue de Courcelles, ask to see
Madame Leon, and give her this letter. Have no fear, my dear
As he spoke, he began to pack all the legal documents which had
been confided to him into a large box, which was to be carried to
one of his former friends, who would distribute the papers among
the people they belonged to. He next made a small bundle of the
few important private papers and valuables he possessed; and then,
ready for the sacrifice, he took a last survey of the pleasant
home where success had smiled so favorably upon his efforts, where
he had been so happy, and where he had cherished such bright
dreams of the future. Overcome by a flood of recollections, the
tears sprang to his eyes. He embraced his mother, and fled
precipitately from the house.
"Poor child!" murmured Madame Ferailleur; "poor Pascal!"
Was she not also to be pitied? This was the second time within
twenty years that a thunderbolt had fallen on her in the full
sunlight of happiness. And yet now, as on the day following her
husband's death, she found in her heart the robust energy and
heroic maternal constancy which enable one to rise above every
misfortune. It was in a firm voice that she ordered her servant
to go in search of the nearest furniture dealer, no matter which,
provided he would pay cash. And when the man arrived she showed
him through the rooms with stoical calmness. God alone knew how
intensely she was suffering. And yet while she was waiting for
the dealer, each piece of furniture had acquired an extraordinary
value in her eyes. It seemed to her as if each object were a part
of herself, and when the man turned and twisted a chair or a table
she almost considered it a personal affront.
The rich, who are accustomed from birth to the luxury that
surrounds them, are ignorant of the terrible sufferings which
attend such cases as these. The persons who do suffer are those
of the middle classes, not the parvenus, but those who bid fair to
become parvenus when misfortune overtook them. Their hearts bleed
when inexorable necessity deprives them of all the little comforts
with which they had gradually surrounded themselves, for there is
not an object that does not recall a long ungratified desire, and
the almost infantile joy of possession. What happiness they felt
on the day when they purchased that large arm-chair! How many
times they had gone to admire those velvet curtains in the shop
windows before buying them! Those carpets represented months of
self-denial. And that pretty clock--ah! they had fancied it would
only herald the flight of prosperous and pleasant hours. And all
these things the dealer handles, and shakes, and jeers at, and
depreciates. He will scarcely condescend to purchase. Who would
care to buy such trash? He knows that the owner is in need of
money, and he profits by this knowledge. It is his business.
"How much did this cost you?" he asks, as he inspects one piece of
furniture after another.
"So much."
"Well, you must have been terribly cheated."
You know very well that if there is a cheat in the world, it is
this same man; but what can you say? Any other dealer you might
send for would act in the same way. Now, Madame Ferailleur's
furniture had cost some ten thousand francs; and, although it was
no longer new, it was worth at least a third of that sum. But she
obtained only seven hundred and sixty francs for it. It is true,
however, that she was in haste, and that she was paid cash.
Nine o'clock was striking when her trunks were at last piled on a
cab, and she called out to the driver: "Take me to the Place du
Havre--to the railway station." Once before, when defrauded by a
scoundrel, she had been obliged to part with all her household
treasures. Once before she had left her home, taking merely the
wreck of her fortune with her. But what a difference between then
and now!
Then, the esteem and sympathy of all who knew her was hers, and
the admiring praise she received divested the sacrifice of much of
its bitterness, and increased her courage two-fold. Now, she was
flying secretly, and alone, under an assumed name, trembling at
the thought of pursuit or recognition--flying as a criminal flies
at thought of his crime, and fear of punishment. She had far less
suffered on the day, when, with her son upon her knees, she
journeyed to the cemetery, following all that was mortal of the
man who had been her only thought, her love, her pride, her
happiness, and hope. Though crushed by the sense of her
irreparable loss, she had not rebelled against the hand that
struck her; but now it was human wickedness that assailed her
through her son, and her suffering was like that of the innocent
man who perishes for want of power to prove his innocence. Her
husband's death had not caused her such bitter tears as her son's
dishonor. She who was so proud, and who had such good reason to
be proud, she could note the glances of scorn she was favored with
as she left her home. She heard the insulting remarks made by
some of her neighbors, who, like so many folks, found their chief
delight in other people's misfortunes.
"Crocodile tears," some had exclaimed. "She is going to meet her
son; and with what he has stolen they will live like princes in
America." Rumor, which enlarges and misrepresents everything, had,
indeed, absurdly exaggerated the affair at Madame d'Argeles's
house. It was reported in the Rue d'Ulm that Pascal had spent
every night at the gaming table for more than five years; and
that, being an incomparable trickster, he had stolen millions.
Meanwhile, Madame Ferailleur was approaching the station. The cab
horse soon slackened its pace to climb the acclivity of the Rue
d'Amsterdam; and shortly afterward the vehicle drew up in the
courtyard of the railway station. Faithfully observing the
directions which had been given her, the worthy woman had her
trunks taken to the baggage-room, declaring that she should not
leave Paris until the next day, whereupon she received a receipt
from the man in charge of the room. She was oppressed by vague
apprehensions, and looked closely at every one who passed her;
fearing the presence of spies, and knowing full well that the most
profound secrecy could alone insure the success of Pascal's plans.
However, she did not see a single suspicious looking person. Some
Englishmen--those strange travellers, who are at the same time so
foolishly prodigal and so ridiculously miserly--were making a
great hue and cry over the four sous gratuity claimed by a poor
commissionaire; but these were the only persons in sight.
Partially reassured, Madame Ferailleur hastily ascended the
staircase, and entered the large waiting-room. It was here that
Pascal had promised to meet her; but, though she looked round on
all sides, she did not perceive him. Still, this delay did not
alarm her much; nor was it at all strange, since Pascal had
scarcely known what he would have to do when he left the house.
She seated herself on a bench, as far back in the shade as
possible and gazed sadly at the ever-changing throng, when all of
a sudden she was startled by a man, who abruptly paused in front
of her. This man proved to be Pascal. But his hair had been
closely cut, and he had shaved off his beard. And thus shorn,
with his smooth face, and with a brown silk neckerchief in lieu of
the white muslin tie he usually wore, he was so greatly changed
that for an instant his own mother did not recognize him. "Well?"
asked Madame Ferailleur, as she realized his identity.
"I have succeeded. We have secured such rooms as I wished for."
"Ah!--a long way off, my poor mother--many a league from those we
have known and loved--in a thinly populated part of the suburbs,
on the Route de la Revolte, just outside the fortifications, and
almost at the point where it intersects the Asnieres road. You
will not be very comfortable there, but you will have the pleasure
of a little garden."
She rose, summoning all her energy. "What does it matter where or
what our abode is?" she interrupted, with forced gayety. "I am
confident that we shall not remain there long."
But it seemed as if her son did not share her hopes, for he
remained silent and dejected; and as his mother observed him
closely, she fancied by the expression of his eyes, that some new
anxiety had been added to all his other troubles.
"What is the matter?" she inquired, unable to master her alarm--
"what has happened?"
"Ah! a great misfortune!"
"My God! still another?"
"I have been to the Rue de Courcelles; and I have spoken to Madame
"What did she say?"
"The Count de Chalusse died this morning."
Madame Ferailleur drew a long breath, as if greatly relieved. She
was certainly expecting to hear something very different, and she
did not understand why this death should be a great misfortune to
them personally. One point, however, she did realize, that it was
imprudent, and even dangerous, to carry on this conversation in a
hall where a hundred persons were passing and repassing every
minute. So she took her son's arm, and led him away, saying:
"Come, let us go."
Pascal had kept the cab which he had been using during the
afternoon; and having installed his mother inside, he got in
himself, and gave his new address to the driver. "Now tell me
all," said Madame Ferailleur.
Poor Pascal was in that state of mind in which it costs one actual
suffering to talk; but he wished to mitigate his mother's anxiety
as much as possible; and moreover, he did not like her to suppose
him wanting in endurance. So, with a powerful effort, he shook
off the lethargy that was creeping over him, and in a voice loud
enough to be heard above the noise of the carriage wheels, he
began: "This is what I have done, mother, since I left you. I
remembered that some time ago, while I was appraising some
property, I had seen three or four houses on the Route de la
Revolte, admirably suited to our present wants. Naturally I went
there first. A suite of rooms was vacant in one of these houses.
I have taken it; and in order that nothing may interfere with the
liberty of my movements, I have paid six months' rent in advance.
Here is the receipt, drawn up in the name we shall henceforth
bear." So saying, he showed his mother a document in which the
landlord declared that he had received from M. Maumejan the sum of
three hundred and fifty francs for two quarters' rent, etc. "My
bargain concluded," he resumed, "I returned into Paris, and
entered the first furniture shop I saw. I meant to hire the
necessary things to furnish our little home, but the dealer made
all sorts of objections. He trembled for his furniture, he wanted
a sum of money to be deposited as security, or the guarantee of
three responsible business men. Seeing this, and knowing that I
had no time to lose, I preferred to purchase such articles as were
absolutely necessary. One of the conditions of the purchase was
that everything should be in the house and in its place by eleven
o'clock to-night. As I stipulated in writing that the dealer
should forfeit three hundred francs in case he failed to fulfil
his agreement, I can rely upon his punctuality; I confided the key
of our lodgings to him, and he must now be there waiting for us."
So, before thinking of his love, and Mademoiselle Marguerite,
Pascal had taken the necessary measures for the execution of his
plan to regain his lost honor. Madame Ferailleur had scarcely
supposed him capable of so much courage and firmness, and she
rewarded him with a warm pressure of the hand. Then, as he was
silent: "When did you see Madame Leon, then?" she asked.
"When all the household arrangements were completed, mother. On
leaving the furniture-shop, I found that I had still an hour and a
quarter before me. I could defer no longer, and at the risk of
obliging you to wait for me, I hastened to the Rue de Courcelles."
It was evident that Pascal felt extreme embarrassment in speaking
of Mademoiselle Marguerite. There is an instinctive delicacy and
dislike of publicity in all deep passion, and true and chaste love
is ever averse to laying aside the veil with which it conceals
itself from the inquisitive. Madame Ferailleur understood this
feeling; but she was a mother, and as such, jealous of her son's
tenderness, and anxious for particulars concerning this rival who
had suddenly usurped her place in the heart where she had long
reigned supreme. She was also a woman--that is to say, distrustful
and suspicious in reference to all other women. So, without
taking pity on Pascal's embarrassment, she urged him to continue.
"I gave the driver five francs on condition that he would hurry
his horses," he resumed, "and we were rattling along at a rapid
rate, when, suddenly, near the Hotel de Chalusse, I noticed a
change in the motion of the vehicle. I looked out and saw that we
were driving over a thick layer of straw which had been spread
across the street. I can scarcely describe my feelings on seeing
this. A cold perspiration came over me--I fancied I saw
Marguerite in agony, dying--far from me, and calling me in vain.
Without waiting for the vehicle to stop, I sprang to the ground,
and was obliged to exercise all my self-control to prevent myself
from rushing into the concierge's lodge, and wildly asking: 'Who
is dying here?' But an unforeseen difficulty presented itself. It
was evident that I ought not to go in person to inquire for Madame
Leon. Whom could I send? There were no commissionaires at the
street corners, and nothing would have induced me to confide the
message to any of the lads in the neighboring wine-shops.
Fortunately, my driver--the same who is driving us now--is an
obliging fellow, and I intrusted him with the commission, while I
stood guard over his horses. Ten minutes later, Madame Leon left
the house and came to meet me. I knew her at once, for I had seen
her a hundred times with Marguerite when they lived near the
Luxembourg; and having seen me pass and repass so often, she
recognized me in spite of my changed appearance. Her first words,
'M. de Chalusse is dead,' relieved my heart of a terrible weight.
I could breathe again. But she was in such haste that she could
not stop to tell me any particulars. Still I gave her my letter,
and she promised me a prompt reply from Marguerite. Everybody
will be up and moving about the house to-night, and she said she
could easily make her escape for a few moments. So, at half-past
twelve to-night she will be at the little garden gate, and if I am
promptly at hand, I shall have a reply from Marguerite."
Madame Ferailleur seemed to be expecting something more, and as
Pascal remained silent, she remarked: "You spoke of a great
misfortune. In what does it consist? I do not perceive it."
With an almost threatening gesture, and in a gloomy voice, he
answered: "The misfortune is this: if it had not been for this
abominable conspiracy, which has dishonored me, Marguerite would
have been my wife before a month had elapsed, for now she is free,
absolutely free to obey the dictates of her own will and heart."
"Then why do you complain?"
"Oh, mother! don't you understand? How can I marry her? Would it
be right for me to think of offering her a dishonored name? It
seems to me that I should be guilty of a most contemptible act--of
something even worse than a crime--if I dared speak to her of my
love and our future before I have crushed the villains who have
ruined me."
Regret, anger, and the consciousness of his present powerlessness
drew from him tears which fell upon Madame Ferailleur's heart like
molten lead; but she succeeded in concealing her agony. "All the
more reason," she answered, almost coldly, "why you should not
lose a second, but devote all your energy and intelligence to the
work of justification."
"Oh, I shall have my revenge, never fear. But in the meantime,
what is to become of HER? Think, mother, she is alone in the
world, without a single friend. It is enough to drive one mad!"
"She loves you, you tell me. What have you to fear? Now she will
be freed from the persecutions of the suitor they intended to
force upon her, whom she has spoken to you about--the Marquis de
Valorsay, is it not?"
This name sent Pascal's blood to his brain. "Ah, the scoundrel!"
he exclaimed. "If there was a God in heaven----"
"Wretched boy!" interrupted Madame Ferailleur; "you blaspheme when
Providence has already interposed on your behalf. And who suffers
most at this moment, do you think?--you, strong in your innocence,
or the marquis, who realizes that he has committed an infamous
crime in vain?"
The sudden stopping of the cab put an end to their conversation.
Leaving the Route d'Asnieres, the driver had turned into the Route
de la Revolte, and had drawn up in front of an unpretentious twostoried
house which stood entirely alone. "We have arrived,
mother," said Pascal.
A man, who was standing on the threshold, stepped forward to open
the cab door. It was the furniture-dealer. "Here you are at
last, M. Maumejan," said he. "Come in, and you'll see that I've
strictly fulfilled the conditions of our contract." His words
proved true. He was paid the sum stipulated, and went away
"Now, my dear mother," said Pascal, "allow me to do the honors of
the poor abode I have selected."
He had taken only the ground floor of this humble dwelling. The
story above, which had an independent entrance and staircase, was
occupied by the quiet family of the owner. Although the space was
small, the architect had made the most of it. He had divided it
into four small rooms, separated by a corridor; and the kitchen
looked out upon a little garden about four times as large as an
ordinary sheet. The furniture which Pascal had purchased was more
than plain; but it was well suited to this humble abode. It had
just been brought in, but any one would have supposed it had been
in its place for a couple of years.
"We shall be very comfortable here," declared Madame Ferailleur.
"Yes, very comfortable. By to-morrow evening you won't recognize
the place. I have saved a few trifles from the wreck--some
curtains, a couple of lamps, a clock--you'll see. It's wonderful
how much four trunks can be made to hold."
When his mother set him such a noble example Pascal would have
blushed to allow himself to be outdone. He very quietly explained
the reasons which had influenced him in choosing these rooms, the
principal one being that there was no concierge, and he was
therefore assured absolute liberty in his movements, as well as
entire immunity from indiscreet gossip. "Certainly, my dear
mother," he added, "it is a lonely and unattractive neighborhood;
but you will find all the necessaries of life near at hand. The
owner of the house lives on the floor above. I have talked with
the wife--they seem to be honest, quiet people--and she will pilot
you about. I inquired for some one to do the heavy work, and she
mentioned a poor woman named Vantrasson, who lives in the
neighborhood, and who is anxious to obtain employment. They were
to inform her this evening, and you will see her to-morrow. And
above all, don't forget that you are henceforth Madame Maumejan."
Occupied with these arrangements for the future, he was still
talking, when Madame Ferailleur, drawing out her watch, gently
remarked: "And your appointment? You forget that the cab is
waiting at the door."
It was true; he had forgotten it. He caught up his hat, hastily
embraced his mother, and sprang into the vehicle. The horses were
almost exhausted, but the driver was so willing that he found a
means of making them trot as far as the Rue de Courcelles.
However, on arriving there, he declared that his animals and
himself could endure no more, and after receiving the amount due
to him, he departed.
The air was chilly, the night dark, and the street deserted. The
gloomy silence was only disturbed at long intervals by the opening
or shutting of a door, or by the distant tread of some belated
pedestrian. Having at least twenty minutes to wait, Pascal sat
down on the curbstone opposite the Hotel de Chalusse, and fixed
his eyes upon the building as if he were striving to penetrate the
massive walls, and see what was passing within. Only one window--
that of the room where the dead man was lying--was lighted up, and
he could vaguely distinguish the motionless form of a woman
standing with her forehead pressed against the pane of glass. A
prey to the indescribable agony which seizes a man when he feels
that his life is at stake--that his future is about to be
irrevocably decided--Pascal counted the seconds as they passed by.
