Part 3 out of 11
While the coachman was gathering up his reins, Fanferlot prepared his
legs; and, when the coach started, he followed in a brisk trot,
determined upon following it to the end of the earth.
The cab went up the Boulevard Sebastopol. It went pretty fast; but it
was not for nothing that Fanferlot had won the name of "Squirrel."
With his elbows glued to his sides, and holding his breath, he ran on.
By the time he had reached the Boulevard St. Denis, he began to get
breathless, and stiff from a pain in his side. The cabman abruptly
turned into the Rue Faubourg St. Martin.
But Fanferlot, who, at eight years of age, had been familiar with
every street in Paris, was not to be baffled: he was a man of
resources. He seized the springs of the coach, raised himself up by
the strength of his wrists, and hung on behind, with his legs resting
on the axle-tree of the back wheels. He was not quite comfortable, but
then, he no longer ran the risk of being distanced.
"Now," he chuckled, behind his false beard, "you may drive as fast as
you please, M. Cabby."
The man whipped up his horses, and drove furiously along the hilly
street of the Faubourg St. Martin.
Finally the cab stopped in front of a wine-store, and the driver
jumped down from his seat, and went in.
The detective also left his uncomfortable post, and crouching in a
doorway, waited for Gypsy and her companion to get out, with the
intention of following closely upon their heels.
Five minutes passed, and still there were no signs of them.
"What can they be doing all this time?" grumbled the detective.
With great precautions, he approached the cab, and peeped in.
Oh, cruel deception! it was empty!
Fanferlot felt as if someone had thrown a bucket of ice-water over
him; he remained rooted to the spot with his mouth stretched, the
picture of blank bewilderment.
He soon recovered his wits sufficiently to burst forth in a volley of
oaths, loud enough to rattle all the window-panes in the neighborhood.
"Tricked!" he said, "fooled! Ah! but won't I make them pay for this!"
In a moment his quick mind had run over the gamut of possibilities,
probable and improbable.
"Evidently," he muttered, "this fellow and Gypsy entered one door, and
got out of the other; the trick is simple enough. If they resorted to
it, 'tis because they feared being watched. If they feared being
watched, they have uneasy consciences: therefore--"
He suddenly interrupted his monologue as the idea struck him that he
had better attempt to find out something from the driver.
Unfortunately, the driver was in a very surly mood, and not only
refused to answer, but shook his whip in so threatening a manner that
Fanferlot deemed it prudent to beat a retreat.
"Oh, Lord," he muttered, "perhaps he and the driver are one and the
But what could he do now, at this time of night? He could not imagine.
He walked dejectedly back to the quay, and it was half-past eleven
when he reached his own door.
"Has the little fool returned?" he inquired of Mme. Alexandre, the
instant she opened the door for him.
"No; but here are two large bundles which have come for her."
Fanferlot hastily opened the bundles.
They contained three calico dresses, some coarse shoes, and some linen
"Well," said the detective in a vexed tone, "now she is going to
disguise herself. Upon my word, I am getting puzzled! What can she be
When Fanferlot was sulkily walking down the Faubourg St. Martin, he
had fully made up his mind that he would not tell his wife of his
But once at home, confronted with a new fact of a nature to negative
all his conjectures, his vanity disappeared. He confessed everything--
his hopes so nearly realized, his strange mischance, and his
They talked the matter over, and finally decided that they would not
go to bed until Mme. Gypsy, from whom Mme. Alexandre was determined to
obtain an explanation of what had happened, returned. At one o'clock
the worthy couple were about giving over all hope of her
re-appearance, when they heard the bell ring.
Fanferlot instantly slipped into the closet, and Mme. Alexandre
remained in the office to received Gypsy.
"Here you are at last, my dear child!" she cried. "Oh, I have been so
uneasy, so afraid lest some misfortune had happened!"
"Thanks for your kind interest, madame. Has a bundle been sent here
Poor Gypsy's appearance had strikingly changed; she was very sad, but
not as before dejected. To her melancholy of the last few days, had
succeeded a firm and generous resolution, which was betrayed in her
sparkling eyes and resolute step.
"Yes, two bundles came for you; here they are. I suppose you saw M.
"Yes, madame; and his advice has so changed my plans, that, I regret
to say, I must leave you to-morrow."
"Going away to-morrow! then something must have happened."
"Oh! nothing that would interest you, madame."
After lighting her candle at the gas-burner, Mme. Gypsy said "Good-
night" in a very significant way, and left the room.
"And what do you think of that, Mme. Alexandre?" questioned Fanferlot,
emerging from his hiding-place.
"It is incredible! This girl writes to M. de Clameran to meet her
here, and then does not wait for him."
"She evidently mistrusts us; she knows who I am."
"Then this friend of the cashier must have told her."
"Nobody knows who told her. I shall end by believing that I am among a
gang of thieves. They think I am on their track, and are trying to
escape me. I should not be at all surprised if this little rogue has
the money herself, and intends to run off with it to-morrow."
"That is not my opinion; but listen to me: you had better take my
advice, and consult M. Lecoq."
Fanferlot meditated awhile, then exclaimed.
"Very well; I will see him, just for your satisfaction; because I know
that, if I have discovered nothing, neither has he. But, if he
undertakes to be domineering, it won't do; for, if he shows his
insolence to me, /I/ will make him know his place!"
Notwithstanding this brave speech, the detective passed an uneasy
night, and at six o'clock the next morning he was up--it was necessary
to rise very early if he wished to catch M. Lecoq at home--and,
refreshed by a cup of strong coffee, he directed his steps toward the
dwelling of the celebrated detective.
Fanferlot the Squirrel certainly was not afraid of his patron, as he
called him; for he started out with his nose in the air, and his hat
cocked on one side.
But by the time he reached the Rue Montmartre, where M. Lecoq lived,
his courage had vanished; he pulled his hat over his eyes, and hung
his head, as if looking for relief among the paving-stones. He slowly
ascended the steps, pausing several times, and looking around as if he
would like to fly.
Finally he reached the third floor, and stood before a door decorated
with the arms of the famous detective--a cock, the symbol of
vigilance--and his heart failed him so that he had scarcely the
courage to ring the bell.
The door was opened by Janouille, M. Lecoq's old servant, who had very
much the manner and appearance of a grenadier. She was as faithful to
her master as a watch-dog, and always stood ready to attack anyone who
did not treat him with the august respect which she considered his
"Well, M. Fanferlot," she said, "you come in time for once in your
life. Your patron wants to see you."
Upon this announcement, Fanferlot was seized with a violent desire to
retreat. By what chance could Lecoq want anything of him?
While he thus hesitated, Janouille seized him by the arm, and pulled
him in, saying:
"Do you want to take root there? Come along, your patron is waiting
In the middle of a large room curiously furnished, half library and
half green-room, was seated at a desk the same person with gold
spectacles, who had said to Prosper at the police-office, "Have
This was M. Lecoq in his official character.
Upon Fanferlot's entrance, as he advanced respectfully, bowing till
his backbone was a perfect curve, M. Lecoq laid down his pen, and
said, looking sharply at him:
"Ah, here you are, young man. Well, it seems that you haven't made
much progress in the Bertomy case."
"Why," murmured Fanferlot, "you know--"
"I know that you have muddled everything until you can't see your way
out; so that you are ready to give up."
"But, M. Lecoq, it was not I----"
M. Lecoq arose, and walked up and down the room: suddenly he
confronted Fanferlot, and said, in a tone of scornful irony:
"What would you think, Master Squirrel, of a man who abuses the
confidence of those who employ him, who reveals just enough to lead
the prosecution on the wrong scent, who sacrifices to his own foolish
vanity the cause of justice and the liberty of an unfortunate man?"
Fanferlot started back with a frightened look.
"I should say," he stammered, "I should say--"
"You would say this man ought to be punished, and dismissed from his
employment; and you are right. The less a profession is honored, the
more honorable should those be who belong to it. And yet you have been
false to yours. Ah! Master Fanferlot, we are ambitious, and we try to
make the police force serve our own views! We let Justice stray her
way, and we go ours. One must be a more cunning bloodhound than you
are, my friend, to be able to hunt without a huntsman. You are too
self-reliant by half."
"But, patron, I swear--"
"Silence! Do you pretend to say that you did your duty, and told all
to the judge of instruction? Whilst others were informing against the
cashier, you undertook to inform against the banker. You watched his
movements: you became intimate with his valet."
