Part 7 out of 7
"A friend of hers called a few moments ago to take her to the
That was all. The outer door opened and closed again with extreme
violence, and then Marguerite heard nothing save the sneering
remarks of the servants.
It was, indeed, madness on the part of M. and Madame de Fondege
not to have waited to learn the result of this interview, planned
by themselves, and upon which their very lives depended. But
delirium seemed to have seized them since, thanks to a still
inexplicable crime, they had suddenly found themselves in
possession of an immense fortune. Perhaps in this wild pursuit of
pleasure, in the haste they displayed to satisfy their covetous
longings, they hoped to forget or silence the threatening voice of
conscience. Such was Mademoiselle Marguerite's conclusion; but
she was not long left to undisturbed meditation. By the
lieutenant's departure the restrictions which had been placed upon
the servants' movements had evidently been removed, for they came
in to clear the table.
Having with some little difficulty obtained a candle from one of
these model servants, Mademoiselle Marguerite now retired to her
own room. In her anxiety, she forgot Madame Leon, but the latter
had not forgotten her; she was even now listening at the drawing-
room door, inconsolable to think that she had not succeeded in
hearing at least part of the conversation between the lieutenant
and her dear young lady. Marguerite had no wish to reflect over
what had occurred. As she was determined to keep the promise
which Lieutenant Gustave had wrung from her, it mattered little
whether she had committed a great mistake in allowing him to
discover her knowledge of his parent's guilt, and in listening to
his entreaties. A secret presentiment warned her that the
punishment which would overtake the General and his wife would be
none the less terrible, despite her own forbearance, and that they
would find their son more inexorable than the severest judge.
The essential thing was to warn the old magistrate; and so in a
couple of pages she summarized the scene of the evening, feeling
sure that she would find an opportunity to post her letter on the
following day. This duty accomplished, she took a book and went
to bed, hoping to drive away her gloomy thoughts by reading. But
the hope was vain. Her eyes read the words, followed the lines
and crossed the pages, but her mind utterly refused to obey her
will, and in spite of all her efforts persisted in turning to the
shrewd youth who had solemnly sworn to find Pascal for her. A
little after midnight Madame de Fondege returned from the opera,
and at once proceeded to reprimand her maid for not having lighted
a fire. The General returned some time afterward, and he was
evidently in the best of spirits.
They have not seen their son," said Mademoiselle Marguerite to
herself, and this anxiety, combined with many others, tortured her
so cruelly, that she did not fall asleep until near daybreak.
Even then she did not slumber long. It was scarcely half-past
seven when she was aroused by a strange commotion and a loud sound
of hammering. She was trying to imagine the cause of all this
uproar, when Madame de Fondege, already arrayed in a marvellous
robe composed of three skirts and an enormous puff, entered the
room. "I have come to take you away, my dear child," she
exclaimed. "The owner of the house has decided to make some
repairs, and the workmen have already invaded our apartments. The
General has taken flight, let us follow his example--so make
yourself beautiful and we'll go at once."
Without a word, the young girl hastened to obey, while Madame de
Fondege expiated on the delightful drive they would take together
in the wonderful brougham which the General had purchased a couple
of days before. As for Lieutenant Gustave, she did not even
mention his name.
Accustomed to the superb equipages of the Chalusse establishment,
Mademoiselle Marguerite did not consider the much-lauded brougham
at all remarkable. At the most, it was very showy, having
apparently been selected with a view to attracting as much
attention as possible. Madame de Fondege was not in a mood to
consider an objection that morning. She was evidently in a
nervous state of mind, extremely restless and excited indeed, it
seemed impossible for her to keep still. In default of something
better to do, she visited at least a dozen shops, asking to see
everything, finding everything frightful, and purchasing without
regard to price. It might have been fancied that she wished to
buy all Paris. About ten o'clock she dragged Marguerite to Van
Klopen's. Received as a habituee of the establishment, thanks to
the numerous orders she had given within the past few days, she
was even allowed to enter the mysterious saloon in which the
illustrious ruler of Fashion served such of his clients as had a
predilection for absinthe or madeira. On leaving the place, and
before entering the carriage again, Madame de Fondege turned to
Marguerite and inquired: "Where shall we go now? I have given
the servants an 'outing' on account of the workmen, and we cannot
breakfast at home. Why can't we go to a restaurant, we two? Many
of the most distinguished ladies are in the habit of doing so.
You will see how people will look at us! I am sure it will amuse
"Ah! madame, you forget that it is not a fortnight since the
Madame de Fondege was about to make an impatient reply, but she
mastered the impulse, and in a tone of hypocritical compassion,
exclaimed: "Poor child! poor, dear child! that's true. I had
forgotten. Well, such being the case, we'll go and ask Baroness
Trigault to give us our breakfast. You will see a lovely woman."
And addressing the coachman she instructed him to drive to the
Trigault mansion in the Rue de la Ville l'Eveque.
When Madame de Fondege's brougham drew up before the door, the
baron was standing in the courtyard with a cigar between his
teeth, examining a pair of horses which had been sent him on
approbation. He did not like his wife's friend, and he usually
avoided her. But precisely because he was acquainted with the
General's crime and Pascal's plans, he thought it politic to seem
amiable. So, on recognizing Madame de Fondege through the
carriage window, he hastened forward with outstretched hand to
assist her in alighting. "Did you come to take breakfast with
us?" he asked. "That would be a most delightful----"
The remainder of the sentence died unuttered upon his lips. His
face became crimson, and the cigar he was holding slipped from his
fingers. He had just perceived Mademoiselle Marguerite, and his
consternation was so apparent that Madame de Fondege could not
fail to remark it; however, she attributed it to the girl's
remarkable beauty. "This is Mademoiselle de Chalusse, my dear
baron," said she, "the daughter of the noble and esteemed friend
whom we so bitterly lament."
Ah! it was not necessary to tell the baron who this young girl
was; he knew it only too well. He was not overcome for long; a
thought of vengeance speedily flashed through his mind. It seemed
to him that Providence itself offered him the means of putting an
end to an intolerable situation. Regaining his self-control by a
powerful effort, he preceded Madame de Fondege through the
magnificent apartments of the mansion, lightly saying: "My wife is
in her boudoir. She will be delighted to see you. But first of
all, I have a good secret to confide to you. So let me take this
young lady to the baroness, and you and I can join them in a
moment!" Thereupon, without waiting for any rejoinder, he took
Marguerite's arm and led her toward the end of the hall. Then
opening a door, he exclaimed in a mocking voice: "Madame Trigault,
allow me to present to you the daughter of the Count de Chalusse."
And adding in a whisper: "This is your mother, young girl," he
pushed the astonished Marguerite into the room, closed the door,
and returned to Madame de Fondege.
Paler than her white muslin wrapper, the Baroness Trigault sprang
from her chair. This was the woman who, while her husband was
braving death to win fortune for her, had been dazzled by the
Count de Chalusse's wealth, and who, later in life, when she was
the richest of the rich, had sunk into the very depths of
degradation--had stooped, indeed, to a Coralth! The baroness had
once been marvellously beautiful, and even now, many murmurs of
admiration greeted her when she dashed through the Champs Elysees
in her magnificent equipage, attired in one of those eccentric
costumes which she alone dared to wear. She was a type of the
wife created by the customs of fashionable society; the woman who
feels elated when her name appears in the newspapers and in the
chronicles of Parisian "high life"; who has no thought of her
deserted fireside, but is ever tormented by a terrible thirst for
bustle and excitement; whose head is empty, and whose heart is
dry--the woman who only exists for the world; and who is devoured
by unappeasable covetousness, and who, at times, envies an
actress's liberty, and the notoriety of the leaders of the demi-
monde; the woman who is always in quest of fresh excitement, and
fails to find it; the woman who is blase, and prematurely old in
mind and body, and who yet still clings despairingly to her
Inaccessible to any emotion but vanity, the baroness had never
shed a tear over her husband's sufferings. She was sure of her
absolute power over him. What did the rest matter? She even
gloried in her knowledge that she could make this man--who loved
her in spite of everything--at one moment furious with rage or
wild with grief, and then an instant afterward plunge him into the
rapture of a senseless ecstasy by a word, a smile, or a caress.
