Part 2 out of 8
"It is true; but who in my position could have resisted? These letters
have given me great pain; but they afford the proof of what I just now
"You have at least preserved these letters?"
"I have them here, M. Tabaret," replied Noel, "and, that you may
understand the case in which I have requested your advice, I am going
to read them to you."
The advocate opened one of the drawers of his bureau, pressed an
invisible spring, and from a hidden receptacle constructed in the
thick upper shelf, he drew out a bundle of letters. "You understand,
my friend," he resumed, "that I will spare you all insignificant
details, which, however, add their own weight to the rest. I am only
going to deal with the more important facts, treating directly of the
Old Tabaret nestled in his arm-chair, burning with curiosity; his face
and his eyes expressing the most anxious attention. After a selection,
which he was some time in making, the advocate opened a letter, and
commenced reading in a voice which trembled at times, in spite of his
efforts to render it calm.
"'My dearly loved Valerie,'--
"Valerie," said he, "is Madame Gerdy."
"I know, I know. Do not interrupt yourself."
Noel then resumed.
"'My dearly loved Valerie,
"'This is a happy day. This morning I received your darling letter,
I have covered it with kisses, I have re-read it a hundred times;
and now it has gone to join the others here upon my heart. This
letter, oh, my love! has nearly killed me with joy. You were not
deceived, then; it was true! Heaven has blessed our love. We shall
have a son.
"'I shall have a son, the living image of my adored Valerie! Oh!
why are we separated by such an immense distance? Why have I not
wings that I might fly to your feet and fall into your arms, full
of the sweetest voluptuousness! No! never as at this moment have I
cursed the fatal union imposed upon me by an inexorable family,
whom my tears couldnot move. I cannot help hating this woman,
who, in spite of me bears my name, innocent victim though she is
of the barbarity of our parents. And, to complete my misery, she
too will soon render me a father. Who can describe my sorrow when
I compare the fortunes of these two children?
"'The one, the son of the object of my tenderest love, will have
neither father nor family, nor even a name, since a law framed to
make lovers unhappy prevents my acknowledging him. While the
other, the son of my detested wife, by the sole fact of his birth,
will be rich, noble, surrounded by devotion and homage, with a
great position in the world. I cannot bear the thought of this
terrible injustice! How it is to be prevented, I do not know: but
rest assured I shall find a way. It is to him who is the most
desired, the most cherished, the most beloved, that the greater
fortune should come; and come to him it shall, for I so will it.'"
"From where is that letter dated?" asked old Tabaret. The style in
which it was written had already settled one point in his mind.
"See," replied Noel. He handed the letter to the old fellow, who
"Venice, December, 1828."
"You perceive," resumed the advocate, "all the importance of this
first letter. It is like a brief statement of the facts. My father,
married in spite of himself, adores his mistress, and detests his
wife. Both find themselves enceinte at the same time, and his feelings
towards the two infants about to be born, are not at all concealed.
Towards the end one almost sees peeping forth the germ of the idea
which later on he will not be afraid to put into execution, in
defiance of all law human or divine!"
He was speaking as though pleading the cause, when old Tabaret
"It is not necessary to explain it," said he. "Thank goodness, what
you have just read is explicit enough. I am not an adept in such
matters, I am as simple as a juryman; however I understand it
admirably so far."
"I pass over several letters," continued Noel, "and I come to this one
dated Jan. 23, 1829. It is very long, and filled with matters
altogether foreign to the subject which now occupies us. However, it
contains two passages, which attest the slow but steady growth of my
father's project. 'A destiny, more powerful than my will, chains me to
this country; but my soul is with you, my Valerie! Without ceasing, my
thoughts rest upon the adored pledge of our love which moves within
you. Take care, my darling, take care of yourself, now doubly
precious. It is the lover, the father, who implores you. The last part
of your letter wounds my heart. Is it not an insult to me, for you to
express anxiety as to the future of our child! Oh heaven! she loves
me, she knows me, and yet she doubts!'
"I skip," said Noel, "two pages of passionate rhapsody, and stop at
these few lines at the end. 'The countess's condition causes her to
suffer very much! Unfortunate wife! I hate and at the same time pity
her. She seems to divine the reason of my sadness and my coldness. By
her timid submission and unalterable sweetness, one would think she
sought pardon for our unhappy union. Poor sacrificed creature! She
also may have given her heart to another, before being dragged to the
altar. Our fates would then be the same. Your good heart will pardon
my pitying her.'
