Part 7 out of 7
"Did not this letter go straight to your heart?" asked Tantaine.
"Of course it did. Why, she will have a million for her wedding
On hearing these words, Tantaine started up with so threatening an
aspect that Paul recoiled a step, but a warning look from the doctor
restrained the old man's indignation.
"He is a perfect sham!" muttered he; "even his vices are mere
"He is our pupil, and is what we have made him," whispered Tantaine.
Meanwhile Tantaine had gone up to Paul, and, placing his hand
caressingly on his shoulder, said,--
"My boy, you will never know how much you owe to Mademoiselle Flavia."
Paul could not understand the meaning of this scene. These men had
done their best to pervert his morals, and to deaden the voice of his
conscience, and now that he had hoped to earn their praise by an
affectation of cynicism they were displeased with him. Before,
however, he could ask a question, Tantaine had completely recovered
"My dear boy," said he, "I am quite satisfied with you. I came here
to-day expecting to find you still undecided, and I am pleased with
"But, sir--" said Paul.
"On the contrary, you are firm and strong."
"Yes, he has got on so well," said the doctor, "that we should now
treat him as one of ourselves, and confide more in him. To-night, my
young friend, M. Mascarin will get from Caroline Schimmel the solution
of the riddle that has for so long perplexed us. Be at the office
to-morrow at ten o'clock, and you shall be told everything."
Paul would have asked more questions, but Tantaine cut him short with
a brief good-morning, and went off hurriedly, taking the doctor with
him, and seemingly wishing to avoid a hazardous and unpleasant
"Let us get out of this," whispered he. "In another moment I should
have knocked the conceited ass down. Oh, my Flavia! my poor Flavia!
your weakness of to-day will yet cost you very dear!"
Paul remained rooted to the ground, with an expression of surprise and
confusion upon every line of his face. All his pride and vanity had
gone. "I wonder," muttered he, "what these disagreeable persons are
saying about me? Perhaps laughing at my inexperience and ridiculing my
aspirations." The idea made him grind his teeth with rage; but he was
mistaken, for neither Tantaine nor the doctor mentioned his name after
they had left his apartment. As they walked up the Rue Montmartre, all
their ideas were turning upon how it would be easiest to checkmate
"I have not yet got sufficient information to act on," remarked
Tantaine meditatively. "My present plan is to remain perfectly
quiescent, and I have told Croisenois not to make a move of any kind.
I have an eye and ear watching and listening when they think
themselves in perfect privacy. Very soon I shall fathom their plans,
and then--, but in the meantime have faith in me, and do not let the
matter worry you."
On the boulevard Tantaine took leave of his friend.
"I shall very likely not see you to-night, for I have an appointment
at the Grand Turk with that precious young rascal, Toto Chupin. I
/must/ find Caroline, for I am sure that with her lies the Champdoce
secret. She is very cunning, but has a weakness for drink, and, with
Satan's help, I hope to find out the special liquor which will make
her open her lips freely."
AT THE GRAND TURK.
Tantaine took a cab, and, promising the cabman a handsome gratuity if
he would drive fast, stopped at the spot where the Rue Blanche
intersects the Rue de Douai, and told the coachman to wait for him,
and entered the house where the younger Gandelu had installed the fair
Madame de Chantemille. It was some time before his ring at the door
was answered, but at last the door was opened by a stout, red-faced
girl, with an untidy cap. Upon seeing Tantaine, she uttered an
exclamation of delight, for it was the cook that had been placed in
Zora's employment by M. Mascarin's agency.
"Ah, Daddy Tantaine," said she, "you are as welcome as the sun in
"Hush, hush," returned the old man, gazing cautiously round him.
"Don't be frightened," returned the girl. "Madame has gone to a place
from when there is no return ticket, at least, for some time. You know
the greater the value of an article the closer we keep it under lock
Tantaine gathered from this that Rose had been arrested, and his
astonishment appeared to be unmeasured.
"Surely you don't mean that she has gone to quod?" said he.
"It is as I tell you," answered she; "but come in, and have a glass of
wine, while you hear all about it."
She led the old man into the dining-room, round the table in which a
half dozen guests were seated, just concluding a late breakfast.
