Part 4 out of 11
when it invades our mind, soon develops itself, and destroys our
The visit of Lagors, and Gypsy's torn letter, had filled Prosper with
suspicions which had grown stronger and more settled as time passed.
"Do you know, my dear friend," said M. Verduret, "what part of France
this devoted friend of yours comes from?"
"He was born at St. Remy, which is also Mme. Fauvel's native town."
"Are you certain of that?"
"Oh, perfectly so, monsieur! He has not only often told me so, but I
have heard him tell M. Fauvel; and he would talk to Mme. Fauvel by the
hour about his mother, who was cousin to Mme. Fauvel, and dearly
beloved by her."
"Then you think there is no possible mistake or falsehood about this
part of his story?"
"None in the least, monsieur."
"Well, things are assuming a queer look."
And he began to whistle between his teeth; which, with M. Verduret,
was a sign of intense inward satisfaction.
"What seems so, monsieur?" inquired Prosper.
"What has just happened; what I have been tracing. Parbleu!" he
exclaimed, imitating the manner of a showman at a fair, "here is a
lovely town, called St. Remy, six thousand inhabitants; charming
boulevards on the site of the old fortifications; handsome hotel;
numerous fountains; large charcoal market, silk factories, famous
hospital, and so on."
Prosper was on thorns.
"Please be so good, monsieur, as to explain what you----"
"It also contains," continued M. Verduret, "a Roman triumphal arch,
which is of unparalleled beauty, and a Greek mausoleum; but no Lagors.
St. Remy is the native town of Nostradamus, but not of your friend."
"Yet I have proofs."
"Naturally. But proofs can be fabricated; relatives can be improvised.
Your evidence is open to suspicion. My proofs are undeniable,
perfectly authenticated. While you were pining in prison, I was
preparing my batteries and collecting munition to open fire. I wrote
to St. Remy, and received answers to my questions."
"Will you let me know what they were?"
"Have patience," said M. Verduret as he turned over the leaves of his
memoranda. "Ah, here is number one. Bow respectfully to it, 'tis
He then read:
"'LAGORS.--Very old family, originally from Maillane, settled at
St. Remy about a century ago.'"
"I told you so," cried Prosper.
"Pray allow me to finish," said M. Verduret.
"'The last of the Lagors (Jules-Rene-Henri) bearing without warrant
the title of count, married in 1829 Mlle. Rosalie-Clarisse
Fontanet, of Tarascon; died December 1848, leaving no male heir,
but left two daughters. The registers make no mention of any
person in the district bearing the name of Lagors.'
"Now what do you think of this information?" queried the fat man with
a triumphant smile.
Prosper looked amazed.
"But why did M. Fauvel treat Raoul as his nephew?"
"Ah, you mean as his wife's nephew! Let us examine note number two: it
is not official, but it throws a valuable light upon the twenty
thousand livres income of your friend."
"'/Jules-Rene-Henri/ de Lagors, last of his name, died at St. Remy
on the 29th of December, 1848, in a state of great poverty. He at
one time was possessed of a moderate fortune, but invested it in a
silk-worm nursery, and lost it all.
"'He had no son, but left two daughters, one of whom is a teacher
at Aix, and the other married a retail merchant at Orgon. His
widow, who lives at Montagnette, is supported entirely by one of
her relatives, the wife of a rich banker in Paris. No person of
the name of Lagors lives in the district of Arles.'
"That is all," said M. Verduret; "don't you think it enough?"
"Really, monsieur, I don't know whether I am awake or dreaming."
"You will be awake after a while. Now I wish to remark one thing. Some
people may assert that the widow Lagors had a child born after her
husband's death. This objection has been destroyed by the age of your
friend. Raoul is twenty-four, and M. de Lagors has not been dead
"But," said Prosper thoughtfully, "who can Raoul be?"
"I don't know. The fact is, I am more perplexed to find out who he is,
than to know whom he is not. There is one man who could give us all
the information we seek, but he will take good care to keep his mouth
"You mean M. de Clameran?"
"Him, and no one else."
"I have always felt the most inexplicable aversion toward him. Ah, if
we could only get his account in addition to what you already have!"
"I have been furnished with a few notes concerning the Clameran family
by your father, who knew them well; they are brief, but I expect
"What did my father tell you?"
"Nothing favorable, you may be sure. I will read you the synopsis of
"'Louis de Clameran was born at the Chateau de Clameran, near
Tarascon. He had an elder brother named Gaston, who, in
consequence of an affray in which he had the misfortune to kill
one man and badly wound another, was compelled to fly the country
in 1842. Gaston was an honest, noble youth, universally beloved.
Louis, on the contrary, was a wicked, despicable fellow, detested
by all who knew him.
"'Upon the death of his father, Louis came to Paris, and in less
than two years had squandered not only his own patrimony, but also
the share of his exiled brother.
"'Ruined and harassed by debt, Louis entered the army, but behaved
so disgracefully that he was dismissed.
"'After leaving the army we lose sight of him; all we can discover
is, that he went to England, and thence to a German gambling
resort, where he became notorious for his scandalous conduct.
"'In 1865 we find him again at Paris. He was in great poverty, and
his associates were among the most depraved classes.
"'But he suddenly heard of the return of his brother Gaston to
Paris. Gaston had made a fortune in Mexico; but being still a
young man, and accustomed to a very active life, he purchased,
near Orloron, an iron-mill, intending to spend the remainder of
his life in working at it. Six months ago he died in the arms of
his brother Louis. His death provided our De Clameran an immense
fortune, and the title of marquis.'"
"Then," said Prosper, "from all this I judge that M. de Clameran was
very poor when I met him for the first time at M. Fauvel's?"
"And about that time Lagors arrived from the country?"
"And about a month after his appearance Madeleine suddenly banished
"Well," exclaimed M. Verduret, "I am glad you are beginning to
understand the state of affairs."
He was interrupted by the entrance of a stranger.
The new-comer was a dandified-looking coachman, with elegant black
whiskers, shining boots with fancy tops; buff breeches, and a yellow
waistcoat with red and black stripes.
After cautiously looking around the room, he walked straight up to the
table where M. Verduret sat.
"What is the news, Master Joseph Dubois?" said the stout man eagerly.
"Ah, patron, don't speak of it!" answered the servant: "things are
Prosper concentrated all his attention upon this superb domestic. He
thought he recognized his face. He had certainly somewhere seen that
retreating forehead and those little restless black eyes, but where
and when he could not remember.
Meanwhile, Master Joseph had taken a seat at a table adjoining the one
occupied by M. Verduret and Prosper; and, having called for some
absinthe, was preparing it by holding the water aloft and slowly
dropping it in the glass.
"Speak!" said M. Verduret.
"In the first place, patron, I must say that the position of valet and
coachman to M. de Clameran is not a bed of roses."
"Go on: come to the point. You can complain to-morrow."
"Very good. Yesterday my master walked out at two o'clock. I, of
course, followed him. Do you know where he went? The thing was as good
as a farce. He went to the Archangel to keep the appointment made by
"Well, make haste. They told him she was gone. Then?"
"Then? Ah! he was not at all pleased, I can tell you. He hurried back
to the hotel where the other, M. de Lagors, awaited him. And, upon my
soul, I have never heard so much swearing in my life! M. Raoul asked
him what had happened to put him in such a bad humor. 'Nothing,'
replied my master, 'except that little devil has run off, and no one
knows where she is; she has slipped through our fingers.' Then they
both appeared to be vexed and uneasy. Lagors asked if she knew
anything serious. 'She knows nothing but what I told you,' replied
Clameran; 'but this nothing, falling in the ear of a man with any
suspicions, will be more than enough to work on.'"
M. Verduret smiled like a man who had his reasons for appreciating at
their just value De Clameran's fears.
"Well, your master is not without sense, after all; don't you think he
showed it by saying that?"
"Yes, patron. Then Lagors exclaimed, 'If it is as serious as that, we
must get rid of this little serpent!' But my master shrugged his
shoulders, and laughing loudly said, 'You talk like an idiot; when one
is annoyed by a woman of this sort, one must take measures to get rid
of her administratively.' This idea seemed to amuse them both very
"I can understand their being entertained by it," said M. Verduret;
"it is an excellent idea; but the misfortune is, it is too late to
carry it out. The nothing which made Clameran uneasy has already
fallen into a knowing ear."
With breathless curiosity, Prosper listened to this report, every word
of which seemed to throw light upon past events. Now, he thought, he
understood the fragment of Gypsy's letter. He saw that this Raoul, in
whom he had confided so deeply, was nothing more than a scoundrel. A
thousand little circumstances, unnoticed at the time, now recurred to
his mind, and made him wonder how he could have been so blind so long.
