Part 4 out of 7
swore that I would do honor to his teachings--and when evil
thoughts enter my mind, and when I feel a thirst for liquor, I say
to myself, 'Wait a bit, and--and M. Andre will take a glass with
you.' And that quenches my thirst instantly. I have his portrait
at home, and every night, before going to bed, I tell him the
history of the day--and sometimes I fancy that he smiles at me.
All this is very absurd, perhaps, but I'm not ashamed of it. M.
Andre and my good mother, they are my supports, my crutches, and
with them I'm not afraid of making a false step." Schebel, the
German philosopher, who has written a treatise on Volition, in
four volumes, was no greater a man than Chupin. "So you may keep
your money, sir," he resumed. "I'm an honest fellow, and honest
men ought to ask no reward for the performance of a duty. Coralth
mustn't be allowed to triumph over the innocent chap he ruined.
What did you call him? Ferailleur? It's an odd name. Never mind--
we'll get him out of this scrape; he shall marry his sweetheart
after all; and I'll dance at the wedding."
As he finished speaking he laughed a shrill, dangerous laugh,
which revealed his sharp teeth--but such invincible determination
was apparent on his face, that M. Fortunat felt no misgivings. He
was sure that this volunteer would be of more service than the
highest-priced hireling. "So I can count on you, Victor?" he
"As upon yourself."
"And you hope to have some positive information by Tuesday?"
"Before then, I hope, if nothing goes amiss."
"Very well; I will devote my attention to Ferailleur then. As to
Valorsay's affairs, I am better acquainted with them than he is
himself. We must be prepared to enter upon the campaign when
Mademoiselle Marguerite comes, and we will act in accordance with
Chupin had already caught up his hat; but just as he was leaving
the room, he paused abruptly. "How stupid!" he exclaimed. "I had
forgotten the principal thing. Where does Coralth live?"
"Unfortunately, I don't know."
According to his habit when things did not go to his liking,
Chupin began to scratch his head furiously. "That's bad," growled
he. "Viscounts of his stamp don't parade their addresses in the
directory. Still, I shall find him." However, although he
expressed this conviction he went off decidedly out of temper.
"I shall lose the entire evening hunting up the rascal's address,"
he grumbled, as he hastened homeward. "And whom shall I ask for
it?--Madame d'Argeles's concierge? Would he know it--M. Wilkie's
servant? That would be dangerous." He thought of roaming sound
about M. de Valorsay's residence, and of bribing one of the
valets; but while crossing the boulevard, the sight of Brebant's
Restaurant put a new idea into his head. "I have it!" he
muttered; "my man's caught!" And he darted into the nearest cafe
where he ordered some beer and writing materials.
Under other circumstances, he would have hesitated to employ so
hazardous an expedient as the one he was about to resort to, but
the character of his adversaries justified any course; besides,
time was passing, and he had no choice of resources. As soon as
the waiter served him, he drained his glass of beer to give
himself an inspiration, and then, in his finest hand, he wrote:
MY DEAR VISCOUNT--Here's the amount--one hundred francs--that I
lost to you last evening at piquet. When shall I have my revenge?
When he had finished this letter he read it over three or four
times, asking himself if this were the style of composition that
very fashionable folks employ in repaying their debts. To tell
the truth, he doubted it. In the rough draft which he penned at
first, he had written bezique, but in the copy he wrote piquet,
which he deemed a more aristocratic game. "However," said he, "no
one will examine it closely!"
Then, as soon as the ink was dry, he folded the letter and slipped
it into an envelope with a hundred franc-note which he drew from
an old pocketbook. He next addressed the envelope as follows:
"Monsieur le Vicomte de Coralth, En Ville," and having completed
his preparations, he paid his score, and hastened to Brebant's.
Two waiters were standing at the doorway, and, showing them the
letter, he politely asked: "Do you happen to know this name? A
gentleman dropped this letter on leaving your place last evening.
I ran after him to return it; but I couldn't overtake him."
The waiters examined the address. "Coralth!" they replied. "We
scarcely know him. He isn't a regular customer, but he comes here
"And where does he live?"
"Why do you wish to know?"
"So as to take him this letter, to be sure!"
The waiters shrugged their shoulders. "Let the letter go; it is
not worth while to trouble yourself."
Chupin had foreseen this objection, and was prepared for it. "But
there's money in the letter," he remonstrated. And opening the
envelope, he showed the bank-note which he had taken from his own
This changed the matter entirely. "That is quite a different
thing," remarked one of the waiters. "If you find money, you are,
of course, responsible for it. But just leave it here at the
desk, and the next time the viscount comes in, the cashier will
give it to him."
A cold chill crept over Chupin at the thought of losing his bank-
note in this way. "Ah! I don't fancy that idea!" he exclaimed.
"Leave it here? Never in life! Who'd get the reward? A viscount is
always generous; it is quite likely he would give me twenty francs
as a reward for my honesty. And that's why I want his address."
The argument was of a nature to touch the waiters; they thought
the young man quite right; but they did not know M. de Coralth's
address, and they saw no way of procuring it. "Unless perhaps the
porter knows," observed one of them.
The porter, on being called, remembered that he had once been sent
to M. de Coralth's house for an overcoat. "I've forgotten his
number," he declared; "but he lives in the Rue d'Anjou, near the
corner of the Rue de la Ville l'Eveque."
This direction was not remarkable for its precision, but it was
more than sufficient for a pure-blooded Parisian like Victor
Chupin. "Many thanks for your kindness," he said to the porter.
"A blind man, perhaps, might not be able to go straight to M. de
Coralth's house from your directions, but I have eyes and a tongue
as well. And, believe me, if there's any reward, you shall see
that I know how to repay a good turn."
"And if you don't find the viscount," added the waiters, "bring
the money here, and it will be returned to him."
"Naturally!" replied Chupin. And he strode hurriedly away.
"Return!" he muttered; "not I! I thought for a moment they had
their hands on my precious bank-note."
But he had already recovered from his fright, and as he turned his
steps homeward he congratulated himself on the success of his
stratagem. "For my viscount is caught," he said to himself. "The
Rue d'Anjou Saint Honore hasn't a hundred numbers in it, and even
if I'm compelled to go from door to door, my task will soon be
On reaching home he found his mother engaged in knitting, as
usual. This was the only avocation that her almost complete
blindness allowed her to pursue; and she followed it constantly.
"Ah! here you are, Toto," she exclaimed, joyously. "I didn't
expect you so soon. Don't you scent a savory smell? As you must
be greatly tired after being up all night, I'm making you a stew."
As customary when he returned, Chupin embraced the good woman with
the respectful tenderness which had so surprised M. Fortunat.
"You are always kind," said he, "but, unfortunately, I can't
remain to dine with you."
"But you promised me."
"That's true, mamma; but business, you see--business."
The worthy woman shook her head. "Always business!" she
"Yes--when a fellow hasn't ten thousand francs a year."
"You have become a worker, Toto, and that makes me very happy; but
you are too eager for money, and that frightens me."
"That's to say, you fear I shall do something dishonest. Ah!
mother! do you think I can forget you and Monsieur Andre?"
His mother said no more, and he entered the tiny nook which he so
pompously styled his chamber, and quickly changed the clothes he
was wearing (his Sunday toggery) for an old pair of checked
trousers, a black blouse, and a glazed cap. And when he had
finished, and given a peculiar turn to his hair, no one would have
recognized him. In place of M. Fortunat's respectable clerk,
there appeared one of those vagabonds who hang about cafes and
theatres from six in the evening till midnight, and spend the rest
of their time playing cards in the low drinking dens near the
barrieres. It was the old Chupin come to life once more--Toto
Chupin as he had appeared before his conversion. And as he took a
last look in the little glass hanging over the table, he was
himself astonished at the transformation. "Ah!" he muttered, "I
was a sorry looking devil in those days."
Although he had cautiously avoided making any noise in dressing,
his mother, with the wonderfully acute hearing of the blind, had
followed each of his movements as surely as if she had been
standing near watching him. "You have changed your clothes,
Toto," she remarked.
"But why have you put on your blouse, my son?"
Although accustomed to his mother's remarkable quickness of
perception, he was amazed. Still he did not think of denying it.
She would only have to extend her hand to prove that he was
telling a falsehood. The blind woman's usually placid face had
become stern. "So it is necessary to disguise yourself," she
"Hush, my son! When a man doesn't wish to be recognized, he's
evidently doing something he's ashamed of. Ever since your
employer came here, you have been concealing something from me.
Take care, Toto! Since I heard that man's voice, I'm sure that he
is quite as capable of urging you to commit a crime as others were
in days gone by."
The blind woman was preaching to a convert; for during the past
three days, M. Fortunat had shown himself in such a light that
Chupin had secretly resolved to change his employer. "I promise
you I'll leave him, mother," he declared, "so you may be quite
easy in mind."
"Very well; but now, at this moment, where are you going?"
There was only one way of completely reassuring the good woman,
and that was to tell her all. Chupin did so with absolute
frankness. "Ah, well!" she said, when the narrative was finished.
"You see now how easy it is to lead you astray! How could you be
induced to play the part of a spy, when you know so well what it
leads to? It's only God's protecting care that has saved you again
from an act which you would have reproached yourself for all your
life. Your employer's intentions are good now; but they WERE
criminal when he ordered you to follow Madame d'Argeles. Poor
woman! She had sacrificed herself for her son, she had concealed
herself from him, and you were working to betray her. Poor
creature! how she must have suffered, and how much I pity her! To
be what she is, and to see herself denounced by her own son! I,
who am only a poor plebeian, should die of shame under such
Chupin blew his nose so loudly that the window-panes rattled; this
was his way of repressing his emotion whenever it threatened to
overcome him. "You speak like the good mother that you are," he
exclaimed at last," and I'm prouder of you than if you were the
handsomest and richest lady in Paris, for you're certainly the
most honest and virtuous; and I should be a thorough scoundrel if
I caused you a moment's sorrow. And if ever I set my foot in such
a mess again, I hope some one will cut it off. But for this once----"
"For this once, you may go, Toto; I give my consent."