Tantaine at once recognized four of the several guests as servants
whom he knew from their having applied for situations at the office,
and there were two men of a very unprepossessing exterior.
"We are having a regular spree to-day," observed the cook, handing a
bottle to Tantaine; "but yesterday there was not much of a
jollification here, for just as I was setting about getting the dinner
two fellows came in and asked for my mistress, and as soon as they saw
her they clapped their hands on her and said that she must come to the
stone jug. When madame heard this she shrieked so loud as to have been
heard in the next street. She would not go a foot with them, clung to
the furniture and banisters, so they just took her up by the head and
feet, and carried her down to a cab that was standing at the door. I
seem to bring ill luck wherever I go, for this is the fourth mistress
I have seen taken off in this way; but come, you are taking nothing at
But Tantaine had had enough, and making an excuse, retired from a
debauch which he saw would continue as long as the wine held out.
"All is going well," muttered he, as he climbed into the cab; "and now
for the next one."
He drove straight to the house that the elder Gandelu was building in
the Champs Elysees, and putting his head out of the window, he
accosted a light, active young fellow who was warning the foot
passengers not to pass under the scaffolding.
"Anything new, La Cordille?" enquired the old man.
"No, nothing; but tell the master I am keeping a good watch."
From there Tantaine visited a footman in De Breulh's employment, and a
woman in the service of Madame de Bois Arden. Then, paying his fare,
he started on foot for Father Canon's wine shop, in the Rue St.
Honore, where he met Florestan, who was as saucy and supercilious to
Tantaine as he was obsequious to Mascarin. But although he paid for
Florestan's dinner, all that he could extort from him was, that Sabine
was terribly depressed. It was fully eight o'clock before Tantaine had
got rid of Florestan, and hailing another cab, he ordered the driver
to take him to the Grand Turk, in the Rue des Poissonniers.
The magnificent sign of the Grand Turk dances in the breeze, and
invites such youths as Toto Chupin and his companions. The whole
aspect of the exterior seemed to invite the passers-by to step in and
try the good cheer provided within,--a good /table d'hote/ at six
p.m., coffee, tea, liquors, and a grand ball to complete the work of
digestion. A long corridor leads to this earthly Eden, and the two
doors at the end of it open, the one into the dining, and the other
into the ball-room. A motley crew collected there for the evening
meal, and on Sundays it is next to impossible to procure a seat. But
the dining-room is the Grand Turk's greatest attraction, for as soon
as the dessert is over the head waiter makes a sign, and dishes and
tablecloths are cleared away in a moment. The dining-room becomes a
/café/, and the click of dominoes gives way to the rattle of forks,
while beer flows freely. This, however, is nothing, for, at a second
signal, huge folding doors are thrown open, and the strains of an
orchestra ring out as an invitation to the ball, to which all diners
are allowed free entrance. Nothing is danced but round dances, polkas,
mazurkas, and waltzes.
The German element was very strong at the Grand Turk, and if a
gentleman wished to make himself agreeable to his fair partners, it
was necessary for him, at any rate, to be well up in the Alsatian
dialect. The master of the ceremonies had already called upon the
votaries of Terpsichore to take their places for the waltz as Daddy
Tantaine entered the hall. The scene was a most animated one, and the
air heavy with the scent of beer and tobacco, and would have
asphyxiated any one not used to venture into such places.
It was the first time that he had ever visited the Grand Turk, and yet
any one observing would have sworn that he was one of the regular
frequenters as he marched idly through the rooms, making constant
pauses at the bar. But glance around him as he might, he could see
neither Toto Chupin nor Caroline Schimmel.
"Have I come here for nothing," muttered he, "or is the hour too
It was hard to waste time thus, but at last he sat down and ordered
some beer. His eyes wandered to a large picture on the wall,
representing a fat, eastern-looking man, with a white turban and
loose, blue garments, seated in a crimson chair, with his feet resting
upon a yellow carpet. One hand was caressing his protuberant paunch,
while the other was extended toward a glass of beer. Evidently this is
the Grand Turk. And finally by an odalisque, who fills his goblet with
the foaming infusion of malt and hops. This odalisque is very fair and
stout, and some fair Alsatian damsel has evidently sat as the model.
