Part 6 out of 7
who witnessed the scene. know that it was so. You can still see
on my face the mark of the blow he dealt me. I only defended
myself and you.' I was ignorant then of the accepted code of
duelling. I did not know that by throwing himself upon my brother
before he was on guard, Arthur Gordon had virtually assassinated
him. He relied upon my ignorance for the success of the sinister
farce he was playing. 'When I saw your brother fall,' he
continued, 'I was wild with terror; and not knowing what I did, I
caught you up in my arms and brought you here. But don't tremble,
I know that you are not in my house of your own free will. A
carriage is below and awaits your orders to convey you to your
parents' home. It will be easy to find an explanation for last
night's catastrophe. Slander will not venture to attack such a
family as yours.' He spoke in the constrained tone, and with that
air which a brave man, condemned to death, would assume in giving
utterance to his last wishes. I felt as if I were going mad.
'And you!' I exclaimed, 'you! What will become of you?' He shook
his head, and with a look of anguish, replied: 'Me! What does it
matter about me! I am ruined undoubtedly. So much the better.
Nothing matters now that I must live apart from you'! Ah! he knew
my heart. He knew his power! Swayed by an emotion which was
madness rather than heroism, I sprang toward him, and clasped him
in my arms: 'Then I, too, am lost!' I cried. 'Since fate united
us, nothing but death shall separate us. I love you. I am your
accomplice. Let the curse fall upon both!'
"A keen observer would certainly have detected a gleam of fiendish
joy in his eyes. But he protested, or pretended to protest. With
feigned energy he refused to accept such a sacrifice. He could
not link my destiny to his, for misery had ever been his lot; and
now that this last and most terrible misfortune had overtaken him,
he was more than ever convinced that there was a curse hanging
over him! He would not suffer me to bring misery upon myself, and
eternal remorse upon him. But the more he repulsed me, the more
obstinately I clung to him. The more forcibly he showed the
horror of the sacrifice, the more I was convinced that my honor
compelled me to make it. So at last he yielded, or seemed to
yield, with transports of gratitude and love. 'Well! yes, I
accept your sacrifice, my darling!' he exclaimed. 'I accept it;
and before the God who is looking down upon us, I swear that I
will do all that is in human power to repay such sublime and
marvellous devotion.' And, bending over me, he printed a kiss upon
my forehead. 'But we must fly!' he resumed, quickly. 'I have my
happiness to defend now! I will not suffer any one to discover us
and separate us now. We must start at once, without losing a
moment, and gain my native land, America. There, we shall be
safe. For rest assured they will search for us. Who knows but
even now the officers of the law are upon our track? Your family
is all-powerful--I am a mere nobody--we should be crushed if they
discover us. They would bury you in a gloomy cloister, and I
should be tried as a common thief, or as a vile assassin.' My only
answer was: 'Let us go! Let us go at once!'
"It had been easy for him to foresee what the result of this
interview would be. A vehicle was indeed waiting at the door, but
not for the purpose of conveying me to the Hotel de Chalusse--as
was proved conclusively by the fact that his trunks were already
strapped upon it. Besides, the coachman must have received his
instructions in advance for he drove us straight to the Havre
Railway station without a word. It was not until some months
afterward that these trifles, which entirely escaped my notice at
the time, opened my eyes to the truth. When we reached the
station we found a train ready to start, and we took our places in
it. I tried to quiet my conscience with miserable sophistries.
Remembering that God has said to woman: To follow thy husband thou
shalt abandon all else, native land, paternal home, parents and
friends, I told myself that this was the husband whom my heart had
instinctively chosen, and that it was my duty to follow him and
share his destiny. And thus I fled with him, although I thought I
left a corpse behind me--the corpse of my only brother."
M. Wilkie was actually so much interested that he forgot his
anxiety concerning his attitude, and no longer thought of M. de
Coralth and the Marquis de Valorsay. He even sprang up, and
But Madame d'Argeles had already resumed: "Such was my great,
inexcusable, irreparable fault. I have told you the whole truth,
without trying either to conceal or justify anything. Listen to
my chastisement! On our arrival at Le Havre the next day, Arthur
confessed that he was greatly embarrassed financially. Owing to
our precipitate flight, he had not had time to realize the
property he possessed--at least so he told me--a banker, on whom
he had depended, had moreover failed him, and he had not
sufficient money to pay our passage to New York. This amazed me.
My education had been absurd, like that of most young girls in my
station. I knew nothing of real life, of its requirements and
difficulties. I knew, of course, that there were rich people and
poor people, that money was a necessity, and that those who did
not possess it would stoop to any meanness to obtain it. But all
this was not very clear in my mind, and I never suspected that a
few francs more or less would be a matter of vital importance. So
I was not in the least prepared for the request to which this
confession served as preface, and Arthur Gordon was obliged to ask
me point-blank if I did not happen to have some money about me, or
some jewelry which could be converted into money. I gave him all
I had, my purse containing a few louis, a ring and a necklace,
with a handsome diamond cross attached to it. However, the total
value was comparatively small, and such was Arthur's
disappointment that he made a remark which frightened me even
then, though I did not fully understand its shameful meaning until
afterward: 'A woman who repairs to a rendezvous should always have
all the valuables she possesses about her. One never knows what
"Want of money was keeping us prisoners at Le Havre, when Arthur
Gordon chanced to meet an old acquaintance, who was the captain of
an American sailing vessel. He confided his embarrassment to his
friend, and the latter, whose vessel was to sail at the end of the
same week, kindly offered us a free passage. The voyage was one
long torture to me, for it was then that I first served my
apprenticeship in shame and disgrace. By the captain's offensive
gallantry, the lower officers' familiarity of manner, and the
sailors' ironical glances whenever I appeared on deck, I saw that
my position was a secret for no one. Everybody knew that I was
the mistress and not the wife of the man whom I called my husband:
and, without being really conscious of it, perhaps, they made me
cruelly expiate my fault. Moreover, reason had regained its
ascendency, my eyes were gradually opening to the truth, and I was
beginning to learn the real character of the scoundrel for whom I
had sacrificed all that makes life desirable.
"Not that he had wholly ceased to practise dissimulation. But
after the evening meal he often lingered at table smoking and
drinking with his friend the captain, and when he joined me
afterward, heated with alcohol, he shocked me by advocating
theories which were both novel and repulsive to me. Once, after
drinking more than usual, he entirely forgot his assumed part, and
revealed himself in his true character. He declared he bitterly
regretted that our love affair had ended so disastrously. It was
deplorable to think that so happily conceived and so skilfully
conducted a scheme should have terminated in bloodshed. And the
blow had fallen just as he fancied he had reached the goal; just
as he thought he would reap the reward of his labor. In a few
weeks' more time he would undoubtedly have gained sufficient
influence over me to persuade me to elope with him. This would,
of course, have caused a great scandal; the next day there would
have been a family conclave; a compromise would have been
effected, and finally, a marriage arranged with a large dowry, to
hush up the affair. 'And I should now be a rich man,' he added,
'a very rich man--I should be rolling through the streets of Paris
in my carriage, instead of being on board this cursed ship, eating
salt cod twice a day, and living on charity.'
"Ah! it was no longer possible to doubt. The truth was as clear
as daylight. I had never been loved, not even an hour, not even a
moment. The loving letters which had blinded me, the
protestations of affection which had deceived me, had been
addressed to my father's millions, not to myself. And not
unfrequently I saw Arthur Gordon's face darken, as he talked with
evident anxiety about what he could do to earn a living for
himself and me in America. 'I have had trouble enough to get on
alone,' he grumbled. 'What will it be now? To burden myself with
a penniless wife! What egregious folly! And yet I couldn't have
acted differently--I was compelled to do it.' Why had he been
compelled to do it? why had he not acted differently?--that was
what I vainly puzzled my brain to explain. However, his gloomy
fears of poverty were not realized. A delightful surprise awaited
him at New York. A relative had recently died, leaving him a
legacy of fifty thousand dollars--a small fortune. I hoped that
he would now cease his constant complaints, but he seemed even
more displeased than before. 'Such is the irony of fate,' he
repeated again and again. 'With this money, I might easily have
married a wife worth a hundred thousand dollars, and then I should
be rich at last!' After that, I had good reason to expect that I
should soon be forsaken--but no, shortly after our arrival, he
married me. Had he done so out of respect for his word? I
believed so. But, alas! this marriage was the result of
calculation, like everything else he did.
"We were living in New York, when one evening he came home,
looking very pale and agitated. He had a French newspaper in his
hand. 'Read this,' he said, handing it to me. I took the paper
as he bade me, and read that my brother had not been killed, that
he was improving, and that his recovery was now certain. And as I
fell on my knees, bursting into tears, and thanking God for
freeing me from such terrible remorse, he exclaimed: 'We are in a
nice fix! I advise you to congratulate yourself! 'From that time
forward, I noticed he displayed the feverish anxiety of a man who
feels that he is constantly threatened with some great danger. A
few days afterward, he said to me: 'I cannot endure this! Have our
trunks ready to-morrow, and we will start South. Instead of
calling ourselves Gordon, we'll travel under the name of Grant.' I
did not venture to question him. He had quite mastered me by his
cruel tyranny, and I was accustomed to obey him like a slave in
terror of the lash. However, during our long journey, I learned
the cause of our flight and change of name.
"'Your brother, d--n him,' he said, one day, 'is hunting for me
everywhere! He wants to kill me or to deliver me up to justice, I
don't know which. He pretends that I tried to murder him!' It
was strange; but Arthur Gordon, who was bravery personified, and
who exposed himself again and again to the most frightful dangers,
felt a wild, unreasoning, inconceivable fear of my brother. It
was this dread that had decided him to burden himself with me. He
feared that if he left me, lying unconscious beside my brother's
lifeless form, I might on recovering my senses reveal the truth,
and unconsciously act as his accuser. You were born in Richmond,
Wilkie, where we remained nearly a month, during which time I saw
but little of your father. He had formed the acquaintance of
several rich planters, and spent his time hunting and gambling
with them. Unfortunately, fifty thousand dollars could not last
long at this rate; and, in spite of his skill as a gambler, he
returned home one morning ruined. A fortnight later when he had
sold our effects, and borrowed all the money he could, we embarked
again for France. It was not until we reached Paris that I
discovered the reasons that had influenced him in returning to
Europe. He had heard of my father and mother's death, and
intended to compel me to claim my share of the property. He dared
not appear in person on account of my brother. At last the hour
of my vengeance had arrived; for I had taken a solemn oath that
this scoundrel who had ruined me should never enjoy the fortune
which had been his only object in seducing me. I had sworn to die
inch by inch and by the most frightful tortures rather than give
him one penny of the Chalusse millions. And I kept my word.