"That one was my mother," cried the advocate in a trembling voice. "A
saint! And he asks pardon for the pity she inspires! Poor woman."
He passed his hands over his eyes, as if to force back his tears, and
"She is dead!"
In spite of his impatience, old Tabaret dared not utter a word.
Besides he felt keenly the profound sorrow of his young friend, and
respected it. After a rather long silence, Noel raised his head, and
returned to the correspondence.
"All the letters which follow," said he, "carry traces of the
preoccupation of my father's mind on the subject of his bastard son. I
lay them, however, aside. But this is what strikes me in the one
written from Rome, on March 5, 1829. 'My son, our son, that is my
great, my only anxiety. How to secure for him the future position of
which I dream? The nobles of former times were not worried in this
way. In those days I would have gone to the king, who, with a word,
would have assured the child's position in the world. To-day, the king
who governs with difficulty his disaffected subjects can do nothing.
The nobility has lost its rights, and the highest in the land are
treated the same as the meanest peasants!' Lower down I find,--'My
heart loves to picture to itself the likeness of our son. He will have
the spirit, the mind, the beauty, the grace, all the fascinations of
his mother. He will inherit from his father, pride, valour, and the
sentiments of a noble race. And the other, what will he be like? I
tremble to think of it. Hatred can only engender a monster. Heaven
reserves strength and beauty for the children of love!' The monster,
that is I!" said the advocate, with intense rage. "Whilst the other--
But let us ignore these preliminaries to an outrageous action. I only
desired up to the present to show you the aberration of my father's
reason under the influence of his passion. We shall soon come to the
M. Tabaret was astonished at the strength of this passion, of which
Noel was disturbing the ashes. Perhaps, he felt it all the more keenly
on account of those expressions which recalled his own youth. He
understood how irresistible must have been the strength of such a love
and he trembled to speculate as to the result.
"Here is," resumed Noel, holding up a sheet of paper, "not one of
those interminable epistles from which I have read you short extracts,
but a simple billet. It is dated from Venice at the beginning of May;
it is short but nevertheless decisive; 'Dear Valerie,--Tell me, as
near as possible, the probable date of your confinement. I await your
reply with an anxiety you would imagine, could you but guess my
projects with regard to our child.'
"I do not know," said Noel, "whether Madame Gerdy understood; anyhow
she must have answered at once, for this is what my father wrote on
the 14th: 'Your reply, my darling, is what I did not dare expect it to
be. The project I had conceived is now practicable. I begin to feel
more calm and secure. Our son shall bear my name; I shall not be
obliged to separate myself from him. He shall be reared by my side, in
my mansion, under my eyes, on my knees, in my arms. Shall I have
strength enough to bear this excess of happiness? I have a soul for
grief, shall I have one for joy? Oh! my adored one, oh! my precious
child, fear nothing, my heart is vast, enough to love you both! I set
out to-morrow for Naples, from whence I shall write to you at length.
Happen what may, however, though I should have to sacrifice the
important interests confided to me, I shall be in Paris for the
critical hour. My presence will double your courage; the strength of
my love will diminish your sufferings.'"
"I beg your pardon for interrupting you, Noel," said old Tabaret, "do
you know what important affairs detained your father abroad?"
"My father, my old friend," replied the advocate, "was, in spite of
his youth, one of the friends, one of the confidants, of Charles X.;
and he had been entrusted by him with a secret mission to Italy. My
father is Count Rheteau de Commarin."
"Whew!" exclaimed the old fellow; and the better to engrave the name
upon his memory, he repeated several times, between his teeth,
"Rheteau de Commarin."
For a few minutes Noel remained silent. After having appeared to do
everything to control his resentment, he seemed utterly dejected, as
though he had formed the determination to attempt nothing to repair
the injury he had sustained.
"In the middle of the month of May, then," he continued, "my father is
at Naples. It is whilst there, that he, a man of prudence and sense, a
dignified diplomatist, a nobleman, prompted by an insensate passion,
dares to confide to paper this most monstrous of projects. Listen!
"'My adored one,--
"'It is Germain, my old valet, who will hand you this letter. I am
sending him to Normandy, charged with a commission of the most
delicate nature. He is one of those servitors who may be trusted
"'The time has come for me to explain to you my projects respecting
my son. In three weeks, at the latest, I shall be in Paris.