As Tantaine was gazing upon this wondrous work of art he heard a
squeaking voice just behind him.
"That is certainly that young rogue Chupin," muttered he.
He turned sharply round, and two tables off, in a dark corner, he
discovered the young gentleman that he had been looking for. As he
gazed on the lad, he was not surprised that he had not recognized him
at first, for Toto had been strangely transmogrified, and in no degree
resembled the boy who had shivered in a tattered blouse in the archway
near the Servants' Registry Office. He was now gorgeous to behold.
From the moment that he had got his hundred francs he had chalked out
a new line of life for himself, and was busy pursuing it. He had found
that he could make all his friends merry, and he had succeeded. He had
made a selection from the most astounding wares that the Parisian
tailor keeps on hand. He had sneered at young Gaston de Gandelu, and
called him an ape; but he had aped the ape. He wore a very short,
light coat, a waistcoat that was hideous from its cut and brilliancy,
and trousers strapped tightly under his feet. His collar was so tall
and stiff, that he had the greatest difficulty in turning his head. He
had gone to a barber, and his lank hair had been artistically curled.
The table in front of him was covered with glasses and bottles. Two
shocking looking scamps of the true barrier bully type, with loose
cravats and shiny-peaked caps, were seated by him, and were evidently
his guests. Tantaine's first impulse was to catch the debauched youth
by the ear, but he hesitated for an instant and reflection conquered
the impulse. With the utmost caution so that he might not attract
Toto's attention, he crept down to him, concealing himself as best he
could behind one of the pillars that supported the gallery, and by
this manoeuvre found himself so close to the lad that he could catch
every word he said.
Chupin was talking volubly.
"Don't you call me a swell, nor yet say that I brag," said he. "I
shall always make this kind of appearance, for to work in the manner I
propose, a man must pay some attention to dress."
At this his companions roared with laughter.
"All right," returned Toto. "I'm precious sharp, though you may not
think so, and shall go in for all kinds of elegant accomplishments,
and come out a regular masher."
"Wonders will never cease," answered one of the men. "When you go on
your trip for action in the Bois among the toffs, will you take me
"Any one can go to the Bois who has money: and just tell me who are
those who make money. Why, those who have plenty of cheek and a good
sound business. Well, I have learned my business from some real downy
cards, who made it pay well. Why should I not do the same?"
With a sickening feeling of terror, Tantaine saw that the lad was half
drunk. What could he be going to say? and how much did he know? Toto's
guests evidently saw that he had taken too much; but as he seemed
ready to let them into a secret, they paid great attention, and
exchanged a look of intelligence. The young rogue's new clothes and
his liberality all proved that he had found a means of gaining money;
the only question was what the plan could be. To induce him to talk
they passed the bottle rapidly and flattered him up. The younger man
of the two shook his head with a smile.
"I don't believe you have any business at all," said he.
"Nor have I, if by business you mean some low handicraft. It is brain
work I mean, my boy; and that's what I do."
"I don't doubt that a bit," answered the elder guest coaxingly.
"Come on! Tell us what it is," broke in the other. "You don't expect
us to take your word."
"It is as easy as lying," replied Toto. "Listen a bit, and you shall
have the whole bag of tricks. Suppose I saw Polyte steal a couple of
pairs of boots from a trotter-case seller's stall----"
Polyte interrupted the narrator, protesting so strongly that he would
not commit such an act, that Tantaine perceived at once that some such
trifling act of larceny weighed heavily on his conscience.
"You needn't kick up such a row," returned Toto. "I am only just
putting it as a thing that might happen. We will say you had done the
trick, and that I had twigged you. Do you know what I should go? Well,
I would hunt up Polyte, and say quietly, 'Halves, old man, or I will
"And I should give you a crack in the jaw," returned Polyte angrily.
Forgetting his fine dress, Toto playfully put his thumb to his nose
and extended his fingers.
"You would not be such an ass," said he. "You would say to yourself,
'If I punch this chap, he will kick up no end of a row, and I shall be
taken up, and perhaps sent to the mill.' No; you would be beastly
civil, and would end by doing just as I wished."
