Part 4 out of 4
treasure!--I could have torn my hair out by the roots with the
magnitude of my rage. He, the traitor, the blackleg, was about to
triumph, where I, Hector Ratichon, had failed! He had but to take the
bracelet to Mlle. Mars himself and obtain the munificent reward whilst
I, after I had taken so many risks and used all the brains and tact
wherewith Nature had endowed me, would be left with the meagre
remnants of the fifty francs which M. Jean Duval had so grudgingly
thrown to me. Twenty-five francs for a gold locket, ten francs for a
bouquet, another ten for bonbons, and five for gratuities to the
stage-doorkeeper! Make the calculation, my good Sir, and see what I
had left. If it had not been for the five francs which I had found in
Theodore's pocket last night, I would at this moment not only have
been breakfastless, but also absolutely penniless.
As it was, my final hope--and that a meagre one--was to arouse one
spark of honesty in the breast of the arch-traitor, and either by
cajolery or threats, to induce him to share his ill-gotten spoils with
I had left him snoring and strapped to the chair-bedstead, and when I
opened the office door I was marvelling in my mind whether I could
really bear to see him dying slowly of starvation with that savoury
pie tantalizingly under his nose. The crash which I had heard a few
minutes ago prepared me for a change of scene. Even so, I confess that
the sight which I beheld glued me to the threshold. There sat Theodore
at the table, finishing the last morsel of pie, whilst the
chair-bedstead lay in a tangled heap upon the floor.
I cannot tell you how nasty he was to me about the whole thing,
although I showed myself at once ready to forgive him all his lies and
his treachery, and was at great pains to explain to him how I had
given up my own bed and strapped him into it solely for the benefit of
his health, seeing that at the moment he was threatened with delirium
He would not listen to reason or to the most elementary dictates of
friendship. Having poured the vials of his bilious temper over my
devoted head, he became as perverse and as obstinate as a mule. With
the most consummate impudence I ever beheld in any human being, he
flatly denied all knowledge of the bracelet.
Whilst I talked he stalked past me into the ante-chamber, where
he at once busied himself in collecting all his goods and chattels.
These he stuffed into his pockets until he appeared to be bulging all
over his ugly-body; then he went to the door ready to go out. On the
threshold he turned and gave me a supercilious glance over his
"Take note, my good Ratichon," he said, "that our partnership is
dissolved as from to-morrow, the twentieth day of September."
"As from this moment, you infernal scoundrel!" I cried.
But he did not pause to listen, and slammed the door in my face.
For two or three minutes I remained quite still, whilst I heard the
shuffling footsteps slowly descending the corridor. Then I followed
him, quietly, surreptitiously, as a fox will follow its prey. He never
turned round once, but obviously he knew that he was being followed.
I will not weary you, my dear Sir, with the details of the dance which
he led me in and about Paris during the whole of that memorable day.
Never a morsel passed my lips from breakfast to long after sundown. He
tried every trick known to the profession to throw me off the scent.
But I stuck to him like a leech. When he sauntered I sauntered; when
he ran I ran; when he glued his nose to the window of an eating house
I halted under a doorway close by; when he went to sleep on a bench in
the Luxembourg Gardens I watched over him as a mother over a babe.
Towards evening--it was an hour after sunset and the street-lamps were
just being lighted--he must have thought that he had at last got rid
of me; for, after looking carefully behind him, he suddenly started to
walk much faster and with an amount of determination which he had
lacked hitherto. I marvelled if he was not making for the Rue Daunou,
where was situated the squalid tavern of ill-fame which he was wont to
frequent. I was not mistaken.
I tracked the traitor to the corner of the street, and saw him
disappear beneath the doorway of the Taverne des Trois Tigres. I
resolved to follow. I had money in my pocket--about twenty-five
sous--and I was mightily thirsty. I started to run down the street,
when suddenly Theodore came rushing back out of the tavern, hatless
and breathless, and before I succeeded in dodging him he fell into my
"My money!" he said hoarsely. "I must have my money at once! You
thief! You . . ."
Once again my presence of mind stood me in good stead.
"Pull yourself together, Theodore," I said with much dignity, "and do
not make a scene in the open street."
But Theodore was not at all prepared to pull himself together. He
was livid with rage.
"I had five francs in my pocket last night!" he cried. "You have
stolen them, you abominable rascal!"
"And you stole from me a bracelet worth three thousand francs to the
firm," I retorted. "Give me that bracelet and you shall have your
"I can't," he blurted out desperately.
"How do you mean, you can't?" I exclaimed, whilst a horrible fear like
an icy claw suddenly gripped at my heart. "You haven't lost it, have
"Worse!" he cried, and fell up against me in semi-unconsciousness.
I shook him violently. I bellowed in his ear, and suddenly, after that
one moment of apparent unconsciousness, he became, not only wide
awake, but as strong as a lion and as furious as a bull. We closed in
on one another. He hammered at me with his fists, calling me every
kind of injurious name he could think of, and I had need of all my
strength to ward off his attacks.
For a few moments no one took much notice of us. Fracas and quarrels
outside the drinking-houses in the mean streets of Paris were so
frequent these days that the police did not trouble much about them.
But after a while Theodore became so violent that I was forced to call
vigorously for help. I thought he meant to murder me. People came
rushing out of the tavern, and someone very officiously started
whistling for the gendarmes. This had the effect of bringing Theodore
to his senses. He calmed down visibly, and before the crowd had had
time to collect round us we had both sauntered off, walking in
apparent amity side by side down the street.
But at the first corner Theodore halted, and this time he confined
himself to gripping me by the arm with one hand whilst with the other
he grasped one of the buttons of my coat.
"That five francs," he said in a hoarse, half-choked voice. "I must
have that five francs! Can't you see that I can't have that bracelet
till I have my five francs wherewith to redeem it?"
"To redeem it!" I gasped. I was indeed glad then that he held me by
the arm, for it seemed to me as if I was falling down a yawning abyss
which had opened at my feet.