He went off with a lighter heart; and on reaching the Rue d'Anjou
he immediately began his investigations. They were not successful
at first. At every house where he made inquiries nobody had any
knowledge of the Viscount de Coralth. He had visited half the
buildings in the street, when he reached one of the handsomest
houses, in front of which stood a cart laden with plants and
flowers. An old man, who seemed to be the concierge, and a valet
in a red waistcoat, were removing the plants from the vehicle and
arranging them in a line under the porte cochere. As soon as the
cart was emptied, it drove away, whereupon Chupin stepped forward,
and addressing the concierge, asked: "Does the Viscount de Coralth
"Yes. What do you want with him?"
Having foreseen this question, Chupin had prepared a reply. "I
certainly don't come to call on him," he answered. "My reason for
inquiring is this: just now, as I passed near the Madeleine, a
very elegant lady called me, and said: 'M. de Coralth lives in the
Rue d'Anjou, but I've forgotten the number. I can't go about from
door to door making inquiries, so if you'll go there and ascertain
his address for me, I'll give you five francs for yourself,' so my
Profiting by his old Parisian experience, Chupin had chosen such a
clever excuse that both his listeners heartily laughed. "Well,
Father Moulinet," cried the servant in the red waistcoat, "what do
you say to that? Are there any elegant ladies who give five francs
for YOUR address?"
"Is there any lady who's likely to send such flowers as these to
YOU?" was the response.
Chupin was about to retire with a bow, when the concierge stopped
him. "You accomplish your errands so well that perhaps you'd be
willing to take these flower-pots up to the second floor, if we
gave you a glass of wine!"
No proposal could have suited Chupin better. Although he was
prone to exaggerate his own powers and the fecundity of his
resources, he had not flattered himself with the hope that he
should succeed in crossing the threshold of M. de Coralth's rooms.
For, without any great mental effort, he had realized that the
servant arrayed in the red waistcoat was in the viscount's employ,
and these flowers were to be carried to his apartments. However
any signs of satisfaction would have seemed singular under the
circumstances, and so he sulkily replied: "A glass of wine! you
had better say two."
"Well, I'll say a whole bottleful. my boy, if that suits you any
better," replied the servant, with the charming good-nature so
often displayed by people who are giving other folk's property
"Then I'm at your service!" exclaimed Chupin. And, loading
himself with a host of flower-pots as skilfully as if he had been
accustomed to handling them all his life, he added: "Now, lead the
The valet and the concierge preceded him with empty hands, of
course; and, on reaching the second floor, they opened a door, and
said: "This is the place. Come in."
Chupin had expected to find that M. de Coralth's apartments were
handsomer than his own in the Faubourg Saint Denis; but he had
scarcely imagined such luxury as pervaded this establishment. The
chandeliers seemed marvels in his eyes; and the sumptuous chairs
and couches eclipsed M. Fortunat's wonderful sofa completely. "So
he no longer amuses himself with petty rascalities," thought
Chupin, as he surveyed the rooms. "Monsieur's working on a grand
scale now. Decidedly this mustn't be allowed to continue."
Thereupon he busied himself placing the flowers in the numerous
jardinieres scattered about the rooms, as well as in a tiny
conservatory, cleverly contrived on the balcony, and adjoining a
little apartment with silk hangings, that was used as a smoking-
room. Under the surveillance of the concierge and the valet he
was allowed to visit the whole apartments. He admired the
drawing-room, filled to overflowing with costly trifles; the
dining-room, furnished in old oak; the luxurious bed-room with its
bed mounted upon a platform, as if it were a throne, and the
library filled with richly bound volumes. Everything was
beautiful, sumptuous and magnificent, and Chupin admired, though
he did not envy, this luxury. He said to himself that, if ever he
became rich, his establishment should be quite different. He
would have preferred rather more simplicity, a trifle less satin,
velvet, hangings, mirrors and gilding. Still this did not prevent
him from going into ecstasies over each room he entered; and he
expressed his admiration so artlessly that the valet, feeling as
much flattered as if he were the owner of the place, took a sort
of pride in exhibiting everything.
He showed Chupin the target which the viscount practised at with
pistols for an hour every morning; for Monsieur le Vicomte was a
capital marksman, and could lodge eight balls out of ten in the
neck of a bottle at a distance of twenty paces. He also displayed
his master's swords; for Monsieur le Vicomte handled side arms as
adroitly as pistols. He took a lesson every day from one of the
best fencing-masters in Paris; and his duels had always terminated
fortunately. He also showed the viscount's blue velvet dressing-
gown, his fur-trimmed slippers, and even his elaborately
embroidered night-shirts. But it was the dressing-room that most
astonished and stupefied Chupin. He stood gazing in open-mouthed
wonder at the immense white marble table, with its water spigots
and its basins, its sponges and boxes, its pots and vials and
cups; and he counted the brushes by the dozen--brushes hard and
soft, brushes for the hair, for the beard, for the hands, and the
application of cosmetic to the mustaches and eyebrows. Never had
he seen in one collection such a variety of steel and silver
instruments, knives, pincers, scissors, and files. "One might
think oneself in a chiropodist's, or a dentist's establishment,"
remarked Chupin to the servant. "Does your master use all these
"Certainly, or rather twice a day--morning and evening--at his
Chupin expressed his feelings with a grimace and an exclamation of
mocking wonder. "Ah, well! he must have a clean skin," he said.
His listeners laughed heartily; and the concierge, after
exchanging a significant glance with the valet, said sotto voce,
"Zounds! it's his business to be a handsome fellow!" The mystery
While Chupin changed the contents of the jardinieres, and remained
upstairs in the intervals between the nine or ten journeys he made
to the porte-cochere for more flowers, he listened attentively to
the conversation between the concierge and the valet, and heard
snatches of sentences that enlightened him wonderfully. Moreover,
whenever a question arose as to placing a plant in one place
rather than another, the valet stated as a conclusive argument
that the baroness liked it in such or such a place, or that she
would be better pleased with this or that arrangement, or that he
must comply with the instructions she had given him. Chupin was
therefore obliged to conclude that the flowers had been sent here
by a baroness who possessed certain rights in the establishment.
But who was she?
He was manoeuvering cleverly in the hope of ascertaining this
point, when a carriage was heard driving into the courtyard below.
"Monsieur must have returned!" exclaimed the valet, darting to the
Chupin also ran to look out, and saw a very elegant blue-lined
brougham, drawn by a superb horse, but he did not perceive the
viscount. In point of fact, M. de Coralth was already climbing
the stairs, four at a time, and, a moment later, he entered the
room, angrily exclaiming, "Florent, what does this mean? Why have
you left all the doors open?"
Florent was the servant in the red waistcoat. He slightly
shrugged his shoulders like a servant who knows too many of his
master's secrets to have anything to fear, and in the calmest
possible tone replied, "If the doors are open, it is only because
the baroness has just sent some flowers. On Sunday, too, what a
funny idea! And I have been treating Father Moulinet and this
worthy fellow" (pointing to Chupin) "to a glass of wine, to
acknowledge their kindness in assisting me."
Fearing recognition, Chupin hid his face as much as possible; but
M. de Coralth did not pay the slightest attention to him. There
was a dark frown on his handsome, usually smiling countenance, and
his hair was in great disorder. Evidently enough, something had
greatly annoyed him. "I am going out again," he remarked to his
valet, "but first of all I must write two letters which you must
He passed into the drawing-room as he spoke, and Florent scarcely
waited till the door was closed before uttering an oath. "May the
devil take him!" he exclaimed. "Here he sets me on the go again.
It is five o'clock, too, and I have an appointment in half an
A sudden hope quickened the throbbings of Chupin's heart. He
touched the valet's arm, and in his most persuasive tone remarked:
"I've nothing to do, and as your wine was so good, I'll do your
errands for you, if you'll pay me for the wear and tear of shoe-
Chupin's appearance must have inspired confidence, for the servant
replied:--"Well--I don't refuse--but we'll see."
The viscount did not spend much time in writing; he speedily
reappeared holding two letters which he flung upon the table,
saying: "One of these is for the baroness. You must deliver it
into HER hands or into the hands of her maid--there will be no
answer. You will afterward take the other to the person it is
addressed to, and you must wait for an answer which you will place
on my writing-table--and make haste." So saying, the viscount went
off as he had entered--on the run--and a moment later, his
brougham was heard rolling out of the courtyard.
Florent was crimson with rage. "There," said he, addressing
Chupin rather than the concierge, "what did I tell you? A letter
to be placed in madame's own hands or in the hands of her maid,
and to be concealed from the baron, who is on the watch, of
course. Naturally no one can execute that commission but myself."
"That's true!" replied Chupin; "but how about the other?"
The valet had not yet examined the second letter. He now took it
from the table, and glanced at the address. "Ah," said he, "I can
confide this one to you, my good fellow, and it's very fortunate,
for it is to be taken to a place on the other side of the river.
Upon my word! masters are strange creatures! You manage your work
so as to have a little leisure, and the moment you think yourself
free, pouf!--they send you anywhere in creation without even
asking if it suits your convenience. If it hadn't been for you, I
should have missed a dinner with some very charming ladies. But,
above all, don't loiter on the way. I don't mind paying your
omnibus fare if you like. And you heard him say there would be an
answer. You can give it to Moulinet, and in exchange, he'll give
you fifteen sous for your trouble, and six sous for your omnibus
fare. Besides, if you can extract anything from the party the
letter's intended for, you are quite welcome to it."
"Agreed, sir! Grant me time enough to give an answer to the lady
who is waiting at the Madeleine, and I'm on my way. Give me the
"Here it is, said the valet, handing it to Chupin. But as the
latter glanced at the address he turned deadly pale, and his eyes
almost started from their sockets. For this is what he read:
"Madame Paul. Dealer in Tobacco. Quai de la Seine." Great as
was his self-control, his emotion was too evident to escape
notice. "What's the matter with you?" asked the concierge and the
valet in the same breath. "What has happened to you?"
A powerful effort of will restored this young fellow's coolness,
and ready in an instant with an excuse for his blunder, he
replied, "I have changed my mind. What! you'd only give me
fifteen sous to measure such a distance as that! Why, it isn't a
walk--it's a journey!"
His explanation was accepted without demur. His listeners thought
he was only taking advantage of the need they had of his services--
as was perfectly natural under the circumstances. "What! So you
are dissatisfied!" cried the valet. "Very well! you shall have
thirty sous--but be off!"