"'If my previsions are not deceited, the countess and you will be
confined at the same time. An interval of three or four days will
not alter my plan. This is what I have resolved.
"'My two children will be entrusted to two nurses of Normandy,
where my estates are nearly all situated. One of these women,
known to Germain, and to whom I am sending him, will be in our
interests. It is to this person, Valerie, that our son will be
confided. These two women will leave Paris the same day, Germain
accompanying her who will have charge of the son of the countess.
"'An accident, devised beforehand, will compel these two women to
pass one night on the road. Germain will arrange so they will have
to sleep in the same inn, and in the same chamber! During the
night, our nurse will change the infants in their cradles.
"'I have foreseen everything, as I will explain to you, and every
precaution has been taken to prevent our secret from escaping.
Germain has instructions to procure, while in Paris, two sets of
baby linen exactly similar. Assist him with your advice.
"'Your maternal heart, my sweet Valerie, may perhaps bleed at the
thought of being deprived of the innocent caresses of your child.
You will console yourself by thinking of the position secured to
him by your sacrifice. What excess of tenderness can serve him as
powerfully as this separation? As to the other, I know your fond
heart, you will cherish him. Will it not be another proof of your
love for me? Besides, he will have nothing to complain of. Knowing
nothing he will have nothing to regret; and all that money can
secure in this world he shall have.
"'Do not tell me that this attempt is criminal. No, my well
beloved, no. The success of our plan depends upon so many unlikely
circumstances, so many coincidences, independent of our will,
that, without the evident protection of Providence, we cannot
succeed. If, then, success crowns our efforts, it will be because
heaven decreed it.
"'Meanwhile I hope.'"
"Just what I expected," murmured old Tabaret.
"And the wretched man," cried Noel, "dares to invoke the aid of
Providence! He would make heaven his accomplice!"
"But," asked the old fellow, "how did your mother,--pardon me, I would
say, how did Madame Gerdy receive this proposition?"
"She would appear to have rejected it, at first, for here are twenty
pages of eloquent persuasion from the count, urging her to agree to
it, trying to convince her. Oh, that woman!"
"Come my child," said M. Tabaret, softly, "try not to be too unjust.
You seem to direct all your resentment against Madame Gerdy? Really,
in my opinion, the count is far more deserving of your anger than she
"True," interrupted Noel, with a certain degree of violence,--"true,
the count is guilty, very guilty. He is the author of the infamous
conspiracy, and yet I feel no hatred against him. He has committed a
crime, but he has an excuse, his passion. Moreover, my father has not
deceived me, like this miserable woman, every hour of my life, during
thirty years. Besides, M. de Commarin has been so cruelly punished,
that, at this present moment, I can only pardon and pity him."
"Ah! so he has been punished?" interrogated the old fellow.
"Yes, fearfully, as you will admit. But allow me to continue. Towards
the end of May, or, rather, during the first days of June, the count
must have arrived in Paris, for the correspondence ceases. He saw
Madame Gerdy, and the final arrangements of the conspiracy were
decided on. Here is a note which removes all uncertainty on that
point. On the day it was written, the count was on service at the
Tuileries, and unable to leave his post. He has written it even in the
king's study, on the king's paper; see the royal arms! The bargain has
been concluded, and the woman who has consented to become the
instrument of my father's projects is in Paris. He informs his
mistress of the fact.
"'Dear Valerie,--Germain informs me of the arrival of your son's,
our son's nurse. She will call at your house during the day. She
is to be depended upon; a magnificent recompense ensures her
discretion. Do not, however, mention our plans to her; for she has
been given to understand that you know nothing. I wish to charge
myself with the sole responsibility of the deed; it is more
prudent. This woman is a native of Normandy. She was born on our
estate, almost in our house. Her husband is a brave and honest
sailor. Her name is Claudine Lerouge.
"'Be of good courage, my dear love I am exacting from you the
greatest sacrifice that a lover can hope for from a mother.
Heaven, you can no longer doubt it, protects us. Everything
depends now upon our skill and our prudence, so that we are sure
On one point, at least, M. Tabaret was sufficiently enlightened. The
researches into the past life of widow Lerouge were no longer
difficult. He could not restrain an exclamation of satisfaction, which
passed unnoticed by Noel.
"This note," resumed the advocate, "closes the count's correspondence
with Madame Gerdy."
"What!" exclaimed the old fellow, "you are in possession of nothing
"I have also ten lines, written many years later, which certainly have
some weight, but after all are only a moral proof."
