Part 9 out of 11
Louis's tone of rage and vengeance startled Raoul, and made him regard
the affair in a worse light than ever.
"You have given me a shameful, dastardly role to play," he said after
a long pause.
"My honorable nephew has scruples, I suppose," said Clameran
"Not exactly scruples; yet I confess--"
"That you want to retreat? Rather too late to sing that tune, my
friend. You wish to enjoy every luxury, have your pockets filled with
gold, cut a fine figure in high society, and remain virtuous. Are you
fool enough to suppose a poor man can be honest? 'Tis a luxury
pertaining to the wealthy. Did you ever see people such as we draw
money from the pure fount of virtue? We must fish in muddy waters, and
then wash ourselves clean, and enjoy the result of our labor."
"I have never been rich enough to be honest," said Raoul humbly; "but
I must say it goes hard with me to torture two defenceless, frightened
women, and ruin the character of a poor devil who regards me as his
best friend. It is a low business!"
This resistance exasperated Louis to the last degree.
"You are the most absurd, ridiculous fool I ever met," he cried. "An
opportunity occurs for us to make an immense fortune. All we have to
do is to stretch out our hands and take it; when you must needs prove
refractory, like a whimpering baby. Nobody but an ass would refuse to
drink when he is thirsty, because he sees a little mud at the bottom
of the bucket. I suppose you prefer theft on a small scale, stealing
by driblets. And where will your system lead you? To the poor-house or
the police-station. You prefer living from hand to mouth, supported by
Mme. Fauvel, having small sums doled out to you to pay your little
"I am neither ambitious nor cruel."
"And suppose Mme. Fauvel dies to-morrow: what will become of you? Will
you go cringing up to the widower, and implore him to continue your
"Enough said," cried Raoul, angrily interrupting his uncle. "I never
had any idea of retreating. I made these objections to show you what
infamous work you expect of me, and at the same time prove to you that
without my assistance you can do nothing."
"I never pretended to the contrary."
"Then, my noble uncle, we might as well settle what my share is to be.
Oh! it is not worth while for you to indulge in idle protestations.
What will you give me in case of success? and what if we fail?"
"I told you before. I will give you twenty-five thousand livres a
year, and all you can secure between now and my wedding-day."
"This arrangement suits me very well; but where are your securities?"
This question was discussed a long time before it was satisfactorily
settled by the accomplices, who had every reason to distrust each
"What are you afraid of?" asked Clameran.
"Everything," replied Raoul. "Where am I to obtain justice, if you
deceive me? From this pretty little poniard? No, thank you. I would be
made to pay as dear for your hide, as for that of an honest man."
Finally, after long debate and much recrimination, the matter was
arranged, and they shook hands before separating.
Alas! Mme. Fauvel and her niece soon felt the evil effects of the
understanding between the villains.
Everything happened as Louis had arranged.
Once more, when Mme. Fauvel had begun to breathe freely, and to hope
that her troubles were over, Raoul's conduct suddenly changed; he
became more extravagant and dissipated than ever.
Formerly, Mme. Fauvel would have said, "I wonder what he does with all
the money I give him?" Now she saw where it went.
Raoul was reckless in his wickedness; he was intimate with actresses,
openly lavishing money and jewelry upon them; he drove about with four
horses, and bet heavily on every race. Never had he been so exacting
and exorbitant in his demands for money; Mme. Fauvel had the greatest
difficulty in supplying his wants.
He no longer made excuses and apologies for spending so much; instead
of coaxingly entreating, he demanded money as a right, threatening to
betray Mme. Fauvel to her husband if she refused him.
At this rate, all the possessions of Mme. Fauvel and Madeleine soon
disappeared. In one month, all their money had been squandered. Then
they were compelled to resort to the most shameful expedients in the
household expenses. They economized in every possible way, making
purchases on credit, and making tradesmen wait; then they changed
figures in the bills, and even invented accounts of things never
These imaginary costly whims increased so rapidly, that M. Fauvel one
day said, as he signed a large check, "Upon my word, ladies, you will
buy out all the stores, if you keep on this way. But nothing pleases
me better than to see you gratify every wish."
Poor women! For months they had bought nothing, but had lived upon the
remains of their former splendor, having all their old dresses made
over, to keep up appearances in society.
More clear-sighted than her aunt, Madeleine saw plainly that the day
would soon come when everything would have to be explained.
Although she knew that the sacrifices of the present would avail
nothing in the future, that all this money was being thrown away
without securing her aunt's peace of mind, yet she was silent. A high-
minded delicacy made her conceal her apprehensions beneath an assumed
The fact of her sacrificing herself made her refrain from uttering
anything like a complaint or censure. She seemed to forget herself
entirely in her efforts to comfort her aunt.
"As soon as Raoul sees we have nothing more to give," she would say,
"he will come to his senses, and stop all this extravagance."
The day came when Mme. Fauvel and Madeleine found it impossible to
give another franc.
The evening previous, Mme. Fauvel had a dinner-party, and with
difficulty scraped together enough money to defray the expenses.
Raoul appeared, and said that he was in the greatest need of money,
being forced to pay a debt of two thousand francs at once.
In vain they implored him to wait a few days, until they could with
propriety ask M. Fauvel for money. He declared that he must have it
now, and that he would not leave the house without it.
"But I have no way of getting it for you," said Mme. Fauvel
desperately; "you have taken everything from me. I have nothing left
but my diamonds: do you want them? If they can be of use, take them."
Hardened as the young villain was, he blushed at these words.
He felt pity for this unfortunate woman, who had always been so kind
and indulgent to him, who had so often lavished upon him her maternal
caresses. He felt for the noble girl who was the innocent victim of a
But he was bound by an oath; he knew that a powerful hand would save
these women at the brink of the precipice. More than this, he saw an
immense fortune at the end of his road of crime, and quieted his
conscience by saying that he would redeem his present cruelty by
honest kindness in the future. Once out of the clutches of Clameran,
he would be a better man, and try to return some of the kind affection
shown him by these poor women.
Stifling his better impulses, he said harshly to Mme. Fauvel, "Give me
the jewels; I will take them to the pawnbroker's." Mme. Fauvel handed
him a box containing a set of diamonds. It was a present from her
husband the day he became worth a million.
And so pressing was the want of these women who were surrounded by
princely luxury, with their ten servants, beautiful blooded horses,
and jewels which were the admiration of Paris, that they implored him
to bring them some of the money which he would procure on the
diamonds, to meet their daily wants.
He promised, and kept his word.
But they had revealed a new source, a mine to be worked; he took
advantage of it.
One by one, all Mme. Fauvel's jewels followed the way of the diamonds;
and, when hers were all gone, those of Madeleine were given up.
A recent law-suit, which showed how a young and beautiful woman had
been kept in a state of terror and almost poverty, by a rascal who had
possession of her letters, a sad case which no honest man could read
without blushing for his sex, has revealed to what depths human infamy
And such abominable crimes are not so rare as people suppose.
How many men are supported entirely by stolen secrets, from the
coachman who claims ten louis every month of the foolish girl whom he
drove to a rendezvous, to the elegant dandy in light kids, who
discovered a financial swindle, and makes the parties interested buy
his silence, cannot be known.
This is called the extortion of hush-money, the most cowardly and
infamous of crimes, which the law, unfortunately, can rarely overtake
"Extortion of hush-money," said an old prefect of police, "is a trade
which supports at least a thousand scamps in Paris alone. Sometimes we
know the black-mailer and his victim, and yet we can do nothing.
Moreover, if we were to catch the villain in the very act, and hand
him over to justice, the victim, in her fright at the chance of her
secret being discovered, would turn against us."
It is true, extortion has become a business. Very often it is the
business of loafers, who spend plenty of money, when everyone knows
they have no visible means of support, and of whom people ask, "What
do they live upon?"
The poor victims do not know how easy it would be to rid themselves of
their tyrants. The police are fully capable of faithfully keeping
secrets confided to them. A visit to the Rue de Jerusalem, a
confidential communication with a head of the bureau, who is as silent
as a father confessor, and the affair is arranged, without noise,
without publicity, without anyone ever being the wiser. There are
traps for "master extortioners," which work well in the hands of the
Mme. Fauvel had no defence against the scoundrels who were torturing
her, save prayers and tears; these availed her little.
Sometimes Mme. Fauvel betrayed such heart-broken suffering when Raoul
begged her for money which she had no means of obtaining, that he
would hurry away disgusted at his own brutal conduct, and say to
"You must end this dirty business; I cannot stand it any longer. I
will blow any man's brains out, or fight a crowd of cut-throats, if
you choose; but as to killing by agony and fright these two poor
miserable women, whom I am really fond of, I am not going to do it.
You ask for more than I can do. I am not quite the cowardly hound you
take me for."
Clameran paid no attention to these remonstrances: indeed, he was
prepared for them.
"It is not pleasant, I know," he replied; "but necessity knows no law.