"Yes," said Theodore, and his voice sounded as if it came from a great
distance and through cotton-wool,
"I knew that you would be after that bracelet like a famished hyena
after a bone, so I tied it securely inside the pocket of the blouse I
was wearing, and left this with Legros, the landlord of the Trois
Tigres. It was a good blouse; he lent me five francs on it. Of course,
he knew nothing about the bracelet then. But he only lends money to
clients in this manner on the condition that it is repaid within
twenty-four hours. I have got to pay him back before eight o'clock
this evening or he will dispose of the blouse as he thinks best. It is
close on eight o'clock now. Give me back my five francs, you
confounded thief, before Legros has time to discover the bracelet!
We'll share the reward, I promise you. Faith of an honest man. You
liar, you cheat, you--"
What was the use of talking? I had not got five francs. I had spent
ten sous in getting myself some breakfast, and three francs in a
savoury pie flavoured with garlic and in a quarter of a bottle of
cognac. I groaned aloud. I had exactly twenty-five sous left.
We went back to the tavern hoping against hope that Legros had not yet
turned out the pockets of the blouse, and that we might induce him, by
threat or cajolery or the usurious interest of twenty-five sous, to
grant his client a further twenty-four hours wherein to redeem the
One glance at the interior of the tavern, however, told us that all
our hopes were in vain. Legros, the landlord, was even then turning
the blouse over and over, whilst his hideous hag of a wife was talking
to the police inspector, who was showing her the paper that announced
the offer of two thousand five hundred francs for the recovery of a
valuable bracelet, the property of Mlle. Mars, the distinguished
We only waited one minute with our noses glued against the windows of
the Trois Tigres, just long enough to see Legros extracting the
leather case from the pocket of the blouse, just long enough to hear
the police inspector saying peremptorily:
"You, Legros, ought to be able to let the police know who stole the
bracelet. You must know who left that blouse with you last night."
Then we both fled incontinently down the street.
Now, Sir, was I not right when I said that honour and loyalty are the
essential qualities in our profession? If Theodore had not been such a
liar and such a traitor, he and I, between us, would have been richer
by three thousand francs that day.
AN OVER-SENSITIVE HEART
No doubt, Sir, that you have noticed during the course of our
conversations that Nature has endowed me with an over-sensitive heart.
I feel keenly, Sir, very keenly. Blows dealt me by Fate, or, as has
been more often the case, by the cruel and treacherous hand of man,
touch me on the raw. I suffer acutely. I am highly strung. I am one of
those rare beings whom Nature pre-ordained for love and for happiness.
I am an ideal family man.
What? You did not know that I was married? Indeed, Sir, I am. And
though Madame Ratichon does not perhaps fulfil all my ideals of
exquisite womanhood, nevertheless she has been an able and willing
helpmate during these last years of comparative prosperity. Yes, you
see me fairly prosperous now. My industry, my genius--if I may so
express myself--found their reward at last. You will be the first to
acknowledge--you, the confidant of my life's history--that that reward
was fully deserved. I worked for it, toiled and thought and struggled,
up to the last; and had Fate been just, rather than grudging, I should
have attained that ideal which would have filled my cup of happiness
to the brim.
But, anyway, the episode connected with my marriage did mark the close
of my professional career, and is therefore worthy of record. Since
that day, Sir--a happy one for me, a blissful one for Mme. Ratichon--I
have been able, thanks to the foresight of an all-wise Providence, to
gratify my bucolic tastes. I live now, Sir, amidst my flowers, with my
dog and my canary and Mme. Ratichon, smiling with kindly indulgence on
the struggles and the blunders of my younger colleagues, oft consulted
by them in matters that require special tact and discretion. I sit and
dream now beneath the shade of a vine-clad arbour of those glorious
days of long ago, when kings and emperors placed the destiny of their
inheritance in my hands, when autocrats and dictators came to me for
assistance and advice, and the name of Hector Ratichon stood for
everything that was most astute and most discreet. And if at times a
gentle sigh of regret escapes my lips, Mme. Ratichon--whose thinness
is ever my despair, for I admire comeliness, Sir, as being more
womanly--Mme. Ratichon, I say, comes to me with the gladsome news that
dinner is served; and though she is not all that I could wish in the
matter of the culinary arts, yet she can fry a cutlet passably, and
one of her brothers is a wholesale wine merchant of excellent
It was soon after my connexion with that abominable Marquis de
Firmin-Latour that I first made the acquaintance of the present Mme.
Ratichon, under somewhat peculiar circumstances.
I remember it was on the first day of April in the year 1817 that M.
Rochez--Fernand Rochez was his exact name--came to see me at my office
in the Rue Daunou, and the date proved propitious, as you will
presently see. How M. Rochez came to know of my gifts and powers, I
cannot tell you. He never would say. He had heard of me through a
friend, was all that he vouchsafed to say.
Theodore had shown him in. Ah! have I not mentioned the fact that I
had forgiven Theodore his lies and his treachery, and taken him back
to my bosom and to my board? My sensitive heart had again got the
better of my prudence, and Theodore was installed once more in the
antechamber of my apartments in the Rue Daunou, and was, as
heretofore, sharing with me all the good things that I could afford.
So there he was on duty on that fateful first of April which was
destined to be the turning-point of my destiny. And he showed M. de
At once I knew my man--the type, I mean. Immaculately dressed, scented
and befrilled, haughty of manner and nonchalant of speech, M. Rochez
had the word "adventurer" writ all over his well-groomed person. He
was young, good-looking, his nails were beautifully polished, his
pantaloons fitted him without a wrinkle. These were of a soft putty
shade; his coat was bottle-green, and his hat of the latest modish
shape. A perfect exquisite, in fact.
And he came to the point without much preamble.
"M.--er--Ratichon," he said, "I have heard of you through a friend,
who tells me that you are the most unscrupulous scoundrel he has ever
"Sir--!" I began, rising from my seat in indignant protest at the
coarse insult. But with an authoritative gesture he checked the flow
of my indignation.
"No comedy, I pray you, Sir," he said. "We are not at the Theatre
Moliere, but, I presume, in an office where business is transacted
both briefly and with discretion."
"At your service, Monsieur," I replied.
"Then listen, will you?" he went on curtly, "and pray do not
interrupt. Only speak in answer to a question from me."
