Part 10 out of 11
All these ingenious explanations might be logical, but what foundation
did they possess? Might they not be the dreams of an excited
M. Verduret did not finish his report until four o'clock in the
morning; then he cried, with an accent of triumph:
"And now they are on their guard, and sharp, wary rascals too: but
they won't escape me; I have cornered them beautifully. Before a week
is over, Prosper, you will be publicly exonerated, and will come out
of this scrape with flying colors. I have promised your father you
"Impossible!" said Prosper in a dazed way, "it cannot be!"
"All this you have just told me."
M. Verduret opened wide his eyes, as if he could not understand anyone
having the audacity to doubt the accuracy of /his/ report.
"Impossible, indeed!" he cried. "What! have you not sense enough to
see the plain truth written all over every fact, and attested by the
best authority? Your thick-headedness exasperates me to the last
"But how can such rascalities take place in Paris, in our very midst,
"Parbleu!" interrupted the fat man, "you are young, my friend! Are you
innocent enough to suppose that crimes, forty times worse than this,
don't occur every day? You think the horrors of the police-court are
the only ones. Pooh! You only read in the /Gazette des Tribunaux/ of
the cruel melodramas of life, where the actors are as cowardly as the
knife, and as treacherous as the poison they use. It is at the family
fireside, often under shelter of the law itself, that the real
tragedies of life are acted; in modern crimes the traitors wear
gloves, and cloak themselves with public position; the victims die,
smiling to the last, without revealing the torture they have endured
to the end. Why, what I have just related to you is an everyday
occurrence; and you profess astonishment."
"I can't help wondering how you discovered all this tissue of crime."
"Ah, that is the point!" said the fat man with a self-satisfied smile.
"When I undertake a task, I devote my whole attention to it. Now, make
a note of this: When a man of ordinary intelligence concentrates his
thoughts and energies upon the attainment of an object, he is certain
to obtain ultimate success. Besides that, I have my own method of
working up a case."
"Still I don't see what grounds you had to go upon."
"To be sure, one needs some light to guide one in a dark affair like
this. But the fire in Clameran's eye at the mention of Gaston's name
ignited my lantern. From that moment I walked straight to the solution
of the mystery, as I would walk to a beacon-light on a dark night."
The eager, questioning look of Prosper showed that he would like to
know the secret of his protector's wonderful penetration, and at the
same time be more thoroughly convinced that what he had heard was all
true--that his innocence would be more clearly proved.
"Now confess," cried M. Verduret, "you would give anything in the
world to find out how I discovered the truth?"
"I certainly would, for it is the darkest of mysteries, marvellous!"
M. Verduret enjoyed Prosper's bewilderment. To be sure, he was neither
a good judge nor a distinguished amateur; but he was an astonished
admirer, and sincere admiration is always flattering, no matter whence
"Well," he replied, "I will explain my system. There is nothing
marvellous about it as you will soon see. We worked together to find
the solution of the problem, so you know my reasons for suspecting
Clameran as the prime mover in the robbery. As soon as I had acquired
this certainty, my task was easy. You want to know what I did? I
placed trustworthy people to watch the parties in whom I was most
interested. Joseph Dubois took charge of Clameran, and Nina Gypsy
never lost sight of Mme. Fauvel and her niece."
"I cannot comprehend how Nina ever consented to this service."
"That is my secret," replied M. Verduret. "Having the assistance of
good eyes and quick ears on the spot, I went to Beaucaire to inquire
into the past, so as to link it with what I knew of the present. The
next day I was at Clameran; and the first step I took was to find the
son of St. Jean, the old valet. An honest man he was, too; open and
simple as nature herself; and he made a good bargain in selling me his
"Madder?" said Prosper with a puzzled look; "what did you----"
"Of course I wanted to buy his madder. Of course I did not appear to
him as I do to you now. I was a countryman wanting to buy madder; he
had madder for sale; so we began to bargain about the price. The
debate lasted almost all day, during which time we drank a dozen
bottles of wine. About supper-time, St. Jean was as drunk as a
bunghole, and I had purchased nine hundred francs' worth of madder
which your father will sell to-morrow."
Prosper's astonished countenance made M. Verduret laugh heartily.
"I risked nine hundred francs," he continued, "but thread by thread I
gathered the whole history of the Clamerans, Gaston's love-affair, his
flight, and the stumbling of the horse ridden by Louis. I found also
that about a year ago Louis returned, sold the chateau to a man named
Fougeroux, whose wife, Mihonne, had a secret interview with Louis the
day of the purchase. I went to see Mihonne. Poor woman! her rascally
husband has pounded all the sense out of her; she is almost idiotic. I
told her I came from the Clameran family, and she at once related to
me everything she knew."
The apparent simplicity of this mode of investigation confounded
Prosper. He wondered it had not occurred to him before.
"From that time," continued M. Verduret, "the skein began to
disentangle; I held the principal thread. I now set about finding out
what had become of Gaston. Lafourcade, who is a friend of your father,
informed me that he had bought a foundery, and settled in Oloron,
where he soon after suddenly died. Thirty-six hours later I was at
"You are certainly indefatigable!" said Prosper.
"No, but I always strike while the iron is hot. At Oloron I met
Manuel, who had gone there to make a little visit before returning to
Spain. From him I obtained a complete history of Gaston's life, and
all the particulars of his death. Manuel also told me of Louis's
visit; and the inn-keeper described a young workman who was there at
the same time, whom I at once recognized as Raoul."
"But how did you know of all the conversations between the villains?"
said Prosper. "You seem to be aware of their secret thoughts."
"You evidently think I have been drawing upon my imagination. You will
soon see to the contrary," said Verduret good-humoredly. "While I was
at work down there, my aids did not sit with their hands tied
together. Mutually distrustful, Clameran and Raoul preserved all the
letters received from each other. Joseph Dubois copied them, or the
important portions of them, and forwarded them to me. Nina spent her
time listening at all doors under her supervision, and sent me a
faithful report. Finally, I have at the Fauvels another means of
investigation which I will reveal to you later."
"I understand it all now," murmured Prosper.
"And what have you been doing during my absence, my young friend?"
asked M. Verduret; "have you heard any news?"
At this question Prosper turned crimson. But he knew that it would
never do to keep silent about his imprudent step.
"Alas!" he stammered, "I read in a newspaper that Clameran was about
to marry Madeleine; and I acted like a fool."
"What did you do?" inquired Verduret anxiously.
"I wrote an anonymous letter to M. Fauvel, informing him that his wife
was in love with Raoul--"
M. Verduret here brought his clinched fist down upon the little table
near by, with such violence that the thin plank was shivered. His
cheerful face in an instant clouded over.
"What folly!" he exclaimed, "how could you go and ruin everything?"
He arose from his seat, and strode up and down the room, oblivious of
the lodgers below, whose windows shook with every angry stamp of his
"What made you act so like a child, an idiot, a fool?" he said
indignantly to Prosper.
"Here you are, drowning; an honest man springs into the water to save
you, and just as he approaches the shore you entangle his feet to
prevent him from swimming! What was my last order to you when I left
"To keep quiet, and not go out of the hotel."
The consciousness of having done a foolish thing made Prosper appear
like a frightened school-boy, accused by his teacher of playing
"It was night, monsieur," he hesitatingly said, "and, having a violent
headache, I took a walk along the quay thinking there was no risk in
my entering a cafe; there I picked up a paper, and read the dreadful
"Did you not promise to trust everything to me?"
"You were absent, monsieur; and you yourself might have been surprised
by an unexpected--"
"Only fools are ever surprised into committing a piece of folly,"
cried M. Verduret impatiently. "To write an anonymous letter! Do you
know to what you expose me? Breaking a sacred promise made to one of
the few persons whom I highly esteem among my fellow-beings. I shall
be looked upon as a liar, a cheat--I who--"
He abruptly stopped, as if afraid to trust himself to speak further;
after calming down a little, he turned to Prosper, and said:
"The best thing we can do is to try and repair the harm you have done.
When and where did you post this idiotic letter?"
"Yesterday evening, at the Rue du Cardinal Lemoine. It hardly reached
the bottom of the box before I regretted having written it."
"You had better have regretted it before dropping it in. What time was
"About ten o'clock."
"Then your sweet little letter must have reached M. Fauvel with his
early mail; probably he was alone in his study when he read it."
"I know he was: he never goes down to the bank until he has opened his
"Can you recall the exact terms of your letter? Stop and think, for it
is very important that I should know."
"Oh, it is unnecessary for me to reflect. I remember the letter as if
I had just written it."
