Part 6 out of 11
succeeded in embarking? How would she find out? The doctor had allowed
her to get up; but she was not well enough to go out, and she did not
know when she should be able to walk as far as Pere Menoul's cabin.
Happily the devoted old boatman was intelligent enough to anticipate
Hearing that the young lady at the chateau was very ill, he set about
devising some means of informing her of her friend's safety. He went
to La Verberie several times on pretended errands, and finally
succeeded in seeing Valentine. One of the servants was present, so he
could not speak to her; but he made her understand by a significant
look that Gaston was out of danger.
This knowledge contributed more toward Valentine's recovery than all
the medicines administered by the doctor, who, after visiting her
daily for six weeks, now pronounced his patient sufficiently strong to
bear the fatigues of a journey.
The countess had waited with the greatest impatience for this
decision. In order to prevent any delay, she had already sold at a
discount half of her incoming rents, supposing that the sum thus
raised, twenty-five thousand francs, would suffice for all contingent
For a fortnight she had been calling on all of her neighbors to bid
them farewell, saying that her daughter had entirely recovered her
health, and that she was going to take her to England to visit a rich
old uncle, who had repeatedly written for her.
Valentine looked forward to this journey with terror, and shuddered
when, on the evening that the doctor gave her permission to set out,
her mother came to her room, and said:
"We will start the day after to-morrow."
Only one day left! And Valentine had been unable to let Louis de
Clameran know that his brother was still living.
In this extremity she was obliged to confide in Mihonne, and sent her
with a letter to Louis.
But the faithful servant had a useless walk.
The chateau of Clameran was deserted; all the servants had been
dismissed, and M. Louis, whom they now called the marquis, had gone
At last they started. Mme. de la Verberie, feeling that she could
trust Mihonne, decided to take her along; but first made her sacredly
promise eternal secrecy.
It was in a little village near London that the countess, under the
assumed name of Mrs. Wilson, took up her abode with her daughter and
She selected England, because she had lived there a long time, and was
well acquainted with the manners and habits of the people, and spoke
their language as well as she did her own.
She had also kept up her acquaintanceship with some of the English
nobility, and often dined and went to the theatre with her friends in
London. On these occasions she always took the humiliating precaution
of locking up Valentine until she should return.
It was in this sad, solitary house, in the month of May, that the son
of Valentine de la Verberie was born. He was taken to the parish
priest, and christened Valentin-Raoul Wilson. The countess had
prepared everything, and engaged an honest farmer's wife to adopt the
child, bring him up as her own, and, when old enough, have him taught
a trade. For doing this the countess paid her five hundred pounds.
Little Raoul was given over to his adopted parent a few hours after
The good woman thought him the child of an English lady, and there
seemed no probability that he would ever discover the secret of his
Restored to consciousness, Valentine asked for her child. She yearned
to clasp it to her bosom; she implored to be allowed to hold her babe
in her arms for only one minute.
But the cruel countess was pitiless.
"Your child!" she cried, "you must be dreaming; you have no child. You
have had brain fever, but no child."
And as Valentine persisted in saying that she knew the child was
alive, and that she must see it, the countess was forced to change her
"Your child is alive, and shall want for nothing," she said sharply;
"let that suffice; and be thankful that I have so well concealed your
disgrace. You must forget what has happened, as you would forget a
painful dream. The past must be ignored--wiped out forever. You know
me well enough to understand that I will be obeyed."
The moment had come when Valentine should have asserted her maternal
rights, and resisted the countess's tyranny.
She had the idea, but not the courage to do so.
If, on one side, she saw the dangers of an almost culpable
resignation--for she, too, was a mother!--on the other she felt
crushed by the consciousness of her guilt.
She sadly yielded; surrendered herself into the hands of a mother
whose conduct she refrained from questioning, to escape the painful
necessity of condemning it.
But she secretly pined, and inwardly rebelled against her sad
disappointment; and thus her recovery was delayed for several months.
Toward the end of July, the countess took her back to La Verberie.
This time the mischief-makers and gossips were skilfully deceived. The
countess went everywhere, and instituted secret inquiries, but heard
no suspicions of the object of her long trip to England. Everyone
believed in the visit to the rich uncle.
Only one man, Dr. Raget, knew the truth; and, although Mme. de la
Verberie hated him from the bottom of her heart, she did him the
justice to feel sure that she had nothing to fear from his
Her first visit was paid to him.
When she entered the room, she abruptly threw on the table the
official papers which she had procured especially for him.
"These will prove to you, monsieur, that the child is living, and well
cared for at a cost that I can ill afford."
"These are perfectly right, madame," he replied, after an attentive
examination of the papers, "and, if your conscience does not reproach
you, of course I have nothing to say."
"My conscience reproaches me with nothing, monsieur."
The old doctor shook his head, and gazing searchingly into her eyes,
"Can you say that you have not been harsh, even to cruelty?"
She turned away her head, and, assuming her grand air, answered:
"I have acted as a woman of my rank should act; and I am surprised to
find in you an advocate and abettor of misconduct."
"Ah, madame," said the doctor, "it is your place to show kindness to
the poor girl; and if you feel none yourself, you have no right to
complain of it in others. What indulgence do you expect from strangers
toward your unhappy daughter, when you, her mother, are so pitiless?"
This plain-spoken truth offended the countess, and she rose to leave.
"Have you finished what you have to say, Dr. Raget?" she asked,
"Yes, madame; I have done. My only object was to spare you eternal
The good doctor was mistaken in his idea of Mme. de la Verberie's
character. She was utterly incapable of feeling remorse; but she
suffered cruelly when her selfish vanity was wounded, or her comfort
She resumed her luxurious mode of living, but, having disposed of a
part of her income, found it difficult to make both ends meet.
This furnished her with an inexhaustible text for complaint; and at
every meal she reproached Valentine so unmercifully, that the poor
girl shrank from coming to the table.
She seemed to forget her own command, that the past should be buried
in oblivion, and constantly recurred to it for food for her anger; a
day seldom passed, that she did not say to Valentine:
"Your conduct has ruined me."
One day her daughter could not refrain from replying:
"I suppose you would have pardoned the fault, had it enriched us."
But these revolts of Valentine were rare, although her life was a
series of tortures inflicted with inquisitorial cruelty.
Even the memory of Gaston had become a suffering.
Perhaps, discovering the uselessness of her sacrifice, of her courage,
and her devotion to what she had considered her duty, she regretted
not having followed him. What had become of him? Might he not have
contrived to send her a letter, a word to let her know that he was
still alive? Perhaps he was not dead. Perhaps he had forgotten her. He
had sworn to return a rich man before the lapse of three years. Would
he ever return?
There was a risk in his returning under any circumstances. His
disappearance had not ended the terrible affair of Tarascon. He was
supposed to be dead; but as there was no positive proof of his death,
and his body could not be found, the law was compelled to yield to the
clamor of public opinion.
The case was brought before the assize court; and, in default of
appearance, Gaston de Clameran was sentenced to several years of close
As to Louis de Clameran, no one knew positively what had become of
him. Some people said he was leading a life of reckless extravagance
Informed of these facts by her faithful Mihonne, Valentine became more
gloomy and hopeless than ever. Vainly did she question the dreary
future; no ray appeared upon the dark horizon of her life.
Her elasticity was gone; and she had finally reached that state of
passive resignation peculiar to people who are oppressed and cowed at
In this miserable way, passed four years since the fatal evening when
Gaston left her.
Mme. de la Verberie had spent these years in constant discomfort.
Seeing that she could not live upon her income, and having too much
pride to sell her land, which was so badly managed that it only
brought her in two per cent, she mortgaged her estate in order to
raise money only to be spent as soon as borrowed.
In such matters, it is the first step that costs; and, after having
once commenced to live upon her capital, the countess made rapid
strides in extravagance, saying to herself, "After me, the deluge!"
Very much as her neighbor, the late Marquis of Clameran, had managed
his affairs, she was now conducting hers, having but one object in
view--her own comfort and pleasure.
She made frequent visits to the neighboring towns of Nimes and
Avignon; she sent to Paris for the most elegant toilets, and
entertained a great deal of company. All the luxury that she had hoped
to obtain by the acquisition of a rich son-in-law, she determined to
give herself, utterly regardless of the fact that she was reducing her
child to beggary. Great sorrows require consolation!
The summer that she returned from London, she did not hesitate to
indulge her fancy for a horse; it was rather old, to be sure, but,
when harnessed to a second-hand carriage bought on credit at
Beaucaire, made quite a good appearance.