For such was her power, and she often exercised it mercilessly.
Even after the frightful scene that Pascal had witnessed, she had
made another appeal to the baron, and he had been weak enough to
give her the thirty thousand francs which M. de Coralth needed to
purchase his wife's silence.
However, this time the baroness trembled. Her usual shrewdness
had not deserted her, and she perfectly understood all that
Marguerite's presence in that house portended. Since her husband
brought this young girl--her daughter--to her he must know
everything, and have taken some fatal resolution. Had she,
indeed, exhausted the patience which she had fancied
inexhaustible? She was not ignorant of the fact that her husband
had disposed of his immense fortune in a way that would enable him
to say and prove that he was insolvent whenever occasion required;
and if he found courage to apply for a legal separation, what
could she hope to obtain from the courts? A bare living, almost
nothing. In such a case, how could she exist? She would be
compelled to spend her last years in the same poverty that had
made her youth so wretched. She saw herself--ah! what a frightful
misfortune--turfed out of her princely home, and reduced to
furnished apartments rented for five hundred francs a year!
Mademoiselle Marguerite was no less startled and horror-stricken
than Madame Trigault, and she stood rooted to the spot, exactly
where the baron had left her. Silent and motionless, they
confronted each other for a moment which seemed a century to both
of them. The resemblance--which had astonished Pascal could not
fail to strike them, for it was still more noticeable now that
they stood face to face. But anything was preferable to this
torturing suspense, and so, summoning all her courage, the
baroness broke the silence by saying: "You are the daughter of the
Count de Chalusse?"
"I think so, but I have no proofs of it."
"I don't know her; madame, and I have no desire to know her."
Disconcerted by this brief but implacable reply, Madame Trigault
hung her head.
"What could I have to say to my mother?" continued Marguerite.
"That I hate her? My courage would fail me to do so. And yet, how
can I think without bitterness of the woman who, after abandoning
me herself, endeavored to deprive me of my father's love and
protection? I could have forgiven anything but that. Ah! I have
not always been so patient and resigned! The laws of our country
do not forbid illigitimate children to search for their parents,
and more than once I have said to myself that I would discover my
mother, and have my revenge."
"But you have no means of discovering her?"
"In this you are greatly mistaken, madame. After the Count de
Chalusse's death, a package of letters, a glove and some withered
flowers were found in one of the drawers of his escritoire."
The baroness started back as if a yawning chasm had suddenly
opened at her feet. "My letters!" she exclaimed. "Ah! wretched
woman that I am, he kept them. It is all over! I am lost, for of
course, they have been read?"
"The ribbon securing them together has never been untied."
"Is that true? Don t deceive me! Where are they, then--where are
"Under the protection of the seals affixed by the justice of the
Madame Trigault tottered, as if she were about to fall. "Then it
is only a reprieve," she moaned, "and I am none the less ruined.
Those cursed letters will necessarily be read, and all will be
discovered. They will see----" The thought of what they would
see endowed her with the energy of despair, and clutching hold of
Marguerite's wrists: "Listen!" said she, approaching so near that
her hot breath scorched the girl's cheeks, "no one must be allowed
to see those letters!--it must not be! I will tell you what they
contain. I hated my husband; I loved the Count de Chalusse madly,
and he had sworn that he would marry me if ever I became a widow.
Do you understand now? The name of the poison I obtained--how I
proposed to administer it, and what its effects would be--all this
is plainly written in my own handwriting and signed--yes, signed--
with my own name. The plot failed, but it was none the less real,
positive, palpable--and those letters are a proof of it. But they
shall never be read--no--not if I am obliged to set fire to the
Hotel de Chalusse with my own hand."
Now the count's constant terror, the fear with which this woman
had inspired him, were explained. He was an accomplice--he also
had written no doubt, and she had preserved his letters as he had
preserved hers. Crime had bound them indissolubly together.
Horrified beyond expression, Marguerite freed herself from Madame
Trigault's grasp. "I swear to you, madame, that everything any
human being can do to save your letters shall be done by me," she
"And have you any hope of success?"
"Yes," replied the girl, remembering her friend, the magistrate.
Moved by a far more powerful emotion than any she had ever known
before, the baroness uttered an exclamation of joy. "Ah! how good
you are!" she exclaimed--"how generous! how noble! You take your
revenge in giving me back life, honor, everything--for you are my
daughter; do you not know it? Did they not tell you, before
bringing you here, that I was the hated and unnatural mother who
She advanced with tearful eyes and outstretched arms, but
Marguerite sternly waved her back. "Spare yourself, madame, and
spare me, the humiliation of an unnecessary explanation."
"Marguerite! Good God! you repulse me. After all you have
promised to do for me, will you not forgive me?"
"I will try to forget, madame," replied the girl and she was
already stepping toward the door when the baroness threw herself
at her feet, crying, in a heart-rending tone: "Have pity,
Marguerite, I am your mother. One has no right to deny one's own
But the young girl passed on. "My mother is dead, madame; I do
not know you!" And she left the room without even turning her
head, without even glancing at the baroness, who had fallen upon
the floor in a deep swoon.
Baron Trigault still held Madame de Fondege a prisoner in the
hall. What did he say to her in justification of the expedient he
had improvised? His own agitation was so great that he scarcely
knew, and it mattered but little after all, for the good lady did
not even pretend to listen to his apologies. Although by no means
overshrewd, she suspected some great mystery, some bit of scandal,
perhaps, and her eyes never once wandered from the door leading to
the boudoir. At last this door opened and Mademoiselle Marguerite
reappeared. "Great heavens!" exclaimed Madame de Fondege; "what
has happened to my poor child?"
For the unfortunate girl advanced with an automatic tread, her
eyes fixed on vacancy, and her hands outstretched, as if feeling
her way. It indeed seemed to her as if the floor swayed to and
fro under her feet, as if the walls tottered, as if the ceiling
were about to fall and crush her.
Madame de Fondege sprang forward. "What is the matter, my
Alas! the poor girl was utterly overcome. "It is but a trifle,"
she faltered. But her eyes closed, her hands clutched wildly for
some support, and she would have fallen to the ground if the baron
had not caught her in his arms and carried her to a sofa. "Help!"
cried Madame de Fondege, "help, she is dying!--a physician!"
But there was no need of a physician. One of the maids came with
some fresh water and a bottle of smelling salts, and Marguerite
soon recovered sufficiently to sit up, and cast a frightened
glance around her, while she mechanically passed her hand again
and again over her cold forehead. "Do you feel better my
darling?" inquired Madame de Fondege at last.
"Ah! you gave me a terrible fright; see how I tremble." But the
worthy lady's fright was as nothing in comparison with the
curiosity that tortured her. It was so powerful, indeed, that she
could not control it. "What has happened?" she asked.
"Nothing, madame, nothing."
"I am subject to such attacks. I was very cold, and the heat of
the room made me feel faint."