"So I will, at once," replied Chupin. And, imitating the whistle
of a locomotive with wonderful perfection, he darted away at a
pace which augured a speedy return.
However, when he was some twenty yards from the house he stopped
short, glanced around him, and espying a dark corner slipped into
it. "That fool in the red waistcoat will be coming out to take
the letter to that famous baroness," he thought. "I'm here, and
I'll watch him and see where he goes. I should like to find out
the name of the kind and charitable lady who watches over his
brigand of a master with such tender care."
The day and the hour were in his favor. Night was coming on,
hastened by a thick fog; the street lamps were not yet lighted,
and as it was Sunday most of the shops were closed. It grew dark
so rapidly that Chupin was scarcely able to recognize Florent when
he at last emerged from the house. It is true that he looked
altogether unlike the servant in the red waist-coat. As he had
the key to the wardrobe containing his master's clothes, he did
not hesitate to use them whenever an opportunity offered. On this
occasion he had appropriated a pair of those delicately tinted
trousers which were M. de Coralth's specialty, with a handsome
overcoat, a trifle too small for him, and a very elegant hat.
"Fine doings, indeed!" growled Chupin as he started in pursuit.
"My servants sha'n't serve me in that way if I ever have any."
But he paused in his soliloquy, and prudently hid himself under a
neighboring gateway. The gorgeous Florent was ringing at the door
of one of the most magnificent mansions in the Rue de la Ville
l'Eveque. The door was opened, and he went in. "Ah! ah!" thought
Chupin, "he hadn't far to go. The viscount and the baroness are
shrewd. When you have flowers to send to anybody it's convenient
to be neighbors!"
He glanced round, and seeing an old man smoking his pipe on the
threshold of a shop, he approached him and asked politely "Can you
tell me whom that big house belongs to?"
"To Baron Trigault," replied the man, without releasing his hold
on his pipe.
"Thank you, monsieur," replied Chupin, gravely. "I inquired,
because I think of buying a house "And repeating the name of
Trigault several times to impress it upon his memory he darted off
on his errand.
It might be supposed that his unexpected success had delighted
him, but, on the contrary, it rendered him even more exacting.
The letter he carried burned his pocket like a red-hot iron.
"Madame Paul," he muttered, "that must be the rascal's wife.
First, Paul is his Christian name; secondly, I've been told that
his wife keeps a tobacco shop--so the case is plain. But the
strangest thing about it is that this husband and wife should
write to each other, when I fancied them at dagger's ends." Chupin
would have given a pint of his own blood to know the contents of
the missive. The idea of opening it occurred to him, and it must
be confessed that it was not a feeling of delicacy that prevented
him. He was deterred by a large seal which had been carefully
affixed, and which would plainly furnish evidence if the letter
were tampered with. Thus Chupin was punished for Florent's
faults, for this seal was the viscount's' invariable precaution
against his servant's prying curiosity. So our enterprising youth
could only read and re-read the superscription and smell the
paper, which was strongly scented with verbena. He fancied that
there was some mysterious connection between this letter intended
for M. de Coralth's wife and the missive sent to the baroness.
And why should it not be so? Had they not both been written under
the influence of anger? Still he failed to perceive any possible
connection between the rich baroness and the poor tobacco dealer,
and his cogitations only made him more perplexed than ever.
However, his efforts to solve the mystery did not interfere with
the free use of his limbs, and he soon found himself on the Quai
de la Seine. "Here I am," he muttered. "I've come more quickly
than an omnibus."
The Quai de la Seine is a broad road, connecting the Rue de
Flandres with the canal de l'Ourcq. On the left-hand side it is
bordered with miserable shanties interspersed with some tiny
shops, and several huge coal depots. On the right-hand side--that
next to the canal--there are also a few provision stores. In the
daytime there is no noisier nor livelier place than this same
Quai; but nothing could be more gloomy at night-time when the
shops are closed, when the few gas-lamps only increase the
grimness of the shadows, and when the only sound that breaks the
silence is the rippling of the water as its smooth surface is
ruffled by some boatman propelling his skiff through the canal.
"The Viscount must certainly have made a mistake," thought Chupin;
"there is no such shop on the Quai." He was wrong, however; for
after passing the Rue de Soissons he espied the red lantern of a
tobacco-shop, glimmering through the fog.
Having almost reached the goal, Chupin slackened his pace. He
approached the shop very cautiously and peered inside, deeming it
prudent to reconnoitre a little before he went in. And certainly
there was nothing to prevent a prolonged scrutiny. The night was
very dark, the quay deserted. No one was to be seen; not a sound
broke the stillness. The darkness, the surroundings, and the
silence were sinister enough to make even Chupin shudder, though
he was usually as thoroughly at home in the loneliest and most
dangerous by-ways of Paris as an honest man of the middle classes
would be in the different apartments of his modest household.
"That scoundrel's wife must have less than a hundred thousand a
year if she takes up her abode here!" thought Chupin.
And, in fact, nothing could be more repulsive than the tenement in
which Madame Paul had installed herself. It was but one story
high, and built of clay, and it had fallen to ruin to such an
extent that it had been found necessary to prop it up with timber,
and to nail some old boards over the yawning fissures in the
walls. "If I lived here, I certainly shouldn't feel quite at ease
on a windy day," continued Chupin, sotto voce.
The shop itself was of a fair size, but most wretched in its
appointments, and disgustingly dirty. The floor was covered with
that black and glutinous coal-dust which forms the soil of the
Quai de la Seine. An auctioneer would have sold the entire stock
and fixtures for a few shillings. Four stone jars, and a couple
of pairs of scales, a few odd tumblers, filled with pipes and
packets of cigarettes, some wine-glasses, and three or four
labelled bottles, five or six boxes of cigars, and as many
packages of musty tobacco, constituted the entire stock in trade.
As Chupin compared this vile den with the viscount's luxurious
abode, his blood fairly boiled in his veins. "He ought to be shot
for this, if for nothing else," he muttered through his set teeth.
"To let his wife die of starvation here!" For it was M. de
Coralth's wife who kept this shop. Chupin, who had seen her years
before, recognized her now as she sat behind her counter, although
she was cruelly changed. "That's her," he murmured. "That's
certainly Mademoiselle Flavie."
He had used her maiden name in speaking of her. Poor woman! She
was undoubtedly still young--but sorrow, regret, and privations,
days spent in hard work to earn a miserable subsistence, and
nights spent in weeping, had made her old, haggard, and wrinkled
before her time. Of her once remarkable beauty naught remained
but her hair, which was still magnificent, though it was in wild
disorder, and looked as if it had not been touched by a comb for
weeks; and her big black eyes, which gleamed with the
phosphorescent and destructive brilliancy of fever. Everything
about her person bespoke terrible reverses, borne without dignity.
Even if she had struggled at first, it was easy to see that she
struggled no longer. Her attire--her torn and soiled silk dress,
and her dirty cap--revealed thorough indolence, and that morbid
indifference which at times follows great misfortunes with weak
"Such is life," thought Chupin, philosophically. "Here's a girl
who was brought up like a queen and allowed to have her own way in
everything! If any one had predicted this in those days, how she
would have sneered! I can see her now as she looked that day when
I met her driving her gray ponies. If people didn't clear the
road it was so much the worse for them! In those times Paris was
like some great shop where she could select whatever she chose.
She said: 'I want this,' and she got it. She saw a handsome young
fellow and wanted him for her husband; her father, who could
refuse her nothing, consented, and now behold the result!"
He had lingered longer at the window than he had meant to do,
perhaps because he could see that the young woman was talking with
some person in a back room, the door of which stood open. Chupin
tried to find out who this person was, but he did not succeed; and
he was about to go in when suddenly he saw Madame Paul rise from
her seat and say a few words with an air of displeasure. And this
time her eyes, instead of turning to the open door, were fixed on
a part of the shop directly opposite her. "Is there some one
there as well, then?" Chupin wondered.
He changed his post of observation, and, by standing on tiptoe, he
succeeded in distinguishing a puny little boy, some three or four
years old, and clad in rags, who was playing with the remnants of
a toy-horse. The sight of this child increased Chupin's
indignation. "So there's a child?" he growled. "The rascal not
only deserts his wife, but he leaves his child to starve! We may
as well make a note of that: and when we settle up our accounts,
he shall pay dearly for his villainy." With this threat he
brusquely entered the shop.
"What do you wish, sir?" asked the woman.
"Nothing; I bring you a letter, madame."
"A letter for me! You must be mistaken."
"Excuse me; aren't you Madame Paul?"
"Then this is for you." And he handed her the missive which
Florent had confided to his care.
Madame Paul took hold of it with some hesitation, eying the
messenger suspiciously meanwhile; but, on seeing the handwriting,
she uttered a cry of surprise. And, turning toward the open door,
she called, "M. Mouchon! M. Mouchon! It's from him--it's from my
husband; from Paul. Come, come!"
A bald-headed, corpulent man, who looked some fifty years of age,
now timidly emerged from the room behind the shop with a cap in
his hand. "Ah, well! my dear child," he said, in an oily voice,
"what was I telling you just now? Everything comes to those who
know how to wait."
However she had already broken the seal, and she was now reading
the letter eagerly, clapping her hands with delight as she
finished its perusal. "He consents!" she exclaimed. "He's
frightened--he begs me to wait a little--look--read!"
But M. Mouchon could not read without his spectacles, and he lost
at least two minutes in searching his pockets before he found
them. And when they were adjusted, the light was so dim that it
took him at least three minutes more to decipher the missive.
Chupin had spent this time in scrutinizing--in appraising the man,
as it were. "What is this venerable gentleman doing here?" he
thought. "He's a middle class man, that's evident from his linen.
He's married--there's a wedding-ring on his finger; he has a
daughter, for the ends of his necktie are embroidered. He lives
in the neighborhood, for, well dressed as he is, he wears a cap.
But what was he doing there in that back room in the dark?"
Meanwhile M. Mouchon had finished reading the letter. "What did I
tell you?" he said complacently.
"Yes, you were right!" answered Madame Paul as she took up the
letter and read it again with her eyes sparkling with joy. "And
now what shall I do?" she asked. "Wait, shall I not?"
"No, no!" exclaimed the elderly gentleman, in evident dismay.
"You must strike the iron while it's hot."
"But he promises me----"
"To promise and to keep one's promises are two different things."
