Part 1 out of 7
Baron Trigault's Vengeance
by Emile Gaboriau
A Sequel to "The Count's Millions"
Translated from the French
Vengeance! that is the first, the only thought, when a man finds
himself victimized, when his honor and fortune, his present and
future, are wrecked by a vile conspiracy! The torment he endures
under such circumstances can only be alleviated by the prospect of
inflicting them a hundredfold upon his persecutors. And nothing
seems impossible at the first moment, when hatred surges in the
brain, and the foam of anger rises to the lips; no obstacle seems
insurmountable, or, rather, none are perceived. But later, when
the faculties have regained their equilibrium, one can measure the
distance which separates the dream from reality, the project from
execution. And on setting to work, how many discouragements
arise! The fever of revolt passes by, and the victim wavers. He
still breathes bitter vengeance, but he does not act. He
despairs, and asks himself what would be the good of it? And in
this way the success of villainy is once more assured.
Similar despondency attacked Pascal Ferailleur when he awoke for
the first time in the abode where he had hidden himself under the
name of Maumejan. A frightful slander had crushed him to the
earth--he could kill his slanderer, but afterward--? How was he to
reach and stifle the slander itself? As well try to hold a handful
of water; as well try to stay with extended arms the progress of
the poisonous breeze which wafts an epidemic on its wings. So the
hope that had momentarily lightened his heart faded away again.
Since he had received that fatal letter from Madame Leon the
evening before, he believed that Marguerite was lost to him
forever, and in this case, it was useless to struggle against
fate. What would be the use of victory even if he conquered?
Marguerite lost to him--what did the rest matter? Ah! if he had
been alone in the world. But he had his mother to think of;--he
belonged to this brave-hearted woman, who had saved him from
suicide already. "I will not yield, then; I will struggle on for
her sake," he muttered, like a man who foresees the futility of
He rose, and had nearly finished dressing, when he heard a rap at
his chamber door. "It is I, my son," said Madame Ferailleur
Pascal hastened to admit her. "I have come for you because the
woman you spoke about last evening is already here, and before
employing her, I want your advice."
"Then the woman doesn't please you, mother?"
"I want you to see her."
On entering the little parlor with his mother, Pascal found
himself in the presence of a portly, pale-faced woman, with thin
lips and restless eyes, who bowed obsequiously. It was indeed
Madame Vantrasson, the landlady of the model lodging-house, who
was seeking employment for the three or four hours which were at
her disposal in the morning, she said. It certainly was not for
pleasure that she had decided to go out to service again; her
dignity suffered terribly by this fall--but then the stomach has
to be cared for. Tenants were not numerous at the model lodging-
house, in spite of its seductive title; and those who slept there
occasionally, almost invariably succeeded in stealing something.
Nor did the grocery store pay; the few half-pence which were left
there occasionally in exchange for a glass of liquor were pocketed
by Vantrasson, who spent them at some neighboring establishment;
for it is a well-known fact that the wine a man drinks in his own
shop is always bitter in flavor. So, having no credit at the
butcher's or the baker's, Madame Vantrasson was sometimes reduced
to living for days together upon the contents of the shop--mouldy
figs or dry raisins--which she washed down with torrents of
ratafia, her only consolation here below.
But this was not a satisfying diet, as she was forced to confess;
so she decided to find some work, that would furnish her with food
and a little money, which she vowed she would never allow her
worthy husband to see.
"What would you charge per month?" inquired Pascal.
She seemed to reflect, and after a great deal of counting on her
fingers, she finally declared that she would be content with
breakfast and fifteen francs a month, on condition she was allowed
to do the marketing. The first question of French cooks, on
presenting themselves for a situation, is almost invariably,
"Shall I do the marketing?" which of course means, "Shall I have
any opportunities for stealing?" Everybody knows this, and nobody
is astonished at it.
"I shall do the marketing myself," declared Madame Ferailleur,
"Then I shall want thirty francs a month," replied Madame
Pascal and his mother exchanged glances. They were both
unfavorably impressed by this woman, and were equally determined
to rid themselves of her, which it was easy enough to do. "Too
dear!" said Madame Ferailleur; "I have never given over fifteen
But Madame Vantrasson was not the woman to be easily discouraged,
especially as she knew that if she failed to obtain this
situation, she might have considerable difficulty in finding
another one. She could only hope to obtain employment from
strangers and newcomers, who were ignorant of the reputation of
the model lodging-house. So in view of softening the hearts of
Pascal and his mother, she began to relate the history of her
life, skilfully mingling the false with the true, and representing
herself as an unfortunate victim of circumstances, and the inhuman
cruelty of relatives. For she belonged, like her husband, to a
very respectable family, as the Maumejans might easily ascertain
by inquiry. Vantrasson's sister was the wife of a man named
Greloux, who had once been a bookbinder in the Rue Saint-Denis,
but who had now retired from business with a competency. "Why had
this Greloux refused to save them from bankruptcy? Because one
could never hope for a favor from relatives," she groaned; "they
are jealous if you succeed; and if you are unfortunate, they cast
However, these doleful complaints, far from rendering Madame
Vantrasson interesting, imparted a deceitful and most disagreeable
expression to her countenance. "I told you that I could only give
fifteen francs," interrupted Madame Ferailleur--"take it or leave
Madame Vantrasson protested. She expressed her willingness to
deduct five francs from the sum she had named, but more--it was
impossible! Would they haggle over ten francs to secure such a
treasure as herself, an honest, settled woman, who was entirely
devoted to her employers?" Besides, I have been a grand cook in my
time," she added, "and I have not lost all my skill. Monsieur and
madame would be delighted with my cooking, for I have seen more
than one fine gentleman smack his lips over my sauces when was in
the employment of the Count de Chalusse."
Pascal and his mother could not repress a start on hearing this
name; but it was in a tone of well-assumed indifference that
Madame Ferailleur repeated, "M. de Chalusse?"
"Yes, madame--a count--and so rich that he didn't know how much he
was worth. If he were still alive I shouldn't be compelled to go
out to service again. But he's dead and he's to be buried this
very day." And with an air of profound secrecy, she added: "On
going yesterday to the Hotel de Chalusse to ask for a little help,
I heard of the great misfortune. Vantrasson, my husband,
accompanied me, and while we were talking with the concierge, a
young woman passed through the hall, and he recognized her as a
person who some time ago was--well--no better than she should be.
Now, however, she's a young lady as lofty as the clouds, and the
deceased count has been passing her off as his daughter. Ah! this
is a strange world."
Pascal had become whiter than the ceiling. His eyes blazed; and
Madame Ferailleur trembled. "Very well," she said, "I will give
you twenty-five francs--but on condition you come without
complaining if I sometimes require your services of an evening.
On these occasions I will give you your dinner." And taking five
francs from her pocket she placed them in Madame Vantrasson's
hand, adding: ' Here is your earnest money."
The other quickly pocketed the coin, not a little surprised by
this sudden decision which she had scarcely hoped for, and which
she by no means understood. Still she was so delighted with this
denouement that she expressed her willingness to enter upon her
duties at once; and to get rid of her Madame Ferailleur was
obliged to send her out to purchase the necessary supplies for
breakfast. Then, as soon as she was alone with her son, she
turned to him and asked: "Well, Pascal?"
But the wretched man seemed turned to stone, and seeing that he
neither spoke nor moved, she continued in a severe tone: "Is this
the way you keep your resolutions and your oaths! You express your
intention of accomplishing a task which requires inexhaustible
patience and dissimulation, and at the very first unforeseen
circumstance your coolness deserts you, and you lose your head
completely. If it had not been for me you would have betrayed
yourself in that woman's presence. You must renounce your
revenge, and tamely submit to be conquered by the Marquis de
Valorsay if your face is to be an open book in which any one may
read your secret plans and thoughts."
Pascal shook his head dejectedly. "Didn't you hear, mother?" he
"What that vile woman said? This young lady whom she spoke of,
whom her husband recognized, can be none other than Marguerite."
"I am sure of it."
He recoiled in horror. "You are sure of it!" he repeated; "and
you can tell me this unmoved--coldly, as if it were a natural, a
possible thing. Didn't you understand the shameful meaning of her
insinuations? Didn't you see her hypocritical smile and the malice
gleaming in her eyes?" He pressed his hands to his burning brow,
and groaned "And I did not crush the infamous wretch! I did not
fell her to the ground!"
Ah! if she had obeyed the impulse of her heart. Madame Ferailleur
would have thrown her arms round her son's neck, and have mingled
her tears with his, but reason prevailed. The worthy woman's
heart was pervaded with that lofty sentiment of duty which
sustains the humble heroines of the fireside, and lends them even
more courage than the reckless adventurers whose names are
recorded by history could boast of. She felt that Pascal must not
be consoled, but spurred on to fresh efforts; and so mustering all
her courage, she said: "Are you acquainted with Mademoiselle
Marguerite's past life? No. You only know that hers has been a
life of great vicissitudes--and so it is not strange that she
should be slandered."
"In that case, mother," said Pascal, "you were wrong to interrupt
Madame Vantrasson. She would probably have told us many things."
"I interrupted her, it is true, and sent her away--and you know
why. But she is in our service now; and when you are calm, when
you have regained your senses, nothing will prevent you from
questioning her. It may be useful for you to know who this man
Vantrasson is, and how and where he met Mademoiselle Marguerite."
Shame, sorrow, and rage, brought tears to Pascal's eyes. "My
God!" he exclaimed, "to be reduced to the unspeakable misery of
hearing my mother doubt Marguerite!" He did not doubt her. HE
could have listened to the most infamous accusations against her
without feeling a single doubt. However, Madame Ferailleur had
sufficient self-control to shrug her shoulders. "Ah, well!
silence this slander," she exclaimed. "I wish for nothing better;
but don't forget that we have ourselves to rehabilitate. To crush
your enemies will be far more profitable to Mademoiselle
Marguerite than vain threats and weak lamentations. It seemed to
me that you had sworn to act, not to complain."
This ironical thrust touched Pascal's sensitive mind to the quick;
he rose at once to his feet, and coldly said, "That's true. I
thank you for having recalled me to myself."