She would quiet her conscience, which occasionally reproached her for
this constant extravagance, by saying, "I am so unhappy!"
The unhappiness was that this luxury cost her dear, very dear.
After having sold the rest of her rents, the countess first mortgaged
the estate of La Verberie, and then the chateau itself.
In less than four years she owed more than forty thousand francs, and
was unable to pay the interest of her debt.
She was racking her mind to discover some means of escape from her
difficulties, when chance came to her rescue.
For some time a young engineer, employed in surveys along the Rhone,
had made the village of Beaucaire the centre of his operations.
Being handsome, agreeable, and of polished manners, he had been warmly
welcomed by the neighboring society, and the countess frequently met
him at the houses of her friends where she went to play cards in the
This young engineer was named Andre Fauvel.
The first time he met Valentine he was struck by her beauty, and after
once looking into her large, melancholy eyes, his admiration deepened
into love; a love so earnest and passionate, that he felt that he
could never be happy without her.
Before being introduced to her, his heart had surrendered itself to
He was wealthy; a splendid career was open to him, he was free; and he
swore that Valentine should be his.
He confided all his matrimonial plans to an old friend of Mme. de la
Verberie, who was as noble as a Montmorency, and as poor as Job.
With the precision of a graduate of the polytechnic school, he had
enumerated all his qualifications for being a model son-in-law.
For a long time the old lady listened to him without interruption;
but, when he had finished, she did not hesitate to tell him that his
pretensions were presumptuous.
What! he, a man of no pedigree, a Fauvel, a common surveyor, to aspire
to the hand of a La Verberie!
After having enumerated all the superior advantages of that superior
order of beings, the nobility, she condescended to take a common-sense
view of the case, and said:
"However, you may succeed. The poor countess owes money in every
direction; not a day passes without the bailiffs calling upon her; so
that, you understand, if a rich suitor appeared, and agreed to her
terms for settlements--well, well, there is no knowing what might
Andre Fauvel was young and sentimental: the insinuations of the old
lady seemed to him preposterous.
On reflection, however, when he had studied the character of the
nobility in the neighborhood, who were rich in nothing but prejudices,
he clearly saw that pecuniary considerations alone would be strong
enough to decide the proud Countess de la Verberie to grant him her
This certainly ended his hesitations, and he turned his whole
attention to devising a plan for presenting his claim.
He did not find this an easy thing to accomplish. To go in quest of a
wife with her purchase-money in his hand was repugnant to his
feelings, and contrary to his ideas of delicacy. But he had no one to
urge his suit for him on his own merits; so he was compelled to shut
his eyes to the distasteful features of his task, and treat his
passion as a matter of business.
The occasion so anxiously awaited, to explain his intentions, soon
One day he entered a hotel at Beaucaire, and, as he sat down to
dinner, he saw that Mme. de la Verberie was at the adjoining table. He
blushed deeply, and asked permission to sit at her table, which was
granted with a most encouraging smile.
Did the countess suspect the love of the young engineer? Had she been
warned by her friend?
At any rate, without giving Andre time to gradually approach the
subject weighing on his mind, she began to complain of the hard times,
the scarcity of money, and the grasping meanness of the trades-people.
She had come to Beaucaire, indeed, to borrow money, and found every
bank and cash-box closed against her; and her lawyer had advised her
to sell her land for what it would bring. This made her very angry.
Temper, joined to that secret instinct of the situation of affairs
which is the sixth sense of a woman, loosened her tongue, and made her
more communicative to this comparative stranger than she had ever been
to her bosom friends. She explained to him the horror of her
situation, her present needs, her anxiety for the future, and, above
all, her great distress at not being able to marry off her beloved
daughter. If she only had a dowry for her child!
Andre listened to these complaints with becoming commiseration, but in
reality he was delighted.
Without giving her time to finish her tale, he began to state what he
called his view of the matter.
He said that, although he sympathized deeply with the countess, he
could not account for her uneasiness about her daughter.
What? Could she be disturbed at having no dowry for her? Why, the rank
and beauty of Mlle. Valentine were a fortune in themselves, of which
any man might be proud.
He knew more than one man who would esteem himself only too happy if
Mlle. Valentine would accept his name, and confer upon him the sweet
duty of relieving her mother from all anxiety and care. Finally, he
did not think the situation of the countess's affairs nearly so
desperate as she imagined. How much money would be necessary to pay
off the mortgages upon La Verberie? About forty thousand francs,
perhaps? Indeed! That was but a mere trifle.
Besides, this sum need not be a gift from the son-in-law; if she
chose, it might be a loan, because the estate would be his in the end,
and in time the land would be double its present value; it would be a
pity to sell now. A man, too, worthy of Valentine's love could never
let his wife's mother want for the comforts and luxuries due to a lady
of her age, rank, and misfortunes. He would be only too glad to offer
her a sufficient income, not only to provide comfort, but even luxury.
As Andre spoke, in a tone too earnest to be assumed, it seemed to the
countess that a celestial dew was dropping upon her pecuniary wounds.
Her countenance was radiant with joy, her fierce little eyes beamed
with the most encouraging tenderness, her thin lips were wreathed in
the most friendly smiles.
One thought disturbed the young engineer.
"Does she understand me seriously?" he thought.
She certainly did, as her subsequent remarks proved. He saw that the
would-be sentimental old lady had an eye to business.
"Alas!" she sighed, "La Verberie cannot be saved by forty thousand
francs; the principal and interest of the debt amount to sixty
"Oh, either forty or sixty thousand is nothing worth speaking of."
"Four thousand francs is not enough to support a lady respectably,"
she said after a pause. "Everything is so dear in this section of the
country! But with six thousand francs--yes, six thousand francs would
make me happy!"
The young man thought that her demands were becoming excessive, but
with the generosity of an ardent lover he said:
"The son-in-law of whom we are speaking cannot be very devoted to
Mlle. Valentine, if the paltry sum of two thousand francs were
objected to for an instant."
"You promise too much!" muttered the countess.
"The imaginary son-in-law," she finally added, "must be an honorable
man who will fulfil his promises. I have my daughter's happiness too
much at heart to give her to a man who did not produce--what do you
call them?--securities, guarantees."
"Decidedly," thought Fauvel with mortification, "we are making a
bargain and sale."
Then he said aloud:
"Of course, your son-in-law would bind himself in the marriage
"Never! monsieur, never! Put such an agreement in the marriage
contract! Think of the impropriety of the thing! What would the world
"Permit me, madame, to suggest that your pension should be mentioned
as the interest of a sum acknowledged to have been received from you."
"Well, that might do very well; that is very proper."
The countess insisted upon taking Andre home in her carriage. During
the drive, no definite plan was agreed upon between them; but they
understood each other so well, that, when the countess set the young
engineer down at his own door, she invited him to dinner the next day,
and held out her skinny hand which Andre kissed with devotion, as he
thought of the rosy fingers of Valentine.
When Mme. de la Verberie returned home, the servants were dumb with
astonishment at her good-humor: they had not seen her in this happy
frame of mind for years.
And her day's work was of a nature to elevate her spirits: she had
been unexpectedly raised from poverty to affluence. She, who boasted
of such proud sentiments, never stopped to think of the infamy of the
transaction in which she had been engaged: it seemed quite right in
her selfish eyes.
"A pension of six thousand francs!" she thought, "and a thousand
crowns from the estate, that makes nine thousand francs a year! My
daughter will live in Paris after she is married, and I can spend the
winters with my dear children without expense."
At this price, she would have sold, not only one, but three daughters,
if she had possessed them.
But suddenly her blood ran cold at a sudden thought, which crossed her
"Would Valentine consent?"
Her anxiety to set her mind at rest sent her straightway to her
daughter's room. She found Valentine reading by the light of a
"My daughter," she said abruptly, "an estimable young man has demanded
your hand in marriage, and I have promised it to him."
On this startling announcement, Valentine started up and clasped her
"Impossible!" she murmured, "impossible!"
"Will you be good enough to explain why it is impossible?"
"Did you tell him, mother, who I am, what I am? Did you confess----"
"Your past fully? No, thank God, I am not fool enough for that, and I
hope you will have the sense to imitate my example, and keep silent on
Although Valentine's spirit was completely crushed by her mother's
tyranny, her sense of honor made her revolt against this demand.
"You certainly would not wish me to marry an honest man, mother,
without confessing to him everything connected with the past? I could
never practise a deception so base."
The countess felt very much like flying into a passion; but she knew
that threats would be of no avail in this instance, where resistance
would be a duty of conscience with her daughter. Instead of
commanding, she entreated.