Was M. Lecoq really angry, or pretending to be? Fanferlot, who knew
him well, was puzzled to know whether all this indignation was real.
"If you were only skilful," he continued, "but no: you wish to be
master, and you are not fit to be a journeyman."
"You are right, patron," said Fanferlot, piteously, for he saw that it
was useless for him to deny anything. "But how could I go about an
affair like this, where there was not even a trace or sign to start
M. Lecoq shrugged his shoulders.
"You are an ass! Why, don't you know that on the very day you were
sent for with the commissary to verify the robbery, you held--I do not
say certainly, but very probably held--in your great stupid hands the
means of knowing which key had been used when the money was stolen?"
"You want to know, do you? I will tell you. Do you remember the
scratch you discovered on the safe-door? You were so struck by it,
that you exclaimed directly you saw it. You carefully examined it, and
were convinced that it was a fresh scratch, only a few hours old. You
thought, and rightly too, that this scratch was made at the time of
the theft. Now, with what was it made? Evidently with a key. That
being the case, you should have asked for the keys both of the banker
and the cashier. One of them would have had some particles of the hard
green paint sticking to it."
Fanferlot listened with open mouth to this explanation. At the last
words, he violently slapped his forehead with his hand, and cried out:
"You have rightly named yourself," said M. Lecoq. "Imbecile! This
proof stares you right in the face, and you don't see it! This scratch
is the sole and only clew to work the case upon, and you must go and
lose the traces of it. If I find the guilty party, it will be by means
of this scratch; and I am determined that I will find him."
At a distance the Squirrel very bravely abused and defied M. Lecoq;
but, in his presence, he yielded to the influence which this
extraordinary man exercised upon all who approached him.
This exact information, these minute details of all his secret
movements, and even thoughts, so upset his mind that he could not
think where and how M. Lecoq had obtained them. Finally he said,
"You must have been looking up this case, patron?"
"Probably I have; but I am not infallible, and may have overlooked
some important evidence. Take a seat, and tell me all you know."
M. Lecoq was not the man to be hoodwinked, so Fanferlot told the exact
truth, a rare thing for him to do. However as he reached the end of
his statement, a feeling of mortified vanity prevented his telling how
he had been fooled by Gypsy and the stout man.
Unfortunately for poor Fanferlot, M. Lecoq was always fully informed
on every subject in which he interested himself.
"It seems to me, Master Squirrel, that you have forgotten something.
How far did you follow the empty coach?"
Fanferlot blushed, and hung his head like a guilty school-boy.
"Oh, patron!" he cried, "and you know about that too! How could you
But a sudden idea flashed across his brain: he stopped short, bounded
off his chair, and cried:
"Oh! I know now: you were the large gentleman with red whiskers."
His surprise gave so singular an expression to his face that M. Lecoq
could not restrain a smile.
"Then it was you," continued the bewildered detective; "you were the
large gentleman at whom I stared, so as to impress his appearance upon
my mind, and I never recognized you! Patron, you would make a superb
actor, if you would go on the stage; but I was disguised, too--very
"Very poorly disguised; it is only just to you that I should let you
know what a failure it was, Fanferlot. Do you think that a heavy beard
and a blouse are a sufficient transformation? The eye is the thing to
be changed--the eye! The art lies in being able to change the eye.
That is the secret."
This theory of disguise explained why the lynx-eyed Lecoq never
appeared at the police-office without his gold spectacles.
"Then, patron," said Fanferlot, clinging to his idea, "you have been
more successful than Mme. Alexandre; you have made the little girl
confess? You know why she leaves the Archangel, why she does not wait
for M. de Clameran, and why she bought calico dresses?"
"She is following my advice."
"That being the case," said the detective dejectedly, "there is
nothing left for me to do, but to acknowledge myself an ass."
"No, Squirrel," said M. Lecoq, kindly, "you are not an ass. You merely
did wrong in undertaking a task beyond your capacity. Have you
progressed one step since you started this affair? No. That shows
that, although you are incomparable as a lieutenant, you do not
possess the qualities of a general. I am going to present you with an
aphorism; remember it, and let it be your guide in the future: /A man
can shine in the second rank, who would be totally eclipsed in the
Never had Fanferlot seen his patron so talkative and good-natured.
Finding his deceit discovered, he had expected to be overwhelmed with
a storm of anger; whereas he had escaped with a little shower that had
cooled his brain. Lecoq's anger disappeared like one of those heavy
clouds which threaten in the horizon for a moment, and then are
suddenly swept away by a gust of wind.
But this unexpected affability made Fanferlot feel uneasy. He was
afraid that something might be concealed beneath it.
"Do you know who the thief is, patron?"
"I know no more than you do, Fanferlot; and you seem to have made up
your mind, whereas I am still undecided. You declare the cashier to be
innocent, and the banker guilty. I don't know whether you are right or
wrong. I started after you, and have only reached the preliminaries of
my search. I am certain of but one thing, and that is, that a scratch
was on the safe-door. That scratch is my starting-point."
As he spoke, M. Lecoq took from his desk and unrolled an immense sheet
On this paper was photographed the door of M. Fauvel's safe. The
impression of every detail was perfect. There were the five movable
buttons with the engraved letters, and the narrow, projecting brass
lock: The scratch was indicated with great exactness.
"Now," said M. Lecoq, "here is our scratch. It runs from top to
bottom, starting from the hole of the lock, diagonally, and, observe,
from left to right; that is to say, it terminates on the side next to
the private staircase leading to the banker's apartments. Although
very deep at the key-hole, it ends off in a scarcely perceptible
"Yes, patron, I see all that."
"Naturally you thought that this scratch was made by the person who
took the money. Let us see if you were right. I have here a little
iron box, painted with green varnish like M. Fauvel's safe; here it
is. Take a key, and try to scratch it."
"The deuce take it!" he said after several attempts, "this paint is
awfully hard to move!"
"Very hard, my friend, and yet that on the safe is still harder and
thicker. So you see the scratch you discovered could not have been
made by the trembling hand of a thief letting the key slip."
"Sapristi!" exclaimed Fanferlot, stupefied: "I never should have
thought of that. It certainly required great force to make the deep
scratch on the safe."
"Yes, but how was that force employed? I have been racking my brain
for three days, and only yesterday did I come to a conclusion. Let us
examine together, and see if our conjectures present enough chances of
probability to establish a starting-point."
M. Lecoq abandoned the photograph, and, walking to the door
communicating with his bedroom, took the key from the lock, and,
holding it in his hand, said:
"Come here, Fanferlot, and stand by my side: there; very well. Now
suppose that I want to open this door, and you don't want me to open
it; when you see me about to insert the key, what would be your first
"To put my hands on your arm, and draw it toward me so as to prevent
your introducing the key."
"Precisely so. Now let us try it; go on." Fanferlot obeyed; and the
key held by M. Lecoq, pulled aside from the lock, slipped along the
door, and traced upon it a diagonal scratch, from top to bottom, the
exact reproduction of the one in the photograph.
"Oh, oh, oh!" exclaimed Fanferlot in three different tones of
admiration, as he stood gazing in a revery at the door.
"Do you begin to understand now?" asked M. Lecoq.
"Understand, patron? Why, a child could understand it now. Ah, what a
man you are! I see the scene as if I had been present. Two persons
were present at the robbery; one wished to take the money, the other
wished to prevent its being taken. That is clear, that is certain."
Accustomed to triumphs of this sort, M. Lecoq was much amused at
"There you go off, half-primed again," he said, good-humoredly: "you
regard as sure proof a circumstance which may be accidental, and at
the most only probable."
"No, patron, no! a man like you could not be mistaken: doubt no longer
"That being the case, what deductions would you draw from our
"In the first place, it proves that I am correct in thinking the
"Because, at perfect liberty to open the safe whenever he wished to do
so, it is not likely that he would have brought a witness when he
intended to commit the theft."
"Well reasoned, Fanferlot. But on this supposition the banker would be
equally innocent: reflect a little."
Fanferlot reflected, and all of his animation vanished.
"You are right," he said in a despairing tone. "What can be done now?"
"Look for the third rogue, or rather the real rogue, the one who
opened the safe, and stole the notes, and who is still at large, while
others are suspected."
"Impossible, patron--impossible! Don't you know that M. Fauvel and his
cashier had keys, and they only? And they always kept these keys in
"On the evening of the robbery the banker left his key in the
"Yes; but the key alone was not sufficient to open the safe; the word
also must be known."
M. Lecoq shrugged his shoulders impatiently.
"What was the word?" he asked.