She made no rejoinder, but mentally thanked God. She had read her
son's heart, and perceiving his hesitation and weakness she had
supplied the stimulus he needed. Now she saw him as she wished to
see him. Now he was ready to reproach himself for his lack of
courage and his weakness in displaying his feelings. And as a
test of his powers of endurance, he decided not to question Madame
Vantrasson till four or five days had elapsed. If her suspicions
had been aroused, this delay would suffice to dispel them.
He said but little during breakfast; for he was now eager to
commence the struggle. He longed to act, and yet he scarcely knew
how to begin the campaign. First of all, he must study the
enemy's position--gain some knowledge of the men he had to deal
with, find out exactly who the Marquis de Valorsay and the
Viscount de Coralth were. Where could he obtain information
respecting these two men? Should he be compelled to follow them
and to gather up here and there such scraps of intelligence as
came in his way? This method of proceeding would be slow and
inconvenient in the extreme. He was revolving the subject in his
mind when he suddenly remembered the man who, on the morning that
followed the scene at Madame d'Argeles's house, had come to him in
the Rue d'Ulm to give him a proof of his confidence. He
remembered that this strange man had said: "If you ever need a
helping hand, come to me." And at the recollection he made up his
mind. "I am going to Baron Trigault's," he remarked to his
mother; "if my presentiments don't deceive me, he will be of
service to us."
In less than half an hour he was on his way. He had dressed
himself in the oldest clothes he possessed; and this, with the
change he had made by cutting off his hair and beard, had so
altered his appearance that it was necessary to look at him
several times, and most attentively, to recognize him. The
visiting cards which he carried in his pocket bore the
inscription: "P. Maumejan, Business Agent, Route de la Revolte."
His knowledge of Parisian life had induced him to choose the same
profession as M. Fortunat followed--a profession which opens
almost every door. "I will enter the nearest cafe and ask for a
directory," he said to himself. "I shall certainly find Baron
Trigault's address in it."
The baron lived in the Rue de la Ville-l'Eveque. His mansion was
one of the largest and most magnificent in the opulent district of
the Madeleine, and its aspect was perfectly in keeping with its
owner's character as an expert financier, and a shrewd
manufacturer, the possessor of valuable mines. The marvellous
luxury so surprised Pascal, that he asked himself how the owner of
this princely abode could find any pleasure at the gaming table of
the Hotel d'Argeles. Five or six footmen were lounging about the
courtyard when he entered it. He walked straight up to one of
them, and with his hat in his hand, asked: "Baron Trigault, if you
If he had asked for the Grand Turk the valet would not have looked
at him with greater astonishment. His surprise, indeed, seemed so
profound that Pascal feared he had made some mistake and added:
"Doesn't he live here?"
The servant laughed heartily. "This is certainly his house," he
replied, "and strange to say, by some fortunate chance, he's
"I wish to speak with him on business."
The servant called one of his colleagues. "Eh! Florestan--is the
"The baroness hasn't forbidden it."
This seemed to satisfy the footman; for, turning to Pascal he
said: "In that case, you can follow me."
The sumptuous interior of the Trigault mansion was on a par with
its external magnificence. Even the entrance bespoke the lavish
millionaire, eager to conquer difficulties, jealous of achieving
the impossible, and never haggling when his fancies were
concerned. The spacious hall, paved with costly mosaics, had been
transformed into a conservatory full of flowers, which were
renewed every morning. Rare plants climbed the walls up gilded
trellis work, or hung from the ceiling in vases of rare old china,
while from among the depths of verdure peered forth exquisite
statues, the work of sculptors of renown. On a rustic bench sat a
couple of tall footmen, as bright in their gorgeous liveries as
gold coins fresh from the mint; still, despite their splendor,
they were stretching and yawning to such a degree, that it seemed
as if they would ultimately dislocate their jaws and arms.
"Tell me," inquired the servant who was escorting Pascal, "can any
one speak to the baron?"
"This gentleman has something to say to him."
The two valets eyed the unknown visitor, plainly considering him
to be one of those persons who have no existence for the menials
of fashionable establishments, and finally burst into a hearty
laugh. "Upon my word!" exclaimed the eldest, "he's just in time.
Announce him, and madame will be greatly obliged to you. She and
monsieur have been quarrelling for a good half-hour. And,
heavenly powers, isn't he tantalizing!"
The most intense curiosity gleamed in the eyes of Pascal's
conductor, and with an airy of secrecy, he asked: "What is the
cause of the rumpus? That Fernand, no doubt--or some one else?"
"No; this morning it's about M. Van Klopen."
"The same. Monsieur and madame were breakfasting together--a most
unusual thing--when M. Van Klopen made his appearance. I thought
to myself, when I admitted him: 'Look out for storms!' I scented
one in the air, and in fact the dressmaker hadn't been in the room
five minutes before we heard the baron's voice rising higher and
higher. I said to myself: 'Whew! the mantua-maker is presenting
his bill!' Madame cried and went on like mad; but, pshaw! when the
master really begins, there's no one like him. There isn't a cab-
driver in Paris who's his equal for swearing."
"And M. Van Klopen?"
"Oh, he's used to such scenes! When gentlemen abuse him he does
the same as dogs do when they come up out of the water; he just
shakes his head and troubles himself no more about it. He has
decidedly the best of the row. He has furnished the goods, and
he'll have to be paid sooner or later----"
"What! hasn't he been paid then?"
"I don't know; he's still here."
A terrible crash of breaking china interrupted this edifying
conversation. "There!" exclaimed one of the footmen, "that's
monsieur; he has smashed two or three hundred francs' worth of
dishes. He MUST be rich to pay such a price for his angry fits."
"Well," observed the other, "if I were in monsieur's place I
should be angry too. Would you let your wife have her dresses
fitted on by a man? I says that it's indecent. I'm only a
"Nonsense, it's the fashion. Besides, monsieur does not care
about that. A man who----"
He stopped short; in fact, the others had motioned him to be
silent. The baron was surrounded by exceptional servants, and the
presence of a stranger acted as a restraint upon them. For this
reason, one of them, after asking Pascal for his card, opened a
door and ushered him into a small room, saying: "I will go and
inform the baron. Please wait here."
"Here," as he called it, was a sort of smoking-room hung with
cashmere of fantastic design and gorgeous hues, and encircled by a
low, cushioned divan, covered with the same material. A profusion
of rare and costly objects was to be seen on all sides, armor,
statuary, pictures, and richly ornamented weapons. But Pascal,
already amazed by the conversation of the servants, did not think
of examining these objects of virtu. Through a partially open
doorway, directly opposite the one he had entered by, came the
sound of loud voices in excited conversation. Baron Trigault, the
baroness, and the famous Van Klopen were evidently in the
adjoining room. It was a woman, the baroness, who was speaking,
and the quivering of her clear and somewhat shrill voice betrayed
a violent irritation, which was only restrained with the greatest
difficulty. "It is hard for the wife of one of the richest men in
Paris to see a bill for absolute necessities disputed in this
style," she was saying.
A man's voice, with a strong Teutonic accent, the voice of Van
Klopen, the Hollander, caught up the refrain. "Yes, strict
necessities, one can swear to that. And if, before flying into a
passion, Monsieur le Baron had taken the trouble to glance over my
little bill, he would have seen----"
"No more! You bore me to death. Besides I haven't time to listen
to your nonsense; they are waiting for me to play a game of whist
at the club."
This time it was the master of the house, Baron Trigault, who
spoke, and Pascal recognized his voice instantly.
"If monsieur would only allow me to read the items. It will take
but a moment," rejoined Van Klopen. And as if he had construed
the oath that answered him as an exclamation of assent, he began:
"In June, a Hungarian costume with jacket and sash, two train
dresses with upper skirts and trimmings of lace, a Medicis
polonaise, a jockey costume, a walking costume, a riding-habit,
two morning-dresses, a Velleda costume, an evening dress."
"I was obliged to attend the races very frequently during the
month of June," remarked the baroness.
But the illustrious adorner of female loveliness had already
resumed his reading. "In July we have: two morning-jackets, one
promenade costume, one sailor suit, one Watteau shepherdess
costume, one ordinary bathing-suit, with material for parasol and
shoes to match, one Pompadour bathing-suit, one dressing-gown, one
close-fitting Medicis mantle, two opera cloaks----"
"And I was certainly not the most elegantly attired of the ladies
at Trouville, where I spent the month of July," interrupted the
"There are but few entries in the month of August," continued Van
Klopen. "We have: a morning-dress, a travelling-dress, with
trimmings----" And he went on and on, gasping for breath, rattling
off the ridiculous names which he gave to his "creations," and
interrupted every now and then by the blow of a clinched fist on
the table, or by a savage oath.
Pascal stood in the smoking-room, motionless with astonishment.
He did not know what surprised him the most, Van Klopen's
impudence in daring to read such a bill, the foolishness of the
woman who had ordered all these things, or the patience of the
husband who was undoubtedly going to pay for them. At last, after
what seemed an interminable enumeration, Van Klopen exclaimed:
"And that's all!"
"Yes, that's all," repeated the baroness, like an echo.
"That's all!" exclaimed the baron--"that's all! That is to say, in
four months, at least seven hundred yards of silk, velvet, satin,
and muslin, have been put on this woman's back!"
"The dresses of the present day require a great deal of material.
Monsieur le Baron will understand that flounces, puffs, and
"Naturally! Total, twenty-seven thousand francs!"
"Excuse me! Twenty-seven thousand nine hundred and thirty-three
francs, ninety centimes."
"Call it twenty-eight thousand francs then. Ah, well, M. Van
Klopen, if you are ever paid for this rubbish it won't be by me."
If Van Klopen was expecting this denouement, Pascal wasn't; in
fact, he was so startled, that an exclamation escaped him which
would have betrayed his presence under almost any other
circumstances. What amazed him most was the baron's perfect
calmness, following, as it did, such a fit of furious passion,
violent enough even to be heard in the vestibule. "Either he has
extraordinary control over himself or this scene conceals some
mystery," thought Pascal.
Meanwhile, the man-milliner continued to urge his claims--but the
baron, instead of replying, only whistled; and wounded by this
breach of good manners, Van Klopen at last exclaimed: "I have had
dealings with all the distinguished men in Europe, and never
before did one of them refuse to pay me for his wife's toilettes."