"Poor child," she said, "my poor, dear Valentine. If you only knew the
dreadful state of our affairs, you would not talk in this heartless
way. Your folly commenced our ruin; now it is at its last stage. Do
you know that our creditors threaten to drive us away from La
Verberie? Then what will become of us, my poor child? Must I in my old
age go begging from door to door? We are on the verge of ruin, and
this marriage is our only hope of salvation."
These tearful entreaties were followed by plausible arguments.
The fair-spoken countess made use of strange and subtle theories. What
she formerly regarded as a monstrous crime, she now spoke of as a
She could understand, she said, her daughter's scruples if there were
any danger of the past being brought to light; but she had taken such
precautions that there was no fear of that.
Would it make her love her husband any the less? No. Would he be made
any happier for hearing that she had loved before? No. Then why say
anything about the past?
Shocked, bewildered, Valentine asked herself if this was really her
mother? The haughty woman, who had always been such a worshipper of
honor and duty, to contradict every word she had uttered during her
life! Valentine could not understand the sudden change.
But she would have understood it, had she known to what base deeds a
mind blunted by selfishness and vanity can lend itself.
The countess's subtle arguments and shameful sophistry neither moved
nor convinced her; but she had not the courage to resist the tearful
entreaties of her mother, who ended by falling on her knees, and with
clasped hands imploring her child to save her from worse than death.
Violently agitated, distracted by a thousand conflicting emotions,
daring neither to refuse nor to promise, fearing the consequences of a
decision thus forced from her, the unhappy girl begged her mother for
a few hours to reflect.
Mme. de la Verberie dared not refuse this request, and acquiesced.
"I will leave you, my daughter," she said, "and I trust your own heart
will tell you how to decide between a useless confession and your
With these words she left the room indignant but hopeful.
And she had grounds for hope. Placed between two obligations equally
sacred, equally binding, but diametrically opposite, Valentine's
troubled mind could no longer clearly discern the path of duty. Could
she reduce her mother to want and misery? Could she basely deceive the
confidence and love of an honorable man? However she decided, her
future life would be one of suffering and remorse.
Alas! why had she not a wise and kind adviser to point out the right
course to pursue, and assist her in struggling against evil
influences? Why had she not that gentle, discreet friend who had
inspired her with hope and courage in her first dark sorrow--Dr.
Formerly the memory of Gaston had been her guiding star: now this far-
off memory was nothing but a faint mist--a sort of vanishing dream.
In romance we meet with heroines of lifelong constancy: real life
produces no such miracles.
For a long time Valentine's mind had been filled with the image of
Gaston. As the hero of her dreams she dwelt fondly on his memory; but
the shadows of time had gradually dimmed the brilliancy of her idol,
and now only preserved a cold relic, over which she sometimes wept.
When she arose the next morning, pale and weak from a sleepless,
tearful night, she had almost resolved to confess everything to her
But when evening came, and she went down to see Andre Fauvel, the
presence of her mother's threatening, supplicating eye destroyed her
She said to herself, "I will tell him to-morrow." Then she said, "I
will wait another day; one more day can make no difference."
The countess saw all these struggles, but was not made uneasy by them.
She knew by experience that, when a painful duty is put off, it is
There was some excuse for Valentine in the horror of her situation.
Perhaps, unknown to herself, she felt a faint hope arise within her.
Any marriage, even an unhappy one, offered the prospect of a change,
of a new life, a relief from the insupportable suffering she was now
Sometimes, in her ignorance of human life, she imagined that time and
close intimacy would take it easier for her to confess her terrible
fault; that it would be the most natural thing in the world for Andre
to pardon her, and insist upon marrying her, since he loved her so
That he sincerely loved her, she knew full well. It was not the
impetuous passion of Gaston, with its excitements and terrors, but a
calm, steady affection, more lasting than the intoxicating love of
Gaston was ever likely to be. She felt a sort of blissful rest in its
legitimacy and constancy.
Thus Valentine gradually became accustomed to Andre's soothing
presence, and was surprised into feeling very happy at the constant
delicate attentions and looks of affection that he lavished upon her.
She did not feel any love for him yet; but a separation would have
distressed her deeply.
During the courtship the countess's conduct was a masterpiece.
She suddenly ceased to importune her daughter, and with tearful
resignation said she would not attempt to influence her decision, that
her happy settlement in life was the only anxiety that weighed upon
But she went about the house sighing and groaning as if she were upon
the eve of starving to death. She also made arrangements to be
tormented by the bailiffs. Attachments and notices to quit poured in
at La Verberie, which she would show to Valentine and, with tears in
her eyes, say:
"God grant we may not be driven from the home of our ancestors before
your marriage, my darling!"
Knowing that her presence was sufficient to freeze any confession on
her daughter's lips, she never left her alone with Andre.
"Once married," she thought, "they can settle the matter to suit
themselves. I shall not then be disturbed by it."
She was as impatient as Andre, and hastened the preparations for the
wedding. She gave Valentine no opportunity for reflection. She kept
her constantly busy, either in driving to town to purchase some
article of dress, or in paying visits.
At last the eve of the wedding-day found her anxious and oppressed
with fear lest something should prevent the consummation of her hopes
and labors. She was like a gambler who had ventured his last stake.
On this night, for the first time, Valentine found herself alone with
the man who was to become her husband.
She was sitting at twilight, in the parlor, miserable and trembling,
anxious to unburden her mind, and yet frightened at the very thought
of doing so, when Andre entered. Seeing that she was agitated, he
pressed her hand, and gently begged her to tell him the cause of her
"Am I not your best friend," he said, "and ought I not to be the
confidant of your troubles, if you have any? Why these tears, my
Now was the time for her to confess, and throw herself upon his
generosity. But her trembling lips refused to open when she thought of
his pain and anguish, and the anger of her mother, which would be
caused by the few words she would utter. She felt that it was too
late; and, bursting into tears, she cried out, "I am afraid-- What
shall I do?"
Imagining that she was merely disturbed by the vague fears experienced
by most young girls when about to marry, he tried, with tender, loving
words, to console and reassure her, promising to shield her from every
care and sorrow, if she would only trust to his devoted love. But what
was his surprise to find that his affectionate words only increased
her distress; she buried her face in her hands, and wept as if her
heart would break.
While she was thus summoning her courage, and he was entreating her
confidence, Mme. de la Verberie came hurrying into the room for them
to sign the contract.
The opportunity was lost; Andre Fauvel was left in ignorance.
The next day, a lovely spring morning, Andre Fauvel and Valentine de
la Verberie were married at the village church.
Early in the morning, the chateau was filled with the bride's friends,
who came, according to custom, to assist at her wedding toilet.
Valentine forced herself to appear calm, even smiling; but her face
was whiter than her veil; her heart was torn by remorse. She felt as
though the sad truth were written upon her brow; and this pure white
dress was a bitter irony, a galling humiliation.
She shuddered when her most intimate school-mate placed the wreath of
orange-blossoms upon her head. These emblems of purity seemed to burn
her like a band of red-hot iron. One of the wire stems of the flowers
scratched her forehead, and a drop of blood fell upon her snowy robe.
What an evil omen! Valentine was near fainting when she thought of the
past and the future connected by this bloody sign of woe.
But presages are deceitful, as it proved with Valentine; for she
became a happy woman and a loving wife.
Yes, at the end of her first year of married life, she confessed to
herself that her happiness would be complete if she could only forget
the terrible past.
Andre adored her. He had been wonderfully successful in his business
affairs; he wished to be immensely rich, not for himself, but for the
sake of his beloved wife, whom he would surround with every luxury. He
thought her the most beautiful woman in Paris, and determined that she
should be the most superbly dressed.
Eighteen months after her marriage, Madame Fauvel presented her
husband with a son. But neither this child, nor a second son born a
year later, could make her forget the first one of all, the poor,
forsaken babe who had been thrown upon strangers, mercenaries, who
valued the money, but not the child for whom it was paid.
She would look at her two sons, surrounded by every luxury which money
could give, and murmur to herself:
"Who knows if the abandoned one has bread to eat?"
If she only knew where he was: if she only dared inquire! But she was
Sometimes she would be uneasy about Gaston's jewels, constantly
fearing that their hiding-place would be discovered. Then she would
think, "I may as well be tranquil; misfortune has forgotten me."
Poor, deluded woman! Misfortune is a visitor who sometimes delays his
visits, but always comes in the end.
Louis de Clameran, the second son of the marquis, was one of those
self-controlled men who, beneath a cool, careless manner, conceal a
fiery temperament, and ungovernable passions.