"When I told him that I was resolved not to assert my rights, he
seemed utterly confounded. He could not understand how the down-
trodden slave dared to revolt against him. And when he found that
my decision was irrevocable, I thought he would have an attack of
apoplexy. It made him wild with rage to think that he was only
separated from this immense fortune--the dream of his life--by a
single word of mine, and to find that he had not the power to
extort that word from me. Then began a struggle between us, which
became more and more frightful as the money he possessed gradually
dwindled away. But it was in vain that he resorted to brutal
treatment; in vain that he struck me, tortured me, and dragged me
about the floor by the hair of my head! The thought that I was
avenged, that his sufferings equalled mine, increased my courage a
hundredfold, and made me almost insensible to physical pain. He
would certainly have been the first to grow weary of the struggle,
if a fiendish plan had not occurred to him. He said to himself
that if he could not conquer the wife, he COULD conquer the mother
and he threatened to turn his brutatity to you, Wilkie. To save
you--for I knew what he was capable of--I pretended to waver, and
I asked twenty-four hours for reflection. He granted them. But
the next day I left him forever, flying from him with you in my
M. Wilkie turned white, and a cold chill crept up his spine.
However, it was not pity for his mother's sufferings, nor shame
for his father's infamy that agitated him, but ever the same
terrible fear of incurring the enmity of this dangerous coveter of
the Chalusse millions. Would he be able to hold his father at bay
even with the assistance of M. de Coralth and the Marquis de
Valorsay? A thousand questions rose to his lips, for he was eager
to hear the particulars of his mother's flight; but Madame
d'Argeles hurried on with her story as if she feared her strength
would fail before she reached the end.
"I was alone with you, Wilkie, in this great city," she resumed.
"A hundred francs was all that I possessed. My first care was to
find a place of shelter. For sixteen francs a month, which I was
compelled to pay in advance, I found a small, meagrely furnished
room in the Faubourg Saint Martin. It was badly ventilated and
miserably lighted, but still it was shelter. I said to myself
that we could live there together by my work, Wilkie. I was a
proficient in feminine accomplishments; I was an excellent
musician, and I thought I should have no difficulty in earning the
four or five francs a day which I considered absolutely necessary
for our subsistence. Alas! I discovered only too soon what
chimerical hopes I had cherished. To give music lessons it is
necessary to obtain pupils. Where should I find them? I had no
one to recommend me, and I scarcely dared show myself in the
streets, so great was my fear that your father would discover our
hiding-place. At last, I decided to try to find some employment
in needlework, and timidly offered my services at several shops.
Alas! it is only those who have gone about from door to door
soliciting work who know the misery of the thing. To ask alms
would be scarcely more humiliating. People sneered at me, and
replied (when they deigned to reply at all) that 'there was no
business doing, and they had all the help they wanted.' My
evident inexperience was probably the cause of many of these
refusals, as well as my attire, for I still had the appearance of
being a rich woman. Who knows what they took me for? Still the
thought of you sustained me, Wilkie, and nothing daunted me.
"I finally succeeded in obtaining some bands of muslin to
embroider, and some pieces of tapestry work to fill in.
Unremunerative employment, no doubt, especially to one ignorant of
the art of working quickly, rather than well. By rising with
daylight, and working until late at night, I scarcely succeeded in
earning twenty sous a day. And it was not long before even this
scanty resource failed me. Winter came, and the cold weather with
it. One morning I changed my last five-franc piece--it lasted us
a week. Then I pawned and sold everything that was not absolutely
indispensable until nothing was left me but my patched dress and a
single skirt. And soon an evening came when the owner of our
miserable den turned us into the street because I could no longer
pay the rent.
"This was the final blow! I tottered away, clinging to the walls
for support; too weak from lack of food to carry you. The rain
was falling, and chilled us to the bones. You were crying
bitterly. And all that night and all the next day, aimless and
hopeless, we wandered about the streets. I must either die of
want or return to your father. I preferred death. Toward
evening--instinct having led me to the Seine--I sat down on one of
the stone benches of the Point-Neuf, holding you on my knees and
watching the flow of the dark river below. There was a strange
fascination--a promise of peace in its depths--that impelled me
almost irresistibly to plunge into the flood. If I had been alone
in the world, I should not have stopped to consider a second, but
on your account, Wilkie, I hesitated."
Moved by the thought of the danger he had escaped, M. Wilkie
shuddered. "B-r-r-r!" he growled. "You did well to hesitate."
She did not even hear him, but continued: "I at last decided that
it was best to put an end to this misery, and rising with
difficulty, I was approaching the parapet, when a gruff voice
beside us exclaimed: 'What are you doing there?' I turned,
thinking some police officer had spoken, but I was mistaken. By
the light of the street lamp, I perceived a man who looked some
thirty years of age, and had a frank and rather genial face. Why
this stranger instantly inspired me with unlimited confidence I
don't know. Perhaps it was an unconscious horror of death that
made me long for any token of human sympathy. However it may have
been, I told him my story, but not without changing the names, and
omitting many particulars. He had taken a seat beside me on the
bench, and I saw big tears roll down his cheeks as I proceeded
with my narrative. 'It is ever so! it is ever so!' he muttered.
'To love is to incur the risk of martyrdom. It is to offer one's
self as a victim to every perfidy, to the basest treason and
ingratitude.' The man who spoke in this fashion was Baron
Trigault. He did not allow me to finish my story. 'Enough!' he
suddenly exclaimed, 'follow me!' A cab was passing, he made us
get in, and an hour later we were in a comfortable room, beside a
blazing fire, with a generously spread table before us. The next
day, moreover, we were installed in a pleasant home. Alas! why
wasn't the baron generous to the last? You were saved, Wilkie, but
at what a price!"
She paused for a moment, her face redder than fire; but soon
mastering her agitation, she resumed: "There was one great cause
of dissension between the baron and myself. I wished you to be
educated, Wilkie, like the son of a noble family, while he desired
you should receive the practical training suited to a youth who
would have to make his own way in the world, and win position,
fortune, and even name for himself. Ah! he was a thousand times
right, as events have since proved only too well! But maternal
love blinded me, and, after an angry discussion, he went away,
declaring he would not see me again until I became more
reasonable. He thought that reflection would cure me of my folly.
Unfortunately, he was not acquainted with the fatal obstinacy
which is the distinguishing characteristic of the Chalusse family.
While I was wondering how I could find the means of carrying the
plans I had formed for you into execution, two of the baron's
acquaintances presented themselves, with the following proposal:
Aware of the enormous profits derived by clandestine gambling
dens, they had conceived the project of opening a public
establishment on a large scale, where any Parisian or foreigner,
if he seemed to be a gentleman, and possessed of means, would find
no difficulty in obtaining admission. By taking certain
precautions, and by establishing this gambling den in a private
drawing-room, they believed the scheme practicable, and came to
suggest that I should keep the drawing-room in question, and be
their partner in the enterprise. Scarcely knowing what I pledged
myself to, I accepted their offer, influenced--I should rather say
decided--by the exalted positions which both these gentlemen
occupied, by the public consideration they enjoyed, and the
honored names they bore. And that same week this house was rented
and furnished, and I was installed in it under the name of Lia
"But this was not all. There still remained the task of creating
for myself one of those scandalous reputations that attract public
attention. This proved an easy task, thanks to the assistance of
my silent partners, and the innocent simplicity of several of
their friends and certain journalists. As for myself, I did my
best to insure the success of the horrible farce which was to lend
infamous notoriety to the name of Lia d'Argeles. I had
magnificent equipages and superb dresses, and I made myself
conspicuous at the theatres and all places of public resort. As
is generally the case when one is acting contrary to conscience, I
called the most absurd sophistries to my assistance. I tried to
convince myself that appearances are nothing, that reality is
everything, and that it did not matter if I were known as a
courtesan since rumor lied, and my life WAS really chaste. When
the baron hastened to me and tried to rescue me from the abyss
into which I had flung myself. it was too late. I had discovered
that the business would prove successful; and for your sake, I
longed for money as passionately, as madly, as any miser. Last
year my gaming-room yielded more than one hundred and fifty
thousand francs clear profit, and I received as my share the
thirty-five thousand francs which you squandered. Now you know me
as I really am. My associates, my partners, the men whose secret
I have faithfully kept, walk the streets with their heads erect.
They boast of their unsullied honor, and they are respected by
every one. Such is the truth, and I have no reason to make their
disgrace known. Besides, if I proclaimed it from the house-tops,
no one would believe me. But you are my son, and I owe you the
truth, the whole truth!"
In any age but the present, Madame d'Argeles's story would have
seemed absolutely incredible. Nowadays, however, such episodes
are by no means rare. Two men--two men of exalted rank and highly
respected, to use a common expression--associate in opening a
gaming-house under the very eyes of the police, and in coining
money out of a woman's supposed disgrace. 'Tis after all but an
The unhappy woman had told her story with apparent coldness, and
yet, in her secret heart, she perhaps hoped that by disclosing her
terrible sacrifice and long martyrdom, she would draw a burst of
gratitude and tenderness from her son, calculated to repay her for
all her sufferings. But the hope was vain. It would have been
easier to draw water from a solid rock than to, extract a
sympathetic tear from Wilkie's eyes. He was only alive to the
practical side of this narrative, and what impressed him most was
the impudent assurance of Madame d'Argeles's business associates.
"Not a bad idea; not bad at all," he exclaimed. And, boiling over
with curiosity, he continued: "I would give something handsome to
know those men's names. Really you ought to tell me. It would be
worth one's while to know."
Any other person than this interesting young man would have been
crushed by the look his mother gave him--a look embodying the
deepest disappointment and contempt. "I think you must be mad,"
she remarked coldly. And as he sprang up, astonished that any one
should doubt his abundant supply of good sense, "Let us put an end
to this," she sternly added.
Thereupon she hastily went into the adjoining room, reappearing a
moment later with a roll of papers in her hand. "Here," she
remarked, "is my marriage certificate, your certificate of birth,
and a copy of my renunciation--a perfectly valid document, since
the court has authorized it, owing to my husband's absence. All
these proofs I am ready and willing to place at your disposal, but
on one condition."
This last word fell like a cold shower-bath upon Wilkie's exultant
joy. "What is this condition?" he anxiously inquired.