And almost verbatim he repeated what he had written.
After attentively listening, M. Verduret sat with a perplexed frown
upon his face, as if trying to discover some means of repairing the
"That is an awkward letter," he finally said, "to come from a person
who does not deal in such things. It leaves everything to be
understood without specifying anything; it is vague, jeering,
insidious. Repeat it to me."
Prosper obeyed, and his second version did not vary from the first in
a single word.
"Nothing could be more alarming than that allusion to the cashier,"
said the fat man, repeating the words after Prosper. "The question,
'Was it also he who stole Mme. Fauvel's diamonds?' is simply fearful.
What could be more exasperating than the sarcastic advice, 'In your
place, I would not have any public scandal, but would watch my wife?'
The effect of your letter must have been terrible," he added
thoughtfully as he stood with folded arms looking at poor Prosper. "M.
Fauvel is quick-tempered, is he not?"
"He has a violent temper, when aroused."
"Then the mischief is not irreparable."
"What! do you suppose--"
"I think that an impulsive man is afraid of himself, and seldom
carries out his first angry intentions. That is our chance of
salvation. If, upon the receipt of your bomb-shell, M. Fauvel, unable
to restrain himself, rushed into his wife's room, and cried, 'Where
are your diamonds?' Mme. Fauvel will confess all; and then good-by to
"Why would this be disastrous?"
"Because, the moment Mme. Fauvel opens her lips to her husband, our
birds will take flight."
Prosper had never thought of this eventuality.
"Then, again," continued M. Verduret, "it would deeply distress
"Anyone whom I know?"
"Yes, my friend, and very well too. I should certainly be chagrined to
the last degree, if these two rascals escape, without having obtained
complete satisfaction from them."
"It seems to me that you know how to take care of yourself, and can do
anything you please."
M. Verduret shrugged his shoulders, and said:
"Did you not perceive the gaps in my narrative?"
"I did not."
"That is because you don't know how to listen. In the first place, did
Louis de Clameran poison his brother, or not?"
"Yes; I am sure of it, from what you tell me."
"There you are! You are much more certain, young man, than I am. Your
opinion is mine; but what proof have we? None. I skilfully questioned
Dr. C----. He has not the shadow of suspicion; and Dr. C---- is no
quack; he is a cultivated, observing man of high standing. What
poisons produce the effects described? I know of none; and yet I have
studied up on poisons from Pomerania digitalis to Sauvresy aconite."
"The death took place so opportunely----"
"That anybody would be convinced of foul play. That is true; but
chance is sometimes a wonderful accomplice in crime. In the second
place, I know nothing of Raoul's antecedents."
"Is information on that point necessary?"
"Indispensable, my friend; but we will soon know something. I have
sent off one of my men--excuse me, I mean one of my friends--who is
very expert and adroit, M. Palot; and he writes that he is on the
track. I am interested in the history of this sentimental, sceptical
young rascal. I have an idea that he must have been a brave, honest
sort of youth before Clameran ruined him."
Prosper was no longer listening.
M. Verduret's words had inspired him with confidence. Already he saw
the guilty men arraigned before the bar of justice; and enjoyed, in
anticipation, this assize-court drama, where he would be publicly
exonerated and restored to position.
Then he would seek Madeleine; for now he understood her strange
conduct at the dressmaker's, and knew that she had never ceased to
This certainty of future happiness restored all the self-possession
that had deserted him the day he found the safe robbed. For the first
time he was astonished at the peculiarity of his situation.
Prosper had at first only been surprised at the protection of M.
Verduret and the extent of his investigations: now he asked himself,
what could have been his motives for acting thus?
What price did he expect for this sacrifice of time and labor?
His anxiety made him say nervously:
"It is unjust to us both, monsieur, for you to preserve your incognito
any longer. When you have saved the honor and life of a man, you
should at least let him know whom he is to thank for it."
"Oh!" said M. Verduret smilingly, "you are not out of the woods yet.
You are not married either: so you must wait a little longer; patience
The clock struck six.
"Good heavens!" exclaimed M. Verduret. "Can it be six o'clock? I did
hope to have a good night's rest, but I must keep on moving. This is
no time to be asleep."
He went into the passage, and, leaning over the balusters, called,
"Mme. Alexandre! I say, Mme. Alexandre!"
The hostess of the Archangel, the portly wife of Fanferlot the
Squirrel, evidently had not been to bed. This fact struck Prosper.
She appeared, obsequious, smiling, and eager to please.
"What can I do for you, gentlemen?" she inquired.
"You can send your--Joseph Dubois and Palmyre to me as soon as
possible. Let me know when they arrive. I will rest a few minutes, and
you can awake me when they come."
As soon as Mme. Alexandre left the room, the fat man unceremoniously
threw himself on the bed.
"You have no objections, I suppose?" he said to Prosper.
In five minutes he was fast asleep; and Prosper sat by the bed
watching him with a perplexed gaze, wondering who this strange man
About nine o'clock someone tapped timidly at the door.
Slight as the noise was, it aroused M. Verduret, who sprang up, and
"Who is it?"
Prosper arose and opened the door.
Joseph Dubois, the valet of the Marquis of Clameran, entered.
This important assistant of M. Verduret was breathless from fast
running; and his little rat eyes were more restless than ever.
"Well, patron, I am glad to see you once more," he cried. "Now you can
tell me what to do; I have been perfectly lost during your absence,
and have felt like a jumping monkey with a broken string.
"What! did you get frightened too?"
"Bless me! I think I had cause for alarm when I could not find you
anywhere. Yesterday afternoon I sent you three despatches, to the
addresses you gave me, Lyons, Beaucaire, and Oloron, but received no
answer. I was almost crazy with anxiety when your message reached me
"Things are getting hot, then."
"Hot! They are burning! The place is too warm to hold me any longer;
upon my soul, I can't stand it!"
M. Verduret occupied himself in repairing his toilet, become
disarranged by lying down.
When he had finished, he threw himself in an easy-chair, and said to
Joseph Dubois, who remained respectfully standing, cap in hand, like a
soldier awaiting orders:
"Explain yourself, my boy, and quickly, if you please; no
"It is just this, patron. I don't know what your plans are, or what
line you are taking now; but I can just tell you this: that you will
have to wind up the affair pretty quickly."
"That is your opinion, Master Joseph?"
"Yes, patron, because if you wait any longer, good-by to our covey:
you will certainly find an empty cage, and the birds flown. You smile?
Yes, I know you are clever, and can accomplish anything; but they are
cunning blades, and as slippery as eels. They know that they are
"The devil they do!" cried M. Verduret. "Who has been committing
"Oh! nobody has done anything wrong," replied Joseph. "You know,
patron, that they suspected something long ago. They gave you a proof
of it, the night of the fancy ball; that ugly cut on your arm was the
beginning. Ever since, they have had one eye open all the time. They
had begun to feel easier, when all of a sudden, yesterday, /ma foi/,
they began to smell a rat!"
"Was that the cause of your telegrams?"
"Of course. Now listen: yesterday morning when my master got up, about
ten o'clock, he took it into his head to arrange the papers in his
desk; which, by the way, has a disgusting lock which has given me a
deal of trouble. Meanwhile, I pretended to be fixing the fire, so as
to remain in the room to watch him. Patron, the man has an eye like a
Yankee! At the first glance he saw, or rather divined, that his papers
had been meddled with, he turned livid, and swore an oath; Lord, what
"Never mind the oath; go on."
"Well, how he discovered the little attentions I had devoted to his
letters, I can't imagine. You know how careful I am. I had put
everything in perfect order; just as I found things I left them, when,
lo and behold! my noble marquis picks up each paper, one at a time,
turns it over, and smells it. I was just thinking I would offer him a
magnifying-glass, when all of a sudden he sprang up, and with one kick
sent his chair across the room, and flew at me with his eyes flashing
like two pistols. 'Somebody has been at my papers,' he shrieked; 'this
letter has been photographed!' B-r-r-r! I am not a coward, but I can
tell you that my heart stood perfectly still; I saw myself as dead as
Caesar, cut into mince-meat; and says I to myself, 'Fanfer--excuse me
--Dubois, my friend, you are lost, dead;' and I thought of Mme.
M. Verduret was buried in thought, and paid no attention to the worthy
Joseph's analysis of his personal sensations.
"What happened next?" said Verduret after a few minutes.