Although she could only speak with the greatest difficulty, the
baron realized by her tone that she would never reveal what had
taken place, and his attitude and relief knew no bounds. "Don't
tire the poor child," he said to Madame de Fondege. "The best
thing you can do would be to take her home and put her to bed."
I agree with you; but unfortunately, I have sent away my brougham
with orders not to return for me until one o'clock."
"Is that the only difficulty? If so, you shall have a carriage at
once, my dear madame." So saying, the baron made a sign to one of
the servants, and the man started on his mission at once.
Madame de Fondege was silent but furious. "He is actually putting
me out of doors," she thought. "This is a little too much! And
why doesn't the baroness make her appearance--she must certainly
have heard my voice? What does it all mean? However, I'm sure
Marguerite will tell me when we are alone."
But Madame de Fondege was wrong, for she vainly plied the girl
with questions all the way from the Rue de la Ville l'Eveque to
the Rue Pigalle. She could only obtain this unvarying and
obstinate reply: "Nothing has happened. What do you suppose could
Never in her whole life had Madame de Fondege been so incensed.
"The blockhead!" she mentally exclaimed. "Who ever saw such
obstinacy! Hateful creature!--I could beat her!"
She did not beat her, but on reaching the house she eagerly asked:
"Do you feel strong enough to go up stairs alone?"
"Then I will leave you. You know Van Klopen expects me again at
one o'clock precisely; and I have not breakfasted yet. Remember
that my servants are at your disposal, and don't hesitate to call
them. You are at home, recollect."
It was not without considerable difficulty--not without being
compelled to stop and rest several times on her way up stairs--
that Mademoiselle Marguerite succeeded in reaching the apartments
of the Fondege family. "Where is madame?" inquired the servant
who opened the door.
"She is still out."
"Will she return to dinner?"
"I don't know."
"M. Gustave has been here three times already; he was very angry
when he found that there was no one at home--he went on terribly.
Besides, the workmen have turned everything topsy-turvy."
However, Marguerite had already reached her own room, and thrown
herself on the bed. She was suffering terribly. Her brave spirit
still retained its energy; but the flesh had succumbed. Every
vein and artery throbbed with violence, and while a chill seemed
to come to her heart, her head burned as if it had been on fire.
"My Lord," she thought, "am I going to fall ill at the last
moment, just when I have most need of all my strength?"
She tried to sleep, but was unable to do so. How could she free
herself from the thought that haunted her? Her mother! To think
that such a woman was her mother! Was it not enough to make her
die of sorrow and shame? And yet this woman must be saved--the
proofs of her crime must be annihilated with her letters.
Marguerite asked herself whether the old magistrate would have it
in his power to help her in this respect. Perhaps not, and then
what could she do? She asked herself if she had not been too
cruel, too severe. Guilty or not, the baroness was still her
mother. Had she the right to be pitiless, when by stretching out
her hand she might, perhaps, have rescued the wretched woman from
her terrible life.
Thus thinking, the young girl sat alone and forgotten in her
little room. The hours went by, and daylight had begun to wane,
when suddenly a shrill whistle resounded in the street, under her
windows. "Pi-ouit." It came upon her like an electric shock, and
with a bound she sprang to her feet. For this cry was the signal
that had been agreed upon between herself and the young man who
had so abruptly offered to help her on the occasion of her visit
to M. Fortunat's office. Was she mistaken? No--for on listening
she heard the cry resound a second time, even more shrill and
prolonged than before.
This was no time for hesitation, and so she went down-stairs at
once. Hope sent new blood coursing through her veins and endowed
her with invincible energy. On reaching the street-door, she
paused and looked around her. At a short distance off she
perceived a young fellow clad in a blouse, who was apparently
engaged in examining the goods displayed in a shop window.
Despite his position, he hurriedly exclaimed: "Follow me at a
little; distance in the rear until I stop."
Marguerite, obeyed him in breathless suspense. The young fellow
was our friend Victor Chupin, now somewhat the worse for his
encounter with Vantrasson that same morning. His face was
considerably disfigured, and one of his eyes was black and
swollen; nevertheless he was in a state of ecstatic happiness.
Happy, and yet anxious; for, as he preceded Mademoiselle
Marguerite, he said to himself: "How shall I tell her that I have
succeeded? There must be no folly. If I tell her the news
suddenly, she will most likely faint, so I must break the news
On reaching the Rue Boursault, he turned the corner, and paused,
waiting for Mademoiselle Marguerite to join him. "What is the
news?" she anxiously asked.
"Everything is progressing finely--slowly, but finely."
"You know something, monsieur! Speak! Don't you see how anxious I
He did see it only too well; and his embarrassment increased to
such a pitch that he began to scratch his head furiously. At last
he decided on a plan. "First of all, mademoiselle, brace yourself
against the wall, and now stand firm. Yes, like that. Now, are
you all right? Well, I have found M. Ferailleur!"
Chupin's precaution was a wise one, for Marguerite tottered. Such
a success, so quickly gained, was indeed astounding. "Is it
possible?" she murmured.
"So possible that I have a letter for you from M. Ferailleur in my
pocket mademoiselle. Here it is--I am to wait for an answer."
She took the note he handed her, broke the seal with trembling
hand, and read as follows:
"We are approaching the end, my dearest. One step more and we
shall triumph. But I must see you to-day at any risk. Leave the
house this evening at eight o'clock. My mother will be waiting
for you in a cab, at the corner of the Rue Pigalle and the Rue
Boursault. Come, and let no fear of arousing suspicions of the
Fondeges deter you. They are henceforth powerless to injure you.
"I will go!" replied Marguerite at once, careless of the obstacles
that might impede the fulfilment of her promise. For it was quite
possible that serious difficulties might arise. Madame Leon, who
had been invisible since the morning, might suddenly reappear, or
the General and his wife might return to dinner. And what could
Marguerite answer if they asked her where she wanted to go alone,
and at such an hour of the evening? And if they attempted to
prevent her from keeping her appointment, how could she resist?
All these were weighty questions and yet she did not hesitate.
Pascal had spoken, that sufficed, and she was determined to obey
him implicitly, cost what it might. If he advised such a step, it
was because he deemed it best and necessary; and she willingly
submitted to the instructions of the man in whom she felt such
Having told Chupin that she might be relied upon for the evening,
she was retracing her way home, when suddenly the thought occurred
to her that she ought not to neglect this opportunity to place a
decisive weapon in Pascal's hands. She was close to the Rue Notre
Dame de Lorette and so without more ado she hurried to the
establishment of Carjat the photographer. He was fortunately
disengaged, and she at once obtained from him a proof of the
compromising letter written by the Marquis de Valorsay to Madame
Leon. She placed it carefully in her pocket, thanked the
photographer, and then hurried back to the Rue Pigalle to wait for
the hour appointed in Pascal's letter. Fortunately none of her
unpleasant apprehensions were realized. The dinner-hour came and
passed, and still the house remained deserted. The workmen had
gone off and the laughter and chatter of the servants in the
kitchen were the only sounds that broke the stillness. Faint for
want of food--for she had taken no nourishment during the day--
Marguerite had considerable difficulty in obtaining something to
eat from the servants. At last, however, they gave her some soup
and cold meat, served on a corner of the bare table in the dining-
room. It was half-past seven when she finished this frugal meal.
She waited a moment, and then fearing she might keep Madame
Ferailleur waiting, she went down into the street.
A cab was waiting at the corner of the Rue Boursault, as
indicated. Its windows were lowered, and in the shade one could
discern the face and white hair of an elderly lady. Glancing
behind her to assure herself that she had not been followed,
Marguerite eagerly approached the vehicle, whereupon a kindly
voice exclaimed: "Jump in quickly, mademoiselle "
Marguerite obeyed, and the door was scarcely closed behind her
before the driver had urged his horse into a gallop. He had
evidently received his instructions in advance, as well as the
promise of a magnificent gratuity.