"Very well--I don't pay for them--there's the difference. Do you
suppose that I, Baron Trigault, that I've worked like a negro for
twenty years merely for the purpose of aiding your charming and
useful branch of industry? Gather up your papers, Mr. Ladies'
Tailor. There may be husbands who believe themselves responsible
for their wives' follies--it's quite possible there are--but I'm
not made of that kind of stuff. I allow Madame Trigault eight
thousand francs a month for her toilette--that is sufficient--and
it is a matter for you and her to arrange together. What did I
tell you last year when I paid a bill of forty thousand francs?
That I would not be responsible for any more of my wife's debts.
And I not only said it, I formally notified you through my private
"I remember, indeed----"
"Then why do you come to me with your bill? It is with my wife
that you have opened an account. Apply to her, and leave me in
"Madame promised me----"
"Teach her to keep her promises."
"It costs a great deal to retain one's position as a leader of
fashion; and many of the most distinguished ladies are obliged to
run into debt," urged Van Klopen.
"That's their business. But my wife is not a fine lady. She is
simply Madame Trigault, a baroness, thanks to her husband's gold
and the condescension of a worthy German prince, who was in want
of money. SHE is not a person of consequence--she has no rank to
The baroness must have attached immense importance to the
satisfying of Van Klopen's demands, for concealing the anger this
humiliating scene undoubtedly caused her, she condescended to try
and explain, and even to entreat. "I have been a little
extravagant, perhaps," she said; "but I will be more prudent in
future. Pay, monsieur--pay just once more."
"If not for my sake, for your own."
"Not a farthing."
By the baron's tone, Pascal realized that his wife would never
shake his fixed determination. Such must also have been the
opinion of the illustrious ruler of fashion, for he returned to
the charge with an argument he had held in reserve. "If this is
the case, I shall, to my great regret, be obliged to fail in the
respect I owe to Monsieur le Baron, and to place this bill in the
hands of a solicitor."
"Send him along--send him along."
"I cannot believe that monsieur wishes a law-suit."
"In that you are greatly mistaken. Nothing would please me
better. It would at last give me an opportunity to say what I
think about your dealings. Do you think that wives are to turn
their husbands into machines for supplying money? You draw the
bow-string too tightly, my dear fellow--it will break. I'll
proclaim on the house-top what others dare not say, and we'll see
if I don't succeed in organizing a little crusade against you."
And animated by the sound of his own words, his anger came back to
him, and in a louder and ever louder voice he continued: "Ah! you
prate of the scandal that would be created by my resistance to
your demands. That's your system; but, with me, it won't succeed.
You threaten me with a law-suit; very good. I'll take it upon
myself to enlighten Paris, for I know your secrets, Mr.
Dressmaker. I know the goings on in your establishment. It isn't
always to talk about dress that ladies stop at your place on
returning from the Bois. You sell silks and satins no doubt; but
you sell Madeira, and excellent cigarettes as well, and there are
some who don't walk very straight on leaving your establishment,
but smell suspiciously of tobacco and absinthe. Oh, yes, let us
go to law, by all means! I shall have an advocate who will know
how to explain the parts your customers pay, and who will reveal
how, with your assistance, they obtain money from other sources
than their husband's cash-box."
When M. Van Klopen was addressed in this style, he was not at all
pleased. "And I!" he exclaimed, "I will tell people that Baron
Trigault, after losing all his money at play, repays his creditors
The noise of an overturned chair told Pascal that the baron had
sprung up in a furious passion "You may say what you like, you
rascally fool! but not in my house," he shouted. "Leave--leave,
or I will ring----"
"Leave, leave, I tell you, or I sha'n't have the patience to wait
for a servant!"
He must have joined action to word, and have seized Van Klopen by
the collar to thrust him into the hall, for Pascal heard a sound
of scuffling, a series of oaths worthy of a coal-heaver, two or
three frightened cries from the baroness, and several guttural
exclamations in German. Then a door closed with such violence
that the whole house shook, and a magnificent clock, fixed to the
wall of the smoking-room, fell on to the floor.
If Pascal had not heard this scene, he would have deemed it
incredible. How could one suppose that a creditor would leave
this princely mansion with his bill unpaid? But more and more
clearly he understood that there must be some greater cause of
difference between husband and wife than this bill of twenty-eight
thousand francs. For what was this amount to a confirmed gambler
who, without as much as a frown, gained or lost a fortune every
evening of his life. Evidently there was some skeleton in this
household--one of those terrible secrets which make a man and his
wife enemies, and all the more bitter enemies as they are bound
together by a chain which it is impossible to break. And
undoubtedly, a good many of the insults which the baron had heaped
upon Van Klopen must have been intended for the baroness. These
thoughts darted through Pascal's mind with the rapidity of
lightning, and showed him the horrible position in which he was
placed. The baron, who had been so favorably disposed toward him,
and from whom he was expecting a great service, would undoubtedly
hate him, undoubtedly become his enemy, when he learned that he
had been a listener, although an involuntary one, to this
conversation with Van Klopen. How did it happen that he had been
placed in this dangerous position? What had become of the footman
who had taken his card? These were questions which he was unable
to answer. And what was he to do? If he could have retired
noiselessly, if he could have reached the courtyard and have made
his escape without being observed he would not have hesitated.
But was this plan practicable? And would not his card betray him?
Would it not be discovered sooner or later that he had been in the
smoking-room while M. Van Klopen was in the dining-room? In any
case, delicacy of feeling as well as his own interest forbade him
to remain any longer a listener to the private conversation of the
baron and his wife.
He therefore noisily moved a chair, and coughed in that affected
style which means in every country: "Take care--I'm here!" But he
did not succeed in attracting attention. And yet the silence was
profound; he could distinctly hear the creaking of the baron's
boots, as he paced to and fro, and the sound of fingers nervously
beating a tattoo on the table. If he desired to avoid hearing the
confidential conversation, which would no doubt ensue between the
baron and his wife, there was but one course for him to pursue,
and that was to reveal his presence at once. He was about to do
so, when some one opened a door which must have led from the hall
into the dining-room. He listened attentively, but only heard a
few confused words, to which the baron replied: "Very well.
That's sufficient. I will see him in a moment."
Pascal breathed freely once more. "They have just given him my
card," he thought. "I can remain now; he will come here in a
The baron must really have started to leave the room, for his wife
exclaimed: "One word more: have you quite decided?"
"You are resolved to leave me exposed to the persecutions of my
"Van Klopen is too charming and polite to cause you the least
"You will brave the disgrace of a law-suit?"
"Nonsense! You know very well that he won't bring any action
against me--unfortunately. And, besides, pray tell me where the
disgrace would be? I have a foolish wife--is that my fault? I
oppose her absurd extravagance--haven't I a right to do so? If all
husbands were as courageous, we should soon close the
establishments of these artful men, who minister to your vanity,
and use you ladies as puppets, or living advertisements, to
display the absurd fashions which enrich them."
The baron took two or three more steps forward, as if about to
leave the room, but his wife interposed: "The Baroness Trigault,
whose husband has an income of seven or eight hundred thousand
francs a year, can't go about clad like a simple woman of the
"I should see nothing so very improper in that."
"Oh, I know. Only your ideas don't coincide with mine. I shall
never consent to make myself ridiculous among the ladies of my
set--among my friends."
"It would indeed be a pity to arouse the disapproval of your
This sneering remark certainly irritated the baroness, for it was
with the greatest vehemence that she replied: "All my friends are
ladies of the highest rank in society--noble ladies!"
The baron no doubt shrugged his shoulders, for in a tone of
crushing irony and scorn, he exclaimed: "Noble ladies! whom do you
call noble ladies, pray? The brainless fools who only think of
displaying themselves and making themselves notorious?--the
senseless idiots who pique themselves on surpassing lewd women in
audacity, extravagance, and effrontery, who fleece their husbands
as cleverly as courtesans fleece their lovers? Noble ladies! who
drink, and smoke, and carouse, who attend masked balls, and talk
slang! Noble ladies! the idiots who long for the applause of the
crowd, and consider notoriety to be desirable and flattering. A
woman is only noble by her virtues--and the chief of all virtues,
modesty, is entirely wanting in your illustrious friends----"
"Monsieur," interrupted the baroness, in a voice husky with anger,
"you forget yourself--you----"
But the baron was well under way. "If it is scandal that crowns
one a great lady, you ARE one--and one of the greatest; for you
are notorious--almost as notorious as Jenny Fancy. Can't I learn
from the newspapers all your sayings and gestures, your
amusements, your occupations, and the toilettes you wear? It is
impossible to read of a first performance at a theatre, or of a
horse-race, without finding your name coupled with that of Jenny
Fancy, or Cora Pearl, or Ninette Simplon. I should be a very
strange husband indeed, if I wasn't proud and delighted. Ah! you
are a treasure to the reporters. On the day before yesterday the
Baroness Trigault skated in the Bois. Yesterday she was driving
in her pony-carriage. To-day she distinguished herself by her
skill at pigeon-shooting. To-morrow she will display herself half
nude in some tableaux vivants. On the day after to-morrow she
will inaugurate a new style of hair-dressing, and take part in a
comedy. It is always the Baroness Trigault who is the observed of
all observers at Vincennes. The Baroness Trigault has lost five
hundred louis in betting. The Baroness Trigault uses her
lorgnette with charming impertinence. It is she who has declared
it proper form to take a 'drop' on returning from the Bois. No
one is so famed for 'form,' as the baroness--and silk merchants
have bestowed her name upon a color. People rave of the Trigault
blue--what glory! There are also costumes Trigault, for the witty,
elegant baroness has a host of admirers who follow her everywhere,
and loudly sing her praises. This is what I, a plain, honest man,
read every day in the newspapers. The whole world not only knows
how my wife dresses, but how she looks en dishabille, and how she
is formed; folks are aware that she has an exquisite foot, a
divinely-shaped leg, and a perfect hand. No one is ignorant of
the fact that my wife's shoulders are of dazzling whiteness, and
that high on the left shoulder there is a most enticing little
mole. I had the satisfaction of reading this particular last
evening. It is charming, upon my word! and I am truly a fortunate
In the smoking-room, Pascal could hear the baroness angrily stamp
her foot, as she exclaimed: "It is an outrageous insult--your
journalists are most impertinent."
"Why? Do they ever trouble honest women?"