"And this is what you call your business, is it?"
"Isn't it a good one--the mugs stand the racket, and the downy cards
profit by it?"
"But there is no novelty in this; it is only blackmail after all."
"I never said it wasn't; but it is blackmailing perfected into a
As Toto made this reply he hammered on the table, calling for more
"But," remarked Polyte, with an air of disappointment, "you don't get
chances every day, and the business is often a precious poor one. You
can't always be seeing chaps prigging boots."
"Pooh! pooh!" answered Toto, "if you want to make money in this
business, you must keep your eyes about you. Our customers don't come
to you, but there is nothing to prevent you going to them. You can
hunt until you find them."
"And where are you to hunt, if you please?"
"Ah, that's tellings."
A long silence ensued, during which Tantaine was half tempted to come
forward. By doing so he would assuredly nip all explanations in the
bud; but, on the other hand, he wanted to hear all the young rascal
had to say. He therefore only moved a little nearer, and listened more
Forgetting his curls, Toto was abstractedly passing his fingers
through his hair, and reflecting with all the wisdom of a muddled
brain. Finally, he came to the conclusion that he might speak, and,
leaning forward, he whispered,--
"You won't peach if I tell you the dodge?"
His companions assured him that he might have every confidence in
"Very well; I make my money in the Champs Elysees, and sometimes get a
harvest twice a day."
"But there are no shoemakers' shops there."
"You are a fool," answered Toto contemptuously. "Do you think I
blackmail thieves? That wouldn't be half good enough. Honest people,
or at least people who call themselves honest, are my game. These are
the ones who can be made to pay up."
Tantaine shuddered; he remembered that Mascarin had made use of the
same expression, and at once surmised that Toto must have had an
occasional ear to the keyhole.
"But," objected Polyte, "honest people have no occasion to pay up."
Toto struck his glass so heavily on the table that it flew to shivers.
"Will you let me speak?" said he.
"Go on, go on, my boy," returned his friend.
"Well, when I'm hard up for cash, I go into the Champs Elysees, and
take a seat on one of the benches. From there I keep an eye on the
cabs and see who gets out of them. If a respectable woman does so, I
am sure of my bird."
"Do you think you know a respectable woman when you see her?"
"I should think that I did. Well, when a respectable woman gets out of
a cab where she ought not to have been, she looks about her on all
sides, first to the right and then to the left, settles her veil, and,
as soon as she is sure that no one is watching her, sets off as if old
Nick was behind her."
"Well, what do you do then?"
"Why, I take the number of the cab, and follow the lady home. Then I
wait until she has had time to get to her own rooms, and go to the
porter and say, 'Will you give me the name of the lady who has just
come in?' "
"And do you think the porter is fool enough to do so?"
"Not a bit; I always take the precaution of having a delicate little
purse in my pocket; and when the man says, as he always does, 'I don't
know,' I pull out the purse, and say, 'I am sorry for that, for she
dropped this as she came in, and I wanted to return it to her.' The
porter at once becomes awfully civil; he gives the name and number,
and up I go. The first time I content myself with finding out if she
is married or single. If she is single, it is no go; but if the
reverse, I go on with the job."
"Why, what do you do next?"
"Next morning I go there, and hang about until I see the husband go
out. Then I go upstairs, and ask for the wife. It is ticklish work
then, my lads; but I say, 'Yesterday, madame, I was unlucky enough to
leave my pocketbook in cab number so-and-so. Now, as I saw you hail
the vehicle immediately after I had left it, I have come to ask you if
you saw my pocketbook.' The lady flies into a rage, denies all
knowledge of the book, and threatens to have me turned out. Then, with
the utmost politeness, I say, 'I see, madame, that there is nothing to
be done but to communicate the matter to your husband.' Then she gets
alarmed, and--she pays."
"And you don't see any more of her?"
"Not that day; but when the funds are low, I call and say, 'It is I
again, madame; I am the poor young man who lost his money in such and
such a cab on a certain day of the month.' And so the game goes on. A
dozen such clients give a fellow a very fair income. Now, perhaps, you
understand why I am always so well dressed, and always have money in
my pocket. When I was shabbily attired, they offered me a five-franc
piece, but now they come down with a flimsy."