Sitting side by side on the back seat, the old lady and the young
girl remained silent, but this did not prevent them from casting
stealthy glances at each other, and striving to distinguish one
another's features whenever the vehicle passed in front of some
brilliantly lighted shop. They had never met before, and their
anxiety to become acquainted was intense, for they each felt that
the other would exert a decisive influence upon her life. All of
Madame Ferailleur's friends would undoubtedly have been surprised
at the step she had taken, and yet it was quite in accordance with
her character. As long as she had entertained any hope of
preventing this marriage she had not hesitated to express and even
exaggerate her objections and repugnance. But her point of view
was entirely changed when conquered by the strength of her son's
passion, she at last yielded a reluctant consent. The young girl
who was destined to be her daughter-in-law at once became sacred
in her eyes; and it seemed to her an act of duty to watch over
Marguerite, and shield her reputation. Having considered the
subject, she had decided that it was not proper for her son's
betrothed to run about the streets alone in the evening. Might it
not compromise her honor? and later on might it not furnish
venomous Madame de Fondege with an opportunity to exercise her
slanderous tongue? Thus the puritanical old lady had come to fetch
Marguerite, so that whenever occasion required she might be able
to say: "I was there!"
As for Marguerite, after the trials of the day, she yielded
without reserve to the feeling of rest and happiness that now
filled her heart. Again and again had Pascal spoken of his
mother's prejudices and the inflexibility of her principles. But
he had also spoken of her dauntless energy, the nobility of her
nature, and of her love and devotion to him. With Marguerite,
moreover, one consideration--one which she would scarcely have
admitted, perhaps--outweighed all others: Madame Ferailleur was
Pascal's mother. For that reason alone, if for no other, she was
prepared to worship her. How fervently she blessed this noble
woman, who, a widow. and ruined in fortune by an unprincipled
scoundrel, had bravely toiled to educate her son, making him the
man whom Marguerite had freely chosen from among all others. She
would have knelt before this grand but simple-hearted mother had
she dared; she would have kissed her hands. And a poignant regret
came to her heart when she remembered her own mother, Baroness
Trigault, and compared her with this matchless woman.
Meanwhile the cab had passed the outer boulevards, and was now
whirling along the Route d'Asnieres, as fast as the horse could
drag it. "We are almost there," remarked Madame Ferailleur,
speaking for the first time.
Marguerite's response was inaudible, she was so overcome with
emotion. The driver had just turned the corner of the Route de la
Revolte; and it was not long before he checked his panting horse.
"Look, mademoiselle," said Madame Ferailleur again, "this is our
Upon the threshold, bareheaded, and breathless with impatience and
hope, stood a man who was counting the seconds with the violent
throbbings of his heart. He did not wait for the cab to stop, but
springing to the door, he opened it; and then, catching Marguerite
in his arms, he carried her into the house with a cry of joy. She
had not even time to look around her, ere he had placed her in an
arm-chair, and fallen on his knees before her. "At last I see you
again, my beloved Marguerite," he exclaimed. "You are mine--
nothing shall part us again!"
They sobbed in each other's arms. They could bear adversity
unmoved; but their composure deserted them in this excess of
happiness; and standing in the door-way, Madame Ferailleur felt
the tears come to her eyes as she stood watching them.
"How can I tell you all that I have suffered!" said Pascal, whose
voice was hoarse with feeling. "The papers have told you all the
details, I suppose. How I was accused of cheating at cards; how
the vile epithet 'thief' was cast in my face; how they tried to
search me; how my most intimate friends deserted me; how I was
virtually expelled from the Palais de Justice. All this is
terrible, is it not? Ah, well! it is nothing in comparison with
the intense, unendurable anguish I experienced in thinking that
you believed the infamous calumny which disgraced me."
Marguerite rose to her feet. "You thought that!" she exclaimed.
"You believed that I doubted you? I! Like you, I have been accused
of robbery myself. Do you believe me guilty?"
"Good God! I suspect you!"
"I was mad, Marguerite, my only love, I was mad! But who would not
have lost his senses under such circumstances? It was the very day
after this atrocious conspiracy. I had seen Madame Leon, and had
trusted her with a letter for you in which I entreated you to
grant me five minutes' Conversation."
"Alas! I never received it."
"I know that now; but then I was deceived. I went to the little
garden gate to await your coming, but it was Madame Leon who
appeared. She brought me a note written in pencil and signed with
your name, bidding me an eternal farewell. And, fool that I was,
I did not see that the note was a forgery!"
Mademoiselle Marguerite was amazed. The veil was now torn aside,
and the truth revealed to her. Now she remembered Madame Leon's
embarrassment when she met her returning from the garden on the
night following the count's death. "Ah, well! Pascal," she said,
"do you know what I was doing at almost the same moment? Alarmed
at having received no news from you, I hastened to the Rue d'Ulm,
where I learned that you had sold your furniture and started for
America. Any other woman might have believed herself deserted
under such circumstances, but not I. I felt sure that you had not
fled in ignominious fashion. I was convinced that you had only
concealed yourself for a time in order to strike your enemies more
"Do not shame me, Marguerite. It is true that of us two I showed
myself the weaker."
Lost in the rapture of the present moment, they had forgotten the
past and the future, the agony they had endured, the dangers that
still threatened them, and even the existence of their enemies.
But Madame Ferailleur was watching. She pointed to the clock, and
earnestly exclaimed: "Time is passing, my son. Each moment that
is wasted endangers our success. Should any suspicion bring
Madame Vantrasson here, all would be lost."
"She cannot come upon us unawares, my dear mother. Chupin has
promised not to lose sight of her. If she stirs from her shop, he
will hasten here and throw a stone against the shutters to warn
But even this did not satisfy Madame Ferailleur.
"You forget, Pascal." she insisted, "that Mademoiselle Marguerite
must be at home again by ten o'clock, if she consents to the
ordeal you feel obliged to impose upon her."
This was the voice of duty recalling Pascal to the stern realities
of life. He slowly rose, conquered his emotion, and, after
reflecting for a moment, said: "First of all, Marguerite, I owe
you the truth and an exact statement of our situation.
Circumstances have compelled me to act without consulting you.
Have I done right or wrong? You shall judge." And without stopping
to listen to the girl's protestations, he rapidly explained how he
had managed to win M. de Valorsay's confidence, discover his
plans, and become his trusted accomplice. "This scoundrel's plan
is very simple," he continued. "He is determined to marry you.
Why? Because, though you are not aware of it, you are rich, and
the sole heiress to the fortune of the Count de Chalusse, your
father. This surprises you, does it not? Very well! listen to me.
Deceived by the Marquis de Valorsay, the Count de Chalusse had
promised him your hand. These arrangements were nearly completed,
though you had not been informed of them. In fact, everything had
been decided. At the outset, however, a grave difficulty had
presented itself. The marquis wished your father to acknowledge
you before your marriage, but this he refused to do. 'It would
expose me to the most frightful dangers,' he declared. 'However,
I will recognize Marguerite as my daughter in my will, and, at the
same time, leave all my property to her.' But the marquis would
not listen to this proposal. 'I don't doubt your good intentions,
my dear count,' said he,' but suppose this will should be
contested, your property might pass into other hands.' This
difficulty put a stop to the proceedings for some time. The
marquis asked for guarantees; the other refused to give them--
until, at last, M. de Chalusse discovered an expedient which would
satisfy both parties. He confided to M. de Valorsay's keeping a
will in which he recognized you as his daughter, and bequeathed
you his entire fortune. This document, the validity of which is
unquestionable, has been carefully preserved by the marquis. He
has not spoken of its existence; and he would destroy it rather
than restore it to you at present. But as soon as you became his
wife, he intended to produce it and thus obtain possession of the
"Ah! the old justice of the peace was not mistaken," murmured
Pascal did not hear her. All his faculties were absorbed in the
attempt he was making to give a clear and concise explanation, for
he had much to say, and it was growing late. "As for the enormous
sum you have been accused of taking," he continued, "I know what
has become of it; it is in the hands of M. de Fondege."