"Why, he was just as frightened as I was, patron. The rascal did not
even dare to touch me. To be sure, I had taken the precaution to get
out of his reach; we talked with a large table between us. While
wondering what could have enabled him to discover the secret, I
defended myself with virtuous indignation. I said:
"'It cannot be; M. le marquis is mistaken. Who would dare touch his
"Bast! Instead of listening to me, he flourished an open letter, and
"'This letter has been photographed! here is proof of it!' and he
pointed to a little yellow spot on the paper, shrieking out, 'Look!
Smell! Smell it, you devil! It is--' I forget the name he called it,
but some acid used by photographers."
"I know, I know," said M. Verduret; "go on; what next?"
"Then, patron, we had a scene; what a scene! He ended by seizing me by
the throat, and shaking me like a plum-tree, saying he would shake me
until I told him who I was, what I knew, and where I came from. As if
I knew, myself! I was obliged to account for every minute of my time
since I had been in his service. The devil was worse than a judge of
instruction, in his questions. Then he sent for the hotel porter, who
had charge of the front door, and questioned him closely, but in
English, so that I could not understand. After a while, he cooled
down, and when the boy was gone, presented me with twenty francs,
saying, 'I am sorry I was so sharp with you; you are too stupid to
have been guilty of the offence.'"
"He said that, did he?"
"He used those very words to my face, patron."
"And you think he meant what he said?"
"Certainly I do."
The fat man smiled, and whistled a little tune expressive of contempt.
"If you think that," he said, "Clameran was right in his estimate of
It was easy to see that Joseph Dubois was anxious to hear his patron's
grounds for considering him stupid, but dared not ask.
"I suppose I am stupid, if you think so," said poor Fanferlot humbly.
"Well, after he had done blustering about the letters, M. le marquis
dressed, and went out. He did not want his carriage, but I saw him
hire a cab at the hotel door. I thought he had perhaps disappeared
forever; but I was mistaken. About five o'clock he returned as gay as
a bull-finch. During his absence, I had telegraphed to you."
"What! did you not follow him?"
"I stayed on the spot in case of his return; but one of our friends
kept watch on him, and this friend gave me a report of my dandy's
movements. First he went to a broker's, then to the bank and discount
office: so he must be collecting his money to take a little trip."
"Is that all he did?"
"That is all, patron. But I must tell you how the rascals tried to
shut up, 'administratively,' you understand, Mlle. Palmyre.
Fortunately you had anticipated something of the kind, and given
orders to watch over her safety. But for you, she would now be in
Joseph looked up to the ceiling by way of trying to remember something
more. Finding nothing there, he said:
"That is all. I rather think M. Patrigent will rub his hands with
delight when I carry him my report. He did not expect to see me any
more, and has no idea of the facts I have collected to swell the size
of his FILE 113."
There was a long silence. Joseph was right in supposing that the
crisis had come. M. Verduret was arranging his plan of battle while
waiting for the report of Nina--now Palmyre, upon which depended his
point of attack.
But Joseph Dubois began to grow restless and uneasy.
"What must I do now, patron?" he asked.
"Return to the hotel; probably your master had noticed your absence;
but he will say nothing about it, so continue--"
Here M. Verduret was interrupted by an exclamation from Prosper, who
was standing near a window.
"What is the matter?" he inquired.
"There is Clameran!" cried Prosper, "over there."
M. Verduret and Joseph ran to the window.
"Where is he?" said Joseph, "I don't see him."
"There, at the corner of the bridge, behind that orange-woman's
Prosper was right. It was the noble Marquis of Clameran, who, hid
behind the stall, was watching for his servant to come out of the
At first the quick-sighted Verduret had some doubts whether it was the
marquis, who, being skilled in these hazardous expeditions, managed to
conceal himself behind a pillar so as to elude detection.
But a moment came, when, elbowed by the pressing crowd, he was obliged
to come out on the pavement in full view of the window.
"Now don't you see I was right!" cried the cashier.
"Well," said the amazed Joseph, "I am amazed!"
M. Verduret seemed not in the least surprised, but quietly said:
"The game needs hunting. Well, Joseph, my boy, do you still think that
your noble master was duped by your acting injured innocence?"
"You assured me to the contrary, patron," said Joseph in an humble
tone; "and your opinion is more convincing than all the proofs in the
"This pretended outburst of rage was premeditated on the part of your
noble master. Knowing that he is being tracked, he naturally wishes to
discover who his adversaries are. You can imagine how uncomfortable he
must be at this uncertainty. Perhaps he thinks his pursuers are some
of his old accomplices, who, being starved, want a piece of his cake.
He will remain there until you come out: then he will come in to find
out who you are."
"But, patron, I can go home without his seeing me."
"Yes, I know. You will climb the little wall separating the Archangel
from the wine-merchant's yard, and keep along the stationer's area,
until you reach the Rue de la Huchette."
Poor Joseph looked as if he had just received a bucket of ice-water
upon his head.
"Exactly the way I was going, patron," he gasped out. "I heard that
you knew every plank and door of all the houses in Paris, and it
certainly must be so."
The fat man made no reply to Joseph's admiring remarks. He was
thinking how he could catch Clameran.
As to the cashier, he listened wonderingly, watching these strangers,
who seemed determined to reinstate him in public opinion, and punish
his enemies, while he himself stood by powerless and bewildered. What
their motives for befriending him could be, he vainly tried to
"I will tell you what I can do," said Joseph after deep thought.
"What is it?"
"I can innocently walk out of the front door, and loaf along the
street until I reach the Hotel du Louvre."
"Dame! Clameran will come in and question Mme. Alexandre, whom you can
instruct beforehand; and she is smart enough to put any sharper off
"Bad plan!" pronounced M. Verduret decidedly; "a scamp so compromised
as Clameran is not easily put off the track; now his eyes are opened,
he will be pretty hard to catch."
Suddenly, in a brief tone of authority which admitted of no
contradiction, the fat man said:
"I have a way. Has Clameran, since he found that his papers had been
searched, seen Lagors?"
"Perhaps he has written to him?"
"I'll bet you my head he has not. Having your orders to watch his
correspondence, I invented a little system which informs me every time
he touches a pen; during the last twenty-four hours the pens have not
"Clameran went out yesterday."
"But the man who followed him says he wrote nothing on the way."
"Then we have time yet!" cried Verduret. "Hurry! Hurry! I give you
fifteen minutes to make yourself a head; you know the sort; I will
watch the rascal until you come up."
The delighted Joseph disappeared in a twinkling; while Prosper and M.
Verduret remained at the window observing Clameran, who, according to
the movements of the crowd, was sometimes lost to sight, and sometimes
just in front of the window, but was evidently determined not to quit
his post until he had obtained the information he sought.
"Why do you devote yourself exclusively to the marquis?" asked
"Because, my friend," replied M. Verduret, "because--that is my
business, and not yours."
Joseph Dubois had been granted a quarter of an hour in which to
metamorphose himself; before ten minutes had elapsed he reappeared.
The dandified coachman with Bergami whiskers, red vest, and foppish
manners, was replaced by a sinister-looking individual, whose very
appearance was enough to scare any rogue.
His black cravat twisted around a paper collar, and ornamented by an
imitation diamond pin; his long-tailed black boots and heavy cane,
revealed the employee of the Rue de Jerusalem, as plainly as the
shoulder-straps mark a soldier.
Joseph Dubois had vanished forever; and from his livery, phoenix-like
and triumphant, arose the radiant Fanferlot, surnamed the Squirrel.
When Fanferlot entered the room, Prosper uttered a cry of surprise and
He recognized the man who had assisted the commissary of police to
examine the bank on the day of the robbery.
M. Verduret examined his aide with a satisfied look, and said:
"Not bad! There is enough of the police-court air about you to alarm
even an honest man. You understood me perfectly this time."
Fanferlot was transported with delight at this compliment.
"What must I do now, patron?" he inquired.
"Nothing difficult for an adroit man: but remember, upon the precision
of our movements depends the success of my plan. Before arresting
Lagors, I wish to dispose of Clameran. Now that the rascals are
separated, the first thing to do is to prevent their coming together."
"I understand," said Fanferlot, snapping his little rat-like eyes; "I
am to create a diversion."
"Exactly. Go out by the Rue de la Huchette, and hasten to St. Michel's
bridge; loaf along the bank, and finally sit on the steps of the quay,
so that Clameran may know he is being watched. If he doesn't see you,
do something to attract his attention."
"Parbleu! I will throw a stone into the water," said Fanferlot,
rubbing his hands with delight at his own brilliant idea.