"Which is the name of the cashier's grisette. Now keep your eyes open.
The day you find a man sufficiently intimate with Prosper to be aware
of all the circumstances connected with this name, and at the same
time on a footing with the Fauvel family which would give him the
privilege of entering M. Fauvel's chamber, then, and not until then,
will you discover the guilty party. On that day the problem will be
Self-sufficient and vain, like all famous men, M. Lecoq had never had
a pupil, and never wished to have one. He worked alone, because he
hated assistants, wishing to share neither the pleasures of success
nor the pain of defeat.
Thus Fanferlot, who knew his patron's character, was surprised to hear
him giving advice, who heretofore had only given orders.
He was so puzzled, that in spite of his pre-occupation he could not
help betraying his surprise.
"Patron," he ventured to say, "you seem to take a great interest in
this affair, you have so deeply studied it."
M. Lecoq started nervously, and replied, frowning:
"You are too curious, Master Squirrel; be careful that you do not go
too far. Do you understand?"
Fanferlot began to apologize.
"That will do," interrupted M. Lecoq. "If I choose to lend you a
helping hand, it is because it suits my fancy to do so. It pleases me
to be the head, and let you be the hand. Unassisted, with your
preconceived ideas, you never would have found the culprit; if we two
together don't find him, my name is not Lecoq."
"We shall certainly succeed if you interest yourself in the case."
"Yes, I am interested in it, and during the last four days I have
discovered many important facts. But listen to me. I have reasons for
not appearing in this affair. No matter what happens, I forbid your
mentioning my name. If we succeed, all the success must be attributed
to you. And, above all, don't try to find out what I choose to keep
from you. Be satisfied with what explanations I give you. Now, be
These conditions seemed quite to suit Fanferlot.
"I will obey your instructions, and be discreet."
"I shall rely upon you. Now, to begin, you must carry this photograph
to the judge of instruction. I know M. Patrigent is much perplexed
about this case. Explain to him, as if it were your own discovery,
what I have just shown you; repeat for his benefit the scene we have
acted, and I am convinced that this evidence will determine him to
release the cashier. Prosper must be at liberty before I can commence
"Of course, patron, but must I let him know that I suspect anyone
besides the banker or cashier?"
"Certainly. Justice must not be kept in ignorance of your intention of
following up this affair. M. Patrigent will tell you to watch Prosper;
you will reply that you will not lose sight of him. I myself will
answer for his being in safe-keeping."
"Suppose he asks me about Gypsy?"
M. Lecoq hesitated for a moment.
"Tell him," he finally said, "that you persuaded her, in the interest
of Prosper, to live in a house where she can watch someone whom you
Fanferlot was joyously picking up his hat to go, when M. Lecoq checked
him by waving his hand, and said:
"I have not finished. Do you know how to drive a carriage and manage
"Why, patron, can you ask this of a man who used to be a rider in the
"Very well. As soon as the judge dismisses you, return home
immediately, make yourself a wig and the complete dress of a valet;
and, having dressed yourself, take this letter to the Agency on
"There must be no but, my friend; the agent will send you to M. de
Clameran, who is looking for a valet, his man having left him
"Excuse me if I venture to suggest that you are making a mistake. This
Clameran is not the cashier's friend."
"Why do you always interrupt me?" said M. Lecoq imperiously. "Do what
I tell you, and don't disturb your mind about the rest. Clameran is
not a friend of Prosper's, I know; but he is the friend and protector
of Raoul de Lagors. Why so? Whence the intimacy of these two men of
such different ages? That is what I must find out. I must also find
out who this forge-master is who lives in Paris, and never goes to
attend to his furnaces. A jolly fellow, who takes it into his head to
live at the Hotel du Louvre, in the midst of a tumultuous, ever-
changing crowd, is a fellow difficult to watch. Through you I will
have an eye upon him. He has a carriage, you are to drive it; and you
will soon be able to give me an account of his manner of life, and of
the sort of people with whom he associates."
"You shall be obeyed, patron."
"Another thing. M. de Clameran is irritable and suspicious. You will
be presented to him under the name of Joseph Dubois. He will demand
your certificate of good character. Here are three, which state that
you have lived with the Marquis de Sairmeuse and the Count de
Commarin, and that you have just left the Baron de Wortschen, who went
to Germany the other day. Now keep your eyes open; be careful of your
dress and manners. Be polite, but not excessively so. And, above all
things, don't be obsequious; it might arouse suspicion."
"I understand, patron. Where shall I report to you?"
"I will call on you every day. Until I tell you differently, don't
step foot in this house; you might be followed. If anything important
should happen, send a note to your wife, and she will inform me. Go,
and be prudent."
The door closed on Fanferlot as M. Lecoq passed into his bedroom.
In the twinkling of an eye he had divested himself of the appearance
of a police officer. He took off his stiff cravat and gold spectacles,
and removed the close wig from his thick black hair. The official
Lecoq had disappeared, leaving in his place the genuine Lecoq whom
nobody knew--a handsome young man, with a bold, determined manner, and
brilliant, piercing eyes.
But he only remained himself for an instant. Seated before a dressing-
table covered with more cosmetics, paints, perfumes, false hair, and
other unmentionable shams, than are to be found on the toilet-tables
of our modern belles, he began to undo the work of nature, and make
himself a new face.
He worked slowly, handling his brushes with great care. But in an hour
he had accomplished one of his daily masterpieces. When he had
finished, he was no longer Lecoq: he was the large gentleman with red
whiskers, whom Fanferlot had failed to recognize.
"Well," he said, casting a last look in the mirror, "I have forgotten
nothing: I have left nothing to chance. All my plans are fixed; and I
shall make some progress to-day, provided the Squirrel does not waste
But Fanferlot was too happy to waste a minute. He did not run, he
flew, toward the Palais de Justice.
At last he was now able to convince someone that he, Fanferlot, was a
man of wonderful perspicacity.
As to acknowledging that he was about to obtain a triumph with the
ideas of another man, he never thought of it. It is generally in
perfect good faith that the jackdaw struts in the peacock's feathers.
His hopes were not deceived. If the judge was not absolutely and fully
convinced, he admired the ingenuity and shrewdness of the whole
proceeding, and complimented the proud jackdaw upon his brilliancy.
"This decides me," he said, as he dismissed Fanferlot. "I will make
out a favorable report to-day; and it is highly probable that the
accused will be released to-morrow."
He began at once to write out one of these terrible decisions of "Not
proven," which restores liberty, but not honor, to the accused man;
which says that he is not guilty, but does not say he is innocent.
"Whereas there do not exist sufficient charges against the accused,
Prosper Bertomy, in pursuance of Article 128 of the Criminal Code, we
hereby declare that we find no grounds for prosecution against the
aforesaid prisoner at this present time; and we order that he shall be
released from the prison where he is confined, and set at liberty by
the jailer," etc.
"Well," he said to the clerk, "here is another one of those crimes
which justice cannot clear up. The mystery remains to be solved. This
is another file to be stowed away among the archives of the record-
And with his own hand he wrote on the cover of the bundle of papers
relating to Prosper's case, the number of the package, File No. 113.
Prosper had been languishing in his private cell for nine days, when
on Thursday morning the jailer came to inform him of the judge's
decision. He was conducted before the officer who had searched him
when he was arrested; and the contents of his pocket, his watch,
penknife, and several little pieces of jewelry, were restored to him;
then he was told to sign a large sheet of paper, which he did.
He was next led across a dark passage, and almost pushed through a
door, which was abruptly shut upon him.
He found himself on the quay: he was alone; he was free.
Free! Justice had confessed her inability to convict him of the crime
of which he was accused.
Free! He could walk about, he could breathe the pure air; but every
door would be closed against him.
Only acquittal after due trial would restore him to his former
position among men.
A decision of "Not proven" had left him covered with suspicion.
The torments inflicted by public opinion are more fearful than those
suffered in a prison cell.
At the moment of his restoration to liberty, Prosper so cruelly
suffered from the horror of his situation, that he could not repress a
cry of rage and despair.
"I am innocent! God knows I am innocent!" he cried out. But of what
use was his anger?
Two strangers, who were passing, stopped to look at him, and said,
pityingly, "He is crazy."
The Seine was at his feet. A thought of suicide crossed his mind.
"No," he said, "no! I have not even the right to kill myself. No: I
will not die until I have vindicated my innocence!"
