Part 5 out of 7
Pascal did not need to be told this. He had seen her but once,
and then only for a second; but it had been under such
circumstances that he should never forget her so long as he lived.
And now he understood the strange and terrible impression which
had been produced upon him when he saw her first. Mademoiselle
Marguerite was the living prototype of this lady, save as regards
the color of her hair. And there would have been no difference in
this respect had the baroness allowed her locks to retain their
natural tint. Her hair had been black, like Marguerite's, and
black it had remained until she was thirty-five, when she bleached
it to the fashionable color of the time. And every fourth day
even now her hairdresser came to apply a certain compound to her
head, after which she remained in the bright sunlight for several
hours, so as to impart a livelier shade of gold to her dyed locks.
Pascal had scarcely regained his composure, when the servant
opened the door of an immense apartment as large as a handsome
suite of rooms, and magnificently furnished. Here sat the baron,
surrounded by several clerks, who were busily engaged in putting a
pile of papers and documents in order.
But as soon as Pascal entered, the baron rose, and cordially
holding out his hand, exclaimed, "Ah! here you are at last,
So he had not forgotten the name which Pascal had assumed. This
was a favorable omen. "I called, monsieur----" began the young
"Yes--I know--I know!" interrupted the baron. "Come, we must have
And, taking Pascal's arm, he led him into his private sanctum,
separated from the large apartment by folding-doors, which had
been removed, and replaced by hangings. Once there he indicated
by a gesture that they could be heard in the adjoining room, and
that it was necessary to speak in a low tone. "You have no doubt
come," said he, "for the money I promised that dear Marquis de
Valorsay--I have it all ready for you; here it is." So saying, he
opened an escritoire, and took out a large roll of bank-notes,
which he handed to Pascal. "Here, count it," he added, "and see
if the amount is correct."
But Pascal, whose face had suddenly become as red as fire, did not
utter a word in reply. On receiving this money a new but quite
natural thought had entered his mind for the first time. "What is
the matter?" inquired the baron, surprised by this sudden
embarrassment. "What has happened to you?"
"Nothing, monsieur, nothing! Only I was asking myself--if I ought--
if I can accept this money."
"Bah! and why not?"
"Because if you lend it to M. de Valorsay, it is perhaps lost."
"PERHAPS! You are polite----"
"Yes, monsieur, you are right. I ought to have said that it is
sure to be lost; and hence my embarrassment. Is it not solely on
my account that you sacrifice a sum which would be a fortune to
many men? Yes. Very well, then. I am asking myself if it is
right for me to accept such a sacrifice, when it is by no means
certain that I shall ever be able to requite it. Shall I ever
have a hundred thousand francs to repay you?"
"But isn't this money absolutely necessary to enable you to win
"Yes, and if it belonged to me I should not hesitate."
Though the baron had formed a high estimate of Pascal's character,
he was astonished and deeply touched by these scruples, and this
excessive delicacy of feeling. Like most opulent men, he knew few
poor people who wore their poverty with grace and dignity, and who
did not snatch at a twenty-franc piece wherever they chanced to
find it. "Ah, well, my dear Ferailleur," he said, kindly, "don't
trouble yourself on this score. It's not at your request nor
solely on your account that I make this sacrifice."
"No; I give you my word of honor it isn't. Leaving you quite out
of the question, I should still have lent Valorsay this money; and
if you do not wish to take it to him, I shall send it by some one
After that, Pascal could not demur any further. He took the
baron's proffered hand and pressed it warmly, uttering only this
one word, made more eloquent than any protestations by the fervor
with which it was spoken: "Thanks!"
The baron shrugged his shoulders good-naturedly, like a man who
fails to see that he has done anything at all meritorious, or even
worthy of the slightest acknowledgment. "And you must understand,
my dear sir," he resumed, "that you can employ this sum as you
choose, in advancing your interests, which are identical with
mine. You can give the money to Valorsay at such a time and under
such conditions as will best serve your plans. Give it to him in
an hour or in a month, all at once or in fifty different
instalments, as you please. Only use it like the rope one ties
round a dog's neck before drowning him."
The keenest penetration was concealed beneath the baron's careless
good-nature. Pascal knew this, and feeling that his protector
understood him, he said: "You overpower me with kindness."
"You offer me just what I came to ask for."
"So much the better."
"But you will allow me to explain my intentions?"
"It is quite unnecessary, my dear sir."
"Excuse me; if I follow my present plan, I shall be obliged to
ascribe certain sentiments, words, and even acts, to you, which
you might perhaps disavow, and--"
With a careless toss of the head, accompanied by a disdainful snap
of the fingers, the baron interrupted him. "Set to work, and
don't give yourself the slightest uneasiness about that. You may
do whatever you like, if you only succeed in unmasking this dear
marquis, and Coralth, his worthy acolyte. Show me up in whatever
light you choose. Who will you be in Valorsay's eyes? Why,
Maumejan, one of my business agents, and I can always throw the
blame on you." And as if to prove that he had divined even the
details of the scheme devised by his young friend, he added:
"Besides, every one knows that a millionaire's business agent is
anything but a pleasant person to deal with. A millionaire, who
is not a fool, must always smile, and no matter how absurd the
demands upon him may be, he must always answer: 'Yes, certainly,
certainly--I should be only too happy!' But then he adds: 'You
must arrange the matter with my agent. Confer with him.' And it
is the unlucky agent who must object, declare that his employer
has no money at his disposal just now, and finally say, 'No.'"
Pascal was still disposed to insist, but the baron was obdurate.
"Oh! enough, enough!" he exclaimed. "Don't waste precious time in
idle discussion. The days are only twenty-four hours long: and as
you see, I'm very busy, so busy that I've not touched a card since
the day before yesterday. I am preparing a delightful surprise
for Madame Trigault, my daughter, and my son-in-law. It has been
rather a delicate operation, but I flatter myself that I have
succeeded finely." And he laughed a laugh that was not pleasant to
hear. "You see, I've had enough of paying several hundred
thousand francs a year for the privilege of being sneered at by my
wife, scorned by my daughter, swindled by my son-in-law, and
vilified and anathematized by all three of them. I am still
willing to go on paying, but only on conditions that they give me
in return for my money, if not the reality, at least a show of
love, affection, and respect. I'm determined to have the
semblance of these things; I'm quite resolved on that. Yes, I
will have myself treated with deference. I'll be petted and
coddled and made much of, or else I'll suspend payment. It was
one of my old friends, a parvenu like myself--a man whose domestic
happiness I have envied for many years--who gave me this receipt:
'At home,' said he, 'with my wife, my daughters, and my sons-in-
law, I'm like a peer of England at an hotel. I order first-class
happiness at so much a month. If I get it I pay for it; if I
don't get it, I cut off the supplies. When I get extras I pay for
them cheerfully, without haggling. Follow my example, my old
friend, and you'll have a comfortable life.' And I shall follow
his advice, M. Ferailleur, for I am convinced that his theory is
sound and practicable. I have led this life long enough. I'll
spend my last days in peace, or, as God hears me, I'll let my
family die of starvation!"
His face was purple, and the veins on his forehead stood out like
whipcords, but not so much from anger as from the constraint he
imposed upon himself by speaking in a whisper. He drew a long
breath, and then in a calmer tone, resumed: "But you must make
haste and succeed, M. Ferailleur, if you don't want the young girl
you love to be deprived of her rightful heritage. You do not know
into what unworthy hands the Chalusse property is about to fall."
He was on the point of telling Pascal the story of Madame
d'Argeles and M. Wilkie, when he was interrupted by the sound of a
lively controversy in the hall.
"Who's taking such liberty in my house?" the baron began. But the
next instant he heard some one fling open the door of the large
room adjoining, and then a coarse, guttural voice called out:
"What! he isn't here! This is too much!"
The baron made an angry gesture. "That's Kami-Bey," said he, "the
Turk whom I am playing that great game of cards with. The devil
take him! He will be sure to force his way in here--so we may as
well join him, M. Ferailleur."
On reentering the adjoining apartment Pascal beheld a very
corpulent man, with a very red face, a straggling beard, a flat
nose, small, beadlike eyes, and sensual lips. He was clad in a
black frock-coat, buttoned tight to the throat, and he wore a fez.
This costume gave him the appearance of a chunky bottle, sealed
with red wax. Such, indeed, was Kami-Bey, a specimen of those
semi-barbarians, loaded with gold who are not attracted to Paris
by its splendors and glories, but rather by its corruption--people
who come there persuaded that money will purchase anything and
everything, and who often return home with the same conviction.
Kami was no doubt more impudent, more cynical and more arrogant
than others of his class. As he was more wealthy, he had more
followers; he had been more toadied and flattered, and victimized
to a greater extent by the host of female intriguers, who look
upon every foreigner as their rightful prey.
He spoke French passably well, but with an abominable accent.
"Here you are at last!" he exclaimed, as the baron entered the
room. "I was becoming very anxious."
"About what, prince?"
Why Kami-Bey was called prince no one knew, not even the man
himself. Perhaps it was because the lackey who opened his
carriage door on his arrival at the Grand Hotel had addressed him
by that title.
"About what!" he repeated. "You have won more than three hundred
thousand francs from me, and I was wondering if you intended to
give me the slip."
The baron frowned, and this time he omitted the title of prince
altogether. "It seems to me, sir, that according to our
agreement, we were to play until one of us had won five hundred
thousand francs," he said haughtily.
"That's true--but we ought to play every day."
"Possibly: but I'm very busy just now. I wrote to you explaining
this, did I not? If you are at all uneasy, tear up the book in
which the results of our games are noted, and that shall be the
end of it. You will gain considerably by the operation."
Kami-Bey felt that the baron would not tolerate his arrogance, and
so with more moderation he exclaimed: "It isn't strange that I've
become suspicious. I'm so victimized on every side. Because I'm
a foreigner and immensely rich, everybody fancies he has a right
to plunder me. Men, women, hotel-keepers and merchants, all unite
in defrauding me. If I buy pictures, they sell me vile daubs at
fabulous prices. They ask ridiculous amounts for horses, and then
give me worthless, worn-out animals. Everybody borrows money from
me--and I'm never repaid. I shall be ruined if this sort of thing
goes on much longer."