Master Joseph Dubois continued his report:
"Yesterday, after dinner, my master decked himself out like a
bridegroom. I shaved him, curled his hair, and perfumed him with
special care, after which I drove him to the Rue de Provence to call
on Mme. Fauvel."
"What!" exclaimed Prosper, "after the insulting language he used the
day of the robbery, did he dare to visit the house?"
"Yes, monsieur, he not only dared this, but he also stayed there until
midnight, to my great discomfort; for I got as wet as a rat, waiting
"How did he look when he came out?" asked M. Verduret.
"Well, he certainly looked less pleased then when he went in. After
putting away my carriage, and rubbing down my horses, I went to see if
he wanted anything; I found the door locked, and he swore at me like a
trooper, through the key-hole."
And, to assist the digestion of this insult, Master Joseph here gulped
down a glass of absinthe.
"Is that all?" questioned M. Verduret.
"All that occurred yesterday, patron; but this morning my master rose
late, still in a horrible bad humor. At noon Raoul arrived, also in a
rage. They at once began to dispute, and such a row! why, the most
abandoned housebreakers and pickpockets would have blushed to hear
such Billingsgate. At one time my master seized the other by the
throat and shook him like a reed. But Raoul was too quick for him; he
saved himself from strangulation by drawing out a sharp-pointed knife,
the sight of which made my master drop him in a hurry, I can tell
"But what did they say?"
"Ah, there is the rub, patron," said Joseph in a piteous tone; "the
scamps spoke English, so I could not understand them. But I am sure
they were disputing about money."
"How do you know that?"
"Because I learned at the Exposition that the word 'argent' means
money in every language in Europe; and this word they constantly used
in their conversation."
M. Verduret sat with knit brows, talking in an undertone to himself;
and Prosper, who was watching him, wondered if he was trying to
understand and construct the dispute by mere force of reflection.
"When they had done fighting," continued Joseph, "the rascals began to
talk in French again; but they only spoke of a fancy ball which is to
be given by some banker. When Raoul was leaving, my master said,
'Since this thing is inevitable, and it must take place to-day, you
had better remain at home, at Vesinet, this evening.' Raoul replied,
Night was approaching, and the smoking-room was gradually filling with
men who called for absinthe or bitters, and youths who perched
themselves up on high stools, and smoked their pipes.
"It is time to go," said M. Verduret; "your master will want you,
Joseph; besides, here is someone come for me. I will see you
The new-comer was no other than Cavaillon, more troubled and
frightened than ever. He looked uneasily around the room, as if he
expected the whole police force to appear, and carry him off to
He did not sit down at M. Verduret's table, but stealthily gave his
hand to Prosper, and, after assuring himself that no one was observing
them, handed M. Verduret a package, saying:
"She found this in a cupboard."
It was a handsomely bound prayer-book. M. Verduret rapidly turned over
the leaves, and soon found the pages from which the words pasted on
Prosper's letter had been cut.
"I had moral proofs," he said, handing the book to Prosper, "but here
is material proof sufficient in itself to save you."
When Prosper looked at the book he turned pale as a ghost. He
recognized this prayer-book instantly. He had given it to Madeleine in
exchange for the medal.
He opened it, and on the fly-leaf Madeleine had written, "Souvenir of
Notre Dame de Fourvieres, 17 January, 1866."
"This book belongs to Madeleine," he cried.
M. Verduret did not reply, but walked toward a young man dressed like
a brewer, who had just entered the room.
He glanced at the note which this person handed to him, and hastened
back to the table, and said, in an agitated tone:
"I think we have got them now!"
Throwing a five-franc piece on the table, and without saying a word to
Cavaillon, he seized Prosper's arm, and hurried from the room.
"What a fatality!" he said, as he hastened along the street: "we may
miss them. We shall certainly reach the St. Lazare station too late
for the St. Germain train."
"For Heaven's sake, where are you going?" asked Prosper.
"Never mind, we can talk after we start. Hurry!"
Reaching Palais Royal Place, M. Verduret stopped before one of the
hacks belonging to the railway station, and examined the horses at a
"How much for driving us to Vesinet?" he asked of the driver.
"I don't know the road very well that way."
The name of Vesinet was enough for Prosper.
"Well," said the driver, "at this time of night, in such dreadful
weather, it ought to be--twenty-five francs."
"And how much more for driving very rapidly?"
"Bless my soul! Why, monsieur, I leave that to your generosity; but if
you put it at thirty-five francs--"
"You shall have a hundred," interrupted M. Verduret, "if you overtake
a carriage which has half an hour's start of us."
"Tonnerre de Brest!" cried the delighted driver; "jump in quick: we
are losing time!"
And, whipping up his lean horses, he galloped them down the Rue de
Valois at lightning speed.
Leaving the little station of Vesinet, we come upon two roads. One, to
the left, macadamized and kept in perfect repair, leads to the
village, of which there are glimpses here and there through the trees.
The other, newly laid out, and just covered with gravel, leads through
Along the latter, which before the lapse of five years will be a busy
street, are built a few houses, hideous in design, and at some
distance apart; rural summer retreats of city merchants, but
unoccupied during the winter.
It was at the junction of these two roads that Prosper stopped the
The driver had gained his hundred francs. The horses were completely
worn out, but they had accomplished all that was expected of them; M.
Verduret could distinguish the lamps of a hack similar to the one he
occupied, about fifty yards ahead of him.
M. Verduret jumped out, and, handing the driver a bank-note, said:
"Here is what I promised you. Go to the first tavern you find on the
right-hand side of the road as you enter the village. If we do not
meet you there in an hour, you are at liberty to return to Paris."
The driver was overwhelming in his thanks; but neither Prosper nor his
friend heard them. They had already started up the new road.
The weather, which had been inclement when they set out, was now
fearful. The rain fell in torrents, and a furious wind howled dismally
through the dense woods.
The intense darkness was rendered more dreary by the occasional
glimmer of the lamps at the distant station, which seemed about to be
extinguished by every new gust of wind.
M. Verduret and Prosper had been running along the muddy road for
about five minutes, when suddenly the latter stopped and said:
"This is Raoul's house."
Before the gate of an isolated house stood the hack which M. Verduret
had followed. Reclining on his seat, wrapped in a thick cloak, was the
driver, who, in spite of the pouring rain, was already asleep,
evidently waiting for the person whom he had brought to this house a
few minutes ago.
M. Verduret pulled his cloak, and said, in a low voice:
"Wake up, my good man."
The driver started, and, mechanically gathering his reins, yawned out:
"I am ready: come on!"
But when, by the light of the carriage-lamps, he saw two men in this
lonely spot, he imagined that they wanted his purse, and perhaps his
"I am engaged!" he cried out, as he cracked his whip in the air; "I am
waiting here for someone."
"I know that, you fool," replied M. Verduret, "and only wish to ask
you a question, which you can gain five francs by answering. Did you
not bring a middle-aged lady here?"
This question, this promise of five francs, instead of reassuring the
coachman, increased his alarm.
"I have already told you I am waiting for someone," he said, "and, if
you don't go away and leave me alone, I will call for help."
M. Verduret drew back quickly.
"Come away," he whispered to Prosper, "the cur will do as he says;
and, alarm once given, farewell to our projects. We must find some
other entrance than by this gate."
They then went along the wall surrounding the garden, in search of a
place where it was possible to climb up.
This was difficult to discover, the wall being twelve feet high, and
the night very dark. Fortunately, M. Verduret was very agile; and,
having decided upon the spot to be scaled, he drew back a few feet,
and making a sudden spring, seized one of the projecting stones above
him, and, drawing himself up by aid of his hands and feet, soon found
himself on top of the wall.
It was now Prosper's turn to climb up; but, though much younger than
his companion, he had not his agility and strength, and would never
have succeeded if M. Verduret had not pulled him up, and then helped
him down on the other side.
Once in the garden, M. Verduret looked about him to study the
The house occupied by M. de Lagors was built in the middle of an
immense garden. It was narrow, two stories high, and with garrets.
Only one window, in the second story, was lighted.
"As you have often been here," said M. Verduret, "you must know all
about the arrangement of the house: what room is that where we see the
"That is Raoul's bed-chamber."
"Very good. What rooms are on the first floor?"
"The kitchen, pantry, billiard-room, and dining-room."
"And on the floor above?"
"Two drawing-rooms separated by folding doors, and a library."
"Where do the servants sleep?"
"Raoul has none at present. He is waited on by a man and his wife, who
live at Vesinet; they come in the morning, and leave after dinner."