"They wouldn't trouble me if I had a husband who knew how to make
them treat me with respect!"
The baron laughed a strident, nervous laugh, which it was not
pleasant to hear, and which revealed the fact that intense
suffering was hidden beneath all this banter. "Would you like me
to fight a duel then? After twenty years has the idea of ridding
yourself of me occurred to you again? I can scarcely believe it.
You know too well that you would receive none of my money, that I
have guarded against that. Besides, you would be inconsolable if
the newspapers ceased talking about you for a single day. Respect
yourself, and you will be respected. The publicity you complain
of is the last anchor which prevents society from drifting one
knows not where. Those who would not listen to the warning voice
of honor and conscience are restrained by the fear of a little
paragraph which might disclose their shame. Now that a woman no
longer has a conscience, the newspapers act in place of it. And I
think it quite right, for it is our only hope of salvation."
By the stir in the adjoining room, Pascal felt sure that the
baroness had stationed herself before the door to prevent her
husband from leaving her. "Ah! well, monsieur," she exclaimed, "I
declare to you that I must have Van Klopen's twenty-eight thousand
francs before this evening. I will have them, too; I am resolved
to have them, and you will give them to me."
"Oh!" thundered the baron, "you WILL have them--you will----" He
paused, and then, after a moment's reflection, he said: "Very
well. So be it! I will give you this amount, but not just now.
Still if, as you say, it is absolutely necessary that you should
have it to-day, there is a means of procuring it. Pawn your
diamonds for thirty thousand francs--I authorize you to do so; and
I give you my word of honor that I will redeem them within a week.
Say, will you do this?" And, as the baroness made no reply, he
continued: "You don't answer! shall I tell you why? It is because
your diamonds were long since sold and replaced by imitation ones;
it is because you are head over heels in debt; it is because you
have stooped so low as to borrow your maid's savings; it is
because you already owe three thousand francs to one of my
coachmen; it is because our steward lends you money at the rate of
thirty or forty per cent."
"It is false!"
The baron sneered. "You certainly must think me a much greater
fool than I really am!" he replied. "I'm not often at home, it's
true--the sight of you exasperates me; but I know what's going on.
You believe me your dupe, but you are altogether mistaken. It is
not twenty-seven thousand francs you owe Van Klopen, but fifty or
sixty thousand. However, he is careful not to demand payment. If
he brought me a bill this morning, it was only because you had
begged him to do so, and because it had been agreed he should give
you the money back if I paid him. In short, if you require
twenty-eight thousand francs before to-night, it is because M.
Fernand de Coralth has demanded that sum, and because you have
promised to give it to him!"
Leaning against the wall of the smoking-room, speechless and
motionless, holding his breath, with his hands pressed upon his
heart, as if to stop its throbbings, Pascal Ferailleur listened.
He no longer thought of flying; he no longer thought of
reproaching himself for his enforced indiscretion. He had lost
all consciousness of his position. The name of the Viscount de
Coralth, thus mentioned in the course of this frightful scene,
came as a revelation to him. He now understood the meaning of the
baron's conduct. His visit to the Rue d'Ulm, and his promises of
help were all explained. "My mother was right," he thought; "the
baron hates that miserable viscount mortally. He will do all in
his power to assist me."
Meanwhile, the baroness energetically denied her husband's
charges. She swore that she did not know what he meant. What had
M. de Coralth to do with all this? She commanded her husband to
speak more plainly--to explain his odious insinuations.
He allowed her to speak for a moment, and then suddenly, in a
harsh, sarcastic voice, he interrupted her by saying: "Oh! enough!
No more hypocrisy! Why do you try to defend yourself? What matters
one crime more? I know only too well that what I say is true; and
if you desire proofs, they shall be in your hands in less than
half an hour. It is a long time since I was blind--full twenty
years! Nothing concerning you has escaped my knowledge and
observation since the cursed day when I discovered the depths of
your disgrace and infamy--since the terrible evening when I heard
you plan to murder me in cold blood. You had grown accustomed to
freedom of action; while I, who had gone off with the first gold-
seekers, was braving a thousand dangers in California, so as to
win wealth and luxury for you more quickly. Fool that I was! No
task seemed too hard or too distasteful when I thought of you--and
I was always thinking of you. My mind was at peace--I had perfect
faith in you. We had a daughter; and if a fear or a doubt entered
my mind, I told myself that the sight of her cradle would drive
all evil thoughts from your heart. The adultery of a childless
wife may be forgiven or explained; but that of a mother, never!
Fool! idiot! that I was! With what joyous pride, on my return
after an absence of eighteen months, I showed you the treasures I
had brought back with me! I had two hundred thousand francs! I
said to you as I embraced you: 'It is yours, my well-beloved, the
source of all my happiness!' But you did not care for me--I
wearied you! You loved another! And while you were deceiving me
with your caresses, you were, with fiendish skill, preparing a
conspiracy which, if it had succeeded, would have resulted in my
death! I should consider myself amply revenged if I could make you
suffer for a single day all the torments that I endured for long
months. For this was not all! You had not even the excuse, if
excuse it be, of a powerful, all-absorbing passion. Convinced of
your treachery, I resolved to ascertain everything, and I
discovered that in my absence you had become a mother. Why didn't
I kill you? How did I have the courage to remain silent and
conceal what I knew? Ah! it was because, by watching you, I hoped
to discover the cursed bastard and your accomplice. It was
because I dreamed of a vengeance as terrible as the offence. I
said to myself that the day would come when, at any risk, you
would try to see your child again, to embrace her, and provide for
her future. Fool! fool that I was! You had already forgotten her!
When you received news of my intended return, she was sent to some
foundling asylum, or left to die upon some door-step. Have you
ever thought of her? Have you ever asked what has become of her?
ever asked yourself if she had needed bread while you have been
living in almost regal luxury? ever asked yourself into what
depths of vice she may have fallen?"
"Always the same ridiculous accusation!" exclaimed the baroness.
"You must know, however, that this story of a child is only a vile
slander. I told you so when you spoke of it to me a dozen years
afterward. I have repeated it a thousand times since."
The baron uttered a sigh that was very like a sob, and without
paying any heed to his wife's words, he continued: "If I consented
to allow you to remain under my roof, it was only for the sake of
our daughter. I trembled lest the scandal of a separation should
fall upon her. But it was useless suffering on my part. She was
as surely lost as you yourself were; and it was your work, too!"
"What! you blame me for that?"
"Whom ought I to blame, then? Who took her to balls, and theatres
and races--to every place where a young girl ought NOT to be
taken? Who initiated her into what you call high life? and who
used her as a discreet and easy chaperon? Who married her to a
wretch who is a disgrace to the title he bears, and who has
completed the work of demoralization you began? And what is your
daughter to-day? Her extravagance has made her notorious even
among the shameless women who pretend to be leaders of society.
She is scarcely twenty-two, and there is not a single prejudice
left for her to brave! Her husband is the companion of actresses
and courtesans; her own companions are no better--and in less than
two years the million of francs which I bestowed on her as a dowry
has been squandered, recklessly squandered--for there isn't a
penny of it left. And, at this very hour, my daughter and my son-
in-law are plotting to extort money from me. On the day before
yesterday--listen carefully to this--my son-in-law came to ask me
for a hundred thousand francs, and when I refused them, he
threatened if I did not give them to him that he would publish
some letters written by my daughter--by his wife--to some low
scoundrel. I was horrified and gave him what he asked. But that
same evening I learned that the husband and wife, my daughter and
my son-in-law, had concocted this vile conspiracy together. Yes,
I have positive proofs of it. Leaving here, and not wishing to
return home that day, he telegraphed the good news to his wife.
But in his delight he made a mistake in the address, and the
telegram was brought here. I opened it, and read: 'Papa has
fallen into the trap, my darling. I beat my drum, and he
surrendered at once.' Yes, that is what he dared to write, and
sign with his own name, and then send to his wife--my daughter!"
Pascal was absolutely terrified. He wondered if he were not the
victim of some absurd nightmare--if his senses were not playing
him false. He had little conception of the terrible dramas which
are constantly enacted in these superb mansions, so admired and
envied by the passing crowd. He thought that the baroness would
be crushed--that she would fall on her knees before her husband.
What a mistake! The tone of her voice told him that, instead of
yielding, she was only bent on retaliation.
"Does your son-in-law do anything worse than you?" she exclaimed.
"How dare you censure him--you who drag your name through all the
gambling dens of Europe?"
"Wretch!" interrupted the baron, "wretch!" But quickly mastering
himself, he remarked: "Yes, it's true that I gamble. People say,
'That great Baron Trigault is never without cards in his hands!'
But you know very well that I really hold gambling in horror--that
I loathe it. But when I play, I sometimes forget--for I must
forget. I tried drink, but it wouldn't drown thought, so I had
recourse to cards; and when the stakes are large, and my fortune
is imperilled, I sometimes lose consciousness of my misery!"
The baroness gave vent to a cold, sneering laugh, and, in a tone
of mocking commiseration, she said: "Poor baron! It is no doubt in
the hope of forgetting your sorrows that you spend all your time--
when you are not gambling--with a woman named Lia d'Argeles.
She's rather pretty. I have seen her several times in the Bois----"
"Be silent!" exclaimed the baron, "be silent! Don't insult an
unfortunate woman who is a thousand times better than yourself."
And, feeling that he could endure no more--that he could no longer
restrain his passion, he cried: "Out of my sight! Go! or I sha'n't
be responsible for my acts!"
Pascal heard a chair move, the floor creak, and a moment afterward
a lady passed quickly through the smoking-room. How was it that
she did not perceive him? No doubt, because she was greatly
agitated, in spite of her bravado. And, besides, he was standing
a little back in the shade. But he saw her, and his brain reeled.
"Good Lord! what a likeness!" he murmured.
It was as if he had seen an apparition, and he was vainly striving
to drive away a terrible, mysterious fear, when a heavy footfall
made the floor of the dining-room creak anew. The noise restored
him to consciousness of his position. "It is the baron!" he
thought; "he is coming this way! If he finds me here I am lost; he
will never consent to help me. A man would never forgive another
man for hearing what I have just heard."
Why should he not try to make his escape? The card, bearing the
name of Maumejan, would be no proof of his visit. He could see
the baron somewhere else some other day--elsewhere than at his own
house, so that he need not fear the recognition of the servants.