"What a misfortune!" murmured M. Tabaret. Noel laid on the bureau the
letters he had held in his hand, and, turning towards his old friend,
he looked at him steadily.
"Suppose," said he slowly and emphasising every syllable,--"suppose
that all my information ends here. We will admit, for a moment, that I
know nothing more than you do now. What is your opinion?"
Old Tabaret remained some minutes without answering; he was estimating
the probabilities resulting from M. de Commarin's letters.
"For my own part," said he at length, "I believe on my conscience that
you are not Madame Gerdy's son."
"And you are right!" answered the advocate forcibly. "You will easily
believe, will you not, that I went and saw Claudine. She loved me,
this poor woman who had given me her milk, she suffered from the
knowledge of the injustice that had been done me. Must I say it, her
complicity in the matter weighed upon her conscience; it was a remorse
too great for her old age. I saw her, I interrogated her, and she told
me all. The count's scheme, simply and yet ingeniously conceived,
succeeded without any effort. Three days after my birth, the crime was
committed, and I, poor, helpless infant, was betrayed, despoiled and
disinherited by my natural protector, by my own father! Poor Claudine!
She promised me her testimony for the day on which I should reclaim my
"And she is gone, carrying her secret with her!" murmured the old
fellow in a tone of regret.
"Perhaps!" replied Noel, "for I have yet one hope. Claudine had in her
possession several letters which had been written to her a long time
ago, some by the count, some by Madame Gerdy, letters both imprudent
and explicit. They will be found, no doubt, and their evidence will be
decisive. I have held these letters in my hands, I have read them;
Claudine particularly wished me to keep them, why did I not do so?"
No! there was no hope on that side, and old Tabaret knew so better
than any one. It was these very letters, no doubt, that the assassin
of La Jonchere wanted. He had found them and had burnt them with the
other papers, in the little stove. The old amateur detective was
beginning to understand.
"All the same," said he, "from what I know of your affairs, which I
think I know as well as my own, it appears to me that the count has
not overwell kept the dazzling promises of fortune he made Madame
Gerdy on your behalf."
"He never even kept them in the least degree, my old friend."
"That now," cried the old fellow indignantly, "is even more infamous
than all the rest."
"Do not accuse my father," answered Noel gravely; "his connection with
Madame Gerdy lasted a long time. I remember a haughty-looking man who
used sometimes to come and see me at school, and who could be no other
than the count. But the rupture came."
"Naturally," sneered M. Tabaret, "a great nobleman--"
"Wait before judging," interrupted the advocate. "M. de Commarin had
his reasons. His mistress was false to him, he learnt it, and cast her
off with just indignation. The ten lines which I mentioned to you were
Noel searched a considerable time among the papers scattered upon the
table, and at length selected a letter more faded and creased than the
others. Judging from the number of folds in the paper one could guess
that it had been read and re-read many times. The writing even was
here and there partly obliterated.
"In this," said he in a bitter tone, "Madame Gerdy is no longer the
adored Valerie: 'A friend, cruel as all true friends, has opened my
eyes. I doubted. You have been watched, and today, unhappily, I can
doubt no more. You, Valerie, you to whom I have given more than my
life, you deceive me and have been deceiving me for a long time past.
Unhappy man that I am! I am no longer certain that I am the father of
"But this note is a proof," cried old Tabaret, "an overwhelming proof.
Of what importance to the count would be a doubt of his paternity, had
he not sacrificed his legitimate son to his bastard? Yes, you have
said truly, his punishment has been severe."
"Madame Gerdy," resumed Noel, "wished to justify herself. She wrote to
the count; but he returned her letters unopened. She called on him,
but he would not receive her. At length she grew tired of her useless
attempts to see him. She knew that all was well over when the count's
steward brought her for me a legal settlement of fifteen thousand
francs a year. The son had taken my place, and the mother had ruined
Three or four light knocks at the door of the study interrupted Noel.
"Who is there?" he asked, without stirring.
"Sir," answered the servant from the other side of the door, "madame
wishes to speak to you."
The advocate appeared to hesitate.
"Go, my son," advised M. Tabaret; "do not be merciless, only bigots
have that right."