M. Verduret rubbed his hands gleefully.
"That suits our plans exactly," he said; "there is nothing to prevent
our hearing what Raoul has to say to this person who has come from
Paris at ten o'clock at night, to see him. Let us go in."
Prosper seemed averse to this, and said:
"It is a serious thing for us to do, monsieur."
"Bless my soul! what else did we come here for? Did you think it was a
pleasure-trip, merely to enjoy this lovely weather?" he said in a
"But we might be discovered."
"Suppose we are? If the least noise betrays our presence, you have
only to advance boldly as a friend come to visit a friend, and,
finding the door open walked in."
But unfortunately the heavy oak door was locked. M. Verduret shook it
"How foolish!" he said with vexation, "I ought to have brought my
instruments with me. A common lock which could be opened with a nail,
and I have not even a piece of wire!"
Thinking it useless to attempt the door, he tried successively every
window on the ground-floor. Alas! each blind was securely fastened on
M. Verduret was provoked. He prowled around the house like a fox
around a hen-coop, seeking an entrance, but finding none. Despairingly
he came back to the spot in front of the house, whence he had the best
view of the lighted window.
"If I could only look in," he cried. "Just to think that in there,"
and he pointed to the window, "is the solution of the mystery; and we
are cut off from it by thirty or forty feet of cursed blank wall!"
Prosper was more surprised than ever at his companion's strange
behavior. He seemed perfectly at home in this garden; he ran about
without any precaution; so that one would have supposed him accustomed
to such expeditions, especially when he spoke of picking the lock of
an occupied house, as if he were talking of opening a snuff-box. He
was utterly indifferent to the rain and sleet driven in his face by
the gusts of wind as he splashed about in the mud trying to find some
way of entrance.
"I must get a peep into that window," he said, "and I will, cost what
Prosper seemed to suddenly remember something.
"There is a ladder here," he cried.
"Why did you not tell me that before? Where is it?"
"At the end of the garden, under the trees."
They ran to the spot, and in a few minutes had the ladder standing
against the wall.
But to their chagrin they found the ladder six feet too short. Six
long feet of wall between the top of the ladder and the lighted window
was a very discouraging sight to Prosper; he exclaimed:
"We cannot reach it."
"We /can/ reach it," cried M. Verduret triumphantly.
And he quickly placed himself a yard off from the house, and, seizing
the ladder, cautiously raised it and rested the bottom round on his
shoulders, at the same time holding the two uprights firmly and
steadily with his hands. The obstacle was overcome.
"Now mount," he said to his companion.
Prosper did not hesitate. The enthusiasm of difficulties so skilfully
conquered, and the hope of triumph, gave him a strength and agility
which he had never imagined he possessed. He made a sudden spring,
and, seizing the lower rounds, quickly climbed up the ladder, which
swayed and trembled beneath his weight.
But he had scarcely looked in the lighted window when he uttered a cry
which was drowned in the roaring tempest, and dropped like a log down
on the wet grass, exclaiming:
"The villain! the villain!"
With wonderful promptness and vigor M. Verduret laid the ladder on the
ground, and ran toward Prosper, fearing that he was dead or
"What did you see? Are you hurt?" he whispered.
But Prosper had already risen. Although he had had a violent fall, he
was unhurt; he was in a state when mind governs matter so absolutely
that the body is insensible to pain.
"I saw," he answered in a hoarse voice, "I saw Madeleine--do you
understand, Madeleine--in that room, alone with Raoul!"
M. Verduret was confounded. Was it possible that he, the infallible
expert, had been mistaken in his deductions?
He well knew that M. de Lagors's visitor was a woman; but his own
conjectures, and the note which Mme. Gypsy had sent to him at the
tavern, had fully assured him that this woman was Mme. Fauvel.
"You must be mistaken," he said to Prosper.
"No, monsieur, no. Never could I mistake another for Madeleine. Ah!
you who heard what she said to me yesterday, answer me: was I to
expect such infamous treason as this? You said to me then, 'She loves
you, she loves you!' Now do you think she loves me? speak!"
M. Verduret did not answer. He had first been stupefied by his
mistake, and was now racking his brain to discover the cause of it,
which was soon discerned by his penetrating mind.
"This is the secret discovered by Nina," continued Prosper.
"Madeleine, this pure and noble Madeleine, whom I believed to be as
immaculate as an angel, is in love with this thief, who has even
stolen the name he bears; and I, trusting fool that I was, made this
scoundrel my best friend. I confided to him all my hopes and fears;
and he was her lover! Of course they amused themselves by ridiculing
my silly devotion and blind confidence!"
He stopped, overcome by his violent emotions. Wounded vanity is the
worst of miseries. The certainty of having been so shamefully deceived
and betrayed made Prosper almost insane with rage.
"This is the last humiliation I shall submit to," he fiercely cried.
"It shall not be said that I was coward enough to stand by and let an
insult like this go unpunished."
He started toward the house; but M. Verduret seized his arm and said:
"What are you going to do?"
"Have my revenge! I will break down the door; what do I care for the
noise and scandal, now that I have nothing to lose? I shall not
attempt to creep into the house like a thief, but as a master, as one
who has a right to enter; as a man who, having received an insult
which can only be washed out with blood, comes to demand
"You will do nothing of the sort, Prosper."
"Who will prevent me?"
"You? do not hope that you will be able to deter me. I will appear
before them, put them to the blush, kill them both, then put an end to
my own wretched existence. That is what I intend to do, and nothing
shall stop me!"
If M. Verduret had not held Prosper with a vice-like grip, he would
have escaped, and carried out his threat.
"If you make any noise, Prosper, or raise an alarm, all your hopes are
"I have no hopes now."
"Raoul, put on his guard, will escape us, and you will remain
"What difference is it to me?"
"It makes a great difference to me. I have sworn to prove your
innocence. A man of your age can easily find a wife, but can never
restore lustre to a tarnished name. Let nothing interfere with the
establishing of your innocence."
Genuine passion is uninfluenced by surrounding circumstances. M.
Verduret and Prosper stood foot-deep in mud, wet to the skin, the rain
pouring down on their heads, and yet seemed in no hurry to end their
"I will be avenged," repeated Prosper with the persistency of a fixed
idea, "I will avenge myself."
"Well, avenge yourself like a man, and not like a child!" said M.
"Yes, I repeat it, like a child. What will you do after you get into
the house? Have you any arms? No. You rush upon Raoul, and a struggle
ensues; while you two are fighting, Madeleine jumps in her carriage,
and drives off. What then? Which is the stronger, you or Raoul?"
Overcome by the sense of his powerlessness, Prosper was silent.
"And arms would be of no use," continued M. Verduret: "it is fortunate
you have none with you, for it would be very foolish to shoot a man
whom you can send to the galleys."
"What must I do?"
"Wait. Vengeance is a delicious fruit, that must ripen in order that
we may fully enjoy it."
Prosper was unsettled in his resolution; M. Verduret seeing this
brought forth his last and strongest argument.
"How do we know," he said, "that Mlle. Madeleine is here on her own
account? Did we not come to the conclusion that she was sacrificing
herself for the benefit of someone else? That superior will which
compelled her to banish you may have constrained this step to-night."
That which coincides with our secret wishes is always eagerly
welcomed. This supposition, apparently improbable, struck Prosper as
"That might be the case," he murmured, "who knows?"
"I would soon know," said M. Verduret, "if I could see them together
in that room."
"Will you promise me, monsieur, to tell me the exact truth, all that
you see and hear, no matter how painful it may be for me?"
"I swear it, upon my word of honor."
Then, with a strength of which a few minutes before he would not have
believed himself possessed, Prosper raised the ladder, placed the last
round on his shoulders, and said to M. Verduret:
M. Verduret rapidly ascended the ladder without even shaking it, and
had his head on a level with the window.
Prosper had seen but too well. There was Madeleine at this hour of the
night, alone with Raoul de Lagors in his room!
M. Verduret observed that she still wore her shawl and bonnet.
She was standing in the middle of the room, talking with great
animation. Her look and gestures betrayed indignant scorn. There was
an expression of ill-disguised loathing upon her beautiful face.
Raoul was seated by the fire, stirring up the coals with a pair of
tongs. Every now and then, he would shrug his shoulders, like a man
resigned to everything he heard, and had no answer, except, "I cannot
help it. I can do nothing for you."
M. Verdure would willingly have given the diamond ring on his finger
to be able to hear what was said; but the roaring wind completely
drowned their voices.
"They are evidently quarrelling," he thought; "but it is not a lovers'
Madeleine continued talking; and it was by closely watching the face
of Lagors, clearly revealed by the lamp on the mantel, that M.