"As soon as Clameran has seen you," continued M. Verduret, "he will be
alarmed, and instantly decamp. Knowing there are reasons why the
police should be after him, he will hasten to escape you; then comes
the time for you to keep wide awake; he is a slippery eel, and cunning
as a rat."
"I know all that; I was not born yesterday."
"So much the better. You can convince him of that. Well, knowing you
are at his heels, he will not dare to return to the Hotel du Louvre,
for fear of being called on by troublesome visitors. Now, it is very
important that he should not return to the hotel."
"But suppose he does?" said Fanferlot.
M. Verduret thought for a minute, and then said:
"It is not probable that he will do so; but if he should, you must
wait until he comes out again, and continue to follow him. But he
won't enter the hotel; very likely he will take the cars: but in that
event don't lose sight of him, no matter if you have to follow him to
Siberia. Have you money with you?"
"I will get some from Mme. Alexandre."
"Very good. Ah! one more word. If the rascal takes the cars, send me
word. If he beats about the bush until night, be on your guard,
especially in lonely places; the desperado is capable of any
"If necessary, must I fire?"
"Don't be rash; but, if he attacks you, of course defend yourself.
Come, 'tis time you were gone."
Dubois-Fanferlot went out. Verduret and Prosper resumed their post of
"Why all this secrecy?" inquired Prosper. "Clameran is charged with
ten times worse crimes than I was ever accused of, and yet my disgrace
was made as public as possible."
"Don't you understand," replied the fat man, "that I wish to separate
the cause of Raoul from that of the marquis? But, sh! look!"
Clameran had left his place near the orange-woman's stand, and
approached the bridge, where he seemed to be trying to make out some
"Ah!" said M. Verduret; "he has just discovered our man."
Clameran's uneasiness was quite apparent; he walked forward a few
steps, as if intending to cross the bridge; then, suddenly turning
around, rapidly walked in the direction of the Rue St. Jacques.
"He is caught!" cried M. Verduret with delight.
At that moment the door opened, and Mme. Nina Gypsy, /alias/ Palmyre
Poor Nina! Each day spent in the service of Madeleine seemed to have
aged her a year.
Tears had dimmed the brilliancy of her beautiful black eyes; her rosy
cheeks were pale and hollow, and her merry smile was quite gone.
Poor Gypsy, once so gay and spirited, now crushed beneath the burden
of her sorrows, was the picture of misery.
Prosper thought that, wild with joy at seeing him, and proud of having
so nobly devoted herself to his interest, Nina would throw her arms
around his neck, and say how much she loved him. To his surprise, Nina
scarcely spoke to him. Although his every thought had been devoted to
Madeleine since he discovered the reasons for her cruelty, he was hurt
by Nina's cold manner.
The girl stood looking at M. Verduret with a mixture of fear and
devotion, like a poor dog that has been cruelly treated by its master.
He, however, was kind and gentle in his manner toward her.
"Well, my dear," he said encouragingly, "what news do you bring me?"
"Something is going on at the house, monsieur, and I have been trying
to get here to tell you; at last, Mlle. Madeleine made an excuse for
sending me out."
"You must thank Mlle. Madeleine for her confidence in me. I suppose
she carried out the plan we decided upon?"
"She receives the Marquis of Clameran's visits?"
"Since the marriage has been decided upon, he comes every day, and
mademoiselle receives him with kindness. He seems to be delighted."
These answers filled Prosper with anger and alarm. The poor young man,
not comprehending the intricate moves of M. Verduret, felt as if he
were being tossed about from pillar to post, and made the tool and
laughing-stock of everybody.
"What!" he cried; "this worthless Marquis of Clameran, an assassin and
a thief, allowed to visit at M. Fauvel's, and pay his addresses to
Madeleine? Where are the promises, monsieur, which you have made? Have
you merely been amusing yourself by raising my hopes, to dash them--"
"Enough!" interrupted M. Verduret harshly; "you are too green to
understand anything, my friend. If you are incapable of helping
yourself, at least have sense enough to refrain from importuning those
who are working for you. Do you not think you have already done
Having administered this rebuke, he turned to Gypsy, and said in
"Go on, my child: what have you discovered?"
"Nothing positive, monsieur; but enough to make me nervous, and
fearful of impending danger. I am not certain, but suspect from
appearances, that some dreadful catastrophe is about to happen. It may
only be a presentiment. I cannot get any information from Mme. Fauvel;
she refuses to answer any hints, and moves about like a ghost, never
opening her lips. She seems to be afraid of her niece, and to be
trying to conceal something from her."
"What about M. Fauvel?"
"I was just about to tell you, monsieur. Some fearful misfortune has
happened to him, you may depend upon it. He wanders about as if he had
lost his mind. Something certainly occurred yesterday; his voice even
is changed. He is so harsh and irritable that mademoiselle and M.
Lucien were wondering what could be the matter with him. He seems to
be on the eve of giving way to a burst of anger; and there is a wild,
strange look about his eyes, especially when he looks at madame.
Yesterday evening, when M. de Clameran was announced, he jumped up,
and hurried out of the room, saying that he had some work to do in his
A triumphant exclamation from M. Verduret interrupted Mme. Gypsy. He
"Hein!" he said to Prosper, forgetting his bad humor of a few minutes
before; "Hein! What did I tell you?"
"He has evidently----"
"Been afraid to give way to his first impulse; of course he has. He is
now seeking for proofs of your assertions. He must have them by this
time. Did the ladies go out yesterday?"
"Yes, a part of the day."
"What became of M. Fauvel?"
"The ladies took me with them; we left M. Fauvel at home."
"Not a doubt of it!" cried the fat man; "he looked for proofs, and
found them, too! Your letter told him exactly where to go. Ah,
Prosper, that unfortunate letter gives more trouble than everything
These words seemed to throw a sudden light on Mme. Gypsy's mind.
"I understand it now!" she exclaimed. "M. Fauvel knows everything."
"That is, he thinks he knows everything; and what he has been led to
fear, and thinks he has discovered, is worse than the true state of
"That accounts for the order which M. Cavaillon overheard him give to
his servant-man, Evariste."
"He told Evariste to bring every letter that came to the house, no
matter to whom addressed, into his study, and hand them to him; saying
that, if this order was disobeyed, he should be instantly discharged."
"At what time was this order given?" asked M. Verduret.
"That is what I was afraid of," cried M. Verduret. "He has clearly
made up his mind what course to pursue, and is keeping quiet so as to
make his vengeance more sure. The question is, Have we still time to
counteract his projects? Have we time to convince him that the
anonymous letter was incorrect in some of its assertions?"
He tried to hit upon some plan for repairing the damage done by
Prosper's foolish letter.
"Thank you for your information, my dear child," he said after a long
silence. "I will decide at once what steps to take, for it will never
do to sit quietly and let things go on in this way. Return home
without delay, and be careful of everything you say and do; for M.
Fauvel suspects you of being in the plot. Send me word of anything
that happens, no matter how insignificant it may be."
Nina, thus dismissed, did not move, but said timidly:
"What about Caldas, monsieur?"
This was the third time during the last fortnight that Prosper had
heard this name, Caldas.
The first time it had been whispered in his ear by a respectable-
looking, middle-aged man, who offered his protection one day, when
passing through the police-office passage.
The second time, the judge of instruction had mentioned it in
connection with Gypsy's history.
Prosper thought over all the men he had ever been connected with, but
could recall none named Caldas.
The impassable M. Verduret started and trembled at the mention of this
name, but, quickly recovering himself, said:
"I promised to find him for you, and I will keep my promise. Now you
must go; good-morning."
It was twelve o'clock, and M. Verduret suddenly remembered that he was
hungry. He called Mme. Alexandre, and the beaming hostess of the
Archangel soon placed a tempting breakfast before Prosper and his
But the savory broiled oysters and flaky biscuit failed to smooth the
perplexed brow of M. Verduret.
To the eager questions and complimentary remarks of Mme. Alexandre, he
"Chut, chut! let me alone; keep quiet."
For the first time since he had known the fat man, Prosper saw him
betray anxiety and hesitation.
He remained silent as long as he could, and then uneasily said:
"I am afraid I have embarrassed you very much, monsieur."
"Yes, you have dreadfully embarrassed me," replied M. Verduret. "What
on earth to do now, I don't know! Shall I hasten matters, or keep
quiet and wait for the next move? And I am bound by a sacred promise.
Come, we had better go and advise with the judge of instruction. He
can assist me. Come with me; let us hurry."
As M. Verduret had anticipated, Prosper's letter had a terrible effect
upon M. Fauvel.