I bowed my head in silence. Thus must the proud suffer when they
happen to be sparsely endowed with riches.
"You have no doubt heard of Mlle. Goldberg," M. Rochez continued after
a moment's pause, "the lovely daughter of the rich usurer in the Rue
I had heard of Mlle. Goldberg. Her beauty and her father's wealth were
reported to be fabulous. I indicated my knowledge of the beautiful
lady by a mute inclination of the head.
"I love Mlle. Goldberg," my client resumed, "and I have reason for the
belief that I am not altogether indifferent to her. Glances, you
understand, from eyes as expressive as those of the exquisite Jewess
speak more eloquently than words."
He had forbidden me to speak, so I could only express concurrence in
the sentiments which he expressed by a slight elevation of my left
"I am determined to win the affections of Mlle. Goldberg," M. Rochez
went on glibly, "and equally am I determined to make her my wife."
"A very natural determination," I remarked involuntarily.
"My only trouble with regard to pressing my court is the fact that my
lovely Leah is never allowed outside her father's house, save in his
company or that of his sister--an old maid of dour mien and sour
disposition, who acts the part of a duenna with dog-like tenacity.
Over and over again have I tried to approach the lady of my heart,
only to be repelled or roughly rebuked for my insolence by her
irascible old aunt."
"You are not the first lover, Sir," I remarked drily, "who hath seen
obstacles thus thrown in his way, and--"
"One moment, M.--er--Ratichon," he broke in sharply. "I have not
finished. I will not attempt to describe my feelings to you. I have
been writhing--yes, writhing!--in face of those obstacles of which
you speak so lightly, and for a long time I have been cudgelling my
brains as to the possible means whereby I might approach my divinity
unchecked. Then one day I bethought me of you--"
"Of me, Sir?" I ejaculated, sorely puzzled. "Why of me?"
"None of my friends," he replied nonchalantly, "would care to
undertake so scrubby a task as I would assign to you."
"I pray you to be more explicit," I retorted with unimpaired dignity.
Once more he paused. Obviously he was a born mountebank, and he
calculated all his effects to a nicety.
"You, M.--er--Ratichon," he said curtly at last, "will have to take
the duenna off my hands."
I was beginning to understand. So I let him prattle on the while my
busy brain was already at work evolving the means to render this man
service, which in its turn I expected to be amply repaid. Thus I
cannot repeat exactly all that he said, for I was only listening with
half an ear. But the substance of it all was this: I was to pose as
the friend of M. Fernand Rochez, and engage the attention of Mlle.
Goldberg senior the while he paid his court to the lovely Leah. It was
not a repellent task altogether, because M. Rochez's suggestion opened
a vista of pleasant parties at open-air cafes, with foaming tankards
of beer, on warm afternoons the while the young people sipped sirops
and fed on love. My newly found friend was pleased to admit that my
personality and appearance would render my courtship of the elderly
duenna a comparatively easy one. She would soon, he declared, fall a
victim to my charms.
After which the question of remuneration came in, and over this we did
not altogether agree. Ultimately I decided to accept an advance of two
hundred francs and a new suit of clothes, which I at once declared was
indispensable under the circumstances, seeing that in my well-worn
coat I might have the appearance of a fortune-hunter in the eyes of
the suspicious old dame.
Within my mind I envisaged the possibility of touching M. Rochez for a
further two hundred francs if and when opportunity arose.
The formal introduction took place on the boulevards one fine
afternoon shortly after that. Mlle. Leah was walking under the trees
with her duenna when we--M. Rochez and I--came face to face with them.
My friend raised his hat, and I did likewise. Mademoiselle Leah
blushed and the ogre frowned. Sir, she was an ogre!--bony and angular
and hook-nosed, with thin lips that closed with a snap, and cold grey
eyes that sent a shiver down your spine! Rochez introduced me to her,
and I made myself exceedingly agreeable to her, while my friend
succeeded in exchanging two or three whispered words with his
But we did not get very far that day. Mlle. Goldberg senior soon
marched her lovely charge away.
Ah, Sir, she was lovely indeed! And in my heart I not only envied
Rochez his good fortune but I also felt how entirely unworthy he was
of it. Nor did the beautiful Leah give me the impression of being
quite so deeply struck with his charms as he would have had me
believe. Indeed, it struck me during those few minutes that I stood
dutifully talking to her duenna that the fair young Jewess cast more
than one approving glance in my direction.
Be that as it may, the progress of our respective courtships, now that
the ice was broken, took on a more decided turn. At first it only
amounted to meetings on the boulevards and a cursory greeting, but
soon Mlle. Goldberg senior, delighted with my conversation, would
deliberately turn to walk with me under the trees the while Fernand
Rochez followed by the side of his adored. A week later the ladies
accepted my friend's offer to sit under the awning of the Cafe
Bourbon and to sip sirops, whilst we indulged in tankards of
Within a fortnight, Sir--I may say it without boasting--I had Mlle.
Goldberg senior in the hollow of my hand. On the boulevards, as soon
as she caught sight of me, her dour face would be wreathed in smiles,
a row of large yellow teeth would appear between her thin lips, and
her cold, grey eyes would soften with a glance of welcome which more
than ever sent a cold shudder down my spine. While we four were
together, either promenading or sitting at open-air cafes in the cool
of the evening, the old duenna had eyes and ears only for me, and if
my friend Rochez did not get on with his own courtship as fast as he
would have wished the fault rested entirely with him.
For he did _not_ get on with his courtship, and that was a fact. The
fair Leah was very sweet, very coy, greatly amused, I fancy, at her
aunt's obvious infatuation for me, and not a little flattered at the
handsome M. Rochez's attentions to herself. But there it all ended.
And whenever I questioned Rochez on the subject, he flew into a temper
and consigned all middle-aged Jewesses to perdition, and all the
lovely and young ones to a comfortable kind of Hades to which he alone
amongst the male sex would have access. From which I gathered that I
was not wrong in my surmises, that the fair Leah had been smitten by
my personality and my appearance rather than by those of my friend,
and that he was suffering the pangs of an insane jealousy.