Noel arose with visible reluctance, and passed into Madame Gerdy's
"Poor boy!" thought M. Tabaret when left alone. "What a fatal
discovery! and how he must feel it. Such a noble young man! such a
brave heart! In his candid honesty he does not even suspect from
whence the blow has fallen. Fortunately I am shrewd enough for two,
and it is just when he despairs of justice, I am confident of
obtaining it for him. Thanks to his information, I am now on the
track. A child might now divine whose hand struck the blow. But how
has it happened? He will tell me without knowing it. Ah! if I had one
of those letters for four and twenty hours. He has probably counted
them. If I ask for one, I must acknowledge my connection with the
police. I had better take one, no matter which, just to verify the
Old Tabaret had just thrust one of the letters into the depths of his
capacious pocket, when the advocate returned.
He was one of those men of strongly formed character, who never lose
their self-control. He was very cunning and had long accustomed
himself to dissimulation, that indispensable armour of the ambitious.
As he entered the room nothing in his manner betrayed what had taken
place between Madame Gerdy and himself. He was absolutely as calm as,
when seated in his arm-chair, he listened to the interminable stories
of his clients.
"Well," asked old Tabaret, "how is she now?"
"Worse," answered Noel. "She is now delirious, and no longer knows
what she says. She has just assailed me with the most atrocious abuse,
upbraiding me as the vilest of mankind! I really believe she is going
out of her mind."
"One might do so with less cause," murmured M. Tabaret; "and I think
you ought to send for the doctor."
"I have just done so."
The advocate had resumed his seat before his bureau, and was
rearranging the scattered letters according to their dates. He seemed
to have forgotten that he had asked his old friend's advice; nor did
he appear in any way desirous of renewing the interrupted
conversation. This was not at all what old Tabaret wanted.
"The more I ponder over your history, my dear Noel," he observed, "the
more I am bewildered. I really do not know what resolution I should
adopt, were I in your situation."
"Yes, my old friend," replied the advocate sadly, "it is a situation
that might well perplex even more profound experiences than yours."
The old amateur detective repressed with difficulty the sly smile,
which for an instant hovered about his lips.
"I confess it humbly," he said, taking pleasure in assuming an air of
intense simplicity, "but you, what have you done? Your first impulse
must have been to ask Madame Gerdy for an explanation."
Noel made a startled movement, which passed unnoticed by old Tabaret,
preoccupied as he was in trying to give the turn he desired to the
"It was by that," answered Noel, "that I began."
"And what did she say?"
"What could she say! Was she not overwhelmed by the discovery?"
"What! did she not attempt to exculpate herself?" inquired the
detective greatly surprised.
"Yes! she attempted the impossible. She pretended she could explain
the correspondence. She told me . . . But can I remember what she
said? Lies, absurd, infamous lies."
The advocate had finished gathering up his letters, without noticing
the abstraction. He tied them together carefully, and replaced them in
the secret drawer of his bureau.
"Yes," continued he, rising and walking backwards and forward across
his study, as if the constant movement could calm his anger, "yes, she
pretended she could show me I was wrong. It was easy, was it not, with
the proofs I held against her? The fact is she adores her son, and her
heart is breaking at the idea that he may be obliged to restitute what
he has stolen from me. And I, idiot, fool, coward, almost wished not
to mention the matter to her. I said to myself, I will forgive, for
after all she has loved me! Loved? no. She would see me suffer the
most horrible tortures, without shedding a tear, to prevent a single
hair falling from her son's head."
"She has probably warned the count," observed old Tabaret, still
pursuing his idea.
"She may have tried, but cannot have succeeded, for the count has been
absent from Paris for more than a month and is not expected to return
until the end of the week."
"How do you know that?"
"I wished to see the count my father, to speak with him."
"Yes, I. Do you think that I shall not reclaim my own? Do you imagine
that I shall not raise my voice. On what account should I keep silent,
who have I to consider? I have rights, and I will make them good. What
do you find surprising in that?"
"Nothing, certainly, my friend. So then you called at M. de Commarin's
"Oh! I did not decide on doing so all at once," continued Noel. "At
first my discovery almost drove me mad. Then I required time to
reflect. A thousand opposing sentiments agitated me. At one moment, my
fury blinded me; the next, my courage deserted me. I would, and I
would not. I was undecided, uncertain, wild. The scandal that must
arise from the publicity of such an affair terrified me. I desired, I
still desire to recover my name, that much is certain. But on the eve
of recovering it, I wish to preserve it from stain. I was seeking a
means of arranging everything, without noise, without scandal."
"At length, however, you made up your mind?"