It was toward nine o'clock in the morning, and M. Fauvel had just
entered his study when his mail was brought in.
After opening a dozen business letters, his eyes fell on the fatal
missive sent by Prosper.
Something about the writing struck him as peculiar.
It was evidently a disguised hand, and although, owing to the fact of
his being a millionnaire, he was in the habit of receiving anonymous
communications, sometimes abusive, but generally begging him for
money, this particular letter filled him with an indefinite
presentiment of evil. A cold chill ran through his heart, and he
dreaded to open it.
With absolute certainty that he was about to learn of a new calamity,
he broke the seal, and opening the coarse cafe paper, was shocked by
the following words:
"DEAR SIR--You have handed your cashier over to the law, and you
acted properly, convinced as you were of his dishonesty.
"But if it was he who took three hundred and fifty thousand francs
from your safe, was it he also who took Mme. Fauvel's diamonds?"
This was a terrible blow to a man whose life hitherto had been an
unbroken chain of prosperity, who could recall the past without one
bitter regret, without remembering any sorrow deep enough to bring
forth a tear.
What! His wife deceive him! And among all men, to choose one vile
enough to rob her of her jewels, and force her to be his accomplice in
the ruin of an innocent young man!
For did not the letter before him assert this to be a fact, and tell
him how to convince himself of its truth?
M. Fauvel was as bewildered as if he had been knocked on the head with
a club. It was impossible for his scattered ideas to take in the
enormity of what these dreadful words intimated. He seemed to be
mentally and physically paralyzed, as he sat there staring blankly at
But this stupefaction suddenly changed to indignant rage.
"What a fool I am!" he cried, "to listen to such base lies, such
malicious charges against the purest woman whom God ever sent to bless
And he angrily crumpled up the letter, and threw it into the empty
"I will forget having read it. I will not soil my mind by letting it
dwell upon such turpitude!"
He said this, and he thought it; but, for all that, he could not open
the rest of his letters. The anonymous missive stood before his eyes
in letters of fire, and drove every other thought from his mind.
That penetrating, clinging, all-corroding worm, suspicion, had taken
possession of his soul; and as he leaned over his desk, with his face
buried in his hands, thinking over many things which had lately
occurred, insignificant at the time, but fearfully ominous now, this
unwillingly admitted germ of suspicion grew and expanded until it
But, resolved that he would not think of his wife in connection with
so vile a deed, he imagined a thousand wild excuses for the mischief-
maker who took this mode of annoying him; of course there was no truth
in his assertions, but from curiosity he would like to know who had
written it. And yet suppose----
"Merciful God! can it be true?" he wildly cried, as the idea of his
wife's guilt would obstinately return to his troubled mind.
Thinking that the writing might throw some light on the mystery, he
started up and tremblingly picked the fatal letter out of the ashes.
Carefully smoothing it out, he laid it on his desk, and studied the
heavy strokes, light strokes, and capitals of every word.
"It must be from some of my clerks," he finally said, "someone who is
angry with me for refusing to raise his salary; or perhaps it is the
one that I dismissed the other day."
Clinging to this idea, he thought over all the young men in his bank;
but not one could he believe capable of resorting to so base a
Then he wondered where the letter had been posted, thinking this might
throw some light upon the mystery. He looked at the envelope, and read
"Rue du Cardinal Lemoine."
This fact told him nothing.
Once more he read the letter, spelling over each word, and trying to
put a different construction on the horrible phrases that stared him
in the face.
It is generally agreed that an anonymous letter should be treated with
silent contempt, and cast aside as the malicious lies of a coward who
dares not say to a man's face what he secretly commits to paper, and
forces upon him.
This is all very well in theory, but is difficult to practise when the
anonymous letter comes. You throw it in the fire, it burns; but,
although the paper is destroyed by the flames, doubt remains.
Suspicion arises from its ashes, like a subtle poison penetrates the
inmost recesses of the mind, weakens its holiest beliefs, and destroys
The trail of the serpent is left.
The wife suspected, no matter how unjustly, is no longer the wife in
whom her husband trusted as he would trust himself: the pure being who
was above suspicion no longer exists. Suspicion, no matter whence the
source, has irrevocably tarnished the brightness of his idol.
Unable to struggle any longer against these conflicting doubts, M.
Fauvel determined to resolve them by showing the letter to his wife;
but a torturing thought, more terrible than any he had yet suffered,
made him sink back in his chair in despair.
"Suppose it be true!" he muttered to himself; "suppose I have been
miserably duped! By confiding in my wife, I shall put her on her
guard, and lose all chance of discovering the truth."
Thus were realized all Verduret's presumptions.
He had said, "If M. Fauvel does not yield to his first impulse, if he
stops to reflect, we have time to repair the harm done."
After long and painful meditation, the banker finally decided to wait,
and watch his wife.
It was a hard struggle for a man of his frank, upright nature, to play
the part of a domestic spy, and jealous husband.
Accustomed to give way to sudden bursts of anger, but quickly
mastering them, he would find it difficult to be compelled to preserve
his self-restraint, no matter how dreadful the discoveries might be.
When he collected the proofs of guilt one by one, he must impose
silence upon his resentment, until fully assured of possessing certain
There was one simple means of ascertaining whether the diamonds had
If the letter lied in this instance, he would treat it with the scorn
it deserved. If, on the other hand, it should prove to be true!
At this moment, the servant announced breakfast; and M. Fauvel looked
in the glass before leaving his study, to see if his face betrayed the
emotion he felt. He was shocked at the haggard features which it
"Have I no nerve?" he said to himself: "oh! I must and shall control
my feelings until I find out the truth."
At table he talked incessantly, so as to escape any questions from his
wife, who, he saw, was uneasy at the sight of his pale face.
But, all the time he was talking, he was casting over in his mind
expedients of getting his wife out of the house long enough for him to
search her bureau.
At last he asked Mme. Fauvel if she were going out before dinner.
"Yes," said she: "the weather is dreadful, but Madeleine and I must do
"At what time shall you go?"
"Immediately after breakfast."
He drew a long breath as if relieved of a great weight.
In a short time he would know the truth.
His uncertainty was so torturing to the unhappy man that he preferred
the most dreadful reality to his present agony.
Breakfast over, he lighted a cigar, but did not remain in the dining-
room to smoke it, as was his habit. He went into his study to try and
compose his nerves.
He took the precaution to send Lucien on a message so as to be alone
in the house.
After the lapse of half an hour, he heard the carriage roll away with
his wife and niece.
Hurrying into Mme. Fauvel's room, he opened the drawer of the
chiffonnier, where she kept her jewels.
The last dozen or more leather and velvet boxes, containing superb
sets of jewelry which he had presented to her, were gone!
Twelve boxes remained. He nervously opened them.
They were all empty!
The anonymous letter had told the truth.
"Oh, it cannot be!" he gasped in broken tones. "Oh, no, no!"
He wildly pulled open every drawer in the vain hope of finding them
packed away. Perhaps she kept them elsewhere.
He tried to hope that she had sent them to be reset; but no, they were
all superbly set in the latest fashion; and, moreover, she never would
have sent them all at once. He looked again.
Nothing! not one jewel could he find.
He remembered that he had asked his wife at the Jandidier ball why she
did not wear her diamonds; and she had replied with a smile:
"Oh! what is the use? Everybody knows them so well; and, besides, they
don't suit my costume."
Yes, she had made the answer without blushing, without showing the
slightest sign of agitation or shame.
What hardened impudence! What base hypocrisy concealed beneath an
innocent, confiding manner!
And she had been thus deceiving him for twenty years! But suddenly a
gleam of hope penetrated his confused mind--slight, barely possible;
still a straw to cling to:
"Perhaps Valentine has put her diamonds in Madeleine's room."
Without stopping to consider the indelicacy of what he was about to
do, he hurried into the young girl's room, and pulled open one drawer
after another. What did he find?
Not Mme. Fauvel's diamonds; but Madeleine's seven or eight boxes also
Great heavens! Was this gentle girl, whom he had treated as a
daughter, an accomplice in this deed of shame? Had she contributed her
jewelry to add to the disgrace of the roof that sheltered her?
This last blow was almost too much for the miserable man. He sank
almost lifeless into a chair, and wringing his hands, groaned over the
wreck of his happiness. Was this the happy future to which he had
looked forward? Was the fabric of his honor, well-being, and domestic
bliss, to be dashed to the earth and forever lost in a day? Were his
twenty years' labor and high-standing to end thus in shame and sorrow?