Have a little more perseverance and patience; we have almost got to
The end was nearer than Clameran supposed. Toward the latter part of
November, Mme. Fauvel saw that it was impossible to postpone the
catastrophe any longer, and as a last effort determined to apply to
the marquis for assistance.
She had not seen him since his return from Oloron, except once, when
he came to announce his accession to wealth. At that time, persuaded
that he was the evil genius of Raoul, she had received him very
coldly, and did not invite him to repeat his visit.
She hesitated about speaking to her niece of the step she intended
taking, because she feared violent opposition.
To her great surprise Madeleine warmly approved of it.
Trouble had made her keen-sighted and suspicious. Reflecting on past
events, comparing and weighing every act and speech of Raoul, she was
now convinced that he was Clameran's tool.
She thought that Raoul was too shrewd to be acting in this shameful
way, ruinously to his own interests, if there were not some secret
motive at the bottom of it all. She saw that this persecution was more
feigned than real.
So thoroughly was she convinced of this, that, had it only concerned
herself alone, she would have firmly resisted the oppression, certain
that the threatened exposure would never take place.
Recalling, with a shudder, certain looks of Clameran, she guessed the
truth, that the object of all this underhand work was to force her to
become his wife.
Determined on making the sacrifice, in spite of her repugnance toward
the man, she wished to have the deed done at once; anything was
preferable to this terrible anxiety, to the life of torture which
Raoul made her lead. She felt that her courage might fail if she
waited and suffered much longer.
"The sooner you see M. de Clameran the better for us, aunt," she said,
after talking the project over.
The next day Mme. Fauvel called on the marquis at the Hotel du Louvre,
having sent him a note announcing her intended visit.
He received her with cold, studied politeness, like a man who had been
misunderstood and had been unjustly wounded.
After listening to her report of Raoul's scandalous behavior, he
became very indignant, and swore that he would soon make him repent of
But when Mme. Fauvel told of the immense sums of money forced from
her, Clameran seemed confounded, as if he could not believe it.
"The worthless rascal!" he exclaimed, "the idea of his audacity! Why,
during the last four months, I have given him more than twenty
thousand francs, which I would not have done except to prevent him
from applying to you, as he constantly threatened to do."
Seeing an expression of doubtful surprise upon Mme. Fauvel's face,
Louis arose, and took from his desk some receipts signed by Raoul. The
total amount was twenty-three thousand five hundred francs.
Mme. Fauvel was shocked and amazed.
"He has obtained forty thousand francs from me," she faintly said, "so
that altogether he has spent sixty thousand francs in four months."
"I can't imagine what he does with it," said Clameran, "unless he
spends it on actresses."
"Good heavens! what can these creatures do with all the money lavished
"That is a question I cannot answer, madame."
He appeared to pity Mme. Fauvel sincerely; he promised that he would
at once see Raoul, and reason with him about the shameful life he was
leading; perhaps he could be persuaded to reform. Finally, after many
protestations of friendship, he wound up by placing his fortune at her
Although Mme. Fauvel refused his offer, she appreciated the kindness
of it, and on returning home said to Madeleine:
"Perhaps we have mistaken his character; he may be a good man after
Madeleine sadly shook her head. She had anticipated just what
happened. Clameran's magnanimity and generosity confirmed her
Raoul came to see his uncle, and found him radiant.
"Everything is going on swimmingly, my smart nephew," said Clameran;
"your receipts acted like a charm. Ah, you are a partner worth having.
I congratulate you upon your success. Forty thousand francs in four
"Yes," said Raoul carelessly. "I got about that much from
"Pests! Then you must have a nice little sum laid by."
"That is my business, uncle, and not yours. Remember our agreement. I
will tell you this much: Mme. Fauvel and Madeleine have turned
everything they could into money; they have nothing left, and I have
had enough of my role."
"Your role is ended. I forbid you to hereafter ask for a single
"What are you about to do? What has happened?"
"The mine is loaded, nephew, and I am awaiting an opportunity to set
fire to it."
Louis de Clameran relied upon making his rival, Prosper Bertomy,
furnish him this ardently desired opportunity.
He loved Madeleine too passionately to feel aught save the bitterest
hate toward the man whom she had freely chosen, and who still
possessed her heart.
Clameran knew that he could marry her at once if he chose; but in what
way? By holding a sword of terror over her head, and forcing her to be
his. He became frenzied at the idea of possessing her person, while
her heart and soul would always be with Prosper.
Thus he swore that, before marrying, he would so cover Prosper with
shame and ignominy that no honest person would speak to him. He had
first thought of killing him, but, fearing that Madeleine would
enshrine and worship his memory, he determined to disgrace him.
He imagined that there would be no difficulty in ruining the
unfortunate young man. He soon found himself mistaken.
Though Prosper led a life of reckless dissipation, he preserved order
in his disorder. If in a state of miserable entanglement, and obliged
to resort to all sorts of make-shifts to escape his creditors, his
caution prevented the world from knowing it.
Vainly did Raoul, with his pockets full of gold, try to tempt him to
play high; every effort to hasten his ruin failed.
When he played he did not seem to care whether he lost or won; nothing
aroused him from his cold indifference.
His friend Nina Gypsy was extravagant, but her devotion to Prosper
restrained her from going beyond certain limits.
Raoul's great intimacy with Prosper enabled him to fully understand
the state of his mind; that he was trying to drown his disappointment
in excitement, but had not given up all hope.
"You need not hope to beguile Prosper into committing any piece of
folly," said Raoul to his uncle; "his head is as cool as a usurer's.
He never goes beyond a certain degree of dissipation. What object he
has in view I know not. Perhaps, when he has spent his last napoleon,
he will blow his brains out; he certainly never will descend to any
dishonorable act. As to tampering with the money-safe intrusted to his
"We must force him on," replied Clameran, "lead him into
extravagances, make Gypsy call on him for costly finery, lend him
plenty of money."
Raoul shook his head, as if convinced that his efforts would be vain.
"You don't know Prosper, uncle: we can't galvanize a dead man.
Madeleine killed him the day she discarded him. He takes no interest
in anything on the face of the earth."
"We can wait and see."
They did wait; and, to the great surprise of Mme. Fauvel, Raoul once
more became an affectionate and dutiful son, as he had been during
Clameran's absence. From reckless extravagance he changed to great
economy. Under pretext of saving money, he remained at Vesinet,
although it was very uncomfortable and disagreeable there in the
winter. He said he wished to expiate his sins in solitude. The truth
was, that, by remaining in the country, he insured his liberty, and
escaped his mother's visits.
It was about this time that Mme. Fauvel, charmed with the improvement
in Raoul, asked her husband to give him some employment.
M. Fauvel was delighted to please his wife, and at once offered Raoul
the place of corresponding clerk with a salary of five hundred francs
The appointment pleased Raoul; but, in obedience to Clameran's
command, he refused it, saying his vocation was not banking.
This refusal so provoked the banker, that he told Raoul, if he was so
idle and lazy, not to call on him for money again, or expect him to do
anything to assist him. Raoul seized this pretext for ostensibly
ceasing his visits.
When he wanted to see his mother, he would come in the afternoon, when
he knew that M. Fauvel would be from home; and he only came often
enough to keep informed of what was going on in the household.
This sudden lull after so many storms appeared ominous to Madeleine.
She was more certain that ever that the plot was now ripe, and would
suddenly burst upon them, without warning. She did not impart her
presentiment to her aunt, but prepared herself for the worst.
"What can they be doing?" Mme. Fauvel would say; "can they have ceased
to persecute us?"
"Yes: what can they be doing?" Madeleine would murmur.
Louis and Raoul gave no signs of life, because, like expert hunters,
they were silently hiding, and watching for a favorable opportunity of
pouncing upon their victims.
Never losing sight of Prosper for a day, Raoul had exhausted every
effort of his fertile mind to compromise his honor, to insnare him
into some inextricable entanglement. But, as he had foreseen, the
cashier's indifference offered little hope of success.
Clameran began to grow impatient at this delay, and had fully
determined to bring matters to a crisis himself, when one morning,
about three o'clock, he was aroused by Raoul.
He knew that some event of great importance must have happened, to
make his nephew come to his house at this hour of the morning.
"What is the matter?" he anxiously inquired.
"Perhaps nothing; perhaps everything. I have just left Prosper."
"I had him, Mme. Gypsy, and three other friends to dine with me. After
dinner, I made up a game of baccarat, but Prosper took no interest in
it, although he was quite tipsy."
"You must be drunk yourself to come here waking me up in the middle of
the night, to hear this idle gabble," said Louis angrily. "What the
devil do you mean by it?"
"Now, don't be in a hurry; wait until you hear the rest."
"Morbleu! speak, then!"
"After the game was over, we went to supper; Prosper became
intoxicated, and betrayed the secret name with which he closes the
At these words Clameran uttered a cry of triumph.
"What was the word?"
"The name of his friend."
"Gypsy! Yes, that would be five letters."