He had taken a seat, and the baron saw that he was not likely to
get rid of his guest very soon; so approaching Pascal he
whispered: "You had better go off, or you may miss Valorsay. And
be careful, mind; for he is exceedingly shrewd. Courage and good
Courage! It was not necessary to recommend that to Pascal. He who
had triumphed over his despair in the terrible hours, when he had
reason to suppose that Marguerite believed him guilty and had
abandoned him, could scarcely lack courage. While he was
condemned to inaction, his mind had no doubt been assailed by
countless doubts and fears; but now that he knew whom he was to
attack--now that the decisive moment had come, he was endowed with
indomitable energy; he had turned to bronze, and he felt sure that
nothing could disconcert or even trouble him in future. The
weapons he had to use were not at all to his taste, but he had not
been allowed a choice in the matter; and since his enemies had
decided on a warfare of duplicity, he was resolved to surpass them
in cunning, and vanquish them by deception.
So, while hastening to the Marquis de Valorsay's residence, he
took stock of his chances, and recapitulated his resources,
striving to foresee and remember everything. Thus if he failed--
for he admitted the possibility of defeat, without believing in
it--he would have no cause to reproach himself. Only fools find
consolation in saying: "Who could have foreseen that?" Great minds
do foresee. And Pascal felt almost certain that he was fully
prepared for any emergency.
That morning, before leaving home, he had dressed with extreme
care, realizing that the shabby clothes he had worn on his first
visit to the Trigault mansion would not be appropriate on such an
occasion as this. The baron's agent could scarcely have a
poverty-stricken appearance, for contact with millionaires is
supposed to procure wealth as surely as proximity to fire insures
warmth. So he arrayed himself in a suit of black, which was
neither too elegant nor too much worn, and donned a broad white
necktie. He could see only one immediate, decisive chance against
him. M. de Valorsay might possibly recognize him. He thought
not, but he was not sure; and anxious on this account, he at first
decided to disguise himself. However, on reflection, he concluded
not to do so. An imperfect disguise would attract attention and
awaken suspicion; and could he really disguise his physiognomy? He
was certain he could not. Very few men are capable of doing so
successfully, even after long experience. Only two or three
detectives and half a dozen actors possess the art of really
changing their lineaments. Thus after weighing the pros and cons,
Pascal determined to present himself as he was at the marquis's
On approaching M. de Valorsay's residence in the Avenue des Champs
Elysees, he slackened his pace. The mansion, which stood between
a courtyard and a garden, was very large and handsome. The
stables and carriage-house--really elegant structures--stood on
either side of the courtyard, near the half-open gate of which
five or six servants were amusing themselves by teasing a large
dog. Pascal was just saying to himself that the coast was clear,
and that he should incur no danger by going in, when he saw the
servants step aside, the gate swing back, and M. de Coralth
emerged, accompanied by a young, fair-haired man, whose mustaches
were waxed and turned up in the most audacious fashion. They were
arm in arm, and turned in the direction of the Arc de Triomphe.
Pascal's heart thrilled with joy. "Fate favors me!" he said to
himself. "If it hadn't been for Kami-Bey, who detained me a full
quarter of an hour at Baron Trigault's, I should have found myself
face to face with that miserable viscount, and then all would have
been lost. But now I'm safe!"
It was with this encouraging thought that he approached the house.
"The marquis is very busy this morning," said the servant to whom
Pascal addressed himself at the gate. "I doubt if he can see
you." But when Pascal handed him one of his visiting cards,
bearing the name of Maumejan, with this addition in pencil: "Who
calls as the representative of Baron Trigault," the valet's face
changed as if by enchantment. "Oh!" said he, "that's quite a
different matter. If you come from Baron Trigault, you will be
received with all the respect due to the Messiah. Come in. I
will announce you myself."
Everything in M. de Valorsay's house, as at the baron's residence,
indicated great wealth, and yet a close observer would have
detected a difference. The luxury of the Rue de la Ville-l'Eveque
was of a real and substantial character, which one did not find in
the Avenue des Champs Elysees. Everything in the marquis's abode
bore marks of the haste which mars the merest trifle produced at
the present age. "Take a seat here, and I will see where the
marquis is," said the servant, as he ushered Pascal into a large
drawing-room. The apartment was elegantly furnished, but had
somewhat lost its freshness; the carpet, which had once been a
marvel of beauty, was stained in several places, and as the
servants had not always been careful to keep the shutters closed,
the sunlight had perceptibly faded the curtains. The attention of
visitors was at once attracted by the number of gold and silver
cups, vases, and statuettes scattered about on side-tables and
cheffoniers. Each of these objects bore an inscription, setting
forth that it had been won at such a race, in such a year, by such
a horse, belonging to the Marquis de Valorsay. These were indeed
the marquis's chief claims to glory, and had cost him at least
half of the immense fortune he had inherited. However, Pascal did
not take much interest in these trophies, so the time of waiting
seemed long. "Valorsay is playing the diplomat," he thought. "He
doesn't wish to appear to be anxious. Unfortunately, his servant
has betrayed him."
At last the valet returned. "The marquis will see you now,
monsieur," said he.
This summons affected Pascal's heart like the first roll of a drum
beating the charge. But his coolness did not desert him. "Now is
the decisive moment," he thought. "Heaven grant that he may not
recognize me!" And with a firm step he followed the valet.
M. de Valorsay was seated in the apartment he usually occupied
when he remained at home--a little smoking-room connected with his
bedroom. He was to all intents busily engaged in examining some
sporting journals. A bottle of Madeira and a partially filled
glass stood near him. As the servant announced "Monsieur
Maumejan!" he looked up and his eyes met Pascal's. But his glance
did not waver; not a muscle of his face moved; his countenance
retained its usually cold and disdainful expression. Evidently he
had not the slightest suspicion that the man he had tried to ruin--
his mortal enemy--was standing there before him.
"M. Maumejan," said he, "Baron Trigault's agent?"
"Pray be seated. I am just finishing here; I shall be at leisure
in a moment."
Pascal took a chair. He had feared that he might not be able to
retain his self-control when he found himself in the presence of
the scoundrel who, after destroying his happiness, ruining his
future, and depriving him of his honor--dearer than life itself--
was at that moment endeavoring, by the most infamous manoeuvres,
to rob him of the woman he loved. "If my blood mounted to my
brain," he had thought, "I should spring upon him and strangle
him!" But no. His arteries did not throb more quickly; it was
with perfect calmness--the calmness of a strong nature--that he
stealthily watched M. de Valorsay. If he had seen him a week
before he would have been startled by the change which the past
few days had wrought in this brilliant nobleman's appearance. He
was little more than a shadow of his former self. And seen at
this hour, before placing himself in his valet's hands, before his
premature decrepitude had been concealed by the artifices of the
toilet, he was really frightful. His face was haggard, and his
red and swollen eyelids betrayed a long-continued want of sleep.
The fact is, he had suffered terribly during the past week. A man
may be a scapegrace and a spendthrift and may boast of it; he may
have no principle and no conscience; he may be immoral, he may
defy God and the devil, but it is nevertheless true that he
suffers fearful anguish of mind when he is guilty, for the first
time, of a positive crime, forbidden by the laws and punishable
with the galleys. And who can say how many crimes the Marquis de
Valorsay had committed since the day he provided his accomplice,
the Viscount de Coralth, with those fatal cards? And apart from
this there was something extremely appalling in the position of
this ruined millionaire, who was contending desperately against
his creditors for the vain appearance of splendor, with the
despairing energy of a ship-wrecked mariner struggling for the
possession of a floating spar. Had he not confessed to M.
Fortunat that he had suffered the tortures of the damned in his
struggle to maintain a show of wealth, while he was often without
a penny in his pocket, and was ever subject to the pitiless
surveillance of thirty servants? His agony, when he thought of his
precarious condition, could only be compared to that of a miner,
who, while ascending from the bowels of the earth, finds that the
rope, upon which his life depends, is slowly parting strand by
strand, and who asks himself, in terror, if the few threads that
still remain unsevered will be strong enough to raise him to the
mouth of the pit.
However, the moment which M. de Valorsay had asked for had
lengthened into a quarter of an hour, and he had not yet finished
his work. "What the devil is he doing?" wondered Pascal, who was
following his enemy's slightest movement with eager curiosity.
Countless sporting newspapers were strewn over the table, the
chairs, and the floor around the marquis, who took them up one
after another, glanced rapidly through their columns, and threw
them on the floor again. or placed them on a pile before him,
first marking certain passages with a red pencil. At last,
probably fearing that Pascal was growing impatient, he looked up
"I am really very sorry to keep you waiting so long, but some one
is waiting for this work to be completed."
"Oh! pray continue, Monsieur le Marquis," interrupted Pascal.
"Strange to say, I have a little leisure at my command just now."
The marquis seemed to feel that it was necessary to make some
remark in acknowledgment of this courtesy on his visitor's part,
and so, as he continued his work, he condescended to explain its
purpose. "I am playing the part of a commentator," he remarked.
"I sold seven of my horses a few days ago, and the purchaser,
before paying the stipulated price, naturally required an exact
and authentic statement of each animal's performances. However,
even this does not seem to have satisfied the gentleman, for he
has now taken it into his head to ask for such copies of the
sporting journals as record the victories or defeats of the
animals he has purchased. A gentleman is not so exacting
generally. It is true, however, that I have a foreigner to deal
with--one of those half-civilized nabobs who come here every year
to astonish the Parisians with their wealth and display, and who,
by their idiotic prodigality, have so increased the price of
everything that life has become well-nigh an impossibility to such
of us as don't care to squander an entire fortune in a couple of
years. These folks are the curse of Paris, for, with but few
exceptions, they only use their millions to enrich notorious
women, scoundrels, hotel-keepers, and jockeys."
Pascal at once thought of the foreigner, Kami-Bey, whom he had met
at Baron Trigault's half an hour before, and who had complained so
bitterly of having had worthless scrubs palmed off upon him when
he fancied he had purchased valuable animals. "Kami-Bey must be
this exacting purchaser," thought Pascal, "and it's probable that
the marquis, desperately straitened as he is, has committed one of
those frauds which lead their perpetrator to prison?" The surmise
was by no means far-fetched, for in sporting matters, at least,
there was cause to suspect Valorsay of great elasticity of
conscience. Had he not already been accused of defrauding
Domingo's champions by a conspiracy?