"It is that you should sign this deed, which has been drawn up by
my notary--a deed by which you pledge yourself to hand me the sum
of two million francs on the day you come into possession of the
Two millions! The immensity of the sum struck Wilkie dumb with
consternation. Nor did he forget that he would be compelled to
give the Viscount de Coralth the large reward he had promised him--
a reward promised in writing, unfortunately. "I shall have
nothing left," he began, piteously.
But with a disdainful gesture Madame d'Argeles interrupted him.
"Set your mind at rest," said she. "You will still be immensely
rich. All the estimates which have been made are far below the
mark. When I was a girl I often heard my father say that his
income amounted to more than eight hundred thousand francs a year.
My brother inherited the whole property, and I would be willing to
swear that he never spent more than half of his income."
Wilkie's nerves had never been subjected to so severe a shock. He
tottered and his brain whirled. "Oh! oh!" he stammered. This was
all he could say.
"Only I must warn you of a more than probable deception," pursued
Madame d'Argeles. "As my brother was firmly resolved to deprive
me even of my rightful portion of the estate, he concealed his
fortune in every possible way. It will undoubtedly require
considerable time and trouble to gain possession of the whole.
However I know a man, formerly the Count de Chalusse's
confidential agent, who might aid you in this task."
"And this man's name?"
"Is Isidore Fortunat. I saved his card for you. Here it is."
M. Wilkie took it up, placed it carefully in his pocket, and then
exclaimed: "That being the case, I consent to sign, but after this
you need not complain. Two millions at five per cent. ought to
greatly alleviate one's sufferings."
Madame d'Argeles did not deign to notice this delicate irony. "I
will tell you in advance to what purpose I intend to apply this
sum," she said.
"I intend one of these two millions to serve as the dowry of a
young girl who would have been the Count de Chalusse's sole
legatee, if his death had not been so sudden and so unexpected."
"And the other one?"
"The other I intend to invest for you in such a way that you can
only touch the interest of it, so that you will not want for bread
after you have squandered your inheritance, even to the very last
This wise precaution could not fail to shock such a brilliant
young man as M. Wilkie. "Do you take me for a fool?" he
exclaimed. "I may appear very generous, but I am shrewd enough,
never you fear."
"Sign," interrupted Madame d'Argeles, coldly.
But he attempted to prove that he was no fool by reading and
rereading the contract before he would consent to append his name
to it. At last, however, he did so, and stowed away the proofs
which insured him the much-coveted property.
"Now," said Madame d'Argeles, "I have one request to make of you.
Whenever your father makes his appearance and lays claim to this
fortune, I entreat you to avoid a lawsuit, which would only make
your mother's shame and the disgrace attached to the hitherto
stainless name of Chalusse still more widely known. Compromise
with him. You will be rich enough to satisfy his greed without
M. Wilkie remained silent for a moment, as if he were deliberating
upon the course he ought to pursue. "If my father is reasonable,
I will be the same," he said at last. "I will choose as an
arbiter between us one of my friends--a man who acts on the
square, like myself--the Marquis de Valorsay."
"My God! do you know him?"
"He is one of my most intimate friends."
Madame d'Argeles had become very pale. "Wretched boy!" she
exclaimed. "You don't know that it's the marquis----" She paused
abruptly. One word more and she would have betrayed Pascal
Ferailleur's secret plans, with which she had been made acquainted
by Baron Trigault. Had she a right to do this, even to put her
son on his guard against a man whom she considered the greatest
villain in the world?
"Well?" insisted M. Wilkie, in surprise.
But Madame d'Argeles had recovered her self-possession. "I only
wished to warn you against too close a connection with the Marquis
de Valorsay. He has an excellent position in society, but yours
will be far more brilliant. His star is on the wane; yours is
just rising. All that he is regretting, you have a right to hope
for. Perhaps even now he is jealous of you, and wishes to
persuade you to take some false step."
"Ah! you little know him!"
"I have warned you."
M. Wilkie took up his hat, but, though he was longing to depart,
embarrassment kept him to the spot. He vaguely felt that he ought
not to leave his mother in this style. "I hope I shall soon have
some good news to bring you," he began.
"Before night I shall have left this house," she answered.
"Of course. But you are going to give me your new address."
She shook her head sadly, and in a scarcely audible voice
responded: "It is not likely that we shall meet again."
"And the two millions that I am to turn over to you?"
"Mr. Patterson will collect the money. As for me, say to yourself
that I'm dead. You have broken the only link that bound me to
life, by proving the futility of the most terrible sacrifices.
However, I am a mother, and I forgive you." Then as he did not
move, and as she felt that her strength was deserting her, she
dragged herself from the room, murmuring, "Farewell!"
Stupefied with astonishment, M. Wilkie stood for a moment silent
and motionless. "Allow me," he faltered at last; "Allow me--I
wish to explain." But Madame d'Argeles did not even turn her head;
the door closed behind her and he was left alone.
However strong a man's nature may be, he always has certain
moments of weakness. For instance, at the present moment Wilkie
was completely at a loss what to do. Not that he repented, he was
incapable of that; but there are hours when the most hardened
conscience is touched, and when long dormant instincts at last
assert their rights. If he had obeyed his first impulse, he would
have darted after his mother and thrown himself on his knees
before her. But reflection, remembrance of the Viscount de
Coralth, and the Marquis de Valorsay, made him silent the noblest
voice that had spoken in his soul for many a long day. So, with
his head proudly erect, he went off, twirling his mustaches and
followed by the whispers of the servants--whispers which were
ready to change into hisses at any moment.
But what did he care for the opinion of these plebeians! Before
he was a hundred paces from the house his emotion had vanished,
and he was thinking how he could most agreeably spend the time
until the hour appointed for his second interview with M. de
Valorsay. He had not breakfasted, but "his stomach was out of
sorts," as he said to himself, and it would really have been
impossible for him to swallow a morsel. Thus not caring to return
home, he started in quest of one of his former intimates, with the
generous intention of overpowering him with the great news.
Unfortunately he failed to find this friend, and eager to vent the
pride that was suffocating him, in some way or other, he entered
the shop of an engraver, whom he crushed by his importance, and
ordered some visiting cards bearing the inscription W. de Gordon-
Chalusse, with a count's coronet in one of the corners.
Thus occupied, time flew by so quickly that he was a trifle late
in keeping his appointment with his dear friend the marquis.
Wilkie found M. de Valorsay as he had left him--in his smoking-
room, talking with the Viscount de Coralth. Not that the marquis
had been idle, but it had barely taken him an hour to set in
motion the machinery which he had had in complete readiness since
the evening before. "Victory!" cried Wilkie, as he appeared on
the threshold. "It was a hard battle, but I asserted my rights.
I am the acknowledged heir! the millions are mine!" And without
giving his friends time to congratulate him, he began to describe
his interview with Madame d'Argeles, presenting his conduct in the
most odious light possible, pretending he had indulged in all
sorts of harsh rejoinders, and making himself out to be "a man of
bronze," or "a block of marble," as he said.
"You are certainly more courageous than I fancied," said M. de
Valorsay gravely, when the narrative was ended.
"Is that really so?"
"It is, indeed. Now the world is before you. Let your story be
noised abroad--and it will be noised abroad--and you will become a
hero. Imagine the amazement of Paris when it learns that Lia
d'Argeles was a virtuous woman, who sacrificed her reputation for
the sake of her son--a martyr, whose disgrace was only a shameful
falsehood invented by two men of rank to increase the attractions
of their gambling-den! It will take the newspapers a month to
digest this strange romance. And whom will all this notoriety
fall upon? Upon you, my dear sir; and as your millions will lend
an additional charm to the romance, you will become the lion of
M. Wilkie was really too much overwhelmed to feel elated. "Upon
my word, you overpower me, my dear marquis--you quite overpower
me," he stammered.
"I too have been at work," resumed the marquis. "And I have made
numerous inquiries, in accordance with my promise. I almost
regret it, for what I have discovered is--very singular, to say
the least. I was just saying so to Coralth when you came in.
What I have learned makes it extremely unpleasant for me, to find
myself mixed up in the affair; accordingly, I have requested the
persons who gave me this information to call here. You shall hear
their story, and then you must decide for yourself." So saying, he
rang the bell, and as soon as a servant answered the summons, he
exclaimed: "Show M. Casimir in."
When the lackey had retired to carry out this order, the marquis
remarked: "Casimir was the deceased count's valet. He is a clever
fellow, honest, intelligent, and well up in his business--such a
man as you will need, in fact, and I won't try to conceal the fact
that the hope of entering your service has aided considerably in
unloosening his tongue."
M. Casimir, who was irreproachably clad in black, with a white
cambric tie round his neck, entered the room at this very moment,
smiling and bowing obsequiously. "This gentleman, my good
fellow," said M. de Valorsay, pointing to Wilkie, "is your former
master's only heir. A proof of devotion might induce him to keep
you with him. What you told me a little while ago is of great
importance to him; see if you can repeat it now for his benefit."
In his anxiety to secure a good situation, M. Casimir had ventured
to apply to the Marquis de Valorsay; he had talked a good deal,
and the marquis had conceived the plan of making him an
unsuspecting accomplice. "I never deny my words," replied the
valet, "and since monsieur is the heir to the property, I won't
hesitate to tell him that immense sums have been stolen from the
late count's estate."
M. Wilkie bounded from his chair. "Immense sums!" he exclaimed.
"Is it possible!"
"Monsieur shall judge. On the morning preceding his death, the
count had more than two millions in bank-notes and bonds stowed
away in his escritoire, but when the justice of the peace came to
take the inventory, the money could not be found. We servants
were terribly alarmed, for we feared that suspicion would fall
Ah! if Wilkie had only been alone he would have given vent to his
true feelings. But here, under the eyes of the marquis and M. de
Coralth, he felt that he must maintain an air of stoical
indifference. He ALMOST succeeded in doing so, and in a tolerably
firm voice he remarked: "This is not very pleasant news. Two
millions! that's a good haul. Tell me, my friend, have you any
clue to the thief?"
The valet's troubled glance betrayed an uneasy conscience, but he
had gone too far to draw back. "I shouldn't like to accuse an
innocent person," he replied, "but there was some one who
constantly had access to that escritoire."
"And who was that?"
"I don't know the lady."
"She's a young girl who is--at least people say--the count's
illegitimate daughter. Her word was law in the house."
"What has become of her?"
"She has gone to live with General de Fondege, one of the count's
friends. She wouldn't take her jewels and diamonds away with her,
which seemed very strange, for they are worth more than a hundred
thousand francs. Even Bourigeau said to me: 'That's unnatural, M.