The young wretch spoke the truth; for to many women, who in a mad
moment of passion may have forgotten themselves, and been tracked to
their homes by some prowling blackmailer, life has been an endless
journey of agony. Every knock at the door makes them start, and every
footfall on the staircase causes a tremor as they think that the
villain has come to betray their guilty secret.
"That is all talk," said Polyte; "such things are never done."
"They /are/ done," returned Toto sulkily.
"Have you ever tried the dodge yourself, then?" sneered Polyte.
At another time Chupin would have lied, but the fumes of the drink he
had taken, added to his natural self-conceit, had deprived him of all
"Well," muttered he, "if I have not done it myself exactly, I have
seen others practise it often enough--on a much larger scale, it is
true; but one can always do things in a more miniature fashion with
perhaps a better chance of success."
"What! /you/ have seen this done?"
"Of course I have."
"And had you a share in the swag?"
"To a certain extent. I have followed the cabs times without number,
and have watched the goings on of these fine ladies and gentlemen;
only I was working for others, like the dog that catches the hare, and
never has a bit of it to eat. No, all I got was dry bread, with a kick
or a cuff for dessert. I sha'n't put up with it any longer, and have
made up my mind to open on my own account."
"And who has been employing you?"
A flash of sense passed through Chupin's muddled brain. He had never
wished to injure Mascarin, but merely to increase his own importance
by extolling the greatness of his employer.
"I worked for people who have no equal in Paris," said he proudly.
"They don't mince matters either, I can tell you; and they have more
money than you could count in six months. There is not a thing they
cannot do if they desire; and if I were to tell you----"
He stopped short, his mouth wide open, and his eyes dilated with
terror, for before him stood old Daddy Tantaine.
Tantaine's face had a most benign expression upon it, and in a most
paternal voice he exclaimed,--
"And so here you are at last, my lad; and, bless me, how fine! why,
you look like a real swell."
But Toto was terribly disconcerted. The mere appearance of Tantaine
dissipated the fumes of liquor which had hitherto clouded the boy's
brain, and by degrees he recollected all that he had said, and,
becoming conscious of his folly, had a vague idea of some swift-coming
retribution. Toto was a sharp lad, and he was by no means deceived by
Tantaine's outward semblance of friendliness, and he almost felt as if
his life depended on the promptness of his decision. The question was,
had the old man heard anything of the preceding conversation?
"If the old rogue has been listening," said he to himself, "I am in a
hole, and no mistake."
It was, therefore, with a simulated air of ease that he answered,--
"I was waiting for you, sir, and it was out of respect to you that I
put on my very best togs."
"That was very nice of you; I ought to thank you very much. And now,
Toto's courage was coming back to him rapidly.
"Will you take a glass of beer, or a liquor of brandy, sir?" said he.
But Daddy Tantaine excused himself on the plea that he had just been
"That is all the more reason for being thirsty," remarked Toto. "My
friends and I have drunk the contents of all these bottles since
Tantaine raised his shabby hat at this semi-introduction, and the two
roughs bowed smoothly. They were not entirely satisfied with the
appearance of the new-comer, and thought that this would be a good
moment for taking leave of their host. The waltz had just concluded,
and the master of the ceremonies was repeating his eternal refrain
of--"Take your places, ladies and gentlemen;" and taking advantage of
the noise, Toto's friends shook hands with their host and adroitly
mixed with the crowd.
"Good fellows! jolly fellows;" muttered Toto, striving to catch a last
glimpse of them.
Tantaine gave a low, derisive whistle. "My lad," said he, "you keep
execrable company, and one day you will repent it."
"I can look after myself, sir."
"Do as you like, my lad; it is no business of mine. But, take my word
for it, you will come to grief some day. I have told you that often
"If the old rascal suspected anything," thought Toto, "he would not
talk in this way."
Wretched Toto! he did not know that when his spirits were rising the
danger was terribly near, for Tantaine was just then saying to
"Ah! this lad is much too clever--too clever by half. If I were going
on with the business, and could make it worth his while, how useful he
would be to me! but just now it would be most imprudent to allow him
to wander about and jabber when he gets drunk."