At last the marquis heaved a sigh of relief. "I've finished," he
muttered, as he tied up the bundle of papers he had laid aside,
and after ringing the bell, he said to the servant who answered
the summons: "Here, take this package to Prince Kami at the Grand
Pascal's presentiments had not deceived him, and he said to
himself: "This is a good thing to know. Before this evening I
shall look into this affair a little."
A storm was decidedly gathering over the Marquis de Valorsay's
head. Did he know it? Certainly he must have expected it. Still
he had sworn to stand fast until the end. Besides, he would not
concede that all was lost; and, like most great gamblers, he told
himself that since he had so much at stake, he might reasonably
hope to succeed. He rose, stretched himself, as a man is apt to
do after the conclusion of a tiresome task, and then, leaning
against the mantel-shelf, he exclaimed: "Now, Monsieur Maumejan,
let us speak of the business that brings you here." His negligent
attitude and his careless tone were admirably assumed, but a
shrewd observer would not have been deceived by them, or by the
indifferent manner in which he added: "You bring me some money
from Baron Trigault?"
Pascal shook his head, as he replied: "I regret to say that I
don't, Monsieur le Marquis."
This response had the same effect as a heavy rock falling upon M.
de Valorsay's bald pate. He turned whiter than his linen, and
even tottered, as if his lame leg, which was so much affected by
sudden changes in the weather, had utterly refused all service.
"What! You haven't--this is undoubtedly a joke."
"It is only too serious!"
"But I had the baron's word."
"Oh! his word!"
"I had his solemn promise."
"It is sometimes impossible to keep one's promises, sir."
The consequences of this disappointment must have been terrible,
for the marquis could not maintain his self-control. Still he
strove valiantly to conceal his emotion. He thought to himself
that if he allowed this man to see what a terrible blow this
really was, he would virtually confess his absolute ruin, and have
to renounce the struggle, and own himself vanquished and lost.
So, summoning all his energy, he mastered his emotion in some
degree, and, instead of appearing desperate, succeeded in looking
only irritated and annoyed. "In short," he resumed, angrily, "you
have brought no money! I counted on a hundred thousand francs this
morning. Nothing! This is kind on the baron's part! But probably
he doesn't understand the embarrassing position in which he places
"Excuse me, Monsieur le Marquis, he understands it so well that,
instead of informing you by a simple note. he sent me to acquaint
you with his sincere regret. When I left him an hour ago, he was
really disconsolate. He was particularly anxious I should tell
you that it was not his fault. He counted upon the payment of two
very large amounts, and both of these have failed him."
The marquis had now recovered a little from the shock, though he
was still very pale. He looked at Pascal with evident distrust,
for he knew with what sweet excuses well-bred people envelope
their refusals. "So the baron is disconsolate," he remarked, in a
tone of perceptible irony.
"He is indeed!"
"Poor baron! Ah! I pity him--pity him deeply."
As cold and as unmoved as a statue, Pascal seemed quite
unconscious of the effect of the message he had brought--quite
unconscious of Valorsay's sufferings and self-constraint. "You
think I am jesting, monsieur," he said, quietly, "but I assure you
that the baron is very short of money just now."
"Nonsense! a man worth seven or eight millions of francs."
"I should say ten millions, at least."
"Then the excuse is all the more absurd."
Pascal shrugged his shoulders disdainfully. "It astonishes me,
Monsieur le Marquis, to hear YOU speak in this way. It is not the
magnitude of a man's income that constitutes affluence, but rather
the way in which that income is spent. In this foolish age,
almost all rich people are in arrears. What income does the baron
derive from his ten millions of francs? Not more than five hundred
thousand. A very handsome fortune, no doubt, and I should be more
than content with it. But the baron gambles, and the baroness is
the most elegant--in other words, the most extravagant--woman in
Paris. They both of them love luxury, and their establishment is
kept up in princely style. What are five hundred thousand francs
under such circumstances as those? Their situation must be
something like that of several millionaires of my acquaintance,
who are obliged to take their silver to the pawn-broker's while
waiting for their rents to fall due."
This excuse might not be true, but it was certainly a very
plausible one. Had not a recent lawsuit revealed the fact that
certain rich folks, who had an income of more than a hundred
thousand francs a year, had kept a thieving coachman for six
months, simply because, in all that time, they were not able to
raise the eight hundred francs they owed him, and which must be
paid before he was dismissed? M. de Valorsay knew this, but a
terrible disquietude seized him. Had people begun to suspect HIS
embarrassment? Had any rumor of it reached Baron Trigault's ears?
This was what he wished to ascertain. "Let us understand each
other, Monsieur Maumejan," said he; "the baron was unable to
procure this money he had promised me to-day--but when will he let
me have it?"
Pascal opened his eyes in pretended astonishment, and it was with
an air of the utmost simplicity that he replied, "I concluded the
baron would take no further action in the matter. I judged so
from his parting words: 'It consoles me a little,' he said, 'to
think that the Marquis de Valorsay is very rich and very well
known, and that he has a dozen friends who will be delighted to do
him this trifling service.'"
Until now, M. de Valorsay had cherished a hope that the loan was
only delayed, and the certainty that the decision was final,
crushed him. "My ruin's known," he thought, and feeling that his
strength was deserting him, he poured out a brimming glass of
Madeira, which he emptied at a single draught. The wine lent him
fictitious energy. Fury mounted to his brain; he lost all control
over himself, and springing up, with his face purple with rage, he
exclaimed: "It's a shame! an infamous shame! and Trigault deserves
to be severely punished. He has no business to keep a man in hot
water for three days about such a trifle. If he had said 'No' in
the first place, I should have made other arrangements, and I
shouldn't now find myself in a dilemma from which I see no
possible way of escape. No gentleman would have been guilty of
such a contemptible act--no one but a shopkeeper or a thief would
have stooped to such meanness! This is the result of admitting
these ridiculous parvenus into society, just because they happen
to have money."
It certainly hurt Pascal to hear these insults heaped upon the
baron, and it hurt him all the more since they were entirely due
to the course he had personally adopted.
However, a gesture, even a frown, might endanger the success of
his undertaking, so he preserved an impassive countenance. "I
must say that I don't understand your indignation, Monsieur le
Marquis," he said, coldly. "I can see why you might feel annoyed,
but why you should fly into a passion--"
"Ah! you don't know----" began M. de Valorsay, but he stopped
short. It was time. The truth had almost escaped his lips.
"Know what?" inquired Pascal.
But the marquis was again upon his guard. "I have a debt that
must be paid this evening, at all hazards--a sacred obligation--in
short, a debt of honor."
"A debt of one hundred thousand francs?"
"No, it is only twenty-five thousand."
"Is it possible that a rich man like you can be troubled about
such a trifling sum, which any one would lend you?"
M. de Valorsay interrupted him with a contemptuous sneer. "Didn't
you just tell me that we were living in an age when no one has any
money except those who are in business? The richest of my friends
have only enough for themselves, even if they have enough. The
time of old stockings, stuffed full of savings, is past! Shall I
apply to a banker? He would ask two days for reflection, and he
would require the names of two or three of my friends on the note.
If I go to my notary, there will be endless forms to be gone
through, and remonstrances without number."
For a moment or more already, Pascal had been moving about
uneasily on his chair, like a man who is waiting for an
opportunity to make a suggestion, and as soon as M. de Valorsay
paused to take breath, he exclaimed: "Upon my word! if I dared----"
"I would offer to obtain you these twenty-five thousand francs."
"Before six o'clock this evening?"
A glass of ice-water presented to a parched traveller while
journeying over the desert sands of Sahara could not impart
greater relief and delight than the marquis experienced on hearing
Pascal's offer. He literally felt that he was restored to life.
For ruin was inevitable if he did not succeed in obtaining twenty-
five thousand francs that day. If he could procure that amount he
might obtain a momentary respite, and to gain time was the main
thing. Moreover, the offer was a sufficient proof that his
financial difficulties were not known. "Ah! I have had a
fortunate escape," he thought. "What if I had revealed the
But he was careful to conceal the secret joy that filled his
heart. He feared lest he might say "Yes" too quickly, so betray
his secret, and place himself at the mercy of the baron's envoy.
"I would willingly accept your offer," he exclaimed, "if----"
"Would it be proper for me, after the baron has treated me in such
a contemptible manner, to have any dealings with one of his
Pascal protested vigorously. "Allow me to say," he exclaimed,
"that I am not any one's subordinate. Trigault is my client, like
thirty or forty others--nothing more. He employs me in certain
difficult and delicate negotiations, which I conduct to the best
of my ability. He pays me, and we are each of us perfectly
independent of the other."
From the look which Valorsay gave Pascal, one would have sworn
that he suspected who his visitor really was. But such was not
the case. It was simply this: a strange, but by no means
impossible, idea had flashed through the marquis's mind--"Oh!"
thought he, "this unknown party with whom Maumejan offers to
negotiate the loan, is probably none other than the baron himself.
That worthy gambler has invented this ingenious method of obliging
me so as to extort a rate of interest which he would not dare to
demand openly. And why not? There have been plenty of such
instances. Isn't it a well-known fact that the N---- Brothers,
the most rigidly honest financiers in the world, have never under
any circumstances directly obliged one of their friends? If their
own father, of whom they always speak with the greatest
veneration, asked them to lend him fifty francs for a month, they
would say to him as they do to every one else: 'We are rather
cramped just now; but see that rascal B----.' And that rascal B----,
who is the most pliable tool in existence, will, providing
father N---- offers unquestionable security, lend the old
gentleman his son's money at from twelve to fifteen per cent.
interest, plus a small commission."
These ideas and recollections were of considerable assistance in
restoring Valorsay's composure. "Enough said, then," he answered,
lightly. "I accept with pleasure. But----"
"Ah! so there is a but!"
"There is always one. I must warn you that it will be difficult
for me to repay this loan in less than two months."
This, then, was the time he thought necessary for the
accomplishment of his designs.
"That does not matter," replied Pascal, "and even if you desire a
longer delay "
"That will be unnecessary, thank you! But there is one thing
"What is that?"