Often, day and night, had Prosper repeated these words, as he walked
his cell. With a heart filled with a bitter, determined thirst for
vengeance, which gives a man the force and patience to destroy or wear
out all obstacles in his way, he would say, "Oh! why am I not at
liberty? I am helpless, caged up; but let me once be free!"
Now he was free; and, for the first time, he saw the difficulties of
the task before him. For each crime, justice requires a criminal: he
could not establish his own innocence without producing the guilty
man; how find the thief so as to hand him over to the law?
Discouraged, but not despondent, he turned in the direction of his
apartments. He was beset by a thousand anxieties. What had taken place
during the nine days that he had been cut off from all intercourse
with his friends? No news of them had reached him. He had heard no
more of what was going on in the outside world, than if his secret
cell had been a grave.
He slowly walked along the streets, with his eyes cast down dreading
to meet some familiar face. He, who had always been so haughty, would
now be pointed at with the finger of scorn. He would be greeted with
cold looks and averted faces. Men would refuse to shake hands with
him. He would be shunned by honest people, who have no patience with a
Still, if he could count on only one true friend! Yes: he was sure of
one. But what friend would believe him when his father, who should
have been the last to suspect him, had refused to believe him?
In the midst of his sufferings, when he felt almost overwhelmed by the
sense of his wretched, lonely condition, he thought of Gypsy.
He had never loved the poor girl: indeed, at times he almost hated
her; but now he felt a longing to see her. He wished to be with her,
because he knew that she loved him, and that nothing would make her
believe him guilty; because he knew that a woman remains true and firm
in her faith, and is always faithful in the hour of adversity,
although she sometimes fails in prosperity.
On entering the Rue Chaptal, Prosper saw his own door, but hesitated
to enter it.
He suffered from the timidity which an honest man always feels when he
knows he is viewed with suspicion.
He dreaded meeting anyone whom he knew; yet he could not remain in the
street. He entered.
When the porter saw him, he uttered an exclamation of glad surprise,
"Ah, here you are at last, monsieur. I told everyone you would come
out as white as snow; and, when I read in the papers that you were
arrested for robbery, I said, 'My third-floor lodger a thief! Never
would I believe such a thing, never!'"
The congratulations of this ignorant man were sincere, and offered
from pure kindness of heart; but they impressed Prosper painfully, and
he cut them short by abruptly asking:
"Madame of course has left: can you tell me where she has gone?"
"Dear me, no, monsieur. The day of your arrest, she sent for a hack,
got into it with her trunks, and disappeared; and no one has seen or
heard of her since."
This was another blow to the unhappy cashier.
"And where are my servants?"
"Gone, monsieur; your father paid and discharged them."
"I suppose you have my keys?"
"No, monsieur; when your father left here this morning at eight
o'clock, he told me that a friend of his would take charge of your
rooms until you should return. Of course you know who he is--a stout
gentleman with red whiskers."
Prosper was stupefied. What could be the meaning of one of his
father's friends being in his rooms? He did not, however, betray any
surprise, but quietly said:
"Yes: I know who it is."
He quickly ran up the stairs, and knocked at his door.
It was opened by his father's friend.
He had been accurately described by the porter. A fat man, with a red
face, sensual lips, brilliant eyes, and of rather coarse manners,
stood bowing to Prosper, who had never seen him before.
"Delighted to make your acquaintance, monsieur," said he to Prosper.
He seemed to be perfectly at home. On the table lay a book, which he
had taken from the bookcase; and he appeared ready to do the honors of
"I must say, monsieur," began Prosper.
"That you are surprised to find me here? So I suppose. Your father
intended introducing me to you; but he was compelled to return to
Beaucaire this morning; and let me add that he departed thoroughly
convinced, as I myself am, that you never took a cent from M. Fauvel."
At this unexpected good news, Prosper's face lit up with pleasure.
"Here is a letter from your father, which I hope will serve as an
introduction between us."
Prosper opened the letter; and as he read his eyes grew brighter, and
a slight color returned to his pale face.
When he had finished, he held out his hand to the large gentleman, and
"My father, monsieur, tells me you are his best friend; he advises me
to have absolute confidence in you, and follow your counsel."
"Exactly. This morning your father said to me, 'Verduret'--that is my
name--'Verduret, my son is in great trouble, he must be helped out.' I
replied, 'I am ready,' and here I am to help you. Now the ice is
broken, is it not? Then let us go to work at once. What do you intend
This question revived Prosper's slumbering rage. His eyes flashed.
"What do I intend to do?" he said, angrily: "what should I do but seek
the villain who has ruined me?"
"So I supposed; but have you any hopes of success?"
"None; yet I shall succeed, because, when a man devotes his whole life
to the accomplishment of an object, he is certain to achieve it."
"Well said, M. Prosper; and, to be frank, I fully expected that this
would be your purpose. I have therefore already begun to think and act
for you. I have a plan. In the first place, you will sell this
furniture, and disappear from the neighborhood."
"Disappear!" cried Prosper, indignantly, "disappear! Why, monsieur? Do
you not see that such a step would be a confession of guilt, would
authorize the world to say that I am hiding so as to enjoy undisturbed
the stolen fortune?"
"Well, what then?" said the man with the red whiskers; "did you not
say just now the sacrifice of your life is made? The skilful swimmer
thrown into the river by malefactors is careful not to rise to the
surface immediately: on the contrary, he plunges beneath, and remains
there as long as his breath holds out. He comes up again at a great
distance, and lands out of sight; then, when he is supposed to be
dead, lost forever to the sight of man, he rises up and has his
vengeance. You have an enemy? Some petty imprudence will betray him.
But, while he sees you standing by on the watch, he will be on his
It was with a sort of amazed submission that Prosper listened to this
man, who, though a friend of his father, was an utter stranger to
He submitted unconsciously to the ascendency of a nature so much more
energetic and forcible than his own. In his helpless condition he was
grateful for friendly assistance, and said:
"I will follow your advice, monsieur."
"I was sure you would, my dear friend. Let us reflect upon the course
you should pursue. And remember that you will need every cent of the
proceeds of the sale. Have you any ready money? no, but you must have
some. Knowing that you would need it at once, I brought an upholsterer
here; and he will give twelve thousand francs for everything excepting
The cashier could not refrain from shrugging his shoulders, which M.
"Well," said he, "it is rather hard, I admit, but it is a necessity.
Now listen: you are the invalid, and I am the doctor charged to cure
you; if I cut to the quick, you will have to endure it. It is the only
way to save you."
"Cut away then, monsieur," answered Prosper.
"Well, we will hurry, for time passes. You have a friend, M. de
"Raoul? Yes, monsieur, he is an intimate friend."
"Now tell me, who is this fellow?"
The term "fellow" seemed to offend Prosper.
"M. de Lagors, monsieur," he said, haughtily, "is M. Fauvel's nephew;
he is a wealthy young man, handsome, intelligent, cultivated, and the
best friend I have."
"Hum!" said M. Verduret, "I shall be delighted to make the
acquaintance of one adorned by so many charming qualities. I must let
you know that I wrote him a note in your name asking him to come here,
and he sent word that he would be here directly."
"What! do you suppose--"
"Oh, I suppose nothing! Only I must see this young man. Also, I have
arranged and will submit to you a little plan of conversation--"
A ring at the front door interrupted M. Verduret.
"Sacrebleu! adieu to my plan; here he is! Where can I hide so as to
hear and see?"
"There, in my bedroom; leave the door open and the curtain down."
A second ring was heard.
"Now remember, Prosper," said M. Verduret in a warning tone, "not one
word to this man about your plans, or about me. Pretend to be
discouraged, helpless, and undecided what to do."
And he disappeared behind the curtain, as Prosper ran to open the
Prosper's portrait of M. de Lagors had not been an exaggerated one. So
handsome a face and manly a figure could belong only to a noble
Although Raoul said that he was twenty-four, he appeared to be not
more than twenty. He had a superb figure, well knit and supple; a
beautiful white brow, shaded by soft chestnut curly hair, soft blue
eyes which beamed with frankness.
His first impulse was to throw himself into Prosper's arms.
"My poor, dear friend!" he said, "my poor Prosper!"
But beneath these affectionate demonstrations there was a certain
constraint, which, if it escaped the cashier, was noticed by M.
"Your letter, my dear Prosper," said Raoul, "made me almost ill, I was
so frightened by it. I asked myself if you could have lost your mind.
Then I left everything, to fly to your assistance; and here I am."
Prosper did not seem to hear him; he was pre-occupied about the letter
which he had not written. What were its contents? Who was this
stranger whose assistance he had accepted?