These thoughts flashed through his mind, and he was about to fly,
when a harsh cry held him spell-bound. Baron Trigault was
standing on the threshold. His emotion, as is almost always the
case with corpulent people, was evinced by a frightful distortion
of his features. His face was transformed, his lips had become
perfectly white, and his eyes seemed to be starting from their
sockets. "How came you here?" he asked, in a husky voice.
"Your servants ushered me into this room."
"Who are you?"
"What! monsieur, don't you recognize me?" rejoined Pascal, who in
his agitation forgot that the baron had seen him only twice
before. He forgot the absence of his beard, his almost ragged
clothing, and all the precautions he had taken to render
"I have never met any person named Maumejan," said the baron.
"Ah! monsieur, that's not my name. Have you forgotten the
innocent man who was caught in that infamous snare set for him by
the Viscount de Coralth?"
"Yes, yes," replied the baron, "I remember you now." And then
recollecting the terrible scene that had just taken place in the
adjoining room: "How long have you been here?" he asked.
Should Pascal tell a falsehood, or confess the truth? He
hesitated, but his hesitation lasted scarcely the tenth part of a
second. "I have been here about half an hour," he replied.
The baron's livid cheeks suddenly became purple, his eyes
glittered, and it seemed by his threatening gesture as if he were
strongly tempted to murder this man, who had discovered the
terrible, disgraceful secrets of his domestic life. But it was a
mere flash of energy. The terrible ordeal which he had just
passed through had exhausted him mentally and physically, and it
was in a faltering voice that he resumed: "Then you have not lost
a word--a word of what was said in the other room?"
"Not a word."
The baron sank on to the divan. "So the knowledge of my disgrace
is no longer confined to myself!" he exclaimed. "A stranger's eye
has penetrated the depths of misery I have fallen into! The secret
of my wretchedness and shame is mine no longer!"
"Oh, monsieur, monsieur!" interrupted Pascal. "Before I recross
the threshold of your home, all shall have been forgotten. I
swear it by all that is most sacred!"
He had raised his hand as if to take a solemn oath, when the baron
caught hold of it, and, pressing it with sorrowful gratitude,
exclaimed: "I believe you! You are a man of honor--I only needed
to see your home to be convinced of that. You will not laugh at
my misfortunes or my misery!" He must have been suffering
frightfully, for big tears rolled slowly down his cheeks. "What
have I done, my God! that I should be so cruelly punished?" he
continued. "I have always been generous and charitable, and ready
to help all who applied to me. I am utterly alone! I have a wife
and a daughter--but they hate me. They long for my death, which
would give them possession of my wealth. What torture! For months
together I dared not eat a morsel of food, either in my own house,
or in the house of my son-in-law. I feared poison; and I never
partook of a dish until I had seen my daughter or my wife do so.
To prevent a crime, I was obliged to resort to the strangest
expedients. I made a will, and left my property in such a way
that if I die, my family will not receive one penny. So, they now
have an interest in prolonging my life." As he spoke he sprang up
with an almost frenzied air, and, seizing Pascal by the arm, again
continued. "Nor is this all! This woman--my wife--you know--you
have heard the extent of her shame and degradation. Ah, well! I--
Pascal recoiled with an exclamation of mingled horror and
"This amazes you, eh?" rejoined the baron. "It is indeed
incomprehensible, monstrous--but it is the truth. It is to
gratify her desire for luxury that I have toiled to amass
millions. If I purchased a title, which is absurd and ridiculous,
it was only because I wished to satisfy her vanity. Do what she
may, I can only see in her the chaste and beautiful wife of our
early married life. It is cowardly, absurd, ridiculous--I realize
it; but my love is stronger than my reason or my will. I love her
madly, passionately; I cannot tear her from my heart!"
So speaking, he sank sobbing on to the divan again. Was this,
indeed, the frivolous and jovial Baron Trigault whom Pascal had
seen at Madame d'Argeles's house--the man of self-satisfied mien
and superb assurance, the good-natured cynic, the frequenter of
gambling-dens? Alas, yes! But the baron whom the world knew was
only a comedian; this was the real man.
After a little while he succeeded in controlling his emotion, and
in a comparatively calm voice he exclaimed: "But it is useless to
distract one's mind with an incurable evil. Let us speak of
yourself, M. Ferailleur. To what do I owe the honor of this
"To your own kind offer, monsieur, and the hope that you will help
me in refuting this slander, and wreaking vengeance upon those who
have ruined me."
"Oh! yes, I will help you in that to the full extent of my power,"
exclaimed the baron. But experience reminded him that
confidential disclosures ought not to be made with the doors open,
so he rose, shut them, and returning to Pascal, said: "Explain in
what way I can be of service to you, monsieur."
It was not without many misgivings that Pascal had presented
himself at the baron's house, but after what he had heard he felt
no further hesitation; he could speak with perfect freedom. "It
is quite unnecessary for me to tell you, Monsieur le Baron," he
began, "that the cards which made me win were inserted in the pack
by M. de Coralth--that is proven beyond question, and whatever the
consequences may be, I shall have my revenge. But before striking
him, I wish to reach the man whose instrument he was."
"What! you suppose----"
"I don't suppose--I am sure that M. de Coralth acted in obedience
to the instructions of some other scoundrel whose courage does not
equal his meanness."
"Perhaps so! I think he would shrink from nothing in the way of
rascality. But who could have employed him in this vile work of
dishonoring an honest man?"
"The Marquis de Valorsay."
On hearing this name, the baron bounded to his feet.
"Impossible!" he exclaimed; "absolutely impossible! M. de Valorsay
is incapable of the villainy you ascribe to him. What do I say?--
he is even above suspicion. I have known him for years, and I
have never met a more loyal, more honorable, or more courageous
man. He is one of my few trusted friends; we see each other
almost every day. I am expecting a visit from him even now."
"Still it was he who incited M. de Coralth to do the deed."
"But why? What could have been his object?"
"To win a young girl whom I love. She--loved me, and he saw that
I was an obstacle. He put me out of the way more surely than if
he had murdered me. If I died, she might mourn for me--
dishonored, she would spurn me----"
"Is Valorsay so madly in love with the girl, then?"
"I think he cares but very little for her."
"She is the heiress of several millions."
It was evident that this explanation did not shake Baron
Trigault's faith in his friend. "But the marquis has an income of
a hundred and fifty or two hundred thousand francs," said he;
"that is an all-sufficient justification. With his fortune and
his name, he is in a position to choose his wife from among all
the heiresses of France. Why should he address his attentions in
particular to the woman you love? Ah! if he were poor--if his
fortune were impaired--if he felt the need of regilding his
escutcheon, like my son-in-law----"
He paused; there was a rap at the door. The baron called out:
"Come in," and a valet appeared, and informed his master that the
Marquis de Valorsay wished to speak with him.
It was the enemy! Pascal's features were distorted with rage; but
he did not stir--he did not utter a word. "Ask the marquis into
the next room," said the baron. "I will join him there at once."
Then as the servant retired, the baron turned to Pascal and said:
"Well, M. Ferailleur, do you divine my intentions?"
"I think so, monsieur. You probably intend me to hear the
conversation you are going to have with M. de Valorsay."
"Exactly. I shall leave the door open, and you can listen."
This word, "listen," was uttered without bitterness, or even
reproach; and yet Pascal could not help blushing and hanging his
head. "I wish to prove to you that your suspicions are without
foundation," pursued the baron. "Rest assured that I shall prove
this conclusively. I will conduct the conversation in the form of
a cross-examination, and after the marquis's departure, you will
be obliged to confess that you were wrong."
"Or you, that I am right?"
"So be it. Any one is liable to be mistaken, and I am not
He was about to leave the room, when Pascal detained him. "I
scarcely know how to testify my gratitude even now, monsieur, and
yet--if I dared--if I did not fear to abuse your kindness, I
should ask one more favor."
"Speak, Monsieur Ferailleur."
"It is this, I do not know the Marquis de Valorsay; and if,
instead of leaving the door wide open, you would partially close
it, I should hear as distinctly, and I could also see him."
"Agreed," replied the baron. And, opening the door, he passed
into the dining-room, with his right hand cordially extended, and
saying, in his most genial tones: "Excuse me, my dear friend, for
keeping you waiting. I received your letter this morning, and I
was expecting you, but some unexpected business required my
attention just now. Are you quite well?"
As the baron entered the room, the marquis had stepped quickly
forward to meet him. Either he was inspired with fresh hope, or
else he had wonderful powers of self-control, for never had he
looked more calm--never had his face evinced haughtier
indifference, more complete satisfaction with himself, and greater
contempt for others. He was dressed with even more than usual
care, and in perfect taste as well; moreover, his valet had
surpassed himself in dressing his hair--for one would have sworn
that his locks were still luxuriant. If he experienced any secret
anxiety, it only showed itself in a slightly increased stiffness
of his right leg--the limb broken in hunting. "I ought rather to
inquire concerning your own health," he remarked. "You seem
greatly disturbed; your cravat is untied." And, pointing to the
broken china scattered about the floor, he added: "On seeing this,
I asked myself if an accident had not happened."
"The baroness was taken suddenly ill at the breakfast table. Her
fainting fit startled me a little. But it was a mere trifle. She
has quite recovered already, and you may rely upon her applauding
your victory at Vincennes to-day. She has I don't know how many
hundred louis staked upon your horses."
The marquis's countenance assumed an expression of cordial regret.
"I am very sorry, upon my word!" he exclaimed. "But I sha'n't
take part in the races at Vincennes. I have withdrawn my horses.
And, in future, I shall have nothing to do with racing."
"It is the truth, however. I have been led to this determination
by the infamous slander which has been circulated respecting me."
This answer was a mere trifle, but it somewhat shook Baron
Trigault's confidence. "You have been slandered!" he muttered.
"Abominably. Last Sunday the best horse in my stables, Domingo,
came in third. He was the favorite in the ring. You can
understand the rest. I have been accused of manoeuvering to have
my own horse beaten. People have declared that it was my interest
he should be beaten, and that I had an understanding with my
jockey to that effect. This is an every-day occurrence, I know
very well; but, as regards myself, it is none the less an infamous
"Who has dared to circulate such a report?"