This, of course, he never would admit. All that he told me one day was
that Leah, with the characteristic timidity of her race, refused to
marry him unless she could obtain her father's consent to the union.
Old Goldberg, duly approached on the matter, flatly forbade his
daughter to have anything further to do with that fortune-hunter, that
parasite, that beggarly pick-thank--such, Sir, were but a few
complimentary epithets which he hurled with great volubility at his
daughter's absent suitor.
It was from Mlle. Goldberg, senior, that my friend and I had the
details of that stormy interview between father and daughter; after
which, she declared that interviews between the lovers would
necessarily become very difficult of arrangement. From which you will
gather that the worthy soul, though she was as ugly as sin, was by
this time on the side of the angels. Indeed, she was more than that.
She professed herself willing to aid and abet them in every way she
could. This Rochez confided to me, together with his assurance that he
was determined to take his Fate into his own hands and, since the
beautiful Leah would not come to him of her own accord, to carry her
off by force.
Ah, my dear Sir, those were romantic days, you must remember! Days
when men placed the possession of the woman they loved above every
treasure, every consideration upon earth. Ah, romance! Romance, Sir,
was the breath of our nostrils, the blood in our veins! Imagine how
readily we all fell in with my friend's plans. I, of course, was the
moving spirit in it all; mine was the genius which was destined to
turn gilded romance into grim reality. Yes, grim! For you shall see! . . .
Mlle. Goldberg, senior, who appropriately enough was named Sarah, gave
us the clue how to proceed, after which my genius worked alone.
You must know that old Goldberg's house in the Rue des Medecins--a
large apartment house in which he occupied a few rooms on the ground
floor behind his shop--backed on to a small uncultivated garden which
ended in a tall brick wall, the meeting-place of all the felines in
the neighbourhood, and in which there was a small postern gate, now
disused. This gate gave on a narrow cul-de-sac--grandiloquently named
Passage Corneille--which was flanked on the opposite side by the tall
boundary wall of an adjacent convent.
That cul-de-sac was marked out from the very first in my mind as our
objective. Around and about it, as it were, did I build the edifice of
my schemes, aided by the ever-willing Sarah. The old maid threw
herself into the affair with zest, planning and contriving like a
veritable strategist; and I must admit that she was full of resource
and invention. We were now in mid-May and enjoying a spell of hot
summer weather. This gave the inventive Sarah the excuse for using the
back garden as a place wherein to sit in the cool of the evening in
the company of her niece.
Ah, you see the whole thing now at a glance, do you not? The postern
gate, the murky night, the daring lover, the struggling maiden, the
willing accomplices. The actors were all there, ready for the curtain
to be rung up on the palpitating drama.
Then it was that a brilliant idea came into my brain. It was born on
the very day that I realized with indisputable certainty that the
lovely Leah was not in reality in love with Rochez. He fatuously
believed that she was ready to fall into his arms, that only maidenly
timidity held her back, and that the moment she had been snatched from
her father's house and found herself in the arms of her adoring lover,
she would turn to him in the very fullness of love and confidence.
But I knew better. I had caught a look now and again--an undefinable
glance, which told me the whole pitiable tale. She did not love
Rochez; and in the drama which we were preparing to enact the curtain
would fall on his rapture and her unhappiness.
Ah, Sir! imagine what my feelings were when I realized this! This fair
girl, against whom we were all conspiring like so many traitors, was
still ignorant of the fatal brink on which she stood. She chatted and
coquetted and smiled, little dreaming that in a very few days her
happiness would be wrecked and she would be linked for life to a man
whom she could never love. Rochez's idea, of course, was primarily to
get hold of her fortune. I had already ascertained for him, through
the ever-willing Sarah, that this fortune came from Leah's
grandfather, who had left a sum of two hundred thousand francs on
trust for her children, she to enjoy the income for her life. There
certainly was a clause in the will whereby the girl would forfeit that
fortune if she married without her father's consent; but according to
Rochez's plans this could scarcely be withheld once she had been taken
forcibly away from home, held in durance, and with her reputation
hopelessly compromised. She could then pose as an injured victim,
throw herself at her father's feet, and beg him to give that consent
without which she would for ever remain an outcast of society, a
pariah amongst her kind.
A pretty piece of villainous combination, you will own! And I, Sir,
was to lend a hand in this abomination!--nay, I was to be the chief
villain in the drama! It was I who, even now, was spending the hours
of the night, when I might have been dreaming sentimental dreams, in
oiling the lock of the postern gate which was to give us access into
papa Goldberg's garden. It was I who, under cover of darkness and
guided by that old jade Sarah, was to sneak into that garden on the
appointed night and forcibly seize the unsuspecting maiden and carry
her to the carriage which Rochez would have in readiness for her.
You see what a coward he was! It was a criminal offence in those days,
punishable with deportation to New Caledonia, to abduct a young lady
from her parents' house; and Rochez left me the dirty work to do in
case the girl screamed and attracted the police. Now you will tell me
if I was not justified in doing what I did, and I will abide by your
I was to take all the risks, remember!--New Caledonia, the police, the
odium attached to so foul a deed; and do you know for what? For a
paltry thousand francs, which with much difficulty I had induced
Rochez--nay, forced him!--to hand over to me in anticipation of what I
was about to accomplish for his sake. A thousand francs! Did this
miserliness not characterize the man? Was it to such a scrubby knave
that I, at risk of my life and of my honour, would hand over that
jewel amongst women, that pearl above price?--a lady with a personal
fortune amounting to two hundred thousand francs?
No, Sir; I would not! Then and there I vowed that I would not! Mine
were to be all the risks; then mine should be the reward! What Rochez
meant to do, that I could too, and with far greater reason. The lovely
Leah did at times frown on Fernand; but she invariably smiled on me.
She would fall into my arms far more readily than into his, and papa
Goldberg would be equally forced to give his consent to her marriage
with me as with that self-seeking carpet-knight whom he abhorred.