Apparently nothing was changed in his existence; he was not materially
injured; he could not reach forth his hand, and heal or revenge the
smarting wound; the objects around him were unchanged; everything went
on in the outside world just as it had gone on during the last twenty
years; and yet what a horrible change had taken place in his own
heart! While the world envied his prosperity and happiness, here he
sat, more heartsore and wearied of life than the worst criminal that
ever stood before the inquisition.
What! Valentine, the pure young girl whom he had loved and married in
spite of her poverty, in spite of her cold offering of calm affection
in return for his passionate devotion; Valentine, the tender, loving
wife, who, before a year of married life had rolled by, so often
assured him that her affection had grown into a deep, confiding love,
that her devotion had grown stronger every day, and that her only
prayer was that God would take them both together, since life would be
a burden without her noble husband to shield and cherish her--could
she have been acting a lie for twenty years?
She, the darling wife, the mother of his sons!
His sons? Good God! Were they his sons?
If she could deceive him now when she was silver-haired, had she not
deceived him when she was young?
Not only did he suffer in the present, but the uncertainty of the past
tortured his soul.
He was like a man who is told that the exquisite wine he has drank
Confidence is never half-way: it is, or it is not. His confidence was
gone. His faith was dead.
The wretched banker had rested his every hope and happiness on the
love of his wife. Believing that she had proved faithless, that she
had played him false, and was unworthy of trust, he admitted no
possibility of peaceful joy, and felt tempted to seek consolation from
self-destruction. What had he to live for now, save to mourn over the
ashes of the past?
But this dejection did not last long. Indignant anger, and thirst for
vengeance, made him start up and swear that he would lose no time in
M. Fauvel well knew that the fact of the diamonds being stolen was not
sufficient ground upon which to bring an accusation against any of the
He must possess overwhelming proofs before taking any active steps.
Success depended upon present secrecy.
He began by calling his valet, and ordering him to bring to him every
letter that should come to the house.
He then wrote to a notary at St. Remy, for minute and authentic
information about the Lagors family, and especially about Raoul.
Finally, following the advice of the anonymous letter, he went to the
Prefecture of Police, hoping to obtain a biography of Clameran.
But the police, fortunately for many people, are as discreetly silent
as the grave. They guard their secrets as a miser his treasure.
Nothing but an order from the chief judge could open those formidable
green boxes, and reveal their secrets.
M. Fauvel was politely asked what motives urged him to inquire into
the past life of a French citizen; and, as he declined to state his
reasons, the chief of police told him he had better apply to the
Procureur for the desired information.
This advice he could not follow. He had sworn that the secret of his
wrongs should be confined to the three persons interested. He chose to
avenge his own injuries, to be alone the judge and executioner.
He returned home more angry than ever; there he found the despatch
answering the one which he had sent to St. Remy. It was as follows:
"The Lagors are very poor, and there has never been any member of
the family named Raoul. Mme. Lagors had no son, only two
This information dashed his last hope.
The banker thought, when he discovered his wife's infamy, that she had
sinned as deeply as a woman could sin; but he now saw that she had
practised a system more shocking than the crime itself.
"Wretched creature!" he cried with anguish; "in order to see her lover
constantly, she dared introduce him to me under the name of a nephew
who never existed. She had the shameless courage to bring him beneath
her husband's roof, and seat him at my fireside, between my sons; and
I, confiding fool that I was, welcomed the villain, and lent him
Nothing could equal the pain of wounded pride and mortification which
he suffered at the thought that Raoul and Mme. Fauvel had amused
themselves with his good-natured credulity and obtuseness.
Nothing but death could wipe out an injury of this nature. But the
very bitterness of his resentment enabled him to restrain himself
until the time for punishment came. With grim satisfaction he promised
himself that his acting would be as successful as theirs.
That day he succeeded in concealing his agitation, and kept up a flow
of talk at dinner; but at about nine o'clock, when Clameran called on
the ladies, he rushed from the house, for fear that he would be unable
to control his indignation at the sight of this destroyer of his
happiness; and did not return home until late in the night.
The next day he reaped the fruit of his prudence.
Among the letters which his valet brought him at noon, was one bearing
the post-mark of Vesinet.
He carefully opened the envelope, and read:
"DEAR AUNT--It is imperatively necessary for me to see you to-day;
so do not fail to come to Vesinet.
"I will explain why I give you this trouble, instead of calling at
"I have them now!" cried M. Fauvel trembling with satisfaction at the
near prospect of vengeance.
Eager to lose no time, he opened a drawer, took out a revolver, and
examined the hammer to see if it worked easily.
He imagined himself alone, but a vigilant eye was watching his
movements. Gypsy, immediately upon her return from the Archangel,
stationed herself at the key-hole of the study-door, and saw all that
M. Fauvel laid the pistol on the mantel-piece, and nervously resealed
the letter, which he then took to the box where the letters were
usually left, not wishing anyone to know that Raoul's letter had
passed through his hands.
He was only absent two minutes, but, inspired by the imminence of the
danger, Gypsy darted into the study, and rapidly extracted the balls
from the revolver.
"Thank Heaven!" she murmured: "this peril is averted, and M. Verduret
will now perhaps have time to prevent a murder. I must send Cavaillon
to tell him."
She hurried into the bank, and sent the clerk with a message, telling
him to leave it with Mme. Alexandre, if M. Verduret had left the
An hour later, Mme. Fauvel ordered her carriage, and went out.
M. Fauvel jumped into a hackney-coach, and followed her.
"God grant that M. Verduret may reach there in time!" cried Nina to
herself, "otherwise Mme. Fauvel and Raoul are lost."
The moment that the Marquis of Clameran perceived that Raoul de Lagors
was the only obstacle between him and Madeleine, he swore that the
obstacle should soon be removed.
That very day he took steps for the accomplishment of his purpose. As
Raoul was walking out to Vesinet about midnight, he was stopped at a
lonely spot, by three men, who asked him what o'clock it was; while
looking at his watch, the ruffians fell upon him suddenly, and but for
Raoul's wonderful strength and agility, would have left him dead on
As it was, he soon, by his skilfully plied blows (for he had become a
proficient in fencing and boxing in England), made his enemies take to
He quietly continued his walk home, fully determined to be hereafter
well armed when he went out at night.
He never for an instant suspected his accomplice of having instigated
But two days afterward, while sitting in a cafe, a burly, vulgar-
looking man, a stranger to him, interrupted him several times while
talking, and, after making several rough speeches as if trying to
provoke a quarrel, finally threw a card in his face, saying its owner
was ready to grant him satisfaction when and where he pleased.
Raoul rushed toward the man to chastise him on the spot; but his
friends held him back, telling him that it would be much more
gentlemanly to run a sword through his vulgar hide, than have a
scuffle in a public place.
"Very well, then: you will hear from me to-morrow," he said scornfully
to his assailant. "Wait at your hotel until I send two friends to
arrange the matter with you."
As soon as the stranger had left, Raoul recovered from his excitement,
and began to wonder what could have been the motive for this evidently
Picking up the card of the bully, he read:
W. H. B. JACOBSON.
Formerly Garibaldian volunteer,
Ex-officer of the army of the South.
30, Rue Leonie.
Raoul had seen enough of the world to know that these heroes who cover
their visiting-cards with titles have very little glory elsewhere than
in their own conceit.
Still the insult had been offered in the presence of others; and, no
matter who the offender was, it must be noticed. Early the next
morning Raoul sent two of his friends to make arrangements for a duel.
He gave them M. Jacobson's address, and told them to report at the
Hotel du Louvre, where he would wait for them.
Having dismissed his friends, Raoul went to find out something about
M. Jacobson; and, being an expert at the business of unravelling plots
and snares, he determined to discover who was at the bottom of this
duel into which he had been decoyed.
The information obtained was not very promising.
M. Jacobson, who lived in a very suspicious-looking little hotel whose
inmates were chiefly women of light character, was described to him as
an eccentric gentleman, whose mode of life was a problem difficult to
solve. No one knew his means of support.
He reigned despotically in the hotel, went out a great deal, never
came in until midnight, and seemed to have no capital to live upon,
save his military titles, and a talent for carrying out whatever was
undertaken for his own benefit.
"That being his character," thought Raoul, "I cannot see what object
he can have in picking a quarrel with me. What good will it do him to
run a sword through my body? Not the slightest; and, moreover, his
pugnacious conduct is apt to draw the attention of the police, who,
from what I hear, are the last people this warrior would like to have
after him. Therefore he must have some reason for pursuing me; and I
must find out what it is."