"What will this negotiation cost me?"
Pascal had expected this question, and he had prepared a reply
which was in perfect keeping with the spirit of the role he had
assumed. "I shall charge you the ordinary rates," he answered,
"six per cent. interest, plus one-and-a-half per cent.
"Plus the remuneration for my trouble and services."
"And what remuneration will satisfy you?"
"One thousand francs. Is it too much?"
If the marquis had retained the shadow of a doubt, it vanished
now. "Ah!" he sneered, "that strikes me as a very liberal
compensation for your services!"
But he would gladly have recalled the sneer when he saw how the
agent received it. Pascal drew up his head with a deeply injured
air, and remarked in the chilling tone of a person who is strongly
tempted to retract his word, "Then there is nothing more to be
said, M. le Marquis; and since you find the conditions onerous----"
"I did not say so," interrupted M. de Valorsay, quickly--"I did
not even think it!"
This gave Pascal an opportunity to present his programme, and he
availed himself of it. "Others may pretend to oblige people
merely from motives of friendship," he remarked. "But I am more
honest. If I do anything in the way of business, I expect to be
paid for it; and I vary my terms according to my clients' need.
It would be impossible to have a fixed price for services like
mine. When, on two different occasions, I saved a gentleman of
your acquaintance from bankruptcy, I asked ten thousand francs the
first time, and fifteen thousand the second. Was that an
exaggerated estimate of my services? I might boast with truth that
I once assured the marriage of a brilliant viscount by keeping his
creditors quiet while his courtship was in progress. The day
after the wedding he paid me twenty thousand francs. Didn't he
owe them to me? If, instead of being a trifle short of money, you
happened to be ruined, I should not ask you merely for a thousand
francs. I should study your position, and fix my terms according
to the magnitude of the peril from which I rescued you."
There was not a sentence, not a word of this cynical explanation
which had not been carefully studied beforehand. There was not an
expression which was not a tempting bait to the marquis's evil
instincts. But M de Valorsay made no sign. "I see that you are a
shrewd man, Monsieur Maumejan," said he, "and if I am ever in
difficulty I shall apply to you."
Pascal bowed with an air of assumed modesty; but he was inwardly
jubilant, for he felt that his enemy would certainly fall into the
trap which had been set for him. "And now, when shall I have this
money?" inquired the marquis.
"By four o'clock."
"And I need fear no disappointment as in the baron's case?"
"Certainly not. What interest would M. Trigault have in lending
you a hundred thousand francs? None whatever. With me it is quite
a different thing. The profit I'm to realize is your security.
In business matters distrust your friends. Apply to usurers
rather than to them. Question people who are in difficulties, and
ninety-five out of a hundred will tell you that their worst
troubles have been caused by those who called themselves their
He had risen to take leave, when the door of the smoking-room
opened, and a servant appeared and said in an undertone: "Madame
Leon is in the drawing-room with Dr. Jodon. They wish to see you,
Though Pascal had armed himself well against any unexpected
mischance, he changed color on hearing the name of the worthy
housekeeper. "All is lost if this creature sees and recognizes
me!" he thought.
Fortunately the Marquis was too much engrossed in his own affairs
to note the momentary agitation of Baron Trigault's envoy. "It is
strange that I can't have five minutes' peace and quietness," he
said. "I told you that I was at home to no one."
"Enough! Let the lady and gentleman wait."
The servant withdrew.
The thought of passing out through the drawing-room filled Pascal
with consternation. How could he hope to escape Madame Leon's
keen eyes? Fortunately M. de Valorsay came to his relief, for as
Pascal was about to open the same door by which he had entered,
the marquis exclaimed: "Not that way! Pass out here--this is the
And leading him through his bedroom the marquis conducted him to
the staircase, where he even feigned to offer him his hand,
saying: "A speedy return, dear M. Maumejan."
It is not at the moment of peril that people endure the worst
agony; it is afterward, when they have escaped it. As he went
down the staircase, Pascal wiped the cold sweat from his forehead.
"Ah! it was a narrow escape!" he exclaimed, under his breath.
He felt proud of the manner in which he had sustained a part so
repugnant to his nature. He was amazed to find that he could
utter falsehoods with such a calm, unblushing face--he was
astonished at his own audacity. And what a success he had
achieved! He felt certain that he had just slipped round M. de
Valorsay's neck the noose which would strangle him later on.
Still he was considerably disturbed by Madame Leon's visit to the
marquis. "What is she doing here with this physician?" he asked
himself again and again. "Who is this man? What new piece of
infamy are they plotting to require his services?" One of those
presentiments which are prompted by the logic of events, told him
that this physician had been, or would be, one of the actors in
the vile conspiracy of which he and Mademoiselle Marguerite were
the victims. But he had no leisure to devote to the solution of
this enigma. Time was flying, and before returning to the
marquis's house he must find out what had aroused the suspicions
of the purchaser of those horses, the biographies of which had
been so rigidly exacted. Through the baron, he might hope to
obtain an interview with Kami-Bey--and so it was to the baron's
house that Pascal directed his steps.
After the more than cordial reception which the baron had granted
him that morning, it was quite natural that the servants should
receive him as a friend of the household. They would scarcely
allow him to explain what he desired. It was the pompous head
valet in person who ushered him into one of the small reception-
rooms, exclaiming: "The baron's engaged, but I'm sure he would be
annoyed if he failed to see you; and I will inform him at once."
A moment later, the baron entered quite breathless from his
hurried descent of the staircase. "Ah! you have been successful,"
he exclaimed, on seeing Pascal's face.
"Everything is progressing as favorably as I could wish, Monsieur
le Baron, but I must speak with that foreigner whom I met here
"Yes." And in a few words, Pascal explained the situation.
"Providence is certainly on our side," said the baron,
thoughtfully. "Kami is still here."
"Is it possible?"
"It's a fact. Did you think it would be easy to get rid of this
confounded Turk! He invited himself to breakfast without the
slightest ceremony, and would give me no peace until I promised to
play with him for two hours. I was closeted with him, cards in
hand, when they told me you were here. Come, we'll go and
They found the interesting foreigner in a savage mood. He had
been winning when the servant came for the baron, and he feared
that an interruption would change the luck. "What the devil took
you away?" he exclaimed, with that coarseness of manner which was
habitual with him, and which the flatterers around him styled
"form." "A man should no more be disturbed when he's playing than
when he's eating."
"Come, come, prince," said the baron, good-naturedly, "don't be
angry, and I'll give you three hours instead of two. But I have a
favor to ask of you."
The foreigner at once thrust his hand into his pocket, with such a
natural gesture, that neither the baron nor Pascal could repress a
smile, and he himself understanding the cause of their merriment
broke into a hearty laugh. "It's purely from force of habit,"
said he. "Ah! since I've been in Paris---- But what do you wish?"
The baron sat down, and gravely replied: "You told us scarcely an
hour ago that you had been cheated in the purchase of some
"Cheated! it was worse than highway robbery."
"Would it be indiscreet to ask you by whom you have been
Kami-Bey's purple cheeks became a trifle pale. "Hum!" said he, in
an altered tone of voice, "that is a delicate question. My
defrauder appears to be a dangerous fellow--a duellist--and if I
disclose his knavery, he is quite capable of picking a quarrel
with me--not that I am afraid of him, I assure you, but my
principles don't allow me to fight. When a man has an income of a
million, he doesn't care to expose himself to the dangers of a
"But, prince, in France folks don't do a scoundrel the honor to
cross swords with him."
"That's just what my steward, who is a Frenchman, told me; but no
matter. Besides, I am not sufficiently sure of the man's guilt to
noise it abroad. I have no positive proofs as yet."
He was evidently terribly frightened, and the first thing to be
done was to reassure him. "Come," insisted the baron, "tell us
the man's name. This gentleman here"--pointing to Pascal--"is one
of my most esteemed friends. I will answer for him as I would for
myself; and we will swear upon our honor not to reveal the secret
we ask you for, without your permission."
"You have our word of honor," replied both the baron and Pascal in
After casting a half-frightened glance around him, the worthy Turk
seemed to gather courage. But no! He deliberated some time, and
then rejoined: "Really, I'm not sufficiently convinced of the
accuracy of my suspicions to incur the risk of accusing a man who
belongs in the very best society; a man who is very rich and very
highly respected, and who would tolerate no imputations upon his
It was plain that he would not speak. The baron shrugged his
shoulders, but Pascal stepped bravely forward. "Then I will tell
you, prince," he said, "the name that you are determined to hide
"But you must allow me to remark that the baron and myself retract
the promise we made you just now."
"Then, your defrauder is the Marquis de Valorsay!"
If Kami-Bey had seen an emissary of his sovereign enter the room
carrying the fatal bow-string he would not have seemed more
terror-stricken. He sprang nervously on to his short, fat legs,
his eyes wildly dilating and his hands fluttering despairingly.
"Don't speak so loud! don't speak so loud!" he exclaimed,
As he did not even attempt to deny it, the truth of the assertion
might be taken for granted. But Pascal was not content with this.
"Now that we know the fact, I hope, Prince, that you will be
sufficiently obliging to tell us how it all happened," he
Poor Kami. He was in despair. "Alas!" he replied, reluctantly,
"nothing could be more simple. I wanted to set up a racing
stable. Not that I care much for sport. I can scarcely
distinguish a horse from a mule--but morning and evening,
everybody says to me: 'Prince, a man like you ought to make your
name celebrated on the turf.' Besides I never open a paper
without reading: 'Such a man ought to be a patron of the noblest
of sports.' At last, I said to myself: 'Yes, they are right. I
ought to take part in racing.' So I began to look about for some
horses. I had purchased several, when the Marquis de Valorsay
proposed to sell me some of his, some that were very well known,
and that had--so he assured me--won at least ten times the amount
they had cost him. I accepted his offer, and visited his stables,
where I selected seven of his best horses and paid for them; and I
paid a good round price, I assure you. Now comes the knavery. He
has not given me the horses I purchased. The real animals, the
valuable ones--have been sold in England under false names, and
although the horses sent to me may be like the others in
appearance, they are really only common animals, wanting both in
blood and speed."