"Yes, after a struggle of fifteen days, fifteen days of torture, of
anguish! Ah! what I suffered in that time! I neglected my business,
being totally unfit for work. During the day, I tried by incessant
action to fatigue my body, that at night I might find forgetfulness in
sleep. Vain hope! since I found these letters, I have not slept an
From time to time, old Tabaret slyly consulted his watch. "M. Daburon
will be in bed," thought he.
"At last one morning," continued Noel, "after a night of rage, I
determined to end all uncertainty. I was in that desperate state of
mind, in which the gambler, after successive losses, stakes upon a
card his last remaining coin. I plucked up courage, sent for a cab,
and was driven to the de Commarin mansion."
The old amateur detective here allowed a sigh of satisfaction to
"It is one of the most magnificent houses, in the Faubourg St.
Germain, my friend, a princely dwelling, worthy a great noble twenty
times millionaire; almost a palace in fact. One enters at first a vast
courtyard, to the right and left of which are the stables, containing
twenty most valuable horses, and the coach-houses. At the end rises
the grand facade of the main building, majestic and severe, with its
immense windows, and its double flight of marble steps. Behind the
house is a magnificent garden, I should say a park, shaded by the
oldest trees which perhaps exist in all Paris."
This enthusiastic description was not at all what M. Tabaret wanted.
But what could he do, how could he press Noel for the result of his
visit! An indiscreet word might awaken the advocate's suspicions, and
reveal to him that he was speaking not to a friend, but to a
"Were you then shown over the house and grounds?" asked the old
"No, but I have examined them alone. Since I discovered that I was the
only heir of the Rheteau de Commarin, I have found out the antecedents
of my new family.
"Standing before the dwelling of my ancestors," continued Noel, "you
cannot comprehend the excess of my emotion. Here, said I, is the house
in which I was born. This is the house in which I should have been
reared; and, above all, this is the spot where I should reign to-day,
whereon I stand an outcast and a stranger, devoured by the sad and
bitter memories, of which banished men have died. I compared my
brother's brilliant destinies with my sad and labourious career; and
my indignation well nigh overmastered reason. The mad impulse stirred
me to force the doors, to rush into the grand salon, and drive out the
intruder,--the son of Madame Gerdy,--who had taken the place of the
son of the Countess de Commarin! Out, usurper, out of this. I am
master here. The propriety of legal means at once recurred to my
distracted mind, however, and restrained me. Once more I stood before
the habitation of my fathers. How I love its old sculptures, its grand
old trees, its shaded walls, worn by the feet of my poor mother! I
love all, even to the proud escutcheon, frowning above the principal
doorway, flinging its defiance to the theories of this age of
This last phrase conflicted so directly with the code of opinions
habitual to Noel, that old Tabaret was obliged to turn aside, to
conceal his amusement.
"Poor humanity!" thought he; "he is already the grand seigneur."
"On presenting myself," continued the advocate, "I demanded to see the
Count de Commarin. A Swiss porter, in grand livery, answered, the
count was travelling, but that the viscount was at home. This ran
counter to my designs; but I was embarked; so I insisted on speaking
to the son in default of the father. The Swiss porter stared at me
with astonishment. He had evidently seen me alight from a hired
carriage, and so deliberated for some moments as to whether I was not
too insignificant a person to have the honour of being admitted to
visit the viscount."
"But tell me, have you seen him?" asked old Tabaret, unable to
restrain his impatience.
"Of course, immediately," replied the advocate in a tone of bitter
raillery. "Could the examination, think you, result otherwise than in
my favour? No. My white cravat and black costume produced their
natural effect. The Swiss porter entrusted me to the guidance of a
chasseur with a plumed hat, who, led me across the yard to a superb
vestibule, where five or six footmen were lolling and gaping on their
seats. One of these gentlemen asked me to follow him. He led me up a
spacious staircase, wide enough for a carriage to ascend, preceded me
along an extensive picture gallery, guided me across vast apartments,
the furniture of which was fading under its coverings, and finally
delivered me into the hands of M. Albert's valet. That is the name by
which Madame Gerdy's son is known, that is to say, my name."
"I understand, I understand."
"I had passed an inspection; now I had to undergo an examination. The
valet desired to be informed who I was, whence I came, what was my
profession, what I wanted and all the rest. I answered simply, that,
quite unknown to the viscount, I desired five minutes' conversation
with him on a matter of importance. He left me, requesting me to sit
down and wait. I had waited more than a quarter of an hour, when he
reappeared. His master graciously deigned to receive me."