All sorts of extravagant ideas had begun to ferment in his disordered
brain, long before the occurrence which decided the destiny of the
Apparently occupied in the pursuit of pleasure, this precocious
hypocrite longed for a larger field in which to indulge his evil
inclinations, secretly cursing the stern necessity which chained him
down to this dreary country life, and the old chateau, which to him
was more gloomy than a prison, and as lifeless as the grave.
This existence, dragged out in the country and the small neighboring
towns, was too monotonous for his restless nature. The paternal
authority, though so gently expressed, exasperated his rebellious
temper. He thirsted for independence, riches, excitement, and all the
unknown pleasures that pall upon the senses simultaneously with their
Louis did not love his father, and he hated his brother Gaston.
The old marquis, in his culpable thoughtlessness, had kindled this
burning envy in the heart of his second son.
A strict observer of traditional rights, he had always declared that
the eldest son of a noble house should inherit all the family
possessions, and that he intended to leave Gaston his entire fortune.
This flagrant injustice and favoritism inspired Louis with envious
hatred for his brother.
Gaston always said that he would never consent to profit by this
paternal partiality, but would share equally with his brother. Judging
others by himself, Louis placed no faith in this assertion, which he
called an ostentatious affectation of generosity.
Although this hatred was unsuspected by the marquis and Gaston, it was
betrayed by acts significant enough to attract the attention of the
servants, who often commented upon it.
They were so fully aware of Louis's sentiments toward his brother
that, when he was prevented from escaping because of the stumbling
horse, they refused to believe it an accident; and, whenever Louis
came near would mutter, "Fratricide!"
A deplorable scene took place between Louis and St. Jean, who was
allowed, on account of his fifty years' faithful service, to take
liberties which he sometimes abused by making rough speeches to his
"It is a great pity," said the old servant, "that a skilful rider like
yourself should have fallen at the very moment when your brother's
life depended upon your horsemanship."
At this broad insinuation, Louis turned pale, and threateningly cried
"You insolent dog, what do you mean?"
"You know well enough what I mean, monsieur," the old man said,
"I do not know! Explain your impertinence: speak, I tell you!"
The man only answered by a meaning look, which so incensed Louis that
he rushed toward him with upraised whip, and would have beaten him
unmercifully, had not the other servants interfered, and dragged St.
Jean from the spot.
This altercation occurred while Gaston was in the madder-field trying
to escape his pursuers.
After a while the gendarmes and hussars returned, with slow tread and
sad faces, to say that Gaston de Clameran had plunged into the Rhone,
and was instantly drowned.
This melancholy news was received with groans and tears by everyone
save Louis, who remained calm and unmoved: not a single muscle of his
But his eyes sparkled with triumph. A secret voice cried within him,
"Now you are assured of the family fortune, and a marquis's coronet."
He was no longer the poverty-stricken younger son, but the sole heir
of the Clamerans.
The corporal of the gendarmes had said:
"I would not be the one to tell the poor old man that his son is
Louis felt none of the tender-hearted scruples of the brave old
soldier. He instantly went to his father's sick-room, and said, in a
"My brother had to choose between disgrace and death; he is dead."
Like a sturdy oak stricken by lightning, the marquis tottered and fell
when these fatal words sounded in his ears. The doctor soon arrived,
but alas! only to say that science was of no avail.
Toward daybreak, Louis, without a tear, received his father's last
Louis was now the master.
All the unjust precautions taken by the marquis to elude the law, and
insure beyond dispute the possession of his entire fortune to his
eldest son, turned against him.
By means of a fraudulent deed of trust drawn by his dishonest lawyer,
M. de Clameran had disposed everything so that, on the day of his
death, every farthing he owned would be Gaston's.
Louis alone was benefited by this precaution. He came into possession
without even being called upon for the certificate of his brother's
He was now Marquis of Clameran; he was free, he was comparatively
rich. He who had never had twenty-five crowns in his pocket at once,
now found himself the possessor of two hundred thousand francs.
This sudden, unexpected fortune so completely turned his head that he
forgot his skilful dissimulation. His demeanor at the funeral of the
marquis was much censured. He followed the coffin, with his head bowed
and his face buried in a handkerchief; but this did not conceal the
buoyancy of his spirit, and the joy which sparkled in his eyes.
The day after the funeral, Louis sold everything that he could dispose
of, horses, carriages, and family plate.
The next day he discharged all the old servants, who had hoped to end
their days beneath the hospitable roof of Clameran. Several, with
tears in their eyes, took him aside, and entreated him to let them
stay without wages. He roughly ordered them to be gone, and never
appear before his eyes again.
He sent for his father's lawyer, and gave him a power of attorney to
sell the estate, and received in return the sum of twenty thousand
francs as the first payment in advance.
At the close of the week, he locked up the chateau, with a vow never
to cross its sill again, and left the keys in the keeping of St. Jean,
who owned a little house near Clameran, and would continue to live in
Poor St. Jean! little did he think that, in preventing Valentine from
seeing Louis, he had ruined the prospects of his beloved Gaston.
On receiving the keys he asked one question:
"Shall we not search for your brother's body, M. the marquis?" he
inquired in broken-hearted tones. "And, if it is found, what must be
done with it?"
"I shall leave instructions with my notary," replied Louis. And he
hurried away from Clameran as if the ground burnt his feet. He went to
Tarascon, where he had already forwarded his baggage, and took the
stage-coach which travelled between Marseilles and Paris, the railroad
not yet being finished.
At last he was off. The lumbering old stage rattled along, drawn by
six horses; and the deep gullies made by the wheels seemed so many
abysses between the past and the future.
Lying back in a corner of the stage, Louis de Clameran enjoyed in
anticipation the fields of pleasure spread before his dazzled eyes. At
the end of the journey, Paris rose up before him, radiant, brilliantly
dazzling as the sun.
Yes, he was going to Paris, the promised land, the city of wonders,
where every Aladdin finds a lamp. There all ambitions are crowned, all
dreams realized, all passions, all desires, good and evil, can be
There the fast-fleeting days are followed by nights of ever-varied
pleasure and excitement. In twenty theatres tragedy weeps, or comedy
laughs; whilst at the opera the most beautiful women in the world,
sparkling with diamonds, are ready to die with ecstasy at the sound of
divine music; everywhere noise, excitement, luxury, and pleasure.
What a dream! The heart of Louis de Clameran was swollen with desire,
and he felt that he should go mad if the horses crawled with such
torturing slowness: he would like to spring from the old stage, and
fly to his haven of delight.
He never once thought of the past with a pang of regret. What mattered
it to him how his father and brother had died? All his energies were
devoted to penetrating the mysterious future that now awaited him.
Was not every chance in his favor? He was young, rich, handsome, and a
marquis. He had a constitution of iron; he carried twenty thousand
francs in his pocket, and would soon have ten times as many more.
He, who had always been poor, regarded this sum as an exhaustless
And at nightfall, when he jumped from the stage upon the brilliantly
lighted street of Paris, he seemed to be taking possession of the
grand city, and felt as though he could buy everything in it.
His illusions were those natural to all young men who suddenly come
into possession of a patrimony after years of privation.
It is this ignorance of the real value of money that squanders
fortunes, and fritters away accumulated patrimonies so laboriously
earned and saved in the frugal provinces.
Imbued with his own importance, accustomed to the deference of the
country people, the young marquis came to Paris with the expectation
of being a lion, supposing that his name and fortune were sufficient
to place him upon any pinnacle he might desire.
He was mortified to discover his error. To his great surprise he
discovered that he possessed nothing which constituted a position in
this immense city. He found that in the midst of this busy,
indifferent crowd, he was lost, as unnoticed as a drop of water in a
But this unflattering reality could not discourage a man who was
determined to gratify his passion at all costs. His ancestral name
gained him but one privilege, disastrous for his future: it opened to
him the doors of the Faubourg St. Germain.
There he became intimate with men of his own age and rank, whose
incomes were larger than his principal.
Nearly all of them confessed that they only kept up their extravagant
style of living by dint of skilful economy behind the scenes, and by
regulating their vices and follies as judiciously as a hosier would
manage his Sunday holidays.
This information astonished Louis, but did not open his eyes. He
endeavored to imitate the dashing style of these economically wasteful
young men, without pretending to conform to their prudential rules. He
learned how to spend, but not how to settle his accounts as they did.
He was Marquis of Clameran, and, having given himself a reputation of
great wealth, he was welcomed by the /elite/ of society; if he made no
friends, he had at least many acquaintances. Among the set into which
he was received immediately upon his arrival, he found ten satellites
who took pleasure in initiating him into the secrets of fashionable
life, and correcting any little provincialisms betrayed in his manners
He profited well and quickly by their lessons. At the end of three
months he was fairly launched; his reputation as a skilful gambler and
one of the fastest men in Paris was fully established.