Louis was so excited that he jumped out of bed, slipped on his
dressing-gown, and began to stride up and down the chamber.
"Now we have got him!" he said with vindictive satisfaction. "There's
no chance of escape for him now! Ah, the virtuous cashier won't touch
the money confided to him: so we must touch it for him. The disgrace
will be just as great, no matter who opens the safe. We have the word;
you know where the key is kept."
"Yes; when M. Fauvel goes out he always leaves the key in the drawer
of his secretary, in his chamber."
"Very good. Go and get this key from Mme. Fauvel. If she does not give
it up willingly, use force: so that you get it, that is the point;
then open the safe, and take out every franc it contains. Ah, Master
Bertomy, you shall pay dear for being loved by the woman whom I love!"
For five minutes Clameran indulged in such a tirade of abuse against
Prosper, mingled with rhapsodies of love for Madeleine, that Raoul
thought him almost out of his mind.
"Before crying victory," he said, "you had better consider the
drawbacks and difficulties. Prosper might change the word to-morrow."
"Yes, he might; but it is not probable he will; he will forget what he
said while drunk; besides, we can hasten matters."
"That is not all. M. Fauvel has given orders that no large sum shall
be kept in the safe over-night; before closing the bank everything is
sent to the Bank of France."
"A large sum will be kept there the night I choose."
"You think so?"
"I think this: I have a hundred thousand crowns deposited with M.
Fauvel: and if I desire the money to be paid over to me early some
morning, directly the bank is opened, of course the money will be kept
in the safe the previous night."
"A splendid idea!" cried Raoul admiringly.
It was a good idea; and the plotters spent several hours in studying
its strong and weak points.
Raoul feared that he would never be able to overcome Mme. Fauvel's
resistance. And, even if she yielded the key, would she not go
directly and confess everything to her husband? She was fond of
Prosper, and would hesitate a long time before sacrificing him.
But Louis felt no uneasiness on this score.
"One sacrifice necessitates another," he said: "she has made too many
to draw back at the last one. She sacrificed her adopted daughter;
therefore she will sacrifice a young man, who is, after all, a
comparative stranger to her."
"But madame will never believe any harm of Prosper; she will always
have faith in his honor; therefore--"
"You talk like an idiot, my verdant nephew!"
Before the conversation had ended, the plan seemed feasible. The
scoundrels made all their arrangements, and fixed the day for
committing the crime.
They selected the evening of the 7th of February, because Raoul knew
that M. Fauvel would be at a bank-director's dinner, and Madeleine was
invited to a party on that evening.
Unless something unforeseen should occur, Raoul knew that he would
find Mme. Fauvel alone at half-past eight o'clock.
"I will ask M. Fauvel this very day," said Clameran, "to have my money
on hand for Tuesday."
"That is a very short notice, uncle," objected Raoul. "You know there
are certain forms to be gone through, and he can claim a longer time
wherein to pay it over."
"That is true, but our banker is proud of always being prepared to pay
any amount of money, no matter how large; and if I say I am pressed,
and would like to be accommodated on Tuesday, he will make a point of
having it ready for me. Now, you must ask Prosper, as a personal favor
to you, to have the money on hand at the opening of the bank."
Raoul once more examined the situation, to discover if possible a
grain of sand which might be converted into a mountain at the last
"Prosper and Gypsy are to be at Vesinet this evening," he said, "but I
cannot ask them anything until I know the banker's answer. As soon as
you arrange matters with him, send me word by Manuel."
"I can't send Manuel, for an excellent reason; he has left me; but I
can send another messenger."
Louis spoke the truth; Manuel was gone. He had insisted on keeping
Gaston's old servant in his service, because he thought it imprudent
to leave him at Oloron, where his gossiping might cause trouble.
He soon became annoyed by Manuel's loyalty, who had shared the perils
and good fortunes of an excellent master for many years; and
determined to rid himself of this last link which constantly reminded
him of Gaston. The evening before, he had persuaded Manuel to return
to Arenys-de-mer, a little port of Catalonia, his native place; and
Louis was looking for another servant.
After breakfasting together, they separated.
Clameran was so elated by the prospect of success, that he lost sight
of the great crime intervening. Raoul was calm, but resolute. The
shameful deed he was about to commit would give him riches, and
release him from a hateful servitude. His one thought was liberty, as
Louis's was Madeleine.
Everything seemed to progress finely. The banker did not ask for the
notice of time, but promised to pay the money at the specified hour.
Prosper said he would have it ready early in the morning.
The certainty of success made Louis almost wild with joy. He counted
the hours, and the minutes, which passed but too slowly.
"When this affair is ended," he said to Raoul, "I will reform and be a
model of virtue. No one will dare hint that I have ever indulged in
any sins, great or small."
But Raoul became more and more sad as the time approached. Reflection
gradually betrayed the blackness of the contemplated crime.
Raoul was bold and determined in the pursuit of his own gratifications
and wickedness; he could smile in the face of his best friend, while
cheating him of his last napoleon at cards; and he could sleep well
after stabbing his enemy in the heart; but he was young.
He was young in sin. Vice had not yet penetrated to his marrow-bones:
corruption had not yet crowded into his soul enough to uproot and
destroy every generous sentiment.
It had not been so very long since he had cherished a few holy
beliefs. The good intentions of his boyhood were not quite obliterated
from his sometimes reproachful memory.
Possessing the daring courage natural to youth, he despised the
cowardly part forced upon him; this dark plot, laid for the
destruction of two helpless women, filled him with horror and disgust.
His heart revolted at the idea of acting the part of Judas toward his
mother to betray her between two kisses.
Disgusted by the cool villainy of Louis, he longed for some unexpected
danger to spring up, some great peril to be braved, so as to excuse
himself in his own eyes, to give him the spirit to carry through the
scheme; for he would like to reap the benefits without doing the
But no; he well knew that he ran no risk, not even that of being
arrested and sent to the galleys. For he was certain that, if M.
Fauvel discovered everything, he would do his best to hush it up, to
conceal every fact connected with the disgraceful story which would
implicate his wife. Although he was careful not to breathe it to
Clameran, he felt a sincere affection for Mme. Fauvel, and was touched
by the indulgent fondness which she so unchangingly lavished upon him.
He had been happy at Vesinet, while his accomplice, or rather his
master, was at Oloron. He would have been glad to lead an honest life,
and could not see the sense of committing a crime when there was no
necessity for it. He hated Clameran for not consenting to let the
matter drop, now that he was rich enough to live in affluence the rest
of his life, and who, for the sake of gratifying a selfish passion,
was abusing his power, and endangering the safety and happiness of so
many people. He longed for an opportunity of thwarting his plots, if
it could be done without also ruining himself.
His resolution, which had been so firm in the beginning, was growing
weaker and weaker as the hours rolled on: as the crisis approached,
his horror of the deed increased.
Seeing this uncertain state of Raoul's mind, Louis never left him, but
continued to paint for him a dazzling future, position, wealth, and
freedom. Possessing a large fortune, he would be his own master,
gratify his every wish, and make amends to his mother for his present
undutiful conduct. He urged him to take pride in acting his part in
this little comedy, which would soon be over without doing harm to
He prepared, and forced his accomplice to rehearse, the scene which
was to be enacted at Mme. Fauvel's, with as much coolness and
precision as if it were to be performed at a public theatre. Louis
said that no piece could be well acted unless the actor was interested
and imbued with the spirit of his role.
But the more urgently Louis pressed upon him the advantages to be
derived from success, the oftener he sounded in his ears the magic
words, "five hundred thousand francs," the more loudly did Raoul's
conscience cry out against the sinful deed.
On Monday evening, about six o'clock, Raoul felt so depressed and
miserable, that he had almost made up his mind to refuse to move
another step, and to tell Louis that he must find another tool to
carry out his abominable plot.
"Are you afraid?" asked Clameran, who had anxiously watched these
"Yes, I am afraid. I am not cursed with your ferocious nature and iron
will. I am the most miserable dog living!"
"Come, cheer up, my boy! You are not yourself to-day. Don't fail me at
the last minute, when everything depends upon you. Just think that we
have almost finished; one more stroke of our oars, and we are in port.
You are only nervous: come to dinner, and a bottle of Burgundy will
soon set you right."
They were walking along the boulevard. Clameran insisted upon their
entering a restaurant, and having dinner in a private room.
Vainly did he strive, however, to chase the gloom from Raoul's pale
face; he sat listening, with a sullen frown, to his friend's jests
about "swallowing the bitter pill gracefully."
Urged by Louis, he drank two bottles of wine, in hopes that
intoxication would inspire him with courage to do the deed, which
Clameran impressed upon his mind must and should be done before many
more hours had passed over his head.
But the drunkenness he sought came not; the wine proved false; at the
bottom of the last bottle he found disgust and rage.
The clock struck eight.
"The time has come," said Louis firmly.
Raoul turned livid; his teeth chattered, and his limbs trembled so
that he was unable to stand on his feet.