Casimir.' Borigeau is the concierge of the house, a very worthy
man. Monsieur will not find his equal."
Unfortunately, this tribute to the merits of the valet's friend
was interrupted by the arrival of a footman, who, after tapping
respectfully at the door, entered the room and exclaimed: "The
doctor is here, and desires to speak with Monsieur le Marquis."
"Very well," replied M. de Valorsay, "ask him to wait. When I
ring, you can usher him in." Then addressing M. Casimir, he added:
"You may retire for the present, but don't leave the house. M.
Wilkie will acquaint you with his intentions by and by."
The valet thereupon backed out of the room, bowing profoundly.
"There is a story for you!" exclaimed M. Wilkie as soon as the
door was closed. "A robbery of two millions!"
The marquis shook his head, and remarked, gravely: "That's a mere
nothing. I suspect something far more terrible."
"What, pray? Upon my word! you frighten me."
"Wait! I may be mistaken. Even the doctor may lie deceived. But
you shall judge for yourself." As he spoke, he pulled the bell-
rope, and an instant after, the servant announced: "Dr. Jodon."
It was, indeed, the same physician who had annoyed Mademoiselle
Marguerite by his persistent curiosity and impertinent questions,
at the Count de Chalusse's bedside; the same crafty and ambitious
man, constantly tormented by covetousness, and ready to do
anything to gratify it--the man of the period, in short, who
sacrificed everything to the display by which he hoped to deceive
other people, and who was almost starving in the midst of his mock
M. Casimir was an innocent accomplice, but the doctor knew what he
was doing. Interviewed on behalf of the Marquis de Valorsay by
Madame Leon, he had fathomed the whole mystery at once. These two
crafty natures had read and understood each other. No definite
words had passed between them--they were both too shrewd for that;
and yet, a compact had been concluded by which each had tacitly
agreed to serve the other according to his need.
As soon as the physician appeared, M. de Valorsay rose and shook
hands with him; then, offering him an arm-chair, he remarked: "I
will not conceal from you, doctor, that I have in some measure
prepared this gentleman"--designating M. Wilkie--"for your
By the doctor's attitude, a keen observer might have divined the
secret trepidation that always precedes a bad action which has
been conceived and decided upon in cold blood.
"To tell the truth," he began, speaking slowly, and with some
difficulty, "now that the moment for speaking has come, I almost
hesitate. Our profession has painful exigencies. Perhaps it is
now too late. If there had been any of the count's relatives in
the house, or even an heir at the time, I should have insisted
upon an autopsy. But now----"
On hearing the word "autopsy," M. Wilkie looked round with
startled eyes. He opened his lips to interrupt the speaker, but
the physician had already resumed his narrative. "Besides, I had
only suspicions," he said, "suspicions based, it is true, upon
strange and alarming circumstances. I am a man, that is to say, I
am liable to error. In the kingdom of science it would be
unpardonable temerity on my part to affirm----"
"To affirm what?" interrupted M. Wilkie.
The physician did not seem to hear him, but continued in the same
dogmatic tone. "The count apparently died from an attack of
apoplexy, but certain poisons produce similar and even identical
symptoms which are apt to deceive the most experienced medical
men. The persistent efforts of the count's intellect, his
muscular rigidity alternating with utter relaxation, the dilation
of the pupils of his eyes, and more than aught else the violence
of his last convulsions, have led me to ask myself if some
criminal had not hastened his end."
Whiter than his shirt, and trembling like a leaf, M. Wilkie sprang
from his chair. "I understand!" he exclaimed. "The count was
But the physician replied with an energetic protest. "Oh, not so
fast!" said he. "Don't mistake my conjectures for assertions.
Still, I ought not to conceal the circumstances which awakened my
suspicions. On the morning preceding his attack, the count took
two spoonfuls of the contents of a vial which the people in charge
could not or would not produce. When I asked what this vial
contained, the answer was: 'A medicine to prevent apoplexy.' I
don't say that this is false, but prove it. As for the motive
that led to the crime, it is apparent at once. The escritoire
contained two millions of francs, and the money has disappeared.
Show me the vial, find the money, and I will admit that I am
wrong. But until then, I shall have my suspicions."
He did not speak like a physician but like an examining
magistrate, and his alarming deductions found their way even to M.
Wilkie's dull brain. "Who could have committed the crime?" he
"It could only have been the person likely to profit by it; and
only one person besides the count knew that the money was in the
house, and had possession of the key of this escritoire."
"And this person?"
"Is the count's illegitimate daughter, who lived in the house with
M. Wilkie sank into his chair again, completely overwhelmed. The
coincidence between the doctor's deposition and M. Casimir's
testimony was too remarkable to pass unnoticed. Further doubt
seemed impossible. "Ah! this is most unfortunate!" faltered
Wilkie. "What a pity! Such difficulties never assail any one but
me! What am I to do?" And in his distress he glanced from the
doctor to the Marquis de Valorsay, and then at M. de Coralth, as
if seeking inspiration from each of them.
"My profession forbids my acting as an adviser in such cases,"
replied the physician, "but these gentlemen have not the same
reasons for keeping silent."
"Excuse me," interrupted the marquis quickly; "but this is one of
those cases in which a man must be left to his own inspirations.
The most I can do, is to say what course I should pursue if I were
one of the deceased count's relatives or heirs."
"Pray tell me, my dear marquis," sighed Wilkie. "You would render
me an immense service by doing so."
M. de Valorsay seemed to reflect for a moment; and then he
solemnly exclaimed: "I should feel that my honor required me to
investigate every circumstance connected with this mysterious
affair. Before receiving a man's estate, one must know the cause
of his death, so as to avenge him if he has been foully murdered."
For M. Wilkie the oracle had spoken. "Such is my opinion
exactly," he declared. "But what course would you pursue, my dear
marquis? How would you set about solving this mystery?"
"I should appeal to the authorities."
"And this very day, this very hour, without losing a second, I
should address a communication to the public prosecutor, informing
him of the robbery which is patent to any one, and referring to
the possibility of foul play."
"Yes, that would be an excellent idea; but there is one slight
drawback--I don't know how to draw up such a communication."
"I know no more about it than you do yourself; but any lawyer or
notary will give you the necessary information. Are you
acquainted with any such person? Would you like me to give you the
address of my business man? He is a very clever fellow, who has
almost all the members of my club as his clients."
This last reason was more than sufficient to fix M. Wilkie's
choice. "Where can I find him?" he inquired.
"At his house--he is always there at this hour. Come! here is a
scrap of paper and a pencil. You had better make a note of his
address. Write: 'Maumejan, Route de la Revolte.' Tell him that I
sent you, and he will treat you with the same consideration as he
would show to me. He lives a long way off, but my brougham is
standing in the courtyard; so take it, and when your consultation
is over, come back and dine with me."
"Ah! you are too kind!" exclaimed M. Wilkie. "You overpower me,
my dear marquis, you do, upon my word! I shall fly and be back in
He went off looking radiant; and a moment later the carriage which
was to take him to M. Maumejan's was heard rolling out of the
The doctor had already taken up his hat and cane.
"You will excuse me for leaving you so abruptly, Monsieur le
Marquis," said he, "but I have an engagement to discuss a business
"I am negotiating for the purchase of a dentist's establishment."
"Yes, I. You may tell me that this is a downfall, but I will
answer, 'It will give me a living.' Medicine is becoming a more
and more unremunerative profession. However hard a physician may
work, he can scarcely pay for the water he uses in washing his
hands. I have an opportunity of purchasing the business of a
well-established and well-known dentist, in an excellent
neighborhood. Why not avail myself of it? Only one thing worries
me--the lack of funds."
The marquis had expected the doctor would require remuneration for
his services. Before compromising himself any further, M. Jodon
wished to knew what compensation he was to receive. The marquis
was so sure of this, that he quickly exclaimed: "Ah, my dear
doctor, if you have need of twenty thousand francs, I shall be
only too happy to offer them to you."
"Upon my honor!"
"And when can you let me have the money?"
"In three or four days' time."
The bargain was concluded. The doctor was now ready to find
traces of any poison whatsoever in the Count de Chalusse's exhumed
remains. He pressed the marquis's hand and then went off,
exclaiming: "Whatever happens you can count upon me."
Left alone with the Viscount de Coralth, and consequently freed
from all restraint, M. de Valorsay rose with a long-drawn sigh of
relief. "What an interminable seance!" he growled. And,
approaching his acolyte, who was sitting silent and motionless in
an arm-chair, he slapped him on the shoulder, exclaiming: "Are you
ill that you sit there like that, as still as a mummy?"
The viscount turned as if he had been suddenly aroused from
slumber. "I'm well enough," he answered somewhat roughly. "I was
"Your thoughts are not very pleasant, to judge from the look on
"No. I was thinking of the fate that you are preparing for us."
"Oh! A truce to disagreeable prophecies, please! Besides, it's too
late to draw back, or to even think of retreat. The Rubicon is
"Alas! that is the cause of my anxiety. If it hadn't been for my
wretched past, which you have threatened me with like a dagger, I
should long ago have left you to incur this danger alone. You
were useful to me in times past, I admit. You presented me to the
Baroness Trigault, to whose patronage I owe my present means, but
I am paying too dearly for your services in allowing myself to be
made the instrument of your dangerous schemes. Who aided you in
defrauding Kami-Bey? Who bet for you against your own horse
Domingo? Who risked his life in slipping those cards in the pack
which Pascal Ferailleur held? It was Coralth, always Coralth."
A gesture of anger escaped the marquis, but resolving to restrain
himself, he made no rejoinder. It was not until after he had
walked five or six times round the smoking-room and grown more
calm that he returned to the viscount's side. "Really, I don't
recognize you," he began. "Is it really you who have turned
coward? And at what a moment, pray? Why, on the very eve of
"I wish I could believe you."
"Facts shall convince you. This morning I might have doubted, but
now, thanks to that vain idiot who goes by the name of Wilkie, I
am sure, perfectly, mathematically sure of success. Maumejan, who
is entirely devoted to me, and who is the greediest, most
avaricious scoundrel alive, will draw up such a complaint that
Marguerite will sleep in prison. Moreover, other witnesses will
be summoned. By what Casimir has said, you can judge what the
other servants will say. This testimony will be sufficient to
convict her of the robbery. As for the poisoning, you heard Dr.
Jodon. Can I depend upon him? Evidently, if I pay without
haggling. Very well; I shall pay."
But all this did not reassure M. de Coralth. "The accusation will
fall to the ground," said he, "as soon as the famous vial from
which M. de Chalusse took two spoonfuls is found."