"He wants a reply."
"Tell him----" But he stopped short, calling her attention with a
gesture to the messenger, whose eyes were glittering with intense
She understood. So filling a glass with some liquor, she placed
it before Chupin, and offered him a cigar, saying: "Take a seat--
here's something to keep you from feeling impatient while you wait
here." Thereupon she followed the old gentleman into the adjoining
room, and closed the door.
Even if Chupin had not possessed the precocious penetration he
owed to his life of adventure, the young woman and the old
gentleman had said enough to enable him to form a correct estimate
of the situation. He was certain now that he knew the contents of
the letter as perfectly as if he had read it. M. de Coralth's
anger, and his order to make haste, were both explained.
Moreover, Chupin distinctly saw what connection there was between
the letter to the baroness and the letter to Madame Paul. He
understood that one was the natural consequence of the other.
Deserted by her husband, Madame Paul had at last become weary of
poverty and privations. She had instituted a search for her
husband, and, having found him, she had written to him in this
style: "I consent to abstain from interfering with you, but only
on conditions that you provide means of subsistence for me, your
lawfully wedded wife, and for your child. If you refuse, I shall
urge my claims, and ruin you. The scandal won't be of much use to
me, it's true, but at least I shall no longer be obliged to endure
the torture of knowing that you are surrounded by every luxury
while I am dying of starvation."
Yes, she had evidently written that. It might not be the precise
text; but no doubt it was the purport of her letter. On receiving
it, Coralth had become alarmed. He knew only too well that if his
wife made herself known and revealed his past, it would be all
over with him. But he had no money. Charming young men like the
Viscount de Coralth never have any money on hand. So, in this
emergency, the dashing young fellow had written to his wife
imploring her to have patience, and to the baroness, entreating,
or rather commanding her to advance him a certain sum at once.
This was no doubt the case, and yet there was one circumstance
which puzzled Chupin exceedingly. In former years, he had heard
it asserted that Mademoiselle Flavie was the very personification
of pride, and that she adored her husband even to madness. Had
this great love vanished? Had poverty and sorrow broken her spirit
to such a degree that she was willing to stoop to such shameful
concessions! If she were acquainted with her husband's present
life, how did it happen that she did not prefer starvation, or the
alms-house and a pauper's grave to his assistance? Chupin could
understand how, in a moment of passion, she might be driven to
denounce her husband in the presence of his fashionable
acquaintances, how she might be impelled to ruin him so as to
avenge herself; but he could not possibly understand how she could
consent to profit by the ignominy of the man she loved. "The plan
isn't hers," said Chupin to himself, after a moment's reflection.
"It's probably the work of that stout old gentleman."
There was a means of verifying his suspicions, for on returning
into the adjoining room, Madame Paul had not taken her son with
her. He was still sitting on the muddy floor of the shop, playing
with his dilapidated horse. Chupin called him. "Come here, my
little fellow," said he.
The child rose, and timidly approached, his eyes dilating with
distrust and astonishment. The poor boy's repulsive uncleanliness
was a terrible charge against the mother. Did she no longer love
her own offspring? The untidiness of sorrow and poverty has its
bounds. A long time must have passed since the child's face and
hands had been washed, and his soiled clothes were literally
falling to rags. Still, he was a handsome little fellow, and
seemed fairly intelligent, in spite of his bashfulness. He was
very light-haired, and in features he was extremely like M. de
Coralth. Chupin took him on his knees, and, after looking to see
if the door communicating with the inner room were securely
closed, he asked: "What's your name, little chap?"
"Do you know your father?"
"Doesn't your mother ever talk to you about him?"
"And what does she say?"
"That he's rich--very rich."
"And what else?"
The child did not reply; perhaps his mother had forbidden him to
say anything on the subject--perhaps that instinct which precedes
intelligence, just as the dawn precedes daylight, warned him to be
prudent with a stranger. "Doesn't your papa ever come to see
you?" insisted Chupin.
"Mamma is very poor."
"And wouldn't you like to go and see him?"
"I don't know. But he'll come some day, and take us away with him
to a large house. We shall be all right, then; and he will give
us a deal of money and pretty dresses, and I shall have plenty of
Satisfied on this point, Chupin, pushed his investigations
farther. "And do you know this old gentleman who is with your
mamma in the other room?"
"Oh, yes!--that's Mouchon."
"And who's Mouchon?"
"He's the gentleman who owns that beautiful garden at the corner
of the Rue Riquet, where there are such splendid grapes. I'm
going with him to get some."
"Does he often come to see you?"
"Every evening. He always has goodies in his pocket for mamma and
"Why does he sit in that back room without any light?"
"Oh, he says that the customers mustn't see him."
It would have been an abominable act to continue this examination,
and make this child the innocent accuser of his own mother.
Chupin felt conscience-smitten even now. So he kissed the
cleanest spot he could find on the boy's face, and set him on the
floor again, saying, "Go and play."
The child had revealed his mother's character with cruel
precision. What had she told him about his father? That he was
rich, and that, in case he returned, he would give them plenty of
money and fine clothes. The woman's nature stood revealed in all
its deformity. Chupin had good cause to feel proud of his
discernment--all his suppositions had been confirmed. He had read
Mouchon's character at a glance. He had recognized him as one of
those wily evil-minded men who employ their leisure to the profit
of their depravity--one of those patient, cold-blooded hypocrites
who make poverty their purveyor, and whose passion is prodigal
only in advice. "So he's paying his court to Madame Paul,"
thought Chupin. "Isn't it shameful? The old villain! he might at
least give her enough to eat!"
So far his preoccupation had made him forget his wine and his
cigar. He emptied the glass at a single draught, but it proved
far more difficult to light the cigar. "Zounds! this is a non-
combustible," he growled. "When I arrive at smoking ten sous
cigars, I sha'n't come here to buy them."
However, with the help of several matches and a great deal of
drawing, he had almost succeeded, when the door opened, and Madame
Paul reappeared with a letter in her hand. She seemed greatly
agitated; her anxiety was unmistakable. "I can't decide," she was
saying to Mouchon, whose figure Chupin could only dimly
distinguish in the darkness. "No, I can't. If I send this
letter, I must forever renounce all hope of my husband's return.
Whatever happens, he will never forgive me."
"He can't treat you worse than he does now, at all events,"
replied the old gentleman. "Besides, a gloved cat has never
caught a mouse yet."
"He'll hate me."
"The man who wants his dog to love him, beats it; and, besides,
when the wine is drawn, one must drink it."
This singular logic seemed to decide her. She handed the letter
to Chupin, and drawing a franc from her pocket she offered it to
him. "This is for your trouble," she said.
He involuntarily held out his hand to take the money, but quickly
withdrew it, exclaiming: "No, thank you; keep it. I've been paid
already." And, thereupon, he left the shop.
Chupin's mother--his poor good mother, as he called her--would
certainly have felt proud and delighted at her son's
disinterestedness. That very morning, he had refused the ten
francs a day that M. Fortunat had offered him, and this evening he
declined the twenty sous proffered him by Madame Paul. This was
apparently a trifle, and yet in reality it was something
marvellous, unprecedented, on the part of this poor lad, who,
having neither trade nor profession, was obliged to earn his daily
bread through the medium of those chance opportunities which the
lower classes of Paris are continually seeking. As he returned to
the Rue de Flandres, he muttered: "Take twenty sous from that poor
creature, who hasn't had enough to satisfy her hunger for heaven
knows how long! That would be altogether unworthy of a man."
It is only just to say that money had never given him a feeling of
satisfaction at all comparable with that which he now experienced.
He was impressed, too, with a sense of vastly-increased importance
on thinking that all the faculties, and all the energy he had once
employed in the service of evil, were now consecrated to the
service of good. By becoming the instrument of Pascal
Ferailleur's salvation he would, in some measure, atone for the
crime he had committed years before.
Chupin's mind was so busily occupied with these thoughts that he
reached the Rue d'Anjou and M. de Coralth's house almost before he
was aware of it. To his great surprise, the concierge and his
wife were not alone. Florent was there, taking coffee with them.
The valet had divested himself of his borrowed finery, and had
donned his red waistcoat again. He seemed to be in a savage
humor; and his anger was not at all strange under the
circumstances. There was but a step from M. de Coralth's house to
the baroness's residence, but fatalities may attend even a step!
The baroness, on receiving the letter from her maid, had sent a
message to Florent requesting him to wait, as she desired to speak
with him! and she had been so inconsiderate as to keep him waiting
for more than an hour, so that he had missed his appointment with
the charming ladies he had spoken of. In his despair he had
returned home to seek consolation in the society of his friend the
concierge. "Have you the answer?" he asked.
"Yes, here it is," replied Chupin, and Florent had just slipped
the letter into his pocket, and was engaged in counting out the
thirty sous which he had promised his messenger, when the familiar
cry, "Open, please," was heard outside.
M. de Coralth had returned. He sprang to the ground as soon as
the carriage entered the courtyard, and on perceiving his servant,
he exclaimed: "Have you executed my commissions?"
"They have been executed, monsieur."
"Did you see the baroness?"
"She made me wait two hours to tell me that the viscount need not
be worried in the least; that she would certainly be able to
comply with his request to-morrow."
M. de Coralth seemed to breathe more freely. "And the other
party?" he inquired.
"Gave me this for monsieur."
The viscount seized the missive, with an eager hand, tore it open,
read it at one glance, and flew into such a paroxysm of passion
that he quite forgot those around him, and began to tear the
letter, and utter a string of oaths which would have astonished a
cab-driver. But suddenly realizing his imprudence, he mastered
his rage, and exclaimed, with a forced laugh: "Ah! these women!
they are enough to drive one mad!" And deeming this a sufficient
explanation, he added, addressing Florent. "Come and undress me;
I must be up early to-morrow morning."
This remark was not lost upon Chupin, and at seven o'clock the
next morning he mounted guard at M. de Coralth's door. All
through the day he followed the viscount about, first to the
Marquis de Valorsay's, then to the office of a business agent,
then to M. Wilkie's, then, in the afternoon, to Baroness
Trigault's, and finally, in the evening, to the house of Madame
d'Argeles. Here, by making himself useful to the servants, by his
zeal in opening and shutting the doors of the carriages that left
the house, he succeeded in gathering some information concerning
the frightful scene which had taken place between the mother and
the son. He perceived M. Wilkie leave the house with his clothes
in disorder, and subsequently he saw the viscount emerge. He
followed him, first to the house of the Marquis de Valorsay, and
afterward to M. Wilkie's rooms, where he remained till nearly
Thus, when Chupin presented himself in M. Fortunat's office at two
o'clock on the Tuesday afternoon, he felt that he held every
possible clue to the shameful intrigue which would ruin the
viscount as soon as it was made public.