He found it impossible to reflect, to deliberate, to decide on any
plan of action. He forgot the tortures he had endured during the
last twenty-four hours; Coralth, Valorsay, Madame d'Argeles, the
baron, no longer existed for him. He forgot his loss of honor and
position, and the disgrace attached to his name. The past was
annihilated, as it were, and he could think of no future beyond
the next few moments. His physical condition undoubtedly
contributed to his mental weakness. He had taken no food that
day, and he was faint from want of nourishment. He had come
without an overcoat, moreover, and the cold night air chilled him
to the bone. There was a strange ringing in his ears, and a mist
swam before his eyes. At last the bell at the Beaujon Hospital
tolled the appointed hour, and roused him from his lethargy. He
seemed to hear a voice crying to him in the darkness, "Up! the
hour has come!"
Trembling, and with tottering limbs, he dragged himself to the
little gate opening into the gardens of the Chalusse mansion.
Soon it softly opened, and Madame Leon appeared. Ah! it was not
she that Pascal had hoped to see. Unfortunate man! He had been
listening to that mysterious echo of our own desires which we so
often mistake for a presentiment; and it had whispered in his
heart: "Marguerite herself will come!"
With the candor of wretchedness, he could not refrain from telling
Madame Leon the hope he had entertained. But, on hearing him, the
housekeeper recoiled with a gesture of outraged propriety, and
reproachfully exclaimed: "What are you thinking of, monsieur?
What! could you suppose that Mademoiselle Marguerite would abandon
her place by her dead father's bedside to come to a rendezvous?
Ah! you should think better of her than that, the dear child!"
He sighed deeply, and in a scarcely audible voice, he asked:
Hasn't she even sent me a reply?"
"Yes, monsieur, she has; and although it is a great indiscretion
on my part, I bring you the letter. Here it is. Now, goodevening.
I must go at once. What would become of me if the
servants discovered my absence, and found that I had gone out
She was hurrying away, but Pascal detained her. "Pray wait until
I see what she has written," he said, imploringly. "I shall
perhaps be obliged to send her some message in reply."
Madame Leon obeyed, though with rather bad grace, and not without
several times repeating: "Make haste!"--while Pascal ran to a
street lamp near by. It was not a letter that Marguerite had sent
him, but a short note, written on a scrap of crumpled paper,
folded, and not sealed. It was written in pencil; and the
handwriting was irregular and indistinct. Still, by the
flickering light of the gas, Pascal deciphered the word
"Monsieur." It made him shudder. "Monsieur!" What did this mean?
In writing to him of recent times, Marguerite had always said, "My
dear Pascal," or, "My friend."
Nevertheless, he continued: "I have not had the courage to resist
the entreaties made to me by the Count de Chalusse, my father, in
his last agony. I have solemnly pledged myself to become the wife
of the Marquis de Valorsay.
"One cannot break a promise made to the dying. I shall keep mine,
even though my heart break. I shall do my duty. God will give me
strength and courage. Forget her whom you loved. She is now the
betrothed of another, and honor commands her to forget your very
name. Once more, and for the last time, farewell! If you love me,
you will not try to see me again. It would only add to my misery.
"Think as though she were dead--she who signs herself--MARGUERITE.
The commonplace wording of this letter, and the mistakes in
spelling that marred it, entirely escaped Pascal's notice. He
only understood one thing, that Marguerite was lost to him, and
that she was on the point of becoming the wife of the vile
scoundrel who had planned the snare which had ruined him at the
Hotel d'Argeles. Breathless, despairing, and half crazed with
rage, he sprang toward Madame Leon. "Marguerite, where is she?"
he demanded, in a hoarse, unnatural voice; "I must see her!"
"Oh! monsieur, what do you ask? Is it possible? Allow me to
explain to you----" But the housekeeper was unable to finish her
sentence, for Pascal had caught her by the hands, and holding them
in a vicelike grip, he repeated: "I must see Marguerite, and speak
to her. I must tell her that she has been deceived; I will unmask
the scoundrel who----"
The frightened housekeeper struggled with all her might, trying
her best to reach the little gate which was standing open. "You
hurt me!" she cried. "Are you mad? Let me go or I shall call for
help?" And twice indeed she shouted in a loud voice, "Help!
But her cries were lost in the stillness of the night. If any one
heard them, no one came; still they recalled Pascal to a sense of
the situation, and he was ashamed of his violence. He released
Madame Leon, and his manner suddenly became as humble as it had
been threatening. "Excuse me," he said, entreatingly. "I am
suffering so much that I don't know what I'm doing. I beseech you
to take me to Mademoiselle Marguerite, or else run and beg her to
come here. I ask but a moment."
Madame Leon pretended to be listening attentively; but, in
reality, she was quietly manoeuvring to gain the garden gate.
Soon she succeeded in doing so, whereupon, with marvellous
strength and agility, she pushed Pascal away, and sprang inside
the garden, closing the gate after her, and saying as she did so,
"Begone, you scoundrel!"
This was the final blow; and for more than a minute Pascal stood
motionless in front of the gate, stupefied with mingled rage and
sorrow. His condition was not unlike that of a man who, after
falling to the bottom of a precipice, is dragging himself up, all
mangled and bleeding, swearing that he will yet save himself, when
suddenly a heavy stone which he had loosened in his descent, falls
forward and crushes him. All that he had so far endured was
nothing in comparison with the thought that Valorsay would wed
Marguerite. Was such a thing possible? Would God permit such a
monstrous iniquity?" No, that shall never be," he muttered. "I
will murder the scoundrel rather; and afterward justice may do
whatever it likes with me."
He experienced that implacable, merciless thirsting for vengeance
which does not even recoil before the commission of a crime to
secure satisfaction, and this longing inflamed him with such
energy that, although he had been so utterly exhausted a few
moments before--he was not half an hour in making his way back to
his new home. His mother, who was waiting for him with an anxious
heart, was surprised by the flush on his cheeks, and the light
glittering in his eyes. "Ah, you bring good news," she exclaimed.
His only answer was to hand her the letter which Madame Leon had
given him, saying as he did so, "Read."
Madame Ferailleur's eyes fell upon the words: "Once more, and for
the last time, farewell!" She understood everything, turned very
pale, and in a trembling voice exclaimed: "Don't grieve, my son;
the girl did not love you."
"Oh, mother! if you knew----"
But she checked him with a gesture, and lifting her head proudly,
she said: "I know what it is to love, Pascal--it is to have
perfect faith. If the whole world had accused your father of a
crime, would a single doubt of his innocence have ever entered my
mind? This girl has doubted you. They have told her that you
cheated at cards--and she has believed it. You have failed to see
that this oath at the bedside of the dying count is only an
It was true; the thought had not occurred to Pascal. "My God!" he
cried in agony; "are you the only one who believes in my
"Without proofs--yes. It must be your task to obtain these
"And I shall obtain them," he rejoined, in a tone of
determination. "I am strong now that I have Marguerite's life to
defend--for they have deceived her, mother, or she would never
have given me up. Oh! don't shake your head. I love her, and so
I trust her."
M. Isidore Fortunat was not the man to go to sleep over a plan
when it was once formed. Whenever he said to himself, "I'll do
this, or that," he did it as soon as possible--that very evening,
rather than the next day. Having sworn that he would find out
Madame d'Argeles's son, the heir to the Count de Chalusse's
millions, it did not take him long to decide which of his agents
he would select to assist him in this difficult task. Thus his
first care, on returning home, was to ask his bookkeeper for
Victor Chupin's address.
"He lives in the Faubourg Saint-Denis," replied the bookkeeper,
"at No.--."
"Very well," muttered M. Fortunat; "I'll go there as soon as I
have eaten my dinner." And, indeed, as soon as he had swallowed
his coffee, he requested Madame Dodelin to bring him his overcoat,
and half an hour later he reached the door of the house where his
clerk resided.
The house was one of those huge, ungainly structures, large enough
to shelter the population of a small village, with three or four
courtyards, as many staircases as there are letters in the
alphabet, and a concierge who seldom remembers the names of the
tenants except on quarter-days when he goes to collect the rent,
and at New Year, when he expects a gratuity. But, by one of those
lucky chances made expressly for M. Fortunat, the porter did
recollect Chupin, knew him and was kindly disposed toward him, and
so he told the visitor exactly how and where to find him. It was
very simple. He had only to cross the first courtyard, take
staircase D, on the left-hand side, ascend to the sixth floor, go
straight ahead, etc., etc.
Thanks to this unusual civility, M. Fortunat did not lose his way
more than five times before reaching the door upon which was
fastened a bit of pasteboard bearing Victor Chupin's name.
Noticing that a bell-rope hung beside the door, M. Fortunat pulled
it, whereupon there was a tinkling, and a voice called out, "Come
in!" He complied, and found himself in a small and cheaply
furnished room, which was, however, radiant with the cleanliness
which is in itself a luxury. The waxed floor shone like a mirror;
the furniture was brilliantly polished, and the counterpane and
curtains of the bed were as white as snow. What first attracted
the agent's attention was the number of superfluous articles
scattered about the apartment--some plaster statuettes on either
side of a gilt clock, an etagere crowded with knickknacks, and
five or six passable engravings. When he entered, Victor Chupin
was sitting, in his shirt-sleeves, at a little table, where, by
the light of a small lamp, and with a zeal that brought a flush to
his cheeks, he was copying, in a very fair hand a page from a
French dictionary. Near the bed, in the shade, sat a poorly but
neatly clad woman about forty years of age, who was knitting
industriously with some long wooden needles.
"M. Victor Chupin?" inquired M. Fortunat.
The sound of his voice made the young man spring to his feet. He
quickly lifted the shade from his lamp, and, without attempting to
conceal his astonishment, exclaimed: "M'sieur Fortunat!--at this
hour! Where's the fire?" Then, in a grave manner that contrasted
strangely with his accustomed levity: "Mother," said he, "this is
one of my patrons, M'sieur Fortunat--you know--the gentleman whom
I collect for."
The knitter rose, bowed respectfully, and said: "I hope, sir, that
you are pleased with my son, and that he's honest."
"Certainly, madame," replied the agent; "certainly. Victor is one
of my best and most reliable clerks."
"Then I'm content," said the woman, reseating herself.
Chupin also seemed delighted "This is my good mother, sir," said
he. "She's almost blind now; but, in less than six months she
will be able to stand at her window and see a pin in the middle of
the street, so the physician who is treating her eyes promised me;
then we shall be all right again. But take a seat, sir. May we
venture to offer you anything?"
Although his clerk had more than once alluded to his
responsibilities, M. Fortunat was amazed. He marvelled at the
perfume of honesty which exhaled from these poor people, at the
dignity of this humble woman, and at the protecting and respectful
affection evinced by her son--a young man, whose usual tone of
voice and general behavior had seemed to indicate that he was
decidedly a scapegrace. "Thanks, Victor," he replied, "I won't
take any refreshment. I've just left the dinner-table. I've come
to give you my instructions respecting a very important and very
urgent matter."
Chupin at once understood that his employer wished for a private
interview. Accordingly, he took up the lamp, opened a door, and,
in the pompous tone of a rich banker who is inviting some
important personage to enter his private room, he said: "Will you
be kind enough to step into my chamber, m'sieur?"
The room which Chupin so emphatically denominated his "chamber"
was a tiny nook, extraordinarily clean, it is true, but scantily
furnished with a small iron bedstead, a trunk, and a chair. He
offered the chair to his visitor, placed the lamp on the trunk,
and seated himself on the bed, saying as he did so: "This is
scarcely on so grand a scale as your establishment, m'sieur; but I
am going to ask the landlord to gild the window of my snuff-box."
M. Fortunat was positively touched. He held out his hand to his
clerk and exclaimed: "You're a worthy fellow, Chupin."
"Nonsense, m'sieur, one does what one can; but, zounds! how hard
it is to make money honestly! If my good mother could only see,
she would help me famously, for there is no one like her for work!
But you see one can't become a millionaire by knitting!"
"Doesn't your father live with you?"
Chupin's eyes gleamed angrily. "Ah! don't speak of that man to
me, m'sieur!" he exclaimed, "or I shall hurt somebody." And then,
as if he felt it necessary to explain and excuse his vindictive
exclamation, he added: "My father, Polyte Chupin, is a good-fornothing
scamp. And yet he's had his opportunities. First, he was
fortunate enough to find a wife like my mother, who is honesty
itself--so much so that she was called Toinon the Virtuous when
she was young. She idolized him, and nearly killed herself by
working to earn money for him. And yet he abused her so much, and
made her weep so much, that she has become blind. But that's not
all. One morning there came to him--I don't know whence or how--
enough money for him to have lived like a gentleman. I believe it
was a munificent reward for some service he had rendered a great
nobleman at the time when my grandmother, who is now dead, kept a
dramshop called the Poivriere. Any other man would have treasured
that money, but not he. What he did was to carouse day and night,
and all the while my poor mother was working her fingers to the
bone to earn food for me. She never saw a penny of all his money;
and, indeed, once when she asked him to pay the rent, he beat her
so cruelly that she was laid up in bed for a week. However,
monsieur, you can very readily understand that when a man leads
that kind of life, he speedily comes to the end of his banking
account. So my father was soon without a penny in his purse, and
then he was obliged to work in order to get something to eat, and
this didn't suit him at all. But when he didn't know where to
find a crust he remembered us; he sought us out, and found us.
Once I lent him a hundred sous; the next day he came for forty
more, and the next for three francs; then for five francs again.
And so it was every day: 'Give me this, or give me that!' At last
I said, 'Enough of this, the bank's closed!' Then, what do you
think he did? He watched the house until he saw me go out; then he
came in with a second-hand furniture-dealer, and tried to sell
everything, pretending that he was the master. And my poor, dear
mother would have allowed him to do it. Fortunately, I happened
to come in again. Let him sell my furniture? Not I. I would
sooner have been chopped in pieces! I went and complained to the
commissary of police, who made my father leave the house, and
since then we've lived in peace."
Certainly this was more than sufficient to explain and excuse
Victor Chupin's indignation. And yet he had prudently withheld
the most serious and important cause of his dislike. What he
refrained from telling was that years before, when he was still a
mere child, without will or discernment, his father had taken him
from his mother, and had started him down that terrible descent,
which inevitably leads one to prison or the gallows, unless there
be an almost miraculous interposition on one's behalf. This
miracle had occurred in Chupin's case; but he did not boast of it.
"Come, come!" said M. Fortunat, "don't worry too much about it. A
father's a father after all, and yours will undoubtedly reform by
and by."
He said this as he would have said anything else, out of
politeness and for the sake of testifying a friendly interest; but
he really cared no more for this information concerning the Chupin
family than the grand Turk. His first emotion had quickly
vanished; and he was beginning to find these confidential
disclosures rather wearisome. "Let us get back to business," he
remarked; "that is to say, to Casimir. What did you do with the
fool after my departure?"
"First, monsieur, I sobered him; which was no easy task. The
greedy idiot had converted himself into a wine-cask! At last,
however, when he could talk as well as you and I, and walk
straight, I took him back to the Hotel de Chalusse."
"That was right. But didn't you have some business to transact
with him?"
"That's been arranged, monsieur; the agreement has been signed.
The count will have the best of funerals--the finest hearse out,
with six horses, twenty-four mourning coaches--a grand display, in
fact. It will be worth seeing."
M. Fortunat smiled graciously. "That ought to bring you a
handsome commission," he said, benignly.
Employed by the job, Chupin was the master of his own time, free
to utilize his intelligence and industry as he chose, but M.
Fortunat did not like his subordinates to make any money except
through him. Hence his approval, in the present instance, was so
remarkable that it awakened Chupin's suspicions. "I shall make a
few sous, probably," he modestly replied, "a trifle to aid my good
mother in keeping the pot boiling."
"So much the better, my boy," said M. Fortunat. "I like to see
money gained by those who make a good use of it. And to prove
this, I'm about to employ you in an affair which will pay you
handsomely if you prosecute it successfully."
Chupin's eyes brightened at first but grew dark a moment
afterward, for delight had been quickly followed by a feeling of
distrust. He thought it exceedingly strange that an employer
should take the trouble to climb to a sixth floor merely for the
purpose of conferring a favor on his clerk. There must be
something behind all this; and so it behove him to keep his eyes
open. However, he knew how to conceal his real feelings; and it
was with a joyous air that he exclaimed: "Eh! What? Money? Now?
What must I do to earn it?"
"Oh! a mere trifle," replied the agent; "almost nothing, indeed."
And drawing his chair nearer to the bed on which his employee was
seated, he added: "But first, one question, Victor. By the way in
which a woman looks at a young man in the street, at the theatre
or anywhere--would you know if she were watching her son?"
Chupin shrugged his shoulders. "What a question!" he retorted.
"Nonsense! monsieur, it would be impossible to deceive me. I
should only have to remember my mother's eyes when I return home
in the evening. Poor woman! although she's half blind, she sees
me--and if you wish to make her happy, you've only to tell her I'm
the handsomest and most amiable youth in Paris."
M. Fortunat could not refrain from rubbing his hands, so delighted
was he to see his idea so perfectly understood and so admirably
expressed. "Good!" he declared; "very good! That's intelligence,
if I am any judge. I have not been deceived in you, Victor."
Victor was on fire with curiosity. "What am I to do, monsieur?"
he asked eagerly.
"This: you must follow a woman whom I shall point out to you,
follow her everywhere without once losing sight of her, and so
skilfully as not to let her suspect it. You must watch her every
glance, and when her eyes tell you that she is looking at her son,
your task will be nearly over. You will then only have to follow
this son, and find out his name and address, what he does, and how
he lives. I don't know if I explain what I mean very clearly."