"I know that, Pascal--I'm sure of it; but the proof, the proof!"
"The proof exists, and, like the will, it is in the hands of the
Marquis de Valorsay."
"Is it possible! Great Heavens! You are sure you are not
"I have seen the proof, and it is overpowering, irrefutable! I
have touched it--I have held it in my hands. And it explains
everything which may have seemed strange and incomprehensible to
you. The letter which M. de Chalusse received on the day of his
death was written by his sister. She asked in it for her share of
the family estate, threatening him with a terrible scandal if he
refused to comply with her request. Had the count decided to
brave this scandal rather than yield? We have good reason to
suppose so. However, this much is certain: he had a terrible
hatred, not so much for his sister, perhaps, as for the man who
had seduced her, and afterward married her, actuated by avaricious
motives alone. He had sworn thousands of times that neither
husband nor wife should ever have a penny of the large fortune
which really belonged to them. Believing that a lawsuit was now
inevitable, and wishing to conceal his wealth, he was greatly
embarrassed by the large amount of money he had on hand. What
should he do with it? Where could he hide it? He finally decided
to intrust it to the keeping of M. de Fondege, who was known as an
eccentric man, but whose honesty seemed to be above suspicion.
So, when he left home, on the afternoon of his illness, he took
the package of bank-notes and bonds, which you had noticed in the
escritoire that morning, away with him. We shall never know what
passed between your father and the General--we can only surmise.
But what I do know, and what I shall be able to prove, is that M.
de Fondege accepted the trust, and that he gave an acknowledgment
of it in the form of a letter, which read as follows:
"'MY DEAR COUNT DE CHALUSSE--I hereby acknowledge the receipt, on
Thursday, October 15, 186-, of the sum of two millions, two
hundred and fifty thousand francs, which I shall deposit, in my
name, at the Bank of France, subject to the orders of Mademoiselle
Marguerite, your daughter, on the day she presents this letter.
And believe, my dear count, in the absolute devotion of your old
"GENERAL DE FONDEGE.'"
Mademoiselle Marguerite was thunderstruck. "Who can have
furnished you with these particulars?" she inquired.
"The Marquis de Valorsay, my dearest; and I will explain how he
was enabled to do so. M. de Fondege wrote the address of his 'old
comrade' on this letter, which was folded and sealed, but not
enclosed in an envelope. M. de Chalusse proposed to post it
himself, so that the official stamp might authenticate its date.
But on reflection, he became uneasy. He felt that this tiny,
perishable scrap of paper would be the only proof of the deposit
which he had confided to M. de Fondege's honor. This scrap might
be lost, burned, or stolen. Then what would happen? He had so
often seen trustees betray the confidence of which they had seemed
worthy. So M. de Chalusse racked his brains to discover a means
of protection from an improbable but possible misfortune. He
found it. Passing a stationer's shop, he went in, purchased one
of those letter-presses which merchants use in their
correspondence, and, under pretext of trying it, took a copy of M.
de Fondege's letter. Having done this, he placed the copy in an
envelope addressed to the Marquis de Valorsay, and, with his heart
relieved of all anxiety, posted it at the same time as the
original letter. A few moments later he got into the cab in which
he was stricken down with apoplexy."
Extraordinary as Pascal's explanations must have seemed to her,
Marguerite did not doubt their accuracy in the least. "Then it is
the copy of this letter which you saw in the possession of the
Marquis de Valorsay?"
"And the original?"
"M. de Fondege alone can tell what has become of that. It is
evident that he has somehow succeeded in obtaining possession of
it. Would he have dared to squander money as he has done if he
had not been convinced that there was no proof of his guilt in
existence? Perhaps on hearing of the count's sudden death he
bribed the concierge at the Hotel de Chalusse to watch for this
letter and return it to him. But on this subject I have only
conjectures to offer. If they wish you to marry their son, it is
probably because it seems too hard that you should be left in
abject poverty while they are enjoying the fortune they have
stolen from you. The vilest scoundrels have their scruples.
Besides, a marriage with their son would protect them against any
possible mischance in the future."
He was silent for a moment, and then more slowly resumed: "You
see, Marguerite, we have clear, palpable, and irrefutable proofs
of YOUR innocence; but in my efforts to clear my own name of
disgrace, I have been far less fortunate. I have tried in vain to
collect material proofs of the conspiracy against me. It is only
by proving the guilt of the Marquis de Valorsay and the Viscount
de Coralth that I can establish my innocence, and so far I am
powerless to do so."
Mademoiselle Marguerite's face brightened with supreme joy. "Then
I can serve you, in my turn, my only love," she exclaimed. "Ah!
blessed be God who inspired me, and who thus rewards me for an
hour of courage. My poor father's plan also occurred to me,
Pascal. Was it not strange? The material proof of your innocence
which you have sought for in vain, is in my possession, written
and signed by the Marquis de Valorsay. Like M. de Fondege, he
believes that the letter which proves his guilt is annihilated.
He burned it himself, and yet it exists." So saying, she drew from
her bosom one of the copies which she had received from Carjat the
photographer, and handed it to Pascal, adding, "Look!"
Pascal eagerly perused the marvellous facsimile of the letter
which the marquis had written to Madame Leon. "Ah! this is the
scoundrel's death warrant." he exclaimed, exultantly. And
approaching Madame Ferailleur, who still stood leaning against the
door, silent and motionless: "Look, mother," he repeated, "look!"
And he pointed to this paragraph which was so convincing and so
explicit, that the most exacting jury would have asked for no
further evidence. "I have formed a plan which will completely
efface all remembrance of that cursed P. F., in case any one could
condescend to think of him, after the disgrace we fastened upon
him the other evening at the house of Madame d'A----."
"Nor is this all," resumed Mademoiselle Marguerite. "There are
other letters which will prove that this plot was the marquis's
work and which give the name of his accomplice, Coralth. And
these letters are in the possession of a man of dubious integrity,
who was once the marquis's ally, but who has now become his enemy.
He is known as Isidore Fortunat, and lives in the Place de la
Marguerite felt that Madame Ferailleur's keen glance was riveted
upon her. She intuitively divined what was passing in the mind of
the puritanical old lady, and realized that her whole future, and
the happiness of her entire wedded life, depended upon her conduct
at that moment. So, desirous of making a full confession, she
hastily exclaimed: "My conduct may have seemed strange in a young
girl, Pascal. A timid, inexperienced girl, who had been carefully
kept from all knowledge of life and evil, would have been crushed
by such a burden of disgrace, and could only have wept and prayed.
I did weep and pray; but I also struggled and fought. In the hour
of peril I found myself endowed with some of the courage and
energy which distinguished the poor women of the people among whom
I formerly earned my bread. The teachings and miseries of the
past were not lost to me!" And as simply as if she were telling
the most natural thing in the world, she described the struggle
she had undertaken against the world, strong in her faith in
Pascal and in his love.