He had rented handsome apartments, with a coach-house and stable for
Although he only furnished this bachelor's establishment with what was
necessary and comfortable, he found that comforts were very costly in
So that the day he took possession of his apartments, and looked over
his bills, he made the startling discovery that this short
apprenticeship of Paris had cost him fifty-thousand francs, one-fourth
of his fortune.
Still he clung to his brilliant friends, although in a state of
inferiority which was mortifying to his vanity, like a poor squire
straining every nerve to make his nag keep up with blooded horses in a
Fifty thousand francs! For a moment Louis had a faint idea of
retreating from the scene of temptation. But what a fall! Besides, his
vices bloomed and flourished in this charming centre. He had
heretofore considered himself fast; but the past was a state of
unsophisticated verdancy, compared with the thousand attractive sins
in which he now indulged.
Then the sight of suddenly acquired fortunes, and the many examples of
the successful results of hazardous ventures, inflamed his mind, and
persuaded him to try his fortune in the game of speculation.
He thought that in this great, rich city, he certainly could succeed
in seizing a share of the loaves and fishes.
But how? He had no idea, and he did not seek to find one. He imagined
that his good fortune would some day come, and that all he had to do
was to wait for it.
This is one of the errors which it is time to destroy.
Fortune is not to be wasted upon idle fools.
In this furious race of self-interest, it requires great skill to
bestride the capricious mare called Opportunity, and make her lead to
the end in view. Every winner must possess a strong will and a
dexterous hand. But Louis did not devote much thought to the matter.
Like the foolish man who wished to draw the prize without contributing
to the raffle, he thought:
"Bast! opportunity, chance, a rich marriage will put me all right
The rich bride failed to appear, and his last louis had gone the way
of its predecessors.
To a pressing demand for money, his notary replied by a refusal.
"Your lands are all gone," he wrote; "you now possess nothing but the
chateau. It is very valuable, but it is difficult, if not impossible,
to find a purchaser of so large an amount of real estate, in its
present condition. I will use every effort to make a good sale, and if
successful, will inform you of the fact immediately." Louis was
thunderstruck at this final catastrophe, as much surprised as if he
could have expected any other result. But what could he do?
Ruined, with nothing to look forward to, the best course was to
imitate the large number of poor fools who each year rise up, shine a
moment, then suddenly disappear.
But Louis could not renounce this life of ease and pleasure which he
had been leading for the last three years. After leaving his fortune
on the battle-ground, he was willing to leave the shreds of his honor.
He first lived on the reputation of his dissipated fortune; on the
credit remaining to a man who has spent much in a short space of time.
This resource was soon exhausted.
The day came when his creditors seized all they could lay their hands
upon, the last remains of his opulence, his carriages, horses, and
He took refuge in a quiet hotel, but he could not keep away from the
wealthy set whom he considered his friends.
He lived upon them as he had lived upon the tradesmen who furnished
his supplies. Borrowing from one louis up to twenty-five, from anybody
who would lend to him, he never pretended to pay them. Constantly
betting, no one ever saw him pay a wager. He piloted all the raw young
men who fell into his hands, and utilized, in rendering shameful
services, an experience which had cost him two hundred thousand
francs; he was half courtier, half adventurer.
He was not banished, but was made to cruelly expiate the favor of
being tolerated. No one had the least regard for his feelings, or
hesitated to tell him to his face what was thought of his unprincipled
Thus, when alone in his little den, he would give way to fits of
violent rage. He had not yet reached a state of callousness to be able
to endure these humiliations without the keenest torture to his false
pride and vanity.
Envy and covetousness had long since stifled every sentiment of honor
and self-respect in his base heart. For a few years of opulence he was
ready to commit any crime.
And, though he did not commit a crime, he came very near it, and was
the principal in a disgraceful affair of swindling and extortion,
which raised such an outcry against him that he was obliged to leave
Count de Commarin, an old friend of his father, hushed up the matter,
and furnished him with money to take him to England.
And how did he manage to live in London?
The detectives of the most corrupt capital in existence were the only
people who knew his means of support.
Descending to the last stages of vice, the Marquis of Clameran finally
found his level in a society composed of shameless women and gamblers.
Compelled to quit London, he travelled over Europe, with no other
capital than his knavish audacity, deep depravity, and his skill at
Finally, in 1865, he had a run of good luck at Homburg, and returned
to Paris, where he imagined himself entirely forgotten.
Eighteen years had passed since he left Paris.
The first step which he took on his return, before even settling
himself in Paris, was to make a visit to his old home.
Not that he had any relative or friend in that part of the country,
from whom he could expect any assistance; but he remembered the old
manor, which his notary had been unable to sell.
He thought that perhaps by this time a purchaser had appeared, and he
determined to go himself and ascertain how much he should receive for
this old chateau, which had cost one hundred thousand francs in the
On a beautiful October evening he reached Tarascon, and there learned
that he was still the owner of the chateau of Clameran. The next
morning, he set out on foot to visit the paternal home, which he had
not seen for twenty-five years.
Everything was so changed that he scarcely recognized this country,
where he had been born, and passed his youth.
Yet the impression was so strong, that this man, tried by such varied,
strange adventures, for a moment felt like retracing his steps.
He only continued his road because a secret, hopeful voice cried in
him, "Onward, onward!"--as if, at the end of the journey, was to be
found a new life and the long-wished-for good fortune.
As Louis advanced, the changes appeared less striking; he began to be
familiar with the ground.
Soon, through the trees, he distinguished the village steeple, then
the village itself, built upon the gentle rising of a hill, crowned by
a wood of olive-trees.
He recognized the first houses he saw: the farrier's shed covered with
ivy, the old parsonage, and farther on the village tavern, where he
and Gaston used to play billiards.
In spite of what he called his scorn of vulgar prejudices, he felt a
thrill of strange emotion as he looked on these once familiar objects.
He could not overcome a feeling of sadness as scenes of the past rose
up before him.
How many events had occurred since he last walked along this path, and
received a friendly bow and smile from every villager.
Then life appeared to him like a fairy scene, in which his every wish
was gratified. And now, he had returned, dishonored, worn out,
disgusted with the realities of life, still tasting the bitter dregs
of the cup of shame, stigmatized, poverty-stricken, and friendless,
with nothing to lose, and nothing to look forward to.
The few villagers whom he met turned and stood gazing after this dust-
covered stranger, and wondered who he could be.
Upon reaching St. Jean's house, he found the door open; he walked into
the immense empty kitchen.
He rapped on the table, and was answered by a voice calling out:
"Who is there?"
The next moment a man of about forty years appeared in the doorway,
and seemed much surprised at finding a stranger standing in his
"What will you have, monsieur?" he inquired.
"Does not St. Jean, the old valet of the Marquis of Clameran, live
"My father died five years ago, monsieur," replied the man in a sad
This news affected Louis painfully, as if he had expected this old man
to restore him some of his lost youth; the last link was gone. He
sighed, and, after a silence, said:
"I am the Marquis of Clameran."
The farmer, at these words, uttered an exclamation of joy. He seized
Louis's hand, and, pressing it with respectful attention, cried:
"You are the marquis! Alas!" he continued, "why is not my poor father
alive to see you? he would be so happy! His last words were about his
dear masters, and many a time did he sigh and mourn at not receiving
any news of you. He is beneath the sod now, resting after a well-spent
life; but I, Joseph, his son, am here to take his place, and devote my
life to your service. What an honor it is to have you in my house! Ah,
my wife will be happy to see you; she has all her life heard of the
Here he ran into the garden, and called: "Toinette! I say, Toinette!
Come here quickly!"
This cordial welcome delighted Louis. So many years had gone by since
he had been greeted with an expression of kindness, or felt the
pressure of a friendly hand.
In a few moments a handsome, dark-eyed young woman entered the room,
and stood blushing with confusion at sight of the stranger.
"This is my wife, monsieur," said Joseph, leading her toward Louis,
"but I have not given her time to put on her finery. This is M. the
The farmer's wife bowed, and, having nothing to say, gracefully
uplifted her brow upon which the marquis pressed a kiss.
"You will see the children in a few minutes, M. the marquis," said
Joseph; "I have sent to the school for them."
The worthy couple overwhelmed the marquis with attentions.