Pascal and the baron exchanged astonished glances. It must be
confessed that frauds of every description are common enough in
the racing world, and a great deal of dishonest manoeuvring
results from greed for gain united with the fever of gambling.
But never before had any one been accused of such an audacious and
impudent piece of rascality as that which Kami-Bey imputed to
"How did you fail to discover this at the outset, prince?"
inquired Pascal in an incredulous tone.
"Because my time was so much occupied."
"But your servants?"
"Ah! that's another thing. I shouldn't be at all surprised if it
were proved that the man who has charge of my stables had been
bribed by the marquis."
"Then, how were your suspicions aroused?"
"It was only by the merest chance. A jockey whom I thought of
employing had often ridden one of the animals which I fancied
myself the owner of. Naturally, I showed him the horse, but he
had no sooner set eyes on it than he exclaimed: 'That the horse!
Never! You've been cheated, prince!' Then we examined the others,
and the fraud became apparent."
Knowing Kami's character better than Pascal, the baron had good
reason to distrust the accuracy of these statements. For the
Turkish millionaire's superb contempt of money was only affected.
Vanity alone unloosed his purse-strings. He was quite capable of
presenting Jenny Fancy with a necklace costing five-and-twenty
thousand francs for the sake of seeing his generosity recorded in
the Gaulois or the Figaro the next day; but he would refuse to
give a trifle to the mother of a starving family. Besides, it was
his ambition to be regarded as the most swindled man in Europe.
But though he was shamefully imposed upon, it was not voluntarily--
for there was a strong dose of Arabian avarice and distrust in
"Frankly, prince," said the baron, "your story sounds like one of
the wild legends of your native land. Valorsay is certainly no
fool. How is it possible that he could have been guilty of so
gross a fraud--a fraud which might be, which could not fail to be
discovered in twenty-four hours--and which, once proven, would
dishonor him forever?"
"Before perpetrating such a piece of deception upon any one else,
he would have thought twice; but upon me it's different. Isn't it
an established fact that a person incurs no risk in robbing Kami-
"Had I been in your place I should have quietly instituted an
"What good would that have done? Besides, the sale was only
conditional, and took place under the seal of secrecy. The
marquis reserved the right to take his horses back on payment of a
stipulated sum, and the time he was to have for consideration only
expired on the day before yesterday."
"Eh! why didn't you tell us that at first?" cried the baron.
The marquis's rascality was now easily explained. Finding himself
in a desperate strait, and feeling that his salvation was certain
if he could only gain a little time, he had yielded to temptation,
saying to himself, like unfaithful cashiers when they first
appropriate their employers' money: "I will pay it back, and no
one will ever know it!" However, when the day of settlement came
he had found himself in as deplorable a plight as on the day of
the robbery, and he had been compelled to yield to the force of
"And what do you intend to do, prince?" asked Pascal.
"Ah! I am still in doubt. I have compelled the marquis to give me
the papers in which the exploits of these horses are recorded.
These statements will be of service in case of a law-suit. But
shall I or shall I not enter a complaint against him? If it were a
mere question of money I should let the matter drop; but he has
defrauded and deceived me so outrageously that it annoys me. On
the other hand, to confess that he has cheated me in this fashion
would cover me with ridicule. Besides, the man is a dangerous
enemy. And what would become of me if I happened to side against
him? I should be compelled to leave Paris. Ah! I'd give ten
thousand francs to any one who'd settle this cursed affair for
His perplexity was so great, and his anger so intense, for that
once he tore off his eternal fez and flung it on to the table,
swearing like a drayman. However, controlling himself at last, he
exclaimed in a tone of assumed indifference: "No matter, there's
been enough said on this subject for one day--I'm here to play--so
let us begin, baron. For we are wasting precious time, as you so
Pascal had nothing more to learn; so he shook hands with the
baron, made an appointment with him for the same evening, and went
It was only half-past two; a good hour and a half remained at his
disposal. "I will profit by this opportunity to eat something,"
he thought; a sudden faintness reminding him that he had taken
nothing but a cup of chocolate that day. Thereupon perceiving a
cafe near by, he entered it, ordered breakfast, and lingered there
until it was time to return to the Marquis de Valorsay's. He
would have gone there before the appointed time if he had merely
listened to the promptings of his impatience, so thoroughly was he
persuaded that this second interview would be decisive. But
prudence advised him not to expose himself to the danger of an
encounter with Madame Leon and Dr. Jodon.
"Well! Monsieur Maumejan," cried the marquis, as soon as Pascal
made his appearance. He had been counting the seconds with
intense anxiety, as his tone of voice unmistakably revealed.
In reply Pascal gravely drew from his pocket twenty-four bank-
notes, of a thousand francs each, and he placed them upon the
table, saying: "Here is the amount, Monsieur le Marquis. I have,
of course, deducted my commission. Now, if you will write and
sign a note for twenty-five thousand francs, payable to my order
two months hence, our business for to-day will be concluded."
M. de Valorsay's hand trembled nervously as he penned the desired
note, for, until the very last moment, he had doubted the promises
of this unknown agent who had made his appearance so opportunely
Then, when the document was signed, he carelessly slipped the
money into a drawer and exclaimed: "So here's the needful to pay
my debt of honor; but my embarrassment is none the less great.
These twenty-four thousand francs won't take the place of the
hundred thousand which Baron Trigault promised me."
And, as Pascal made no reply, the marquis began a desultory tramp
up and down the smoking-room. He was very pale, his brows were
knit; he looked like a man who was meditating a decisive step, and
who was calculating the consequences. But having no time to waste
in hesitation, he soon paused in front of Pascal, and exclaimed:
"Since you have just lent me twenty-four thousand francs, why
won't you lend me the rest?"
But Pascal shook his head. "One risks nothing by advancing
twenty-five thousand francs to a person in your position, Monsieur
le Marquis. Whatever happens, such a sum as that can always be
gathered from the wreck. But double or triple the amount! The
deuce! that requires reflection, and I must understand the
"And if I told you that I am--almost ruined, what would you
"I shouldn't be so very much surprised."
M. de Valorsay had now gone too far to draw back. "Ah, well!" he
resumed, "the truth is this--my affairs are terribly involved."
"The devil! You should have told me that sooner."
"Wait; I am about to retrieve my fortune--to make it even larger
than it has ever been. I am on the point of contracting a
marriage which will make me one of the richest men in Paris; but I
must have a little time to bring the affair to a successful
termination, and I need money--and my creditors are pressing me
unmercifully. You told me this morning that you once assisted a
man who was in a similar position. Will you help me? You can set
your own price on your services."
More easily overcome by joy than by sorrow, Pascal almost betrayed
himself. He had attained his object. Still, he succeeded in
conquering his emotion, and it was in a perfectly calm voice that
he replied: "I can promise nothing until I understand the
situation, Monsieur le Marquis. Will you explain it to me? I am
It was nearly midnight when M. Wilkie left the Hotel d'Argeles
after the terrible scene in which he had revealed his true
character. On seeing him pass out with haggard eyes, colorless
lips, and disordered clothing, the servants gathered in the
vestibule took him at first for another of those ruined gamblers
who not unfrequently left the house with despair in their hearts.
"Another fellow who's had bad luck!" they remarked sneeringly to
"No doubt about that. He is pretty effectually used up, judging
from appearances," one of them remarked.
It was not until some moments later that they learned a portion of
the truth through the servants who had been on duty upstairs, and
who now ran down in great terror, crying that Madame d'Argeles was
dying, and that a physician must be summoned at once.
M. Wilkie was already far away, hastening up the boulevard with an
agile step. Any one else would have been overcome with shame and
sorrow--would have been frightened by the thought of what he had
done, and have striven to find some way to conceal his disgrace;
but he, not in the least. In this frightful crisis, he was only
conscious of one fact--that just as he raised his hand to strike
Madame Lia d'Argeles, his mother, a big, burly individual had
burst into the room, like a bombshell, caught him by the throat,
forced him upon his knees, and compelled him to ask the lady's
pardon. He, Wilkie, to be humiliated in this style! He would
never endure that. This was an affront he could not swallow, one
of those insults that cry out for vengeance and for blood. "Ah!
the great brute shall pay for it," he repeated, again and again,
grinding his teeth. And if he hastened up the boulevard, it was
only because he hoped to meet his two chosen friends, M. Costard
and the Viscount de Serpillon, the co-proprietors of Pompier de
For he intended to place his outraged honor in their care. They
should be his seconds, and present his demand for satisfaction to
the man who had insulted him. A duel was the only thing that
could appease his furious anger and heal his wounded pride. And a
great scandal, which he would be the hero of, was not without a
certain charm for him. What a glorious chance to win notoriety at
an epoch when newspapers have become public laundries, in which
every one washes his soiled linen and dries it in the glare of
publicity! He saw his already remarkable reputation enhanced by
the interest that always attaches to people who are talked about,
and he could hear in advance the flattering whisper which would
greet his appearance everywhere: "You see that young man?--he is
the hero of that famous adventure," etc. Moreover, he was already
twisting and turning the terms of the notice which his seconds
must have inserted in the Figaro, hesitating between two or three
equally startling beginnings: "Another famous duel," or
"Yesterday, after a scandalous scene, an encounter," etc., etc.
Unfortunately, he did not meet either M. Costard or the Viscount
de Serpillon. Strange to say, they were not in any of the cafes,
where the flower of French chivalry usually congregates, in the
company of golden-haired young women, from nine in the evening
until one o'clock in the morning. This disappointment grieved M.
Wilkie sorely, although he derived some benefit from it, for his
disordered attire attracted attention at each place he entered,
and acquaintances eagerly inquired: "Where have you come from, and
what has happened to you?" Whereupon he replied with an air of
profound secrecy: "Pray don't speak of it. A shocking affair! If
it were noised abroad I should be inconsolable."
At last the cafes began to close, and promenaders became rare. M.
Wilkie, much to his regret, was obliged to go home. When he had
locked his door and donned his dressing-gown, he sat down to think
over the events of the day, and collect his scattered wits. What
most troubled and disquieted him was not the condition in which he
had left Madame Lia d'Argeles, his mother, who was, perhaps,
dying, through his fault! It was not the terrible sacrifice that
this poor woman had made for him in a transport of maternal love!