"Ah, you are a noble and courageous girl!" exclaimed Madame
Ferailleur. "You are worthy of my son, and you will proudly guard
our honest name!"
For some little time already the obstinate old lady had been
struggling against the sympathetic emotion that filled her heart,
and big tears were coursing down her wrinkled cheeks.
Unable to restrain herself any longer, she now threw both arms
around Marguerite's neck, and drew her toward her in a long
embrace, murmuring: "Marguerite, my daughter! Ah! how unjust my
It might be thought that Pascal was transported with joy on
hearing this, but no: the lines of care on his forehead deepened,
as he said: "Happiness is so near! Why must a final test, another
humiliation, separate us from it?"
But Marguerite now felt strong enough to meet even martyrdom with
a smile. "Speak, Pascal!" said she, "don't you see that it is
almost ten o'clock?"
He hesitated; there was grief in his eyes and his breath came
quick and hard, as he resumed: "For your sake and mine, we must
conquer, at any price. This is the only reason that can justify
the horrible expedient I have to suggest. M. de Valorsay, as you
know, has boasted of his power to overcome your resistance, and he
really believes that he possesses this power. Why I have not
killed him again and again when he has been at my mercy, I can
scarcely understand. The only thing that gave me power to
restrain myself was my desire for as sure, as terrible, and as
public a revenge as the humiliation he inflicted on me. His plan
for your ruin is such as only a scoundrel like himself could
conceive. With the assistance of his vile tool, Coralth, he has
formed a league, offensive and defensive, with the son of the
Count de Chalusse's sister, who is the only acknowledged heir at
this moment--a young man destitute of heart and intelligence, and
inordinately vain, but neither better nor worse than many others
who figure respectably in society. His name is Wilkie Gordon.
The marquis has acquired great influence over him, and has
persuaded him that it is his duty to denounce you to the
authorities. He has, in short, accused you of defrauding the
heirs of the Chalusse estate of two millions of francs and also of
poisoning the count."
The girl shrugged her shoulders disdainfully. "As for the
robbery, we have an answer to that," she answered, "and as regards
the poisoning--really the accusation is too absurd!"
But Pascal still looked gloomy. "The matter is more serious than
you suppose," he replied. "They have found a physician--a vile,
cowardly scoundrel--who for a certain sum has consented to appear
in support of the accusation."
"Dr. Jodon, I presume!"
"Yes; and this is not all. The count's escritoire contains the
vial of medicine of which he drank a portion on the day of his
death. Well, to-morrow night, Madame Leon will open the garden
gate of the Hotel de Chalusse and admit a rascal who will abstract
Marguerite shuddered. Now she understood the fiendish cunning of
the plot. "It might ruin me!" she murmured.
Pascal nodded affirmatively. "M. de Valorsay wishes you to
consider yourself as irretrievably lost, and then he intends to
offer to save you on condition that you consent to marry him. I
should say, however, that M. Wilkie is ignorant of the atrocious
projects he is abetting. They are known only to the marquis and
M. de Coralth; and it is I who, under the name of Maumejan, act as
their adviser. It was to me that the marquis sent M. Wilkie for
assistance in drawing up this accusation. I myself wrote out the
denunciation, which was as terrible and as formidable as our
bitterest enemy could possibly desire, combining, as it did, with
perfidious art, the reports of the valets and the suspicions of
the physician, and establishing the connection between the robbery
and the murder. It finished by demanding a thorough
investigation. And M. Wilkie copied and signed this document, and
carried it to the prosecution office himself."
Mademoiselle Marguerite sank half-fainting into an arm-chair.
"You have done this!" she faltered.
"It was necessary, my daughter," whispered Madame Ferailleur.
"Yes, it was necessary, absolutely necessary," repeated Pascal,
"as you will see. Justice, which is a human institution, and
limited in its powers, cannot fathom motives, read thoughts, or
interfere with plans, however abominable they may be, or however
near realization. Before it can interfere, the law must have
material, tangible proof, convincing to the senses. Until you are
arrested, the crimes committed by M. de Valorsay, and those
associated with him, do not come within the reach of human
justice; but as soon as you are in prison, I can hasten to our
friend the justice of the peace, and we shall go at once to the
investigating magistrate and explain everything. Now, when your
innocence and the guilt of your accusers have been established,
what do you fancy the authorities will do? They will wait until
your enemies declare themselves, in order to capture them all at
once, and prevent the escape of a single one. To-morrow night
some clever detectives will watch the Hotel de Chalusse, and just
as Madame Leon and the wretch with her think themselves sure of
success, they will be caught in the very act and arrested. When
they are examined by a magistrate, who is conversant with the
whole affair, can they deny their guilt? No; certainly not.
Acting upon their confession, the authorities will force an
entrance into Valorsay's house, where they will find your father's
will and the receipt given by M. de Fondege--in a word, all the
proofs of their guilt. And while this search is going on, all
your enemies, reassured by your arrest, will be at a grand soiree
given by Baron Trigault. I shall be there as well."
Mademoiselle Marguerite had mastered her momentary weakness. She
rose to her feet, and in a firm voice exclaimed: "You have acted
"Ah! there was no other way. And yet I wished to see you, to
learn if this course were too repugnant to you."
She interrupted him with a gesture. "When shall I be arrested?"
she asked, quietly.
"This evening or to-morrow." was his answer.
"Very well! I have only one request to make. The Fondeges have a
son who has no hand in the affair, but who will be more severely
punished than his parents, if we do not spare them. Could you
"I can do nothing, Marguerite. I am powerless now."
Everything was soon arranged. Marguerite raised her forehead to
Pascal for his parting kiss, and went away accompanied by Madame
Ferailleur, who escorted her to the corner of the Rue Boursault.
The General and his wife had returned home in advance of
Marguerite. She found them sitting in the drawing-room, with
distorted faces and teeth chattering with fear. With them was a
bearded man who, as soon as she appeared, exclaimed:
"You are Mademoiselle Marguerite, are you not? I arrest you in
the name of the law. There is my warrant." And without more ado
he led her away.
Money, which nowadays has taken the place of the good fairies of
former times, had gratified M. Wilkie's every longing in a single
night. Without any period of transition, dreamlike as it were, he
had passed from what he called "straitened circumstances" to the
splendid enjoyment of a princely fortune. Madame d'Argeles's
renunciation had been so correctly drawn up, that as soon as he
presented his claims and displayed his credentials he was placed
in possession of the Chalusse estate. It is true that a few
trifling difficulties presented themselves. For instance, the old
justice of the peace who had affixed the seals refused to remove
them from certain articles of furniture, especially from the late
count's escritoire, without an order from the court, and several
days were needed to obtain this. But what did that matter to M.
Wilkie? The house, with its splendid reception-rooms, pictures,
statuary and gardens, was at his disposal, and he installed
himself therein at once. Twenty horses neighed and stamped in his
stables; there were at least a dozen carriages in the coach-house.
He devoted his attention exclusively to the horses and vehicles;
but acting upon the advice of Casimir, who had become his valet
and oracle, he retained all the former servants of the house, from
Bourigeau the concierge down to the humblest scullery maid.
Still, he gave them to understand that this was only a temporary
arrangement. A man like himself, living in this progressive age,
could scarcely be expected to content himself with what had
satisfied the Count de Chalusse. "For I have my plans," he
remarked to Casimir, "but let Paris wait awhile."