"Oh, I cannot do it!" he cried in an agony of terror and rage.
Clameran's eyes flashed with angry excitement at the prospect of all
his plans being ruined at the last moment. But he dared not give way
to his anger, for fear of exasperating Raoul, whom he knew to be
anxious for an excuse to quarrel; so he quietly pulled the bell-rope.
A boy appeared.
"A bottle of port," he said, "and a bottle of rum."
When the boy returned with the bottles, Louis filled a goblet with the
two liquors mixed, and handed it to Raoul.
"Drink this," he said in a tone of command.
Raoul emptied the glass at one draught, and a faint color returned to
his ashy cheeks. He arose, and snatching up his hat, cried fiercely:
But before he had walked half a square, the factitious energy inspired
by drink deserted him.
He clung to Clameran's arm, and was almost dragged along in the
direction of the banker's house, trembling like a criminal on his way
to the scaffold.
"If I can once get him in the house," thought Louis, "and make him
begin, the excitement of his mother's opposition will make him carry
it through successfully. The cowardly baby! I would like to wring his
Although his breast was filled with these thoughts and fears, he was
careful to conceal them from Raoul, and said soothingly:
"Now, don't forget our arrangement, and be careful how you enter the
house; everything depends upon your being unconcerned and cool, to
avoid arousing suspicion in the eyes of anyone you may meet. Have you
a pistol in your pocket?"
"Yes, yes! Let me alone!"
It was well that Clameran had accompanied Raoul; for, when he got in
sight of the door, his courage gave way, and he longed to retreat.
"A poor, helpless woman!" he groaned, "and an honest man who pressed
my hand in friendship yesterday, to be cowardly ruined, betrayed by
me! Ah, it is too base! I cannot!"
"Come, don't be a coward! I thought you had more nerve. Why, you might
as well have remained virtuous and honest; you will never earn your
salt in this sort of business."
Raoul overcame his weakness, and, silencing the clamors of his
conscience, rushed up the steps, and pulled the bell furiously.
"Is Mme. Fauvel at home?" he inquired of the servant who opened the
"Madame is alone in the sitting-room adjoining her chamber," was the
Raoul went upstairs.
Clameran's last injunction to Raoul was:
"Be very cautious when you enter the room; your appearance must tell
everything, so you can avoid preliminary explanations."
The recommendation was useless.
The instant that Raoul went into the little salon, the sight of his
pale, haggard face and wild eyes caused Mme. Fauvel to spring up with
clasped hands, and cry out:
"Raoul! What has happened? Speak, my son!"
The sound of her tender, affectionate voice acted like an electric
shock upon the young bandit. He shook like a leaf. But at the same
time his mind seemed to change. Louis was not mistaken in his estimate
of his companion's character. Raoul was on the stage, his part was to
be played; his assurance returned to him; his cheating, lying nature
assumed the ascendant, and stifled any better feeling in his heart.
"This misfortune is the last I shall ever suffer, mother!"
Mme. Fauvel rushed toward him, and, seizing his hand, gazed
searchingly into his eyes, as if to read his very soul.
"What is the matter? Raoul, my dear son, do tell me what troubles
He gently pushed her from him.
"The matter is, my mother," he said in a voice of heart-broken
despair, "that I am an unworthy, degenerate son! Unworthy of you,
unworthy of my noble father!"
She tried to comfort him by saying that his errors were all her fault,
and that he was, in spite of all, the pride of her heart.
"Alas!" he said, "I know and judge myself. No one can reproach me for
my infamous conduct more bitterly than does my own conscience. I am
not naturally wicked, but only a miserable fool. At times I am like an
insane man, and am not responsible for my actions. Ah, my dear mother,
I would not be what I am, if you had watched over my childhood. But
brought up among strangers, with no guide but my own evil passions,
nothing to restrain me, no one to advise me, no one to love me, owning
nothing, not even my stolen name, I am cursed with vanity and
unbounded ambition. Poor, with no one to assist me but you, I have the
tastes and vices of a millionnaire's son.
"Alas for me! When I found you, the evil was done. Your affection,
your maternal love, the only true happiness of my life, could not save
me. I, who had suffered so much, endured so many privations, even the
pangs of hunger, became spoiled by this new life of luxury and
pleasure which you opened before me. I rushed headlong into
extravagance, as a drunkard long deprived of liquor seizes and drains
to the dregs the first bottle in his reach."
Mme. Fauvel listened, silent and terrified, to these words of despair
and remorse, which Raoul uttered with vehemence.
She dared not interrupt him, but felt certain some dreadful piece of
news was coming.
Raoul continued in a sad, hopeless tone:
"Yes, I have been a weak fool. Happiness was within my reach, and I
had not the sense to stretch forth my hand and grab it. I rejected a
heavenly reality to eagerly pursue a vain phantom. I, who ought to
have spent my life at your feet, and daily striven to express my
gratitude for your lavish kindness, have made you unhappy, destroyed
your peace of mind, and, instead of being a blessing, I have been a
curse ever since the first fatal day you welcomed me to your kind
heart. Ah, unfeeling brute that I was, to squander upon creatures whom
I despised, a fortune, of which each gold piece must have cost you a
tear! Too late, too late! With you I might have been a good and happy
He stopped, as if overcome by the conviction of his evil deeds, and
seemed about to burst into tears.
"It is never too late to repent, my son," murmured Mme. Fauvel in
"Ah, if I only could!" cried Raoul; "but no, it is too late! Besides,
can I tell how long my good resolutions will last? This is not the
first time that I have condemned myself pitilessly. Stinging remorse
for each new fault made me swear to lead a better life, to sin no
more. What was the result of these periodical repentances? At the
first temptation I forgot my remorse and good resolutions. I am weak
and mean-spirited, and you are not firm enough to govern my
vacillating nature. While my intentions are good, my actions are
villainous. The disproportion between my extravagant desires, and the
means of gratifying them, is too great for me to endure any longer.
Who knows to what fearful lengths my unfortunate disposition may lead
me? However, I will take my fate in my own hands!" he finally said
with a reckless laugh.
"Oh, Raoul, my dear son," cried Mme. Fauvel in an agony of terror,
"explain these dreadful words; am I not your mother? Tell me what
distresses you; I am ready to hear the worst."
He appeared to hesitate, as if afraid to crush his mother's heart by
the terrible blow he was about to inflict. Then in a voice of gloomy
despair he replied:
"I am ruined."
"Yes, ruined; and I have nothing more to expect or hope for. I am
dishonored, and all through my own fault; no one is to be blamed but
"It is the sad truth, my poor mother; but fear nothing: I shall not
trail in the dust the name which you bestowed upon me. I will at least
have the courage not to survive my dishonor. Come, mother, don't pity
me, or distress yourself; I am one of those miserable beings fated to
find no peace save in the arms of death. I came into the world with
misfortune stamped upon my brow. Was not my birth a shame and disgrace
to you? Did not the memory of my existence haunt you day and night,
filling your soul with remorse? And now, when I am restored to you
after many years' separation, do I not prove to be a bitter curse
instead of a blessing?"
"Ungrateful boy! Have I ever reproached you?"
"Never! Your poor Raoul will die with your beloved name on his lips;
his last words a prayer to Heaven to heap blessings upon your head,
and reward your long-suffering devotion."
"Die? You die, my son!"
"It must be, my dear mother; honor compels it. I am condemned by
judges from whose decision no appeal can be taken--my conscience and
An hour ago, Mme. Fauvel would have sworn that Raoul had made her
suffer all the torments that a woman could endure; but now she felt
that all her former troubles were nothing compared with her present
"My God! Raoul, what have you been doing?"
"Money was intrusted to me: I gambled and lost it."
"Was it a large sum?"
"No; but more than I can replace. My poor mother, have I not taken
everything from you? Did you not give me your last jewel?"
"But M. de Clameran is rich. He placed his fortune at my disposal. I
will order the carriage, and go to him."
"But M. de Clameran is absent, and will not return to Paris until next
week; and if I do not have the money this evening, I am lost. Alas! I
have thought deeply, and, although it is hard to die so young, still
fate wills it so."
He pulled a pistol from his pocket, and, with a forced smile, said:
"This will settle everything."
Mme. Fauvel was too excited and frightened to reflect upon the horror
of Raoul's behavior, and that these wild threats were a last resort
for obtaining money. Forgetful of the past, careless of the future,
her every thought concentrated upon the present, she comprehended but
one fact: that her son was about to commit suicide, and that she was
powerless to prevent the fearful deed.
"Oh, wait a little while my son!" she cried. "Andre will soon return
home, and I will ask him to give me-- How much did you lose?"
"Thirty thousand francs."
"You shall have them to-morrow."
"But I must have the money to-night."
Mme. Fauvel wrung her hands in despair.