"You must not feel discouraged," continued M. de Lagors: "you are
young enough to commence life anew. Your friends are still left to
you. I have come to say to you, Rely upon me; I am rich, half of my
fortune is at your disposal."
This generous offer, made at a moment like this with such frank
simplicity, deeply touched Prosper.
"Thanks, Raoul," he said with emotion, "thank you! But unfortunately
all the money in the world would be of no use now."
"Why so? What are you going to do? Do you propose to remain in Paris?"
"I know not, Raoul. I have made no plans yet. My mind is too confused
for me to think."
"I will tell you what to do," replied Raoul quickly, "you must start
afresh; until this mysterious robbery is explained you must keep away
from Paris. It will never do for you to remain here."
"And suppose it never should be explained?"
"Only the more reason for your remaining in oblivion. I have been
talking about you to Clameran. 'If I were in Prosper's place,' he
said, 'I would turn everything into money, and embark for America;
there I would make a fortune, and return to crush with my millions
those who have suspected me.'"
This advice offended Prosper's pride, but he said nothing. He was
thinking of what the stranger had said to him.
"I will think it over," he finally forced himself to say. "I will see.
I would like to know what M. Fauvel says."
"My uncle? I suppose you know that I have declined the offer he made
me to enter his banking-house, and we have almost quarrelled. I have
not set foot in his house for over a month; but I hear of him
"Through your friend Cavaillon. My uncle, they say, is more distressed
by this affair than you are. He does not attend to his business, and
wanders about as if he had lost every friend on earth."
"And Mme. Fauvel, and"--Prosper hesitated--"and Mlle. Madeleine, how
"Oh," said Raoul lightly, "my aunt is as pious as ever; she has mass
said for the benefit of the sinner. As to my handsome, icy cousin, she
cannot bring herself down to common matters, because she is entirely
absorbed in preparing for the fancy ball to be given day after
to-morrow by MM. Jandidier. She has discovered, so one of her friends
told me, a wonderful dressmaker, a stranger who has suddenly appeared
from no one knows where, who is making a costume of Catherine de
Medici's maid of honor; and it is to be a marvel of beauty."
Excessive suffering brings with it a sort of dull insensibility and
stupor; and Prosper thought that there was nothing left to be
inflicted upon him, and had reached that state of impassibility from
which he never expected to be aroused, when this last remark of M. de
Lagors made him cry out with pain:
"Madeleine! Oh, Madeleine!"
M. de Lagors, pretending not to have heard him, rose from his chair,
"I must leave you now, my dear Prosper; on Saturday I will see these
ladies at the ball, and will bring you news of them. Now, do have
courage, and remember that, whatever happens, you have a friend in
Raoul shook Prosper's hand, closed the door after him, and hurried up
the street, leaving Prosper standing immovable and overcome by
He was aroused from his gloomy revery by hearing the red-whiskered man
say, in a bantering tone:
"So these are your friends."
"Yes," said Prosper with bitterness. "You heard him offer me half his
M. Verduret shrugged his shoulders with an air of compassion.
"That was very stingy on his part," he said, "why did he not offer the
whole? Offers cost nothing; although I have no doubt that this sweet
youth would cheerfully give ten thousand francs to put the ocean
between you and him."
"Monsieur! what reason?"
"Who knows? Perhaps for the same reason that he had not set foot in
his uncle's house for a month."
"But that is the truth, monsieur, I am sure of it."
"Naturally," said M. Verduret with a provoking smile. "But," he
continued with a serious air, "we have devoted enough time to this
Adonis. Now, be good enough to change your dress, and we will go and
call on M. Fauvel."
This proposal seemed to stir up all of Prosper's anger.
"Never!" he exclaimed with excitement, "no, never will I voluntarily
set eyes on that wretch!"
This resistance did not surprise M. Verduret.
"I can understand your feelings toward him," said he, "but at the same
time I hope you will change your mind. For the same reason that I
wished to see M. de Lagors, do I wish to see M. Fauvel; it is
necessary, you understand. Are you so very weak that you cannot put a
constraint upon yourself for five minutes? I shall introduce myself as
one of your relatives, and you need not open your lips."
"If it is positively necessary," said Prosper, "if--"
"It is necessary; so come on. You must have confidence, put on a brave
face. Hurry and fix yourself up a little; it is getting late, and I am
hungry. We will breakfast on our way there."
Prosper had hardly passed into his bedroom when the bell rang again.
M. Verduret opened the door. It was the porter, who handed him a thick
letter, and said:
"This letter was left this morning for M. Bertomy; I was so flustered
when he came that I forgot to hand it to him. It is a very odd-looking
letter; is it not, monsieur?"
It was indeed a most peculiar missive. The address was not written,
but formed of printed letters, carefully cut from a book, and pasted
on the envelope.
"Oh, ho! what is this?" cried M. Verduret; then turning toward the
porter he cried, "Wait."
He went into the next room, and closed the door behind him; there he
found Prosper, anxious to know what was going on.
"Here is a letter for you," said M. Verduret.
He at once tore open the envelope.
Some bank-notes dropped out; he counted them; there were ten.
Prosper's face turned purple.
"What does this mean?" he asked.
"We will read the letter and find out," replied M. Verduret.
The letter, like the address, was composed of printed words cut out
and pasted on a sheet of paper.
It was short but explicit:
"MY DEAR PROSPER--A friend, who knows the horror of your situation,
sends you this succor. There is one heart, be assured, that shares
your sufferings. Go away; leave France; you are young; the future
is before you. Go, and may this money bring you happiness!"
As M. Verduret read the note, Prosper's rage increased. He was angry
and perplexed, for he could not explain the rapidly succeeding events
which were so calculated to mystify his already confused brain.
"Everybody wishes me to go away," he cried; "then there must be a
conspiracy against me."
M. Verduret smiled with satisfaction.
"At last you begin to open your eyes, you begin to understand. Yes,
there are people who hate you because of the wrong they have done you;
there are people to whom your presence in Paris is a constant danger,
and who will not feel safe till they are rid of you."
"But who are these people, monsieur? Tell me, who dares send this
"If I knew, my dear Prosper, my task would be at an end, for then I
would know who committed the robbery. But we will continue our
searches. I have finally procured evidence which will sooner or later
become convincing proof. I have heretofore only made deductions more
or less probable; I now possess knowledge which proves that I was not
mistaken. I walked in darkness: now I have a light to guide me."
As Prosper listened to M. Verduret's reassuring words, he felt hope
arising in his breast.
"Now," said M. Verduret, "we must take advantage of this evidence,
gained by the imprudence of our enemies, without delay. We will begin
with the porter."
He opened the door and called out:
"I say, my good man, step here a moment."
The porter entered, looking very much surprised at the authority
exercised over his lodger by this stranger.
"Who gave you this letter?" said M. Verduret.
"A messenger, who said he was paid for bringing it."
"Do you know him?"
"I know him well; he is the errand-runner who keeps his cart at the
corner of the Rue Pigalle."
"Go and bring him here."
After the porter had gone, M. Verduret drew from his pocket his diary,
and compared a page of it with the notes which he had spread over the
"These notes were not sent by the thief," he said, after an attentive
examination of them.
"Do you think so, monsieur?"
"I am certain of it; that is, unless the thief is endowed with
extraordinary penetration and forethought. One thing is certain: these
ten thousand francs are not part of the three hundred and fifty
thousand which were stolen from the safe."
"Yet," said Prosper, who could not account for this certainty on the
part of his protector, "yet----"
"There is no doubt about it: I have the numbers of all the stolen
"What! When even I did not have them?"
"But the bank did, fortunately. When we undertake an affair we must
anticipate everything, and forget nothing. It is a poor excuse for a
man to say, 'I did not think of it' when he commits some oversight. I
thought of the bank."
If, in the beginning, Prosper had felt some repugnance about confiding
in his father's friend, the feeling had now disappeared.
He understood that alone, scarcely master of himself, governed only by
the inspirations of inexperience, never would he have the patient
perspicacity of this singular man.
Verduret continued talking to himself, as if he had absolutely
forgotten Prosper's presence:
"Then, as this package did not come from the thief, it can only come
from the other person, who was near the safe at the time of the
robbery, but could not prevent it, and now feels remorse. The
probability of two persons assisting at the robbery, a probability
suggested by the scratch, is now converted into undeniable certainty.
/Ergo/, I was right."