This doubt was awakened in M. Fortunat's mind by Chupin's
features, which were expressive of lively astonishment and
discontent. "Excuse me, monsieur," he said, at last, "I do not
understand at all."
"It's very simple, however. The lady in question has a son about
twenty. I know it--I'm sure of it. But she denies it; she
conceals the fact, and he doesn't even know her. She secretly
watches over him, however--she provides him with money, and every
day she finds some way of seeing him. Now, it is to my interest
to find this son."
Chupin's mobile face became actually threatening in its
expression; he frowned darkly, and his lips quivered. Still this
did not prevent M. Fortunat from adding, with the assurance of a
man who does not even suspect the possibility of a refusal: "Now,
when shall we set about our task?"
"Never!" cried Chupin, violently; and, rising, he continued: "No!
I wouldn't let my good mother eat bread earned in that way--it
would strangle her! Turn spy! I? Thanks--some one else may have
the job!" He had become as red as a turkey-cock, and such was his
indignation that he forgot his accustomed reserve and the caution
with which he had so far concealed his antecedents. "I know this
game--I've tried it!" he went on, vehemently. "One might as well
take one's ticket to prison by a direct road. I should be there
now if it hadn't been for Monsieur Andre. I was thirsting for
gold, and, like the brigand that I was, I should have killed the
man; but in revenge he drew me from the mire and placed my feet on
solid ground once more. And now, shall I go back to my vile
tricks again? Why, I'd rather cut my leg off! I'm to hunt down
this poor woman--I'm to discover her secret so that you may extort
money from her, am I? No, not I! I should like to be rich, and I
shall be rich; but I'll make my money honestly. I hope to touch
my hundred-franc pieces without being obliged to wash my hands
afterward. So, a very good evening to your establishment."
M. Fortunat was amazed, and at the same time much annoyed, to find
himself forsaken on account of such a trifle. He feared, too,
that Chupin might let his tongue wag if he left his employment.
So, since he had confided this project to Chupin, he was
determined that Chupin alone should carry it into execution.
Assuming his most severe and injured manner, he sternly exclaimed:
"I think you have lost your senses." His demeanor and intonation
were so perfectly cool that Chupin seemed slightly abashed. "It
seems that you think me capable of urging you to commit some
dangerous and dishonorable act," continued M. Fortunat.
"Why--no--m'sieur--I assure you "
There was such evident hesitation in the utterance of this "no"
that the agent at once resumed: "Come, you are not ignorant of the
fact that in addition to my business as a collector, I give my
attention to the discovery of the heirs of unclaimed estates? You
are aware of this? Very well then: pray tell me how I am to find
them without searching for them? If I wish this lady to be
watched, it is only in view of reaching a poor lad who is likely
to be defrauded of the wealth that rightfully belongs to him. And
when I give you a chance to make forty or fifty francs in a couple
of days, you receive my proposition in this style! You are an
ingrate and a fool, Victor!"
Chupin's nature combined, in a remarkable degree, the vices and
peculiarities of the dweller in the Paris faubourgs, who is born
old, but who, when aged in years, still remains a gamin. In his
youth he had seen many strange things, and acquired a knowledge of
life that would have put the experience of a philosopher to shame.
But he was not fit to cope with M. Fortunat, who had an immense
advantage over him, by reason of his position of employer, as well
as by his fortune and education. So Chupin was both bewildered
and disconcerted by the cool arguments his patron brought forward;
and what most effectually allayed his suspicions was the small
compensation offered for the work--merely forty or fifty francs.
"Small potatoes, upon my word!" he thought. "Just the price of an
honest service; he would have offered more for a piece of
rascality." So, after considering a moment, he said, aloud: "Very
well; I'm your man, m'sieur."
M. Fortunat was secretly laughing at the success of his ruse.
Having come with the intention of offering his agent a handsome
sum, he was agreeably surprised to find that Chupin's scruples
would enable him to save his money. "If I hadn't found you
engaged in study, Victor," he said, "I should have thought you had
been drinking. What venomous insect stung you so suddenly?
Haven't I confided similar undertakings to you twenty times since
you have been in my employment? Who ransacked Paris to find
certain debtors who were concealing themselves? Who discovered the
Vantrassons for me? Victor Chupin. Very well. Then allow me to
say that I see nothing in this case in any way differing from the
others, nor can I understand why this should be wrong, if the
others were not."
Chupin could only have answered this remark by saying that there
had been no mystery about the previous affairs, that they had not
been proposed to him late at night at his own home, and that he
had acted openly, as a person who represents a creditor has a
recognized right to act. But, though he felt that there WAS a
difference in the present case, it would have been very difficult
for him to explain in what this difference consisted. Hence, in
his most resolute tone: "I'm only a fool, m'sieur," he declared;
"but I shall know how to make amends for my folly."
"That means you have recovered your senses," said M. Fortunat,
ironically. "Really, that's fortunate. But let me give you one
bit of advice: watch yourself, and learn to bridle your tongue.
You won't always find me in such a good humor as I am this
So saying, he rose, passed out into the adjoining room, bowed
civilly to his clerk's mother, and went off. His last words, as
he crossed the threshold, were, "So I shall rely upon you. Be at
the office to-morrow a little before noon."
"It's agreed m'sieur."
The blind woman had risen, and had bowed respectfully; but, as
soon as she was alone with her son, she asked: "What is this
business he bids you undertake in such a high and mighty tone?"
"Oh! an every-day matter, mother."
The old woman shook her head. "Why were you talking so loud
then?" she inquired. "Weren't you quarrelling? It must be
something very grave when it's necessary to conceal it from me. I
couldn't see your employer's face, my son; but I heard his voice,
and it didn't please me. It isn't the voice of an honest,
straightforward man. Take care, Toto, and don't allow yourself to
be cajoled--be prudent."
However, it was quite unnecessary to recommend prudence to Victor
Chupin. He had promised his assistance, but not without a mental
reservation. "No need to see danger till it comes," he had said
to himself. "If the thing proves to be of questionable propriety
after all, then good-evening; I desert."
It remains to know what he meant by questionable propriety; the
meaning of the expression is rather vague. He had returned in all
honesty and sincerity of purpose to an honest life, and nothing in
the world would have induced him, avaricious though he was, to
commit an act that was positively wrong. Only the line that
separates good from evil was not very clearly defined in his mind.
This was due in a great measure to his education, and to the fact
that it had been long before he realized that police regulations
do not constitute the highest moral law. It was due also to
chance, and, since he had no decided calling, to the necessity of
depending for a livelihood upon the many strange professions which
impecunious and untrained individuals, both of the higher and
lower classes, adopt in Paris.
However, on the following morning he arrayed himself in his best
apparel, and at exactly half-past eleven o'clock he rang at his
employer's door. M. Fortunat had made quick work with his clients
that morning, and was ready, dressed to go out. He took up his
hat and said only the one word, "Come." The place where the agent
conducted his clerk was the wine-shop in the Rue de Berry, where
he had made inquiries respecting Madame d'Argeles the evening
before; and on arriving there, he generously offered him a
breakfast. Before entering, however, he pointed out Madame
d'Argeles's pretty house on the opposite side of the street, and
said to him: "The woman whom you are to follow, and whose son you
are to discover, will emerge from that house "
At that moment, after a night passed in meditating upon his
mother's prophetic warnings, Chupin was again beset by the same
scruples which had so greatly disturbed him on the previous
evening. However, they soon vanished when he heard the winevendor,
in reply to M. Fortunat's skilful questions, begin to
relate all he knew concerning Madame Lia d'Argeles, and the
scandalous doings at her house. The seeker after lost heirs and
his clerk were served at a little table near the door; and while
they partook of the classical beef-steak and; potatoes--M.
Fortunat eating daintily, and Chupin bolting his food with the
appetite of a ship-wrecked mariner--they watched the house
Madame d'Argeles received on Saturdays, and, as Chupin remarked,
"there was a regular procession of visitors."
Standing beside M. Fortunat, and flattered by the attention which
such a well-dressed gentleman paid to his chatter, the landlord of
the house mentioned the names of all the visitors he knew. And he
knew a good number of them, for the coachmen came to his shop for
refreshments when their masters were spending the night in play at
Madame d'Argeles's house. So he was able to name the Viscount de
Coralth, who dashed up to the door in a two-horse phaeton, as well
as Baron Trigault, who came on foot, for exercise, puffing and
blowing like a seal. The wine-vendor, moreover, told his
customers that Madame d'Argeles never went out before half-past
two or three o'clock, and then always in a carriage--a piece of
information which must have troubled Chupin; for, as soon as the
landlord had left them to serve some other customers, he leant
forward and said to M. Fortunat: "Did you hear that? How is it
possible to track a person who's in a carriage?"
"By following in another vehicle, of course."
"Certainly, m'sieur; that's as clear as daylight. But that isn't
the question. The point is this: How can one watch the face of a
person who turns her back to you? I must see this woman's face to
know whom she looks at, and how."
This objection, grave as it appeared, did not seem to disturb M.
Fortunat. "Don't worry about that, Victor," he replied. "Under
such circumstances, a mother wouldn't try to see her son from a
rapidly moving carriage. She will undoubtedly alight, and
contrive some means of passing and repassing him--of touching him,
if possible. Your task will only consist in following her closely
enough to be on the ground as soon as she is. Confine your
efforts to that; and if you fail to-day, you'll succeed to-morrow
or the day after--the essential thing is to be patient."
He did better than to preach patience--he practised it. The hours
wore away, and yet he did not stir from his post, though nothing
could have been more disagreeable to him than to remain on
exhibition, as it were, at the door of a wine-shop. At last, at a
little before three o'clock, the gates over the way turned upon
their hinges, and a dark-blue victoria, in which a woman was
seated, rolled forth into the street. "Look!" said M. Fortunat,
eagerly. "There she is!"
The woman in the carriage was none other than Madame Lia
d'Argeles. She was attired in one of those startling costumes
which are the rage nowadays, and which impart the same bold and
brazen appearance to all who wear them: so much so, that the most
experienced observers are no longer able to distinguish the honest
mother of a family from a notorious character. A Dutchman, named
Van Klopen, who was originally a tailor at Rotterdam, rightfully
ascribes the honor of this progress to himself. One can scarcely
explain how it happens that this individual, who calls himself
"the dressmaker of the queens of Europe," has become the arbiter
of Parisian elegance; but it is an undeniable fact that he does
reign over fashion. He decrees the colors that shall be worn,
decides whether dresses shall be short or long, whether paniers
shall be adopted or discarded, whether ruches and puffs and
flowers shall be allowed, and in what form; and his subjects, the
so-called elegant women of Paris, obey him implicitly.
Madame d'Argeles would personally have preferred less finery,
perhaps, but it would not have done for her to be out of the
fashion. She wore an imperceptible hat, balanced on an immense
pyramidal chignon, from which escaped a torrent of wavy hair.
"What a beautiful woman!" exclaimed the dazzled Chupin, and
indeed, seen from this distance, she did not look a day more than
thirty-five--an age when beauty possesses all the alluring charm
of the luscious fruit of autumn. She was giving orders for the
drive, and her coachman, with a rose in his buttonhole, listened
while he reined in the spirited horse. "The weather's superb,"
added Chupin. "She'll no doubt drive round the lakes in the Bois
de Boulogne----"
"Ah, she's off!" interrupted M. Fortunat. "Run, Victor, run! and
don't be miserly as regards carriage hire; all your expenses shall
be liberally refunded you."
Chupin was already far away. Madame d'Argeles's horse went
swiftly enough, but the agent's emissary had the limbs and the
endurance of a stag, and he kept pace with the victoria without
much difficulty. And as he ran along, his brain was busy. "If I
don't take a cab," he said to himself, "if I follow the woman on
foot, I shall have a perfect right to pocket the forty-five sous
an hour--fifty, counting the gratuity--that a cab would cost."
But on reaching the Champ Elysees, he discovered, to his regret,
that this plan was impracticable, for on running down the Avenue
de l'Imperatrice after the rapidly driven carriage, he could not
fail to attract attention. Stifling a sigh of regret, and seeing
a cab at a stand near by, he hastily hailed it. "Where do you
want to go, sir?" inquired the driver.
"Just follow that blue victoria, in which a handsome lady is
seated, my good fellow."
The order did not surprise the cabman, but rather the person who
gave it; for in spite of his fine apparel, Chupin did not seem
quite the man for such an adventure. "Excuse me," said the Jehu,
in a slightly ironical tone, "I----"
"I said exactly what I mean," retorted Chupin, whose pride was
severely wounded. "And no more talk--hurry on, or we shall miss
the track."
This last remark was correct, for if Madame d'Argeles's coachman
had not slackened his horse's speed on passing round the Arc de
Triomphe, the woman would have escaped Chupin, for that day at
least. However, this circumstance gave the cabman an opportunity
to overtake the victoria; and after that the two vehicles kept
close together as they proceeded down the Avenue de l'Imperatrice.
But at the entrance of the Bois de Boulogne Chupin ordered his
driver to stop. "Halt!" he exclaimed; "I shall get out. Pay the
extra cab charges for passing beyond the limits of Paris!--never!
I'll crawl on my hands and knees first. Here are forty sous for
your fare--and good-evening to you."
And, as the blue victoria was already some distance in advance, he
started off at the top of his speed to overtake it. This
manoeuvre was the result of his meditations while riding along.
"What will this fine lady do when she gets to the Bois?" he asked
himself. "Why, her coachman will take his place in the
procession, and drive her slowly round and round the lakes.
Meantime I can trot along beside her without attracting attention--
and it will be good for my health."
His expectations were realized in every respect. The victoria
soon turned to the left, and took its place in the long line of
equipages which were slowly winding round the lake. Having gained
the foot-path which borders the sheet of water, Chupin followed
the carriage easily enough, with his hands in his pockets, and his
heart jubilant at the thought that he would gain the sum supposed
to have been spent in cab hire, in addition to the compensation
which had been promised him. "This is a strange way of enjoying
one's self," he muttered, as he trotted along. "There can't be
much pleasure in going round and round this lake. If ever I'm
rich, I'll find some other way of amusing myself."
Poor Chupin did not know that people do not go to the Bois to
enjoy themselves, but rather to torment others. This broad drive
is in reality only a field for the airing of vanity--a sort of
open-air bazaar for the display of dresses and equipages. People
come here to see and to be seen; and, moreover, this is neutral
ground, where so-called honest women can meet those notorious
characters from whom they are elsewhere separated by an impassable
abyss. What exquisite pleasure it must be to the dames of society
to find themselves beside Jenny Fancy or Ninette Simplon, or any
other of those young ladies whom they habitually call "creatures,"
but whom they are continually talking of, and whose toilettes,
make-up, and jargon, they assiduously copy!
However, Chupin indulged in none of these reflections. He was
engaged in noting Madame d'Argeles's evident anxiety and
restlessness. She looked eagerly on all sides, sometimes half
leaning out of her carriage, and immediately turning her head
whenever she heard the gallop of a horseman behind her. She was
evidently looking or waiting for some one, but the person did not
make his appearance, and so, growing weary of waiting, after
driving three times round the lake, she made a sign to her
coachman, who at once drew out of line, and turned his horse into
a side-path. Chupin hastened after the victoria, keeping it in
sight until he was fortunate enough to meet an empty cab, which he
at once hired. Madame d'Argeles's coachman, who had received his
orders, now drove down the Champs Elysees, again crossed the Place
de la Concorde, turned into the boulevards, and stopped short at
the corner of the Chaussee d'Antin, where, having tied a thick
veil over her face, Madame Lia abruptly alighted and walked away.
This was done so quickly that Chupin barely had time to fling two
francs to his driver and rush after her. She had already turned
round the corner of the Rue du Helder, and was walking rapidly up
the street. It was a little after five o'clock, and dusk was
setting in. Madame d'Argeles had taken the side of the street
allotted to the uneven numbers. After she had passed the Hotel de
Homburg, she slackened her pace, and eagerly scrutinized one of
the houses opposite--No. 48. Her examination lasted but a moment,
and seemed to be satisfactory. She then turned, and rapidly
retraced her steps as far as the boulevard, when, crossing the
street to the side of the even numbers, she walked up it again
very slowly, stopping before every shop-window.
Convinced that he had almost reached the goal, Chupin also
crossed, and followed closely at her heels. He soon saw her start
and resume her rapid gait. A young man was coming toward her so
quickly indeed that she had not time to avoid him, and a collision
ensued, whereupon the young man gave vent to an oath, and hurling
an opprobrious epithet in her face, passed on.
Chupin shuddered. "What if that should be her son?" he thought.
And while he pretended to be gazing into a shop window, he
stealthily watched the poor woman. She had paused, and he was so
near that he could almost have touched her. He saw her raise her
veil and follow her insulter with a look which it was impossible
to misunderstand. "Oh! oh! It was her son that called her that----"
said Chupin to himself, quite horrified. And without more ado,
he hastened after the young man.