"Oh, how can I tell? It is a fact, however, that the story has
been circulated everywhere, but in such a cautious manner that
there is no way of calling the authors to account. They have even
gone so far as to say that this piece of knavery brought me in an
enormous sum, and that I used Rochecotte's, Kervaulieu's, and
Coralth's names in betting against my own horse."
The baron's agitation was so great that M. de Valorsay observed
it, though he did not understand the cause. Living in the same
society with the Baroness Trigault, and knowing her story, he
thought that Coralth's name might, perhaps, have irritated the
baron. "And so," he quickly continued, "don't be surprised if,
during the coming week, you see the sale of my horses announced."
"What! you are going to sell----"
"All my horses--yes, baron. I have nineteen; and it will be very
strange if I don't get eight or ten thousand louis for the lot.
Domingo alone is worth more than forty thousand francs."
To talk of selling--of realizing something you possess--rings
ominously in people's ears. The person who talks of selling
proclaims his need of money--and often his approaching ruin. "It
will save you at least a hundred and fifty or sixty thousand
francs a year," observed the baron.
"Double it and you won't come up to the mark. Ah! my dear baron,
you have yet to learn that there is nothing so ruinous as a racing
stable. It's worse than gambling; and women, in comparison, are a
real economy. Ninette costs me less than Domingo, with his
jockey, his trainer, and his grooms. My manager declares that the
twenty-three thousand francs I won last year, cost me at least
Was he boasting, or was he speaking the truth? The baron was
engaged in a rapid calculation. "What does Valorsay spend a
year?" he was saying to himself. "Let us say two hundred and
fifty thousand francs for his stable; forty thousand francs for
Ninette Simplon; eighty thousand for his household expenses, and
at least thirty thousand for personal matters, travelling, and
play. All this amounts to something like four hundred and thirty
thousand francs a year. Does his income equal that sum? Certainly
not. Then he must have been living on the principal--he is
Meanwhile the marquis gayly continued: "You see, I'm going to make
a change in my mode of life. Ah! it surprises you! But one must
make an end of it, sooner or later. I begin to find a bachelor
life not so very pleasant after all; there is rheumatism in
prospect, and my digestion is becoming impaired--in short, I feel
that it is time for marriage, baron; and--I am about to marry."
"Yes, I. What, haven't you heard of it, yet? It has been talked
of at the club for three days or more."
"No, this is the first intimation I have received of it. It is
true, however, that I have not been to the club for three days. I
have made a wager with Kami-Bey, you know--that rich Turk--and as
our sittings are eight or ten hours long, we play in his
apartments at the Grand Hotel. And so you are to be married," the
baron continued, after a slight pause. "Ah, well! I know one
person who won't be pleased."
M. de Valorsay laughed heartily. "As if that would make any
difference to me!" he exclaimed. And then in a most confidential
manner he resumed: "She will soon be consoled. Ninette Simplon is
a shrewd girl--a girl whom I have always suspected of having an
account book in place of a heart. I know she has at least three
hundred thousand francs safely invested; her furniture and
diamonds are worth as much more. Why should she regret me? Add to
this that I have promised her fifty thousand francs to dry her
tears with on my wedding-day, and you will understand that she
really longs to see me married."
"I understand," replied the baron; "Ninette Simplon won't trouble
you. But I can't understand why you should talk of economy on the
eve of a marriage which will no doubt double your fortune; for I'm
sure you won't surrender your liberty without good and substantial
"You are mistaken."
"Well, I won't hesitate to confess to you, my dear baron, that the
girl I am about to marry hasn't a penny of her own. My future
wife has no dowry save her black eyes--but they are certainly
This assertion seemed to disprove Pascal's statements. "Can it
really be you who are talking in this strain?" cried the baron.
"You, a practical, worldly man, give way to such a burst of
The baron opened his eyes in astonishment. "Ah! then you adore
your future bride!"
"Adore only feebly expresses my feelings."
"I must be dreaming."
Valorsay shrugged his shoulders with the air of a man who has made
up his mind to accept the banter of his friends; and in a tone of
mingled sentimentality and irony, he said: "I know that it's
absurd, and that I shall be the laughing-stock of my
acquaintances. Still it doesn't matter; I have never been coward
enough to hide my feelings. I'm in love, my dear baron, as madly
in love as a young collegian--sufficiently in love to watch my
lady's house at night even when I have no possible hope of seeing
her. I thought myself blase, I boasted of being invulnerable.
Well, one fine morning I woke up with the heart of a youth of
twenty beating in my breast--a heart which trembled at the
slightest glance from the girl I love, and sent purple flushes to
my face. Naturally I tried to reason with myself. I was ashamed
of my weakness; but the more clearly I showed myself my folly, the
more obstinate my heart became. And perhaps my folly is not such
a great one after all. Such perfect beauty united with such
modesty, grace, and nobility of soul, such passion, candor and
talent, cannot be met twice in a lifetime. I intend to leave
Paris. We shall first of all go to Italy, my wife and I. After a
while we shall return and install ourselves at Valorsay, like two
turtle-doves. Upon my word, my imagination paints a charming
picture of the calm and happy life we shall lead there! I don't
deserve such good fortune. I must have been born under a lucky
Had he been less engrossed in his narrative, he would have heard
the sound of a stifled oath in the adjoining room; and had he been
less absorbed in the part he was playing, he would have observed a
cloud on his companion's brow. The baron was a keen observer, and
he had detected a false ring in this apparently vehement outburst
of passion. "I understand it now, my dear marquis," said he; "you
have met the descendant of some illustrious but impoverished
"You are wrong. My future bride has no other name than her
Christian name of Marguerite."
"It is a regular romance then!"
"You are quite right; it is a romance. Were you acquainted with
the Count de Chalusse, who died a few days ago?"
"No; but I have often heard him spoken of."
"Well, it is his daughter whom I am about to marry--his
The baron started. "Excuse me," said he; "M. de Chalusse was
immensely rich, and he was a bachelor. How does it happen then
that his daughter, even though she be his illegitimate child,
should find herself penniless?"
"A mere chance--a fatality. M. de Chalusse died very suddenly; he
had no time to make a will or to acknowledge his daughter."
"But why had he not taken some precautions?"
"A formal recognition of his daughter was attended by too many
difficulties, and even dangers. Mademoiselle Marguerite had been
abandoned by her mother when only five or six months old; it is
only a few years since M. de Chalusse, after a thousand vain
attempts, at last succeeded in finding her."
It was no longer on Pascal's account, but on his own, that Baron
Trigault listened with breathless attention. "How very strange,"
he exclaimed, in default of something better to say. "How very
"Isn't it? It is as good as a novel."
"Would it be--indiscreet----"
"To inquire? Certainly not. The count told me the whole story,
without entering into particulars--you understand. When he was
quite young, M. de Chalusse became enamoured of a charming young
lady, whose husband had gone to tempt fortune in America. Being
an honest woman, she resisted the count's advances for awhile--a
very little while; but in less than a year after her husband's
departure, she gave birth to a pretty little daughter,
Mademoiselle Marguerite. But then why had the husband gone to
"Yes," faltered the baron; "why--why, indeed?"
"Everything was progressing finely, when M. de Chalusse was in his
turn obliged to start for Germany, having been informed that a
sister of his, who had fled from the paternal roof with nobody
knows who, had been seen there. He had been absent some four
months or so, when one morning the post brought him a letter from
his pretty mistress, who wrote: 'We are lost! My husband is at
Marseilles: he will be here to-morrow. Never attempt to see me
again. Fear everything from him. Farewell.' On receiving this
letter, M. de Chalusse flung himself into a postchaise, and
returned to Paris. He was determined, absolutely determined, to
have his daughter. But he arrived too late. On hearing of her
husband's return, the young wife had lost her head. She had but
one thought--to conceal her fault, at any cost; and one night,
being completely disguised, she left her child on a doorstep in
the vicinity of the central markets----"
The marquis suddenly paused in his story to exclaim: "Why, what is
the matter with you, my dear baron? What is the matter? Are you
ill? Shall I ring?"
The baron was as pale as if the last drop of blood had been drawn
from his veins, and there were dark purple circles about his eyes.
Still, on being questioned, he managed to answer in a choked
voice, but not without a terrible effort: "Nothing! It is nothing.
A mere trifle! It will be over in a moment. It IS over!" Still
his limbs trembled so much that he could not stand, and he sank on
to a chair, murmuring: "I entreat you, marquis--continue. It is
very interesting--very interesting indeed."
M. de Valorsay resumed his narrative. "The husband was
incontestably an artless fellow: but he was also, it appears, a
man of remarkable energy and determination. Having somehow
ascertained that his wife had given birth to a child in his
absence, he moved heaven and earth not only to discover the child,
but its father also. He had sworn to kill them both; and he was a
man to keep his vow unmoved by a thought of the guillotine. And
if you require a proof of his strength of character, here it is:
He said nothing to his wife on the subject, he did not utter a
single reproach; he treated her exactly as he had done before his
absence. But he watched her, or employed others to watch her,
both and night, convinced that she would finally commit some act
of imprudence which would give him the clue he wanted.
Fortunately, she was very shrewd. She soon discovered that her
husband knew everything, and she warned M. de Chalusse, thus
saving his life."
It is not at all remarkable that the Marquis de Valorsay should
have failed to see any connection between his narrative and the
baron's agitation. What possible connection could there be
between opulent Baron Trigault and the poor devil who went to seek
his fortune in America? What imaginable connection could there be
between the confirmed gambler, who was Kami-Bey's companion, Lia
d'Argeles's friend, and the husband who for ten long years had
pursued the man who, by seducing his wife, had robbed him of all
the happiness of life? Another point that would have dispelled any
suspicions on the marquis's part was that he had found the baron
greatly agitated on arriving, and that he now seemed to be
gradually regaining his composure. So he continued his story in
his customary light, mocking tone. It is the perfection of good
taste and high breeding--"proper form," indeed, not to be
astonished or moved by anything, in fact to sneer at everything,
and hold one's self quite above the emotions which disturb the
minds of plebeians.