He repudiated his former friends. Costard and Serpillon,
pretended viscounts though they were, were quite beneath the
notice of a Gordon-Chalusse, as M. Wilkie styled himself on his
visiting cards. However, he purchased their share of Pompier de
Nanterre, feeling convinced that this remarkable steeplechaser had
a brilliant future before him. He did not trouble himself to any
great extent about his mother. Like every one else, he knew that
she had disappeared, but nothing further. On the other hand, the
thought of his father, the terrible chevalier d'industrie, hung
over his joy like a pall; and each time the great entrance bell
announced a visitor, he trembled, turned pale, and muttered:
"Perhaps it's he!"
Tortured by this fear, he clung closely to the Marquis de Valorsay
as if he felt that this distinguished friend was a powerful
support. Besides, people of rank and distinction naturally
exercised a powerful attraction over him, and he fancied he grew
several inches taller when, in some public place, in the street,
or a restaurant, he was able to call out, "I say, Valorsay, my
good friend," or, "Upon my word! my dear marquis!"
M. de Valorsay received these effusions graciously enough,
although, in point of fact, he was terribly bored by the
platitudes of his new acquaintance. He intended to send him to
Coventry later on, but just now M. Wilkie was too useful to be
ignored. So he had introduced him to his club, and was seen with
him everywhere--in the Bois, at the restaurants, and the theatres.
At times, some of his friends inquired: "Who is that queer little
fellow?" with a touch of irony in their tone, but when the marquis
carelessly answered: "A poor devil who has just come into
possession of a property worth twenty millions!" they became
serious, and requested the pleasure and honor of an introduction
to this fortunate young man.
So M. de Valorsay had invited Gordon-Chalusse to accompany him to
Baron Trigault's approaching fete. It was to be an entertainment
for gentlemen only, a monster card-party; but every one knew the
wealthy baron, and no doubt with a view of stimulating curiosity
he had declared, and the Figaro had repeated, that he had a great
surprise in store for his guests. Oh! such a surprise! They could
have no idea what it was! This fete was to take place on the
second day after Mademoiselle Marguerite's arrest; and on the
appointed evening, between nine and ten o'clock, M. de Valorsay
and his friend Coralth sat together in the former's smoking-room
waiting for Wilkie to call for them, as had been agreed upon.
They were both in the best of spirits. The viscount's
apprehensions had been entirely dispelled; and the marquis had
quite forgotten the twinges of pain in his injured limb.
"Marguerite will only leave prison to marry me," said M. de
Valorsay, triumphantly; and he added: "What a willing tool this
Wilkie is! A single word sufficed to make him give all his
servants leave of absence. The Hotel de Chalusse will be
deserted, and Madame Leon and Vantrasson can operate at their
It was ten o'clock when M. Wilkie made his appearance. "Come, my
good friends!" said he, "my carriage is below."
They started off at once, and five minutes later they were ushered
into the presence of Baron Trigault, who received M. Wilkie as if
he had never seen him before. There was quite a crowd already.
At least three or four hundred people had assembled in the Baron's
reception-rooms, and among them were several former habitues of
Madame d'Argeles's house; one could also espy M. de Fondege
ferociously twirling his mustaches as usual, together with Kami-
Bey, who was conspicuous by reason of his portly form and eternal
red fez. However, among these men, all noticeable for their
studied elegance of attire and manner, and all of them known to M.
de Valorsay, there moved numerous others of very different
appearance. Their waistcoats were less open, and their clothes
did not fit them as perfectly; on the other hand, there was
something else than a look of idiotic self-complacency on their
faces. "Who can these people be?" whispered the marquis to M. de
Coralth. "They look like lawyers or magistrates." But although he
said this he did not really believe it, and it was without the
slightest feeling of anxiety that he strolled from group to group,
shaking hands with his friends and introducing M. Wilkie.
A strange rumor was in circulation among the guests. Many of them
declared--where could they have heard such a thing?--that in
consequence of a quarrel with her husband, Madame Trigault had
left Paris the evening before. They even went so far as to repeat
her parting words to the Baron: "You will never see me again," she
had said. "You are amply avenged. Farewell!" However, the best
informed among the guests, the folks who were thoroughly
acquainted with all the scandals of the day, declared the story
false, and said that if the baroness had really fled, handsome
Viscount de Coralth would not appear so calm and smiling.
The report WAS true, however. But M. de Coralth did not trouble
himself much about the baroness now. Had he not got in his pocket
M. Wilkie's signature insuring him upward of half a million?
Standing near one of the windows in the main reception-room,
between the Marquis de Valorsay and M. Wilkie, the brilliant
viscount was gayly chatting with them, when a footman, in a voice
loud enough to interrupt all conversation, suddenly announced: "M.
It seemed such a perfectly natural thing to M. de Valorsay that
Maumejan, as one of the baron's business agents, should be
received at his house, that he was not in the least disturbed.
But M. de Coralth, having heard the name, wished to see the man
who had aided and advised the marquius so effectually. He
abruptly turned, and as he did so the words he would have spoken
died upon his lips. He became livid, his eyes seemed to start
from their sockets, and it was with difficulty that he ejaculated:
"Who?" inquired the astonished marquis.
M. de Valorsay did so, and to his utter amazement he perceived a
numerous party in the rear of the man announced under the name of
Maumejan. First came Mademoiselle Marguerite, leaning on the arm
of the white-haired magistrate, and then Madame Ferailleur; next
M. Isidore Fortunat, and finally Chupin--Victor Chupin,
resplendent in a handsome, bran-new, black dress-suit.
The marquis could no longer fail to understand the truth. He
realized who Maumejan really was, and the audacious comedy he had
been duped by. He was so frightfully agitated that five or six
persons sprang forward exclaiming: "What is the matter, marquis?
Are you ill?" But he made no reply. He felt that he was caught
in a trap, and he glanced wildly around him seeking for some
loophole of escape.
However, the word of command had evidently been given. Suddenly
all the guests scattered about the various drawing-rooms poured
into the main hall, and the doors were closed. Then, with a
solemnity of manner which no one had ever seen him display before,
Baron Trigault took the so-called Maumejan by the hand and led him
into the centre of the apartment opposite the lofty chimney-piece.
"Gentlemen," he began, in a commanding tone, "this is M. Pascal
Ferailleur, the honorable man who was falsely accused of cheating
at cards at Madame d'Argeles's house. You owe him a hearing."
Pascal was greatly agitated. The strangeness of the situation,
the certainty of speedy and startling rehabilitation, perhaps the
joy of vengeance, the silence, which was so profound that he could
hear his own panting breath, and the many eyes riveted upon him,
all combined to unnerve him. But only for a moment. He swiftly
conquered his weakness, and surveying his audience with flashing
eyes, he explained, in a clear and ringing voice, the shameful
conspiracy to obtain possession of the count's millions, and the
abominable machinations by which Mademoiselle Marguerite and
himself had been victimized. Then when he had finished his
explanations he added, in a still more commanding voice, "Now
look; you can read the culprits' guilt on their faces. One is the
scoundrel known to you as the Viscount de Coralth, but Paul
Violaine is his true name. He was formerly an accomplice of the
notorious Mascarot; he is a cowardly villain, for he is married,
and leaves his wife and children to die of starvation!" The
Viscount de Coralth fairly bellowed with rage. But Pascal did not
heed him. "The other criminal is the Marquis de Valorsay," he
added, in the same ringing tone. There was, moreover, a third
culprit who would have inspired mingled pity and disgust if any
one had noticed him shrinking into a corner, terrified and
muttering: "It wasn't my fault, my wife compelled me to do it!"
This was General de Fondege.
Pascal did not mention his name. But it was not absolutely
necessary he should do so, and besides, he remembered Marguerite's
entreaty respecting the son.