"Excuse me; it won't be found."
"Because I know where it is, my dear friend. It is in the count's
escritoire, but it won't be there any longer on the day after to-
"Who will remove it?"
"A skilful fellow whom Madame Leon has found for me. Everything
has been carefully arranged. To-morrow night at the latest Madame
Leon will let this man into the Hotel de Chalusse by the garden
gate, which she has kept the key of. Vantrasson, as the man is
called, knows the management of the house, and he will break open
the escritoire and take the vial away. You may say that there are
seals upon the furniture, placed there by the justice of the
peace. That's true, but this man tells me that he can remove and
replace them in such a way as to defy detection; and as the lock
has been forced once already--the day after the count's death--a
second attempt to break the escritoire open will not be detected."
The viscount remarked, with an ironical air: "All that is perfect;
but the autopsy will reveal the falseness of the accusation."
"Naturally--but an autopsy will require time, and that will suit
my plans admirably. After eight or ten days' solitary confinement
and several rigid examinations, Mademoiselle Marguerite's energy
and courage will flag. What do you think she will reply to the
man who says to her: 'I love you, and for your sake I will attempt
the impossible. Swear to become my wife and I will establish your
"I think she will say: 'Save me and I will marry you!'"
M. de Valorsay clapped his hands. "Bravo!" he exclaimed; "you
have spoken the truth. Remember, now, that your dark forebodings
are only chimeras! Yes, she will swear it, and I know she is the
woman to keep her vow, even if she died of sorrow. And the very
next day I will go to the examining magistrate and say to him:
'Marguerite a thief! Ah, what a frightful mistake. A robbery has
been committed, it's true; but I know the real culprit--a
scoundrel who fancied that by destroying a single letter he would
annihilate all traces of the breach of fidelity he had committed.
Fortunately, the Count de Chalusse distrusted this man, and proof
of his breach of trust is in existence. I have this proof in my
hands.' And I will show a letter establishing the truth of my
No forebodings clouded the marquis's joy; he saw no obstacles; it
seemed to him as if he had already triumphed. "And the day
following," he resumed, "when Marguerite becomes my wife, I shall
take from a certain drawer a certain document, given to me by M.
de Chalusse when I was on the point of becoming his son-in-law,
and in which he recognizes Marguerite as his daughter, and makes
her his sole legatee. And this document is perfectly en regle,
and unattackable. Maumejan, who has examined it, guarantees that
the value of the count's estate cannot be less than ten millions.
Five will go to Madame d'Argeles, or her son Wilkie, as their
share of the property. The remaining five will be mine. Come,
confess that the plan is admirable!"
"Admirable, undoubtedly; but terribly complicated. When there are
so many wheels within wheels, one of them is always sure to get
out of order."
"Besides, you have I don't know how many accomplices--Maumejan,
the doctor, Madame Leon, and Vantrasson, not counting myself.
Will all these people perform their duties satisfactorily?"
"Each of them is as much interested in my success as I am myself."
"But we have enemies--Madame d'Argeles, Fortunat----"
"Madame d'Argeles is about to leave Paris. If Fortunat is
troublesome I will purchase his silence; Maumejan has promised me
But M. de Coralth had kept his strongest argument until the last.
"And Pascal Ferailleur?" said he. "You have forgotten him."
No; M. de Valorsay had not forgotten him. You do not forget the
man you have ruined and dishonored. Still, it was in a careless
tone that ill accorded with his state of mind that the marquis
replied: "The poor devil must be en route for America by this
The viscount shook his head. "That's what I've in vain been
trying to convince myself of," said he. "Do you know that Pascal
was virtually expelled from the Palais de Justice, and that his
name has been struck off the list of advocates? If he hasn't blown
his brains out, it is only because he hopes to prove his
innocence. Ah! if you knew him as well as I do, you wouldn't be
so tranquil in mind!"
He stopped short for the door had suddenly opened. The
interruption made the marquis frown, but anger gave way to anxiety
when he perceived Madame Leon, who entered the room out of breath
and extremely red in the face.
"There wasn't a cab to be had!" she groaned. "Just my luck. I
came on foot, and ran the whole way. I'm utterly exhausted;" and
so saying, she sank into an arm-chair.
M. de Valorsay had turned very pale. "Defer your complaints until
another time," he said, harshly. "What has happened? Tell me."
The estimable woman raised her hands to heaven, as she plaintively
replied: "There is so much to tell? First, Mademoiselle Marguerite
has written two letters, but I have failed to discover to whom
they were sent. Secondly, she remained for more than an hour
yesterday evening in the drawing-room with the General's son,
Lieutenant Gustave, and, on parting, they shook hands like a
couple of friends, and said, 'It is agreed.'"
"And is that all?"
"One moment and you'll see. This morning Mademoiselle went out
with Madame de Fondege to call on the Baroness Trigault. I do not
know what took place there, but there must have been a terrible
scene; for they brought Mademoiselle Marguerite back unconscious,
in one of the baron's carriages."
"Do you hear that, viscount?" exclaimed M. de Valorsay.
"Yes! You shall have the explanation to-morrow," answered M. de
"And last, but not least," resumed Madame Leon, "on returning home
this evening at about five o'clock, I fancied I saw Mademoiselle
Marguerite leave the house and go up the Rue Pigalle. I had
thought she was ill and in bed, and I said to myself, 'This is
very strange.' So I hastened after her. It was indeed she. Of
course, I followed her. And what did I see? Why, Mademoiselle
paused to talk with a vagabond, clad in a blouse. They exchanged
notes, and Mademoiselle Marguerite returned home. And here I am.
She must certainly suspect something. What is to be done?"
If M. de Valorsay were frightened, he did not show it. "Many
thanks for your zeal, my dear lady," he replied, "but all this is
a mere nothing. Return home at once; you will receive my
Mademoiselle Marguerite had been greatly surprised on the occasion
of her visit to M. Fortunat when she saw Victor Chupin suddenly
step forward and eagerly exclaim: "I shall be unworthy of the name
I bear if I do not find M. Ferailleur for you in less than a
It is true that M. Fortunat's clerk did not appear to the best
advantage on this occasion. In order to watch M. de Coralth, he
had again arrayed himself in his cast-off clothes, and with his
blouse and his worn-out shoes, his "knockers" and his glazed cap,
he looked the vagabond to perfection. Still, strange as it may
seem, Mademoiselle Marguerite did not once doubt the devotion of
this strange auxiliary. Without an instant's hesitation she
replied, "I accept your services, monsieur.
Chupin felt at least a head taller as he heard this beautiful
young girl speak to him in a voice as clear and as sonorous as
crystal. "Ah! you are right to trust me," he rejoined, striking
his chest with his clinched hand, "for I have a heart--but----"
"But what, monsieur?"
"I am wondering if you would consent to do what I wish. It would
be a very good plan, but if it displeases you, we will say no more
"And what do you wish?"
"To see you every day, so as to tell you what I've done, and to
obtain such directions as I may require. I'm well aware that I
can't go to M. de Fondege's door and ask to speak to you; but
there are other ways of seeing each other. For instance, every
evening at five o-clock precisely, I might pass along the Rue
Pigalle, and warn you of my presence by such a signal as this:
'Pi-ouit!'" So saying he gave vent to the peculiar call, half
whistle, half ejaculation, which is familiar to the Parisian
working-classes. "Then," he resumed, "you might come down and I
would tell you the news; besides, I might often help you by doing
Mademoiselle Marguerite reflected for a moment, and then bowing
her head, she replied:
"What you suggest is quite practicable. On and after to-morrow
evening I will watch for you; and if I don't come down at the end
of half an hour, you will know that I am unavoidably detained."
Chupin ought to have been satisfied. But no, he had still another
request to make; and instinct, supplying the lack of education,
told him that it was a delicate one. Indeed, he dared not present
his petition; but his embarrassment was so evident, and he twisted
his poor cap so despairingly, that at last the young girl gently
asked him: "Is there anything more?"
He still hesitated, but eventually, mustering all his courage, he
replied: "Well, yes, mademoiselle. I've never seen Monsieur
Ferailleur. Is he tall or short, light or dark, stout or thin? I
do not know. I might stand face to face with him without being
able to say, 'It's he.' But it would be quite a different thing if
I only had a photograph of him."
A crimson flush spread over Mademoiselle Marguerite's face. Still
she answered, unaffectedly, "I will give you M. Ferailleur's
photograph to-morrow, monsieur."
"Then I shall be all right!" exclaimed Chupin. "Have no fears,
mademoiselle, we shall outwit these scoundrels!"
So far a silent witness of this scene, M. Fortunat now felt it his
duty to interfere. He was not particularly pleased by his clerk's
suddenly increased importance; and yet it mattered little to him,
for his only object was to revenge himself on Valorsay. "Victor
is a capable and trustworthy young fellow, mademoiselle," he
declared; "he has grown up under my training, and I think you will
find him a faithful servant."
A "have you finished, you old liar?" rose to Chupin's lips, but
respect for Mademoiselle Marguerite prevented him from uttering
the words. "Then everything is decided," she said, pleasantly.
And with a smile she offered her hand to Chupin as one does in
concluding a bargain.
If he had yielded to his first impulse he would have thrown
himself on his knees and kissed this hand of hers, the whitest and
most beautiful he had ever seen. As it was, he only ventured to
touch it with his finger-tips, and yet he changed color two or
three times. "What a woman!" he exclaimed, when she had left
them. "A perfect queen! A man would willingly allow himself to be
chopped in pieces for her sake; and she's as good and as clever as
she's handsome. Did you notice, monsieur, that she did not offer
to pay me. She understood that I offered to work for her for my
own pleasure, for my own satisfaction and honor. Heavens! how I
should have chafed if she had offered me money. How provoked I
should have been!"
Chupin was so fascinated that he wished no reward for his toil!
This was so astonishing that M. Fortunat remained for a moment
speechless with surprise. "Have you gone mad, Victor?" he
inquired at last.
"Mad! I?--not at all; I'm only becoming----" He stopped short. He
was going to add: "an honest man." But it is scarcely proper to
talk about the rope in the hangman's house, and there are certain
words which should never be pronounced in the presence of certain
people. Chupin knew this, and so he quickly resumed: "When I
become rich, when I'm a great banker, and have a host of clerks
who spend their time in counting my gold behind a grating, I
should like to have a wife of my own like that. But I must be off
about my business now, so till we meet again, monsieur."