He was between two and four-and-twenty years of age, rather above
the medium height, with very light hair and an extremely pale
complexion. His slight mustache would have been almost
imperceptible if it had not been dyed several shades darker than
his hair. He was attired with that studied carelessness which
many consider to be the height of elegance, but which is just the
reverse. And his bearing, his mustache, and his low hat, tipped
rakishly over one ear, gave him an arrogant, pretentious, rowdyish
appearance. "Zounds! that fellow doesn't suit my fancy," growled
Chupin, as he trotted along. For he was almost running in his
efforts to keep pace with Madame d'Argeles's insulter. The
latter's haste was soon explained. He was carrying a letter which
he wished to have delivered, and no doubt he feared he would not
be able to find a commissionaire. Having discovered one at last,
he called him, gave him the missive, and then pursued his way more
He had reached the boulevard, when a florid-faced youth,
remarkably short and stout, rushed toward him with both hands
amicably extended, at the same time crying, loud enough to attract
the attention of the passers-by: "Is it possible that this is my
dear Wilkie?"
"Yes--alive and in the flesh," replied the young man.
"Well, and what the devil have you been doing with yourself? Last
Sunday, at the races, I looked for you everywhere, and not a
vestige of Wilkie was to be found. However, you were wise not to
go. I am three hundred louis out of pocket. I staked everything
on Domingo, the Marquis de Valorsay's horse. I thought I was sure
to win--yes, sure. Well, Domingo came in third. Can you
understand that? If every one didn't know that Valorsay was a
millionaire, it might be supposed there had been some foul play--
yes, upon my word--that he had bet against his own horse, and
forbidden his jockey to win the race." But the speaker did not
really believe this, so he continued, more gayly: "Fortunately, I
shall retrieve my losses to-morrow, at Vincennes. Shall we see
you there?"
"Then good-by, until to-morrow."
"Until to-morrow."
Thereupon they shook hands, and each departed on his way.
Chupin had not lost a word of this conversation. "Valorsay a
millionaire!" he said to himself. "That's good! Ah, well! now I
know my little gamecock's name, and I also know that he goes to
the races. Wilkie that must be an English name; I like the name
of d'Argeles better. But where the devil is he going now?"
M. Wilkie had simply paused to replenish his cigar-case at the
tobacco office of the Grand Hotel; and, after lighting a cigar, he
came out again, and walked up the boulevard in the direction of
the Faubourg Montmartre. He was no longer in a hurry now; he
strolled along in view of killing time, displaying his charms, and
staring impudently at every woman who passed. With his shoulders
drawn up on a level with his ears, and his chest thrown back, he
dragged his feet after him as if his limbs were half paralyzed; he
was indeed doing his best to create the impression that he was
used up, exhausted, broken down by excesses and dissipation. For
that is the fashion--the latest fancy--chic!
"Will you never have done?" growled Chupin.
"You shall pay for this, you little wretch!" He was so indignant
that the gamin element in his nature stirred again under his fine
broadcloth, and he had a wild longing to throw stones at M.
Wilkie. He would certainly have trodden on his heels, and have
picked a quarrel with him, had it not been for a fear of failing
in his mission, and thereby losing his promised reward.
He followed his man closely, for the crowd was very great. Light
was coming on, and the gas was lit on all sides. The weather was
very mild, and there was not an unoccupied table in front of the
cafes, for it was now the absinthe hour. How does it happen that
every evening, between five and seven o'clock, every one in Paris
who is known--who is somebody or something--can be found between
the Passage de l'Opera and the Passage Jouffroy? Hereabout you may
hear all the latest news and gossip of the fashionable world, the
last political canards--all the incidents of Parisian life which
will be recorded by the papers on the following morning. You may
learn the price of stocks, and obtain tips for to-morrow's Bourse;
ascertain how much Mademoiselle A's necklace cost, and who gave it
to her; with the latest news from Prussia; and the name of the
bank chairman or cashier who has absconded during the day, and the
amount he has taken with him.
The crowd became more dense as the Faubourg Montmartre was
approached, but Wilkie made his way through the throng with the
ease of an old boulevardier. He must have had a large circle of
acquaintances, for he distributed bows right and left, and was
spoken to by five or six promenaders. He did not pass the
Terrasse Jouffroy, but, pausing there, he purchased an evening
paper, retraced his steps, and about seven o'clock reached the
Cafe Riche, which he entered triumphantly. He did not even touch
the rim of his hat on going in--that would have been excessively
BAD form; but he called a waiter, in a very loud voice, and
imperiously ordered him to serve dinner on a table near the
window, where he could see the boulevard--and be seen.
"And now my little fighting-cock is going to feed," thought
Chupin. He, too, was hungry; and he was trying to think of some
modest restaurant in the neighborhood, when two young men passed
near him and glanced into the cafe.
"Look, there's Wilkie!" observed one of them.
"That's so, upon my word!" responded the other. "And he has
money, too; fortune has smiled upon him."
"How do you know that?"
"Why, by watching the fellow; one can tell the condition of his
purse as correctly as he could himself. If his funds are low, he
has his meals brought to his room from a cook-shop where he has
credit; his mustache droops despondingly; he is humble even to
servility with his friends, and he brushes his hair over his
forehead. When he is in average circumstances, he dines at
Launay's, waxes his mustache, and brushes his hair back from his
face. But when he dines at the Cafe Riche, my boy, when he has
dyed his mustache, and tips his hat over his ear, and deports
himself in that arrogant fashion, why, he has at least five or six
thousand francs in his pocket, and all is well with him."
"Where does he get his money from?"
"Who can tell?"
"Is he rich?"
"He must have plenty of money--I lent him ten louis once, and he
paid me back."
"Zounds! He's a very honorable fellow, then." Thereupon the two
young men laughed, and passed on.
Chupin had been greatly edified. "Now I know you as well as if I
were your concierge," he muttered, addressing the unconscious
Wilkie; "and when I've followed you home, and learned your number,
I shall have richly earned the fifty francs M. Fortunat promised
me." As well as he could judge through the windowpane, M. Wilkie
was eating his dinner with an excellent appetite. "Ah!" he
exclaimed, not without envy, "these fighting-cocks take good care
of their stomachs. He's there for an hour at least, and I shall
have time to run and swallow a mouthful myself."
So saying, Chupin hastened to a small restaurant in a neighboring
street, and magnificently disbursed the sum of thirty-nine sous.
Such extravagance was unusual on his part, for he had lived very
frugally since he had taken a vow to become rich. Formerly, when
he lived from hand to mouth--to use his own expression--he
indulged in cigars and in absinthe; but now he contented himself
with the fare of an anchorite, drank nothing but water, and only
smoked when some one gave him a cigar. Nor was this any great
privation to him, since he gained a penny by it--and a penny was
another grain of sand added to the foundation of his future
wealth. However, this evening he indulged in the extravagance of
a glass of wine, deciding in his own mind that he had fairly
earned it.
When he returned to his post in front of the Cafe Riche, M. Wilkie
was no longer alone at his table. He was finishing his coffee in
the company of a man of his own age, who was remarkably goodlooking--
almost too good-looking, in fact--and a glance at whom
caused Chupin to exclaim: "What! what! I've seen that face
somewhere before--". But he racked his brain in vain in trying to
remember who this newcomer was, in trying to set a name on this
face, which was positively annoying in its classical beauty, and
which he felt convinced had occupied a place among the phantoms of
his past. Irritated beyond endurance by what he termed his
stupidity, he was trying to decide whether he should enter the
cafe or not, when he saw M. Wilkie take his bill from the hands of
a waiter, glance at it, and throw a louis on the table. His
companion had drawn out his pocketbook for the ostensible purpose
of paying for the coffee he had taken; but Wilkie, with a cordial
gesture, forbade it, and made that magnificent, imperious sign to
the waiter, which so clearly implies: "Take nothing! All is paid!
Keep the change." Thereupon the servant gravely retired, more than
ever convinced of the fact that vanity increases the fabulous
total of Parisian gratuities by more than a million francs a year.
"My gallant youths are coming out," thought Chupin. "I must keep
my ears open." And approaching the door, he dropped on one knee,
and pretended to be engaged in tying his shoestrings. This is one
of the thousand expedients adopted by spies and inquisitive
people. And when a man is foolish enough to tell his secrets in
the street, he should at least be wise enough to distrust the
people near him who pretend to be absorbed in something else; for
in nine cases out of ten these persons are listening to him,
possibly for pay, or possibly from curiosity.
However, the young men whom Chupin was watching were far from
suspecting that they were under surveillance. M. Wilkie came out
first, talking very loud, as often happens when a man has just
partaken of a good dinner, and is blessed with an excellent
digestion. "Come, Coralth, my good fellow, you won't desert me in
this way? I have a box for the Varietes, and you must go with me.
We'll see if Silly imitates Theresa as perfectly as they say."
"But I have an appointment."
"Oh, well, let it wait. Come, viscount, is it agreed?"
"Ah, you do with me just as you like."
"Good! But, first of all let us take a glass of beer to finish our
cigars. And do you know whom you will find in my box?"
At this moment they passed, and Chupin rose to his feet.
"Coralth," he muttered, "Viscount de Coralth. He's not one of our
clients. Let me see, Coralth. This is certainly the first time I
have ever heard the name. Can it be that I'm mistaken?
The more he reflected, the more thoroughly he became convinced of
the accuracy of his first impression, consoling himself with the
thought that a name has but a slight significance after all. His
preoccupation had at least the advantage of shortening the time
which he spent in promenading to and fro, while the friends sat
outside a cafe smoking and drinking. It was still M. Wilkie who
monopolized the conversation, while his companion listened with
his elbow resting on the table, occasionally nodding his head in
token of approbation. One thing that incensed Chupin was that
they loitered there, when one of them had a ticket for a box at
the theatre in his pocket.
"Idiots!" he growled; "they'll wait till the play's half over
before they go in. And then they'll let the doors slam behind
them for the express purpose of disturbing everybody. Fools, go!"
As if they had heard the command, they rose suddenly, and an
instant after they entered the Varietes. They entered, but Chupin
remained on the pavement, scratching his head furiously, in
accordance with his habit whenever he wished to develop his powers
of imagination. He was trying to think how he might procure
admission to the theatre without paying for it. For several years
he had seen every play put upon the stage in Paris, without
spending a sou, and he felt that it would be actually degrading to
purchase a ticket at the office now. "Pay to see a farce!" he
thought. "Not I. I must know some one here--I'll wait for the
The wisdom of this course became apparent when among those who
left the theatre at the close of the first act he recognized an
old acquaintance, who was now working on the claque,* and who at
once procured him a ticket of admission for nothing. "Well, it is
a good thing to have friends everywhere," he muttered, as he took
the seat assigned him.
* The body of hired applauders who are employed at most Parisian
theatres to stimulate the enthusiasm of the audience.--[Trans.]
It was a very good place they had given him--a seat in the second
gallery commanding an excellent view of the house. The first
glance around told him that his "customers," as he styled them,
were in a box exactly opposite. They were now in the company of
two damsels in startling toilettes, with exceedingly dishevelled
yellow hair, who moved restlessly about, and giggled and stared,
and tried in every possible way to attract attention. And their
stratagem succeeded. However, this did not seem to please the
Viscount de Coralth, who kept himself as far back in the shade as
he possibly could. But young Wilkie was evidently delighted, and
seemed manifestly proud of the attention which the public was
compelled to bestow upon his box. He offered himself as much as
possible to the gaze of the audience; moved about, leaned forward,
and made himself fully as conspicuous as his fair companions.
Less than ever did Chupin now forgive Wilkie for the insult he had
cast in the face of Madame Lia d'Argeles, who was probably his
As for the play, M. Fortunat's emissary did not hear twenty words
of it. He was so overcome with fatigue that he soon fell asleep.
The noise and bustle of each entr'acte aroused him a little, but
he did not thoroughly wake up until the close of the performance.
His "customers" were still in their box, and M. Wilkie was
gallantly wrapping the ladies in their cloaks and shawls. In the
vestibule, he and M. de Coralth were joined by several other young
men, and the whole party adjourned to a neighboring cafe. "These
people are certainly afflicted with an unquenchable thirst,"
growled Chupin. "I wonder if this is their everyday life?"
He, too, was thirsty after his hastily eaten dinner; and necessity
prevailing over economy, he seated himself at a table outside the
cafe, and called for a glass of beer, in which he moistened his
parched lips with a sigh of intense satisfaction. He sipped the
beverage slowly, in order to make it last the longer, but this did
not prevent his glass from becoming dry long before M. Wilkie and
his friends were ready to leave. "It seems to me we are going to
stay here all night," he thought, angrily.
His ill-humor was not strange under the circumstances, for it was
one o'clock in the morning; and after carrying all the tables and
chairs round about, inside, a waiter came to ask Chupin to go
away. All the other cafes were closing too, and the fastening of
bolts or the clanking of shutter chains could be heard on every
side. On the pavement stood groups of waiters in their shirtsleeves,
stretching and yawning, and inhaling the fresh night air
with delight. The boulevard was fast becoming deserted--the men
were going off in little groups, and female forms could be seen
gliding along in the dark shadow cast by the houses. The police
were watching everywhere, with a word of menace ever ready on
their lips; and soon the only means of egress from the cafes were
the narrow, low doorways cut in the shutters through which the
last customers--the insatiable, who are always ordering one
thimbleful more to finish--passed out.
It was through a portal of this sort that M. Wilkie and his
companions at last emerged, and on perceiving them, Chupin gave a
grunt of satisfaction. "At last," he thought, "I can follow the
man to his door, take his number, and go home."
But his joy was short-lived, for M. Wilkie proposed that the whole
party should go and take supper. M. de Coralth demurred to the
idea, but the others over-ruled his objections, and dragged him
away with them.
"Ah! this is a bad job!" growled Chupin. "Go, go, and never
What exasperated him even more than his want of sleep was the
thought that his good mother must be waiting for him at home in an
agony of anxiety; for since his reformation he had become
remarkably regular in his habits. What should he do? "Go home,"
said Reason; "it will be easy enough to find this Wilkie again.
There can be little doubt that he lives at No. 48, in the Rue du
Helder." "Remain," whispered Avarice; "and, since you have
accomplished so much, finish your work. M. Fortunat won't pay for
conjectures, but for a certainty."
Love of money carried the day; so, weaving an interminable chaplet
of oaths, he followed the party until they entered Brebant's
restaurant, one of the best known establishments which remain open
at night-time. It was nearly two o'clock in the morning now; the
boulevard was silent and deserted, and yet this restaurant was
brilliantly lighted from top to bottom, and snatches of song and
shouts of laughter, with the clatter of knives and forks and the
clink of glasses, could be heard through the half opened windows.
"Eight dozen Marennes for No. 6," shouted a waiter to the man who
opened oysters near the restaurant door.
On hearing this order, Chupin shook his clenched fist at the
stars. "The wretches!" he muttered through his set teeth; "bad
luck to them! Those oysters are for their mouths, plainly enough,
for there are eight of them in all, counting those yellow-haired
women. They will, no doubt, remain at table until six o'clock in
the morning. And they call this enjoying themselves. And
meanwhile, poor little Chupin must wear out his shoe-leather on
the pavement. Ah! they shall pay for this!"
It ought to have been some consolation to him to see that he was
not alone in his misery, for in front of the restaurant stood a
dozen cabs with sleepy drivers, who were waiting for chance to
send them one of those half-intoxicated passengers who refuse to
pay more than fifteen sous for their fare, but give their Jehu a
gratuity of a louis. All these vehicles belonged to the peculiar
category known as "night cabs"--dilapidated conveyances with
soiled, ragged linings, and drawn by half-starved, jaded horses.
However, Chupin neither thought of these vehicles, nor of the poor
horses, nor, indeed, of the drivers themselves. His wrath had
been succeeded by philosophical resignation; he accepted with good
grace what he could not avoid. As the night air had become very
cool, he turned up the collar of his overcoat, and began to pace
to and fro on the pavement in front of the restaurant. He had
made a hundred turns perhaps, passing the events of the day in
review, when suddenly such a strange and startling idea flashed
across his mind that he stood motionless, lost in astonishment.
Reflecting on the manner in which M. Wilkie and the Viscount de
Coralth had behaved during the evening, a singular suspicion
assailed him. While M. Wilkie gradually lost his wits, M. de
Coralth had become remarkably cold and reserved. He had seemed to
oppose all M. Wilkie's propositions; but he had agreed to them at
last, so that his objections had produced much the same effect as
a stimulant. It seemed then as if M. de Coralth had some strange
interest in wishing to gain ascendency over his friend. At least
such was Chupin's opinion. "Oh, oh!" he murmured. "What if HE
should be working up the same little scheme? What if he were
acquainted with Madame Lia d'Argeles? What if he knew that there's
a fortune waiting for a claimant? I shouldn't at all be surprised
if I found that he wanted to cook his bread in our oven. But
father Fortunat wouldn't be pleased with the news. Ah! no--he
wouldn't even smile----"
While carrying on this little conversation with himself, he stood
just in front of the restaurant, looking up into the air, when all
of a sudden a window was thrown noisily open, and the figures of
two men became plainly visible. They were engaged in a friendly
struggle; one of them seemed to be trying to seize hold of
something which the other had in his hand, and which he refused to
part with. One of these men was M. Wilkie as Chupin at once
perceived. "Good!" he said to himself; "this is the beginning of
the end!"