Thus the marquis continued: "I am necessarily compelled to omit
many particulars, my dear baron. The count was not very explicit
when he reached this part of his story; but, in spite of his
reticence, I learned that he had been tricked in his turn, that
certain papers had been stolen from him, and that he had been
defrauded in many ways by his inamorata. I also know that M. de
Chalusse's whole life was haunted by the thought of the husband he
had wronged. He felt a presentiment that he would die by this
man's hand. He saw danger on every side. If he went out alone in
the evening, which was an exceedingly rare occurrence, he turned
the street corners with infinite caution; it seemed to him that he
could always see the gleam of a poniard or a pistol in the shade.
I should never have believed in this constant terror on the part
of a really brave man, if he had not confessed it to me with his
own lips. Ten or twelve years passed before he dared to make the
slightest attempt to find his daughter, so much did he fear to
arouse his enemy's attention. It was not until he had discovered
that the husband had become discouraged and had discontinued his
search, that the count began his. It was a long and arduous one,
but at last it succeeded, thanks to the assistance of a clever
scoundrel named Fortunat."
The baron with difficulty repressed a movement of eager curiosity,
and remarked: "What a peculiar name!"
"And his first name is Isidore. Ah! he's a smooth-tongued
scoundrel, a rascal of the most dangerous kind, who richly
deserves to be in jail. How it is that he is allowed to prosecute
his dishonorable calling I can't understand; but it is none the
less true that he does follow it, and without the slightest
attempt at concealment, at an office he has on the Place de la
This name and address were engraved upon the baron's memory, never
to be effaced.
"However," resumed M. de Valorsay, "the poor count was fated to
have no peace. The husband had scarcely ceased to torment him, he
had scarcely begun to breathe freely, when the wife attacked him
in her turn. She must have been one of those vile and despicable
women who make a man hate the entire sex. Pretending that the
count had turned her from the path of duty, and destroyed her life
and happiness, she lost no opportunity of tormenting him. She
would not allow M. de Chalusse to keep the child with him, nor
would she consent to his adopting the girl. She declared it an
act of imprudence, which would surely set her husband upon the
track, sooner or later. And when the count announced his
intention of legally adopting the child, in spite of her protests,
she declared that, rather than allow it, she would confess
everything to her husband."
"The count was a patient man," sneered the baron.
"Not so patient as you may suppose. His submission was due to
some secret cause which he never confided to me. There must have
been some great crime under all this. In any case, the poor count
found it impossible to escape this terrible woman. He took refuge
at Cannes; but she followed him. He travelled through Italy, for
I don't know how many months under an assumed name, but all in
vain. He was at last compelled to conceal his daughter in some
provincial convent. During the last few months of his life he
obtained peace--that is to say, he bought it. This lady's husband
must either be very poor or exceedingly stingy; and as she was
exceedingly fond of luxury, M. de Chalusse effected a compromise
by giving her a large sum monthly, and also by paying her dress-
The baron sprang to his feet with a passionate exclamation. "The
vile wretch!" he said.
But he quickly reseated himself, and the exclamation astonished M.
de Valorsay so little that he quietly concluded by saying: "And
this is the reason, baron, why my beloved Marguerite, the future
Marquise de Valorsay, has no dowry."
The baron cast a look of positive anguish at the door of the
smoking-room. He had heard a slight movement there; and he
trembled with fear lest Pascal, maddened with anger and jealousy,
should rush in and throw himself upon the marquis. Plainly
enough, this perilous situation could not last much longer. The
baron's own powers of self-control and dissimulation were almost
exhausted, and so postponing until another time the many questions
he still wished to ask M. de Valorsay, he made haste to check
these confidential disclosures. "Upon my word," he exclaimed,
with a forced laugh, "I was expecting something quite different.
This affair begins like a genuine romance, and ends, as everything
ends nowadays, in money!"
As a millionaire and a gambler, Baron Trigault enjoyed all sorts
of privileges. He assumed the right to be brutal, ill-bred,
cynical and bold; to be one of those persons who declare that
folks must take them as they find them. But his rudeness now was
so thoroughly offensive that under any other circumstances the
marquis would have resented it. However, he had special reasons
for preserving his temper, so he decided to laugh.
"Yes, these stories always end in the same way, baron," said he.
"You haven't touched a card this morning, and I know your hands
are itching. Excuse me for making you waste precious time, as you
say; but what you have just heard was only a necessary preface."
"Only a preface?"
"Yes; but don't be discouraged. I have arrived at the object of
my visit now."
As Baron Trigault was supposed to enjoy an income of at least
eight hundred thousand francs a year, he received in the course of
a twelvemonth at least a million applications for money or help,
and for this reason he had not an equal for detecting a coming
appeal. "Good heavens!" he thought, "Valorsay is going to ask me
for money." In fact, he felt certain that the marquis's pretended
carelessness concealed real embarrassment, and that it was
difficult for him to find the words he wanted.
"So I am about to marry," M. de Valorsay resumed--"I wish to break
off my former life, to turn over a new leaf. And now the wedding
gifts, the two fetes that I propose giving, the repairs at
Valorsay, and the honeymoon with my wife--all these things will
cost a nice little sum."
"A nice little sum, indeed!"
"Ah, well! as I'm not going to wed an heiress, I fear I shall run
a trifle short. The matter was worrying me a little, when I
thought of you. I said to myself: 'The baron, who always has
money at his disposal, will no doubt let me have the use of five
thousand louis for a year.'"
The baron's eyes were fixed upon his companion's face. "Zounds!"
he exclaimed in a half-grieved, half-petulant tone; "I haven't the
It was not disappointment that showed itself on the marquis's
face; it was absolute despair, quickly concealed.
But the baron had detected it; and he realized his applicant's
urgent need. He felt certain that M. de Valorsay was financially
ruined--and yet, as it did not suit his plans to refuse, he
hastily added: "When I say I haven't that amount, I mean that I
haven't got it on hand just at this moment. But I shall have it
within forty-eight hours; and if you are at home at this time on
the day after to-morrow, I will send you one of my agents, who
will arrange the matter with you."
A moment before, the marquis had allowed his consternation to show
itself; but this time he knew how to conceal the joy that filled
his soul. So it was in the most indifferent manner, as if the
affair were one of trivial importance, that he thanked the baron
for being so obliging. Plainly enough, he now longed to make his
escape, and indeed, after rattling off a few commonplace remarks.
he rose to his feet and took his leave, exclaiming: "Till the day
after to-morrow, then!"
The baron sank into an arm-chair, completely overcome. A martyr
to a passion that was stronger than reason itself, the victim of a
fatal love which he had not been able to drive from his heart,
Baron Trigault had passed many terrible hours, but never had he
been so completely crushed as at this moment when chance revealed
the secret which he had vainly pursued for years. The old wounds
in his heart opened afresh, and his sufferings were poignant
beyond description. All his efforts to save this woman whom he at
once loved and hated from the depths of degradation, had proved
unavailing. "And she has extorted money from the Count de
Chalusse," he thought; "she sold him the right to adopt their own
daughter." And so strange are the workings of the human heart,
that this circumstance, trivial in comparison with many others,
drove the unfortunate baron almost frantic with rage. What did it
avail him that he had become one of the richest men in Paris? He
allowed his wife eight thousand francs a month, almost one hundred
thousand francs a year, merely for her dresses and fancies. Not a
quarter-day passed, but what he paid her debts to a large amount,
and in spite of all this, she had sunk so low as to extort money
from a man who had once loved her. "What can she do with it all?"
muttered the baron, overcome with sorrow and indignation. "How
can she succeed in spending the income of several millions?"
A name, the name of Ferdinand de Coralth, rose to his lips; but he
did not pronounce it. He saw Pascal emerging from the smoking-
room; and though he had forgotten the young advocate's very
existence, his appearance now restored him to a consciousness of
reality. "Ah, well! M. Ferailleur?" he said, like a man suddenly
aroused from some terrible nightmare. Pascal tried to make some
reply, but he was unable to do so--such a flood of incoherent
thoughts was seething and foaming in his brain. "Did you hear, M.
de Valorsay?" continued the baron. "Now we know, beyond the
possibility of doubt, who Mademoiselle Marguerite's mother is.
What is to be done? What would you do in my place?"
"Ah, monsieur! how can I tell?"
"Wouldn't your first thought be of vengeance! It is mine. But
upon whom can I wreak my vengeance? Upon the Count de Chalusse? He
is dead. Upon my wife? Yes, I might do so; but I lack the
courage--Mademoiselle Marguerite remains."
"But she is innocent, monsieur; she has never wronged you."
The baron did not seem to hear this exclamation. "And to make
Mademoiselle Marguerite's life one long misery," said he, "I need
only favor her marriage with the marquis. Ah, he would make her
cruelly expiate the crime of her birth."
"But you won't do so!" cried Pascal, in a transport, "it would be
shameful; I won't allow it. Never, I swear before high Heaven!
never, while I live, shall Valorsay marry Marguerite. He may
perhaps vanquish me in the coming struggle; he may lead her to the
threshold of the church, but there he will find me--armed--and I
will have justice--human justice in default of legal satisfaction.
And, afterward, the law may take its course!"
The baron looked at him with deep emotion. "Ah, you know what it
is to love!" he exclaimed; and in a hollow voice, he added: "and
thus it was that I loved Marguerite's mother."
The breakfast-table had not been cleared, and a large decanter of
water was still standing on it. The baron poured out two large
glasses, which he drained with feverish avidity, and then he began
to walk aimlessly about the room.
Pascal held his peace. It seemed to him that his own destiny was
being decided in this man's mind, that his whole future depended
upon the determination he arrived at. A prisoner awaiting the
verdict of the jury could not have suffered more intense anxiety.
At last, when a minute, which seemed a century, had elapsed, the
baron paused. "Now as before, M. Ferailleur," he said, roughly,
"I'm for you and with you. Give me your hand--that's right.
Honest people ought to protect and assist one another when
scoundrels assail them. We will reinstate you in public esteem,
monsieur. We will unmask Coralth, and we will crush Valorsay if
we find that he is really the instigator of the infamous plot that
"What, monsieur! Can you doubt it after your conversation with
The baron shook his head. "I've no doubt but what Valorsay is
ruined financially," said he. "I am certain that my hundred
thousand francs will be lost forever if I lend them to him. I
would be willing to swear that he bet against his own horse and
prevented the animal from winning, as he is accused of doing."