Needless to say, I kept my own counsel, and did not speak of my
project even to Sarah. To all appearances I was to be the mere tool in
this affair, the unfortunate cat employed to snatch the roast
chestnuts out of the fire for the gratification of a mealy-mouthed
The appointed day and hour were at hand. Fernand Rochez had engaged a
barouche which was to take him and his lovely victim to a little house
at Auteuil, which he had rented for the purpose. There the lovers were
to lie perdu until such time as papa Goldberg had relented and the
marriage could be duly solemnized in the synagogue of the Rue des
Halles. Sarah had offered in the meanwhile to do all that in her power
lay to soften the old man's heart and to bring about the happy
conclusion of the romantic adventure.
For the latter we had chosen the night of May 23rd. It was a moonless
night, and the Passage Corneille, from whence I was to operate, was
most usefully dark. Sarah Goldberg had, according to convention, left
the postern gate on the latch, and at ten o'clock precisely I made my
way up the cul-de-sac and cautiously turned the handle of the door. I
confess that my heart beat somewhat uncomfortably in my bosom.
I had left Rochez and his barouche in the Rue des Pipots, about a
hundred metres from the angle of the Passage Corneille, and it was
along those hundred metres of a not altogether unfrequented street
that he expected me presently to carry a possibly screaming and
struggling burden in the very teeth of a gendarmerie always on the
look-out for exciting captures.
No, Sir; that was not to be! And it was with a resolute if beating
heart that I presently felt the postern gate yielding to the pressure
of my hand. The neighbouring church clock of St. Sulpice had just
finished striking ten. I pushed open the gate and tip-toed across the
In the garden the boughs of a dilapidated old ash tree were soughing
in the wind above my head, whilst from the top of the boundary wall
the yarring and yowling of beasts of the feline species grated
unpleasantly on my ear. I could not see my hand before my eyes, and
had just stretched it out in order to guide my footsteps when it was
seized with a kindly yet firm pressure, whilst a voice murmured
"Who is it?" I whispered in response.
"It is I--Sarah!" the voice replied. "Everything is all right, but
Leah is unsuspecting. I am sure that if she suspected anything she
would not set foot outside the door."
"What shall we do?" I asked.
"Wait here a moment quietly," Sarah rejoined, speaking in a rapid
whisper, "under cover of this wall. Within the next few minutes Leah
will come out of the house. I have left my knitting upon a garden
chair, and I will ask her to run out and fetch it. That will be your
opportunity. The chair is in the angle of the wall, there," she added,
pointing to her right, "not three paces from where you are standing
now. Leah has a white dress on. She will have to stoop in order to
pick up the knitting. I have taken the precaution to entangle the wool
in the leg of the chair, so she will be some few seconds entirely at
your mercy. Have you a shawl?"
I had, of course, provided myself with one. A shawl is always a
necessary adjunct to such adventures. Breathlessly, silently, I
intimated to my kind accomplice that I would obey her behests and that
I was prepared for every eventuality. The next moment her hold upon my
hand relaxed, she gave another quickly-whispered "Hush!" and
disappeared into the night.
For a second or two after that my ear caught the soft sound of her
retreating footsteps, then nothing more. To say that I felt anxious
and ill at ease was but to put it mildly. I was face to face with an
adventure which might cost me at least five years' acute discomfort in
New Caledonia, but which might also bring me as rich a reward as could
befall any man of modest ambitions: a lovely wife and a comfortable
fortune. My whole life seemed to be hanging on a thread, and my
overwrought senses seemed almost to catch the sound of the
spinning-wheel of Fate weaving the web of my destiny.
A moment or two later I again caught the distinct sound of a gentle
footfall upon the soft earth. My eyes by now were somewhat accustomed
to the gloom. It was very dark, you understand; but through the
darkness I saw something white moving slowly toward me. Then my heart
thumped more furiously than ever before. I dared not breathe. I saw
the lovely Leah approaching, or, rather, I felt her approach, for it
was too dark to see. She moved in the direction which Sarah had
indicated to me as being the place where stood the garden chair with
the knitting upon it. I grasped the shawl. I was ready.
Another few seconds of agonising suspense went by. The fair Leah had
ceased to move. Undoubtedly she was engaged in disentangling the wool
from the leg of the chair. That was my opportunity. More stealthy than
any cat, I tiptoed toward the chair--and, indeed, at that moment I
blessed the sudden yowl set up by some feline in its wrath which rent
the still night air and effectually drowned any sound which I might
There, not three paces away from me, was the dim outline of the young
girl's form vaguely discernible in the gloom--a white mass, almost
motionless, against a background of inky blackness. With a quick
intaking of my breath I sprang forward, the shawl outspread in my
hand, and with a quick dexterous gesture I threw it over her head, and
the next second had her, faintly struggling, in my arms. She was as
light as a feather, and I was as strong as a giant. Think of it, Sir!
There was I, alone in the darkness, holding in my arms, together with
a lovely form, a fortune of two hundred thousand francs!
Of that fool Fernand Rochez I did not trouble to think. He had a
barouche waiting _up_ the Rue des Pipots, a hundred metres from the
corner of the Passage Corneille, but I had a chaise and pair of horses
waiting _down_ that same street, and that now was my objective. Yes,
Sir! I had arranged the whole thing! But I had done it for mine own
advantage, not for that of the miserly friend who had been too great a
coward to risk his own skin for the sake of his beloved.
The guerdon was mine, and I was determined this time that no traitor
or ingrate should filch from me the reward of my labours. With the
thousand francs which Rochez had given me for my services I had
engaged the chaise and horses, paid the coachman lavishly, and secured
a cosy little apartment for my future wife in a pleasant hostelry I
knew of at Suresnes.
I had taken the precaution to leave the wicket-gate on the latch. With
my foot I pushed it open, and, keeping well under the cover of the
tall convent wall, I ran swiftly to the corner of the Rue des Pipots.
Here I paused a moment. Through the silence of the night my ear caught
the faint sound of horses snorting and harness jingling in the
distance, both sides from where I stood; but of gendarmes or
passers-by there was no sign. Gathering up the full measure of my
courage and holding my precious burden closer to my heart, I ran
quickly down the street.