After so long a walk he must be hungry, they said; he must take a
glass of wine now, and breakfast would soon be ready; they would be so
proud and happy if M. the marquis would partake of a country
Louis willingly accepted their invitation; and Joseph went to the
cellar after the wine, while Toinette ran to catch her fattest pullet.
In a short time, Louis sat down to a table laden with the best of
everything on the farm, waited upon by Joseph and his wife, who
watched him with respectful interest and awe.
The children came running in from school, smeared with the juice of
berries. After Louis had embraced them they stood off in a corner, and
gazed at him with eyes wide open, as if he were a rare curiosity.
The important news had spread, and a number of villagers and
countrymen appeared at the open door, to speak to the Marquis of
"I am such a one, M. the marquis; don't you remember me?" "Ah! I
should have recognized you anywhere." "The late marquis was very good
to me." Another would say, "Don't you remember the time when you lent
me your gun to go hunting?"
Louis welcomed with secret delight all these protestations and proofs
of devotion which had not chilled with time.
The kindly voices of these honest people recalled many pleasant
moments of the past, and made him feel once more the fresh sensations
of his youth.
Here, at least, no echoes of his stormy life had been heard; no
suspicions of his shameful career were entertained by these humble
villagers on the borders of the Rhone.
He, the adventurer, the bully, the base accomplice of London
swindlers, delighted in these marks of respect and veneration,
bestowed upon him as the representative of the house of Clameran; it
seemed to make him once more feel a little self-respect, as if the
future were not utterly hopeless.
Ah, had he possessed only a quarter of his squandered inheritance, how
happy he would be to peacefully end his days in this his native
But this rest after so many vain excitements, this haven after so many
storms and shipwrecks, was denied him. He was penniless; how could he
live here when he had nothing to live upon?
This thought of his pressing want gave him courage to ask Joseph for
the key of the chateau, that he might go and examine its condition.
"You won't need the key, except the one to the front door, M. the
marquis," replied Joseph.
It was but too true. Time had done its work, and the lordly manor of
Clameran was nothing but a ruin. The rain and sun had rotted the
shutters so that they were crumbling and dilapidated.
Here and there were traces of the friendly hand of St. Jean, who had
tried to retard the total ruin of the old chateau; but of what use
were his efforts?
Within, the desolation was still greater. All of the furniture which
Louis had not dared to sell stood in the position he left it, but in
what a state! All of the tapestry hangings and coverings were moth-
eaten and in tatters; nothing seemed left but the dust-covered
woodwork of the chairs and sofas.
Louis was almost afraid to enter these grand, gloomy rooms, where
every footfall echoed until the air seemed to be filled with sounds
strange and ominous.
He almost expected to see the angry old marquis start from some dark
corner, and heap curses on his head for having dishonored the name.
He turned pale with terror, when he suddenly recalled the scene of his
fatal stumble and poor Gaston's death. The room was surely inhabited
by the spirits of these two murdered men. His nerves could not bear
it, and he hurried out into the open air and sunshine.
After a while, he recovered sufficiently to remember the object of his
"Poor St. Jean was foolish to let the furniture in the chateau drop to
pieces. Why did he not use it?"
"My father would not have dared to touch anything without receiving an
order, M. the marquis."
"He was very unwise to wait for an order, when anything was going to
destruction without benefiting anyone. As the chateau is fast
approaching the condition of the furniture, and my fortune does not
permit me to repair it, I will sell it before the walls crumble away."
Joseph could scarcely believe his ears. He regarded the selling of the
chateau of Clameran as a sacrilege; but he was not bold of speech,
like his father, so he dared not express an opinion.
"Would there be difficulty in selling this ruin?" continued Louis.
"That depends upon the price you ask, M. the marquis; I know a man who
would purchase the property if he could get it cheap."
"Who is he?"
"M. Fougeroux, who lives on the other side of the river. He came from
Beaucaire, and twelve years ago married a servant-maid of the late
Countess de la Verberie. Perhaps M. the marquis remembers her--a
plump, bright-eyed brunette, named Mihonne."
Louis did not remember Mihonne.
"When can we see this Fougeroux?" he inquired.
"To-day; I will engage a boat to take us over."
"Well, let us go now. I have no time to lose."
An entire generation has passed away since Louis had last crossed the
Rhone in old Pilorel's boat.
The faithful ferryman had been buried many years, and his duties were
now performed by his son, who, possessing great respect for
traditional opinions, was delighted at the honor of rowing the Marquis
of Clameran in his boat, and soon had it ready for Louis and Joseph to
take their seats.
As soon as they were fairly started, Joseph began to warn the marquis
against the wily Fougeroux.
"He is a cunning fox," said the farmer; "I have had a bad opinion of
him ever since his marriage, which was a shameful affair altogether.
Mihonne was over fifty years of age, and he was only twenty-four, when
he married her; so you may know it was money, and not a wife, that he
wanted. She, poor fool, believed that the young scamp really loved
her, and gave herself and her money up to him. Women will be trusting
fools to the end of time! And Fougeroux is not the man to let money
lie idle. He speculated with Mihonne's gold, and is now very rich. But
she, poor thing, does not profit by his wealth; one can easily
understand his not feeling any love for her, when she looks like his
grandmother; but he deprives her of the necessaries of life, and beats
"He would like to plant her six feet under ground," said the ferryman.
"Well, it won't be long before he has the satisfaction of burying
her," said Joseph; "the poor old woman has been in almost a dying
condition ever since Fougeroux brought a worthless jade to take charge
of the house, and makes his wife wait upon her like a servant."
When they reached the opposite shore, Joseph asked young Pilorel to
await their return.
Joseph knocked at the gate of the well-cultivated farm, and inquired
for the master; the farm-boy said that "M. Fougeroux" was out in the
field, but he would go and tell him.
He soon appeared. He was an ill-looking little man, with a red beard
and small, restless eyes.
Although M. Fougeroux professed to despise the nobility and the
clergy, the hope of driving a good bargain made him obsequious to
Louis. He insisted upon ushering his visitor into "the parlor," with
may bows and repetitions of "M. the marquis."
Upon entering the room, he roughly ordered an old woman, who was
crouching over some dying embers, to make haste and bring some wine
for M. the marquis of Clameran.
At this name, the old woman started as if she had received an electric
shock. She opened her mouth to say something, but a look from her
tyrant froze the words upon her lips. With a frightened air she
hobbled out to obey his orders, and in a few minutes returned with a
bottle of wine and three glasses.
Then she resumed her seat by the fire, and kept her eyes fastened upon
Could this really be the merry, pretty Mihonne, who had been the
confidant of the little fairy of Verberie?
Valentine herself would never have recognized this poor, shrivelled,
emaciated old woman.
Only those who are familiar with country life know what hard work and
worry can do to make a woman old.
The bargain, meanwhile, was being discussed between Joseph and
Fougeroux, who offered a ridiculously small sum for the chateau,
saying that he would only buy it to tear down, and sell the materials.
Joseph enumerated the beams, joists, ashlars, and the iron-work, and
volubly praised the old domain.
As for Mihonne, the presence of the marquis had a wonderful effect
If the faithful servant had hitherto never breathed the secret
confided to her probity, it was none the less heavy for her to bear.
After marrying, and being so harshly treated that she daily prayed for
death to come to her relief, she began to blame everybody but herself
for her misfortunes.
Weakly superstitious, she traced back the origin of her sorrows to the
day when she took the oath on the holy gospel during mass.
Her constant prayers that God would send her a child to soothe her
wounded heart, being unanswered, she was convinced that she was cursed
with barrenness for having assisted in the abandonment of an innocent,
She often thought, that by revealing everything, she could appease the
wrath of Heaven, and once more enjoy a happy home. Nothing but her
love for Valentine gave her strength to resist a constant temptation
to confess everything.
But to-day the sight of Louis decided her to relieve her mind. She
thought there could be no danger in confiding in Gaston's brother.
Alas for woman's tongue!
The sale was finally concluded. It was agreed that Fougeroux should
give five thousand two hundred and eighty francs in cash for the
chateau, and land attached; and Joseph was to have the old furniture.
The marquis and the new owner of the chateau shook hands, and noisily
called out the essential word:
Fougeroux went himself to get the "bargain bottle" of old wine.
The occasion was favorable to Mihonne; she walked quickly over to
where the marquis stood, and said in a nervous whisper:
"M. the marquis, I must speak with you apart."
"What can you want to tell me, my good woman?"
"It is a secret of life and death. This evening, at dusk, meet me in
the walnut wood, and I will tell you everything."
Hearing her husband's approaching step, she darted back to her corner
by the fire.
Fougeroux filled the glasses, and drank to the health of Clameran.