Prosper listening attentively tried hard to comprehend this monologue,
which he dared not interrupt.
"Let us seek," went on the fat man, "this second person, whose
conscience pricks him, and yet who dares not reveal anything."
He read the letter over several times, scanning the sentences, and
weighing every word.
"Evidently this letter was composed by a woman," he finally said.
"Never would one man doing another man a service, and sending him
money, use the word 'succor.' A man would have said, loan, money, or
some other equivalent, but succor, never. No one but a woman, ignorant
of masculine susceptibilities, would have naturally made use of this
word to express the idea it represents. As to the sentence, 'There is
one heart,' and so on, it could only have been written by a woman."
"You are mistaken, monsieur," said Prosper: "no woman is mixed up in
M. Verduret paid no attention to this interruption, perhaps he did not
hear it; perhaps he did not care to argue the matter.
"Now, let us see if we can discover whence the printed words were
taken to compose this letter."
He approached the window, and began to study the pasted words with all
the scrupulous attention which an antiquarian would devote to an old,
"Small type," he said, "very slender and clear; the paper is thin and
glossy. Consequently, these words have not been cut from a newspaper,
magazine, or even a novel. I have seen type like this, I recognize it
at once; Didot often uses it, so does Mme. de Tours."
He stopped with his mouth open, and eyes fixed, appealing laboriously
to his memory.
Suddenly he struck his forehead exultantly.
"Now I have it!" he cried; "now I have it! Why did I not see it at
once? These words have all been cut from a prayer-book. We will look,
at least, and then we shall be certain."
He moistened one of the words pasted on the paper with his tongue,
and, when it was sufficiently softened, he detached it with a pin. On
the other side of this word was printed a Latin word, /Deus/.
"Ah, ha," he said with a little laugh of satisfaction. "I knew it.
Father Taberet would be pleased to see this. But what has become of
the mutilated prayer-book? Can it have been burned? No, because a
heavy-bound book is not easily burned. It is thrown in some corner."
M. Verduret was interrupted by the porter, who returned with the
messenger from the Rue Pigalle.
"Ah, here you are," he said encouragingly. Then he showed the envelope
of the letter, and said:
"Do you remember bringing this letter here this morning?"
"Perfectly, monsieur. I took particular notice of the direction; we
don't often see anything like it."
"Who told you to bring it? a gentleman, or a lady?"
"Neither, monsieur; it was a porter."
This reply made the porter laugh very much, but not a muscle of M.
Verduret's face moved.
"A porter? Well, do you know this colleague of yours."
"I never even saw him before."
"How does he look?"
"He was neither tall nor short; he wore a green vest, and his medal."
"Your description is so vague that it would suit every porter in the
city; but did your colleague tell you who sent the letter?"
"No, monsieur. He only put ten sous in my hand, and said, 'Here, carry
this to No. 39, Rue Chaptal: a coachman on the boulevard handed it to
me.' Ten sous! I warrant you he made more than that by it."
This answer seemed to disconcert M. Verduret. So many precautions
taken in sending the letter disturbed him, and disarranged his plans.
"Do you think you would recognize the porter again?"
"Yes, monsieur, if I saw him."
"How much do you gain a day as a porter?"
"I can't tell exactly; but my corner is a good stand, and I am busy
doing errands nearly all day. I suppose I make from eight to ten
"Very well; I will give you ten francs a day if you will walk about
the streets, and look for the porter who brought this letter. Every
evening, at eight o'clock, come to the Archangel, on the Quai Saint
Michel, give me a report of your search, and receive your pay. Ask for
M. Verduret. If you find the man I will give you fifty francs. Do you
"I rather think I will, monsieur."
"Then don't lose a minute. Start off!"
Although ignorant of M. Verduret's plans, Prosper began to comprehend
the sense of his investigations. His fate depended upon their success,
and yet he almost forgot this fact in his admiration of this singular
man; for his energy, his bantering coolness when he wished to discover
anything, the surety of his deductions, the fertility of his
expedients, and the rapidity of his movements, were astonishing.
"Monsieur," said Prosper when the porter had left the room, "do you
still think you see a woman's hand in this affair?"
"More than ever; and a pious woman too, and a woman who has two
prayer-books, since she could cut up one to write to you."
"And you hope to find the mutilated book?"
"I do, thanks to the opportunity I have of making an immediate search;
which I will set about at once."
Saying this, he sat down, and rapidly scratched off a few lines on a
slip of paper, which he folded up, and put in his vest-pocket.
"Are you ready to go to M. Fauvel's? Yes? Come on, then; we have
certainly earned our breakfast to-day."
When Raoul de Lagors spoke of M. Fauvel's extraordinary dejection, he
had not exaggerated.
Since the fatal day when, upon his denunciation, his cashier had been
arrested, the banker, this active, energetic man of business, had been
a prey to the most gloomy melancholy, and absolutely refused to take
any interest in his affairs, seldom entering the banking-house.
He, who had always been so domestic, never came near his family except
at meals, when he would swallow a few mouthfuls, and hastily leave the
Shut up in his study, he would deny himself to visitors. His anxious
countenance, his indifference to everybody and everything, his
constant reveries and fits of abstraction, betrayed the preoccupation
of some fixed idea, or the tyrannical empire of some hidden sorrow.
The day of Prosper's release, about three o'clock, M. Fauvel was, as
usual, seated in his study, with his elbows resting on the table, and
his face buried in his hands, when his office-boy rushed in, and with
a frightened look said:
"Monsieur, the former cashier, M. Bertomy, is here with one of his
relatives; he says he must see you on business."
The banker at these words started up as if he had been shot.
"Prosper!" he cried in a voice choked by anger, "what! does he dare--"
Then remembering that he ought to control himself before his servant,
he waited a few moments, and then said, in a tone of forced calmness:
"Ask them to walk in."
If M. Verduret had counted upon witnessing a strange and affecting
sight, he was not disappointed.
Nothing could be more terrible than the attitude of these two men as
they stood confronting each other. The banker's face was almost purple
with suppressed anger, and he looked as if about to be struck by
apoplexy. Prosper was as pale and motionless as a corpse.
Silent and immovable, they stood glaring at each other with mortal
M. Verduret curiously watched these two enemies, with the indifference
and coolness of a philosopher, who, in the most violent outbursts of
human passion, merely sees subjects for meditation and study.
Finally, the silence becoming more and more threatening, he decided to
break it by speaking to the banker:
"I suppose you know, monsieur, that my young relative has just been
released from prison."
"Yes," replied M. Fauvel, making an effort to control himself, "yes,
for want of sufficient proof."
"Exactly so, monsieur, and this want of proof, as stated in the
decision of 'Not proven,' ruins the prospects of my relative, and
compels him to leave here at once for America."
M. Fauvel's features relaxed as if he had been relieved of some
"Ah, he is going away," he said, "he is going abroad."
There was no mistaking the resentful, almost insulting intonation of
the words, "going away!"
M. Verduret took no notice of M. Fauvel's manner.
"It appears to me," he continued, in an easy tone, "that Prosper's
determination is a wise one. I merely wished him, before leaving
Paris, to come and pay his respects to his former chief."
The banker smiled bitterly.
"M. Bertomy might have spared us both this painful meeting. I have
nothing to say to him, and of course he can have nothing to tell me."
This was a formal dismissal; and M. Verduret, understanding it thus,
bowed to M. Fauvel, and left the room, accompanied by Prosper, who had
not opened his lips.
They had reached the street before Prosper recovered the use of his
"I hope you are satisfied, monsieur," he said, in a gloomy tone; "you
exacted this painful step, and I could only acquiesce. Have I gained
anything by adding this humiliation to the others which I have
"You have not, but I have," replied M. Verduret. "I could find no way
of gaining access to M. Fauvel, save through you; and now I have found
out what I wanted to know. I am convinced that M. Fauvel had nothing
to do with the robbery."
"Oh, monsieur!" objected Prosper, "innocence can be feigned."
"Certainly, but not to this extent. And this is not all. I wished to
find out if M. Fauvel would be accessible to certain suspicions. I am
now confident that he is."
Prosper and his companion had stopped to talk more at their ease, near
the corner of the Rue Lafitte, in the middle of a large space which
had lately been cleared by pulling down an old house.
M. Verduret seemed to be anxious, and was constantly looking around as
if he expected someone.
He soon uttered an exclamation of satisfaction.
At the other end of the vacant space, he saw Cavaillon, who was
bareheaded and running.