As he spoke, M. Wilkie's hat fell on the window-sill, slipped off,
and dropped on to the pavement below. With a natural impulse
Chupin picked it up, and he was turning it over and over in his
hands, when M. Wilkie leant out of the window and shouted in a
voice that was thick with wine: "Halloo! Eh, there! Who picked up
my hat? Honesty shall be rewarded. A glass of champagne and a
cigar for the fellow who'll bring it me in room No. 6."
Chupin hesitated. By going up, he might, perhaps, compromise the
success of his mission. But on the other hand his curiosity was
aroused, and he very much wished to see, with his own eyes, how
these young men were amusing themselves. Besides, he would have
an opportunity of examining this handsome viscount, whom he was
certain he had met before, though he could not tell when or where.
In the meantime, M. Wilkie had perceived him.
"Come, you simpleton!" he cried; "make haste. You can't be very
The thought of the viscount decided Chupin. Entering the
restaurant and climbing the staircase, he had just reached the
landing when a pale-looking man, who had a smoothly-shaven face
and was dressed in black, barred his way and asked: "What do you
"M'sieur, here's a hat which fell from one of your windows and----"
"All right, hand it here."
But Chupin did not seem to hear this order. He was beginning a
long explanation, when a curtain near by was pushed aside, and M.
Wilkie called out: "Philippe! eh, Philippe!--bring me the man who
picked up my hat."
"Ah!" said Chupin, "you see, m'sieur, that he asks for me."
"Very well," said Philippe. "Go on, then." And raising the
portiere he pushed Chupin into room No. 6.
It was a small, square apartment, with a very low ceiling. The
temperature was like that of a furnace, and the glare of the
gaslights almost blinded one. The supper was over, but the table
had not yet been cleared, and plates full of leavings showed that
the guests had fairly exhausted their appetites. Still, with the
exception of M. Wilkie, every one present seemed to be terribly
bored. In one corner, with her head resting on a piano, sat one
of the yellow-haired damsels, fast asleep, while, beside the
window, M. de Coralth was smoking with his elbows propped upon the
table. The four other young men were looking on phlegmatically.
"Ah! here's my hat," exclaimed M. Wilkie, as soon as Chupin
appeared. "Wait and receive your promised reward." And thereupon
he rang the bell, crying at the top of his voice: "Henry, you
sleepy-head--a clean glass and some more of the widow Cliquot's
Several bottles were standing upon the table, only half empty, and
one of M. Wilkie's friends called his attention to this fact, but
he shrugged his shoulders disdainfully. "You must take me for a
fool," he said, contemptuously. "A man doesn't drink stale wine
when he has the prospect of such an inheritance as is coming to me"
"Wilkie!" interrupted M. de Coralth, quickly; "Wilkie!"
But he was too late; Chupin had heard and understood everything.
His conjectures had proved correct. M. Wilkie knew his right to
the estate; M. Fortunat had been forestalled by the viscount, and
would merely have his labor for his pains. "No chance for the
guv'nor!" thought the agent's emissary. "And what a blow after
the De Valorsay affair! It's enough to give him the jaundice!"
For a youth of his age, Chupin controlled his feelings admirably;
but the revelation came so suddenly that he had started despite
himself, and changed color a trifle. M. de Coralth saw this; and,
though he was far from suspecting the truth, his long repressed
anger burst forth. He rose abruptly, took up a bottle, and
filling the nearest glass, he rudely exclaimed: "Come, drink that--
make haste--and clear out!"
Victor Chupin must have become very sensitive since his
conversion. In former times he was not wont to be so susceptible
as to lose his temper when some one chanced to address him in a
rather peremptory manner, or to offer him wine out of the first
available glass. But M. de Coralth inspired him with one of those
inexplicable aversions which cannot be restrained "Eh! tell me if
it's because we've drank champagne together before that you talk
to me like that?" the young fellow retorted, savagely.
It was only a random shot, but it reached home. The viscount
seemed touched to the quick. "You hear that, Wilkie," said he.
"This will teach you that the time of your compatriot, Lord
Seymour, has passed by. The good-humored race of plebeians who
respectfully submitted to the blows with which noblemen honored
them after drinking, has died out. This ought to cure you of your
unfortunate habit of placing yourself on terms of equality with
all the vagabonds you meet."
Chupin's hair fairly bristled with anger. "What! what!" he
exclaimed; "I'll teach you to call me a vagabond, you scoundrel!"
His gesture, his attitude, and his eyes were so expressive of
defiance and menace that two of the guests sprang up and caught
him by the arm. "Go, go," they said.
But he freed himself from their grasp. "Go!" he replied. "Never!
He called me a vagabond. Am I to pocket the insult quietly and
walk off with it? You can scarcely expect that. First, I demand
an apology."
This was asking too much of the Viscount de Coralth. "Let the
fool alone," he remarked, with affected coolness, "and ring for
the waiters to kick him out."
It did not require this new insult to put Chupin in a furious
passion. "Come on!" he exclaimed. "Ah, ha! Where's the fellow
who'll turn me out? Let him come. I'll teach him a lesson!" And
as he spoke he squared his shoulders, inflated his chest, and
threw the weight of his entire body on his left leg, after the
most approved method of sparring-masters.
"Go, go!" insisted Wilkie's friends.
"Yes, I'll go with pleasure, but your friend must go, too. Is he
a man? Then let him come, and we'll settle this outside." And
seeing that they were again trying to seize him: "Hands off!" he
thundered, "or I'll strike. You were not obliged to invite me
here. It isn't my business to furnish amusement to parties who've
drunk too much wine. And why should you despise me? It's true I
haven't any money while you have plenty--that I work and you
carouse. Still that's no reason why you should scorn me.
Besides, those who are poor in the morning are sometimes rich in
the evening. Every dog has his day. I have an idea that I shall
have some coin when yours is all gone. Then it will be my turn to
laugh; and as I'm a good-natured fellow, I will give you my halfsmoked
M. Wilkie seemed delighted. He had climbed on to the piano and
seated himself, with his feet on the keyboard; and there, as on a
judgment seat, he listened and applauded, alternately taking
Chupin's part, and then the viscount's. "Bravo, gamin!" or, "Give
it to him, Coralth!" he shouted in turn.
This irritated the viscount exceedingly. "I see that we shall be
obliged to call in the police to settle the affair," he said,
"The police!" roared Chupin. "Ah! that won't do, you scamp--" But
his voice died away in his throat, and he stood motionless,
speechless, with his arm raised as if he were about to strike, and
his eyes dilated with astonishment.
For a change of expression in M. de Coralth's face had enlightened
him; and he suddenly recollected when and under what circumstances
he had known this so-called viscount. He remembered, too, the
name he had borne when he first met him. "Oh!" he stammered; "oh!
However, the effect of this discovery was to dispel his anger, or
rather to restore his calmness, and, addressing M. de Coralth, he
exclaimed: "Don't be angry at what I've said, m'sieur; it was only
a jest--I know that there's a wide difference between a poor devil
like me and a viscount like you--I haven't a sou, you see, and
that maddens me. But I'm not so very bad-looking, fortunately,
and I'm always hoping that the daughter of some rich banker will
fall in love with me and marry me. Some people have such luck,
you know. If I meet with any you may be sure I shall pass myself
off as the lost child of some great personage--of a duke, for
instance--and if the real son exists, and troubles me, why I'll
quietly put him out of the way, if possible."
With but one exception the persons present did not understand a
single word of this apparent nonsense; and indeed the yellowhaired
damsels stared at the speaker in amazement. Still it was
evident that each of these words had a meaning, and a terrible
meaning for M. de Coralth. Accustomed for years to control his
features, he remained apparently unmoved--he even smiled; but a
close observer could have detected anguish in his eyes, and he had
become very pale. At last, unable to endure the scene any longer,
he drew a hundred-franc bank-note from his pocketbook, crumpled it
in his hand and threw it at Chupin, saying: "That's a very pretty
story you are telling, my boy; but we've had enough of it. Take
your pay and leave us."
Unfortunately, the note struck Chupin full in the face. He
uttered a hoarse cry of rage, and, by the way in which he seized
and brandished an empty bottle, it might have been imagined that
M. de Coralth was about to have his head broken. But no. Thanks
to a supreme effort of will, Chupin conquered this mad fury; and,
dropping the bottle, he remarked to the young women who were
uttering panic-stricken shrieks: "Be quiet; don't you see that I
was only in fun."
But even M. Wilkie had found the fun a little rough, and even
dangerous. Several of the young fellows present sprang up, with
the evident intention of pushing Chupin out of the room, but he
checked them with a gesture. "Don't disturb yourselves,
gentlemen," he said. "I'm going, only let me find the bank-note
which this gentleman threw at me."
"That's quite proper," replied M. Wilkie, approvingly; "look for
Chupin did so, and at last found it lying almost under the piano.
"Now," he remarked, "I should like a cigar."
A score or so were lying in a dish. He gravely selected one of
them and coolly cut off the end of it before placing it in his
mouth. Those around watched him with an air of profound
astonishment, not understanding this ironical calmness following
so closely upon such a storm of passion. Then he, Victor Chupin,
who had, it seems to me, but one aim in life--to become rich--
Victor Chupin, who loved money above anything else, and had
stifled all other passions in his soul--he who often worked two
whole days to earn five francs--he who did not disdain to claim
his five sous when he went to hire a cab for his employer--he,
Chupin, twisted the bank-note in his fingers, lit it at the gas,
and used it to light his cigar.
"Ah! he's crazy!" murmured the yellow-haired damsels, with despair
in their voices.
But M. Wilkie was enthusiastic. "There's form!" said he. "Fine
form and no mistake!"
But Chupin did not even deign to turn his head. He opened the
door, and standing on the threshold, he bowed to M. de Coralth
with an ironical smile. "Until we meet again, Monsieur Paul,"
said he. "And kindly remember me to Madame Paul, if you please."
If the others had been less astonished, they would have no doubt
have remarked the prodigious effect of this name upon their
brilliant friend. He became ghastly pale and fell back in his
chair. Then, suddenly, he bounded up as if he wished to attack
his enemy. But pursuit seemed likely to yield no result, for
Chupin was already on the boulevard.
It was daybreak. Paris was waking up; the bakers were standing at
their doors, and boys in their shirt-sleeves, with their eyes
swollen with sleep, were taking down the shutters of the wineshops.
A cloud of dust, raised by the street-sweepers, hung in
the distance; the rag-pickers wandered about, peering among the
rubbish; the noisy milk-carts jolted along at a gallop, and
workmen were proceeding to their daily toil, with hunches of bread
in their hands. The morning air was very chilly; nevertheless,
Chupin seated himself on a bench across the boulevard, at a spot
where he could watch the entrance of the restaurant without being
seen. He had just experienced one of those sudden shocks which so
disturb the mind, that one becomes insensible to outward
circumstances, whatever they may be. He had recognized in the socalled
Viscount de Coralth, the man whom he had hated above all
others in the world, or, rather, the only man whom he hated, for
his was not a bad heart. Impressionable to excess like a true
child of the faubourgs, he had the Parisian's strange mobility of
feeling. If his anger was kindled by a trifle, the merest nothing
usually sufficed to extinguish it. But matters were different
respecting this handsome viscount! God! how I hate him!" he
hissed through his set teeth. "God! how I hate him!"
For once, years before, as he had confessed to M. Fortunat, Chupin
had been guilty of a cowardly and abominable act, which had nearly
cost a man his life. And this crime, if it had been successful,
would have benefited the very fellow who concealed his sinful,
shameful past under the high-sounding name of Coralth. How was it
that Chupin had not recognized him at once? Because he had worked
for this fellow without knowing him, receiving his orders through
the miserable wretches who pandered to his vices. He had only
seen him personally once or twice, and had never spoken to him.
Later--too late--he discovered what vile intrigue it was that he
had served. And when he became sincerely repentant he loathed
this Coralth who had caused his crime.
Nor was this all. The recognition of Coralth had inspired him
with remorse. It had aroused in the recesses of his conscience a
threatening voice which cried: "What are you doing here? You are
acting as a spy for a man you distrust, and whose real designs you
are ignorant of. It was in this way you began before. Have you
forgotten what it led to? Have you not sin enough already upon
your conscience? Blood enough upon your hands? It is folly to
pretend that one may serve as a tool for villains, and still
remain an honest man!"
It was this voice which had given Chupin the courage to light his
cigar with the bank-note. And this voice still tortured him, as
seated on the bench he now tried to review the situation. Where,
indeed, was he? With rare good luck he had discovered the son whom
Madame Lia d'Argeles had so long and successfully concealed. But
contrary to all expectations, this young fellow already knew of
the inheritance which he was entitled to. M. de Coralth had
already achieved what M. Fortunat had meant to do; and so the plan
was a failure, and it was useless to persist in it.
This would have ended the matter if Chupin had not chanced to know
the Viscount de Coralth's shameful past. And this knowledge
changed everything, for it gave him the power to interfere in a
most effectual manner. Armed with this secret, he could bestow
the victory on M. Fortunat, and force M. de Coralth to capitulate.
And he could do this all the more easily, as he was sure that
Coralth had not recognized him, and that he was perhaps ignorant
of his very existence. Chupin had allowed himself to be carried
away by a sudden impulse of anger which he regretted; he had made
an ironical illusion to his enemy's past life, but after all this
had done no particular harm. So nothing prevented him from
lending M. Fortunat his assistance, and thus killing two birds
with one stone. He could have his revenge on Coralth, and at the
same time insure his patron a large fee, of which he could claim a
considerable share for himself. But no! The idea of deriving any
profit whatever from this affair inspired him with a feeling of
disgust--honor triumphed over his naturally crafty and avaricious
nature. It seemed to him that any money made in this way would
soil his fingers; for he realized there must be some deep villainy
under all this plotting and planning; he was sure of it, since
Coralth was mixed up in the affair. "I will serve my guv'nor for
nothing," he decided. "When a man is avenged, he's well paid."
Chupin decided upon this course because he could think of no
better plan. Still, if he had been master of events he would have
acted otherwise. He would have quietly presented the government
with this inheritance which he found M. Wilkie so unworthy of.
"The devil only knows what he'll do with it," he thought. "He'll
squander it as my father squandered the fortune that was given
him. It is only fools who meet with such luck as that."
However, his meditations did not prevent him from keeping a close
watch over the restaurant, for it was of the utmost importance
that M. Wilkie should not escape him. It was now broad daylight,
and customers were leaving the establishment; for, after passing
what is generally conceded to be a joyous night, they felt the
need of returning home to rest and sleep. Chupin watched them as
they emerged. There were some who came out with drooping heads,
mumbling incoherent phrases; while others who were equally
intoxicated, but more nervous, evinced considerable animation, and
sang snatches of songs, or jested loudly with the street-sweepers
as they passed on. The more sober, surprised by the sunlight, and
blushing at themselves, slunk hastily and quietly away. There was
one man, moreover, whom the waiters were obliged to carry to his
cab, for he could no longer stand on his feet.
At last Chupin saw the individual clad in black whom Wilkie had
addressed as Philippe, and who had endeavored to prevent him from
entering the restaurant, come out, and walk rapidly away. He was
warmly clad in a thick overcoat, but he shivered, and his pale,
wan face betrayed the man who is a martyr to the pleasures of
others--the man who is condemned to be up all night and sleep only
in the daytime--the man who can tell you how much folly and
beastliness lurk in the depths of the wine-cup, and who knows
exactly how many yawns are expressed by the verb "to amuse one's
self." Chupin was beginning to feel uneasy. "Can M. Wilkie and
his friends have made their escape?" he wondered.
But at that very moment they made their appearance. They lingered
awhile on the pavement to chat, and Chupin had an opportunity of
observing the effect of their night's dissipation on their faces.
The brilliant sunlight made their eyes blink, and the cold sent
purple blotches to their bloated cheeks. As for the young women
with yellow hair, they appeared as they really were--hideous.
They entered the only cab that remained, the most dilapidated one
of all, and the driver of which had no little difficulty in
setting his horse in motion; whereupon the gentlemen went off on
Many persons would have been vexed and even humiliated by the
necessity of appearing at this hour on the boulevard in disorderly
attire, which plainly indicated that they had spent the night in
debauchery. But with the exception of the Viscount de Coralth,
who was evidently out of humor, the party seemed delighted with
themselves, as it was easy to see by the way they met the glances
of the passers-by. They considered themselves first-class form--
they were producing an effect--they were astonishing people. And
what more could they desire?
One thing is certain--they were irritating Chupin terribly. He
was following them on the opposite side of the boulevard, at some
little distance in the rear, for he was afraid of being
recognized. "The wretches!" he growled. "One couldn't draw a
pint of manly blood from the veins of all six of them. Ah, if
they knew how I hate them!"
But he had not long to nurse his wrath. On reaching the Rue
Drouot, two of the gentlemen left the party, and two more went
down the Rue Lepelletier. M. Wilkie and the viscount were left to
walk down the boulevard alone. They linked their arms and carried
on an animated conversation until they reached the Rue du Helder,
where they shook hands and separated. What had they said at
parting? What agreement had been made between them? Chupin would
willingly have given a hundred sous from his private purse to have
known. He would have given as much more to have been able to
double himself, in order to pursue the viscount, who had started
off in the direction of the Madeleine, without having to give up
watching and following his friend. But the days of miracles are
over. So Chupin sighed, and, following Wilkie, he soon saw him
enter No. 48 of the Rue du Helder. The concierge, who was at the
door busily engaged in polishing the bell-handle, bowed
respectfully. "So there it is!" grumbled Chupin. "I knew he
lived there--I knew it by the way that Madame d'Argeles looked at
the windows yesterday evening. Poor woman! Ah! her son's a fine
fellow and no mistake!"