Meanwhile Toto had called a waiter, and, flinging a ten-franc piece on
the table, said haughtily: "Take your bill out of that." But Tantaine
pushed the money back toward the lad, and, drawing another ten-franc
piece from his pocket, gave it to the waiter.
This unexpected act of generosity put the lad in the best possible
humor. "All the better for me," exclaimed he; "and now let us hunt up
"Is she here? I could not find her."
"Because you did not know where to look for her. She is at cards in
the coffee-room. Come along, sir."
But Tantaine laid his hand upon the boy's arm.
"One moment," said he. "Did you tell the woman just what I ordered you
"I did not omit a single word."
"Tell me what you said, then."
"For five days," began the lad solemnly, "your Toto has been your
Caroline's shadow. We have played cards until all sorts of hours, and
I took care that she should always win. I confided to her that I had a
jolly old uncle,--a man not without means, a widower, and crazy to be
married again,--who had seen her and had fallen in love with her."
"Good! my lad, good! and what did she say?"
"Why, she grinned like half a dozen cats; only she is a bit artful,
and I saw at once that she thought I was after her cards, but the
mention of my uncle's property soon chucked her off that idea."
"Did you give my name?"
"Yes, at the end, I did. I knew that she had seen you, and so I kept
it back as long as I could; but as soon as I mentioned it she looked
rather confused, and cried out: 'I know him quite well.' So you see,
sir, all you have now is to settle a day for the marriage. Come on;
she expects you."
Toto was right. The late domestic of the Duke de Champdoce was playing
cards; but as soon as she caught sight of Toto and his pretended
uncle, in spite of her holding an excellent hand, she threw up her
cards, and received him with the utmost civility. Toto looked on with
delight. Never had he seen the old rascal (as he inwardly called him
in his heart) so polite, agreeable, and talkative. It was easy to see
that Caroline Schimmel was yielding to his fascinations, for she had
never had such extravagant compliments whispered in her ear in so
persuasive a tone. But Tantaine did not confine his attentions to wine
only: he first ordered a bowl of punch, and then followed that up by a
bottle of the best brandy. All the old man's lost youth seemed to have
come back to him: he sang, he drank, and he danced. Toto watched them
in utter surprise, as the old man whirled the clumsy figure of the
woman round the room.
And he was rewarded for this tremendous exertion, for by ten o'clock
she had consented, and Caroline left the Grand Turk on the arm of her
future husband, having promised to take supper with him.
Next morning, when the scavengers came down from Montmartre to ply
their matutinal avocations, they found the body of a woman lying on
her face on the pavement. They raised her up and carried her to an
hospital. She was not dead, as had been at first supposed; and when
the unhappy creature came to her senses, she said that her name was
Caroline Schimmel, that she had been to supper at a restaurant with
her betrothed, and that from that instant she remembered nothing. At
her request, the surgeon had her conveyed to her home in the Rue
THE LAST LINK.
For some days M. Mascarin had not shown himself at the office, and
Beaumarchef was terribly harassed with inquiries regarding his absent
master. Mascarin, on the day after the evening on which Tantaine had
met Caroline Schimmel at the Grand Turk, was carefully shut up in his
private room; his face and eyes were red and inflamed, and he
occasionally sipped a glass of some cooling beverage which stood
before him, and his compressed lips and corrugated brow showed how
deeply he was meditating. Suddenly the door opened, and Dr. Hortebise
entered the room.
"Well!" exclaimed Mascarin, "have you seen the Mussidans, as I told
you to do."
"Certainly," answered Hortebise briskly; "I saw the Countess, and told
her how pressing the holders of her letters were growing, and urged on
her the necessity for immediate action. She told me that both she and
her husband had determined to yield, and that Sabine, though evidently
broken-hearted, would not oppose the marriage."
"Good," said Mascarin; "and now, if Croisenois only follows out the
orders that I have given him, the marriage will take place without the
knowledge of either De Breulh or Andre. Then we need fear them no
longer. The prospectus of the new Company is ready, and can be issued
almost immediately; but we meet to-day to discuss not that matter, but
the more important one of the heir to the Champdoce title."