The result of his meditations was, that Raoul, upon his return to the
Hotel du Louvre, did not mention a word of his adventure to Clameran,
whom he found already up.
At half-past eight his seconds arrived.
M. Jacobson had selected the sword, and would fight that very hour, in
the woods of Vincennes.
"Well, come along," cried Raoul gayly. "I accept the gentleman's
They found the Garibaldian waiting; and after an interchange of a few
thrusts Raoul was slightly wounded in the right shoulder.
The "Ex-superior officer of the South" wished to continue the combat;
but Raoul's seconds--brave young men--declared that honor was
satisfied, and that they had no intention of subjecting their friend's
life to unnecessary hazards.
The ex-officer was forced to admit that this was but fair, and
unwillingly retired from the field. Raoul went home delighted at
having escaped with nothing more serious than a little loss of blood,
and resolved to keep clear of all so-called Garibaldians in the
In fact, a night's reflection had convinced him that Clameran was the
instigator of the two attempts to kill him. Mme. Fauvel having told
him what conditions Madeleine placed on her consent to marriage, Raoul
instantly saw how necessary his removal would be, now that he was an
impediment in the way of Clameran's success. He recalled a thousand
little remarks and events of the last few days, and, on skilfully
questioning the marquis, had his suspicions changed into certainty.
This conviction that the man whom he had so materially assisted in his
criminal plans was so basely ungrateful as to turn against him, and
hire assassins to murder him in cold blood, inspired in Raoul a
resolution to take speedy vengeance upon his treacherous accomplice,
and at the same time insure his own safety.
This treason seemed monstrous to Raoul. He was as yet not sufficiently
experienced in ruffianism to know that one villain always sacrifices
another to advance his own projects; he was credulous enough to
believe in the adage, "there's honor among thieves."
His rage was naturally mingled with fright, well knowing that his life
hung by a thread, when it was threatened by a daring scoundrel like
He had twice miraculously escaped; a third attempt would more than
likely prove fatal.
Knowing his accomplice's nature, Raoul saw himself surrounded by
snares; he saw death before him in every form; he was equally afraid
of going out, and of remaining at home. He only ventured with the most
suspicious caution into the most public places; he feared poison more
than the assassin's knife, and imagined that every dish placed before
him tasted of strychnine.
As this life of torture was intolerable, he determined to anticipate a
struggle which he felt must terminate in the death of either Clameran
or himself; and, if he were doomed to die, to be first revenged. If he
went down, Clameran should go too; better kill the devil than be
killed by him.
In his days of poverty, Raoul had often risked his life to obtain a
few guineas, and would not have hesitated to make short work of a
person like Clameran.
But with money prudence had come. He wished to enjoy his four hundred
thousand francs without being compromised by committing a murder which
might be discovered; he therefore began to devise some other means of
getting rid of his dreaded accomplice. Meanwhile, he devoted his
thoughts to some discreet way of thwarting Clameran's marriage with
Madeleine. He was sure that he would thus strike him to the heart, and
this was at least a satisfaction.
Raoul was persuaded that, by openly siding with Madeleine and her
aims, he could save them from Clameran's clutches. Having fully
resolved upon this course, he wrote a note to Mme. Fauvel asking for
The poor woman hastened to Vesinet convinced that some new misfortune
was in store for her.
Her alarm was groundless. She found Raoul more tender and affectionate
than he had ever been. He saw the necessity of reassuring her, and
winning his old place in her forgiving heart, before making his
He succeeded. The poor lady had a smiling and happy air as she sat in
an arm-chair, with Raoul kneeling beside her.
"I have distressed you too long, my dear mother," he said in his
softest tones, "but I repent sincerely: now listen to my--"
He had not time to say more; the door was violently thrown open, and
Raoul, springing to his feet, was confronted by M. Fauvel.
The banker had a revolver in his hand, and was deadly pale.
It was evident that he was making superhuman efforts to remain calm,
like a judge whose duty it is to justly punish crime.
"Ah," he said with a horrible laugh, "you look surprised. You did not
expect me? You thought that my imbecile credulity insured your
Raoul had the courage to place himself before Mme. Fauvel, and to
stand prepared to receive the expected bullet.
"I assure you, uncle," he began.
"Enough!" interrupted the banker with an angry gesture, "let me hear
no more infamous falsehoods! End this acting, of which I am no longer
"I swear to you--"
"Spare yourself the trouble of denying anything. I know all. I know
who pawned my wife's diamonds. I know who committed the robbery for
which an innocent man was arrested and imprisoned."
Mme. Fauvel, white with terror, fell upon her knees.
At last it had come--the dreadful day had come. Vainly had she added
falsehood to falsehood; vainly had she sacrificed herself and others:
all was discovered.
She saw that all was lost, and wringing her hands she tearfully
"Pardon, Andre! I beg you, forgive me!"
At these heart-broken tones, the banker shook like a leaf. This voice
brought before him the twenty years of happiness which he had owed to
this woman, who had always been the mistress of his heart, whose
slightest wish had been his law, and who, by a smile or a frown, could
make him the happiest or the most miserable of men. Alas! those days
were over now.
Could this wretched woman crouching at his feet be his beloved
Valentine, the pure, innocent girl whom he had found secluded in the
chateau of La Verberie, who had never loved any other than himself?
Could this be the cherished wife whom he had worshipped for so many
The memory of his lost happiness was too much for the stricken man. He
forgot the present in the past, and was almost melted to forgiveness.
"Unhappy woman," he murmured, "unhappy woman! What have I done that
you should thus betray me? Ah, my only fault was loving you too
deeply, and letting you see it. One wearies of everything in this
world, even happiness. Did pure domestic joys pall upon you, and weary
you, driving you to seek the excitement of a sinful passion? Were you
so tired of the atmosphere of respect and affection which surrounded
you, that you must needs risk your honor and mine by braving public
opinion? Oh, into what an abyss you have fallen, Valentine! and, oh,
my God! if you were wearied by my constant devotion, had the thought
of your children no power to restrain your evil passions; could you
not remain untarnished for their sake?"
M. Fauvel spoke slowly, with painful effort, as if each word choked
Raoul, who listened with attention, saw that if the banker knew some
things, he certainly did not know all.
He saw that erroneous information had misled the unhappy man, and that
he was still a victim of false appearances.
He determined to convince him of the mistake under which he was
laboring, and said:
"Monsieur, I hope you will listen."
But the sound of Raoul's voice was sufficient to break the charm.
"Silence!" cried the banker with an angry oath, "silence!"
For some moments nothing was heard but the sobs of Mme. Fauvel.
"I came here," continued the banker, "with the intention of killing
you both. But I cannot kill a woman, and I will not kill an unarmed
Raoul once more tried to speak.
"Let me finish!" interrupted M. Fauvel. "Your life is in my hands; the
law excuses the vengeance of an injured husband; but I refuse to take
advantage of it. I see on your mantel a revolver similar to mine; take
it, and defend yourself."
"Defend yourself!" cried the banker raising his arm, "if you do not--"
Feeling the barrel of M. Fauvel's revolver touch his breast, Raoul in
self-defence seized his own pistol, and prepared to fire.
"Stand in that corner of the room, and I will stand in this,"
continued the banker; "and when the clock strikes, which will be in a
few seconds, we will both fire."
They took the places designated, and stood perfectly still.
But the horror of the scene was too much for Mme. Fauvel to witness
any longer without interposing. She understood but one thing: her son
and her husband were about to kill each other before her very eyes.
Fright and horror gave her strength to start up and rush between the
"For God's sake, have mercy, Andre!" she cried, wringing her hands
with anguish, "let me tell you everything; don't kill--"
This burst of maternal love, M. Fauvel thought the pleadings of a
criminal woman defending her lover.
He roughly seized his wife by the arm, and thrust her aside, saying
with indignant scorn:
"Get out of the way!"
But she would not be repulsed; rushing up to Raoul, she threw her arms
around him, and said to her husband:
"Kill me, and me alone; for I am the guilty one."
At these words M. Fauvel glared at the guilty pair, and, deliberately
taking aim, fired.
Neither Raoul nor Mme. Fauvel moved. The banker fired a second time;
then a third.
He cocked the pistol for a fourth shot, when a man rushed into the
room, snatched the pistol from the banker's hand, and, throwing him on
the sofa, ran toward Mme. Fauvel.
This man was M. Verduret, who had been warned by Cavaillon, but did
not know that Mme. Gypsy had extracted the balls from M. Fauvel's
"Thank Heaven!" he cried, "she is unhurt."