Verduret hoped to discover the meaning of the scene before him.
At one moment Lagors would start and tremble in spite of his apparent
indifference; the next, he would strike at the fire with the tongs, as
if giving vent to his rage at some reproach uttered by Madeleine.
Finally Madeleine changed her threats into entreaties, and, clasping
her hands, almost fell at his knees.
He turned away his head, and refused to answer save in monosyllables.
Several times she turned to leave the room, but each time returned, as
if asking a favor, and unable to make up her mind to leave the house
till she had obtained it.
At last she seemed to have uttered something decisive; for Raoul
quickly rose and opened a desk near the fireplace, from which he took
a bundle of papers, and handed them to her.
"Well," thought M. Verduret, "this looks bad. Can it be a compromising
correspondence which the fair one wants to secure?"
Madeleine took the papers, but was apparently still dissatisfied. She
again entreated him to give her something else. Raoul refused; and
then she threw the papers on the table.
The papers seemed to puzzle M. Verduret very much, as he gazed at them
through the window.
"I am not blind," he said, "and I certainly am not mistaken; those
papers, red, green, and yellow, are pawnbroker's tickets!"
Madeleine turned over the papers as if looking for some particular
ones. She selected three, which she put in her pocket, disdainfully
pushing the others aside.
She was evidently preparing to take her departure, for she said a few
words to Raoul, who took up the lamp as if to escort her downstairs.
There was nothing more for M. Verduret to see. He carefully descended
the ladder, muttering to himself. "Pawnbroker's tickets! What infamous
mystery lies at the bottom of all this?"
The first thing he did was to remove the ladder.
Raoul might take it into his head to look around the garden, when he
came to the door with Madeleine, and if he did so the ladder could
scarcely fail to attract his attention.
M. Verduret and Prosper hastily laid it on the ground, regardless of
the shrubs and vines they destroyed in doing so, and then concealed
themselves among the trees, whence they could watch at once the front
door and the outer gate.
Madeleine and Raoul appeared in the doorway. Raoul set the lamp on the
bottom step, and offered his hand to the girl; but she refused it with
haughty contempt, which somewhat soothed Prosper's lacerated heart.
This scornful behavior did not, however, seem to surprise or hurt
Raoul. He simply answered by an ironical gesture which implied, "As
He followed her to the gate, which he opened and closed after her;
then he hurried back to the house, while Madeleine's carriage drove
"Now, monsieur," said Prosper, "you must tell me what you saw. You
promised me the truth no matter how bitter it might be. Speak; I can
bear it, be it what it may!"
"You will only have joy to bear, my friend. Within a month you will
bitterly regret your suspicions of to-night. You will blush to think
that you ever imagined Mlle. Madeleine to be intimate with a man like
"But, monsieur, appearances----"
"It is precisely against appearances that we must be on our guard.
Always distrust them. A suspicion, false or just, is always based on
something. But we must not stay here forever; and, as Raoul has
fastened the gate, we shall have to climb back again."
"But there is the ladder."
"Let it stay where it is; as we cannot efface our footprints, he will
think thieves have been trying to get into the house."
They scaled the wall, and had not walked fifty steps when they heard
the noise of a gate being unlocked. The stood aside and waited; a man
soon passed on his way to the station.
"That is Raoul," said M. Verduret, "and Joseph will report to us that
he has gone to tell Clameran what has just taken place. If they are
only kind enough to speak French!"
He walked along quietly for some time, trying to connect the broken
chain of his deductions.
"How in the deuce," he abruptly asked, "did this Lagors, who is
devoted to gay society, come to choose a lonely country house to live
"I suppose it was because M. Fauvel's villa is only fifteen minutes'
ride from here, on the Seine."
"That accounts for his staying here in the summer; but in winter?"
"Oh, in winter he has a room at the Hotel du Louvre, and all the year
round keeps an apartment in Paris."
This did not enlighten M. Verduret much; he hurried his pace.
"I hope our driver has not gone. We cannot take the train which is
about to start, because Raoul would see us at the station."
Although it was more than an hour since M. Verduret and Prosper left
the hack at the branch road, they found it waiting for them in front
of the tavern.
The driver could not resist the desire to change his five-franc piece;
he had ordered dinner, and, finding his wine very good, was calling
for more, when he looked up and saw his employers.
"Well, you are in a strange state!" he exclaimed.
Prosper replied that they had gone to see a friend, and, losing their
way, had fallen into a pit; as if there were pits in Vesinet forest.
"Ah, that is the way you got covered with mud, is it?" exclaimed the
driver, who, though apparently contented with this explanation,
strongly suspected that his two customers had been engaged in some
This opinion seemed to be entertained by everyone present, for they
looked at Prosper's muddy clothes and then at each other in a knowing
But M. Verduret stopped all comment by saying:
"All right, monsieur: get in while I settle my bill; I will be there
in a minute."
The drive back was silent and seemed interminably long. Prosper at
first tried to draw his strange companion into conversation, but, as
he received nothing but monosyllables in reply, held his peace for the
rest of the journey. He was again beginning to feel irritated at the
absolute empire exercised over him by this man.
Physical discomfort was added to his other troubles. He was stiff and
numb; every bone in him ached with the cold.
Although mental endurance may be unlimited, bodily strength must in
the end give way. A violent effort is always followed by reaction.
Lying back in a corner of the carriage, with his feet upon the front
seat, M. Verduret seemed to be enjoying a nap; yet he was never more
He was in a perplexed state of mind. This expedition, which, he had
been confident, would resolve all his doubts, had only added mystery
to mystery. His chain of evidence, which he thought so strongly
linked, was completely broken.
For him the facts remained the same, but circumstances had changed. He
could not imagine what common motive, what moral or material
complicity, what influences, could have existed to make the four
actors in his drama, Mme. Fauvel, Madeleine, Raoul, and Clameran, seem
to have the same object in view.
He was seeking in his fertile mind, that encyclopaedia of craft and
subtlety, for some combination which would throw light on the problem
The midnight bells were ringing when they reached the Archangel, and
for the first time M. Verduret remembered that he had not dined.
Fortunately Mme. Alexandre was still up, and in the twinkling of an
eye had improvised a tempting supper. It was more than attention, more
than respect, that she showed her guest. Prosper observed that she
gazed admiringly at M. Verduret all the while he was eating his
"You will not see me to-morrow," said M. Verduret to Prosper, when he
had risen to leave the room; "but I will be here about this time
to-morrow night. Perhaps I shall discover what I am seeking at MM.
Prosper was dumb with astonishment. What! would M. Verduret think of
appearing at a ball given by the wealthiest and most fashionable
bankers in Paris? This accounted for his sending to the costumer.
"Then you are invited to this ball?"
The expressive eyes of M. Verduret danced with amusement.
"Not yet," he said, "but I shall be."
Oh, the inconsistency of the human mind! Prosper was tormented by the
most serious preoccupations. He looked sadly around his chamber, and,
as he thought of M. Verduret's projected pleasure at the ball,
"Ah, how fortunate he is! To-morrow he will have the privilege of
The Rue St. Lazare was adorned by the palatial residences of the
Jandidier brothers, two celebrated financiers, who, if deprived of the
prestige of immense wealth, would still be looked up to as remarkable
men. Why cannot the same be said of all men?
These two mansions, which were thought marvels at the time they were
built, were entirely distinct from each other, but so planned that
they could be turned into one immense house when so desired.
When MM. Jandidier gave parties, they always had the movable
partitions taken away, and thus obtained the most superb salon in
Princely magnificence, lavish hospitality, and an elegant, graceful
manner of receiving their guests, made these entertainments eagerly
sought after by the fashionable circles of the capital.
On Saturday, the Rue St. Lazare was blocked up by a file of carriages,
whose fair occupants were impatiently awaiting their turn to drive up
to the door, through which they could catch the tantalizing strains of
It was a fancy ball; and nearly all of the costumes were superb,
though some were more original than elegant.
Among the latter was a clown. Everything was in perfect keeping: the
insolent eye, coarse lips, high cheek-bones, and a beard so red that
it seemed to emit flames in the reflection of the dazzling lights.
He wore top-boots, a dilapidated hat on the back of his head, and a
shirt-ruffle trimmed with torn lace.
He carried in his left hand a canvas banner, upon which were painted
six or eight pictures, coarsely designed like those found in strolling
fairs. In his right he waved a little switch, with which he would
every now and then strike his banner, like a quack retailing his
Quite a crowd surrounded this clown, hoping to hear some witty
speeches and puns; but he kept near the door, and remained silent.
About half-past ten he quitted his post.