As they returned to the boat, Louis tried to think what could be the
object of this singular rendezvous.
"Joseph, what the deuce can that old witch want with me?" he said
"Who can tell? She used to be in the service of a lady who was very
intimate with M. Gaston; so my father used to say. If I were in your
place I would go and see what she wanted, monsieur. You can dine with
me, and, after dinner, Pilorel will row you over."
Curiosity decided Louis to go, about seven o'clock, to the walnut
wood, where he found Mihonne impatiently awaiting him.
"Ah, here you are, at last, M. the marquis," she said, in a tone of
relief. "I was afraid you would disappoint me."
"Yes, here I am, my good woman, to listen to what you have to say."
"I have many things to say. But first tell me some news of your
Louis regretted having come, supposing from this request that the old
woman was childish, and might bother him for hours with her senseless
"You know well enough that my poor brother was drowned in the Rhone."
"Good heavens!" cried Mihonne, "are you ignorant, then, of his escape?
Yes, he did what has never been done before; he swam across the
swollen Rhone. The next day Mlle. Valentine went to Clameran to tell
the news; but St. Jean prevented her from seeing you. Afterward I
carried a letter from her, but you had left the country."
Louis could not believe this strange revelation.
"Are you not mixing up dreams with real events, my good woman?" he
"No," she replied, mournfully shaking her head. "If Pere Menoul were
alive, he would tell you how he took charge of your brother until he
embarked for Marseilles. But that is nothing compared to the rest. M.
Gaston has a son."
"My brother had a son! You certainly have lost your mind, my poor
"Alas, no. Unfortunately for my happiness in this world and in the
world to come, I am only telling the truth; he had a child, and Mlle.
Valentine was its mother. I took the poor babe, and carried it to a
woman whom I paid to take charge of it."
Then Mihonne described the anger of the countess, the journey to
London, and the abandonment of little Raoul.
With the accurate memory natural to people unable to read and write,
she related the most minute particulars--the names of the village, the
nurse, the child's Christian name, and the exact date of everything
which had occurred.
Then she told of Valentine's wretched suffering, of the impending ruin
of the countess, and finally how everything was happily settled by the
poor girl's marriage with an immensely rich man, who was now one of
the richest bankers in Paris, and was named Fauvel.
A harsh voice calling, "Mihonne! Mihonne!" here interrupted the old
"Heavens!" she cried in a frightened tone, "that is my husband,
looking for me."
And, as fast as her trembling limbs could carry her, she hurried to
For several minutes after her departure, Louis stood rooted to the
Her recital had filled his wicked mind with an idea so infamous, so
detestable, that even his vile nature shrank for a moment from its
He knew Fauvel by reputation, and was calculating the advantages he
might gain by the strange information of which he was now possessed by
means of the old Mihonne. It was a secret, which, if skilfully
managed, would bring him in a handsome income.
The few faint scruples he felt were silenced by the thought of an old
age spent in poverty. After the price of the chateau was spent, to
what could he look forward? Beggary.
"But first of all," he thought, "I must ascertain the truth of the old
woman's story; then I will decide upon a plan."
This was why, the next day, after receiving the five thousand two
hundred and eighty francs from Fougeroux, Louis de Clameran set out
During the twenty years of her married life, Valentine had experienced
but one real sorrow; and this was one which, in the course of nature,
must happen sooner or later.
In 1859 her mother caught a violent cold during one of her frequent
journeys to Paris, and, in spite of every attention which money could
procure, she became worse, and died.
The countess preserved her faculties to the last, and with her dying
breath said to her daughter:
"Ah, well! was I not wise in prevailing upon you to bury the past?
Your silence has made my old age peaceful and happy, and I now thank
you for having done your duty to yourself and to me. You will be
rewarded on earth and in heaven, my dear daughter."
Mme. Fauvel constantly said that, since the loss of her mother, she
had never had cause to shed a tear.
And what more could she wish for? As years rolled on, Andre's love
remained steadfast; he was as devoted a husband as the most exacting
woman could wish. To his great love was added that sweet intimacy
which results from long conformity of ideas and unbounded confidence.
Everything prospered with this happy couple. Andre was twice as
wealthy as he had ever hoped to be even in his wildest visions; every
wish of Valentine was anticipated by Andre; their two sons, Lucien and
Abel, were handsome, intelligent young men, whose honorable characters
and graceful bearing reflected credit upon their parents, who had so
carefully watched over their education.
Nothing seemed wanting to insure Valentine's felicity. When her
husband and sons were at their business, her solitude was cheered by
the intelligent, affectionate companionship of a young girl whom she
loved as her own daughter, and who in return filled the place of a
Madeleine was M. Fauvel's niece, and when an infant had lost both
parents, who were poor but very worthy people. Valentine begged to
adopt the babe, thinking she could thus, in a measure, atone for the
desertion of the poor little creature whom she had abandoned to
She hoped that this good work would bring down the blessings of God
The day of the little orphan's arrival, M. Fauvel invested for her ten
thousand francs, which he presented to Madeleine as her dowry.
The banker amused himself by increasing this ten thousand francs in
the most marvellous ways. He, who never ventured upon a rash
speculation with his own money, always invested it in the most
hazardous schemes, and was always so successful, that at the end of
fifteen years the ten thousand francs had become half a million.
People were right when they said that the Fauvel family were to be
Time had dulled the remorse and anxiety of Valentine. In the genial
atmosphere of a happy home, she had found rest, and almost
forgetfulness. She had suffered so much at being compelled to deceive
Andre that she hoped she was now at quits with fate.
She began to look forward to the future, and her youth seemed buried
in an impenetrable mist, and was, as it were, the memory of a painful
Yes, she believed herself saved, and her very feeling of security made
the impending danger more fearful in its shock.
One rainy November day, her husband had gone to Provence on business.
She was sitting, gazing into the bright fire, and thankfully
meditating upon her present happiness, when the servant brought her a
letter, which had been left by a stranger, who refused to give his
Without the faintest presentiment of evil, she carelessly broke the
seal, and in an instant was almost petrified by the words which met
her terrified eye:
"MADAME--Would it be relying too much upon the memories of the past
to hope for half an hour of your time?
"To-morrow, between two and three, I will do myself the honor of
calling upon you.
"THE MARQUIS OF CLAMERAN."
Fortunately, Mme. Fauvel was alone.
Trembling like a leaf, she read the letter over and over again, as if
to convince herself that she was not the victim of a horrible
Half a dozen times, with a sort of terror, she whispered that name
once so dear--Clameran! spelling it aloud as if it were a strange name
which she could not pronounce. And the eight letters forming the name
seemed to shine like the lightning which precedes a clap of thunder.
Ah! she had hoped and believed that the fatal past was atoned for, and
buried in oblivion; and now it stood before her, pitiless and
Poor woman! As if all human will could prevent what was fated to be!
It was in this hour of security, when she imagined herself pardoned,
that the storm was to burst upon the fragile edifice of her happiness,
and destroy her every hope.
A long time passed before she could collect her scattered thoughts
sufficiently to decide upon a course of conduct.
Then she began to think she was foolish to be so frightened. This
letter was written by Gaston, of course; therefore she need feel no
apprehension. Gaston had returned to France, and wished to see her.
She could understand this desire, and she knew too well this man, upon
whom she had lavished her young affection, to attribute any bad
motives to his visit.
He would come; and finding her the wife of another, the mother of
grown sons, they would exchange thoughts of the past, perhaps a few
regrets; she would restore the jewels which she had faithfully kept
for him; he would assure her of his lifelong friendship, and--that
would be all.
But one distressing doubt beset her agitated mind. Should she conceal
from Gaston the birth of his son?
To confess was to expose herself to many dangers. It was placing
herself at the mercy of a man--a loyal, honorable man to be sure--
confiding to him not only her own peace, honor, and happiness, but the
honor and happiness of her family, of her noble husband and loving
Still silence would be a crime. She had abandoned her child, denied
him the cares and affection of a mother; and now should she add to her
sin by depriving him of the name and fortune of his father?
She was still undecided when the servant announced dinner.
But she had not the courage to meet the glance of her sons. She sent
word that she was not well, and would not be down to dinner. For the
first time in her life she rejoiced at her husband's absence.
Madeleine came hurrying into her aunt's room to see what was the
matter; but Valentine dismissed her, saying she would try to sleep off
She wished to be alone in her trouble, and see if she could decide
upon some plan for warding off this impending ruin.
The dreaded morrow came.
She counted the hours until two o'clock. After that, she counted the
At half-past two the servant announced:
"M. the Marquis of Clameran."