M. Fortunat knew that his agent was shrewd, but he had not done
justice to his abilities; and it was, indeed, with something very
like envy that he listened to Chupin's clear and circumstantial
report. "I have not been as successful," he remarked, when
Chupin's story was ended. But he had not time to explain how or
why, for just as he was about to do so, Madame Dodelin appeared,
and announced that the young lady he expected was there. "Let her
come in!" exclaimed M. Fortunat, eagerly--"let her come in!"
Mademoiselle Marguerite had not been compelled to resort to any
subterfuge to make her escape from Madame de Fondege's house. The
General had decamped early in the morning to try his horses and
his carriages, announcing, moreover, that he would breakfast at
the club. And as soon as her breakfast was concluded, Madame de
Fondege had hurried off to her dressmaker's, warning the household
that she would not return before dinner-time. A little while
later, Madame Leon had suddenly remembered that her noble relative
would certainly be expecting a visit from her, and so she dressed
herself in haste, and went off, first to Dr. Jodon's and thence to
the Marquis de Valorsay's.
Thus, Mademoiselle Marguerite had been able to make her escape
without attracting any one's attention, and she would be able to
remain away as many hours as she chose, since the servants would
not know how long she had been absent even if they saw her when
she returned. An empty cab was passing as she left the house, so
she hailed it and got in. The step she was about to take cost her
a terrible effort. It was a difficult task for her, a girl
naturally so reserved, to confide in a stranger, and open to him
her maidenly heart, filled with love for Pascal Ferailleur! Still,
she was much calmer than she had been on the previous evening,
when she called on the photographer for a facsimile of M. de
Valorsay's letter. Several circumstances combined to reassure
her. M. Fortunat knew her already, since he was the agent whom
the Count de Chalusse had employed to carry on the investigations
which had resulted in her discovery at the foundling asylum. A
vague presentiment told her that this man was better acquainted
with her past life than she was herself, and that he could, if he
chose, tell her her mother's name--the name of the woman whom the
count so dreaded, and who had so pitilessly deserted her.
However, her heart beat more quickly, and she felt that she was
turning pale when, at Madame Dodelin's invitation, she at last
entered M. Fortunat's private office. She took in the room and
its occupants with a single glance. The handsome appointments of
the office surprised her, for she had expected to see a den. The
agent's polite manner and rather elegant appearance disconcerted
her, for she had expected to meet a coarse and illiterate boor;
and finally, Victor Chupin, who was standing twisting his cap near
the fireplace, attired in a blouse and a pair of ragged trousers,
fairly alarmed her. Still, no sign of her agitation was
perceptible on her countenance. Not a muscle of her beautiful,
proud face moved--her glance remained clear and haughty, and she
exclaimed in a ringing voice: "I am the late Count de Chalusse's
ward, Mademoiselle Marguerite. You have received my letter, I
M. Fortunat bowed with all the grace of manner he was wont to
display in the circles where he went wife-hunting, and with a
somewhat pretentious gesture he advanced an arm-chair, and asked
his visitor to sit down. "Your letter reached me, mademoiselle,"
he replied, "and I was expecting you--flattered and honored beyond
expression by your confidence. My door, indeed, was closed to any
one but you."
Marguerite took the proffered seat, and there was a moment's
silence. M. Fortunat found it difficult to believe that this
beautiful, imposing young girl could be the poor little apprentice
whom he had seen in the book-bindery, years before, clad in a
coarse serge frock, with dishevelled hair covered with scraps of
paper. In the meantime, Marguerite was regretting the necessity
of confiding in this man, for the more she looked at him, the more
she was convinced that he was not an honest, straightforward
person; and she would infinitely have preferred a cynical
scoundrel to this plausible and polite gentleman, whom she
strongly suspected of being a hypocrite. She remained silent,
waiting for M. Fortunat to dismiss the young man in the blouse,
whose presence she could not explain, and who stood in a sort of
mute ecstasy, staring at her with eyes expressive of the most
intense surprise and the liveliest admiration. But weary at last
of this fruitless delay, she exclaimed: "I have come, monsieur, to
confer with you respecting certain matters which require the most
Chupin understood her, for he blushed to the tips of his ears, and
started as if to leave the room. But his employer detained him
with a gesture.
"Remain, Victor," he said kindly, and, turning to Mademoiselle
Marguerite, he added: "You have no indiscretion to fear from this
worthy fellow, mademoiselle. He knows everything, and he has
already been actively at work--and with the best result--on your
"I don't understand you, sir," replied the girl.
M. Fortunat smiled sweetly. "I have already taken your business
in hand, mademoiselle," said he. "An hour after the receipt of
your letter I began the campaign."
"But I had not told you----"
"What you wished of me--that's true. But I allowed myself to
"I fancied I might conclude that you wished the help of my
experience and poor ability in clearing an innocent man who has
been vilely slandered, M. Pascal Ferailleur."
Marguerite sprang to her feet, at once agitated and alarmed. "How
did you know this?" she exclaimed.
M. Fortunat had left his arm-chair, and was now leaning against
the mantel-shelf, in what he considered a most becoming and awe-
inspiring attitude, with his thumb in the armhole of his
waistcoat. "Ah! nothing could be more simple," he answered, in
much the same tone as a conqueror might assume to explain his
feat. "It is part of my profession to penetrate the intentions of
persons who deign to honor me with their confidence. So my
surmises are correct; at least you have not said the contrary?"
She had said nothing. When her first surprise was over, she
vainly endeavored to find a plausible explanation of M. Fortunat's
acquaintance with her affairs, for she was not at all deceived by
his pretended perspicacity. Meanwhile, delighted by the supposed
effect he had produced, he recklessly continued: "Reserve your
amazement for what I am about to disclose, for I have made several
important discoveries. It must have been your good angel who
inspired you with the idea of coming to me. You would have
shuddered if you had realized the dangers that threatened you.
But now you have nothing to fear; I am watching. I am here, and I
hold in my hand all the threads of the abominable intrigue for
ruining you. For it is you, your person, and your fortune that
are imperilled. It was solely on your account that M. Ferailleur
was attacked. And I can tell you the names of the scoundrels who
ruined him. The crime originated with the person who had the most
powerful interest in the matter--the Marquis de Valorsay. His
agent was a scoundrel who is generally known as the Viscount de
Coralth; but Chupin here can tell you his real name and his
shameful past. You preferred M. Ferailleur, hence it was
necessary to put him out of the way. M. de Chalusse had promised
your hand to the Marquis de Valorsay. This marriage was
Valorsay's only resource--the plank that might save the drowning
man. People fancy he is rich; but he is ruined. Yes, ruined
completely, irretrievably. He was in such desperate straits that
he had almost determined to blow his brains out before the hope of
marrying you entered his mind."
"Ah!" thought Chupin, "my employer is well under way."
This was indeed the case. The name of Valorsay was quite
sufficient to set all M. Fortunat's bile in motion. All thought
of his ex-client irritated him beyond endurance. Unfortunately
for him, however, his anger in the present instance had ruined his
plans. He had intended to take Mademoiselle Marguerite by
surprise, to work upon her imagination, to make her talk without
saying anything himself, and to remain master of the situation.
But on the contrary he had revealed everything; and he did not
discover this until it was too late to retrieve his blunder. "How
the Marquis de Valorsay has kept his head above water is a wonder
to me," he continued. "His creditors have been threatening to sue
him for more than six months. How he has been able to keep them
quiet since M. de Chalusse's death, I cannot understand. However,
this much is certain, mademoiselle: the marquis has not renounced
his intention of becoming your husband; and to attain that object
he won't hesitate to employ any means that may promise to prove
Completely mistress of herself, Mademoiselle Marguerite listened
with an impassive face. "I know all this," she replied, in a
"What! you know----"
"Yes; but there is one thing that baffles my powers of
comprehension. My dowry was the only temptation to M. de
Valorsay, was it not? Why does he still wish to marry me, now that
I have no fortune?"
M. Fortunat had gradually lost all his advantage. "I have asked
myself the same question," he replied, "and I think I have found
an answer. I believe that the marquis has in his possession a
letter, or a will, or a document of some sort, written by M. de
Chalusse--in fact an instrument in which the count acknowledges
you as his daughter, and which consequently establishes; your
right to his property."
"And the marquis could urge this claim if he became my husband?"
"Certainly he could."
M. Fortunat explained M. de Valorsay's conduct exactly as the old
magistrate had done. However, Mademoiselle Marguerite discreetly
refrained from committing herself. The great interest that M.
Fortunat seemed to take in her affairs aroused her distrust; and
she decided to do what he had attempted in vain--that is, allow
him to do all the talking, and to conceal all that she knew
herself. "Perhaps you are right," she remarked, "but it is
necessary to prove the truth of your assertion."
"I can prove that Valorsay hasn't a shilling, and that he has
lived for a year by expedients which render him liable to arrest
and prosecution at any time. I can prove that he deceived M. de
Chalusse as to his financial position. I can prove that he
conspired with M. de Coralth to ruin your lover. Wouldn't this be
She smiled in a way that was exceedingly irritating to his vanity,
and in a tone of good-natured incredulity, she remarked: "It is
easy to SAY these things."
"And to do them," rejoined M. Fortunat, quickly. "I never promise
what I cannot perform. A man should never touch a pen when he is
meditating any evil act. Of course, no one is fool enough to
write down his infamy in detail. But a man cannot always be on
the qui vive. There will be a word in one letter, a sentence in
another, an allusion in a third. And by combining these words,
phrases, and allusions, one may finally discover the truth."
He suddenly checked himself, warned of his fresh imprudence by the
expression on Mademoiselle Marguerite's face. She drew back, and
looking him full in the eyes, she exclaimed: "Then you have been
in M. de Valorsay's confidence, sir? Would you be willing to swear
that you never helped him in his designs?"