"Oh! why did you not come to me sooner, my son? Why did you not have
confidence enough in me to come at once for help? This evening! There
is no one in the house to open the money-safe; if it were not for
that--if you had only come before Andre went out--"
"The safe!" cried Raoul, with sudden joy, as if this magic word had
thrown a ray of light upon his dark despair; "do you know where the
key is kept?"
"Yes: it is in the next room."
"Well!" he exclaimed, with a bold look that caused Mme. Fauvel to
lower her eyes, and keep silent.
"Give me the key, mother," he said in a tone of entreaty.
"Oh, Raoul, Raoul!"
"It is my life I am asking of you."
These words decided her; she snatched up a candle, rushed into her
chamber, opened the secretary, and took out M. Fauvel's key.
But, when about to hand it to Raoul, she seemed to suddenly see the
enormity of what she was doing.
"Oh, Raoul! my son," she murmured, "I cannot! Do not ask me to commit
such a dreadful deed!"
He said nothing, but sadly turned to leave the room; then coming back
to his mother said:
"Ah, well; it makes but little difference in the end! At least, you
will give me one last kiss, before we part forever, my darling
"What could you do with the key, Raoul?" interrupted Mme. Fauvel. "You
do not know the secret word of the buttons."
"No; but I can try to open it without moving the buttons."
"You know that money is never kept in the safe over-night."
"Nevertheless, I can make the attempt. If I open the safe, and find
money in it, it will be a miracle, showing that Heaven has pitied my
misfortune, and provided relief."
"And if you are not successful, will you promise me to wait until
to-morrow, to do nothing rash to-night?"
"I swear it, by my father's memory."
"Then take the key and follow me."
Pale and trembling, Raoul and Mme. Fauvel passed through the banker's
study, and down the narrow staircase leading to the offices and cash-
Raoul walked in front, holding the light, and the key of the safe.
Mme. Fauvel was convinced that it would be utterly impossible to open
the safe, as the key was useless without the secret word, and of
course Raoul had no way of discovering what that was.
Even granting that some chance had revealed the secret to him, he
would find but little in the safe, since everything was deposited in
the Bank of France. Everyone knew that no large sum was ever kept in
the safe after banking hours.
The only anxiety she felt was, how Raoul would bear the
disappointment, and how she could calm his despair.
She thought that she would gain time by letting Raoul try the key; and
then, when he could not open the safe, he would keep his promise, and
wait until the next day. There was surely no harm in letting him try
the lock, when he could not touch the money.
"When he sees there is no chance of success," she thought, "he will
listen to my entreaties; and to-morrow--to-morrow----"
What she could do to-morrow she knew not, she did not even ask
herself. But in extreme situations the least delay inspires hope, as
if a short respite meant sure salvation.
The condemned man, at the last moment, begs for a reprieve of a day,
an hour, a few seconds. Raoul was about to kill himself: his mother
prayed to God to grant her one day, not even a day, one night; as if
in this space of time some unexpected relief would come to end her
They reached Prosper's office, and Raoul placed the light on a high
stool so that it lighted the whole room.
He then summoned up all his coolness, or rather that mechanical
precision of movement, almost independent of will, of which men
accustomed to peril avail themselves in time of need.
Rapidly, with the dexterity of experience, he slipped the buttons on
the five letters composing the name of G, y, p, s, y.
His features, during this short operation, expressed the most intense
anxiety. He was fearful that his nervous energy might give out; of not
being able to open the safe; of not finding the money there when he
opened it; of Prosper having changed the word; or perhaps having
neglected to leave the money in the safe.
Mme. Fauvel saw these visible apprehensions with alarm. She read in
his eyes that wild hope of a man who, passionately desiring an object,
ends by persuading himself that his own will suffices to overcome all
Having often been present when Prosper was preparing to leave his
office, Raoul had fifty times seen him move the buttons, and lock the
safe, just before leaving the bank. Indeed, having a practical turn of
mind, and an eye to the future, he had even tried to lock the safe
himself on several occasions, while waiting for Prosper.
He inserted the key softly, turned it around, pushed it farther in,
and turned it a second time; then thrust it in suddenly, and turned it
again. His heart beat so loudly that Mme. Fauvel could hear its
The word had not been changed; the safe opened.
Raoul and his mother simultaneously uttered a cry; she of terror, he
"Shut it again!" cried Mme. Fauvel, frightened at the incomprehensible
result of Raoul's attempt: "Come away! Don't touch anything, for
Heaven's sake! Raoul!"
And, half frenzied, she clung to Raoul's arm, and pulled him away so
abruptly, that the key was dragged from the lock, and, slipping along
the glossy varnish of the safe-door, made a deep scratch some inches
But at a glance Raoul discovered, on the upper shelf of the safe,
three bundles of bank-notes. He snatched them up with his left hand,
and slipped them inside his vest.
Exhausted by the effort she had just made, Mme. Fauvel dropped Raoul's
arm, and, almost fainting with emotion, clung to the back of a chair.
"Have mercy, Raoul!" she moaned. "I implore you to put back that money
and I solemnly swear that I will give you twice as much to-morrow. Oh,
my son, have pity upon your unhappy mother!"
He paid no attention to these words of entreaty, but carefully
examined the scratch on the safe. He was alarmed at this trace of the
robbery, which it was impossible for him to cover up.
"At least you will not take all," said Mme. Fauvel; "just keep enough
to save yourself, and put back the rest."
"What good would that do? The discovery will be made that the safe has
been opened; so I might as well take all as a part."
"Oh, no! not at all. I can account to Andre; I will tell him I had a
pressing need for a certain sum, and opened the safe to get it."
In the meantime Raoul had carefully closed the safe.
"Come, mother, let us go back to the sitting-room. A servant might go
there to look for you, and be astonished at our absence."
Raoul's cruel indifference and cold calculations at such a moment
filled Mme. Fauvel with indignation. She saw that she had no influence
over her son, that her prayers and tears had no effect upon his hard
"Let them be astonished," she cried: "let them come here and find us!
I will be relieved to put an end to this tissue of crime. Then Andre
will know all, and drive me from his house. Let come what will, I
shall not sacrifice another victim. Prosper will be accused of this
theft to-morrow. Clameran defrauded him of the woman he loved, and now
you would deprive him of his honor! I will have nothing to do with so
base a crime."
She spoke so loud and angrily that Raoul was alarmed. He knew that the
errand-boy slept in a room close by, and might be in bed listening to
her, although it was early in the evening.
"Come upstairs!" he said, seizing Mme. Fauvel's arm.
But she clung to a table and refused to move a step.
"I have been cowardly enough to sacrifice Madeleine," she said, "but I
will not ruin Prosper."
Raoul had an argument in reserve which he knew would make Mme. Fauvel
submit to his will.
"Now, really," he said with a cynical laugh, "do you pretend that you
do not know Prosper and I arranged this little affair together, and
that he is to have half the booty?"
"Impossible! I never will believe such a thing of Prosper!"
"Why, how do you suppose I discovered the secret word? Who do you
suppose disobeyed orders, and left the money in the safe?"
"Prosper is honest."
"Of course he is, and so am I too. The only thing is, that we both
"You are telling a falsehood, Raoul!"
"Upon my soul, I am not. Madeleine rejected Prosper, and the poor
fellow has to console himself for her cruelty; and these sorts of
consolations are expensive, my good mother."
He took up the candle, and gently but firmly led Mme. Fauvel toward
She mechanically suffered herself to be led along, more bewildered by
what she had just heard than she was at the opening of the safe-door.
"What!" she gasped, "can Prosper be a thief?"
She began to think herself the victim of a terrible nightmare, and
that, when she waked, her mind would be relieved of this intolerable
torture. She helplessly clung to Raoul's arm as he helped her up the
narrow little staircase.
"You must put the key back in the secretary," said Raoul, as soon as
they were in the chamber again.
But she did not seem to hear him; so he went and replaced the safe-key
in the place from which he had seen her take it.
He then led, or rather carried, Mme. Fauvel into the little sitting-
room, and placed her in an easy-chair.
The set, expressionless look of the wretched woman's eyes, and her
dazed manner, frightened Raoul, who thought that she had lost her
mind, that her reason had finally given way beneath this last terrible
"Come, cheer up, my dear mother," he said in coaxing tones as he
rubbed her icy hands; "you have saved my life, and rendered an immense
service to Prosper. Don't be alarmed; everything will come out right
in the end. Prosper will be accused, perhaps arrested; he expects
that, and is prepared for it; he will deny his culpability; and, as
there is no proof against him, he will be set at liberty immediately."
But these falsehoods were wasted on Mme. Fauvel, who was incapable of
understanding anything said to her.
"Raoul," she moaned in a broken-hearted tone, "Raoul, my son, you have
Her gentle voice, kind even in its despairing accents, touched the
very bottom of Raoul's perverted heart, and once more his soul was
wrung by remorse; so that he felt inclined to put back the stolen
money, and comfort the despairing woman whose life and reason he was
destroying. The thought of Clameran restrained him.