The foregoing conversation will explain how it happened that
Madame Leon chanced to surprise her dear young lady in close
conversation with a vagabond clad in a blouse. Victor Chupin was
not a person to make promises and then leave them unfulfilled.
Though he was usually unimpressionable, like all who lead a
precarious existence, still, when his emotions were once aroused,
they did not spend themselves in empty protestations. It became
his fixed determination to find Pascal Ferailleur, and the
difficulties of the task in no wise weakened his resolution. His
starting point was that Pascal had lived in the Rue d'Ulm, and had
suddenly gone off with his mother, with the apparent intention of
sailing for America. This was all he knew positively, and
everything else was mere conjecture. Still Mademoiselle
Marguerite had convinced him that instead of leaving Paris, Pascal
was really still there, only waiting for an opportunity to
establish his innocence, and to wreak his vengeance upon M. de
Coralth and the Marquis de Valorsay. On the other hand, with such
a slight basis to depend upon, was it not almost madness to hope
to discover a man who had such strong reasons for concealing
himself? Chupin did not think so in fact, when he declared his
determination to perform this feat, his plan was already
On leaving M. Fortunat's office, he hastened straight to the Rue
d'Ulm, at the top of his speed. The concierge of the house where
Pascal had formerly resided was by no means a polite individual.
He was the very same man who had answered Mademoiselle
Marguerite's questions so rudely; but Chupin had a way of
conciliating even the most crabbish doorkeeper, and of drawing
from him such information as he desired. He learned that at nine
o'clock on the sixteenth of October Madame Ferailleur, after
seeing her trunks securely strapped on to a cab had entered the
vehicle, ordering the driver to take her to the Railway Station in
the Place du Havre! Chupin wished to ascertain the number of the
cab, but the concierge could not give it. He mentioned, however,
that this cab had been procured by Madame Ferailleur's servant-
woman, who lived only a few steps from the house. A moment later
Chupin was knocking at this woman's door. She was a very worthy
person, and bitterly regretted the misfortunes which had befallen
her former employers. She confirmed the doorkeeper's story, but
unfortunately she, too, had quite forgotten the number of the
vehicle. All she could say was that she had hired it at the cab
stand in the Rue Soufflot, and that the driver was a portly,
Chupin repaired at once to the Rue Soufflot, where he found the
man in charge of the stand in the most savage mood imaginable. He
began by asking Chupin what right he had to question him, why he
wished to do so, and if he took him for a spy. He added that his
duty only consisted in noting the arrivals and departures of the
drivers, and that he could give no information whatever. There
was evidently nothing to be gained from this ferocious personage;
and yet Chupin bowed none the less politely as he left the little
office. "This is bad," he growled, as he walked away, for he was
really at a loss what to do next; and if not discouraged, he was
at least extremely disconcerted and perplexed. Ah! if he had only
had a card from the prefecture of police in his pocket, or if he
had been more imposing in appearance, he would have encountered no
obstacles; he might then have tracked this cab through the streets
of Paris as easily as he could have followed a man bearing a
lighted lantern through the darkness. But poor and humble,
without letters of recommendation, and with no other auxiliaries
than his own shrewdness and experience, he had a great deal to
contend against. Pausing in his walk, he had taken off his cap
and was scratching his head furiously, when suddenly he exclaimed:
"What an ass I am!" in so loud a tone that several passers-by
turned to see who was applying this unflattering epithet to
Chupin had just remembered one of M. Isidore Fortunat's debtors, a
man whom he often visited in the hope of extorting some trifling
amount from him, and who was employed in the Central office of the
Paris Cab Company. "If any one can help me out of this
difficulty, it must be that fellow," he said to himself. "I hope
I shall find him at his desk! Come, Victor, my boy, you must look
However, he could not present himself at the office in the garb he
then wore, and so, much against his will, he went home and changed
his clothes. Then he took a cab at his own expense, and drove
with all possible speed to the main office of the Cab Company, in
the Avenue de Segur. Nevertheless it was already ten o'clock when
he arrived there. He was more fortunate than he had dared to
hope. The man he wanted had charge of a certain department, and
was compelled to return to the office every evening after dinner.
He was there now.
He was a poor devil who, while receiving a salary of fifteen
hundred francs a year, spent a couple of thousand, and utilized
his wits in defending his meagre salary from his creditors. On
perceiving Chupin, he made a wrathful gesture, and his first words
were: "I haven't got a penny."
But Chupin smiled his most genial smile. "What!" said he, "do you
fancy I've come to collect money from you here, and at this hour?
You don't know me. I merely came to ask a favor of you."
The clerk's clouded face brightened. "Since that is the case,
pray take a seat, and tell me how I can serve you," he replied.
"Very well. At nine o'clock in the evening, on the sixteenth of
October, a lady living in the Rue d'Ulm sent to the stand in the
Rue Soufflot for a cab. Her baggage was placed upon it, and she
went away no one knows where. However, this lady is a relative of
my employer, and he so much wishes to find her that he would
willingly give a hundred francs over and above the amount you owe
him, to ascertain the number of the vehicle. He pretends that you
can give him this number if you choose; and it isn't an
impossibility, is it?"
"On the contrary, nothing could be easier," replied the clerk,
glad of an opportunity to explain the ingenious mechanism of the
office to an outsider. "Have you ten minutes to spare?"
"Ten days, if necessary," rejoined Chupin.
"Then you shall see." So saying the clerk rose and went into the
adjoining room, whence a moment later he returned carrying a large
green box. "This contains the October reports sent in every
evening by the branch offices," he remarked in explanation. He
next opened the box, glanced over the documents it contained, and
joyfully exclaimed: "Here we have it. This is the report sent in
by the superintendent of the cab-stand in the Rue Soumot on the
16th October. Here is a list of the vehicles that arrived or left
from a quarter to nine o'clock till a quarter past nine. Five
cabs came in, but we need not trouble ourselves about them. Three
went out bearing the numbers 1781, 3025, and 2140. One of these
three must have taken your employer's relative."
"Then I must question the three drivers."
The clerk shrugged his shoulders. "What is the use of doing
that?" he said, disdainfully. "Ah! you don't understand the way
in which we manage our business! The drivers are artful, but the
company isn't a fool. By expending a hundred and fifty thousand
francs on its detective force every year, it knows what each cab
is doing at each hour of the day. I will now look for the reports
sent in respecting these three drivers. One of the three will
give us the desired information."
This time the search was a considerably longer one, and Chupin was
beginning to grow impatient, when the clerk waved a soiled and
crumpled sheet of paper triumphantly in the air, and cried: "What
did I tell you? This is the report concerning the driver of No.
2140. Listen: Friday, at ten minutes past nine, sent to the Rue
d'Ulm---- What do you think of that?"
"It's astonishing! But where can I find this driver?"
"I can't say, just at this moment; he's on duty now. But as he
belongs to this division he will be back sooner or later, so you
had better wait."
"I will wait then; only as I've had no dinner, I'll go out and get
a mouthful to eat. I can promise you that M. Fortunat will send
you back your note cancelled."
Chupin was really very hungry, and so he rushed off to a little
eating-house which he had remarked on his way to the office.
There for eighteen sous he dined, or rather supped, like a prince;
and as he subsequently treated himself to a cup of coffee and a
glass of brandy, as a reward for his toil, some little time had
elapsed when he returned to the office. However, No. 2140 had not
returned in his absence, so he stationed himself at the door to
wait for it.
His patience was severely tried, for it was past midnight when
Chupin saw the long-looked-for vehicle enter the courtyard. The
driver slowly descended from his box and then went into the
cashier's office to pay over his day's earnings, and hand in his
report. Then he came out again evidently bound for home. As the
servant-woman had said, he was a stout, jovial-faced man, and he
did not hesitate to accept a glass of "no matter what" in a wine-
shop that was still open. Whether he believed the story that
Chupin told to excuse his questions or not, at all events he
answered them very readily. He perfectly remembered having been
sent to the Rue d'Ulm, and spoke of his "fare" as a respectable-
looking old lady, enumerated the number of her trunks, boxes, and
packages, and even described their form. He had taken her to the
railway station, stopping at the entrance in the Rue d'Amsterdam;
and when the porters inquired, as usual, "Where is this baggage to
go?" the old lady had answered, "To London."
Chupin felt decidedly crestfallen on hearing this. He had fancied
that Madame Ferailleur had merely announced her intention of
driving to the Havre railway station so as to set possible spies
on the wrong track, and he would have willingly wagered anything,
that after going a short distance she had given the cabman
different instructions. Not so, however, he had taken her
straight to the station. Was Mademoiselle Marguerite deceived
then? Had Pascal really fled from his enemies without an attempt
at resistance? Such a course seemed impossible on his part.
Thinking over all this, Chupin slept but little that night, and
the next morning, before five o'clock, he was wandering about the
Rue d'Amsterdam peering into the wine-shops in search of some
railway porter. It did not take him long to find one, and having
done so, he made him the best of friends in less than no time.
Although this porter knew nothing about the matter himself, he
took Chupin to a comrade who remembered handling the baggage of an
old lady bound for London, on the evening of the sixteenth.
However, this baggage was not put into the train after all; the
old lady had left it in the cloak-room, and the next day a fat
woman of unprepossessing appearance had called for the things, and
had taken them away, after paying the charges for storage. This
circumstance had been impressed on the porter's mind by the fact
that the woman had not given him a farthing gratuity, although he
had been much more obliging than the regulations required.
However, when she went off, she remarked in a honeyed voice, but
with an exceedingly impudent air: "I'll repay you for your
kindness, my lad. I keep a wine-shop on the Route d'Asnieres, and
if you ever happen to pass that way with one of your comrades,
come in, and I'll reward you with a famous drink!"
What had exasperated the porter almost beyond endurance, was the
certainty he felt that she was mocking him. "For she didn't give
me her name or address, the old witch!" he growled. "She had
better look out, if I ever get hold of her again!"
But Chupin had already gone off, unmoved by his informant's
grievances. Now that he had discovered the stratagem which Madame
Ferailleur had employed to elude her pursuers, his conjectures
were changed into certainties. This information proved that
Pascal WAS concealed somewhere in Paris; but where? If he could
only find out this woman who had called for the trunks, it would
lead to the discovery of Madame Ferailleur and her son hut how was
he to ascertain the woman's whereabouts? She had said that she
kept a wine-shop on the Route d'Asnieres. Was this true? Was it
not more likely that this vague direction was only a fresh
This much was certain: Chupin, who knew every wine-shop on the
Route d'Asnieres, did not remember any such powerful matron as the
porter had described. He had not forgotten Madame Vantrasson.