Within the next few seconds I had the seemingly inanimate maiden
safely deposited in the inside of the barouche and myself sitting by
her side. The driver cracked his whip, and whilst I, happy but
exhausted, was mopping my streaming forehead the chaise rattled gaily
along the uneven pavements of the great city in the direction of
What that fool Rochez was doing I could not definitely ascertain. I
looked through the vasistas of the coach, but could see nothing in
pursuit of us. Then I turned my full attention to my lovely companion.
It was pitch dark inside the carriage, you understand; only from time
to time, as we drove past an overhanging street lanthorn, I caught a
glimpse of that priceless bundle beside me, which lay there so still
and so snug, still wrapped up in the shawl.
With cautious, loving fingers I undid its folds. Under cover of the
darkness the sweet and modest creature, released of her bonds, turned
for an instant to me, and for a few, very few, happy seconds I held
her in my arms.
"Have no fear, fair one," I murmured in her ear. "It is I, Hector
Ratichon, who adores you and who cannot live without you! Forgive me
for this seeming violence, which was prompted by an undying passion,
and remember that to me you are as sacred as a divinity until the
happy hour when I can proclaim you to the world as my beloved wife!"
I pressed her against my heart, and my lips imprinted a delicate kiss
upon her forehead. After which, with chaste decorum, she once more
turned away from me, covered her face and head with the shawl, and
drew back into the remote corner of the carriage, where she remained,
silent and absorbed, no doubt, in the contemplation of her happiness.
I respected her silence, and I, too, fell to meditating upon my good
fortune. Here was I, Sir, within sight of a haven wherein I could live
through the twilight of my days in comfort and in peace, a beautiful
young wife, a modest fortune! I had never in my wildest dreams
envisaged a Fate more fair. The little house at Chantilly which I
coveted, the plot of garden, the espalier peaches--all, all would be
mine now! It seemed indeed too good to be true!
The very next moment I was rudely awakened from those golden dreams by
a loud clatter, and stern voices shouting the ominous word, "Halt!"
The carriage drew up with such a jerk that I was flung off my seat
against the front window and my nose seriously bruised. A faint cry of
terror came from the precious bundle beside me.
"Have no fear, my beloved," I whispered hurriedly. "Your own Hector
will protect you!"
Already the door of the carriage had been violently torn open;
the next moment a gruff voice called out peremptorily:
"By order of the Chief Commissary of Police!"
I was dumbfounded. In what manner had the Chief Commissary of Police
been already apprised of this affair? The whole thing was, of course,
a swift and vengeful blow dealt to me by that cowardly Rochez. But
how, in the name of thunder, had he got to work so quickly? But, of
course, there was no time now for reflection. The gruff voice was
going on more peremptorily and more insistently:
"Is Hector Ratichon here?"
I was dumb. My throat had closed up, and I could not have uttered a
sound to save my life. The police had even got my name quite straight!
"Now then, Ratichon," that same irascible voice continued, "get out of
there! In the name of the law I charge you with the abduction of a
defenceless female, and my orders are to bring you forthwith before
the Chief Commissary of Police."
Then it was, Sir, that bliss once more re-entered my soul. I had just
felt a small hand pressing something crisp into mine, whilst a soft
voice whispered in my ear:
"Give him this, and tell him to let you go in peace. Say that I am
Mademoiselle Goldberg, your promised wife."
The feel of that crackling note in my hand at once restored my
courage. Covering the lovely creature beside me with a protecting arm,
I replied boldly to the minion of the law.
"This lady," I said, "is my affianced wife. You, Sir Gendarme, are
overstepping your powers. I demand that you let us proceed in peace."
"My orders are--" the gendarme resumed; but already my sensitive
ear had detected a faint wavering in the gruffness of his voice. The
hectoring tone had gone out of it. I could not see him, of course, but
somehow I felt that his attitude had become less arrogant and his
glance more shifty.
"This gentleman has spoken the truth," now came in soft, dulcet tones
from under the shawl that wrapped the head of my beloved. "I am Mlle.
Goldberg, M. le Gendarme, and I am travelling with M. Hector Ratichon
entirely of my own free will, since I have promised him that I would
be his wife."
"Ah!" the gendarme ejaculated, obviously mollified.
"If Mademoiselle is the fiancee of Monsieur, and is acting of her own
"It is not for you to interfere, eh, my friend?" I broke in jocosely.
"You will now let us proceed in peace, and for your trouble you will
no doubt accept this token of my consideration." And, groping in the
darkness, I found the rough hand of the gendarme, and speedily pressed
into it the crisp note which my adored one had given to me.
"Ah!" he said, with very obvious gratification. "If Monsieur Ratichon
will assure me that Mademoiselle here is indeed his affianced wife, then
indeed it is not a case of abduction, and--"
"Abduction!" I retorted, flaring up in righteous indignation. "Who
dares to use the word in connexion with this lovely lady? Mademoiselle
Goldberg, I swear, will be Madame Ratichon within the next four and
twenty hours. And the sooner you, Sir Gendarme, allow us to proceed on
our way the less pain will you cause to this distressed and virtuous
This settled the whole affair quite comfortably. The gendarme shut the
carriage door with a bang, and at my request gave the order to the
driver to proceed. The latter once again cracked his whip, and once
again the cumbrous vehicle, after an awkward lurch, rattled on its way
along the cobblestones of the sleeping city.
Once more I was alone with the priceless treasure by my side--alone
and happy--more happy, I might say, than I had been before. Had not my
adored one openly acknowledged her love for me and her desire to stand
with me at the hymeneal altar? To put it vulgarly--though vulgarity
in every form is repellent to me--she had burnt her boats. She had
allowed her name to be coupled with mine in the presence of the
minions of the law. What, after that, could her father do but give his
consent to a union which alone would save his only child's reputation
from the cruelty of waggish tongues?
No doubt, Sir, that I was happy. True, that when the uncouth gendarme
finally slammed to the door of our carriage and we restarted on our
way, my ears had been unpleasantly tickled by the sound of prolonged
and ribald laughter--laughter which sounded strangely and unpleasantly
familiar. But after a few seconds' serious reflection I dismissed the
matter from my thoughts. If, as indeed I gravely suspected, it was
Fernand Rochez who had striven thus to put a spoke in the wheel of my
good fortune, he would certainly not have laughed when I drove
triumphantly away with my conquered bride by my side. And, of course,
my ears _must_ have deceived me when they caught the sound of a girl's
merry laugh mingling with the more ribald one of the man.