A silent and ignored witness of this scene, Victor Chupin was
secretly delighted. "Hit!" he thought--"hit just in the bull's-
eye. Zounds! there's a woman for you! She has beaten the guv'nor
on every point."
M. Fortunat was so taken by surprise that he made no attempt to
deny his guilt. "I confess that I acted as M. de Valorsay's
adviser for some time," he replied, "and he frequently spoke to me
of his intention of marrying a rich wife in order to retrieve his
shattered fortunes. Upon my word, I see nothing so very bad about
that! It is not a strictly honest proceeding, perhaps, but it is
done every day. What is marriage in this age? Merely a business
transaction, is it not? Perhaps it would be more correct to say
that it is a transaction in which one person tries to cheat the
other. The fathers-in-law are deceived, or the husband, or the
wife, and sometimes all of them together. But when I discovered
this scheme for mining M. Ferailleur, I cried 'halt!' My
conscience revolted at that. Dishonor an innocent man! It was
base, cowardly, outrageous! And not being able to prevent this
infamous act, I swore that I would avenge it."
Would Mademoiselle Marguerite accept this explanation? Chupin
feared so, and accordingly turning quickly to his employer, he
remarked: "To say nothing of the fact that this fine gentleman has
swindled you outrageously, shrewd as you are--cheating you out of
the forty thousand francs you lent him, and which he was to pay
you eighty thousand for."
M. Fortunat cast a withering look at his clerk, but the mischief
was done: denial was useless. He seemed fated to blunder in this
affair. "Well, yes," he declared, "it's true. Valorsay HAS
defrauded me, and I have sworn to have my revenge. I won't rest
until I see him ruined."
Mademoiselle Marguerite was partially reassured, for she
understood his zeal now. Her scorn for the man was only
increased; but she was convinced that he would serve her
faithfully. "I like this much better," said she. "It is better
to have no concealment. You desire M. de Valorsay's ruin. I
desire the rehabilitation of M. Ferailleur. So our interests are
in common. But before acting in this matter, we must know M.
"They cannot be considered."
"Because no one knows what has become of him. When the desire for
revenge first took possession of me, I at once thought of him. I
procured his address, and went to the Rue d'Ulm. But he had gone
away. The very day after his misfortune, M. Ferailleur sold his
furniture and went away with his mother."
"I am aware of that, and I have come to ask you to search for him.
To discover his hiding-place will be only child's play to you."
"Do you suppose I haven't thought of this?" replied M. Fortunat.
"Why, I spent all day yesterday searching for him. By questioning
the people in the neighborhood I finally succeeded in ascertaining
that Madame Ferailleur left her home in a cab several hours after
her son, and took a very large quantity of baggage with her.
Well, do you know where she drove? To the Western railway station.
I am sure of this, and I know she told a porter there that her
destination was London. M. Ferailleur is now en route for
America, and we shall never hear of him again!"
Mademoiselle Marguerite shook her head. "You are mistaken, sir,"
"There can be no mistake about what I have just told you."
"I don't question the result of your investigations, but
appearances are deceitful. I thoroughly understand M.
Ferailleur's character, and he is not the man to be crushed by an
infamous calumny. He may seem to fly, he may disappear, he may
conceal himself for a time, but it is only to make his vengeance
more certain. What! Pascal, who is energy itself, who possesses
an iron will, and invincible determination, would he renounce his
honor, his future, and the woman he loves without a struggle? If
he had felt that his case was hopeless, he would have destroyed
himself, and as he has not done so, he is not without hope. He
has not left Paris; I am sure of it."
M. Fortunat was not convinced. In his opinion this was only
sentiment and rubbish. Still there was one person present who was
deeply impressed by the confidence of this young girl, who was the
most beautiful creature he had ever seen, and whose devotion and
energy filled his heart with admiration, and this person was
Chupin. He stepped forward with his eyes sparkling with
enthusiasm, and in a feeling voice he exclaimed: "I understand
your idea! Yes, M. Ferailleur is in Paris. And I shall be
unworthy of the name of Chupin, if I don't find him for you in
less than a fortnight!"
Mademoiselle Marguerite knew Pascal Ferailleur. Suddenly struck
down in the full sunlight of happiness by a terrible misfortune,
he, of course, experienced moments of frenzy and terrible
depression; but he was incapable of the cowardice which M.
Fortunat had accused him of.
Mademoiselle Marguerite only did him justice when she said that
the sole condition on which he could consent to live was that of
consecrating his life, and all his strength, intelligence and will
to confounding this infamous calumny. And still she did not know
the extent of Pascal's misfortune. How could she suppose that he
believed himself deserted by her? How could she know the doubts
and fears and the anguish that had been roused in his heart by the
note which Madame Leon had given him at the garden gate? What did
she know of the poignant suspicions that had rent his mind, after
listening to Madame Vantrasson's disparaging insinuations?
It must be admitted that he was indebted to his mother alone for
his escape from suicide--that grim madness that seizes hold of so
many desperate, despairing men. And it was still to his mother--
the incomparable guardian of his honor--that he owed his
resolution on the morning he applied to Baron Trigault. And his
courage met with its first reward.
He was no longer the same man when he left the princely mansion
which he had entered with his heart so full of anguish. He was
still somewhat bewildered with the strange scenes which he had
involuntarily witnessed, the secrets he had overheard, and the
revelations which had been made to him; but a light gleamed on the
horizon--a fitful and uncertain light, it is true, but
nevertheless a hopeful gleam. At least, he would no longer have
to struggle alone. An honest and experienced man, powerful by
reason of his reputation, his connections and his fortune, had
promised him his help. Thanks to this man whom misfortune had
made a truer friend than years could have done, he would have
access to the wretch who had deprived him both of his honor and of
the woman he loved. He knew the weak spot in the marquis's armor
now; he knew where and how to strike, and he felt sure that he
should succeed in winning Valorsay's confidence, and in obtaining
irrefutable proofs of his villainy.
Pascal was eager to inform his mother of the fortunate result of
his visit, but certain arrangements which were needful for the
success of his plans required his attention, and it was nearly
five o'clock when he reached the Route de la Revolte. Madame
Ferailleur was just returning home when he arrived, which
surprised him considerably, for he had not known that she had
intended going out. The cab she had used was still standing
before the door, and she had not had time to take off her shawl
and bonnet when he entered the house. She uttered a joyful cry on
perceiving her son. She was so accustomed to read his secret
thoughts on his face, that it was unnecessary for him to say a
word; before he had even opened his lips, she cried: "So you have
"Yes, mother, beyond my hopes."
"I was not deceived, then, in the worthy man who came to offer us
"No, certainly not. Do what I may, I can never repay him for his
generosity and self-denial. If you knew, my dear mother, if you
He kissed her as if he wished to apologize for what he was about
to say, and then he quickly replied: "Marguerite is the daughter
of Baroness Trigault."
Madame Ferailleur started back, as if she had seen a reptile
spring up in her pathway. "The daughter of the baroness!" she
faltered. "Great Heavens!"
"It is the truth, mother; listen to me." And in a voice that
trembled with emotion, he rapidly related all he had learned by
his visit to the baron, softening the truth as much as he could
without concealing it. But prevarication was useless. Madame
Ferailleur's indignation and disgust were none the less evident.
"That woman is a shameless creature," she said, coldly, when her
son's narrative was concluded.
Pascal made no reply. He knew only too well that his mother was
right, and yet it wounded him cruelly to hear her speak in this
style. For the baroness was Marguerite's mother after all.
"So," continued Madame Ferailleur, with increasing indignation,
"creatures do exist who are destitute even of the maternal
instincts of animals. I am an honest woman myself; I don't say it
in self-glorification, it's no credit to me; my mother was a
saint, and I loved my husband; what some people call duty was my
happiness, so I may be allowed to speak on this subject. I don't
excuse infidelity, but I can understand how such a thing is
possible. Yes, I can understand how a beautiful young woman, who
is left alone in a city like Paris, may lose her senses, and
forget the worthy man who has exiled himself for her sake, and who
is braving a thousand dangers to win a fortune for her. The
husband who exposes his honor and happiness to such terrible risk,
is an imprudent man. But when this woman has erred, when she has
given birth to a child, how she can abandon it, how she can cast
it off as if it were a dog, I cannot comprehend. I could imagine
infanticide more easily. No, such a woman has no heart, no bowels
of compassion. There is nothing human in her! For how could she
live, how could she sleep with the thought that somewhere in the
world her own child, the flesh of her flesh, was exposed to all
the temptations of poverty, and the horrors of shame and vice? And
she, the possessor of millions, she, the inmate of a palace,
thinking only of dress and pleasure! How was it that she didn't
ask herself every minute, 'Where is my daughter now, and what is
she doing? What is she living on? Has she shelter, clothes and
food? To what depths of degradation she may have sunk? Perhaps she
has so far lived by honest toil, and perhaps at this very moment
this support fails her, and she is abandoning herself to a life of
infamy.' Great God! how does this woman dare to step out of doors?
On seeing the poor wretches who have been driven to vice by want,
how can she fail to say to herself: 'That, perhaps, is my
Pascal turned pale, moved to the depths of his soul by his
mother's extraordinary vehemence. He trembled lest she should
say: "And you, my son, would you marry the child of such a
mother?" For he knew his mother's prejudices, and the great
importance she attached to a spotless reputation transmitted from
parent to child, from generation to generation. "The baroness
knew that her husband adored her, and hearing of his return she
became terrified; she lost her senses," he ventured to say in
"Would you try to defend her?" exclaimed Madame Ferailleur. "Do
you really think one can atone for a fault by a crime?"
"No, certainly not, but----"
"Perhaps you would censure the baroness more severely if you knew
what her daughter has suffered--if you knew the perils and
miseries she has been exposed to from the moment her mother left
her on a door-step, near the central markets, till the day when
her father found her. It is a miracle that she did not perish."
Where had Madame Ferailleur learned these particulars? Pascal
asked himself this question without being able to answer it. "I
don't understand you, mother," he faltered.
"Then you know nothing of Mademoiselle Marguerite's past life. Is
it possible she never told you anything about it?"
"I only know that she has been very unhappy."
"Has she never alluded to the time when she was an apprentice?"
"She has only told me that she earned her living with her own
hands at one time of her life."
"Well, I am better informed on the subject."