Finding his efforts to restore Mme. Fauvel fruitless, that, in spite
of all his affectionate regrets and promises, she still sat silent,
motionless, and death-like; and fearing that M. Fauvel or Madeleine
might enter at any moment, and demand an explanation, he hastily
pressed a kiss upon his mother's brow, and hurried from the house.
At the restaurant, in the room where they had dined, Clameran,
tortured by anxiety, awaited his accomplice.
He wondered if at the last moment, when he was not near to sustain
him, Raoul would prove a coward, and retreat; if any unforeseen trifle
had prevented his finding the key; if any visitors were there; and, if
so, would they depart before M. Fauvel's return from the dinner-party?
He had worked himself into such a state of excitement, that, when
Raoul returned, he flew to him with ashy face and trembling all over,
and could scarcely gasp out:
"The deed is done, uncle, thanks to you; and I am now the most
miserable, abject villain on the face of the earth."
He unbuttoned his vest, and, pulling out the four bundles of bank-
notes, angrily dashed them upon the table, saying, in a tone of scorn
"Now I hope you are satisfied. This is the price of the happiness,
honor, and perhaps the life of three people."
Clameran paid no attention to these angry words. With feverish
eagerness he seized the notes, and rattled them in his hand as if to
convince himself of the reality of success.
"Now Madeleine is mine!" he cried excitedly.
Raoul looked at Clameran in silent disgust. This exhibition of joy was
a shocking contrast to the scene in which he had just been an actor.
He was humiliated at being the tool of such a heartless scoundrel as
he now knew Clameran to be.
Louis misinterpreted this silence, and said gayly:
"Did you have much difficulty?"
"I forbid you ever to allude to this evening's work," cried Raoul
fiercely. "Do you hear me? I wish to forget it."
Clameran shrugged his shoulders at this outburst of anger, and said in
a bantering tone:
"Just as you please, my handsome nephew: I rather think you will want
to remember it though, when I offer you these three hundred and fifty
thousand francs. You will not, I am sure, refuse to accept them as a
slight souvenir. Take them: they are yours."
This generosity seemed neither to surprise nor satisfy Raoul.
"According to our agreement," he said sullenly, "I was to have more
"Of course: this is only part of your share."
"And when am I to have the rest, if you please?"
"The day I marry Madeleine, and not before, my boy. You are too
valuable an assistant to lose at present; and you know that, though I
don't mistrust you, I am not altogether sure of your sincere affection
Raoul reflected that to commit a crime, and not profit by it, would be
the height of absurdity. He had come with the intention of breaking
off all connection with Clameran; but he now determined that he would
not abandon his accomplice until he had been well paid for his
"Very well," he said, "I accept this on account; but remember, I will
never do another piece of work like this to-night. You can do what you
please; I shall flatly refuse."
Clameran burst into a loud laugh, and said:
"That is sensible: now that you are rich, you can afford to be honest.
Set your conscience at rest, for I promise you I will require nothing
more of you save a few trifling services. You can retire behind the
scenes now, while I appear upon the stage; my role begins."
For more than an hour after Raoul's departure, Mme. Fauvel remained in
a state of stupor bordering upon unconsciousness.
Gradually, however, she recovered her senses sufficiently to
comprehend the horrors of her present situation; and, with the faculty
of thought, that of suffering returned.
The dreadful scene in which she had taken part was still before her
affrighted vision; all the attending circumstances, unnoticed at the
time, now struck her forcibly.
She saw that she had been the dupe of a shameful conspiracy: that
Raoul had tortured her with cold-blooded cruelty, had taken advantage
of her tenderness, and had speculated upon her fright.
But had Prosper anything to do with the robbery? This Mme. Fauvel had
no way of finding out. Ah, Raoul knew how the blow would strike when
he accused Prosper. He knew that Mme. Fauvel would end by believing in
the cashier's complicity.
The unhappy woman sat and thought over every possible way in which
Raoul could find out the secret word without Prosper's knowledge. She
rejected with horror the idea that the cashier was the instigator of
the crime; but, in spite of herself, it constantly recurred. And
finally she felt convinced that what Raoul said must be true; for who
but Prosper could have betrayed the word? And who but Prosper could
have left so large an amount of money in the safe, which, by order of
the banker, was to be always left empty at night?
Knowing that Prosper was leading a life of extravagance and
dissipation, she thought it very likely that he had, from sheer
desperation, resorted to this bold step to pay his debts; her blind
affection, moreover, made her anxious to attribute the crime to
anyone, rather than to her darling son.
She had heard that Prosper was supporting one of those worthless
creatures whose extravagance impoverishes men, and whose evil
influence perverts their natures. When a young man is thus degraded,
will he stop at any sin or crime? Alas! Mme. Fauvel knew, from her own
sad experience, to what depths even one fault can lead. Although she
believed Prosper guilty, she did not blame him, but considered herself
responsible for his sins.
Had she not herself banished the poor young man from the fireside
which he had begun to regard as his own? Had she not destroyed his
hopes of happiness, by crushing his pure love for a noble girl, whom
he looked upon as his future wife, and thus driven him into a life of
dissipation and sin?
She was undecided whether to confide in Madeleine, or bury the secret
in her own breast.
Fatally inspired, she decided to keep silent.
When Madeleine returned home at eleven o'clock, Mme. Fauvel not only
was silent as to what had occurred, but even succeeded in so
concealing all traces of her agitation, that she escaped any questions
from her niece.
Her calmness never left her when M. Fauvel and Lucien returned,
although she was in terror lest her husband should go down to the
cash-room to see that everything was safely locked up. It was not his
habit to open the money-safe at night, but he sometimes did.
As fate would have it, the banker, as soon as he entered the room,
began to speak of Prosper, saying how distressing it was that so
interesting a young man should be thus throwing himself away, and
wondering what could have happened to make him suddenly cease his
visits at the house, and resort to bad company.
If M. Fauvel had looked at the faces of his wife and niece while he
harshly blamed the cashier, he would have been puzzled at their
All night long Mme. Fauvel suffered the most intolerable agony. She
counted each stroke of the town-clock, as the hours dragged on.
"In six hours," she said to herself, "in five hours--in four hours--in
three hours--in one hour--all will be discovered; and then what will
happen? Heaven help me!"
At sunrise she heard the servants moving about the house. Then the
office-shutters opened; then, later, she heard the clerks going into
She attempted to get up, but felt so ill and weak that she sank back
on her pillow; and lying there, trembling like a leaf, bathed in cold
perspiration, she awaited the discovery of the robbery.
She was leaning over the side of the bed, straining her ear to catch a
sound from the cash-room, when Madeleine, who had just left her,
rushed into the room.
The white face and wild eyes of the poor girl told Mme. Fauvel that
the crime was discovered.
"Do you know what has happened, aunt?" cried Madeleine, in a shrill,
horrified tone. "Prosper is accused of robbery, and the police have
come to take him to prison!"
A groan was Mme. Fauvel's only answer.
"Raoul or the marquis is at the bottom of this," continued Madeleine
"How can they be concerned in it, my child?"
"I can't tell yet; but I only know that Prosper is innocent. I have
just seen him, spoken to him. He would never have looked me in the
face had he been guilty."
Mme. Fauvel opened her lips to confess all: fear kept her silent.
"What can these wretches want?" said Madeleine: "what new sacrifice do
they demand? Dishonor Prosper! Good heavens! Why did they not kill him
at once? He would rather be dead than disgraced!"
Here the entrance of M. Fauvel interrupted Madeleine. The banker was
so angry that he could scarcely speak.
"The worthless scoundrel!" he cried; "to think of his daring to accuse
me! To insinuate that I robbed my own safe! And that Marquis de
Clameran must needs doubt my good faith in keeping my engagement to
pay his money!"
Then, without noticing the effect of his story upon the two women, he
proceeded to relate all that had occurred downstairs.
"I was afraid this extravagance would lead to something terrible," he
said in conclusion; "you know I told you last night that Prosper was
growing worse in his conduct, and that he would get into trouble."
Throughout the day Madeleine's devotion to her aunt was severely
The generous girl saw disgrace heaped upon the man she loved. She had
perfect faith in his innocence; she felt sure she knew who had laid
the trap to ruin him; and yet she could not say a word in his defence.
Fearing that Madeleine would suspect her of complicity in the theft,
if she remained in bed and betrayed so much agitation, Mme. Fauvel
arose and dressed for breakfast.
It was a dreary meal. No one tasted a morsel. The servants moved about
on their tiptoes, as silently as if a death had occurred in the
About two o'clock, a servant came to M. Fauvel's study, and said that
the Marquis de Clameran desired to see him.
"What!" cried the banker; "does he dare----"
Then, after a moment's reflection, he added:
"Ask him to walk up."
The very name of Clameran had sufficed to arouse all the slumbering
wrath of M. Fauvel. The victim of a robbery, finding his safe empty at
the moment that he was called upon to make a heavy payment, he had
been constrained to conceal his anger and resentment; but now he
determined to have his revenge upon his insolent visitor.