A timid knock at the door announced the arrival of Paul who came in
hesitatingly, as if doubtful what sort of a reception he might
receive; but Mascarin gave him the warmest possible welcome.
"Permit me," said he, "to offer you my congratulations on having won
the affections of so estimable and wealthy a young lady as
Mademoiselle Flavia. I may tell you that a friend of mine has informed
me of the very flattering terms in which her father, M. Rigal, spoke
of you, and I can assure you that if our mutual friend Dr. Hortebise
were to go to the banker with an offer of marriage on your part, you
have no cause to dread a refusal."
Paul blushed with pleasure, and as he was stammering out a few words,
the door opened for the third time, and Catenac made his appearance.
To cover the lateness of his arrival, he had clothed his face in
smiles, and advanced with outstretched hands toward his confederates;
but Mascarin's look and manner were so menacing, that he recoiled a
few steps and gazed on him with an expression of the utmost wonder and
"What is the meaning of this reception?" asked he.
"Can you not guess?" returned Mascarin, his manner growing more and
more threatening. "I have sounded the lowest depths of your infamy. I
was sure the other day that you meant to turn traitor, but you swore
to the contrary, and you--"
"On my honor--"
"It is useless. One word from Perpignan set us on the right track.
Were you or were you not ignorant that the Duke de Champdoce had a
certain way of recognizing his son, and that was by a certain
"It had escaped my memory----"
The words faded from his lips, for even his great self-command failed
him under Mascarin's disdainful glance.
"Let me tell you what I think of you," said the latter. "I knew that
you were a coward and a traitor. Even convicts keep faith with each
other, and I had not thought you so utterly infamous."
"Then why have you forced me to act contrary to my wishes?"
This reply exasperated Mascarin so much that he grasped Catenac by the
throat, and shook him violently.
"I made use of you, you viper," said he, "because I had placed you in
such a position that you could not harm us. And now you will serve me
because I will show you that I can take everything from you--name,
money, liberty, and /life/. All depends upon our success. If we fail,
you fall into an abyss of the depth and horrors of which you can have
no conception. I knew with whom I had to deal, and took my measures
accordingly. The most crushing proofs of your crime are in the hands
of a person who has precise orders how to act. When I give the signal,
he moves; and when he moves, you are utterly lost."
There was something so threatening in the silence that followed this
speech that Paul grew faint with apprehension.
"And," went on Mascarin, "it would be an evil day for you if anything
were to happen to Hortebise, Paul, or myself; for if one of us were to
die suddenly, your fate would be sealed. You cannot say that you have
not been warned."
Catenac stood with his head bent upon his breast, rooted to the ground
with terror. He felt that he was bound, and gagged, and fettered hand
and foot. Mascarin swallowed some of the cooling draught that stood
before him, and tranquilly commenced,--
"Suppose, Catenac, that I were to tell you that I know far more of the
Champdoce matter than you do; for, after all, your knowledge is only
derived from what the Duke has told you. You think that you have hit
upon the truth; you were never more mistaken in your life. I, perhaps
you are unaware, have been many years engaged in this matter. Perhaps
you would like to know how I first thought of the affair. Do you
remember that solicitor who had an office near the Law Courts, and did
a great deal of blackmail business? If you do, you must remember that
he got two years' hard labor."
"Yes, I remember the man," returned Catenac in a humble voice.
"He used," continued Mascarin, "to buy up waste paper, and search
through the piles he had collected for any matters that might be
concealed in the heterogeneous mass. And many things he must have
found. In what sensational case have not letters played a prominent
part? What man is there who has not at one time or other regretted
that he has had pen and ink ready to his hand? If men were wise, they
would use those patent inks, which fade from the paper in a few days.
I followed his example, and, among other strange discoveries, I made
He took from his desk a piece of paper--ragged, dirty, and creased--
and, handing it to Hortebise and Paul, said,--
They did so, and read the following strange word:
while underneath was written in another hand the word, "Never."
"It was evident that I had in my hands a letter written in cipher, and
I concluded that the paper contained some important secret."