"How dare you interfere?" cried the banker, who by this time had
joined the group. "I have the right to avenge my honor when it has
been degraded; the villain shall die!"
M. Verduret seized the banker's wrists in a vice-like grasp, and
whispered in his ear:
"Thank God you are saved from committing a terrible crime; the
anonymous letter deceived you."
In violent situations like this, all the untoward, strange attending
circumstances appear perfectly natural to the participators, whose
passions have already carried them beyond the limits of social
Thus M. Fauvel never once thought of asking this stranger who he was
and where he came from.
He heard and understood but one fact: the anonymous letter had lied.
"But my wife confesses she is guilty," he stammered.
"So she is," replied M. Verduret, "but not of the crime you imagine.
Do you know who that man is, that you attempted to kill?"
"No: her son!"
The words of this stranger, showing his intimate knowledge of the
private affairs of all present, seemed to confound and frighten Raoul
more than M. Fauvel's threats had done. Yet he had sufficient presence
of mind to say:
"It is the truth!"
The banker looked wildly from Raoul to M. Verduret; then, fastening
his haggard eyes on his wife, exclaimed:
"It is false! you are all conspiring to deceive me! Proofs!"
"You shall have proofs," replied M. Verduret, "but first listen."
And rapidly, with his wonderful talent for exposition, he related the
principal points of the plot he had discovered.
The true state of the case was terribly distressing to M. Fauvel, but
nothing compared with what he had suspected.
His throbbing, yearning heart told him that he still loved his wife.
Why should he punish a fault committed so many years ago, and atoned
for by twenty years of devotion and suffering?
For some moments after M. Verduret had finished his explanation, M.
Fauvel remained silent.
So many strange events had happened, rapidly following each other in
succession, and culminating in the shocking scene which had just taken
place, that M. Fauvel seemed to be too bewildered to think clearly.
If his heart counselled pardon and forgetfulness, wounded pride and
self-respect demanded vengeance.
If Raoul, the baleful witness, the living proof of a far-off sin, were
not in existence, M. Fauvel would not have hesitated. Gaston de
Clameran was dead; he would have held out his arms to his wife, and
"Come to my heart! your sacrifices for my honor shall be your
absolution; let the sad past be forgotten."
But the sight of Raoul froze the words upon his lips.
"So this is your son," he said to his wife--"this man, who has
plundered you and robbed me!"
Mme. Fauvel was unable to utter a word in reply to these reproachful
"Oh!" said M. Verduret, "madame will tell you that this young man is
the son of Gaston de Clameran; she has never doubted it. But the truth
"That, in order to swindle her, he has perpetrated a gross imposture."
During the last few minutes Raoul had been quietly creeping toward the
door, hoping to escape while no one was thinking of him.
But M. Verduret, who anticipated his intentions, was watching him out
of the corner of one eye, and stopped him just as he was about leaving
"Not so fast, my pretty youth," he said, dragging him into the middle
of the room; "it is not polite to leave us so unceremoniously. Let us
have a little conversation before parting; a little explanation will
The jeering words and mocking manner of M. Verduret made Raoul turn
deadly pale, and start back as if confronted by a phantom.
"The clown!" he gasped.
"The same, friend," said the fat man. "Ah, now that you recognize me,
I confess that the clown and myself are one and the same. Yes, I am
the mountebank of the Jandidier ball; here is proof of it."
And turning up his sleeve he showed a deep cut on his arm.
"I think that this recent wound will convince you of my identity," he
continued. "I imagine you know the villain that gave me this little
decoration, that night I was walking along the Rue Bourdaloue. That
being the case, you know, I have a slight claim upon you, and shall
expect you to relate to us your little story."
But Raoul was so terrified that he could not utter a word.
"Your modesty keeps you silent," said M. Verduret. "Bravo! modesty
becomes talent, and for one of your age you certainly have displayed a
talent for knavery."
M. Fauvel listened without understanding a word of what was said.
"Into what dark depths of shame have we fallen!" he groaned.
"Reassure yourself, monsieur," replied M. Verduret with great respect.
"After what I have been constrained to tell you, what remains to be
said is a mere trifle. I will finish the story.
"On leaving Mihonne, who had given him a full account of the
misfortunes of Mlle. Valentine de la Verberie, Clameran hastened to
"He had no difficulty in finding the farmer's wife to whom the old
countess had intrusted Gaston's son.
"But here an unexpected disappointment greeted him.
"He learned that the child, whose name was registered on the parish
books as Raoul-Valentin Wilson, had died of the croup when eighteen
"Did anyone state such a fact as that?" interrupted Raoul: "it is
"It was not only stated, but proved, my pretty youth," replied M.
Verduret. "You don't suppose I am a man to trust to verbal testimony;
He drew from his pocket several officially stamped documents, with red
seals attached, and laid them on the table.
"These are declarations of the nurse, her husband, and four witnesses.
Here is an extract from the register of births; this is a certificate
of registry of his death; and all these are authenticated at the
French Embassy. Now are you satisfied, young man?"
"What next?" inquired M. Fauvel.
"The next step was this," replied M. Verduret. "Clameran, finding that
the child was dead, supposed that he could, in spite of this
disappointment, obtain money from Mme. Fauvel; he was mistaken. His
first attempt failed. Having an inventive turn of mind, he determined
that the child should come to life. Among his large circle of rascally
acquaintances, he selected a young fellow to impersonate Raoul-
Valentin Wilson; and the chosen one stands before you."
Mme. Fauvel was in a pitiable state. And yet she began to feel a ray
of hope; her acute anxiety had so long tortured her, that the truth
was a relief; she would thank Heaven if this wicked man was proved to
be no son of hers.
"Can this be possible?" she murmured, "can it be?"
"Impossible!" cried the banker: "an infamous plot like this could not
be executed in our midst!"
"All this is false!" said Raoul boldly. "It is a lie!"
M. Verduret turned to Raoul, and, bowing with ironical respect, said:
"Monsieur desires proofs, does he? Monsieur shall certainly have
convincing ones. I have just left a friend of mine, M. Palot, who
brought me valuable information from London. Now, my young gentleman,
I will tell you the little story he told me, and then you can give
your opinion of it.
"In 1847 Lord Murray, a wealthy and generous nobleman, had a jockey
named Spencer, of whom he was very fond. At the Epsom races, this
jockey was thrown from his horse, and killed. Lord Murray grieved over
the loss of his favorite, and, having no children of his own, declared
his intention of adopting Spencer's son, who was then but four years
"Thus James Spencer was brought up in affluence, as heir to the
immense wealth of the noble lord. He was a handsome, intelligent boy,
and gave satisfaction to his protector until he was sixteen years of
age; when he became intimate with a worthless set of people, and
turned out badly.
"Lord Murray, who was very indulgent, pardoned many grave faults; but
one fine morning he discovered that his adopted son had been imitating
his signature upon some checks. He indignantly dismissed him from the
house, and told him never to show his face again.
"James Spencer had been living in London about four years, managing to
support himself by gambling and swindling, when he met Clameran, who
offered him twenty-five thousand francs to play a part in a little
comedy which he had arranged to suit the actors."
"You are a detective!" interrupted Raoul.
The fat man smiled grimly.
"At present," he replied, "I am merely a friend of Prosper Bertomy. It
depends entirely upon your behavior which character I appear in while
settling up this little affair."
"What do you expect me to do?"
"Restore the three hundred and fifty thousand francs which you have
The young rascal hesitated a moment, and then said:
"The money is in this room."
"Very good. This frankness is creditable, and will benefit you. I know
that the money is in this room, and also exactly where it is to be
found. Be kind enough to look behind that cupboard, and you will find
the three hundred and fifty thousand francs."
Raoul saw that his game was lost. He tremblingly went to the cupboard,
and pulled out several bundles of bank-notes, and an enormous package
of pawn-broker's tickets.
"Very well done," said M. Verduret, as he carefully examined the money
and papers: "this is the most sensible step you ever took."
Raoul relied on this moment, when everybody's attention would be
absorbed by the money, to make his escape. He slid toward the door,
gently opened it, slipped out, and locked it on the outside; the key
being still in the lock.
"He has escaped!" cried M. Fauvel.
"Naturally," replied M. Verduret, without even looking up: "I thought
he would have sense enough to do that."
"But is he to go unpunished?"
"My dear sir, would you have this affair become a public scandal? Do
you wish your wife's name to be brought into a case of this nature
before the police-court?"
"Then the best thing you can do, is to let the rascal go scot free.
Here are receipts for all the articles which he has pawned, so that we