It was not the thought of the source from which the money he had
squandered for so many years had been derived. No, M. Wilkie was
quite above such paltry considerations--good enough for
commonplace and antiquated people. "He was too clever for that.
Ah! yes. He had a stronger stomach, and was up with the times!"
If he were sorely vexed in spirit it was because he thought that
the immense property which he had believed his own had slipped,
perhaps for ever, from his grasp. For rising threateningly
between the Chalusse millions and himself, he pictured the form of
his father, this man whom he did not know, but whose very name had
made Madame d'Argeles shudder.
M. Wilkie was seized with terror when he looked his actual
situation in the face. What was to become of him? He was certain
that Madame d'Argeles would not give him another sou. She could
not--he recognized that fact. His intelligence was equal to that.
On the other hand, if he ever obtained anything from the count's
estate, which was more than doubtful, would he not be obliged to
wait a long time for it? Yes, in all probability such would be the
case. Then how should he live, how would he be able to obtain
food in the meantime? His despair was so poignant that tears came
to his eyes; and he bitterly deplored the step he had taken. Yes,
he actually sighed for the past; he longed to live over again the
very years in which he had so often complained of his destiny.
Then, though not a millionaire by any means, he at least wanted
for nothing. Every quarter-day a very considerable allowance was
promptly paid him, and, in great emergencies, he could apply to
Mr. Patterson, who always sent a favorable answer if not drawn
upon too heavily. Yes, he sighed for that time! Ah! if he had
only then realized how fortunate he was! Had he not been one of
the most opulent members of the society in which he moved? Had he
not been flattered and admired more than any of his companions?
Had he not found the most exquisite happiness in his part
ownership of Pompier de Nanterre!
Now, what remained? Nothing, save anxiety concerning the future,
and all sorts of uncertainties and terrors! What a mistake! What a
blunder he had made! Ah! if he could only begin again. He
sincerely wished that the great adversary of mankind had the
Viscount de Coralth in his clutches. For, in his despair, it was
the once dear viscount that he blamed, accused, and cursed.
He was in this ungrateful frame of mind when a loud, almost
savage, ring came at his door. As his servant slept in an attic
upstairs, Wilkie was quite alone in his rooms, so he took the lamp
and went to open the door himself. At this hour of the night, the
visitor could only be M. Costard or the Viscount de Serpillon, or
perhaps both of them. "They have heard that I was looking for
them, and so they have hastened here," he thought.
But he was mistaken. The visitor was neither of these gentlemen,
but M. Ferdinand de Coralth in person. Prudence had compelled the
viscount to leave Madame d'Argeles's card-party one of the last,
but as soon as he was out of the house he had rushed to the
Marquis de Valorsay's to hold a conference with him, far from
suspecting that he was followed, and that an auxiliary of Pascal
Ferailleur and Mademoiselle Marguerite was even then waiting for
him below--an enemy as formidable as he was humble--Victor Chupin.
At sight of the man who had so long been his model--the friend who
had advised what he styled his blunder--Wilkie was so surprised
that he almost dropped his lamp. Then as his wrath kindled, "Ah!
so it's you!" he exclaimed, angrily. "You come at a good time!"
But M. de Coralth was too much exasperated to notice Wilkie's
strange greeting. Seizing him roughly by the arm, and closing the
door with a kick, he dragged Wilkie back into the little drawing-
room. "Yes, it's I," he said, curtly. "It's I--come to inquire
if you have gone mad?"
"I can find no other explanation of your conduct! What! You choose
Madame d'Argeles's reception day, and an hour when there are fifty
guests in her drawing-room to present yourself!"
"Ah, well! it wasn't from choice. I had been there twice before,
and had the doors shut in my face."
"You ought to have gone back ten times, a hundred times, a
thousand times, rather than have accomplished such an idiotic
prank as this."
"What did I recommend? Prudence, calmness and moderation,
persuasive gentleness, sentiments of the loftiest nature,
tenderness, a shower of tears----"
"But instead of that, you fall upon this woman like a thunderbolt,
and set the whole household in the wildest commotion. What could
you be thinking of, to make such an absurd and frightful scene?
For you howled and shrieked like a street hawker, and we could
hear you in the drawing-room. If all is not irretrievably lost,
there must be a special Providence for the benefit of fools!"
In his dismay, Wilkie endeavored to falter some excuses, but he
was only able to begin a few sentences which died away,
uncompleted in his throat. The violence shown by M. de Coralth,
who was usually as cold and as polished as marble, quieted his own
wrath. Still toward the last he felt disposed to rebel against
the insults that were being heaped upon him. "Do you know,
viscount, that I begin to think this very strange," he exclaimed.
"If any one else had led me into such a scrape, I should have
called him to account in double-quick time."
M. de Coralth shrugged his shoulders with an air of contempt, and
threateningly replied: "Understand, once for all, that you had
better not attempt to bully me! Now, tell me what passed between
your mother and yourself?"
"First I should like----"
"Dash it all! Do you suppose that I intend to remain here all
night? Tell me what occurred, and be quick about it. And try to
speak the truth."
It was one of M. Wilkie's greatest boasts that he had an
indomitable will--an iron nature. But the viscount exercised
powerful influence over him, and, to tell the truth, inspired him
with a form of emotion which was nearly akin to fear. Moreover, a
glimmer of reason had at last penetrated his befogged brain: he
saw that M. de Coralth was right--that he had acted like a fool,
and that, if he hoped to escape from the dangers that threatened
him, he must take the advice of more experienced men than himself.
So, ceasing his recriminations, he began to describe what he
styled his explanation with Madame d'Argeles. All went well at
first; for he dared not misrepresent the facts.
But when he came to the intervention of the man who had prevented
him from striking his mother, he turned crimson, and rage again
filled his heart. "I'm sorry I let myself get into such a mess!"
he exclaimed. "You should have seen my condition. My shirt-
collar was torn, and my cravat hung in tatters. He was much
stronger than I--the contemptible scoundrel!--ah! if it hadn't
been for that---- But I shall have my revenge. Yes, he shall
learn that he can't trample a man under foot with impunity. To-
morrow two of my friends will call upon him; and if he refuses to
apologize or to give me satisfaction, I'll cane him."
It was evident enough that M. de Coralth had to exercise
considerable constraint to listen to these fine projects. "I must
warn you that you ought to speak in other terms of an honorable
and honored gentleman," he interrupted, at last.
"Eh! what! You know him then?"
"Yes, Madame d'Argeles's defender is Baron Trigault."
M. Wilkie's heart bounded with joy, as he heard this name. "Ah!
this is capital!" he exclaimed. "What! So it was Baron Trigault--
the noted gambler--who owns such a magnificent house in the Rue de
la Ville l'Eveque, the husband of that extremely stylish lady,
that notorious cocotte----"
The viscount sprang from his chair, and interrupting M. Wilkie: "I
advise you, for the sake of your own safety," he said, measuring
his words to give them greater weight, "never to mention the
Baroness Trigault's name except in terms of the most profound
There was no misunderstanding M. de Coralth's tone, and his glance
said plainly that he would not allow much time to pass before
putting his threat into execution. Having always lived in a lower
circle to that in which the baroness sparkled with such lively
brilliancy, M. Wilkie was ignorant of the reasons that induced his
distinguished friend to defend her so warmly; but he DID
understand that it would be highly imprudent to insist, or even to
discuss the matter. So, in his most persuasive manner, he
resumed: "Let us say no more about the wife, but give our
attention to the husband. So it was the baron who insulted me! A
duel with him--what good luck! Well! he may sleep in peace to-
night, but as soon as he is up in the morning he will find Costard
and Serpillon on hand. Serpillon has not an equal as a second.
First, he knows the best places for a meeting; then he lends the
combatants weapons when they have none; he procures a physician;
and he is on excellent terms with the journalists, who publish
reports of these encounters."
The viscount had never had a very exalted opinion of Wilkie's
intelligence, but now he was amazed to see how greatly he had
overestimated it. "Enough of such foolishness," he interrupted,
curtly. "This duel will never take place."
"I should like to know who will prevent it?"
"I will, if you persist in such an absurd idea. You ought to have
sense enough to know that the baron would kick Serpillon out of
the house, and that you would only cover yourself with ridicule.
So, between your duel and my help make your choice, and quickly."
The prospect of sending his seconds to demand satisfaction from
Baron Trigault was certainly a very attractive one. But, on the
other hand, Wilkie could not afford to dispense with M. de
Coralth's services. "But the baron has insulted me," he urged.
"Well, you can demand satisfaction when you obtain possession of
your property: but the least scandal now would spoil your last
"I will abandon the project, then," sighed Wilkie, despondently;
"but pray advise me. What do you think of my situation?"
M. de Coralth seemed to consider a moment, and then gravely
replied: "I think that, UNASSISTED, you have no chance whatever.
You have no standing, no influential connections, no position--you
are not even a Frenchman."
"Alas! that is precisely what I have said to myself."
"Still, I am convinced that with some assistance you might
overcome your mother's resistance, and even your father's
"Yes, but where could I find protectors?"
The viscount's gravity seemed to increase. "Listen to me," said
he; "I will do for you what I would not do for any one else. I
will endeavor to interest in your cause one of my friends, who is
all powerful by reason of his name, his fortune, and his
connections--the Marquis de Valorsay, in fact."
"The one who is so well known upon the turf?"
"And you will introduce me to him?"
"Yes. Be ready to-morrow at eleven o'clock, and I will call for
you and take you to his house. If he interests himself in your
cause, it is as good as gained." And as his companion overwhelmed
him with thanks, he rose, and said: "I must go now. No more
foolishness, and be ready to-morrow at the appointed time."
Thanks to the surprising mutability of temper which was the most
striking characteristic of his nature, M. Wilkie was already
consoled for his blunder.
He had received M. de Coralth as an enemy; but he now escorted him
to the door with every obsequious attention--in fact, just as if
he looked upon him as his preserver. A word which the viscount
had dropped during the conversation had considerably helped to
bring about this sudden revulsion of feelings. "You cannot fail
to understand that if the Marquis de Valorsay espouses your cause,
you will want for nothing. And if a lawsuit is unavoidable, he
will be perfectly willing to advance the necessary funds." How
could M. Wilkie lack confidence after that? The brightest hopes,
the most ecstatic visions had succeeded the gloomy forebodings of
a few hours before. The mere thought of being presented to M. de
Valorsay, a nobleman celebrated for his adventures, his horses,
and his fortune, more than sufficed to make him forget his
troubles. What rapture to become that illustrious nobleman's
acquaintance, perhaps his friend! To move in the same orbit as
this star of the first magnitude which would inevitably cast some
of its lustre upon him! Now he would be a somebody in the world.