Pascal's amazement was changed to terror. "You, mother, you!"
"Yes; I--I have been to the asylum where she was received and
educated. I have had a conversation with two Sisters of Charity
who remember her, and it is scarcely an hour since I left the
people to whom she was formerly bound as an apprentice."
Standing opposite his mother with one hand convulsively clutching
the back of the chair he was leaning on, Pascal tried to nerve
himself for some terrible blow. For was not his life at stake?
Did not his whole future depend upon the revelations Madame
Ferailleur was about to make?" So this was your object in going
out, mother?" he faltered.
"And you went without warning me?"
"Was it necessary? What! you love a young girl, you swear in my
presence that she shall be your wife, and you think it strange
that I should try to ascertain whether she is worthy of you or
not? It would be very strange if I did not do so."
"This idea occurred to you so suddenly!"
Madame Ferailleur gave an almost imperceptible shrug of the
shoulders, as if she were astonished to have to answer such
puerile objections. "Have you already forgotten the disparaging
remarks made by our new servant, Madame Vantrasson?"
"I understood her base insinuations as well as you did, and after
your departure I questioned her, or rather I allowed her to tell
her story, and I ascertained that Mademoiselle Marguerite had once
been an apprentice of Vantrasson's brother-in-law, a man named
Greloux, who was formerly a bookbinder in the Rue Saint-Denis, but
who has now retired from business. It was there that Vantrasson
met Mademoiselle Marguerite, and this is why he was so greatly
surprised to see her doing the mistress at the Hotel de Chalusse."
It seemed to Pascal that the throbbing of his heart stopped his
"By a little tact I obtained the Greloux's address from Madame
Vantrasson," resumed his mother. "Then I sent for a cab and drove
there at once."
"And you saw them?"
"Yes; thanks to a falsehood which doesn't trouble my conscience
much, I succeeded in effecting an entrance, and had an hour's
conversation with them." His mother's icy tones frightened Pascal.
Her slowness tortured him, and still he dared not press her. "The
Greloux family," she continued, "seem to be what are called worthy
people, that is, incapable of committing any crime that is
punishable by the code, and very proud of their income of seven
thousand francs a year. They must have been very much attached to
Mademoiselle Marguerite, for they were lavish in their
protestations of affection when I mentioned her name. The husband
in particular seemed to regard her with a feeling of something
"Ah! you see, mother, you see!"
"As for the wife, it was easy to see that she had sincerely
regretted the loss of the best apprentice, the most honest
servant, and the best worker she had ever seen in her life. And
yet, from her own story, I should be willing to swear that she had
abused the poor child, and had made a slave of her." Tears
glittered in Pascal's eyes, but he breathed freely once more. "As
for Vantrasson," resumed Madame Ferailleur, "it is certain that he
took a violent fancy to his sister's apprentice. This man, who
has since become an infamous scoundrel, was then only a rake, an
unprincipled drunkard and libertine. He fancied the poor little
apprentice--she was then but thirteen years old--would be only too
glad to become the mistress of her employer's brother; but she
scornfully repulsed him, and his vanity was so deeply wounded that
he persecuted the poor girl to such an extent that she was obliged
to complain, first to Madame Greloux, who--to her shame be it
said--treated these insults as mere nonsense; and afterward to
Greloux himself, who was probably delighted to have an opportunity
of ridding himself of his indolent brother-in-law, for he turned
him out of the house."
The thought that so vile a rascal as this man Vantrasson should
have dared to insult Marguerite made Pascal frantic with
indignation. "The wretch!" he exclaimed; "the wretch!" But
without seeming to notice her son's anger, Madame Ferailleur
continued: "They pretended they had not seen their former
apprentice since she had been living in grandeur, as they
expressed it. But in this they lied to me. For they saw her at
least once, and that was on the day she brought them twenty
thousand francs, which proved the nucleus of their fortune. They
did not mention this fact, however."
"Dear Marguerite!" murmured Pascal, "dear Marguerite!" And then
aloud: "But where did you learn these last details, mother?" he
"At the asylum where Mademoiselle Marguerite was brought up, and
there, too, I only heard words of praise. 'Never,' said the
superior, 'have I had a more gifted, sweeter-tempered or more
attractive charge.' They had reproached her sometimes for being
too reserved, and her self-respect had often been mistaken for
inordinate pride; but she had not forgotten the asylum any more
than she had forgotten her former patrons. On one occasion the
superior received from her the sum of twenty-five thousand francs,
and a year ago she presented the institution with one hundred
thousand francs, the yearly income of which is to constitute the
marriage dowry of some deserving orphan."
Pascal was greatly elated. "Well, mother!" he exclaimed, "well,
is it strange that I love her?" Madame Ferailleur made no reply,
and a sorrowful apprehension seized hold of him. "You are
silent," said he, "and why? When the blessed day that will allow
me to wed Marguerite arrives, you surely won't oppose our
"No, my son, nothing that I have learned gives me the right to do
"The right! Ah, you are unjust, mother."
"Unjust! Haven't I faithfully reported all that was told me,
although I knew it would only increase your passion?"
"That's true, but----"
Madame Ferailleur sadly shook her head. "Do you think," she
interrupted, "that I can, without sorrow, see you choose a girl of
no family, a girl who is outside the pale of social recognition?
Don't you understand my disquietude when I think that the girl
that you will marry is the daughter of such a woman as Baroness
Trigault, an unfortunate girl whom her mother cannot even
recognize, since her mother is a married woman----"
"Ah! mother, is that Marguerite's fault?"
"Did I say it was her fault? No--I only pray God that you may
never have to repent of choosing a wife whose past life must ever
remain an impenetrable mystery!"
Pascal had become very pale. "Mother!" he said in a quivering
"I mean that you will only know so much of Mademoiselle
Marguerite's past life as she may choose to tell you," continued
the obdurate old lady. "You heard Madame Vantrasson's ignoble
allegations. It has been said that she was the mistress, not the
daughter, of the Count de Chalusse. Who knows what vile
accusations you may be forced to meet? And what is your refuge, if
doubts should ever assail you? Mademoiselle Marguerite's word!
Will this be sufficient? It is now, perhaps; but will it suffice
in years to come? I would have my son's wife above suspicion; and
she--why, there is not a single episode in her life that does not
expose her to the most atrocious calumny."
"What does calumny matter? it will never shake my faith in her.
The misfortunes which you reproach Marguerite for sanctify her in
"What! Am I to scorn her because she has been unfortunate? Am I to
regard her birth as a crime? Am I to despise her because her
MOTHER is a despicable woman? No--God be praised! the day when
illegitimate children, the innocent victims of their mother's
faults, were branded as outcasts, is past."
But Madame Ferailleur's prejudices were too deeply rooted to be
shaken by these arguments. "I won't discuss this question, my
son," she interrupted, "but take care. By declaring children
irresponsible for their mother's faults, you will break the
strongest tie that binds a woman to duty. If the son of a pure
and virtuous wife, and the son of an adulterous woman meet upon
equal ground, those who are held in check only by the thought of
their children will finally say to themselves, what does it
It was the first time that a cloud had ever arisen between mother
and son. On hearing his dearest hopes thus attacked, Pascal was
tempted to rebel, and a flood of bitter words rose to his lips.
However he had strength enough to control himself. "Marguerite
alone can triumph over these implacable prejudices," he thought;
"when my mother knows her, she will feel how unjust they are!"
And as he found it difficult to remain master of himself, he
stammered some excuse, and abruptly retired to his own room, where
he threw himself on his bed. He felt that it was not his place to
reproach his mother or censure her for her opinions. What mother
had ever been so devoted as she had been? And who knows?--it was,
perhaps, from these same rigid prejudices that this simple-minded
and heroic woman had derived her energy, her enthusiastic love of
God, her hatred of evil, and that virility of spirit which
misfortune had been powerless to daunt. Besides, had she not
promised to offer no opposition to his marriage! And was not this
a great concession, a sacrifice which must have cost her a severe
struggle? And where can one find the mother who does not count as
one of the sublime joys of maternity the task of seeking a wife
for her son, of choosing from among all others the young girl who
will be the companion of his life, the angel of his dark and of
his prosperous days? His mind was occupied with these thoughts
when his door suddenly opened, and he sprang up, exclaiming: "Who
It was Madame Vantrasson, who came to announce that dinner was
ready--a dinner which she had herself prepared, for on going out
Madame Ferailleur had left her in charge of the household. On
seeing this woman, Pascal was overcome with rage and indignation,
and felt a wild desire to annihilate her. He knew that she was
only a vile slanderer, but she might meet other beings as vile as
herself who would be only too glad to believe her falsehoods. And
to think that he was powerless to punish her! He now realized the
suffering his mother had spoken of--the most atrocious suffering
which the lover can endure--powerlessness to protect the object of
his affections, when she is assailed. Engrossed in these gloomy
thoughts, Pascal preserved a sullen silence during the repast. He
ate because his mother filled his plate; but if he had been
questioned, he could scarcely have told what he was eating. And
yet, the modest dinner was excellent. Madame Vantrasson was
really a good cook, and in this first effort in her new situation
she had surpassed herself. Her vanity as a cordon-bleu was piqued
because she did not receive the compliments she expected, and
which she felt she deserved. Four or five times she asked
impatiently, "Isn't that good?" and as the only reply was a
scarcely enthusiastic "Very good," she vowed she would never again
waste so much care and talent upon such unappreciative people.
Madame Ferailleur was as silent as her son, and seemed equally
anxious to finish with the repast. She evidently wanted to get
rid of Madame Vantrasson, and in fact as soon as the simple
dessert had been placed on the table, she turned to her, and said:
"You may go home now. I will attend to the rest."
Irritated by the taciturnity of these strange folks, the landlady
of the Model Lodging House withdrew, and they soon heard the
street door close behind her with a loud bang as she left the
house. Pascal drew a long breath as if relieved of a heavy
weight. While Madame Vantrasson had been in the room he had
scarcely dared to raise his eyes, so great was his dread of
encountering the gaze of this woman, whose malignity was but
poorly veiled by her smooth-tongued hypocrisy. He really feared
he should not be able to resist his desire to strangle her.
However, Madame Ferailleur must have understood her son's
agitation, for as soon as they were alone, she said: "So you have
not forgiven me for my plain speaking?"