He was so excited that he did not even stop to shake hands with
Prosper, but darted up to M. Verduret, and said:
"They have gone, monsieur!"
"How long since?"
"They went about a quarter of an hour ago."
"The deuce they did! Then we have not an instant to lose."
He handed Cavaillon the note he had written some hours before at
"Here, send him this, and then return at once to your desk; you might
be missed. It was very imprudent in you to come out without your hat."
Cavaillon ran off as quickly as he had come. Prosper was stupefied.
"What!" he exclaimed. "You know Cavaillon?"
"So it seems," answered M. Verduret with a smile, "but we have no time
to talk; come on, hurry!"
"Where are we gong now?"
"You will soon know; walk fast!"
And he set the example by striding rapidly toward the Rue Lafayette.
As they went along he continued talking more to himself than to
"Ah," said he, "it is not by putting both feet in one shoe, that one
wins a race. The track once found, we should never rest an instant.
When the savage discovers the footprints of an enemy, he follows it
persistently, knowing that falling rain or a gust of wind may efface
the footprints at any moment. It is the same with us: the most
trifling incident may destroy the traces we are following up."
M. Verduret suddenly stopped before a door bearing the number 81.
"We are going in here," he said to Prosper; "come."
They went up the steps, and stopped on the second floor, before a door
over which was a large sign, "Fashionable Dressmaker."
A handsome bell-rope hung on the wall, but M. Verduret did not touch
it. He tapped with the ends of his fingers in a peculiar way, and the
door instantly opened as if someone had been watching for his signal
on the other side.
The door was opened by a neatly dressed woman of about forty. She
quietly ushered M. Verduret and Prosper into a neat dining-room with
several doors opening into it.
This woman bowed humbly to M. Verduret, as if he were some superior
He scarcely noticed her salutation, but questioned her with a look.
His look said:
She bowed affirmatively:
"In there?" asked M. Verduret in a low tone, pointing to one of the
"No," said the woman in the same tone, "over there, in the little
M. Verduret opened the door pointed out, and pushed Prosper into the
little parlor, whispering, as he did so:
"Go in, and keep your presence of mind."
But his injunction was useless. The instant he cast his eyes around
the room into which he had so unceremoniously been pushed without any
warning, Prosper exclaimed, in a startled voice:
It was indeed M. Fauvel's niece, looking more beautiful than ever.
Hers was that calm, dignified beauty which imposes admiration and
Standing in the middle of the room, near a table covered with silks
and satins, she was arranging a skirt of red velvet embroidered in
gold; probably the dress she was to wear as maid of honor to Catherine
At sight of Prosper, all the blood rushed to her face, and her
beautiful eyes half closed, as if she were about to faint; she clung
to the table to prevent herself from falling.
Prosper well knew that Madeleine was not one of those cold-hearted
women whom nothing could disturb, and who feel sensations, but never a
Of a tender, dreamy nature, she betrayed in the minute details of her
life the most exquisite delicacy. But she was also proud, and
incapable of in any way violating her conscience. When duty spoke, she
She recovered from her momentary weakness, and the soft expression of
her eyes changed to one of haughty resentment. In an offended tone she
"What has emboldened you, monsieur, to be watching my movements? Who
gave you permission to follow me, to enter this house?"
Prosper was certainly innocent. He would have given worlds to explain
what had just happened, but he was powerless, and could only remain
"You promised me upon your honor, monsieur," continued Madeleine,
"that you would never again seek my presence. Is this the way you keep
"I did promise, mademoiselle, but----"
"So many things have happened since that terrible day, that I think I
am excusable in forgetting, for one hour, an oath torn from me in a
moment of blind weakness. It is to chance, at least to another will
than my own, that I am indebted for the happiness of once more finding
myself near you. Alas! the instant I saw you my heart bounded with
joy. I did not think, no I could not think, that you would prove more
pitiless than strangers have been, that you would cast me off when I
am so miserable and heart-broken."
Had not Prosper been so agitated he could have read in the eyes of
Madeleine--those beautiful eyes which had so long been the arbiters of
his destiny--the signs of a great inward struggle.
It was, however, in a firm voice that she replied:
"You know me well enough, Prosper, to be sure than no blow can strike
you without reaching me at the same time. You suffer, I suffer with
you: I pity you as a sister would pity a beloved brother."
"A sister!" said Prosper, bitterly. "Yes, that was the word you used
the day you banished me from your presence. A sister! Then why during
three years did you delude me with vain hopes? Was I a brother to you
the day we went to Notre Dame de Fourvieres, that day when, at the
foot of the altar, we swore to love each other for ever and ever, and
you fastened around my neck a holy relic and said, 'Wear this always
for my sake, never part from it, and it will bring you good fortune'?"
Madeleine attempted to interrupt him by a supplicating gesture: he
would not heed it, but continued with increased bitterness:
"One month after that happy day--a year ago--you gave me back my
promise, told me to consider myself free from any engagement, and
never to come near you again. If I could have discovered in what way I
had offended you-- But no, you refused to explain. You drove me away,
and to obey you I told everyone that I had left you of my own accord.
You told me that an invincible obstacle had arisen between us, and I
believed you, fool that I was! The obstacle was your own heart,
Madeleine. I have always worn the medal; but it has not brought me
happiness or good fortune."
As white and motionless as a statue, Madeleine stood with bowed head
before this storm of passionate reproach.
"I told you to forget me," she murmured.
"Forget!" exclaimed Prosper, excitedly, "forget! Can I forget! Is it
in my power to stop, by an effort of will, the circulation of my
blood? Ah, you have never loved! To forget, as to stop the beatings of
the heart, there is but one means--death!"
This word, uttered with the fixed determination of a desperate,
reckless man, caused Madeleine to shudder.
"Miserable man!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, miserable man, and a thousand times more miserable than you can
imagine! You can never understand the tortures I have suffered, when
for a year I would awake every morning, and say to myself, 'It is all
over, she has ceased to love me!' This great sorrow stared me in the
face day and night in spite of all my efforts to dispel it. And you
speak of forgetfulness! I sought it at the bottom of poisoned cups,
but found it not. I tried to extinguish this memory of the past, that
tears my heart to shreds like a devouring flame; in vain. When the
body succumbed, the pitiless heart kept watch. With this corroding
torture making life a burden, do you wonder that I should seek rest
which can only be obtained by suicide?"
"I forbid you to utter that word."
"You forget, Madeleine, that you have no right to forbid me, unless
you love me. Love would make you all powerful, and me obedient."
With an imperious gesture Madeleine interrupted him as if she wished
to speak, and perhaps to explain all, to exculpate herself.
But a sudden thought stopped her; she clasped her hands despairingly,
"My God! this suffering is beyond endurance!"
Prosper seemed to misconstrue her words.
"Your pity comes too late," he said. "There is no happiness in store
for one like myself, who has had a glimpse of divine felicity, had the
cup of bliss held to his lips, and then dashed to the ground. There is
nothing left to attach me to life. You have destroyed my holiest
beliefs; I came forth from prison disgraced by my enemies; what is to
become of me? Vainly do I question the future; for me there is no hope
of happiness. I look around me to see nothing but abandonment,
ignominy, and despair!"
"Prosper, my brother, my friend, if you only knew----"
"I know but one thing, Madeleine, and that is, that you no longer love
me, and that I love you more madly than ever. Oh, Madeleine, God only
knows how I love you!"
He was silent. He hoped for an answer. None came.
But suddenly the silence was broken by a stifled sob.
It was Madeleine's maid, who, seated in a corner, was weeping
Madeleine had forgotten her presence.
Prosper had been so surprised at finding Madeleine when he entered the
room, that he kept his eyes fastened upon her face, and never once
looked about him to see if anyone else were present.
He turned in surprise and looked at the weeping woman.
He was not mistaken: this neatly dressed waiting-maid was Nina Gypsy.
Prosper was so startled that he became perfectly dumb. He stood there
with ashy lips, and a chilly sensation creeping through his veins.
The horror of the situation terrified him. He was there, between the
two women who had ruled his fate; between Madeleine, the proud heiress
who spurned his love, and Nina Gypsy, the poor girl whose devotion to
himself he had so disdainfully rejected.
And she had heard all; poor Gypsy had witnessed the passionate avowal
of her lover, had heard him swear that he could never love any woman
but Madeleine, that if his love were not reciprocated he would kill
himself, as he had nothing else to live for.
Prosper could judge of her sufferings by his own. For she was wounded
not only in the present, but in the past. What must be her humiliation
and danger on hearing the miserable part which Prosper, in his
disappointed love, had imposed upon her?