Catenac listened to this narrative with an air of contempt, for he was
one of those foolish men who never know when it is best for them to
"I daresay you are right," answered he with a slight sneer.
"Thank you," returned Mascarin coolly. "At any rate, I was deeply
interested in solving this riddle, the more as I belonged to an
association which owes its being and position to its skill in
penetrating the secrets of others. I shut myself up in my room, and
vowed that I would not leave it until I had worked out the cipher."
Paul, Hortebise, and Catenac examined the letter curiously, but could
make nothing of it.
"I can't make head or tail of it," said the doctor impatiently.
Mascarin smiled as he took back the paper, and remarked,--
"At first I was as much puzzled as you were, and more than once was
tempted to throw the document into the waste-paper basket, but a
secret feeling that it opened a way to all our fortunes restrained me.
Of course there was the chance that I might only decipher some foolish
jest, and no secret at all, but still I went on. If the commencement
of the word was written in a woman's hand, the last word had evidently
been added by a man. But why should a cryptogram have been used? Was
it because the demand was of so dangerous and compromising a character
that it was impossible to put it in plain language? If so, why was the
last word not in cipher? Simply because the mere rejection of what was
certainly a demand would in no manner compromise the writer. You will
ask how it happens that demand and rejection are both on the same
sheet of paper. I thought this over, and came to the conclusion that
the letter had once been meant for the post, but had been sent by
hand. Perhaps the writers may have occupied rooms in the same house.
The woman, in the anguish of her soul, may have sent the letter by a
servant to her husband, and he, transported by rage, may have
hurriedly scrawled this word across it, and returned it again: 'Take
this to your mistress.' Having settled this point, I attacked the
cipher, and, after fourteen hours' hard work, hit upon its meaning.
"Accidentally I held the piece of paper between myself and the light,
with the side on which the writing was turned from me, and read it at
once. It was a cryptogram of the simplest kind, as the letters forming
the words were simply reversed. I divided the letters into words, and
made out this sentence: '/Grace, je suis innocente. Ayez pitie;
rendez-moi notre enfant/ (Mercy, I am innocent. Give me back our
Hortebise snatched up the paper and glanced at it.
"You are right," said he; "it is the art of cipher writing in its
"I had succeeded in reading it,--but how to make use of it! The mass
of waste paper in which I found it had been purchased from a servant
in a country house near Vendome. A friend of mine, who was accustomed
to drawing plans and maps, came to my aid, and discovered some faint
signs of a crest in one corner of the paper. With the aid of a
powerful magnifying glass, I discovered it to be the cognizance of the
ducal house of Champdoce. The light that guided me was faint and
uncertain, and many another man would have given up the quest. But the
thought was with me in my waking hours, and was the companion of my
pillow during the dark hours of the night. Six months later I knew
that it was the Duchess who had addressed this missive to her husband,
and why she had done so. By degrees I learned all the secret to which
this scrap of paper gave me the clue; and if I have been a long while
over it, it is because one link was wanting which I only discovered
"Ah," said the doctor, "then Caroline Schimmel has spoken."
"Yes; drink was the magician that disclosed the secret that for twenty
years she had guarded with unswerving fidelity."
As Mascarin uttered these words he opened a drawer, and drew from it a
large pile of manuscript, which he waved over his head with an air of
"This is the greatest work that I have ever done," exclaimed he.
"Listen to it, Hortebise, and you shall see how it is that I hold
firmly, at the same time, both the Duke and Duchess of Champdoce, and
Diana the Countess of Mussidan. Listen to me, Catenac,--you who
distrusted me, and were ready to play the traitor, and tell me if I do
not grasp success in my strong right hand." Then, holding out the roll
of papers to Paul, he cried, "And do you, my dear boy, take this and
read it carefully. Let nothing escape you, for there is not one item,
however trivial it may seem to you, that has not its importance. It is
the history of a great and noble house, and one in which you are more
interested than you may think."
Paul opened the manuscript, and, in a voice which quivered with
emotion, he read the facts announced by Mascarin, which he had
entitled "The Mystery of Champdoce."
The conclusion of this exciting narrative will be found in the volume
called "The Mystery of Champdoce."