He felt that he had grown a head taller, and Heaven only knows
with what disdain poor Costard and Serpillon would have been
received had they chanced to present themselves at that moment.
It is needless to say that Wilkie dressed with infinite care on
the following morning, no doubt in the hope of making a conquest
of the marquis at first sight. He tried his best to solve the
problem of appearing at the same time most recherche but at ease,
excessively elegant and yet unostentatious; and he devoted himself
to the task so unreservedly that he lost all conception of the
flight of time: so that on seeing M. de Coralth enter his rooms,
he exclaimed in unfeigned astonishment: "You here already?"
It seemed to him that barely five minutes had elapsed since he
took his place before the looking-glass to study attitudes and
gestures, with a new and elegant mode of bowing and sitting down,
like an actor practising the effects which are to win him
"Why do you say 'already?'" replied the viscount. "I am a quarter
of an hour behind time. Are you not ready?"
"Let us start at once, then; my brougham is outside."
The drive was a silent one. M. Ferdinand de Coralth, whose smooth
white skin would ordinarily have excited the envy of a young girl,
did not look like himself. His face was swollen and covered with
blotches, and there were dark blue circles round his eyes. He
seemed, moreover, to be in a most savage humor. "He hasn't had
sleep enough," thought M. Wilkie, with his usual discernment; "he
hasn't a bronze constitution like myself."
M. Wilkie himself was insensible to fatigue, and although he had
not closed his eyes the previous night, he only felt that nervous
trepidation which invariably attacks debutants, and makes the
throat so marvellously dry. For the first, and probably the last
time in his life, M. Wilkie distrusted his own powers, and feared
that he was not "quite up to the mark," as he elegantly expressed
The sight of the Marquis de Valorsay's handsome mansion was not
likely to restore his assurance. When he entered the courtyard,
where the master's mail-phaeton stood in waiting; when through the
open doors of the handsome stables he espied the many valuable
horses neighing in their stalls, and the numerous carriages
shrouded in linen covers; when he counted the valets on duty in
the vestibule, and when he ascended the staircase behind a lackey
attired in a black dress-coat, and as serious in mien as a notary;
when he passed through the handsome drawing-rooms, filled to
overflowing with pictures, armor, statuary, and all the trophies
gained by the marquis's horses upon the turf, M. Wilkie mentally
acknowledged that he knew nothing of high life, and that what he
had considered luxury was scarcely the shadow of the reality. He
felt actually ashamed of his own ignorance. This feeling of
inferiority became so powerful that he was almost tempted to turn
and fly, when the man clothed in black opened the door and
announced, in a clear voice: "M. le Vicomte de Coralth!--M.
With a most gracious and dignified air--the air of a true GRAND
seigneur--the only portion of his inheritance which he had
preserved intact, the marquis rose to his feet, and, offering his
hand to M. de Coralth, exclaimed: "You are most welcome, viscount.
This gentleman is undoubtedly the young friend you spoke of in the
note I received from you this morning?"
"The same; and really he stands greatly in need of your kindness.
He finds himself in an extremely delicate position, and knows no
one who can lend him a helping hand."
"Ah, well, I will lend him one with pleasure, since he is your
friend. But I must know the circumstances before I can act. Sit
down, gentlemen, and enlighten me."
M. Wilkie had prepared his story in advance, a touching and witty
narrative; but when the moment came to begin it, he found himself
unable to speak. He opened his mouth, but no sound issued from
his lips, and it seemed as if he had been stricken dumb.
Accordingly it was M. de Coralth who made a statement of the case,
and he did it well. The narrative thus gained considerably in
clearness and precision; and even M. Wilkie noticed that his
friend understood how to present the events in their most
favorable light, and how to omit them altogether when his
heartless conduct would have appeared too odious. He also
noticed--and he considered it an excellent omen--that M. de
Valorsay was listening with the closest attention.
Worthy marquis! if his own interests had been in jeopardy he could
not have appeared more deeply concerned. When the viscount had
concluded his story, he gravely exclaimed: "Your young friend is
indeed in a most critical position, a position from which he
cannot escape without being terribly victimized, if he's left
dependent on his own resources."
"But it is understood that you will help him, is it not?"
M. de Valorsay reflected for a little, and then, addressing M.
Wilkie, replied: "Yes, I consent to assist you, monsieur. First,
because your cause seems to me just, and, also, because you are M.
de Coralth's friend. I promise you my aid on one condition--that
you will follow my advice implicitly."
The interesting young man lifted his hand, and, by dint of a
powerful effort, he succeeded in articulating: "Anything you
wish!--upon my sacred word!"
"You must understand that when I engage in an enterprise, it must
not fail. The eye of the public is upon me, and I have my
PRESTIGE to maintain. I have given you a great mark of
confidence, for in lending you my influence I become, in some
measure at least, your sponsor. But I cannot accept this great
responsibility unless I am allowed absolute control of the
"And I think that we ought to begin operations this very day. The
main thing is to circumvent your father, the terrible man with
whom your mother has threatened you."
"Ah! but how?"
"I shall dress at once and go to the Hotel de Chalusse, in order
to ascertain what has occurred there. You on your side must
hasten to Madame d'Argeles and request her politely, but firmly,
to furnish you with the necessary proofs to assert your rights.
If she consents, well and good! If she refuses, we will consult
some lawyer as to the next step. In any case, call here again at
But the thought of meeting Madame d'Argeles again was anything but
pleasing to Wilkie. "I would willingly yield that undertaking to
some one else," said he. "Cannot some one else go in my place?"
Fortunately M. de Coralth knew how to encourage him. "What! are
you afraid?" he asked.
Afraid! he?--never! It was easy to see that by the way he settled
his hat on his head and went off, slamming the door noisily behind
"What an idiot!" muttered M. de Coralth. "And to think that there
are ten thousand in Paris built upon the very same plan!"
M. de Valorsay gravely shook his head. "Let us thank fortune that
he is as he is. No youth who possessed either heart or
intelligence would play the part that I intend for him, and enable
me to obtain proud Marguerite and her millions. But I fear he
won't go to Madame d'Argeles's house. You noticed his
"Oh, you needn't trouble yourself in the least on that account--
he'll go. He would go to the devil if the noble Marquis de
Valorsay ordered him to do so."
M. de Coralth understood Wilkie perfectly. The fear of being
considered a coward by a nobleman like the Marquis de Valorsay was
more than sufficient, not only to divest him of all his scruples,
but even to induce him to commit any act of folly, or actually a
crime. For if he had looked upon M. de Coralth as an oracle, he
considered the marquis to be a perfect god.
Accordingly, as he hastened toward Madame d'Argeles's residence,
he said to himself: "Why shouldn't I go to her house? I've done
her no injury. Besides, she won't eat me." And remembering that
he should be obliged to render a report of this interview, he
resolved to assert his superiority and to remain cool and unmoved,
as he had seen M. de Coralth do so often.
However, the unusual aspect of the house excited his surprise, and
puzzled him not a little. Three huge furniture vans, heavily
laden, were standing outside the gate. In the courtyard there
were two more vehicles of the same description, which a dozen men
or so were busily engaged in loading. "Ah, ha!" muttered M.
Wilkie, "it was fortunate that I came--very fortunate; so she was
going to run away!" Thereupon, approaching a group of servants who
were in close conference in the hall, he demanded, in his most
imperious manner: "Madame d'Argeles!"
The servants remembered the visitor perfectly; they now knew who
he really was, and they could not understand how he could have the
impudence and audacity to come there again so soon after the
shameful scene of the previous evening. "Madame is at home,"
replied one of the men, in anything but a polite tone; "and I will
go and see if she will consent to see you. Wait here."
He went off, leaving M. Wilkie in the vestibule to settle his
collar and twirl his puny mustaches, with affected indifference;
but in reality he was far from comfortable. For the servants did
not hesitate to stare at him, and it was quite impossible not to
read their contempt in their glances. They even sneered audibly
and pointed at him; and he heard five or six epithets more
expressive than elegant which could only have been meant for
himself. "The fools!" thought he, boiling with anger. "The
scoundrels! Ah! if I dared. If a gentleman like myself was
allowed to notice such blackguards, how I'd chastise them!"
But the valet who had gone to warn Madame d'Argeles soon
reappeared and put an end to his sufferings. "Madame will see
you," said the man, impudently. "Ah! if I were in her place----"
"Come, make haste," rejoined Wilkie, indignantly, and following
the servant, he was ushered into a room which had already been
divested of its hangings, curtains, and furniture. He here found
Madame d'Argeles engaged in packing a large trunk with household
linen and sundry articles of clothing.
By a sort of miracle the unfortunate woman had survived the
terrible shock which had at first threatened to have an
immediately fatal effect. Still she had none the less received
her death-blow. It was only necessary to look at her to be
assured of that. She was so greatly changed that when M. Wilkie's
eyes first fell on her, he asked himself if this were really the
same person whom he had met on the previous evening. Henceforth
she would be an old woman. You would have taken her for over
fifty, so terrible had been the sufferings caused her by the
shameful conduct of her son. In this sad-eyed, haggard-faced
woman, clad in black, no one would have recognized the notorious
Lia d'Argeles, who, only the evening before, had driven round the
lake, reclining on the cushions of her victoria, and eclipsing all
the women around her by the splendor of her toilette. Nothing now
remained of the gay worldling but the golden hair which she was
condemned to see always the same, since its tint had been fixed by
dyes as indelible as the stains upon her past.
She rose with difficulty when M. Wilkie entered, and in the
expressionless voice of those who are without hope, she asked:
"What do you wish of me?"
As usual, when the time came to carry out his happiest
conceptions, his courage failed him. "I came to talk about our
affairs, you know," he replied, "and I find you moving."
"I am not moving."
"Nonsense! you can't make me believe that! What's the meaning of
these carts in the courtyard?"