He was astonished that Gypsy--violence itself--remained silently
weeping, instead of rising and bitterly denouncing him.
Meanwhile Madeleine had succeeded in recovering her usual calmness.
Slowly and almost unconsciously she had put on her bonnet and shawl,
which were lying on the sofa.
Then she approached Prosper, and said:
"Why did you come here? We both have need of all the courage we can
command. You are unhappy, Prosper; I am more than unhappy, I am most
wretched. You have a right to complain: I have not the right to shed a
tear. While my heart is slowly breaking, I must wear a smiling face.
You can seek consolation in the bosom of a friend: I can have no
confidant but God."
Prosper tried to murmur a reply, but his pale lips refused to
articulate; he was stifling.
"I wish to tell you," continued Madeleine, "that I have forgotten
nothing. But oh! let not this knowledge give you any hope; the future
is blank for us, but if you love me you will live. You will not, I
know, add to my already heavy burden of sorrow, the agony of mourning
your death. For my sake, live; live the life of a good man, and
perhaps the day will come when I can justify myself in your eyes. And
now, oh, my brother, oh, my only friend, adieu! adieu!"
She pressed a kiss upon his brow, and rushed from the room, followed
by Nina Gypsy.
Prosper was alone. He seemed to be awaking from a troubled dream. He
tried to think over what had just happened, and asked himself if he
were losing his mind, or whether he had really spoken to Madeleine and
He was obliged to attribute all this to the mysterious power of the
strange man whom he had seen for the first time that very morning.
How did he gain this wonderful power of controlling events to suit his
He seemed to have anticipated everything, to know everything. He was
acquainted with Cavaillon, he knew all Madeleine's movements; he had
made even Gypsy become humble and submissive.
Thinking all this, Prosper had reached such a degree of exasperation,
that when M. Verduret entered the little parlor, he strode toward him
white with rage, and in a harsh, threatening voice, said to him:
"Who are you?"
The stout man did not show any surprise at this burst of anger, but
"A friend of your father's; did you not know it?"
"That is no answer, monsieur; I have been surprised into being
influenced by a stranger, and now--"
"Do you want my biography, what I have been, what I am, and what I may
be? What difference does it make to you? I told you that I would save
you; the main point is that I am saving you."
"Still I have the right to ask by what means you are saving me."
"What good will it do you to know what my plans are?"
"In order to decide whether I will accept or reject them?"
"But suppose I guarantee success?"
"That is not sufficient, monsieur. I do not choose to be any longer
deprived of my own free will, to be exposed without warning to trials
like those I have undergone to-day. A man of my age must know what he
"A man of your age, Prosper, when he is blind, takes a guide, and does
not undertake to point out the way to his leader."
The half-bantering, half-commiserating tone of M. Verduret was not
calculated to calm Prosper's irritation.
"That being the case, monsieur," he cried, "I will thank you for your
past services, and decline them for the future, as I have no need of
them. If I attempted to defend my honor and my life, it was because I
hoped that Madeleine would be restored to me. I have been convinced
to-day that all is at an end between us; I retire from the struggle,
and care not what becomes of me now."
Prosper was so decided, that M. Verduret seemed alarmed.
"You must be mad," he finally said.
"No, unfortunately I am not. Madeleine has ceased to love me, and of
what importance is anything else?"
His heart-broken tone aroused M. Verduret's sympathy, and he said, in
a kind, soothing tone:
"Then you suspect nothing? You did not fathom the meaning of what she
"You were listening," cried Prosper fiercely.
"I certainly was."
"Yes. It was a presumptuous thing to do, perhaps; but the end
justified the means in this instance. I am glad I did listen, because
it has enabled me to say to you, Take courage, Prosper: Mlle.
Madeleine loves you; she has never ceased to love you."
Like a dying man who eagerly listens to deceitful promises of
recovery, although he feels himself sinking into the grave, did
Prosper feel his sad heart cheered by M. Verduret's assertion.
"Oh," he murmured, suddenly calmed, "if only I could hope!"
"Rely upon me, I am not mistaken. Ah, I could see the torture endured
by this generous girl, while she struggled between her love, and what
she believed to be her duty. Were you not convinced of her love when
she bade you farewell?"
"She loves me, she is free, and yet she shuns me."
"No, she is not free! In breaking off her engagement with you, she was
governed by some powerful, irrepressible event. She is sacrificing
herself--for whom? We shall soon know; and the secret of her self-
sacrifice will discover to us the secret of her plot against you."
As M. Verduret spoke, Prosper felt all his resolutions of revolt
slowly melting away, and their place taken by confidence and hope.
"If what you say were true!" he mournfully said.
"Foolish young man! Why do you persist in obstinately shutting your
eyes to the proof I place before you? Can you not see that Mlle.
Madeleine knows who the thief is? Yes, you need not look so shocked;
she knows the thief, but no human power can tear it from her. She
sacrifices you, but then she almost has the right, since she first
Prosper was almost convinced; and it nearly broke his heart to leave
this little parlor where he had seen Madeleine.
"Alas!" he said, pressing M. Verduret's hand, "you must think me a
ridiculous fool! but you don't know how I suffer."
The man with the red whiskers sadly shook his head, and his voice
sounded very unsteady as he replied, in a low tone:
"What you suffer, I have suffered. Like you, I loved, not a pure,
noble girl, yet a girl fair to look upon. For three years I was at her
feet, a slave to her every whim; when, one day she suddenly deserted
me who adored her, to throw herself in the arms of a man who despised
her. Then, like you, I wished to die. Neither threats nor entreaties
could induce her to return to me. Passion never reasons, and she loved
"And did you know this rival?"
"I knew him."
"And you did not seek revenge?"
"No," replied M. Verduret with a singular expression, "no: fate took
charge of my vengeance."
For a minute Prosper was silent; then he said:
"I have finally decided, monsieur. My honor is a sacred trust for
which I must account to my family. I am ready to follow you to the end
of the world; dispose of me as you judge proper."
That same day Prosper, faithful to his promise, sold his furniture,
and wrote a letter to his friends announcing his intended departure to
In the evening he and M. Verduret installed themselves in the
Mme. Alexandre gave Prosper her prettiest room, but it was very ugly
compared with the coquettish little parlor on the Rue Chaptal. His
state of mind did not permit him, however, to notice the difference
between his former and present quarters. He lay on an old sofa,
meditating upon the events of the day, and feeling a bitter
satisfaction in his isolated condition.
About eleven o'clock he thought he would raise the window, and let the
cool air fan his burning brow; as he did so a piece of paper was blown
from among the folds of the window-curtain, and lay at his feet on the
Prosper mechanically picked it up, and looked at it.
It was covered with writing, the handwriting of Nina Gypsy; he could
not be mistaken about that.
It was the fragment of a torn letter; and, if the half sentences did
not convey any clear meaning, they were sufficient to lead the mind
into all sorts of conjectures.
The fragment read as follows:
"of M. Raoul, I have been very im . . . plotted against him, of
whom never . . . warn Prosper, and then . . . best friend. he
. . . hand of Mlle. Ma . . ."
Prosper never closed his eyes during that night.
Not far from the Palais Royal, in the Rue St. Honore, is the sign of
"La Bonne Foi," a small establishment, half cafe and half shop,
extensively patronized by the people of the neighborhood.
It was in the smoking-room of this modest cafe that Prosper, the day
after his release, awaited M. Verduret, who had promised to meet him
at four o'clock.
The clock struck four; M. Verduret, who was punctuality itself,
appeared. He was more red-faced and self-satisfied, if possible, than
the day before.
As soon as the servant had left the room to obey his orders, he said
"Well, are our commissions executed?"
"Have you seen the costumer?"
"I gave him your letter, and everything you ordered will be sent to
the Archangel to-morrow."
"Very good; you have not lost time, neither have I. I have good news
The "Bonne Foi" is almost deserted at four o'clock. The hour for
coffee is passed, and the hour for absinthe has not yet come. M.
Verduret and Prosper could talk at their ease without fear of being
overheard by gossiping neighbors.
M. Verduret drew forth his memorandum-book, the precious diary which,
like the enchanted book in the fairy-tale, had an answer for every
"While awaiting our emissaries whom I appointed to meet here, let us
devote a little time to M. de Lagors."
At this name Prosper did not protest, as he had done the night
previous. Like those imperceptible insects which, having once
penetrated the root of a tree, devour it in a single night, suspicion,