But to imagine any bond of interest between Pascal and such a
woman as she was, seemed absurd in the extreme. However, as he
found himself in such a plight and could not afford to let any
chance escape, he repaired merely for form's sake to the
Vantrasson establishment. It had not changed in the least since
the evening he visited it in company with M. Fortunat--but seen in
the full light of day, it appeared even more dingy and
dilapidated. Madame Vantrasson was not in her accustomed place,
behind the counter, between her black cat--her latest idol--and
the bottles from which she prepared her ratafia, now her supreme
consolation here below. There was no one in the shop but the
landlord. Seated at a table, with a lighted candle near him, he
was engaged in an occupation which would have set Chupin's mind
working if he had noticed it. Vantrasson had taken some wax from
a sealed bottle, and, after melting it at the flame of the candle,
he let it drop slowly on to the table. He then pressed a sou upon
it, and when the wax had become sufficiently cool and stiff, he
removed it from the table without destroying the impression, by
means of a thin bladed knife similar to those which glaziers use.
However, Chupin did not remark this singular employment. He was
engaged in mentally ejaculating, "Good! the old woman isn't here."
And as his plan of campaign was already prepared, he entered
without further hesitation.
As Vantrasson heard the door turn upon its hinges, he rose so
awkwardly, or rather so skilfully, as to let all his implements,
wax, knife, and impressions, fall on the floor behind the counter.
"What can I do to serve you?" he asked, in a husky voice.
"Nothing. I wished to speak with your wife."
"She has gone out. She works for a family in the morning."
This was a gleam of light. Chupin had not thought of the only
hypothesis that could explain what seemed inexplicable to him.
However, he knew how to conceal his satisfaction, and so with an
air of disappointment, he remarked: "That's too bad! I shall be
obliged to call again."
"So you have a secret to tell my wife?"
"Not at all."
"Won't I do as well, then?"
"I'll tell you how it is. I'm employed in the baggage room of the
western railway station, and I wanted to know if your wife didn't
call there a few days ago for some trunks?"
The landlord's features betrayed the vague perturbation of a
person who can count the days by his mistakes, and it was with
evident hesitation that he replied:
"Yes, my wife went to the Havre station for some baggage last
"I thought so. Well, this is my errand: either the clerk forgot
to ask her for her receipt, or else he lost it. He can't find it
anywhere. I came to ask your wife if she hadn't kept it. When
she returns, please deliver my message; and if she has the
receipt, pray send it to me through the post."
The ruse was not particularly clever, but it was sufficiently so
to deceive Vantrasson. "To whom am I to send this receipt?" he
"To me, Victor Chupin, Faubourg Saint Denis," was the reply.
Imprudent youth! alas, he little suspected what a liberty M.
Fortunat had taken with his name on the evening he visited the
Vantrassons. But on his side the landlord of the Model Lodging
House had not forgotten the name mentioned by the agent. He
turned pale with anger on beholding his supposed creditor, and
quickly slipping between the visitor and the door, he said: "So
your name is Victor Chupin?"
"And you are in the employment of the Railway Company?"
"As I just told you."
"That doesn't prevent you from acting as a collector, does it?"
Chupin instinctively recoiled, convinced that he had betrayed
himself by some blunder, but unable to discover in what he had
erred. "I did do something in that line formerly," he faltered.
Vantrasson doubted no longer. "So you confess that you are a vile
scoundrel!" he exclaimed. "You confess that you purchased an old
promissory note of mine for fourpence, and then sent a man here to
seize my goods! Ah! you'd like to trample the poor under foot,
would you! Very well. I have you now, and I'll settle your
account! Take that!" And so saying, he dealt his supposed creditor
a terrible blow with his clinched fist that sent him reeling to
the other end of the shop.
Fortunately, Chupin was very nimble. He did not lose his footing,
but sprung over a table and used it as a rampart to shield himself
from his dangerous assailant. In the open field, he could easily
have protected himself; but here in this narrow space, and hemmed
in a corner, he felt that despite this barrier he was lost. "What
a devil of a mess!" he thought, as with wonderful agility he
avoided Vantrasson's fist, a fist that would have felled an ox.
He had an idea of calling for assistance. But would any one hear
him? Would any one reply? And if help came, would not the police
be sure to hear of the broil? And if they did, would there not be
an investigation which would perhaps disturb Pascal's plans?
Fearing to injure those whom he wished to serve, he resolved to
let himself be hacked to pieces rather than allow a cry to escape
him; but he changed his tactics, and instead of attempting to
parry the blows as he had done before, he now only thought of
gaining the door, inch by inch.
He had almost reached it, not without suffering considerable
injury, when it suddenly opened, and a young man clad in black,
with a smooth shaven face, entered the shop, and sternly
exclaimed: "Why! what's all this?"
The sight of the newcomer seemed to stupefy Vantrasson. "Ah! it
is you, Monsieur Maumejan?" he faltered, with a crestfallen air.
"It's nothing; we were only in fun."
M. Maumejan seemed perfectly satisfied with this explanation; and
in the indifferent tone of a man who is delivering a message, the
meaning of which he scarcely understood, he said: "A person who
knows that your wife is in my employ requested me to ask you if
you would be ready to attend to that little matter she spoke of."
"Certainly. I was preparing for it a moment ago."
Chupin heard no more. He had hurried out, his clothes in
disorder, and himself not a little hurt; but his delight made him
lose all thought of his injuries. "That's M. Ferailleur," he
muttered, "I'm sure of it, and I'm going to prove it." So saying
he hid himself in the doorway of a vacant house a few paces
distant from the Vantrassons', and waited.
Then as soon as M. Maumejan emerged from the Model Lodging House,
he followed him. The young man with the clean shaven face walked
up the Route d'Asnieres, turned to the right into the Route de la
Revolte, and at last paused before a house of humble aspect. At
that moment Chupin darted toward him, and softly called, "M'sieur
The young man turned instinctively. Then seeing his mistake, and
feeling that he had betrayed himself, he sprang upon Chupin, and
caught him by the wrists: "Scoundrel! who are you?" he exclaimed.
"Who has hired you to follow me! What do you want of me?"
"Not so fast, m'sieur! Don't be so rough! You hurt me. I'm sent
by Mademoiselle Marguerite!"
"O God! send Pascal to my aid," prayed Mademoiselle Marguerite, as
she left M. Fortunat's house. Now she understood the intrigue she
had been the victim of; but, instead of reassuring her the agent
had frightened her, by revealing the Marquis de Valorsay's
desperate plight. She realized what frenzied rage must fill this
man's heart as he felt himself gradually slipping from the heights
of opulence, down into the depths of poverty and crime. What
might he not dare, in order to preserve even the semblance of
grandeur for a year, or a month, or a day longer! Had they
measured the extent of his villainy? Would he even hesitate at
murder? And the poor girl asked herself with a shudder if Pascal
were still living; and a vision of his bleeding corpse, lying
lifeless in some deserted street, rose before her. And who could
tell what dangers threatened her personally? For, though she knew
the past, she could not read the future. What did M. de
Valorsay's letter mean? and what was the fate that he held in
reserve for her, and that made him so sanguine of success? The
impression produced upon her mind was so terrible that for a
moment she thought of hastening to the old justice of the peace to
ask for his protection and a refuge. But this weakness did not
last long. Should she lose her energy? Should her will fail her
at the decisive moment? "No, a thousand times no!" she said to
herself again and again. "I will die if needs be, but I will die
fighting!" And the nearer she approached the Rue Pigalle, the more
energetically she drove away her apprehension, and sought for an
excuse calculated to satisfy any one who might have noticed her
An unnecessary precaution. She found the house as when she left
it, abandoned to the mercy of the servants--the strangers sent the
evening before from the employment office. Important matters
still kept the General and his wife from home. The husband had to
show his horses; and the wife was intent upon shopping. As for
Madame Leon, most of her time seemed to be taken up by the family
of relatives she had so suddenly discovered. Alone, free from all
espionage, and wishing to ward off despondency by occupation,
Mademoiselle Marguerite was just beginning a letter to her friend
the old magistrate, when a servant entered and announced that her
dressmaker was there and wished to speak with her. "Let her come
in," replied Marguerite, with unusual vivacity. "Let her come in
A lady who looked some forty years of age, plainly dressed, but of
distinguished appearance, was thereupon ushered into the room.
Like any well-bred modiste, she bowed respectfully while the
servant was present, but as soon as he had left the room she
approached Mademoiselle Marguerite and took hold of her hands: "My
dear young lady," said she, "I am the sister-in-law of your old
friend, the magistrate. Having an important message to send to
you, he was trying to find a person whom he could trust to play
the part of a dressmaker, as had been agreed upon between you,
when I offered my services, thinking he could find no one more
trusty than myself."
Tears glittered in Mademoiselle Marguerite's eyes. The slightest
token of sympathy is so sweet to the heart of the lonely and
unfortunate! "How can I ever thank you, madame?" she faltered.
"By not attempting to thank me at all, and by reading this letter
as soon as possible.:
The note she now produced ran as follows:
"MY DEAR CHILD--At last I am on the track of the thieves. By
conferring with the people from whom M. de Chalusse received the
money a couple of days before his death, I have been fortunate
enough to obtain from them some minute details respecting the
missing bonds, as well as the numbers of the bank-notes which were
deposited in the escritoire. With this information, we cannot
fail to prove the guilt of the culprits sooner or later. You
write me word that the Fondeges are spending money lavishly; try
and find out the names of the people they deal with, and
communicate them to me. Once more, I tell you that I am sure of
"Well!" said the spurious dressmaker, when she saw that Marguerite
had finished reading the letter. "What answer shall I take my
"Tell him that he shall certainly have the information he requires
to-morrow. To-day, I can only give him the name of the carriage
builder, from whom M. de Fondege has purchased his new carriages."
"Give it to me in writing, it is much the safest way."
Mademoiselle Marguerite did so, and her visitor who, as a woman,
was delighted to find herself mixed up in an intrigue, then went
off repeating the old magistrate's advice: "Courage!"
But it was no longer necessary to encourage Mademoiselle
Marguerite. The assurance of being so effectually helped, had
already increased her courage an hundredfold. The future that had
seemed so gloomy only a moment before, had now suddenly
brightened. By means of the negative in the keeping of the
photographer, Carjat, she had the Marquis de Valorsay in her
power, and the magistrate, thanks to the numbers of the bank-
notes, could soon prove the guilt of the Fondeges. The protection
of Providence was made evident in an unmistakable manner. Thus it
was with a placid and almost smiling face that she successively
greeted Madame Leon, who returned home quite played out, then
Madame de Fondege, who made her appearance attended by two shop-
boys overladen with packages, and finally the General, who brought
his son, Lieutenant Gustave, with him to dinner.