"You must see, then--"
"Excuse me--all this does NOT explain the great discrepancy
between your allegations and his story. You assure me that he
cares nothing whatever for Mademoiselle Marguerite; he pretends
that he adores her."
"Yes, monsieur, yes--the scoundrel dared to say so. Ah! if I had
not been deterred by a fear of losing my revenge!"
"I understand; but allow me to conclude. According to you,
Mademoiselle Marguerite possesses several millions. According to
him, she hasn't a penny of her own. Which is right? I believe he
is. His desire to borrow a hundred thousand francs of me proves
it; and, besides, he wouldn't have come this morning to tell me a
falsehood, which would be discovered to-morrow. Still, if he is
telling the truth, it is impossible to explain the foul conspiracy
you have suffered by."
This objection had previously presented itself to Pascal's mind,
and he had found an explanation which seemed to him a plausible
one. "M. de Chalusse was not dead," said he, "when M. de Coralth
and M. de Valorsay decided on this plan of ridding themselves of
me. Consequently, Mademoiselle Marguerite was still an heiress."
"That's true; but the very day after the commission of the crime,
the accomplices must have discovered that it could do them no
good; so, why have they still persisted in their scheme?"
Pascal tried to find a satisfactory answer, but failed.
"There must be some iniquitous mystery in this affair, which
neither you nor I suspect," remarked the baron.
"That is exactly what my mother told me."
"Ah! that's Madame Ferailleur's opinion? Then it is a good one.
Come, let us reason a little. Mademoiselle Marguerite loved you,
"And she has suddenly broken off the engagement?"
"She wrote to me that the Count de Chalusse extorted from her a
promise on his death-bed, that she would marry the Marquis de
The baron sprang to his feet. "Stop," he cried--"stop! We now
have a clue to the truth, perhaps. Ah! so Mademoiselle Marguerite
has written to you that M. de Chalusse commanded her to marry the
marquis! Then the count must have been fully restored to
consciousness before he breathed his last. On the other hand,
Valorsay pretends that Mademoiselle Marguerite is left without
resources, simply because the count died too suddenly to be able
to write or to sign a couple of lines. Can you reconcile these
two versions of the affair, M. Ferailleur? Certainly not. Then
which version is false? We must ascertain that point. When shall
you see Mademoiselle Marguerite again?"
"She has requested me NEVER to try to see her again."
"Very well! She must be disobeyed. You must discover some way of
seeing her without anyone's knowledge. She is undoubtedly
watched, so don't write on any account." He reflected for a
moment, and then added: "We shall, perhaps, become morally certain
of Valorsay's and Coralth's guilt, but there's a wide difference
between this and the establishment of their guilt by material
proofs. Two scoundrels who league to ruin an honest man don't
sign a contract to that effect before a notary. Proofs! Ah! where
shall we find them? We must gain an intimate knowledge of
Valorsay's private life. The best plan would be to find some man
devoted to our interests who would watch him, and insinuate
himself into his confidence."
Pascal interrupted the baron with an eager gesture. Hope glittered
in his eyes. "Yes!" he exclaimed, "yes; it is necessary that M.
de Valorsay should be watched by a man of quick perception--a man
clever enough to make himself useful to the marquis, and capable
of rendering him an important service in case of need. I will be
the man, monsieur, if you will allow me. The thought occurred to
me just now while I was listening to you. You promised to send
some one to Valorsay's house with money. I entreat you to allow
me to take the place of the man you intended to send. The marquis
doesn't know me, and I am sufficiently sure of myself to promise
you that I will not betray my identity. I will present myself as
your agent; he will give me his confidence. I shall take him
money or fair promises, I shall be well received, and I have a
He was interrupted by a rap at the door. The next moment a
footman entered, and informed his master that a messenger wished
to speak to him on urgent business. "Let him come in," said the
It was Job, Madame Lia d'Argeles's confidential servant, who
entered the room. He bowed respectfully, and, with an air of
profound mystery exclaimed: "I have been looking for the baron
everywhere. I was ordered by madame not to return without him."
"Very well," said M. Trigault. "I will go with you at once."
How was it that a clever man like M. Fortunat made such a blunder
as to choose a Sunday, and a racing Sunday too, to call on M.
Wilkie. His anxiety might explain the mistake, but it did not
justify it. He felt certain, that under any other circumstances
he would not have been dismissed so cavalierly. He would at least
have been allowed to develop his proposals, and then who knows
what might have happened?
But the races had interfered with his plans. M. Wilkie had been
compelled to attend to Pompier de Nanterre, that famous
steeplechaser, of which he owned one-third part, and he had,
moreover, to give orders to the jockey, whose lord and master he
was to an equal extent. These were sacred duties, since Wilkie's
share in a race-horse constituted his only claim to a footing in
fashionable society. But it was a strong claim--a claim that
justified the display of whips and spurs that decorated his
apartments in the Rue du Helder, and allowed him to aspire to the
character of a sporting man. Wilkie really imagined that folks
were waiting for him at Vincennes; and that the fete would not be
complete without his presence.
Still, when he presented himself inside the enclosure, a cigar in
his mouth, and his racing card dangling from his button-hole, he
was obliged to confess that his entrance did not create much of a
sensation. An astonishing bit of news had imparted unusual
excitement to the ring. People were eagerly discussing the
Marquis de Valorsay's sudden determination to pay forfeit and
withdraw his horses from the contest; and the best informed
declared that in the betting-rooms the evening before he had
openly announced his intention of selling his racing stable. If
the marquis had hoped that by adopting this course he would
silence the suspicions which had been aroused, he was doomed to
grievous disappointment. The rumor that he had secretly bet
against his own horse, Domingo, on the previous Sunday, and that
he had given orders not to let the animal win the race, was
steadily gaining credence.
Large sums had been staked on Domingo's success. He had been the
favorite in the betting ring and the losers were by no means
pleased. Some declared that they had seen the jockey hold Domingo
back; and they insisted that it was necessary to make an example,
and disqualify both the marquis and his jockey. Still one weighty
circumstance pleaded in M. de Valorsay's favor--his fortune, or,
at least, the fortune he was supposed to possess. "Why should
such a rich man stoop to cheat?" asked his defenders. "To put
money into one's pocket in this way is even worse than to cheat at
cards! Besides, it's impossible! Valorsay is above such
contemptible charges. He is a perfect gentleman."
"Perhaps so," replied the skeptical bystanders. "But people said
exactly the same of Croisenois, of the Duc de H., and Baron P.,
who were finally convicted of the same rascality that Valorsay is
"It's an infamous slander! If he had been inclined to cheat, he
could have easily diverted suspicion. He would have let Domingo
come in second, not third!"
"If he were not guilty, and afraid of detection, he wouldn't pay
forfeit to-day nor sell his horses."
"He only retires from the turf because he's going to marry----"
"Nonsense! That's no reason whatever."
Like all gamblers, the frequenters of the turf are distrustful and
inclined to be quarrelsome. No one is above their suspicions when
they lose nor above their wrath when they are duped. And this
Domingo affair united all the losers against Valorsay; they formed
a little battalion of enemies who were no doubt powerless for the
time being, but who were ready to take a startling revenge
whenever a good opportunity presented itself. Naturally enough,
M. Wilkie sided with the marquis, whom he had heard his friend, M.
de Coralth, speak of on several occasions. "Accuse the dear
marquis!" he exclaimed. "It's contemptible, outrageous. Why,
only last evening he said to me, 'My good friend, Domingo's defeat
cost me two thousand louis!'" M. de Valorsay had said nothing of
the kind, for the very good reason that he did not even know
Wilkie by sight; still, no one paid much heed to the assertion,
whereat Wilkie felt vexed, and resolved to turn his attention to
The latter was a lazy, worthless fellow, who had been dismissed
from every stable he had previously served in, and who swindled
and robbed the young gentlemen who employed him without either
limit or shame. Although he made them pay him a very high salary--
something like eight thousand francs a year--on the plea that it
was most repugnant to his feelings to act as a groom, trainer, and
jockey at the same time, he regularly every month presented them
with fabulous bills from the grain merchant, the veterinary
surgeon, and the harness-maker. In addition, he regularly sold
Pompier's oats in order to obtain liquor, and in fact the poor
animal was so nearly starved that he could scarcely stand on his
legs. The jockey ascribed the horse's extreme thinness to a
system of rigorous training; and the owners did not question the
statement in the least. He had made them believe, and they in
turn had made many others believe, that Pompier de Nanterre would
certainly win such and such a race; and, trusting in this
fallacious promise, they risked their money on the poor animal--
and lost it.
In point of fact, this jockey would have been the happiest mortal
in the world if such things as steeple-chases had never existed.
In the first place, he judged, with no little reason, that it was
dangerous to leap hurdles on such an animal as Pompier; and,
secondly, nothing irritated him so much as to be obliged to
promenade with his three employers in turn. But how could he
refuse, since he knew that if these young men hired him, it was
chiefly, or only in view of, displaying themselves in his company.
It afforded them untold satisfaction to walk to and fro along the
course in front of the grand stand, with their jockey in his
orange jacket with green sleeves. They were firmly convinced that
he reflected enormous credit upon them, and their hearts swelled
with joy at the thought of the envy they no doubt inspired. This
conviction gave rise indeed to terrible quarrels, in which each of
the three owners was wont to accuse the others of monopolizing the
On this occasion, M. Wilkie--being fortunate enough to arrive the
first--immediately repaired to Pompier de Nanterre's stall. Never
had circumstances been more favorable for a display of the
animal's speed. The day was magnificent; the stands were crowded,
and thousands of eager spectators were pushing and jostling one
another beyond the ropes which limited the course. M. Wilkie
seemed to be everywhere; he showed himself in a dozen different
places at once, always followed by his jockey, whom he ordered
about in a loud voice, with many excited gesticulations. And how
great his delight was when, as he passed through the crowd, he
heard people exclaim: "That gentleman has a racing stable. His
horses are going to compete!" What bliss thrilled his heart when
he overheard the admiring exclamation of some worthy shopkeeper
who was greatly impressed by the gay silk jacket and the top-
But, unfortunately, this happiness could not last forever. His
partners arrived, and claimed the jockey in their turn. So M.
Wilkie left the course and strolled about among the carriages,
until at last he found an equipage which was occupied by the young
ladies who had accepted his invitation to supper the evening