But the marquis declined to come upstairs. The messenger returned with
the answer that the gentleman had a particular reason for seeing M.
Fauvel in the office below, where the clerks were.
"What does this fresh impertinence mean?" cried the banker, as he
angrily jumped up and hastened downstairs.
M. de Clameran was standing in the middle of the room adjoining the
cash-room; M. Fauvel walked up to him, and said bluntly:
"What do you want now, monsieur? You have been paid your money, and I
have your receipt."
To the surprise of all the clerks, and the banker himself, the marquis
seemed not in the least offended at this rude greeting, but answered
in a deferential but not at all humble manner:
"You are hard upon me, monsieur; but I deserve it, and that is why I
am here. A gentleman always acknowledges when he is in the wrong: in
this instance I am the offender; and I flatter myself that my past
will permit me to say so without being accused of cowardice or lack of
self-respect. I insisted upon seeing you here instead of in your
study, because, having been rude to you in the presence of your
clerks, I wished them to hear me apologize for my behavior of this
Clameran's speech was so different from his usual overbearing, haughty
conduct, that surprise almost stupefied the banker, and he could only
"I must say that I was hurt by your doubts, insinuations, suspicions
of my honor----"
"This morning," continued the marquis, "I was irritated, and
thoughtlessly gave way to my temper. Although I am gray-headed, my
disposition is as excitable as that of a fiery young man of twenty
years; and I hope you will forget words uttered in a moment of
excitement, and now deeply regretted."
M. Fauvel, being a kind-hearted though quick-tempered man, could
appreciate Clameran's feelings; and, knowing that his own high
reputation for scrupulous honesty could not be affected by any hasty
or abusive language uttered by a creditor, at once calmed down before
so frank an apology; and, holding out his hand to Clameran, said:
"Let us forget what happened, monsieur."
They conversed in a friendly manner for some minutes; and, after
Clameran had explained why he had such pressing need of the money at
that particular hour of the morning, turned to leave, saying that he
would do himself the honor of calling upon Mme. Fauvel during the day.
"That is, if a visit from me would not be considered intrusive," he
said with a shade of hesitation. "Perhaps, after the trouble of this
morning, she does not wish to be disturbed."
"Oh, no!" said the banker; "come, by all means; I think a visit from
you would cheer her mind. I shall be from home all day, trying to
trace this unfortunate affair."
Mme. Fauvel was in the same room where Raoul had threatened to kill
himself the night previous; she looked very pale and ill as she lay on
a sofa. Madeleine was bathing her forehead.
When M. de Clameran was announced, they both started up as if a
phantom had appeared before them.
Although Louis had been gay and smiling when he parted from M. Fauvel
downstairs, he now wore a melancholy aspect, as he gravely bowed, and
refused to seat himself in the chair which Mme. Fauvel motioned him to
"You will excuse me, ladies, for intruding at this time of your
affliction; but I have a duty to fulfil."
The two women were silent; they seemed to be waiting for him to
explain. He added in an undertone:
"I know all."
By an imploring gesture, Mme. Fauvel tried to stop him. She saw that
he was about to reveal her secret to Madeleine.
But Louis would not see this gesture; he turned his whole attention to
Madeleine, who haughtily said:
"Explain yourself, monsieur."
"Only one hour ago," he replied, "I discovered that Raoul last night
forced from his mother the key of the money-safe, and stole three
hundred and fifty thousand francs."
Madeleine crimsoned with shame and indignation; she leaned over the
sofa, and seizing her aunt's wrist shook it violently, and in a hollow
"It is false, is it not, aunt? speak!"
"Alas! alas!" groaned Mme. Fauvel. "What have I done?"
"You have allowed Prosper to be accused," cried Madeleine; "you have
suffered him to be arrested, and disgraced for life."
"Forgive me," sighed Mme. Fauvel. "He was about to kill himself; I was
so frightened! Then you know--Prosper was to share the money: he gave
Raoul the secret word--"
"Good Heavens! Aunt, how could you believe such a falsehood as that?"
Clameran interrupted them.
"Unfortunately, what your aunt says of M. Bertomy is the truth," he
said in a sad tone.
"Your proofs, monsieur; where are your proofs?"
"Raoul is false."
"That is only too true: but how did he find out the word, if M.
Bertomy did not reveal it? And who left the money in the safe but M.
These arguments had no effect upon Madeleine.
"And now tell me," she said scornfully, "what became of the money?"
There was no mistaking the significance of these words: they meant:
"You are the instigator of the robbery, and of course you have taken
possession of the money."
This harsh accusation from a girl whom he so passionately loved, when,
grasping bandit as he was, he gave up for her sake all the money
gained by his crime, so cruelly hurt Clameran that he turned livid.
But his mortification and anger did not prevent him from pursuing the
part he had prepared and studied.
"A day will come, mademoiselle," he said, "when you will deeply regret
having treated me so cruelly. I understand your insinuation; you need
not attempt to deny it."
"I have no idea of denying anything, monsieur."
"Madeleine!" remonstrated Mme. Fauvel, who trembled at the rising
anger of the man who held her fate in his hands, "Madeleine, be
"Mademoiselle is pitiless," said Clameran sadly; "she cruelly punishes
an honorable man whose only fault is having obeyed his brother's dying
injunctions. And I am here now, because I believe in the joint
responsibility of all the members of a family."
Here he slowly drew from his pocket several bundles of bank-notes, and
laid them on the mantel-piece.
"Raoul stole three hundred and fifty thousand francs," he said: "I
return the same amount. It is more than half my fortune. Willingly
would I give the rest to insure this being the last crime committed by
Too inexperienced to penetrate this bold, and yet simple plan of
Clameran's, Madeleine was dumb with astonishment; all her calculations
Mme. Fauvel, on the contrary, accepted this restitution as salvation
sent from heaven.
"Oh, thanks, monsieur, thanks!" she cried, gratefully clasping
Clameran's hand in hers; "you are goodness itself!"
Louis's eye lit up with pleasure. But he rejoiced too soon. A minute's
reflection brought back all of Madeleine's distrust. She thought this
magnanimity and generosity unnatural in a man whom she considered
incapable of a noble sentiment, and at once concluded that it must
conceal some snare beneath.
"What are we to do with the money?" she demanded.
"Restore it to M. Fauvel, mademoiselle."
"We restore it, monsieur, and how? Restoring the money is denouncing
Raoul, and ruining my aunt. Take back your money, monsieur. We will
not touch it."
Clameran was too shrewd to insist; he took up the money, and prepared
"I comprehend your refusal, mademoiselle, and must find another way of
accomplishing my wish. But, before retiring, let me say that your
injustice pains me deeply. After the promise you made to me, I had
reason to hope for a kinder welcome."
"I will keep my promise, monsieur; but not until you have furnished
"Security! And for what? Pray, explain yourself."
"Something to protect my aunt against the molestations of Raoul after
my--marriage. What is to prevent his coming to extort money from his
mother after he has squandered my dowry? A man who spends a hundred
thousand francs in four months will soon run through my little
fortune. We are making a bargain; I give you my hand in exchange for
the honor and life of my aunt; and of course you must give me some
guarantee to secure the performance of your promise."
"Oh! I will give you ample securities," cried Clameran, "such as will
quiet all your suspicious doubts of my good faith. Alas! you will not
believe in my devotion; what shall I do to convince you of its
sincerity? Shall I try to save M. Bertomy?"
"Thanks for the offer, monsieur," replied Madeleine disdainfully; "if
Prosper is guilty, let him be punished by the law; if he is innocent,
God will protect him."
Here Madeleine stood up, to signify that the interview was over.
Clameran bowed, and left the room.
"What pride! What determination! The idea of her demanding securities
of me!" he said to himself as he slowly walked away. "But the proud
girl shall be humbled yet. She is so beautiful! and, if I did not so
madly love her, I would kill her on the spot!"
Never had Clameran been so irritated.
Madeleine's quiet determination and forethought had unexpectedly
thrown him off his well-laid track; not anticipating any such self
assertion on her part, he was disconcerted, and at a loss how to
He knew that it would be useless to attempt deceiving a girl of
Madeleine's character a second time; he saw that she had penetrated
his motives sufficiently to put her on the defensive, and prepare her
for any new surprise. Moreover, she would prevent Mme. Fauvel from
being frightened and forced into submission any longer.
With mortification and rage, Louis saw that after all his plotting,
when success was in his reach, when his hopes were almost crowned, he
had been foiled and scornfully set at defiance by a girl: the whole
thing would have to be gone over again.
Although Madeleine had resigned herself to sacrifice, it was still
evident that she had no idea of doing so blindly, and would not hazard
her aunt's and her own happiness upon the uncertainty of a verbal
Clameran racked his brain to furnish guarantees; how could he convince
her that Raoul had no idea or desire of annoying Mme. Fauvel in the
He could not tell Madeleine that her dowry was to be the bribe
received by Raoul for his future good behavior and past crimes.