Mme. Fauvel had promised herself to be calm, even cold. During a long,
sleepless night, she had mentally arranged beforehand every detail of
this painful meeting. She had even decided upon what she should say.
She would reply this, and ask that; her words were all selected, and
her speech ready.
But, at the dreaded moment, her strength gave way; she turned as cold
as marble, and could not rise from her seat; she was speechless, and,
with a frightened look, silently gazed upon the man who respectfully
bowed, and stood in the middle of the room.
Her visitor was about fifty years of age, with iron-gray hair and
mustache, and a cold, severe cast of countenance; his expression was
one of haughty severity as he stood there in his full suit of black.
The agitated woman tried to discover in his face some traces of the
man whom she had so madly loved, who had pressed her to his heart, and
besought her to remain faithful until he should return from a foreign
land, and lay his fortune at her feet--the father of her son.
She was surprised to discover no resemblance to the youth whose memory
had haunted her life; no, never would she have recognized this
stranger as Gaston.
As he continued to stand motionless before her, she faintly murmured:
He sadly shook his head, and replied:
"I am not Gaston, madame. My brother succumbed to the misery and
suffering of exile: I am Louis de Clameran."
What! it was not Gaston, then, who had written to her; it was not
Gaston who stood before her!
She trembled with terror; her head whirled, and her eyes grew dim.
It was not he! And she had committed herself, betrayed her secret by
calling him "Gaston."
What could this man want?--this brother in whom Gaston had never
confided? What did he know of the past?
A thousand probabilities, each one more terrible than the other,
flashed across her brain.
Yet she succeeded in overcoming her weakness so that Louis scarcely
The fearful strangeness of her situation, the very imminence of peril,
inspired her with coolness and self-possession.
Haughtily pointing to a chair, she said to Louis with affected
"Will you be kind enough, monsieur, to explain the object of this
The marquis, seeming not to notice this sudden change of manner, took
a seat without removing his eyes from Mme. Fauvel's face.
"First of all, madame," he began, "I must ask if we can be overheard
"Why this question? You can have nothing to say to me that my husband
and children should not hear."
Louis shrugged his shoulders, and said:
"Be good enough to answer me, madame; not for my sake, but for your
"Speak, then, monsieur; you will not be heard."
In spite of this assurance, the marquis drew his chair close to the
sofa where Mme. Fauvel sat, so as to speak in a very low tone, as if
almost afraid to hear his own voice.
"As I told you, madame, Gaston is dead; and it was I who closed his
eyes, and received his last wishes. Do you understand?"
The poor woman understood only too well, but was racking her brain to
discover what could be the purpose of this fatal visit. Perhaps it was
only to claim Gaston's jewels.
"It is unnecessary to recall," continued Louis, "the painful
circumstances which blasted my brother's life. However happy your own
lot has been, you must sometimes have thought of this friend of your
youth, who unhesitatingly sacrificed himself in defence of your
Not a muscle of Mme. Fauvel's face moved; she appeared to be trying to
recall the circumstances to which Louis alluded.
"Have you forgotten, madame?" he asked with bitterness: "then I must
explain more clearly. A long, long time ago you loved my unfortunate
"Ah, it is useless to deny it, madame: I told you that Gaston confided
everything to me--everything," he added significantly.
But Mme. Fauvel was not frightened by this information. This
"everything" could not be of any importance, for Gaston had gone
abroad in total ignorance of her secret.
She rose, and said with an apparent assurance she was far from
"You forget, monsieur, that you are speaking to a woman who is now
advanced in life, who is married, and who has grown sons. If your
brother loved me, it was his affair, and not yours. If, young and
ignorant, I was led into imprudence, it is not your place to remind me
of it. This past which you evoke I buried in oblivion twenty years
"Thus you have forgotten all that happened?"
"Absolutely all; everything."
"Even your child, madame?"
This question, uttered in a sneer of triumph, fell upon Mme. Fauvel
like a thunder-clap. She dropped tremblingly into her seat, murmuring:
"My God! How did he discover it?"
Had her own happiness alone been at stake, she would have instantly
thrown herself upon a Clameran's mercy. But she had her family to
defend, and the consciousness of this gave her strength to resist him.
"Do you wish to insult me, monsieur?" she asked.
"Do you pretend to say you have forgotten Valentin-Raoul?"
She saw that this man did indeed know all. How? It little mattered. He
certainly knew; but she determined to deny everything, even the most
positive proofs, if he should produce them.
For an instant she had an idea of ordering the Marquis of Clameran to
leave the house; but prudence stayed her. She thought it best to
discover how much he really knew.
"Well," she said with a forced laugh, "will you be kind enough to
state what you wish with me?"
"Certainly, madame. Two years ago the vicissitudes of exile took my
brother to London. There, at the house of a friend, he met a young man
by the name of Raoul. Gaston was so struck by the youth's appearance
and intelligence, that he inquired who he was, and discovered that
beyond a doubt this boy was his son, and your son, madame."
"This is quite a romance you are relating."
"Yes, madame, a romance the denouement of which is in your hands. Your
mother certainly used every precaution to conceal your secret; but the
best-laid plans always have some weak point. After your marriage, one
of your mother's London friends came to Tarascon, and spread the
report of what had taken place at the English village. This lady also
revealed your true name to the nurse who was bringing up the child.
Thus everything was discovered by my brother, who had no difficulty in
obtaining the most positive proofs of the boy's parentage."
Louis closely watched Mme. Fauvel's face to see the effect of his
To his astonishment she betrayed not the slightest agitation or alarm;
she was smiling as if entertained by the recital of his romance.
"Well, what next?" she asked carelessly.
"Then, madame, Gaston acknowledged the child. But the Clamerans are
poor; my brother died on a pallet in a lodging-house; and I have only
an income of twelve hundred francs to live upon. What is to become of
Raoul, alone with no relations or friends to assist him? My brother's
last moments were embittered by anxiety for the welfare of his child."
"Allow me to finish," interrupted Louis. "In that supreme hour Gaston
opened his heart to me. He told me to apply to you. 'Valentine,' said
he, 'Valentine will remember the past, and will not let our son want
for anything; she is wealthy, she is just and generous; I die with my
mind at rest.'"
Mme. Fauvel rose from her seat, and stood, evidently waiting for her
visitor to retire.
"You must confess, monsieur," she said, "that I have shown great
This imperturbable assurance amazed Louis.
"I do not deny," she continued, "that I at one time possessed the
confidence of M. Gaston de Clameran. I will prove it by restoring to
you your mother's jewels, with which he intrusted me on his
While speaking she took from beneath the sofa-cushion the purse of
jewels, and handed it to Louis.
"These jewels would have been given to the owner the instant they were
called for, monsieur, and I am surprised that your brother never
Louis betrayed his astonishment at the sight of the jewels. He tried
to cover his embarrassment by boldly saying:
"I was told not to mention this sacred trust."
Mme. Fauvel, without making any reply, laid her hand on the bell-rope
and quietly said:
"You will allow me to end this interview, monsieur, which was only
granted for the purpose of placing in your hands these precious
Thus dismissed, M. de Clameran was obliged to take his leave without
attaining his object.
"As you will, madame," he said, "I leave you; but before doing so I
must tell you the rest of my brother's dying injunctions: 'If
Valentine disregards the past, and refuses to provide for our son, I
enjoin it upon you to compel her to do her duty.' Meditate upon these
words, madame, for what I have sworn to do, upon my honor, shall be
At last Mme. Fauvel was alone. She could give vent to her despair.
Exhausted at her efforts at self-restraint during the presence of
Clameran, she felt weary and crushed in body and spirit.
She had scarcely strength to drag herself up to her chamber, and lock
Now there was no room for doubt; her fears had become realities. She
could fathom the abyss into which she was about to be hurled, and knew
that in her fall she would drag her family with her.
God alone, in this hour of danger, could help her, could save her from
destruction. She prayed.
"Oh, my God!" she cried, "punish me for my great sin, and I will
evermore adore thy chastising hand! I have been a bad daughter, an
unworthy mother, and a perfidious wife. Smite me, oh, God, and only
me! In thy just anger spare the innocent, have pity upon my husband
and my children!"
What were her twenty years of happiness compared to this hour of
misery? A bitter remorse; nothing more. Ah, why did she listen to her
mother? Why had she committed moral suicide?
Hope had fled; despair had come.
This man who had left her presence with a threat upon his lips would
return to torture her now. How could she escape him?
To-day she had succeeded in subduing her heart and conscience; would
she again have the strength to master her feelings?
She well knew that her calmness and courage were entirely due to the