The lieutenant was a good-looking fellow of twenty-seven, or
thereabouts, with laughing eyes and a heavy mustache. He made a
great clanking with his spurs, and wore the somewhat theatrical
uniform of the 13th Hussars rather ostentatiously. He bowed to
Mademoiselle Marguerite with a smile that was too becoming to be
displeasing; and he offered her his arm with an air of triumph to
lead her to the dining-room, as soon as the servant came to
announce that "Madame la Comtesse was served."
Seated opposite to him at table, the young girl could not refrain
from furtively watching the man whom they wished to compel her to
marry. Never had she seen such intense self-complacency coupled
with such utter mediocrity. It was evident that he was doing his
best to produce a favorable impression; but as the dinner
progressed, his conversation became rather venturesome. He
gradually grew extremely animated; and three or four adventures of
garrison life which he persisted in relating despite his mother's
frowns, were calculated to convince his hearers that he was a
great favorite with the fair sex. It was the good cheer that
loosened his tongue. There could be no possible doubt on that
score; and, indeed, while drinking a glass of the Chateau Laroze,
to which Madame Leon had taken such a liking, he was indiscreet
enough to declare that if his mother had always kept house in this
fashion, he should have been inclined to ask for more frequent
leaves of absence.
However, strange to say, after the coffee was served, the
conversation languished till at last it died out almost entirely.
Madame de Fondege was the first to disappear on the pretext that
some domestic affairs required her attention. The General was the
next to rise and go out, in order to smoke a cigar; and finally
Madame Leon made her escape without saying a word. So
Mademoiselle Marguerite was left quite alone with Lieutenant
Gustave. It was evident enough to the young girl that this had
been preconcerted; and she asked herself what kind of an opinion
M. and Madame de Fondege could have of her delicacy. The
proceeding made her so indignant that she was on the point of
rising from the table and of retiring like the others, when reason
restrained her. She said to herself that perhaps she might gain
some useful information from this young man, and so she remained.
His face was crimson, and he seemed by far the more embarrassed of
the two. He sat with one elbow resting on the table, and with his
gaze persistently fixed upon a tiny glass half full of brandy
which he held in his hand, as if he hoped to gain some sublime
inspiration from it. At last, after an interval of irksome
silence, he ventured to exclaim: "Mademoiselle, should you like to
be an officer's wife?"
"I don't know," answered Marguerite.
"Really! But at least you understand my motive in asking this
Any one but the complacent lieutenant would have been disconcerted
by Mademoiselle Marguerite's dry tone; but he did not even notice
it. The effort that he was making in his intense desire to be
eloquent and persuasive absorbed the attention of all his
faculties. "Then permit me to explain, mademoiselle," he resumed.
"We meet this evening for the first time, but our acquaintance is
not the affair of a day. For I know not how long my father and
mother have continually been chanting your praises. 'Mademoiselle
Marguerite does this; Mademoiselle Marguerite does that.' They
never cease talking of you, declaring that heart, wit, talent,
beauty, all womanly charms are united in your person. And they
have never wearied of telling me that the man whom you honored
with your preference would be the happiest of mortals. However,
so far I had no desire to marry, and I distrusted them. In fact,
I had conceived a most violent prejudice against you. Yes, upon
my honor! I felt sure that I should dislike you; but I have seen
you and all is changed. As soon as my eyes fell upon you, I
experienced a powerful revulsion of feeling. I was never so
smitten in my life--and I said to myself, 'Lieutenant, it is all
over--you are caught at last!'"
Pale with anger, astonished and humiliated beyond measure, the
young girl listened with her head lowered, vainly trying to find
words to express the feelings which disturbed her; but M. Gustave,
misunderstanding her silence, and congratulating himself upon the
effect he had produced, grew bolder, and with the tenderest and
most impassioned inflection he could impart to his voice,
continued: "Who could fail to be impressed as I have been? How
could one behold, without rapturous admiration, such beautiful
eyes, such glorious black hair, such smiling lips, such a graceful
mien, such wonderful charms of person and of mind? How would it be
possible to listen, unmoved, to a voice which is clearer and purer
than crystal? Ah! my mother's descriptions fell far short of the
truth. But how can one describe the perfections of an angel? To
any one who has the happiness or the misfortune of knowing you,
there can only be one woman in the world!"
He had gradually approached her chair, and now extended his hand
to take hold of Marguerite's, and probably raise it to his lips.
But she shrank from the contact as from red-hot iron, and rising
hurriedly, with her eyes flashing, and her voice quivering with
indignation: "Monsieur!" she exclaimed, "Monsieur!"
He was so surprised that he stood as if petrified, with his eyes
wide open and his hand still extended. "Permit me--allow me to
explain," he stammered. But she declined to listen. "Who has
told you that you could address such words to me with impunity?"
she continued. "Your parents, I suppose; I daresay they told you
to be bold. And that is why they have left us, and why no servant
has appeared. Ah! they make me pay dearly for the hospitality
they have given me!" As she spoke the tears started from her eyes
and glistened on her long lashes. "Whom did you fancy you were
speaking to?" she added. "Would you have been so audacious if I
had a father or a brother to resent your insults?"
The lieutenant started as if he had been lashed with a whip. "Ah!
you are severe!" he exclaimed.
And a happy inspiration entering his mind, he continued: "A man
does not insult a woman, mademoiselle, when, while telling her
that he loves her and thinks her beautiful, he offers her his name
Mademoiselle Marguerite shrugged her shoulders ironically, and
remained for a moment silent. She was very proud, and her pride
had been cruelly wounded; but reason told her that a continuation
of this scene would render a prolonged sojourn in the General's
house impossible; and where could she go, without exciting
malevolent remarks? Whom could she ask an asylum of? Still this
consideration alone would not have sufficed to silence her. But
she remembered that a quarrel and a rupture with the Fondeges
would certainly imperil the success of her plans. "So I will
swallow even this affront," she said to herself; and then in a
tone of melancholy bitterness, she remarked, aloud: "A man cannot
set a very high value on his name when he offers it to a woman
whom he knows absolutely nothing about."
"Excuse me--you forget that my mother----"
"Your mother has only known me for a week."
An expression of intense surprise appeared on the lieutenant's
face. "Is it possible?" he murmured.
"Your father has met me five or six times at the table of the
Count de Chalusse, who was his friend--but what does he know of
me?" resumed Mademoiselle Marguerite. "That I came to the Hotel
de Chalusse a year ago, and that the count treated me like a
daughter--that is all! Who I am, where I was reared, and how, and
what my past life has been, these are matters that M. de Fondege
knows nothing whatever about."
"My parents told me that you were the daughter of the Count de
"What proof have they of it? They ought to have told you that I
was an unfortunate foundling, with no other name than that of
"They ought to have told you that I am poor, very poor, and that I
should probably have been reduced to the necessity of toiling for
my daily bread, if it had not been for them."
An incredulous smile curved the lieutenant's lips. He fancied
that Mademoiselle Marguerite only wished to prove his
disinterestedness, and this thought restored his assurance.
"Perhaps you are exaggerating a little, mademoiselle," he replied.
"I am not exaggerating--I possess but ten thousand francs in the
world--I swear it by all that I hold sacred."
"That would not even be the dowry required of an officer's wife by
law," muttered the lieutenant.
Was his incredulity sincere or affected? What had his parents
really told him? Had they confided everything to him, and was he
their accomplice? or had they told him nothing? All these
questions flashed rapidly through Marguerite's mind. "You suppose
that I am rich, monsieur," she resumed at last. "I understand
that only too well. If I was, you ought to shun me as you would
shun a criminal, for I could only be wealthy through a crime."
"Yes, through a crime. After M. de Chalusse's death, two million
francs that had been placed in his escritoire for safe keeping,
could not be found. Who stole the money? I myself have been
accused of the theft. Your father must have told you of this, as
well as of the cloud of suspicion that is still hanging over me."
She paused, for the lieutenant had become whiter than his shirt.
"Good God!" he exclaimed in a tone of horror, as if a terrible
light had suddenly broken upon his mind. He made a movement as if
to leave the room, but suddenly changing his mind, he bowed low
before Mademoiselle Marguerite, and said, in a husky voice:
"Forgive me, mademoiselle, I did not know what I was doing. I
have been misinformed. I have been beguiled by false hopes. I
entreat you to say that you forgive me."
"I forgive you, monsieur."
But still he lingered. "I am only a poor devil of a lieutenant,"
he resumed, "with no other fortune than my epaulettes, no other
prospects than an uncertain advancement. I have been foolish and
thoughtless. I have committed many acts of folly; but there is
nothing in my past life for which I have cause to blush." He
looked fixedly at Mademoiselle Marguerite, as if he were striving
to read her inmost soul; and in a solemn tone, that contrasted
strangely with his usual levity of manner, he added: "If the name
I bear should ever be compromised, my prospects would be blighted
forever! The only course left for me would be to tender my
resignation. I will leave nothing undone to preserve my honor in
the eyes of the world, and to right those who have been wronged.
Promise me not to interfere with my plans."
Mademoiselle Marguerite trembled like a leaf. She now realized
her terrible imprudence. He had divined everything. As she
remained silent, he continued wildly: "I entreat you. Do you wish
me to beg you at your feet?"
Ah! it was a terrible sacrifice that he demanded of her. But how
could she remain obdurate in the presence of such intense anguish?
"I will remain neutral," she replied, "that is all I can promise.
Providence shall decide."
"Thank you," he said, sadly, suspecting that perhaps it was
already too late--"thank you." Then he turned to go, and, in fact,
he had already opened the door, when a forlorn hope brought him
back to Mademoiselle Marguerite, whose hand he took, timidly
faltering, "We are friends, are we not?"
She did not withdraw her icy hand, and in a scarcely audible
voice, she repeated: "We are friends?"
Convinced that he could obtain nothing more from her than her
promised neutrality, the lieutenant thereupon hastily left the
room, and she sank back in her chair more dead than alive. "Great
God! what is coming now?" she murmured.
She thought she could understand the unfortunate young man's
intentions, and she listened with a throbbing heart, expecting to
hear a stormy explanation between his parents and himself. In
point of fact, she almost immediately afterward heard the
lieutenant inquire in a stern, imperious voice: "Where is my
"The General has just gone to his club."
"And my mother?"