M. and Mme. Fauvel, followed by their niece Madeleine, had just
A compact group immediately formed near the door.
During the last ten days, the affair of the Rue de Provence had been
the universal topic of conversation; and friends and enemies were
alike glad to seize this opportunity of approaching the banker, some
to tender their sympathy, and others to offer equivocal condolence,
which of all things is the most exasperating and insulting.
Belonging to the battalion of grave, elderly men, M. Fauvel had not
assumed a fancy costume, but merely threw over his shoulders a short
On his arm leaned Mme. Fauvel, /nee/ Valentine de la Verberie, bowing
and gracefully greeting her numerous friends.
She had once been remarkably beautiful; and to-night the effect of the
soft wax-lights, and her very becoming dress, half restored her
youthful freshness and comeliness. No one would have supposed her to
be forty-eight years old.
She wore a dress of the later years of Louis the Fourteenth's reign,
magnificent and severe, of embroidered satin and black velvet, without
the adornment of a single jewel.
She looked so graceful and elegant in this court dress and powdered
hair, that some ill-natured gossips said it was a pity to see a real
La Verberie, so well fitted to adorn a queen's drawing-room, as all
her ancestors had done before her, thrown away upon a man whom she had
only married for his money.
But Madeleine was the object of universal admiration, so dazzlingly
beautiful and queenlike did she appear in her costume of maid of
honor, which seemed to have been especially invented to set forth her
Her loveliness expanded in the perfumed atmosphere and soft light of
the ball-room. Never had her hair looked so black, her complexion so
exquisite, or her large eyes so brilliant.
Having greeted the hosts, Madeleine took her aunt's arm, while M.
Fauvel wandered through the rooms in search of the card-table, the
usual refuge of bored men, when they are enticed to the ball-room by
The ball was now at its height.
Two orchestras, led by Strauss and one of his lieutenants, filled the
two mansions with intoxicating music. The motley crowd whirled in the
waltz until they presented a curious confusion of velvets, satins,
laces, and diamonds. Almost every head and bosom sparkled with jewels;
the palest cheeks were rosy; heavy eyes now shone like stars; and the
glistening shoulders of fair women were like drifted snow in an April
Forgotten by the crowd, the clown had taken refuge in the embrasure of
a window, and seemed to be meditating upon the gay scene before him;
at the same time, he kept his eye upon a couple not far off.
It was Madeleine, dancing with a splendidly dressed doge. The doge was
the Marquis de Clameran.
He appeared to be radiant, rejuvenated, and well satisfied with the
impression he was making upon his partner; at the end of a quadrille
he leaned over her, and whispered compliments with the most unbounded
admiration; and she seemed to listen, if not with pleasure, at least
without repugnance. She now and then smiled, and coquettishly shrugged
"Evidently," muttered the clown, "this noble scoundrel is paying court
to the banker's niece; so I was right yesterday. But how can Mlle.
Madeleine resign herself to so graciously receive his insipid
flattery? Fortunately, Prosper is not here now."
He was interrupted by an elderly man wrapped in a Venetian mantle, who
said to him:
"You remember, M. Verduret,"--this name was uttered half seriously,
half banteringly--"what you promised me?"
The clown bowed with great respect, but not the slightest shade of
"I remember," he replied.
"But do not be imprudent, I beg you."
"M. the Count need not be uneasy; he has my promise."
"Very good. I know the value of it."
The count walked off; but during this short colloquy the quadrille had
ended, and M. de Clameran and Madeleine were lost to sight.
"I shall find them near Mme. Fauvel," said the clown.
And he at once started in search of the banker's wife.
Incommoded by the stifling heat of the room, Mme. Fauvel had sought a
little fresh air in the grand picture-gallery, which, thanks to the
talisman called gold, was now transformed into a fairy-like garden,
filled with orange-trees, japonicas, laurel, and many rare exotics.
The clown saw her seated near a grove, not far from the door of the
card-room. Upon her right was Madeleine, and near her stood Raoul de
Lagors, dressed in a costume of Henri III.
"I must confess," muttered the clown from his post of observation,
"that the young scamp is a very handsome man."
Madeleine appeared very sad. She had plucked a japonica from a tree
near by, and was mechanically pulling it to pieces as she sat with her
Raoul and Mme. Fauvel were engaged in earnest conversation. Their
faces were composed, but the gestures of one and the trembling of the
other betrayed a serious discussion.
In the card-room sat the doge, M. de Clameran, so placed as to have
full view of Mme. Fauvel and Madeleine, although himself concealed by
an angle of the room.
"It is the continuation of yesterday's scene," thought the clown. "If
I could only get behind the oleander-tree, I might hear what they are
He pushed his way through the crowd, and, just as he had reached the
desired spot, Madeleine arose, and, taking the arm of a bejewelled
Persian, walked away.
At the same moment Raoul went into the card-room, and whispered a few
words to De Clameran.
"There they go," muttered the clown. "The two scoundrels certainly
hold these poor women in their power; and they are determined to make
them suffer before releasing them. What can be the secret of their
His attention was attracted by a commotion in the picture-gallery; it
was caused by the announcement of a wonderful minuet to be danced in
the ball-room; the arrival of the Countess de Commarin as Aurora; and
the presence of the Princess Korasoff, with her superb emeralds, which
were reported to be the finest in the world.
In an instant the gallery became almost deserted. Only a few forlorn-
looking people remained; mostly sulky husbands, and some melancholy
youths looking awkward and unhappy in their gay fancy dresses.
The clown thought it a favorable opportunity for carrying out his
He abruptly left his corner, flourishing his switch, and beating his
banner, and, crossing the gallery, seated himself in a chair between
Mme. Fauvel and the door. As soon as the people had collected in a
circle around him, he commenced to cough in an affected manner, like a
stump orator about to make a speech.
Then he struck a comical attitude, standing up with his body twisted
sideways, and his hat on one ear, and with great buffoonery and
volubility made the following remarks:
"Ladies and gentlemen, this very morning I obtained a license from the
authorities of this town. And what for? Why gentlemen, for the purpose
of exhibiting to you a spectacle which has already won the admiration
of the four quarters of the globe, and several universities besides.
Inside of this booth, ladies, is about to commence the representation
of a most remarkable drama, acted for the first time at Pekin, and
translated into several languages by our most celebrated authors.
Gentlemen, you can take your seats; the lamps are lighted, and the
actors are changing their dress."
Here he stopped speaking, and imitated to perfection the feats which
mountebanks play upon horns and kettle-drums.
"Now, ladies and gentlemen," he resumed, "you wish to know what I am
doing outside, if the piece is to be performed under the tent. The
fact is, gentlemen, that I wish to give you a foretaste of the
agitations, sensations, emotions, palpitations, and other
entertainments which you may enjoy by paying the small sum of ten
sous. You see this superb picture? It represents eight of the most
thrilling scenes in the drama. Ah, I see you begin to shudder already;
and yet this is nothing compared to the play itself. This splendid
picture gives you no more idea of the acting than a drop of water
gives an idea of the sea, or a spark of fire of the sun. My picture,
gentlemen, is merely to give you a foretaste of what is in the tent;
as the steam oozing from a restaurant gives you a taste, or rather a
smell, of what is within."
"Do you know this clown?" asked an enormous Turk of a melancholy
"No, but he can imitate a trumpet splendidly."
"Oh, very well indeed! But what is he driving at?"
The clown was endeavoring to attract the attention of Mme. Fauvel,
who, since Raoul and Madeleine had left her, sat by herself in a
He succeeded in his object.
The showman's shrill voice brought the banker's wife back to a sense
of reality; she started, and looked quickly about her, as if suddenly
awakened from a troubled dream.
"Now, ladies, we are in China. The first picture on my canvas, here,
in the left corner"--here he touched the top daub--"represents the
celebrated Mandarin Li-Fo, in the bosom of his family. This pretty
woman leaning over him is his wife; and these children playing on the
carpet are the bonds of love between this happy pair. Do you not
inhale the odor of sanctity and happiness emanating from this speaking
"Mme. Li-Fo is the most virtuous of women, adoring her husband and
idolizing her children. Being virtuous she is happy; for the wise
Confucius says, 'The ways of virtue are more pleasant than the ways of
Mme. Fauvel had left her seat, and approached nearer to the clown.
"Do you see anything on the banner like what he is describing?" asked
the melancholy Punch of his neighbor.
"No, not a thing. Do you?"