"How can I be angry with you, mother, when I know that you are
thinking only of my happiness? But how sorry I shall be if your
Madame Ferailleur checked him with a gesture. "Let us say no more
on the subject," she remarked. "Mademoiselle Marguerite will be
the innocent cause of one of the greatest disappointments of my
life; but I have no reason to hate her--and I have always been
able to show justice even to the persons I loved the least. I
have done so in this instance, and I am going perhaps to give you
a convincing proof of it."
She reflected for a moment and then she asked: "Did you not tell
me, my son, that Mademoiselle Marguerite's education has not
suffered on account of her neglected childhood?"
"And it's quite true, mother."
"She worked diligently, you said, so as to improve herself?"
"Marguerite knows all that an unusually talented girl can learn in
four years, when she finds herself very unhappy, and study proves
her only refuge and consolation."
"If she wrote you a note would it be written grammatically, and be
free from any mistakes in spelling?"
"Oh, certainly!" exclaimed Pascal, and a sudden inspiration made
him pause abruptly. He darted to his own room, and a minute later
he returned with a package of letters, which he laid on the table,
saying: "Here, mother, read and see for yourself."
Madame Ferailleur drew her spectacles from their case, and, after
adjusting them, she began to read.
With his elbows on the table, and his head resting upon his hands,
Pascal eagerly watched his mother, anxious to read her impressions
on her face. She was evidently astonished. She had not expected
these letters would express such nobility of sentiment, an energy
no whit inferior to her own, and even an echo of her own
prejudices. For this strange young girl shared Madame
Ferailleur's rather bigoted opinions. Again and again she asked
herself if her birth and past had not created an impassable abyss
between Pascal and herself. And she had not felt satisfied on
this point until the day when the gray-haired magistrate, after
hearing her story, said: "If I had a son, I should be proud to
have him beloved by you!"
It soon became apparent that Madame Ferailleur was deeply moved,
and once she even raised her glasses to wipe away a furtive tear
which made Pascal's heart leap with very joy. "These letters are
admirable," she said at last; "and no young girl, reared by a
virtuous mother, could have given better expression to nobler
sentiments; but----" She paused, not wishing to wound her son's
feelings, and as he insisted, she added:
"But, these letters have the irreparable fault of being addressed
to you, Pascal!"
This, however, was the expiring cry of her intractable obstinacy.
"Now," she resumed, "wait before you censure your mother." So
saying, she rose, opened a drawer, and taking from it a torn and
crumpled scrap of paper, she handed it to her son, exclaiming:
"Read this attentively."
This proved to be the note in pencil which Madame Leon had given
to Pascal, and which he had divined rather than read by the light
of the street-lamp; he had handed it to his mother on his return,
and she had kept it. He had scarcely been in his right mind the
evening he received it, but now he was enjoying the free exercise
of all his faculties. He no sooner glanced at the note than he
sprang up, and in an excited voice, exclaimed, "Marguerite never
The strange discovery seemed to stupefy him. "I was mad, raving
mad!" he muttered. "The fraud is palpable, unmistakable. How
could I have failed to discover it?" And as if he felt the need of
convincing himself that he was not deceived, he continued,
speaking to himself rather than to his mother: "The hand-writing
is not unlike Marguerite's, it's true; but it's only a clever
counterfeit. And who doesn't know that all writings in pencil
resemble each other more or less? Besides, it's certain that
Marguerite, who is simplicity itself, would not have made use of
such pretentious melodramatic phrases. How could I have been so
stupid as to believe that she ever thought or wrote this: 'One
cannot break a promise made to the dying; I shall keep mine even
though my heart break.' And again: 'Forget, therefore, the girl
who has loved you so much: she is now the betrothed of another,
and honor requires she should forget even your name!'" He read
these passages with an extravagant emphasis, which heightened
their absurdity. "And what shall I say of these mistakes in
spelling?" he resumed. "You noticed them, of course, mother?--
command is written with a single 'm,' and supplicate with one 'p.'
These are certainly not mistakes that we can attribute to haste!
Ignorance is proved since the blunder is always the same. The
forger is evidently in the habit of omitting one of the double
Madame Ferailleur listened with an impassive face. "And these
mistakes are all the more inexcusable since this letter is only a
copy," she observed, quietly.
"Yes; a verbatim copy. Yesterday evening, while I was examining
it for the twentieth time, it occurred to me that I had read some
portions of it before. Where, and under what circumstances? It
was a puzzle which kept me awake most of the night. But this
morning I suddenly remembered a book which I had seen in the hands
of the workmen at the factory, and which I had often laughed over.
So, while I was out this morning I entered a book-shop, and
purchased the volume. That's it, there on the corner of the
mantel-shelf. Take it and see."
Pascal obeyed, and noticed with surprise that the work was
entitled, "The Indispensable and Complete Letter-writer, for Both
Sexes, in Every Condition of Life."
"Now turn to the page I have marked," said Madame Ferailleur.
He did so, and read: "(Model 198). Letter from a young lady who
has promised her dying father to renounce the man she loves, and
to bestow her hand upon another." Doubt was no longer possible.
Line for line and word for word, the mistakes in spelling
excepted, the note was an exact copy of the stilted prose of the
It seemed to Pascal as if the scales had suddenly fallen from his
eyes, and that he could now understand the whole intrigue which
had been planned to separate him from Marguerite. His enemies had
dishonored him in the hope that she would reject and scorn him,
and, disappointed in their expectations, they had planned this
pretended rupture of the engagement to prevent him from making any
attempt at self-justification. So, in spite of some short-lived
doubts, his love had been more clear-sighted than reason, and
stronger than appearances. He had been quite right, then, in
saying to his mother: "I can never believe that Marguerite deserts
me at a moment when I am so wretched--that she condemns me
unheard, and has no greater confidence in me than in my accusers.
Appearances may indicate the contrary, but I am right." Certain
circumstances, which had previously seemed contradictory, now
strengthened this belief. "How is it," he said to himself, "that
Marguerite writes to me that her father, on his death-bed, made
her promise to renounce me, while Valorsay declares the Count de
Chalusse died so suddenly, that he had not even time to
acknowledge his daughter or to bequeath her his immense fortune?
One of these stories must be false; and which of them? The one in
this note most probably. As for the letter itself, it must have
been the work of Madame Leon."
If he had not already possessed irrefutable proofs of this, the
"Indispensable Letter-writer" would have shown it. The
housekeeper's perturbation when she met him at the garden gate was
now explained. She was shuddering at the thought that she might
be followed and watched, and that Marguerite might appear at any
moment, and discover everything.
"I think it would be a good plan to let this poor young girl know
that her companion is Valorsay's spy," remarked Madame Ferailleur.
Pascal was about to approve this suggestion, when a sudden thought
deterred him. "They must be watching Marguerite very closely," he
replied, "and if I attempt to see her, if I even venture to write
to her, our enemies would undoubtedly discover it. And then,
farewell to the success of my plans."
"Then you prefer to leave her exposed to these dangers?"
"Yes, even admitting there is danger, which is by no means
certain. Owing to her past life, Marguerite's experience is far
in advance of her years, and if some one told me that she had
fathomed Madame Leon's character, I should not be at all
It was necessary to ascertain what had become of Marguerite; and
Pascal was puzzling his brain to discover how this might be done,
when suddenly he exclaimed: "Madame Vantrasson! We have her; let
us make use of her. It will be easy to find some excuse for
sending her to the Hotel de Chalusse: she will gossip with the
servants there, and in that way we can discover the changes that
have taken place."
This was a heroic resolution on Pascal's part, and one which he
would have recoiled from the evening before. But it is easy to be
brave when one is hopeful; and he saw his chances of success
increase so rapidly that he no longer feared the obstacles that
had once seemed almost insurmountable. Even his mother's
opposition had ceased to alarm him. For why should he fear after
the surprising proof she had given him of her love of justice,
proving that the pretended letter from Mademoiselle Marguerite was
really a forgery?
He slept but little that night and did not stir from the house on
the following day. He was busily engaged in perfecting his plan
of attack against the marquis. His advantages were considerable,
thanks to Baron Trigault, who had placed a hundred thousand francs
at his disposal; but the essential point was to use this amount in
such a way as to win Valorsay's confidence, and induce him to
betray himself. Pascal's hours of meditation were not spent in
vain, and when it became time for him to repair to his enemy's
house, he said to his mother: "I've found a plan; and if the baron
will let me follow it out, Valorsay is mine!"
It was pure childishness on Pascal's part to doubt Baron
Trigault's willingness to agree even with closed eyes to any
measures he might propose. He ought to have recollected that
their interests were identical, that they hated the same men with
equal hatred, and that they were equally resolved upon vengeance.
And certainly the events which had occurred since their last
interview had not been of a nature to modify the baron's
intentions. However, misfortune had rendered Pascal timid and
suspicious, and it was not until he reached the baron's house that
his fears vanished. The manner in which the servants received him
proved that the baron greatly esteemed him: for the man must be
stupid indeed who does not know that the greeting of the servants
is ever in harmony with the feelings of the master of the house.
"Will you be kind enough to follow me?" said the servant to whom
he handed his card. "The baron is very busy, but that doesn't
matter. He gave orders that monsieur should be shown up as soon
as he arrived."
Pascal followed without a word. The elegance of this princely
abode never varied. The same careless, prodigal, regal luxury was
apparent everywhere. The servants--whose name was legion--were
always passing noiselessly to and fro. A pair of horses, worth at
least a thousand louis, and harnessed to the baroness's brougham,
were stamping and neighing in the courtyard; and the hall was, as
usual, fragrant with the perfume of rare flowers, renewed every
On his first visit Pascal had only seen the apartments on the
ground floor. This time his guide remarked that he would take him
upstairs to the baron's private room. He was slowly ascending the
broad marble staircase and admiring the bronze balustrade, the
rich carpet, the magnificent frescoes, and the costly statuary,
when a rustle of silk resounded near him. He had only time to
step aside, and a lady passed him rapidly, without turning her
head, or even deigning to look at him. She did not appear more
than forty, and she was still very beautiful, with her golden hair
dressed high on the back of her head. Her costume, brilliant
enough in hue to frighten a cab horse, was extremely eccentric in
cut; but it certainly set off her peculiar style of beauty to
"That's the baroness," whispered the servant, after she had