I have paused purposely, Sir, ere I embark upon the narration of the
final stage of this, my life's adventure.
The chaise was bowling along the banks of the river toward Suresnes.
Presently the driver struck to his right and plunged into the
fastnesses of the Bois de Boulogne. For a while, therefore, we were in
utter darkness. My lovely companion neither moved nor spoke. Somewhere
in the far distance a church clock struck eleven. One whole hour had
gone by since first I had embarked on this great undertaking.
I was excited, feverish. The beautiful Leah's silence and tranquillity
grated upon my nerves. I could not understand how she could remain
there so placid when her whole life's happiness had so suddenly, so
unexpectedly, been assured. I became more and more fidgety as time
went on. Soon I felt that I could no longer hold myself in proper
control. Being of an impulsive disposition, this tranquil acceptance
of so great a joy became presently intolerable, and, unable to
restrain my ardour any longer, I seized that passive bundle of
loveliness in my arms.
"Have no fear," I murmured once again, as I pressed her to my heart.
But my admonition was obviously unnecessary. The beautiful Leah showed
not the slightest sign of fear. She rested her head against my
shoulder and put one arm around my neck. I was in raptures.
Just then the vehicle swung out of the Bois and once more rattled upon
the cobblestones. This time we were nearing Suresnes. A vague light,
emanating from the lanthorns at the bridge-head, was already faintly
visible ahead of us. Soon it grew brighter. The next moment we passed
immediately beneath the lanthorns. The interior of the carriage was
flooded with light . . . and, Sir, I gave a gasp of unadulterated
dismay! The being whom I held in my arms, whose face was even at that
moment raised up to my own, was not the lovely Leah! It was Sarah,
Sir! Sarah Goldberg, the dour, angular aunt, whose yellow teeth
gleamed for one brief moment through her thin lips as she threw me one
of those glances of amorous welcome which invariably sent a cold
shiver down my spine. Sarah Goldberg! I scarce could believe my eyes,
and for a moment did indeed think that the elusive, swiftly-vanished
light of the bridge-head lanthorns had played my excited senses a
weird and cruel trick. But no! The very next second proved my
disillusionment. Sarah spoke to me!
She spoke to me and laughed! Ah, she was happy, Sir! Happy in that she
had completely and irrevocably tricked me! That traitor Fernand Rochez
was up to the neck in the plot which had saddled me for ever with an
ugly, elderly wife of dour mien and no fortune, while he and the
lovely Leah were spinning the threads of perfect love at the other end
of Paris and laughing their fill at my discomfiture. Think, Sir, what
I suffered during those few brief minutes while the coach lurched
through the narrow streets of Suresnes, and I had perforce to listen
to the protestations of undying love from this unprepossessing female!
That love, she vowed, was her excuse, and everything, she asserted,
was fair in love and war. She knew that after Rochez had attained his
heart's desire and carried off the lady of his choice--which he had
successfully done half an hour before I myself made my way up the
Passage Corneille--I would pass out of her life for ever. This she
could not endure. Life at once would become intolerable. And, aided
and abetted by Rochez and Leah, she had planned and contrived my
mystification and won me by foul means, since she could not do so by
fair; and it seemed as if her volubility then was the forecast of what
my life with her would be in the future. Talk! Talk! Talk! She never
She told me the whole story of the abominable conspiracy against my
liberty. Her brother, M. Goldberg, she explained, had determined upon
remarriage. She, Sarah, felt that henceforth she would be in the way
of everybody; she would have no home. Leah married to Rochez; a new
and young Mme. Goldberg ruling in the old house of the Rue des
Medecins! Ah, it was unthinkable!
And I, Sir--I, Hector Ratichon--had, it appears, by my polite manners
and prepossessing ways, induced this dour old maid to believe that she
was not altogether indifferent to me. Ah, how I cursed my own charms,
when I realised whither they had led me! It seems that it was that
fickle jade Leah who first imagined the whole execrable plot. Rochez
was to entrust me with the task of carrying off his beloved, and thus
I would be tricked in the darkness into abducting Mlle. Goldberg
senior from her home. Then some friends of Rochez arranged to play the
comedy of false gendarmes, and again I was tricked into acknowledging
Sarah as my affianced wife before independent witnesses. After that I
could no longer repudiate mine honourable intentions, for if I did,
then I should be arraigned before the law on a criminal charge of
abduction. In this comedy of false gendarmes Rochez himself and the
heartless Leah had joined with zest and laughed over my discomfiture,
whilst the friends who played their roles to such perfection had a
paltry hundred francs each as the price of this infamous trick. Now my
doom was sealed, and all that was left for me to do was to think
disconsolately over my future.
I did bitterly reproach Sarah for her treachery and tried to still her
protestations of love by pointing out to her that I had absolutely no
fortune, and could only offer her a life of squalor, not to say of
what. But this she knew, and vowed that penury by my side would make
her happier than luxury beside any other man. Ah, Sir, 'tis given to
few men to arouse such selfless passion in a woman's heart, and it
hath oft been my dream in the past one day thus to be adored for
But for the moment I was too deeply angered to listen placidly to
Sarah's vows of undying affection. My nerves were irritated by her
fulsome adulation; indeed, I could not bear the sight of her nor yet
the sound of her voice. You may imagine how thankful I was when the
chaise came at last to a halt outside the humble little hostelry where
I had engaged the room which I had so fondly hoped would have been
occupied by the lovely and fickle Leah.
I bundled Mlle. Goldberg senior into the house, and here again I had
to endure galling mortification in the shape of sidelong glances cast
at me and my future bride by the landlord of the hostelry and his
ill-bred daughter. When I engaged the room I had very foolishly told
them that it would be occupied by a lovely lady who had consented to
be my wife, and that she would remain here in happy seclusion until
such time as all arrangements for our wedding were complete. The
humiliation of these vulgar people's irony seemed like the last straw
which overweighed my forbearance. The room and pension I had already
paid two days in advance, so I had nothing more to say either to the
ribald landlord or to Mlle. Goldberg senior. I was bitterly angered
against her, and refused her the solace of a kindly look or of an
encouraging pressure from my hand, even though she waited for both
with the pathetic patience of an old spaniel.