His compassion for the unhappy mother seemed to recall him to a
sense of duty. "Scoundrel that I am!" he exclaimed, striking his
forehead with his clenched fist. "Why, I'm forgetting my own good
mother!" And as his task was now ended, he started off on the run,
taking the shortest cut to the Faubourg Saint-Denis. "Poor
mother!" he said to himself as he tore along, "what a night she
must have had! She must have cried her eyes out!"
He spoke the truth. The poor woman had passed a night of agony--
counting the hours, and trembling each time the door of the house
opened, announcing some tenant's return. And as morning
approached, her anxiety increased. "For her son would not have
allowed her to remain in such suspense," she said to herself,
"unless he had met with some accident or encountered some of his
former friends--those detestable scamps who had tried to make him
as vile as themselves." Perhaps he had met his father, Polyte
Chupin, the man whom she still loved in spite of everything,
because he was her husband, but whom she judged, and whom indeed
she knew, to be capable of any crime. And of all misfortunes, it
was an accident, even a fatal accident, that she dreaded least.
In her heroic soul the voice of honor spoke even more loudly than
the imperious instinct of maternity; and she would rather have
found her son lying dead on the marble slabs of the Morgue than
seated in the dock at the Assize Court.
Her poor eyes were weary of weeping when she at last recognized
Victor's familiar step approaching down the passage. She hastily
opened the door, and as soon as she FELT that he was near her, for
she could not see him, she asked: "Where have you spent the night?
Where have you come from? What has happened?"
His only answer was to fling his arms round her neck, following
alike the impulse of his heart and the advice of experience, which
told him that this would be the best explanation he could give.
Still it did not prevent him from trying to justify himself,
although he was careful not to confess the truth, for he dreaded
his mother's censure, knowing well enough that she would be less
indulgent than his own conscience.
"I believe you, my son," said the good woman, gravely; "you
wouldn't deceive me, I'm sure." And she added: "What reassured
me, when you kissed me, was that you hadn't been drinking."
Chupin did not speak a word; this confidence made him strangely
uneasy. "May I be hung," he thought, "if after this I ever do
anything that I can't confess to this poor good woman!"
But he hadn't time for sentimental reflections. He had gone too
far to draw back, and it was necessary for him to report the
result of his researches as soon as possible. Accordingly, he
hastily ate a morsel, for he was faint with hunger, and started
out again, promising to return to dinner. He was in all the
greater haste as it was Sunday. M. Fortunat was in the habit of
passing these days in the country, and Chupin feared he might fail
to see him if he was not expeditious in his movements. And while
running to the Place de la Bourse, he carefully prepared the story
he meant to relate, deeply impressed by the wisdom of the popular
maxim which says: "It is not always well to tell the whole truth."
Ought he to describe the scene at the restaurant, mention Coralth,
and say that there was nothing more to be done respecting M.
Wilkie? After mature deliberation he decided in the negative. If
he revealed everything, M. Fortunat might become discouraged and
abandon the affair. It would be better to let him discover the
truth himself, and profit by his anger to indicate a means of
It happened that M. Fortunat had decided not to go to the country
that Sunday. He had slept later than usual, and was still in his
dressing-gown when Chupin made his appearance. He uttered a
joyful cry on seeing his emissary, feeling assured that he must be
the bearer of good news, since he came so early. "You have
succeeded, then?" he exclaimed.
"Yes, monsieur."
"You have discovered Madame d'Argeles's son?"
"I have him."
"Ah! I knew that you were a clever fellow. Quick, tell me
everything. But no, wait a moment."
He rang the bell, and Madame Dodelin at once made her appearance.
"Put another plate on the table," said the agent. "M. Chupin will
breakfast with me--and serve us at once. You agree, don't you,
Victor? It's ten o'clock; I'm hungry; and we can talk better over
a bottle of wine."
This was a great honor; and it gave Chupin a fitting idea of the
value of the service he had rendered. He was not too much elated,
however; though he felt very sorry that he had eaten before he
came. On his side, M. Fortunat by no means regretted having
conferred this favor on his clerk, for the story which the latter
related, caused him intense delight. "Very good!--well done," he
exclaimed every other minute. "I could not have done better
myself. You shall be abundantly rewarded, Victor, if this affair
is successful." And at this thought his satisfaction overflowed in
a complacent monologue: "Why shouldn't it succeed?" he asked
himself. "Could anything be more simple and certain? I can make
any demand I please--one, two, three hundred thousand francs. Ah,
it was a good thing that the Count de Chalusse died! Now, I can
forgive Valorsay. Let him keep my forty thousand francs; he's
quite welcome to them! Let him marry Mademoiselle Marguerite; I
wish them a large and flourishing family! And Madame d'Argeles,
too, has my benediction!"
He was so confident his fortune was made that at noon he could
restrain himself no longer. He hired a cab and accompanied by
Chupin he set out for M. Wilkie's abode, declaring that he would
wake that young gentleman up if needs be, but at all events he
must see him without delay. When he reached the Rue du Helder, he
told Chupin to wait in the cab, and then entering the house, he
asked: "Monsieur Wilkie?"
"On the second floor, the door to the right," replied the
M. Fortunat ascended the stairs very slowly, for he felt the
necessity of regaining all his composure, and it was not until he
had brought himself to a proper frame of mind that he rang the
bell. A small servant, M. Wilkie's fag, who took his revenge in
robbing his employer most outrageously, came to the door, and
began by declaring that his master was out of town. But M.
Fortunat understood how to force doors open, and his manoeuvres
succeeded so well that he was finally allowed to enter a small
sitting-room, while the servant went off, saying: "I will go and
inform monsieur."
Instead of wasting time in congratulating himself on this first
achievement the agent began to inspect the room in which he found
himself, as well as another apartment, the door of which stood
open. For he was of the opinion that a dwelling-place indicates
the character of its inmate, as surely as a shell indicates the
form of the creature that inhabits it. M. Wilkie was comfortably
lodged; but his rooms were most pretentiously ornamented. They
were indeed decorated in more than doubtful taste. There were
very few books lying about, but costly riding-whips, spurs,
rifles, cartridge-boxes, and all the paraphernalia of a
fashionable sporting man, were here in abundance.
The only pictures on the wall were a few portraits of celebrated
horses, which foreshadowed the fact that M. Wilkie must have, at
least, an eighth share in some well-known racer. After this
inspection, M. Fortunat smiled complacently. "This young fellow
has expensive tastes," he thought. "It will be very easy to
manage him."
However his reflections were interrupted by the return of the
servant, who exclaimed: "My master is in the dining-room, and if
monsieur will enter----"
The heir-hunter did enter, and found himself face to face with M.
Wilkie, who was partaking of a cup of chocolate. He was not only
up, but he was dressed to go out--dressed in such a style that he
would have been taken for a respectable groom. A couple of hours'
sleep had made him himself again; and he had regained the
arrogance of manner which was the distinguishing trait of his
character, and a sure sign that he was in prosperous
circumstances. As his unknown visitor entered he looked up, and
bruskly asked: "What do you want?"
"I called on business, monsieur."
"Ah, well! this isn't a favorable moment. I must be at Vincennes
for the races. I'm interested in a horse. So, you understand----"
M. Fortunat was secretly amused by M. Wilkie's nonchalance. "The
young fellow won't be in so much of a hurry when he learns my
business," he thought. And he replied aloud: "I can explain what
brings me in a few words, monsieur."
"Proceed, then."
M. Fortunat began by closing the door which had been intentionally
left open by the servant; and then, returning to M. Wilkie's side,
he began with an air of the greatest mystery: "What would you give
a shrewd man if he suddenly placed you in undisputed possession of
an immense fortune--of a million--two millions, perhaps?"
He had prepared this little effect most carefully, and he fully
expected to see Wilkie fall on his knees before him. But not at
all; the young gentleman's face never moved a muscle; and it was
in the calmest possible tone, and with his mouth half full that he
replied: "I know the rest. You come, don't you, to sell me the
secret of an unclaimed inheritance, which belongs to me? Very
well, you have come too late."
If the ceiling had fallen and crushed M. Fortunat there and then
he would, mentally at least, have not been in a more pitiable
condition. He stood silent, motionless, utterly confounded, with
his mouth wide open, and such an expression of consternation in
his eyes that M. Wilkie burst into a hearty laugh. Still the
agent struggled against fate, and ultimately faltered: "Let me
explain--permit me----"
"Oh, it would be useless. I know my rights. I have already
arranged with a party to prosecute my claims; the agreement will
be signed on the day after to-morrow."
"With whom?"
"Ah, excuse me; that's my affair."
He had finished his chocolate, and he now poured out a glass of
ice-water, drank it, wiped his mouth, and rose from the table.
"You will excuse me, my dear sir, if I leave you," he remarked.
"As I said before, I am going to Vincennes. I have staked a
thousand louis on 'Pompier de Nanterre,' my horse, and my friends
have ventured ten times as much. Who knows what may happen if I'm
not there at the start?" And then, ignoring M. Fortunat as
completely as if he had not existed, M. Wilkie exclaimed: "Toby,
you fool! where are you? Is my carriage below? Quick, bring me my
cane, my gloves, and my glasses. Take down that basket of
champagne. Run and put on your new livery. Make haste, you
little beast, I shall be too late."
M. Fortunat left the room. The frightful anger that had followed
his idiotic stupor sent his blood rushing madly to his brain. A
purple mist swam before his eyes; there was a loud ringing in his
ears, and with each pulsation of his heart his head seemed to
receive a blow from a heavy hammer. His feelings were so terrible
that he was really frightened. "Am I about to have an attack of
apoplexy?" he wondered. And, as every surrounding object seemed
to whirl around him, the very floor itself apparently rising and
falling under his feet, he remained on the landing waiting for
this horrible vertigo to subside and doing his best to reason with
himself. It was fully five minutes before he dared to risk the
descent; and even when he reached the street, his features were so
frightfully distorted that Chupin trembled.
He sprang out, assisted his employer into the cab, and bade the
driver return to the Place de la Bourse. It was really pitiful to
see the despair which had succeeded M. Fortunat's joyful
confidence. "This is the end of everything," he groaned. "I'm
robbed, despoiled, ruined! And such a sure thing as it seemed.
These misfortunes happen to no one but me! Some one in advance of
me! Some one else will capture the prize! Oh, if I knew the
wretch, if I only knew him!"
"One moment," interrupted Chupin; "I think know the man."
M. Fortunat gave a violent start. "Impossible!" he exclaimed.
"Excuse me, monsieur--it must be a vile rascal named Coralth."
It was a bellow rather than a cry of rage that escaped M.
Fortunat's lips. To a man of his experience, only a glimmer of
light was required to reveal the whole situation. "Ah! I
understand!--I see!" he exclaimed. "Yes, you are right, Victor;
it's he--Coralth--Valorsay's tool! Coralth was the traitor who, in
obedience to Valorsay's orders, ruined the man who loved
Mademoiselle Marguerite. The deed was done at Madame d'Argeles's
house. So Coralth knows her, and knows her secret. It's he who
has outwitted me." He reflected for a moment, and then, in a very
different tone, he said: "I shall never see a penny of the count's
millions, and my forty thousand francs are gone forever; but, as
Heaven hears me, I will have some satisfaction for my money. Ah!--
so Coralth and Valorsay combine to ruin me! Very well!--since
this is the case, I shall espouse the cause of Mademoiselle
Marguerite and of the unfortunate man they've ruined. Ah, my
cherubs, you don't know Fortunat yet! Now well see if the
innocent don't get the best of you, and if they don't unmask you.
I shall do my best, since you have forced me to do it--and gratis
Chupin was radiant; his vengeance was assured. "And I, monsieur,"
said he, "will give you some information about this Coralth.
First of all, the scoundrel's married and his wife keeps a
tobacco-shop somewhere near the Route d'Asnieres. I'll find her
for you--see if I don't"
The sudden stopping of the vehicle which had reached the Place de
la Bourse, cut his words short. M. Fortunat ordered him to pay
the driver, while he himself rushed upstairs, eager to arrange his
plan of campaign--to use his own expression. In his absence a
commissionaire had brought a letter for him which Madame Dodelin
now produced. He broke the seal, and read to his intense
surprise: "Monsieur--I am the ward of the late Count de Chalusse.
I must speak to you. Will you grant me an interview on Wednesday
next, at a quarter-past three o'clock? Yours respectfully,
When Mademoiselle Marguerite left the dead count's bedside at ten
o'clock at night to repair to Pascal Ferailleur's house, she did
not yet despair of the future. Father, friend, rank, security,
fortune--she had lost all these in a single moment--but she could
still see a promise of happiness in the distance.
She suffered undoubtedly, and yet she experienced a sort of bitter
pleasure at the thought of uniting her life to the man who was as
unfortunate as herself, who was slandered as she herself had been
slandered, branded with the most cruel and unjust imputations, and
had neither fortune nor friends. Others might scorn them; but
what did they care for the world's disdain so long as they had the
approval of their consciences? Would not their mutual esteem
suffice since they loved each other? It seemed to Marguerite that
their very misfortunes would bind them more closely to each other,
and cement the bonds of their love more strongly. And if it were
absolutely necessary for them to leave France--ah, well! they
would leave it. To them Fatherland would always be the spot where
they lived together.
As the cab approached the Rue d'Ulm she pictured Pascal's sorrow,
and the joy and surprise he would feel when she suddenly appeared
before him, and faltered: "They accuse you--here I am! I know that
you are innocent, and I love you!"
But the brutal voice of the concierge, informing her of Pascal's
secret departure, in the most insulting terms, abruptly dispelled
her dreams. If Pascal had failed her, everything had failed her.
If she had lost him, she had lost her all. The world seemed
empty--struggling would be folly--happiness was only an empty
name. She indeed longed for death!
Madame Leon who had a set of formulas adapted to all
circumstances, undertook to console her. "Weep, my dear young
lady, weep; it will do you good. Ah! this is certainly a horrible
catastrophe. You are young, fortunately, and Time is a great
consoler. M. Ferailleur isn't the only man on earth. Others will
love you. There are others who love you already!"
"Silence!" interrupted Marguerite, more revolted than if she had
heard a libertine whispering shameful proposals in her ear.
"Silence! I forbid you to add another word." To speak of another--
what sacrilege! Poor girl. She was one of those whose life is
bound up in one love alone, and if that fails them--it is death!
The thought that she was utterly alone added to the horror of her
situation. Whom could she depend upon? Not on Madame Leon. She
distrusted her; she had no confidence whatever in her. Should she
ask for the advice of either of her suitors? The Marquis de
Valorsay inspired her with unconquerable aversion, and she
despised the so-called General de Fondege. So her only friend,
her only protector was a stranger, the old justice of the peace
who had taken her defence, by crushing the slander of the
servants, and whom she had opened her heart to. But he would soon
forget her, she thought; and the future, such as it was presented
to her imagination, seemed a terrible one. However, she was too
courageous to remain for long in despair--she struggled against
her sorrow; and the thought that she might, perhaps, reach Pascal
through M. Fortunat at last occurred to her mind. This hope was
her sole chance of salvation. She clung to it as a shipwrecked
mariner clings to the plank which is his only hope of life.
When she returned to the mansion her mind was made up, and she had
regained her usual composure. For ten minutes or so she had been
praying by the count's bedside, when M. Bourigeau, the concierge,
appeared and handed her a letter which had just been brought to
the house. It was addressed to "Mademoiselle Marguerite de Durtal
de Chalusse, at the Hotel de Chalusse, Rue de Courcelles."
Mademoiselle Marguerite blushed. Who was it that addressed her by
this name which she no longer had the right to bear? She studied
the handwriting for a moment, but she did not remember ever having
seen it before. At last, however, she opened the letter and read:
" My dear, dear child." "Dear child!" indeed. What could this
mean? Was there any one in the world sufficiently interested in
her welfare, or loving her enough, to address her in this style?
She quickly turned the sheet to see the signature; and when her
eyes fell on it she turned pale. "Ah!" she exclaimed,
involuntarily, "ah! ah!"
The letter was signed: "Athenais de Fondege." It had been written
by the General's wife. She resumed her perusal of it, and this is
what she read: "I this instant hear of the cruel loss you have
sustained, and also learn that, for want of testamentary
provisions, the poor Count de Chalusse leaves you, his idolized
daughter, almost without resources. I will not attempt to offer
you consolation, God alone can assuage certain sorrows. I should
come and weep with you if I were not kept in bed by illness. But
to-morrow, whatever happens, I shall be with you before breakfast.
It is at such a time as this, my poor dear afflicted child, that
one can tell one's true friends; and we are yours as I hope to
prove. The General feels that he should be insulting and
betraying the memory of a man who was his dearest friend for
thirty years, if he did not take the count's place, if he did not
become your second father. He has offered you our modest home;
you have refused. Why? With the authority conferred upon me by my
age and my position as the mother of a family, I tell you that you
ought to accept. What other course can you possibly think of?