"They are here to convey all the furniture in the house to the
Wilkie was struck dumb for a moment, but eventually recovering
himself a little, he exclaimed: "What! you are going to sell
"Astonishing, upon my honor! But afterward?"
"I shall leave Paris."
"Bah! and where are you going?"
With a gesture of utter indifference, she gently replied: "I don't
know; I shall go where no one will know me, and where it will be
possible for me to hide my shame."
A terrible disquietude seized hold of Wilkie. This sudden change
of residence, this departure which so strongly resembled flight,
this cold greeting when he expected passionate reproaches, seemed
to indicate that Madame d'Argeles's resolution would successfully
resist any amount of entreaty on his part. "The devil," he
remarked, "I don't think this at all pleasant! What is to become
of me? How am I to obtain possession of the Count de Chalusse's
estate? That's what I am after! It's rightfully mine, and I'm
determined to have it, as I told you once before. And when I've
once taken anything into my head----"
He paused, for he could no longer face the scornful glances that
Madame d'Argeles was giving him. "Don't be alarmed," she replied
bitterly, "I shall leave you the means of asserting your right to
my parents' estate."
"Your threats obliged me to decide contrary to my own wishes. I
felt that no amount of slander or disgrace would daunt you."
"Of course not, when so many millions are at stake."
"I reflected, and I saw that nothing would arrest you upon your
downward path except a large fortune. If you were poor and
compelled to earn your daily bread--a task which you are probably
incapable of performing--who can tell what depths of degradation
you might descend to? With your instincts and your vices, who
knows what crime you wouldn't commit to obtain money? It wouldn't
be long before you were in the dock, and I should hear of you only
through your disgrace. But, on the other hand, if you were rich,
you would probably lead an honest life, like many others, who,
wanting for nothing, are not tempted to do wrong, who, in fact,
show virtue in which there is nothing worthy of praise. For real
virtue implies temptation--a struggle and victory."
Although he did not understand these remarks very well, M. Wilkie
evinced a desire to offer some objections; but Madame d'Argeles
had already resumed: "So I went to my notary this morning. I told
him everything; and by this time my renunciation of my rights to
the estate of the Count de Chalusse is already recorded."
"What! your renunciation. Oh! no."
"Allow me to finish since you don't understand me. As soon as I
renounce the inheritance it becomes yours."
"I have no wish to deceive you. I only desire that the name of
Lia d'Argeles should not be mentioned. I will give you the
necessary proofs to establish your identity; my marriage contract
and your certificate of birth."
It was joy that made M. Wilkie speechless now. "And when will you
give me these documents?" he faltered, after a short pause.
"You shall have them before you leave this house; but first of all
I must talk with you."
Agitated and excited though he was, M. Wilkie had not once ceased
to think of M. de Coralth and the Marquis de Valorsay. What would
they do in such a position, and how should he act to conform
himself to the probable example of these models of deportment?
Manifestly he ought to assume that stolid and insolent air of
boredom which is considered a sure indication of birth and
breeding. Convinced of this, and seized with a laudable desire to
emulate such distinguished examples, he had perched himself upon a
trunk, where he still sat with his legs crossed. He now pretended
to suppress a yawn, as he growled, "What! some more long phrases--
and another melodramatic display?"
Absorbed in the memories she had invoked, Madame d'Argeles paid no
heed to Wilkie's impertinence. "Yes, I must talk with you," she
said, "and more for your sake than for my own. I must tell you
who I am, and through what strange vicissitudes I have passed.
You know what family I belong to. I will tell you, however--for
you may be ignorant of the fact--that our house is the equal of
any in France in lineage, splendor of alliance, and fortune. When
I was a child, my parents lived at the Hotel de Chalusse, in the
Faubourg Saint Germain, a perfect palace, surrounded by one of
those immense gardens, which are no longer seen in Paris--a real
park, shaded with century-old trees. Certainly everything that
money could procure, or vanity desire, was within my reach; and
yet my youth was wretchedly unhappy. I scarcely knew my father,
who was devoured by ambition, and had thrown himself body and soul
into the vortex of politics. Either my mother did not love me, or
thought it beneath her dignity to make any display of sensibility;
but at all events her reserve had raised a wall of ice between
herself and me. As for my brother he was too much engrossed in
pleasure to think of a mere child. So I lived quite alone, too
proud to accept the love and friendship of my inferiors--abandoned
to the dangerous inspirations of solitude, and with no other
consolation than my books--books which had been chosen for me by
my mother's confessor, and which were calculated to fill my
imagination with visionary and romantic fancies. The only
conversation I heard dealt with the means of leaving all the
family fortune to my brother, so that he might uphold the splendor
of the name, and with the necessity of marrying me to some
superannuated nobleman who would take me without a dowry, or of
compelling me to enter one of those aristocratic convents, which
are the refuge, and often the prison, of poor girls of noble
"I do not pretend to justify my fault, I am only explaining it. I
thought myself the most unfortunate being in the world--and such I
really was, since I honestly believed it--when I happened to meet
Arthur Gordon, your father. I saw him for the first time at a
fete given at the house of the Comte de Commarin. How he, a mere
adventurer, had succeeded in forcing his way into the most
exclusive society in the world, is a point which I have never been
able to explain. But, alas! it is only too true that when our
glances met for the first time, my heart was stirred to its inmost
depths; I felt that it was no longer mine--that I was no longer
free! Ah! why does not God allow a man's face to reflect at least
something of his nature? This man, who was a corrupt and audacious
hypocrite, had that air of apparent nobility and frankness which
inspires you with unlimited confidence, and the melancholy
expression on his features seemed to indicate that he had known
sorrow, and had good cause to rail at destiny. In his whole
appearance there was certainly a mysterious and fatal charm. I
afterward learned that this was only a natural result of the wild
life he had led. He was only twenty-six, and he had already been
the commander of a slave ship, and had fought in Mexico at the
head of one of those guerilla bands which make politics an excuse
for pillage and murder. He divined only too well the impression
he had made upon my heart. I met him twice afterward in society.
He did not speak to me; he even pretended to avoid me, but
standing a little on one side, he watched my every movement with
burning eyes in which I fancied I could read a passion as
absorbing as my own. At last he ventured to write to me. The
moment a letter addressed to me in an unknown hand was covertly
handed me by my maid, I divined that it came from him. I was
frightened, and my first impulse was to take it, not to my mother--
whom I regarded as my natural enemy--but to my father. However,
he chanced to be absent; I kept the letter, I read it, I answered
it--and he wrote again.
"Alas! from that moment my conduct was inexcusable. I knew that
it was worse than a fault to continue this clandestine
correspondence. I knew my parents would never give my hand in
marriage to a man who was not of noble birth. I knew that I was
risking my reputation, the spotless honor of our house, my
happiness, and life! Still I persisted--I was possessed with a
strange madness that made me ready to brave every danger.
Besides, he gave me no time to breathe, or reflect. Everywhere,
constantly, every instant, he compelled me to think of him. By
some miracle of address and audacity, he had discovered a means of
intruding upon my presence, even in my father's house. For
instance, every morning I found the vases in my room full of
choice flowers, though I was never able to discover what hands had
placed them there. Ah! how can one help believing in an
omnipresent passion which one inhales with the very air one
breathes! How can one resist it?
"I only discovered Arthur Gordon's object when it was too late.
He had come to Paris with the fixed determination of trapping some
rich heiress, and forcing her family to give her to him with a
large dowry, after one of those disgraceful scandals which render
a marriage inevitable. At the very same time he was pursuing two
other rich young girls, persuaded that one of the three would
certainly become his victim.
"I was the first to yield. One of those unforeseen events which
are the work of Providence, was destined to decide my fate.
Several times, already, in compliance with Arthur's urgent
entreaties, I had met him at night time in a little pavilion in
our garden. This pavilion contained a billiard-room and a
spacious gallery in which my brother practised fencing and pistol
shooting with his masters and friends. There, thanks to the
liberty I enjoyed, we thought ourselves perfectly secure from
observation, and we were imprudent enough to light the candles.
One night when I had just joined Arthur in the pavilion, I thought
I heard the sound of hoarse, heavy breathing behind me. I turned
round in a fright and saw my brother standing on the threshold.
Oh! then I realized how guilty I had been! I felt that one or the
other of these two men--my lover or my brother--would not leave
that room alive.
"I tried to speak, to throw myself between them, but I found I
could neither speak nor move; it was as if I had been turned to
stone. Nor did they exchange a word at first. But at last my
brother drew two swords from their scabbards, and throwing one at
Arthur's feet, exclaimed: 'I have no wish to assassinate you.
Defend yourself, and save your life if you can!' And as Arthur
hesitated, and seemed to be trying to gain time instead of picking
up the weapon that was lying on the floor near him, my brother
struck him in the face with the flat side of his sword, and cried:
'Now will you fight, you coward! In an instant it was all over.
Arthur caught up the sword, and springing upon my brother,
disarmed him, and wounded him in the breast. I saw this. I saw
the blood spurt out upon my lover's hands. I saw my brother
stagger, beat the air wildly with his hands, and fall apparently
lifeless to the floor. Then I, too, lost consciousness and fell!"
Any one who had seen Madame d'Argeles as she stood there recoiling
in horror, with her features contracted, and her eyes dilated,
would have realized that by strength of will she had dispelled the
mists enshrouding the past, and distinctly beheld the scene she
was describing. She seemed to experience anew the same agony of
terror she had felt twenty years before; and this lent such
poignant intensity to the interest of her narrative that if M.
Wilkie's heart was not exactly touched, he was, as he afterward
confessed, at least rather interested. But Madame d'Argeles
seemed to have forgotten his existence. She wiped away the foam-
flecked blood which had risen to her lips, and in the same
mournful voice resumed her story.
"When I regained my senses it was morning, and I was lying, still
dressed, on a bed in a strange room. Arthur Gordon was standing
at the foot of the bed anxiously watching my movements. He did
not give me time to question him. 'You are in my house,' said he.
'Your brother is dead!' Almighty God! I thought I should die as
well. I hoped so. I prayed for death. But, in spite of my sobs,
he pitilessly continued: 'It is a terrible misfortune which I
shall never cease to regret. And yet, it was his own fault. You,