The fact is, that the daubs of paint on the canvas represented one
thing as well as another, and the clown could call them whatever he
"Picture No. 2!" he cried, after a flourish of music. "This old lady,
seated before a mirror tearing out her hair--especially the gray ones
--you have seen before; do you recognize her? No, you do not. She is
the fair mandarine of the first picture. I see the tears in your eyes,
ladies and gentlemen. Ah! you have cause to weep; for she is no longer
virtuous, and her happiness has departed with her virtue. Alas, it is
a sad tale! One fatal day she met, on the streets of Pekin, a young
ruffian, fiendish, but beautiful as an angel, and she loved him--the
unfortunate woman loved him!"
The last words were uttered in the most tragic tone as he raised his
clasped hands to heaven.
During this tirade he had whirled around, so that he found himself
facing the banker's wife, whose countenance he closely watched while
he was speaking.
"You are surprised, gentlemen," he continued; "I am not. The great
Bilboquet has proved to us that the heart never grows old, and that
the most vigorous wall-flowers flourish on old ruins. This unhappy
woman is nearly fifty years old--fifty years old, and in love with a
youth! Hence this heart-rending scene which should serve as a warning
to us all."
"Really!" grumbled a cook dressed in white satin, who had passed the
evening in carrying around bills of fare, which no one read, "I
thought he was going to amuse us."
"But," continued the clown, "you must go inside of the booth to
witness the effects of the mandarine's folly. At times a ray of reason
penetrates her diseased brain, and then the sight of her anguish would
soften a heart of stone. Enter, and for the small sum of ten sous you
shall hear sobs such as the Odeon never echoed in its halcyon days.
The unhappy woman has waked up to the absurdity and inanity of her
blind passion; she confesses to herself that she is madly pursuing a
phantom. She knows but too well that he, in the vigor and beauty of
youth, cannot love a faded old woman like herself, who vainly makes
pitiable efforts to retain the last remains of her once entrancing
beauty. She feels that the sweet words he once whispered in her
charmed ear were deceitful falsehoods. She knows that the day is near
when she will be left alone, with nothing save his mantle in her
As the clown addressed this voluble description to the crowd before
him, he narrowly watched the countenance of the banker's wife.
But nothing he had said seemed to affect her. She leaned back in her
arm-chair perfectly calm, and occasionally smiled at the tragic manner
of the showman.
"Good heavens!" muttered the clown uneasily, "can I be on the wrong
He saw that his circle of listeners was increased by the presence of
the doge, M. de Clameran.
"The third picture," he said, after a roll of drums, "depicts the old
mandarine after she has dismissed that most annoying of guests--
remorse--from her bosom. She promises herself that interest shall
supply the place of love in chaining the too seductive youth to her
side. It is with this object that she invests him with false honors
and dignity, and introduces him to the chief mandarins of the capital
of the Celestial Empire; then, since so handsome a youth must cut a
fine figure in society, and as a fine figure cannot be cut without
money, the lady must needs to sacrifice all of her possessions for his
sake. Necklaces, rings, bracelets, diamonds, and pearls, all are
surrendered. The monster carries all these jewels to the pawnbrokers
on Tien-Tsi Street, and then has the cruelty to refuse her the
tickets, so that she may have a chance of redeeming her treasures."
The clown thought that at last he had hit the mark. Mme. Fauvel began
to betray signs of agitation.
Once she made an attempt to rise from her chair; but it seemed as if
her strength failed her, and she sank back, forced to listen to the
"Finally, ladies and gentlemen," continued the clown, "the richly
stored jewel-cases became empty. The day came when the mandarine had
nothing more to give. It was then that the young scoundrel conceived
the project of carrying off the jasper button belonging to the
Mandarin Li-Fo--a splendid jewel of incalculable value, which, being
the badge of his dignity, was kept in a granite chest, and guarded by
three soldiers night and day. Ah! the mandarine resisted a long time!
She knew the innocent soldiers would be accused and crucified, as is
the custom in Pekin; and this thought restrained her. But her lover
besought her so tenderly, that she finally yielded to his entreaties;
and--the jasper button was stolen. The fourth picture represents the
guilty couple stealthily creeping down the private stairway: see their
He abruptly stopped. Three or four of his auditors rushed to the
assistance of Mme. Fauvel, who seemed about to faint; and at the same
time he felt his arm roughly seized by someone behind him.
He turned around and faced De Clameran and Lagors, both of whom were
pale with anger.
"What do you want, gentlemen?" he inquired politely.
"To speak to you," they both answered.
"I am at your service."
And he followed them to the end of the picture-gallery, near a window
opening on a balcony.
Here they were unobserved except by the man in the Venetian cloak,
whom the clown had so respectfully addressed as "M. the Count."
The minuet having ended, the orchestras were resting, and the crowd
began to rapidly fill the gallery.
The sudden faintness of Mme. Fauvel had passed off unnoticed save by a
few, who attributed it to the heat of the room. M. Fauvel had been
sent for; but when he came hurrying in, and found his wife composedly
talking to Madeleine, his alarm was dissipated, and he returned to the
Not having as much control over his temper as Raoul, M. de Clameran
"In the first place, monsieur, I would like to know who you are."
The clown determined to answer as if he thought the question were a
jest, replied in the bantering tone of a buffoon:
"You want my passport, do you, my lord doge? I left it in the hands of
the city authorities; it contains my name, age, profession, domicile,
and every detail--"
With an angry gesture, M. de Clameran interrupted him.
"You have just committed a gross insult!"
"I, my lord doge?"
"Yes, you! What do you mean by telling this abominable story in this
"Abominable! You may call it abominable; but I, who composed it, have
a different opinion of it."
"Enough, monsieur; you will at least have the courage to acknowledge
that your performance was a vile insinuation against Mme. Fauvel?"
The clown stood with his head thrown back, and mouth wide open, as if
astounded at what he heard.
But anyone who knew him would have seen his bright black eyes
sparkling with malicious satisfaction.
"Bless my heart!" he cried, as if speaking to himself. "This is the
strangest thing I ever heard of! How can my drama of the Mandarine Li-
Fo have any reference to Mme. Fauvel, whom I don't know from Adam or
Eve? I can't think how the resemblance----unless----but no, that is
"Do you pretend," said M. de Clameran, "to be ignorant of M. Fauvel's
The clown looked very innocent, and asked:
"The robbery of which M. Fauvel was the victim. It has been in
everyone's mouth, and you must have heard of it."
"Ah, yes, yes; I remember. His cashier ran off with three hundred and
fifty thousand francs. Pardieu! It is a thing that almost daily
happens. But, as to discovering any connection between this robbery
and my play, that is another matter."
M. de Clameran made no reply. A nudge from Lagors had calmed him as if
He looked quietly at the clown, and seemed to regret having uttered
the significant words forced from him by angry excitement.
"Very well," he finally said in his usual haughty tone; "I must have
been mistaken. I accept your explanation."
But the clown, hitherto so humble and silly-looking, seemed to take
offence at the word, and, assuming a defiant attitude, said:
"I have not made, nor do I intend making, any explanation."
"Monsieur," began De Clameran.
"Allow me to finish, if you please. If, unintentionally, I have
offended the wife of a man whom I highly esteem, it is his business to
seek redress, and not yours. Perhaps you will tell me he is too old to
demand satisfaction: if so, let him send one of his sons. I saw one of
them in the ball-room to-night; let him come. You asked me who I am;
in return I ask you who are you--you who undertake to act as Mme.
Fauvel's champion? Are you her relative, friend, or ally? What right
have you to insult her by pretending to discover an allusion to her in
a play invented for amusement?"
There was nothing to be said in reply to this. M. de Clameran sought a
means of escape.
"I am a friend of M. Fauvel," he said, "and this title gives me the
right to be as jealous of his reputation as if it were my own. If this
is not a sufficient reason for my interference, I must inform you that
his family will shortly be mine: I regard myself as his nephew."
"Next week, monsieur, my marriage with Madeleine will be publicly
This news was so unexpected, so startling that for a moment the clown
was dumb; and now his surprise was genuine.
But he soon recovered himself, and, bowing with deference, said, with
"Permit me to offer my congratulations, monsieur. Besides being the
belle to-night, Mlle. Madeleine is worth, I hear, half a million."
Raoul de Lagors had anxiously been watching the people near them, to
see if they overheard this conversation.
"We have had enough of this gossip," he said, in a disdainful tone; "I
will only say one thing more, master clown, and that is, that your
tongue is too long."
"Perhaps it is, my pretty youth, perhaps it is; but my arm is still
De Clameran here interrupted them by saying:
"It is impossible for one to seek an explanation from a man who
conceals his identity under the guise of a fool."
"You are at liberty, my lord doge, to ask the master of the house who
I am--if you dare."