I re-entered the coach, which was to take me back to mine own humble
lodgings in Passy. Here at least I was alone--alone with my gloomy
thoughts. My heart was full of wrath against the woman who had so
basely tricked me, and I viewed with dismay amounting almost to
despair the prospect of spending the rest of my life in her company.
That night I slept but little, nor yet the following night, or the
night after that. Those days I spent in seclusion, thankful for my
Twice each day did Mlle. Goldberg come to my lodgings. In the foolish
past I had somewhat injudiciously acquainted her of where I lived. Now
she came and asked to be allowed to see me, but invariably did I
refuse thus to gratify her. I felt that time alone would perhaps
soften my feelings a little towards her. In the meanwhile I must
commend her discretion and delicacy of procedure. She did not in any
way attempt to molest me. When she was told by Theodore--whom I
employed during the day to guard me against unwelcome visitors--that I
refused to see her, she invariably went away without demur, nor did
she refer in any way, either with adjurations or threats, to the
impending wedding. Indeed, Sir, she was a lady of vast discretion.
On the third day, however, I received a visit from M. Goldberg
himself. I could not refuse to see him. Indeed, he would not be
denied, but roughly pushed Theodore aside, who tried to hinder him. He
had come armed with a riding-whip, and nothing but mine own innate
dignity saved me from outrage. He came, Sir, with a marriage licence
for his sister and me in one pocket and with a denunciation to the
police against me for abduction in another. He gave me the choice.
What could I do, Sir? I was like a helpless babe in the hands of
The marriage licence was for the following day--at the mairie of the
eighth arrondissement first, and in the synagogue of the Rue des
Halles afterwards. I chose the marriage licence. What could I do, Sir?
I was helpless!
Of my wedding day I have but a dim recollection. It was all hustle and
bustle; from the mairie to the synagogue, and thence to the house of
M. Goldberg in the Rue des Medecins. I must say that the old usurer
received me and my bride with marked amiability. He was, I gathered,
genuinely pleased that his sister had found happiness and a home by
the side of an honourable man, seeing that he himself was on the point
of contracting a fresh alliance with a Jewish lady of unsurpassed
Of Rochez and Leah we saw nothing that day, and from one or two words
which M. Goldberg let fall I concluded that he was greatly angered
against his daughter because of her marriage with a fortune-hunting
adventurer, who, he weirdly hinted, had already found quick and
exemplary punishment for his crime. I was sincerely glad to hear this,
even though I could not get M. Goldberg to explain in what that
exemplary punishment consisted.
The climax came at six o'clock of that eventful afternoon, at the hour
when I, with the newly-enthroned Mme. Ratichon on my arm, was about to
take leave of M. Goldberg. I must admit that at that moment my heart
was overflowing with bitterness. I had been led like a lamb to the
slaughter; I had been made to look foolish and absurd in the midst of
this Israelite community which I despised; I was saddled for the rest
of my life with an unprepossessing elderly wife, who could do naught
for me but share the penury, the hard crusts, the onion pies with me
and Theodore. The only advantage I might ever derive from her was that
she would darn my stockings, sew the buttons on my vests, and goffer
the frills of my shirts!
Was this not enough to turn any man's naturally sweet disposition to
gall? No doubt my mobile face betrayed something of the bitterness of
my thoughts, for M. Goldberg at one moment slapped me vigorously on
the back and bade me be of good cheer, as things were not so bad as I
imagined. I was on the point of asking him what he meant when I saw
another gentleman advancing toward me. His face, which was sallow and
oily, bore a kind of obsequious smile; his clothes were of rusty
black, and his features were markedly Jewish in character. He had some
law papers under his arm, and he was perpetually rubbing his thin,
bony hands together as if he were for ever washing them.
"Monsieur Hector Ratichon," he said unctuously, "it is with much
gratification that I bring you the joyful news."
Joyful news!--to me! Ah, Sir, the words struck at first with cruel
irony upon mine ear. But not so a second later, for the Jewish
gentleman went on speaking, and what he said appeared to my reeling
senses like songs of angels from paradise.
At first I could not grasp his full meaning. A moment ago I had been
in the depths of despair, and now--now--a whole vista of beatitude
opened out before me! What the worthy Israelite said was that, by the
terms of Grandpapa Goldberg's will, if Leah married without her
father's consent, one-half of the fortune destined for her would
revert to her aunt, Sarah Goldberg, now Madame Hector Ratichon.
Can you wonder that I could scarce believe my ears? One-half that
fortune meant that a hundred thousand francs would now become mine! M.
Goldberg had already made it very clear to his daughter and to Rochez
that he would never give his consent to their marriage, and, as this
was now consummated, they had already forfeited one-half of the
grandfather's fortune in favour of my Sarah. That was the exemplary
punishment which they were to suffer for their folly.
But their folly--aye! and their treachery--had become my joy. In this
moment of heavenly rapture I was speechless, but I turned to Sarah
with loving arms outstretched, and the next instant she nestled
against my heart like a joyful if elderly bird.
What is said of a people, Sir, is also true of the individual. Happy
he who hath no history. Since that never-to-be-forgotten hour my life
has run its simple, uneventful course here in this quiet corner of our
beautiful France, with my pony and my dog and my chickens, and Mme.
Ratichon to minister to my creature comforts.
I bought this little property, Sir, soon after my marriage, and my
office in the Rue Daunou knows me no more. You like the house, Sir?
Ah, yes! And the garden? . . . After dejeuner you must see my prize
chickens. Theodore will show them to you. You did not know Theodore
was here? Well, yes! He lives with us. Madame Ratichon finds him
useful about the house, and, not being used to luxuries, he is on the
whole pleasantly contented.
Ah, here comes Madame Ratichon to tell us that the dejeuner is served!
This way, Sir, under the porch. . . . After you!