Where would you go, my poor, dear child? But we will discuss this
matter to-morrow. I shall find a way to persuade you to love us,
and to allow yourself to be loved. In MY heart you will fill the
place of the beloved and lamented daughter I have lost--my
beautiful and gentle Bathilde. Once more I say farewell until tomorrow--
trusting that you will accept the sympathy and affection
of your best friend,
Mademoiselle Marguerite was thunderstruck, for the writer of this
epistle was a lady whom she had only met five or six times, who
had never visited her, and with whom she had scarcely exchanged
twenty words. Moreover, she well remembered certain glances with
which Madame de Fondege had, on one occasion, tried to crush her--
glances so full of cruel contempt that they had drawn bitter tears
of sorrow, shame, and anger, from the poor girl. The count
himself had said to her at the time: "Don't be so childish,
Marguerite, as to trouble yourself about this foolish and impudent
And now this same woman sent her a letter overflowing with
sympathy, and claimed her affection and confidence in the tone of
an old and tried friend. Was such a change natural? Not being
what is called a credulous person, Mademoiselle Marguerite was
unable to believe it. She divined that Madame de Fondege must
have had some hidden motive in writing such a letter--but what
motive was it? Alas! she divined this also only too well. The
General, suspecting that she had stolen the missing money, had
imparted his suspicions to his wife; and she, being as avaricious
and as unscrupulous as himself, was doing her best to secure the
booty for her son. Such a calculation is a common one nowadays.
Steal yourself? Fie. never! You would not dare. Besides, you are
honest. But it is quite a different thing to profit by other
people's rascality. Besides, there are no risks to be
On perusing the letter a second time, it seemed to Mademoiselle
Marguerite that she could hear the General and his wife discussing
the means of obtaining a share of the two millions. She could
hear Madame de Fondege saying to her husband: "You are a blockhead!
You frightened the girl by your precipitancy and roughness.
But fortunately, I'm here. Let me manage the affair; and I'll
prove that women are far more clever than men." And, thereupon,
she had seized her pen, and commenced this letter. In
Mademoiselle Marguerite's opinion, the epistle betrayed the joint
efforts of the pair. She could have sworn that the husband had
dictated the sentence: "The General feels that he should be
insulting and betraying the memory of a man who was his dearest
friend for thirty years, if he did not become your second father."
On the other hand, the phrase, "I shall find a way to persuade you
to love us, and to allow yourself to be loved," was unmistakably
the wife's work. The writer's insincerity was fully revealed by
one passage of the letter. "You will fill the place of the
beloved daughter I have lost," wrote Madame de Fondege. It is
true that she had once had a daughter; but the child had died of
croup when only six months old, and more than twenty-five years
It was strange, moreover, that this letter had not been sent until
ten o'clock in the evening; but, on reflection, Mademoiselle
Marguerite was able to explain this circumstance satisfactorily to
herself. Before taking any decided step, M. and Madame de Fondege
had wished to consult their son; and they had been unable to see
him until late in the evening. However, as soon as the brilliant
hussar had approved the noble scheme concocted by his parents, a
servant had been dispatched with the letter. All these surmises
were surely very plausible; but it was difficult to reconcile them
with the opinion advanced by the magistrate--that M. de Fondege
must know what had become of the missing millions.
Mademoiselle Marguerite did not think of this, however. She was
losing her presence of mind at thought of the odious suspicions
which rested on her, suspicions which she had seemed to read in
the eyes of all who approached her, from Dr. Jodon to the Marquis
de Valorsay. It is true that the magistrate had taken her
defence; he had silenced the servants, but would that suffice?
Would she not remain branded by an abominable accusation? And even
the consciousness of her innocence did not reassure her, for
Pascal's case warned her that innocence is not a sufficient
safeguard against slander.
Could she hope to escape when he had succumbed? She could tell by
the agony that was torturing her own heart, how much he must have
suffered. Where was he now? Beyond the frontiers of France? They
had told her so, but she did not, could not believe it. Knowing
him as she knew him, it seemed to her impossible that he had
accepted his fate so quickly and without a struggle. A secret
presentiment told her that his absence was only feigned, that he
was only biding his time, and that M. Fortunat would not have far
to go in search of him. It was in M. de Chalusse's bedroom that
she thus reflected, but a few steps from the bed on which reposed
all that was mortal of the man whose weakness had made her life
one long martyrdom, whose want of foresight had ruined her future,
but whom she had not the heart to censure. She was standing in
front of the window with her burning forehead resting against the
glass. At that very moment Pascal was waiting, seated on the
curbstone opposite the mansion. At that very moment he was
watching the shadow on the window-curtain, wondering if it were
not Marguerite's. If the night had been clear she might have
discerned the motionless watcher in the street below, and divined
that it was Pascal. But how could she suspect his presence? How
could she suspect that he had hastened to the Rue de Courcelles as
she had hastened to the Rue d'Ulm?
It was almost midnight when a slight noise, a sound of stealthy
footsteps, made her turn. Madame Leon was leaving the room, and a
moment later Marguerite heard the house-door leading into the
garden open and shut again. There was nothing extraordinary about
such an occurrence, and yet a strange misgiving assailed her.
Why, she could not explain; but many trivial circumstances,
suddenly invested with a new and alarming significance, recurred
to her mind. She remembered that Madame Leon had been restless
and nervous all the evening. The housekeeper, who was usually so
inactive, who lounged in her arm-chair for hours together, had
been moving uneasily about, going up and down stairs at least a
dozen times, and continually glancing at her watch or the clock.
Twice, moreover, had the concierge come to tell her that some one
wished to see her. "Where can she be going now, at midnight?"
thought Mademoiselle Marguerite; "she who is usually so timid?"
At first, the girl resisted her desire to solve the question; her
suspicions seemed absurd to her, and, besides, it was distasteful
to her to play the spy. Still, she listened, waiting to hear
Madame Leon re-enter the house. But more than a quarter of an
hour elapsed, and yet the door did not open or close again.
Either Madame Leon had not left the house at all, or else she was
still outside. "This is very strange!" thought Mademoiselle
Marguerite. "Was I mistaken? I must convince myself." And,
obeying a mysterious influence, stronger than her own will, she
left the room and went down the stairs. She had reached the hall,
when the garden door suddenly opened, and Madame Leon came in.
The lights in the hall were burning brightly, so that it was easy
to observe the housekeeper's manner and countenance. She was
panting for breath, like a person who had been running. She was
very pale, and her dress was disordered. Her cap-strings were
untied, and her cap had slipped from her head and was hanging over
her shoulders. "What is the matter with you?" asked Mademoiselle
Marguerite in astonishment. "Where have you been?"
On seeing the girl Madame Leon recoiled. Should she fly off or
remain? She hesitated for an instant; and it was easy to read her
hesitation in her eyes. She decided to remain; but it was with a
constrained smile and in an unnatural voice that she replied: "Why
do you speak to me like that, my dear young lady? One might
suppose you were angry with me. You must know very well that I've
been in the garden!"
"At this hour of the night?"
"MON DIEU! yes--and not for pleasure, I assure you--not by any
means--I--I----" She was evidently seeking for some excuse; and,
for a moment or two, she stammered forth one incoherent sentence
after another, trying to gain time and imploring Heaven to grant
her an inspiration.
"Well?" insisted Mademoiselle Marguerite, impatiently. "Why did
you go out?"
"Ah! I--I--thought I heard Mirza barking in the garden. I thought
she had been forgotten in all the confusion, and that the poor
creature had been shut out, so I summoned all my courage, and----"
Mirza was an old spaniel that M. de Chalusse had been very fond
of, and the animal's caprices were respected by all the inmates of
the house.
"That's very strange," remarked Mademoiselle Marguerite, "for when
you rose to leave the room, half an hour ago, Mirza was sleeping
at your feet."
"What--really--is it possible?"
"It's certain."
But the worthy woman had already recovered her self-possession and
her accustomed loquacity at the same time. "Ah! my dear young
lady," she said, bravely, "I'm in such sorrow that I'm losing my
senses completely. Still, it was only from the kindest of motives
that I ventured into the garden, and I had scarcely entered it
before I saw something white run away from me--I felt sure it was
Mirza--and so I ran after it. But I could find nothing. I called
'Mirza! Mirza!' and still nothing. I searched under all the
trees, and yet I could not find her. It was as dark as pitch, and
suddenly a terrible fear seized hold of me--such a terrible fright
that I really believe I called for help, and I ran back to the
house half crazed."
Any one hearing her would have sworn that she was telling the
truth. But, unfortunately, her earlier manner had proved her
Mademoiselle Marguerite was not deceived when she said to herself:
"I am on the track of some abominable act." However, she had
sufficient self-control to conceal her suspicions; and she
pretended to be perfectly satisfied with the explanation which the
house-keeper had concocted. "Ah, my dear Leon, you are altogether
too timid; it's absurd," she said, kindly.
The housekeeper hung her head. "I know that I make myself
ridiculous," she said, humbly. "But how can I help it? When a
person's frightened, she can't reason. And that white object
which I saw, as plainly as I see you, what could it have been?"
And, convinced that her fable was believed, she grew bolder, and
ventured to add: "Oh, my dear young lady, I shall tremble all
night if the garden isn't searched. Pray send the servants out to
look. There are so many thieves and rascals in Paris!"
Under any other circumstances Mademoiselle Marguerite would have
refused to listen to this ridiculous request; but, determined to
repay the hypocrite in her own coin, she replied. "Very well; it
shall be done." And calling M. Casimir and Bourigeau, the
concierge, she ordered them to take a lantern and explore the
garden carefully.
They obeyed, though with rather bad grace, not being particularly
courageous, either of them, and, of course, they found nothing.
"No matter," said Madame Leon, "I feel safe now." And she did
indeed feel more tranquil in mind. "I had a lucky escape!" she
said to herself. "What would have become of me, if Mademoiselle
Marguerite had discovered the truth?"
But the housekeeper congratulated herself on her victory too soon.
Mademoiselle Marguerite not only suspected her of treason, but she
was endeavoring to procure proofs of it. She felt certain that
the plausible housekeeper had deceived her, and cruelly wronged
her as well. But what she could not understand was, how Madame
Leon had been able to do so. She had spent a long time in
fruitless conjectures, when suddenly she remembered the little
garden gate. "The deceitful creature must have used that gate,"
she thought.
It was easy for her to verify her suspicion. The little gate had
not been exactly condemned, but many months had elapsed since it
had been used; so it would be a very simple matter to ascertain
whether it had been recently opened or not. "And I will know for
certain before an hour has passed," said Mademoiselle Marguerite
to herself.
Having come to this conclusion, she feigned sleep, keeping a sharp
watch over Madame Leon from between her half-closed eyelids. The
housekeeper, after twisting uneasily in her arm-chair, at last
became quiet again; and it was soon evident that she was sleeping
soundly. Thereupon Mademoiselle Marguerite rose to her feet and
stole noiselessly from the room downstairs into the garden. She
had provided herself with a candle and some matches, and as soon
as she struck a light, she saw that her surmises were correct.
The little gate had just been opened and closed again. The
cobwebs round about the bolts were torn and broken; the rust which
had filled the keyhole had been removed, and on the dust covering
the lock the impress of a hand could be detected. "And I have
confided my most precious secrets to this wicked woman!" thought
Mademoiselle Marguerite. "Fool that I was!"
Already thoroughly convinced, she extinguished her candle. Still,
having discovered so much, she wished to pursue her investigation
to the end, and so she opened the little gate. The ground outside
had been soaked by the recent rains, and had not yet dried, and by
the light of the neighboring street-lamp, she plainly
distinguished a number of well-defined footprints on the muddy
soil. An experienced observer would have realized by the
disposition of these footprints that something like a struggle had
taken place here; but Mademoiselle Marguerite was not sufficiently
expert for that. She only understood what a child would have
understood--that two people had been standing here for some time.
Poor girl! She had not seen Pascal when he was sitting in front of
the mansion some hours before! And now no presentiment warned her
that these footprints were his. In her opinion, the man who had
been talking with Madame Leon was either M. de Fondege, or the
Marquis de Valorsay--that is to say, Madame Leon was hired to
watch her and to render an account of all she said and did.
Her first impulse was to denounce and dismiss this miserable
hypocrite; but as she was returning to the house, an idea which an
old diplomatist need not have been ashamed of entered her mind.
She said to herself that as Madame Leon was unmasked she was no
longer to be feared; so why should she be sent away? A known spy
can undoubtedly be made a most valuable auxiliary. Why shouldn't
I make use of this wicked woman?" thought Mademoiselle Marguerite.
"I can conceal from her what I don't wish her to know, and with a
little skill I can make her carry to her employers such
information as will serve my plans. By watching her, I shall soon
discover my enemy; and who knows if, by this means, I may not
succeed in finding an explanation of the fatality that pursues
When Mademoiselle Marguerite returned to her place beside the
count's bedside, she had calmly and irrevocably made up her mind.
She would not only retain Madame Leon in her service, but she
would display even greater confidence in her than before. Such a
course was most repugnant to Marguerite's loyal, truthful nature;
but reason whispered to her that in fighting with villains, it is
often necessary to use their weapons; and she had her honor, her
life, and her future to defend. A strange and but imperfectly
defined suspicion had entered her mind. To-night, for the first
time, she thought she could discover a mysterious connection
between Pascal's misfortunes and her own. Was it mere chance
which had struck them at the same time, and in much the same
manner? Who would have profited by the abominable crime which had
dishonored her lover, had it not been for M. de Chalusse's death
and her own firmness? Evidently the Marquis de Valorsay, for whom
Pascal's flight had left the field clear.
All these thoughts were well calculated to drive away sleep; but
the poor girl was only twenty, and it was the second night she had
watched by the count's bedside. Thus at last fatigue overcame
her, and she fell asleep.
In the morning, about seven o'clock, Madame Leon was obliged to
shake her to rouse her from the kind of lethargy into which she
had fallen. "Mademoiselle," said the housekeeper, in her honeyed
voice; "dear mademoiselle, wake up at once!"
"What is the matter? What is it?"
"Ah! how can I explain? My dear young lady, the undertaker's men
have come to make arrangements for the ceremony."
Those in charge of the last rites had indeed arrived, and their
heavy tread could be heard in the hall and in the courtyard. M.
Casimir, who was bursting with self-sufficiency, hurried here,
there? and everywhere, indicating, with an imperious gesture,
where he wished the black hangings, embroidered with silver and
emblazoned with the De Chalusse arms, to be suspended. As the
magistrate had given him carte-blanche, he deemed it proper, as he
remarked to Concierge Bourigeau, to have everything done in grand
style. But he took good care not to reveal the fact that he had
exacted a very handsome commission from all the people he
employed. The hundred francs derived from Chupin had only whetted
his appetite for more. At all events, he had certainly spared no
pains in view of having everything as magnificent as possible; and
it was not until he considered the display thoroughly satisfactory
that he went to warn Mademoiselle Marguerite. "I come to beg
mademoiselle to retire to her own room," he said.
He did not reply by words, but pointed to the bed on which the
body was lying, and the poor girl realized that the moment of
eternal separation had come. She rose, and dragged herself to the
bedside. Death had now effaced all traces of the count's last
agony. His face wore its accustomed expression again, and it
might have been fancied that he was asleep. For a long time
Mademoiselle Marguerite stood looking at him, as if to engrave the
features she would never behold again upon her memory.
"Mademoiselle," insisted M. Casimir; "mademoiselle, do not remain
She heard him, and summoning all her strength, she leaned over the
bed, kissed M. de Chalusse, and went away. But she was too late,
for in passing through the hall she encountered the undertakers,
who carried on their shoulders a long metallic case enclosed in
two oaken ones. And she had scarcely reached her own room before
a smell of resin told her that the men were closing the coffin
which contained all that was mortal of M. de Chalusse, her father.
So, none of those terrible details, which so increase one's grief,
were spared her. But she had already suffered so much that she
had reached a state of gloomy apathy, almost insensibility; and
the exercise of her faculties was virtually suspended. Whiter
than marble, she fell, rather than seated herself, on a chair,
scarcely perceiving Madame Leon, who had followed her.
The worthy housekeeper was greatly excited, and not without cause.
As there were no relations, it had been decided that M. de
Fondege, the count's oldest friend, should do the honors of the
mansion to the persons invited to attend the funeral; and he had
sworn that he would be under arms at daybreak, and that they might
positively depend upon him. But the hour fixed for the ceremony
was approaching, several persons had already arrived, and yet M.
de Fondege had not put in an appearance. "It is
incomprehensible," exclaimed Madame Leon. "The General is usually
punctuality personified. He must have met with some accident."
And in her anxiety she stationed herself at the window, whence she
could command a view of the courtyard, carefully scrutinizing
every fresh arrival.
At last, about half-past nine o'clock, she suddenly exclaimed:
"Here he is! Do you hear, mademoiselle, here's the General!"
A moment later, indeed, there was a gentle rap at the door, and M.
de Fondege entered. "Ah, I'm late!" he exclaimed; "but, dash it
all! it's not my fault!" And, struck by Mademoiselle Marguerite's
immobility, he advanced and took her hand. "And you, my dear
little one, what is the matter with you?" he asked. "Have you
been ill? You are frightfully pale."