However, while the young lawyer was speaking, the marquis had
summoned all his energy and assurance to his aid. Desperate as
his plight might be, he would not surrender. "This is an infamous
conspiracy," he exclaimed. "Baron, you shall atone for this. The
man's an impostor!--he lies!--all that he says is false!"
"Yes, it is false!" echoed M. de Coralth.
But a clamor arose, drowning these protestations, and the most
opprobrious epithets could be heard on every side.
"How will you prove your assertion?" cried M. de Valorsay.
"Don't try that dodge on us!" shouted Chupin. "Vantrasson and
mother Leon have confessed everything."
"Who defrauded us all with Domingo?" cried several people; and,
loud above all the others, Kami-Bey bawled out: "To say nothing of
the fact that the sale of your racing stud was a complete
Meanwhile, Pascal's former friends and associates, his brother
advocates and the magistrates who had listened to his first
efforts at the bar, crowded round him, pressing his hands,
embracing him almost to suffocation, censuring themselves for
having suspected him, the very soul of honor, and pleading in
self-justification the degenerate age in which we live--an age in
which we daily see those whom we had considered immaculate
suddenly yield to temptation. And a murmur of respectful
admiration rose from the throng when the excitement had subsided a
little, and the guests had an opportunity to observe Mademoiselle
Marguerite, whose eyes sparkled more brightly than ever through
her happy tears; and whose beauty acquired an almost sublime
expression from her deep emotion.
The wretched Valorsay felt that all was over--that he was
irretrievably lost. Seized by a blind fury like that which impels
a hunted animal to turn and face the hounds that pursue him, and
bid them defiance, he confronted the throng with his face
distorted with passion, his eyes bloodshot, and foam upon his
lips; he was absolutely frightful in his cynicism, hatred, and
scorn. "Ah! well, yes!" he exclaimed--"yes, all that you have
just heard is true. I was sinking, and I tried to save myself as
best I could. Beggars cannot be choosers; I staked my all upon a
single die. If I had won, you would have been at my feet; but I
have lost and you spurn me. Cowards! hypocrites! that you are,
insult me if you like, but tell me how many among you all are
sufficiently pure and upright to have a right to despise me! Are
there a hundred among you? are there even fifty?"
A tempest of hisses momentarily drowned his voice, but as soon as
the uproar had ceased, he resumed, sneeringly: "Ah! the truth
wounds you, my dear friends. Pray, don't pretend to be so
distressingly virtuous! I was ruined--that is the long and short
of it. But what man of you is not embarrassed? Who among you
finds his income sufficient? Which one of you is not encroaching
upon his capital? And when you have come to your last louis, you
will do what I have done, or something worse. Do not deny it, for
not one among you has a more uncompromising conscience, more moral
firmness, or more generous aspirations than I once possessed. You
are pursuing what I pursued. You desire what I desired--a life of
luxury, brief if it must be, but happy--a life of gayety, wild
excitement, and dissipation. You, too, have a passion for
pleasure and gambling, race-horses, and notorious women, a table
always bountifully spread, glasses ever overflowing with wine, all
the delights of luxury, and everything that gratifies your vanity!
But an abyss of shame awaits you at the end of it all. I am in it
now. I await you there, for there you will surely, necessarily,
inevitably come. Ah, ha! you will not then think my downfall so
very strange. Let me pass! make way! if you please."
He advanced with his head haughtily erect, and would actually have
made his escape if a frightened servant had not at that moment
appeared crying: "Monsieur--Monsieur le Baron! a commissary of
police is downstairs. He is coming up. He has a warrant!"
The marquis's frenzied assurance deserted him. He turned even
paler than he already was if that were possible, and reeled like
an ox but partially stunned by the butcher's hammer. Suddenly a
desperate resolution could be read in his eyes, the resolution of
the condemned criminal, who, knowing that he cannot escape the
scaffold, ascends it with a firm step.
He hastily approached Baron Trigault, and asked in a husky voice:
"Will you allow me to be arrested in your house, baron? me--a
It might have been supposed that the baron had expected this
reproach, for without a word he led the marquis and M. de Coralth
to a little room at the end of the hall, pushed them inside, and
closed the door again.
It was time he did so, for the commissary of police was already
upon the threshold. "Which of you gentlemen is the Marquis de
Valorsay?" he asked. "Which of you is Paul Violaine, alias the
The sharp report of firearms suddenly interrupted him. Every one
at once rushed to the little room, where the wretched men had been
conducted. There extended, face upward, on the floor, lay the
Marquis de Valorsay, with his brains oozing from his fractured
skull, and his right hand still clutching a revolver. He was
dead. "And the other!" cried the throng; "the other!"
The open window, and a curtain rudely torn from its fastenings and
secured to the balustrade, told how M. de Coralth had made his
escape. It was not till later that people learned what
precautions the baron had taken. On the table in that room he had
laid two revolvers, and two packages containing ten thousand
francs each. The viscount had not hesitated.
* * * * *
Pascal Ferailleur and Mademoiselle Marguerite de Chalusse were
married at the church of Saint Etienne du Mont, only a few steps
from the Rue d'Ulm. Those who knew the mystery connected with the
bride's parentage were greatly astonished when they saw Baron
Trigault act as a witness on this occasion, in company with the
venerable justice of the peace. But such was the fact,
nevertheless. Treated more and more outrageously by his daughter
and her husband, separated from his wife, who had nearly lost her
reason, although her letters were saved, the baron has nowadays
found affection and a home with Pascal and his wife. He plays
cards but seldom now--only an occasional game of piquet with
Madame Ferailleur, and he amuses himself by making her start when
she is too long in discarding, by ejaculating, in a stentorian
voice: "We are wasting precious time!" Sometimes they go out
together, to the great astonishment of such as chance to meet the
puritanical old lady leaning on the baron's arm. She often goes
to visit and console the widow Gordon, formerly known as Lia
d'Argeles, who now keeps an establishment near Montrouge, where
she provides poor, betrayed and forsaken girls with a home and
employment. She has yet to receive any token of remembrance from
her son. As for her husband, she supposes he is dead or
incarcerated in some prison.
It is to Madame Gordon that the Fondeges are often indebted for
bread. Obliged to disgorge their plunder, and left with no
resources save the fifty francs a month allowed them by their son,
who has been promoted to the rank of captain, their poverty is
necessarily extreme. Oh! those Fondeges! M. Fortunat only speaks
of them with horror. But he is loud in his praises of Madame
Marguerite, who repaid him the forty thousand francs he had
advanced to M. de Valorsay. He speaks in the highest terms of
Chupin also; but in this, he is scarcely sincere, for Victor, who
has been set up in business by Pascal, told him very plainly that
he was determined not to put his hand to any more dirty work, and
that expression, "dirty work," rankles in M. Fortunat's heart.
Chupin's resolution did not, however, prevent him from attending
the trial of Vantrasson and Madame Leon--the former of whom was
sentenced to hard labor for life, and the latter to ten years'
imprisonment. Nothing is known concerning M. de Coralth; but his
wife has disappeared, to the great disappointment of M. Mouchon.
As a dentist, Dr. Jodon is successful. As for M. Wilkie, you can
learn anything you wish to know concerning him in the newspapers,
for his sayings, doings, and movements, are constantly being
chronicled. The reporters exhaust all the resources of their
vocabulary in describing his horses, carriages, and stables, and
the gorgeous liveries of his servants. His changes of residence
are always mentioned; his brilliant sayings are quoted. He is a
social success; he is admired, fondled, and flattered. He makes a
great stir in the fashionable world--in fact, he reigns over it
like a king. After all, assurance is the winning card in the game