"You are," cried Clameran, "you are--"
A warning look from Raoul checked the forge-master from using an
epithet which would have led to an affray, or at least a scandalous
The clown stood by with a sardonic smile, and, after a moment's
silence, stared M. de Clameran steadily in the face, and in measured
"I was the best friend, monsieur, that your brother Gaston ever had. I
was his adviser, and the confidant of his last wishes."
These few words fell like a clap of thunder upon De Clameran.
He turned deadly pale, and stared back with his hands stretched out
before him, as if shrinking from a phantom.
He tried to answer, to protest against this assertion, but the words
froze on his lips. His fright was pitiable.
"Come, let us go," said Lagors, who was perfectly cool.
And he dragged Clameran away, half supporting him, for he staggered
like a drunken man, and clung to every object he passed, to prevent
"Oh," exclaimed the clown, in three different tones, "oh, oh!"
He himself was almost as much astonished as the forge-master, and
remained rooted to the spot, watching the latter as he slowly left the
It was with no decided object in view that he had ventured to use the
last mysteriously threatening words, but he had been inspired to do so
by his wonderful instinct, which with him was like the scent of a
"What can this mean?" he murmured. "Why was he so frightened? What
terrible memory have I awakened in his base soul? I need not boast of
my penetration, or the subtlety of my plans. There is a great master,
who, without any effort, in an instant destroys all my chimeras; he is
His mind had wandered far from the present scene, when he was brought
back to his situation by someone touching him on the shoulder. It was
the man in the Venetian cloak.
"Are you very satisfied, M. Verduret?" he inquired.
"Yes, and no, M. the Count. No, because I have not completely achieved
the object I had in view when I asked you for an invitation here
to-night; yes, because these two rascals behaved in a manner which
dispels all doubt."
"And yet you complain--"
"I do not complain, M. the Count: on the contrary, I bless chance, or
rather Providence, which has just revealed to me the existence of a
secret that I did not before even suspect."
Five or six people approached the count, and he went off with them
after giving the clown a friendly nod.
The latter instantly threw aside his banner, and started in pursuit of
Mme. Fauvel. He found her sitting on a sofa in the large salon,
engaged in an animated conversation with Madeleine.
"Of course they are talking over the scene; but what has become of
Lagors and De Clameran?"
He soon saw them wandering among the groups scattered about the room,
and eagerly asking questions.
"I will bet my head these honorable gentlemen are trying to find out
who I am. Keep it up, my friends, ask everybody in the room; I wish
They soon gave it up, but were so preoccupied, and anxious to be alone
in order to reflect and deliberate, that, without waiting for supper,
they took leave of Mme. Fauvel and her niece, saying they were going
The clown saw them go up to the dressing-room for their cloaks, and in
a few minutes leave the house.
"I have nothing more to do here," he murmured; "I might as well go
He completely covered his dress with a domino, and started for home,
thinking the cold frosty air would cool his confused brain.
He lit a cigar, and, walking up the Rue St. Lazare, crossed the Rue
Notre Dame de Lorette, and struck into the Faubourg Montmartre.
A man suddenly started out from some place of concealment, and rushed
upon him with a dagger.
Fortunately the clown had a cat-like instinct, which enabled him to
protect himself against immediate danger, and detect any which
He saw, or rather divined, the man crouching in the dark shadow of a
house, and had the presence of mind to strike an attitude which
enabled him to ward off the assassin by spreading out his arms before
This movement certainly saved his life; for he received in his arm a
furious stab, which would have instantly killed him had it penetrated
Anger, more than pain, made him cry out:
"Ah, you villain!"
And recoiling a few feet, he put himself on the defensive.
But the precaution was useless.
Seeing his blow miss, the assassin did not return to the attack, but
made rapidly off.
"That was certainly Lagors," said the clown, "and Clameran must be
somewhere near. While I walked around one side of the church, they
must have gone the other and lain in wait for me."
His wound began to pain him; he stood under a gas-lamp to examine it.
It did not appear to be dangerous, but the arm was cut through to the
He tore his handkerchief into four bands, and tied his arm up with the
dexterity of a surgeon.
"I must be on the track of some great crime, since these fellows are
resolved upon murder. When such cunning rogues are only in danger of
the police court, they do not gratuitously risk the chance of being
tried for murder."
He thought by enduring a great deal of pain he might still use his
arm; so he started in pursuit of his enemy, taking care to keep in the
middle of the road, and avoid all dark corners.
Although he saw no one, he was convinced that he was being pursued.
He was not mistaken. When he reached the Boulevard Montmartre, he
crossed the street, and, as he did so, distinguished two shadows which
he recognized. They crossed the same street a little higher up.
"I have to deal with desperate men," he muttered. "They do not even
take pains to conceal their pursuit of me. They seem to be accustomed
to this kind of adventure, and the carriage trick which fooled
Fanferlot would never succeed with them. Besides, my light hat is a
perfect beacon to lead them on in the night." He continued his way up
the boulevard, and, without turning his head, was sure that his
enemies were thirty feet behind him.
"I must get rid of them somehow," he said to himself. "I can neither
return home nor to the Archangel with these devils at my heels. They
are following me to find out where I live, and who I am. If they
discover that the clown is M. Verduret, and that M. Verduret is M.
Lecoq, my plans will be ruined. They will escape abroad with the
money, and I shall be left to console myself with a wounded arm. A
pleasant ending to all my exertions!"
The idea of Raoul and Clameran escaping him so exasperated him that
for an instant he thought of having them arrested at once.
This was easy; for he had only to rush upon them, scream for help, and
they would all three be arrested, carried to the watch-house, and
consigned to the commissary of police.
The police often resort to this ingenious and simple means of
arresting a malefactor for whom they are on the lookout, and whom they
cannot seize without a warrant.
The next day there is a general explanation, and the parties, if
innocent, are dismissed.
The clown had sufficient proof to sustain him in the arrest of Lagors.
He could show the letter and the mutilated prayer-book, he could
reveal the existence of the pawnbroker's tickets in the house at
Vesinet, he could display his wounded arm. He could force Raoul to
confess how and why he had assumed the name of Lagors, and what his
motive was in passing himself off for a relative of M. Fauvel.
On the other hand, in acting thus hastily, he was insuring the safety
of the principal plotter, De Clameran. What proofs had he against him?
Not one. He had strong suspicions, but no well-grounded charge to
produce against him.
On reflection the clown decided that he would act alone, as he had
thus far done, and that alone and unaided he would discover the truth
of all his suspicions.
Having reached this decision, the first step to be taken was to put
his followers on the wrong scent.
He walked rapidly up the Rue Sebastopol, and, reaching the square of
the Arts et Metiers, he abruptly stopped, and asked some insignificant
questions of two constables who were standing talking together.
The manoeuvre had the result he expected; Raoul and Clameran stood
perfectly still about twenty steps off, not daring to advance.
Twenty steps! That was as much start as the clown wanted. While
talking with the constables, he had pulled the bell of the door before
which they were standing, and its hollow sound apprised him that the
door was open. He bowed, and entered the house.
A minute later the constables had passed on, and Lagors and Clameran
in their turn rang the bell. When the concierge appeared, they asked
who it was that had just gone in disguised as a clown.
They were told that no such person had entered, and that none of the
lodgers had gone out disguised that night. "However," added the
concierge, "I am not very sure, for this house has a back door which
opens on the Rue St. Denis."
"We are tricked," interrupted Lagors, "and will never know who the
"Unless we learn it too soon for our own good," said Clameran
While Lagors and Clameran were anxiously trying to devise some means
of discovering the clown's identity, Verduret hurried up the back
street, and reached the Archangel as the clock struck three.
Prosper, who was watching from his window, saw him in the distance,
and ran down to open the door for him.
"What have you learned?" he said; "what did you find out? Did you see
Madeleine? Were Raoul and Clameran at the ball?"
But M. Verduret was not in the habit of discussing private affairs
where he might be overheard.
"First of all, let us go into your room, and get some water to wash
this cut, which burns like fire."
"Heavens! Are you wounded?"
"Yes, it is a little souvenir of your friend Raoul. Ah, I will soon
teach him the danger of chopping up a man's arm!"
Prosper was surprised at the look of merciless rage on his friend's
face, as he calmly washed and dressed his arm.
"Now, Prosper, we will talk as much as you please. Our enemies are on
the alert, and we must crush them instantly, or not at all. I have
made a mistake. I have been on the wrong track; it is an accident
liable to happen to any man, no matter how intelligent he may be. I
took the effect for the cause. The day I was convinced that culpable
relations existed between Raoul and Mme. Fauvel, I thought I held the
end of the thread that must lead us to the truth. I should have been
more mistrustful; this solution was too simple, too natural."