The knowledge of all the circumstances of this shameful criminal
intrigue would have reassured her upon her aunt's peace of mind; but
then it would never do to inform her of these details, certainly not
before the marriage.
What securities could he give? Not one could he think of.
But Clameran was not one of those slow-minded men who take weeks to
consider a difficulty. When he could not untie a knot, he would cut
Raoul was a stumbling-block to his wishes, and he swore to rid himself
of his troublesome accomplice as soon as possible.
Although it was not an easy matter to dispose of so cunning a knave,
Clameran felt no hesitation in undertaking to accomplish his purpose.
He was incited by one of those passions which age renders terrible.
The more certain he was of Madeleine's contempt and dislike, the more
determined he was to marry her. His love seemed to be a sort of insane
desire to possess and call his own the one being whom he recognized as
his superior in every way.
But he had sense enough to see that he might ruin his prospects by
undue haste, and that the safest course would be to await the result
of the robbery and its effect upon Prosper.
He waited in anxious expectation of a summons from Mme. Fauvel. At
last he concluded that Madeleine was waiting for him to make the next
move in the direction of yielding.
He was right; Madeleine knew that after the last bold step the
accomplices would remain quiet for a while; she knew resistance could
have no worse results than would cowardly submission; and therefore
assumed the entire responsibility of managing the affair so as to keep
at bay both Raoul and Clameran.
She knew that Mme. Fauvel would be anxious to accept any terms of
peace, but she determined to use all her influence to prevent her
doing this, and to force upon her the necessity of preserving a
This accounted for the silence of the two women, who were quietly
waiting for their adversaries to renew hostilities.
They even succeeded in concealing their anxiety beneath assumed
indifference; never asking any questions about the robbery, or those
in any way connected with it.
M. Fauvel brought them an account of Prosper's examination, the many
charges brought against him, his obstinate denial of having stolen the
money; and finally how, after great perplexity and close study of the
case by the judge of instruction, the cashier had been discharged for
want of sufficient proof against him.
Since Clameran's offer to restore the notes, Mme. Fauvel had not
doubted Prosper's guilt. She said nothing, but inwardly accused him of
having seduced her son from the path of virtue, and enticed him into
crime--her son whom she would never cease to love, no matter how great
Madeleine had perfect faith in Prosper's innocence.
She was so confident of his being restored to liberty that she
ventured to ask her uncle, under pretext of some charitable object, to
give her ten thousand francs, which she sent to the unfortunate victim
of circumstantial evidence; who, from what she had heard of his
poverty, must be in need of assistance.
In the letter--cut from her prayer-book to avoid detection by writing
--accompanying the money, she advised Prosper to leave France, because
she knew that it would be impossible for a man of his proud nature to
remain on the scene of his disgrace; the greater his innocence, the
more intolerable his suffering.
Besides, Madeleine, at that time feeling that she would be obliged to
marry Clameran, was anxious to have the man she loved far, far away
On the day that this anonymous present was sent, in opposition to the
wishes of Mme. Fauvel, the two poor women were entangled fearfully in
The tradesmen whose money had been squandered by Raoul refused to give
credit any longer, and insisted upon their bills being paid at once;
saying they could not understand how a man of M. Fauvel's wealth and
position could keep them waiting for such insignificant sums.
The butcher, grocer, and wine-merchant had bills of one, two, and five
hundred francs only; but, not having even that small amount, Mme.
Fauvel had difficulty in prevailing upon them to receive a part on
account, and wait a little longer for the residue.
Some of the store-keepers threatened to ask the banker for their
money, if everything was not settled before the end of the week.
Alas! Mme. Fauvel's indebtedness amounted to fifteen thousand francs.
Madeleine and her aunt had declined all invitations during the winter,
to avoid purchasing evening dresses; having always been remarkable for
their superb toilets, seldom appearing in the same ball-dress twice,
they dared not give rise to comment by wearing their old dresses, and
knowing that M. Fauvel would be the first to ask the cause of this
sudden change, as he liked to see them always the best-dressed women
in the room.
But at last they were obliged to appear in public. M. Fauvel's most
intimate friends, the Messrs. Jandidier, were about to give a splendid
ball, and, as fate would have it, a fancy ball, which would require
the purchasing of costumes.
Where would the money come from?
They had been owing a large bill to their dressmaker for over a year.
Would she consent to furnish them dresses on credit? They were ashamed
to ask her.
Madeleine's new maid, Palmyre Chocareille, extricated them from this
This girl, who seemed to have suffered all the minor ills of life--
which, after all, are the hardest to bear--seemed to have divined her
At any rate, she voluntarily informed Madeleine that a friend of hers,
a first-class dressmaker, had just set up for herself, and would be
glad to furnish materials and make the dresses on credit, for the sake
of obtaining the patronage of Mme. Fauvel and her niece, which would
at once bring her plenty of fashionable customers.
But, after this dilemma was settled, a still greater one presented
Mme. Fauvel and her niece could not appear at a ball without jewelry;
and every jewel they owned had been taken by Raoul, and pawned.
After thinking the matter over, Madeleine decided to ask Raoul to take
some of the stolen money, and redeem the last set of jewels he had
forced from his mother. She informed her aunt of her intention, and
said, in a tone that admitted of no contradiction:
"Appoint an interview with Raoul: he will not dare to refuse you; and
I will go in your stead."
The next day, the courageous girl took a cab, and, regardless of the
inclement weather, went to Vesinet.
She would have been filled with consternation had she known that M.
Verduret and Prosper were following close behind, and witnessed her
interview from the top of a ladder.
Her bold step was fruitless. Raoul swore that he had divided with
Prosper; that his own half of the money was spent, and that he had not
a napoleon wherewith to redeem anything.
He even refused to give up the pledges; and Madeleine had to resort to
threats of exposure, before she could induce him to surrender the
tickets of four or five trifling articles that were indispensable to
Clameran had ordered him to refuse positively to give up a single
ticket, because he hoped that in their distress they would call upon
him for relief.
The violent altercation witnessed by Clameran's new valet, Joseph
Dubois, had been caused by the exaction of this promise.
The accomplices were at that time on very bad terms. Clameran was
seeking a safe means of getting rid of Raoul; and the young scamp,
having a presentiment of his uncle's intentions, was determined to
Nothing but the certainty of impending danger could reconcile them.
The danger was revealed to them both at the Jandidier ball.
Who was the mysterious mountebank that indulged in such transparent
allusions to Mme. Fauvel's private troubles, and then said, with
threatening significance to Louis: "I was the best friend of your
Who he was, where he came from, they could not imagine; but they
clearly saw that he was a dangerous enemy, and forthwith attempted to
assassinate him upon his leaving the ball.
Having been followed and watched by their would-be victim, they became
alarmed--especially when he suddenly disappeared--and wisely decided
that the safest thing they then could do was to return quietly to
"We cannot be too guarded in our conduct," whispered Clameran; "we
must discover who he is before taking any further steps in this
Once more, Raoul tried to induce him to give up his project of
"Never!" he exclaimed fiercely, "I will marry her or perish in the
He thought that, now they were warned, the danger of being caught was
lessened; when on his guard, few people could entrap so experienced
and skilful a rogue.
Little did Clameran know that a man who was a hundred-fold more
skilful than he was closely pursuing him.
Such are the facts that, with an almost incredible talent for
investigation, had been collected and prepared by the stout man with
the jovial face who had taken Prosper under his protection, M.
Reaching Paris at nine o'clock in the evening, not by the Lyons road
as he had said, but by the Orleans train, M. Verduret hurried up to
the Archangel, where he found the cashier impatiently expecting him.
"You are about to hear some rich developments," he said to Prosper,
"and see how far back into the past one has to seek for the primary
cause of a crime. All things are linked together and dependent upon
each other in this world of ours. If Gaston de Clameran had not
entered a little cafe at Tarascon to play a game of billiards twenty
years ago, your money-safe would not have been robbed three weeks ago.
"Valentine de la Verberie is punished in 1866 for the murder committed
for her sake in 1840. Nothing is neglected or forgotten, when stern
Retribution asserts her sway. Listen."
And he forthwith related all that he had discovered, referring, as he
went along, to a voluminous manuscript which he had prepared, with
many notes and authenticated proofs attached.
During the last week M. Verduret had not had twenty-four hours' rest,
but he bore no traces of fatigue. His iron muscles braved any amount
of labor, and his elastic nature was too well tempered to give way
beneath such pressure.
While any other man would have sunk exhausted in a chair, he stood up
and described, with the enthusiasm and captivating animation peculiar
to him, the minutest details and intricacies of the plot that he had
devoted his whole energy to unravelling; personating every character
he brought upon the scene to take part in the strange drama, so that
his listener was bewildered and dazzled by his brilliant acting.
As Prosper listened to this narrative of events happening twenty years
back, the secret conversations as minutely related as if overheard the
moment they took place, it sounded more like a romance than a
statement of plain facts.