She succeeded in shaking off the torpor which was stealing over
her, and replied in a faint voice; "I am not ill, monsieur."
"So much the better, my dear child, so much the better. It is our
little heart that is suffering, is it not? Yes--yes--I understand.
But your old friends will console you. You received my wife's
letter, did you not? Ah, well! what she told you, she will do--she
will do it. And to prove it, in spite of her illness, she
followed me--in fact, she is here!"
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 gratitude?"
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 twentyfranc
pieces, which he generally forgot to return.
Madame de Fondege was, as a rule, most imperious, envious, and
spiteful in disposition; but on coming to the Hotel de Chalusse
she had provided herself with any amount of sweetness and
sensibility, and when she entered the room, she held her
handkerchief to her lips as if to stifle her sobs. The General
led her toward Mademoiselle Marguerite, and, in a semi-solemn,
semi-sentimental tone, he exclaimed: "Dear Athenais, this is the
daughter of my best and oldest friend. I know your heart--I know
that she will find in you a second mother."
Mademoiselle Marguerite stood speechless and rigid. Persuaded
that Madame de Fondege was about to throw her arms round her neck
and kiss her, she was imposing the most terrible constraint upon
herself, in order to conceal her horror and aversion. But she was
unnecessarily alarmed. The hypocrisy of the General's wife was
superior to that of Madame Leon. Madame de Fondege contented
herself with pressing Mademoiselle Marguerite's hands and
faltering: "What a misfortune! So young--so sudden! It is
frightful!" And, as she received no reply, she added, with an air
of sorrowful dignity: "I dare not ask your full confidence, my
dear unfortunate child. Confidence can be born only of long
acquaintance and mutual esteem. But you will learn to know me.
You will give me that sweet name of mother when I shall have
deserved it."
Standing at a little distance off, the General listened with the
air of a man who has a profound respect for his wife's ability.
"Now the ice is broken," he thought, "it will be strange if
Athenais doesn't do whatever she pleases with that little savage."
His hopes were so brightly reflected upon his countenance, that
Madame Leon, who was furtively watching him, became alarmed. "Ah!
what do these people want?" she said to herself; "and what do all
these endearments mean? Upon my word, I must warn my patron at
once." And, fancying that no one noticed her, she slipped quietly
and noiselessly from the room.
But Mademoiselle Marguerite was on the watch. Determined to
fathom the plotting that was going on around her, and frustrate
it, she realized that everything depended upon her watchfulness
and her ability to profit even by the most futile incidents. She
had noticed the General's triumphant smile, and the look of
anxiety that had suddenly clouded Madame Leon's face. so, without
troubling herself about "the proprieties," she asked M. and Madame
de Fondege to excuse her for a second, and darted alter the
housekeeper. Ah! she did not need to go far. Leaning over the
banisters, she saw Madame Leon and the Marquis de Valorsay in
earnest conversation in the hall below; the marquis as phlegmatic
and as haughty as usual, but the house-keeper fairly excited.
Marguerite at once understood that as Madame Leon knew that the
marquis was among the funeral guests, she had gone to warn him of
Madame de Fondege's presence. This trivial circumstance proved
that M. de Fondege's interests were opposed to those of M. de
Valorsay; that they must, therefore, hate each other, and that,
with a little patience and skill, she might utilize them, one
against the other. It also proved that Madame Leon was the
Marquis de Valorsay's paid spy and that he must therefore have
long been aware of Pascal's existence. But she lacked the time to
follow out this train of thought. Her absence might awaken the
Fondeges' suspicions; and her success depended on letting them
suppose that she was their dupe. She therefore returned to them
as soon as possible, excusing herself for her abrupt departure as
well as she could; but she was not accustomed to deceive, and her
embarrassment might have betrayed her had it not been for the
General, who fortunately interrupted her by saying: "I, too, must
excuse myself, my dear child; but Madame de Fondege will remain
with you. I must fulfil a sacred duty. They are waiting for me
downstairs, and they are no doubt becoming impatient. It is the
first time in my life that I was ever behind time."
The General was right in losing no more time. At least a hundred
and fifty guests had assembled in the reception-rooms on the
ground floor, and they were beginning to think it very strange
that they should be kept waiting in this style. And yet curiosity
somewhat tempered their impatience. Some of the strange
circumstances attending the count's death had been noised abroad;
and some well-informed persons declared that a fabulous sum of
money had been stolen by a young girl. It is true, they did not
think this embezzlement a positive crime. It certainly proved
that the young lady in question possessed a strong and determined
character; and many of the proudest among the guests would gladly
have taken the place of De Valorsay, who, it was rumored, was
about to marry the pretty thief and her millions.
The person who was most disturbed by the delay was the master of
the ceremonies. Arrayed in his best uniform, his thin legs
encased in black silk stockings, his mantle thrown gracefully over
his shoulders, and his cocked hat under his arm, he was looking
anxiously about for some one in the assembled crowd to whom he
could give the signal for departure. He was already talking of
starting off when M. de Fondege appeared. The friends of M. de
Chalusse who were to hold the cords of the pall came forward.
There was a moment's confusion, then the hearse started, and the
whole cortege filed out of the courtyard.
Deep silence followed, so deep that the noise made in closing the
heavy gates came upon one with startling effect. "Ah!" moaned
Madame de Fondege, "it is over."
Marguerite's only reply was a despairing gesture. It would have
been impossible for her to articulate a syllable--her tears were
choking her. What would she not have given to be alone at this
moment--to have been able to abandon herself without constraint to
her emotions! Alas! prudence condemned her to play a part even
now. The thought of her future and her honor lent her strength to
submit to the deceitful consolations of a woman whom she knew to
be a dangerous enemy. And the General's wife was by no means
sparing of her consolatory phrases; in fact, it was only after a
long homily on the uncertainty of life below that she ventured to
approach the subject of her letter of the previous evening. "For
it is necessary to face the inevitable," she pursued. "The
troublesome realities of life have no respect for our grief. So
it is with you, my dear child; you would find a bitter pleasure in
giving vent to your sorrow, but you are compelled to think of your
future. As M. de Chalusse has no heirs, this house will be
closed--you can remain here no longer."
"I know it, madame."
"Where will you go?"
"Alas! I don't know."
Madame de Fondege raised her handkerchief to her eyes as if to
wipe a furtive tear away, and then, almost roughly, she exclaimed:
"I must tell you the truth, my child. Listen to me. I see only
two courses for you to adopt. Either to ask the protection of
some respectable family, or to enter a convent. This is your only
hope of safety."
Mademoiselle Marguerite bowed her head, without replying. To
learn the plans which the General's wife had formed she must let
her disclose them. However, the girl's silence seemed to make
Madame de Fondege uncomfortable, and at last she resumed: "Is it
possible that you think of braving the perils of life alone? I
cannot believe it! It would be madness. Young, beautiful, and
attractive as you are, it is impossible for you to live
unprotected. Even if you had sufficient strength of character to
lead a pure and honest life, the world would none the less refuse
you its esteem. Mere prejudice, you say? You are quite right; but
it is nevertheless true that a young girl who braves public
opinion is lost."
It was easy to see by Madame de Fondege's earnestness that she
feared Mademoiselle Marguerite would avail herself of this
opportunity of recovering her liberty. "What shall I do, then?"
asked the girl.
"There is the convent."
"But I love life."
"Then ask the protection of some respectable family."
"The idea of being in any one's charge is disagreeable to me."
Strange to say, Madame de Fondege did not protest, did not speak
of her own house. She was too proud for that. Having once
offered hospitality, she thought it would arouse suspicion if she
insisted. So she contented herself with enumerating the arguments
for and against the two propositions. remarking from time to
time: "Come, you must decide! Don't wait until the last moment!"
Mademoiselle Marguerite had already decided but before announcing
her decision she wished to confer with the only friend she had in
the world--the old justice of the peace. On the previous evening
he had said to her: "Farewell until to-morrow," and knowing that
his work in the house had not been concluded, she was extremely
surprised that he had not yet put in an appearance.
While conversing with Madame de Fondege she had dexterously
avoided compromising herself in any way when suddenly a servant
appeared and announced the magistrate's arrival. He entered the
room, with his usual benevolent smile upon his lips, but his
searching eyes were never once taken off Madame de Fondege's face.
He bowed, made a few polite remarks, and then addressing
Marguerite, he said: "I must speak with you, mademoiselle, at
once. You may tell madame, however, that you will certainly
return in less than a quarter of an hour."
Marguerite followed him, and when they were alone in the count's
study and the doors had been carefully closed, the magistrate
exclaimed: "I have been thinking a great deal of you, my child, a
great deal; and it seems to me that I can explain certain things
which worried you yesterday. But first of all, what has happened
since I left you?"
Briefly, but with remarkable precision, Marguerite recounted the
various incidents which had occurred--her useless journey to the
Rue d'Ulm, Madame Leon's strange midnight ramble and conversation
with the Marquis de Valorsay, Madame de Fondege's letter, and
lastly, her visit and all that she had said.
The magistrate listened with his eyes fixed on his ring "This is
very serious, very serious," he said at last. "Perhaps you are
right. Perhaps M. Ferailleur is innocent. And yet, why should he
abscond? why should he leave the country?"
"Ah! monsieur, Pascal's flight is only feigned. He is in Paris--
concealed somewhere--I'm sure of it; and I know a man who will
find him for me. Only one thing puzzles me--his silence. To
disappear without a word, without giving me any sign of life----"
The magistrate interrupted her by a gesture. "I see nothing
surprising in that since your companion is the Marquis de
Valorsay's spy. How do you know that she has not intercepted or
destroyed some letter from M. Pascal?"
Mademoiselle Marguerite turned pale. "Great Heavens! how blind I
have been!" she exclaimed. "I did not think of that. Oh, the
wretch! if one could only question her and make her confess her
crime. It is horrible to think that if I wish to arrive at the
truth, I must remain with her and treat her in the future just as
I have treated her till now."
But the magistrate was not the man to wander from the subject he
was investigating. "Let us return to Madame de Fondege," said he.
"She is extremely unwilling to see you go out into the world
alone. Why?--through affection? No. Why, then? This is what we
must ascertain. Secondly, she seems indifferent as to whether you
accept her hospitality or enter a convent."
"She seems to prefer that I should enter a convent."
"Very well. What conclusion can we draw from that? Simply, that
the Fondege family don't particularly care about keeping you with
them, or marrying you to their son. If they don't desire this, it
is because they are perfectly sure that the missing money was not
taken by you. Now, let me ask, how can they be so certain? Simply
because they know where the missing millions are--and if they
"Ah! monsieur, it is because they've stolen them!"
The magistrate was silent. He had turned the bezel of his ring
inside, a sure sign of stormy weather, so his clerk would have
said--and though he had his features under excellent control he
could not entirely conceal some signs of a severe mental conflict
he was undergoing. "Well, yes, my child," he said, at last.
"Yes, it is my conviction that the Fondeges possess the millions
you saw in the count's escritoire, and which we have been unable
to find. How they obtained possession of the money I can't
conceive--but they have it, or else logic is no longer logic." He
paused again for a moment, and then he resumed, more slowly: "In
acquainting you with my opinion on this subject, I have given you,
a young girl, almost a child, a proof of esteem and confidence
which, it seems to me, few men are worthy of; for I may be
deceived, and a magistrate ought not to accuse a person unless he
is absolutely certain of his guilt. So you must forget what I
have just told you, Mademoiselle Marguerite."
She looked at him with an air of utter astonishment. "You advise
me to forget," she murmured, "you wish me to forget."
"Yes; you must conceal these suspicions in the deepest recesses of
your heart, until the time comes when you have sufficient proof to
convict the culprits. It is true that it will be a difficult task
to collect such proofs; but it is not impossible, with the aid of
time, which divulges so many crimes. And you may count upon me; I
will give you the benefit of all my influence and experience. It
shall never be said that I allowed a defenceless girl to be
crushed while I saw any chance of saving her."
Tears came to Mademoiselle Marguerite's eyes. So the world was
not composed entirely of scoundrels! "Ah! how kind you are,
monsieur," she said; "how kind you are!"
"To be sure!" he interrupted, in a benevolent tone. "But, my
child, you must help yourself. Remember this: if the Fondeges
suspect our suspicions, all is lost. Repeat this to yourself at
every moment in the day--and be discreet, impenetrable; for people
with unclean consciences and hands are always distrustful of
There was no necessity to say anything more on this point; and so,
with a sudden change of tone he asked: "Have you any plan?"
She felt that she could, and ought, to confide everything to this
worthy old man, and so rising to her feet, with a look of energy
and determination on her face, she replied in a firm voice: "My
decision is taken, monsieur, subject, of course, to your approval.
In the first place I shall keep Madame Leon with me, in whatever
capacity she likes, it doesn't matter what. Through her I shall
no doubt be able to watch the Marquis de Valorsay, and perhaps
eventually discover his hopes and his aim. In the second place, I
shall accept the hospitality offered me by the General and his
wife. With them, I shall be in the very centre of the intrigue,
and in a position to collect proofs of their infamy."
The magistrate gave vent to an exclamation of delight. "You are a
brave girl, Mademoiselle Marguerite," he said, "and at the same
time a prudent one. Yes; that is the proper course to pursue."
Nothing now remained save to make arrangements for her departure.
She possessed some very handsome diamonds and other costly jewels;
should she keep them? "They are undoubtedly mine," said she; "but
after the infamous accusations levelled at me, I can't consent to
take them away with me. They are worth a very handsome amount. I
shall leave them with you, monsieur. If the courts restore them
to me later--well--I shall take them--and not without pleasure, I
frankly confess." Then as the magistrate questioned her anxiously
as to her resources, she replied: "Oh! I'm not without money. M.
de Chalusse was generosity itself, and my tastes are very simple.
From the money he gave me for my clothes I saved more than eight
thousand francs in less than six months. That is more than
sufficient to maintain me for a year."
The magistrate then explained that when the court took possession
of this immense estate, it would surely allow her a certain sum.
For whether the count was her father or not, he was at any rate
her officially appointed guardian, and she would be considered a
minor. And in support of his assertion, he quoted Article 367 of
the Civil Code, which says: "In the event of the officially
appointed guardian dying without adopting, his ward, the said ward
shall be furnished during her minority with the means of
subsistence from the said guardian's estate," etc., etc.
"An additional reason why I should give up my jewels," said
Mademoiselle Marguerite.
The only point that now remained was to decide upon some plan by
which she could communicate with her friend, the magistrate,
without the knowledge of the General or his wife. The magistrate
accordingly explained a system of correspondence which would defy
the closest surveillance, and then added: "Now, make haste back to
your visitor. Who knows what suspicions your absence may have
caused her?"
But Mademoiselle Marguerite had one more request to make. She had
often seen in M. de Chalusse's possession a little note-book, in
which he entered the names and addresses of the persons with whom
he had business transactions. M. Fortunat's address must be
there, so she asked and obtained permission to examine this notebook,
and to her great joy, under the letter "F," she found the
entry: "Fortunat (Isidore), No. 28 Place de la Bourse." "Ah! I'm
sure that I shall find Pascal now!" she exclaimed. And after once
more thanking the magistrate, she returned to her room again.
Madame de Fondege was awaiting her with feverish impatience. "How
long you stayed!" she cried.
"I had so many explanations to give, madame."
"How you are tormented, my poor child!"
"Oh, shamefully!"
This furnished Madame de Fondege with another excuse for
proffering her advice. But Mademoiselle Marguerite would not
allow herself to be convinced at once. She raised a great many
objections, and parleyed for a long time before telling Madame de
Fondege that she would be happy to accept the hospitality which
had been offered her. And her consent was by no means
unconditional. She insisted on paying her board, and expressed
the wish to retain the services of Madame Leon to whom she was so
much attached. The worthy housekeeper was present at this
conference. For an instant she had feared that Mademoiselle
Marguerite suspected her manoeuvres but her fears were now
dispelled, and she even congratulated herself on her skilfulness.
Everything was arranged, and the agreement had been sealed with a
kiss, when the General returned about four o'clock. "Ah, my
dear!" cried his wife, "what happiness! We have a daughter!"
But even this intelligence was scarcely sufficient to revive her
husband's drooping spirits. He had almost fainted when he heard
the earth falling on M. de Chalusse's coffin; and this display of
weakness on the part of a man adorned with such terrible and
ferocious mustaches had excited no little comment. "Yes, it is a
great happiness!" he now replied. "But thunder and lightning! I
never doubted the dear girl's heart!"
Still both he and his wife could scarcely conceal their
disappointment when the magistrate informed them that their
beloved daughter would not take her diamonds. "Dash it!" growled
the General. "I recognize her father in this! What delicacy!
almost too much, perhaps!"
However, when the magistrate informed him that the court would
undoubtedly order the restitution of the jewels, his face
brightened again, and he went down to superintend the removal of
Mademoiselle Marguerite's trunks, which were being loaded on one
of the vehicles of the establishment.
Then the moment of departure came. Mademoiselle Marguerite
acknowledged the parting remarks of the servants, who were
secretly delighted to be freed from her presence, and then, before
entering the carriage, she cast a long, sad look upon this
princely mansion which she had once had the right to believe her
own, but which she was, alas! now leaving, in all probability, for
The conclusion of this exciting narrative will be found in the
volume called "Baron Trigault's Vengeance."

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