"Do you suppose Mme. Fauvel to be innocent?"
"Certainly not. But her guilt is not such as I first supposed. I
imagined that, infatuated with a seductive young adventurer, Mme.
Fauvel had first bestowed upon him the name of one of her relatives,
and then introduced him as her nephew. This was an adroit stratagem to
gain him admission to her husband's house.
"She began by giving him all the money she could could dispose of;
later she let him take her jewels to the pawnbrokers; when she had
nothing more to give, she allowed him to steal the money from her
husband's safe. That is what I first thought."
"And in this way everything was explained?"
"No, this did not explain everything, as I well knew at the time, and
should, consequently, have studied my characters more thoroughly. How
is Clameran's position to be accounted for, if my first idea was the
"Clameran is Lagors's accomplice of course."
"Ah, there is the mistake! I for a long time believed Lagors to be the
principal person, when, in fact, he is not. Yesterday, in a dispute
between them, the forge-master said to his dear friend, 'And, above
all things, my friend, I would advise you not to resist me, for if you
do I will crush you to atoms.' That explains all. The elegant Lagors
is not the lover of Mme. Fauvel, but the tool of Clameran. Besides,
did our first suppositions account for the resigned obedience of
Madeleine? It is Clameran, and not Lagors, whom Madeleine obeys."
Prosper began to remonstrate.
M. Verduret shrugged his shoulders. To convince Prosper he had only to
utter one word: to tell him that three hours ago Clameran had
announced his intended marriage with Madeleine; but he did not.
"Clameran," he continued, "Clameran alone has Mme. Fauvel in his
power. Now, the question is, what is the secret of this terrible
influence he has gained over her? I have positive proof that they have
not met since their early youth until fifteen months ago; and, as Mme.
Fauvel's reputation has always been above the reach of slander, we
must seek in the past for the cause of her resigned obedience to his
"We can never discover it," said Prosper mournfully.
"We can discover it as soon as we know Clameran's past life. Ah,
to-night he turned as white as a sheet when I mentioned his brother
Gaston's name. And then I remembered that Gaston died suddenly, while
his brother Louis was making a visit."
"Do you think he was murdered?"
"I think the men who tried to assassinate me would do anything. The
robbery, my friend, has now become a secondary detail. It is quite
easily explained, and, if that were all to be accounted for, I would
say to you, My task is done, let us go ask the judge of instruction
for a warrant of arrest."
Prosper started up with sparkling eyes.
"Ah, you know--is it possible?"
"Yes, I know who gave the key, and I know who told the secret word."
"The key might have been M. Fauvel's. But the word----"
"The word you were foolish enough to give. You have forgotten, I
suppose. But fortunately Gypsy remembered. You know that, two days
before the robbery, you took Lagors and two other friends to sup with
Mme. Gypsy? Nina was sad, and reproached you for not being more
devoted to her."
"Yes, I remember that."
"But do you remember what you replied to her?"
"No, I do not," said Prosper after thinking a moment.
"Well, I will tell you: 'Nina, you are unjust in reproaching me with
not thinking constantly of you; for at this very moment your dear name
guards M. Fauvel's safe.'"
The truth suddenly burst upon Prosper like a thunderclap. He wrung his
hands despairingly, and cried:
"Yes, oh, yes! I remember now."
"Then you can easily understand the rest. One of the scoundrels went
to Mme. Fauvel, and compelled her to give up her husband's key; then,
at a venture, placed the movable buttons on the name of Gypsy, opened
the safe, and took the three hundred and fifty thousand francs. And
Mme. Fauvel must have been terribly frightened before she yielded. The
day after the robbery the poor woman was near dying; and it was she
who at the greatest risk sent you the ten thousand francs."
"But which was the thief, Raoul or Clameran? What enables them to thus
tyrannize over Mme. Fauvel? And how does Madeleine come to be mixed up
in the affair?"
"These questions, my dear Prosper, I cannot yet answer; therefore I
postpone seeing the judge. I only ask you to wait ten days; and, if I
cannot in that time discover the solution of this mystery, I will
return and go with you to report to M. Patrigent all that we know."
"Are you going to leave the city?"
"In an hour I shall be on the road to Beaucaire. It was from that
neighborhood that Clameran came, as well as Mme. Fauvel, who was a
Mlle. de la Verberie before marriage."
"Yes, I knew both families."
"I must go there to study them. Neither Raoul nor Clameran can escape
during my absence. The police are watching them. But you, Prosper,
must be prudent. Promise me to remain a prisoner here during my trip."
All that M. Verduret asked, Prosper willingly promised. But he did not
wish to be left in complete ignorance of his projects for the future,
or of his motives in the past.
"Will you not tell me, monsieur, who you are, and what reasons you had
for coming to my rescue?"
The extraordinary man smiled sadly, and said:
"I tell, in the presence of Nina, on the day before your marriage with
Once left to his own reflections, Prosper began to appreciate the
powerful assistance rendered by his friend.
Recalling the field of investigation gone over by his mysterious
protector, he was amazed at its extent.
How many facts had been discovered in a week, and with what precision,
although he had pretended to be on the wrong track! Verduret had
grouped his evidence, and reached a result which Prosper felt he never
could have hoped to attain by his own exertions.
He was conscious that he possessed neither Verduret's penetration nor
his subtlety. He did not possess this art of compelling obedience, of
creating friends at every step, and the science of making men and
circumstances unite in the attainment of a common result.
He began to regret the absence of his friend, who had risen up in the
hour of adversity. He missed the sometimes rough but always kindly
voice, which had encouraged and consoled him.
He felt wofully lost and helpless, not daring to act or think for
himself, more timid than a child when deserted by his nurse.
He had the good sense to follow the recommendations of his mentor. He
remained shut up in the Archangel, not even appearing at the windows.
Twice he had news of M. Verduret. The first time he received a letter
in which this friend said he had seen his father, and had had a long
talk with him. Afterward, Dubois, M. de Clameran's valet, came to tell
him that his "patron" reported everything as progressing finely.
On the ninth day of his voluntary seclusion, Prosper began to feel
restless, and at ten o'clock at night set forth to take a walk,
thinking the fresh air would relieve the headache which had kept him
awake the previous night.
Mme. Alexandre, who seemed to have some knowledge of M. Verduret's
affairs, begged Prosper to remain at home.
"What can I risk by taking a walk at this time, in a quiet part of the
city?" he asked. "I can certainly stroll as far as the Jardin des
Plantes without meeting anyone."
Unfortunately he did not strictly follow this programme; for, having
reached the Orleans railway station, he went into a cafe near by, and
called for a glass of ale.
As he sat sipping his glass, he picked up a daily paper, /The Sun/,
and under the head of "Fashionable Gossip," signed Jacques Durand,
read the following:
"We understand that the niece of one of our most prominent bankers,
M. Andre Fauvel, will shortly be married to M. le Marquis Louis de
Clameran. The engagement has been announced."
This news, coming upon him so unexpectedly, proved to Prosper the
justness of M. Verduret's calculations.
Alas! why did not this certainty inspire him with absolute faith? why
did it not give him courage to wait, the strength of mind to refrain
from acting on his own responsibility?
Frenzied by distress of mind, he already saw Madeleine indissolubly
united to this villain, and, thinking that M. Verduret would perhaps
arrive too late to be of use, determined at all risks to throw an
obstacle in the way of the marriage.
He called for pen and paper, and forgetting that no situation can
excuse the mean cowardice of an anonymous letter, wrote in a disguised
hand the following lines to M. Fauvel:
"DEAR SIR--You consigned your cashier to prison; you acted
prudently, since you were convinced of his dishonesty and
"But, even if he stole three hundred and fifty thousand francs from
your safe, does it follow that he also stole Mme. Fauvel's
diamonds, and pawned them at the Mont-de-Piete, where they now
"Warned as you are, if I were you, I would not be the subject of
public scandal. I would watch my wife, and would be distrustful of
"Moreover, I would, before signing the marriage contract of Mlle.
Madeleine, inquire at the Prefecture of Police, and obtain some
information concerning the noble Marquis de Clameran.
Prosper hastened off to post his letter. Fearing that it would not
reach M. Fauvel in time, he walked up to the Rue Cardinal Lemoine, and
put it in the main letter-box, so as to be certain of its speedy
Until now he had not doubted the propriety of his action.
But now when too late, when he heard the sound of his letter falling
into the box, a thousand scruples filled his mind. Was it not wrong to
act thus hurriedly? Would not this letter interfere with M. Verduret's
plans? Upon reaching the hotel, his doubts were changed into bitter
Joseph Dubois was waiting for him; he had received a despatch from his