It was easy to perceive that the advocate's reception rankled in his
breast, and that he considered it an insult. He could not forgive
Albert his lackeys and his valet. He forgot the words of the
illustrious duke, who said, "I pay my lackeys to be insolent, to save
myself the trouble and ridicule of being so." Old Tabaret was
surprised at his young friend's display of bitterness, in speaking of
these trivial details.
"What narrow-mindedness," thought he, "for a man of such intelligence!
Can it be true that the arrogance of lackeys is the secret of the
people's hatred of an amiable and polite aristocracy?"
"I was ushered into a small apartment," continued Noel, "simply
furnished, the only ornaments of which were weapons. These, ranged
against the walls, were of all times and countries. Never have I seen
in so small a space so many muskets, pistols, swords, sabres, and
foils. One might have imagined himself in a fencing master's arsenal."
The weapon used by Widow Lerouge's assassin naturally recurred to the
old fellow's memory.
"The viscount," said Noel, speaking slowly, "was half lying on a divan
when I entered. He was dressed in a velvet jacket and loose trousers
of the same material, and had around his neck an immense white silk
scarf. I do not cherish any resentment against this young man; he has
never to his knowledge injured me: he was in ignorance of our father's
crime; I am therefore able to speak of him with justice. He is
handsome, bears himself well, and nobly carries the name which does
not belong to him. He is about my height, of the same dark complexion,
and would resemble me, perhaps, if he did not wear a beard. Only he
looks five or six years younger; but this is readily explained, he has
neither worked, struggled, nor suffered. He is one of the fortunate
ones who arrive without having to start, or who traverse life's road
on such soft cushions that they are never injured by the jolting of
their carriage. On seeing me, he arose and saluted me graciously."
"You must have been dreadfully excited," remarked old Tabaret.
"Less than I am at this moment. Fifteen preparatory days of mental
torture exhausts one's emotions. I answered the question I saw upon
his lips. 'Sir,' said I, 'you do not know me; but that is of little
consequence. I come to you, charged with a very grave, a very sad
mission, which touches the honour of the name you bear.' Without doubt
he did not believe me, for, in an impertinent tone, he asked me,
'Shall you be long?' I answered simply, 'Yes.'"
"Pray," interrupted old Tabaret, now become very attentive, "do not
omit a single detail; it may be very important, you understand."
"The viscount," continued Noel, "appeared very much put out. 'The fact
is,' he explained, 'I had already disposed of my time. This is the
hour at which I call on the young lady to whom I am engaged,
Mademoiselle d'Arlange. Can we not postpone this conversation?'"
"Good! another woman!" said the old fellow to himself.
"I answered the viscount, that an explanation would admit of no delay;
and, as I saw him prepare to dismiss me, I drew from my pocket the
count's correspondence, and presented one of the letters to him. On
recognizing his father's handwriting, he became more tractable,
declared himself at my service, and asked permission to write a word
of apology to the lady by whom he was expected. Having hastily written
the note he handed it to his valet, and ordered him to send at once to
Madame d'Arlange, He then asked me to pass into the next room, which
was his library."
"One word," interrupted the old fellow; "was he troubled on seeing the
"Not the least in the world. After carefully closing the door, he
pointed to a chair, seated himself, and said, 'Now, sir, explain
yourself.' I had had time to prepare myself for this interview whilst
waiting in the ante-room. I had decided to go straight to the point.
'Sir,' said I, 'my mission is painful. The facts I am about to reveal
to you are incredible. I beg you, do not answer me until you have read
the letters I have here. I beseech you, above all, to keep calm.' He
looked at me with an air of extreme surprise, and answered, 'Speak! I
can hear all.' I stood up, and said, 'Sir, I must inform you that you
are not the legitimate son of M. de Commarin, as this correspondence
will prove to you. The legitimate son exists; and he it is who sends
me.' I kept my eyes on his while speaking, and I saw there a passing
gleam of fury. For a moment I thought he was about to spring at my
throat. He soon recovered himself. 'The letters,' said he in a short
tone. I handed them to him."
"How!" cried old Tabaret, "these letters,--the true ones? How
"If he had--I don't know; but--" the old fellow hesitated.
The advocate laid his hand upon his friend's shoulder. "I was there,"
said he in a hollow tone; "and I promise you the letters were in no
Noel's features assumed such an expression of ferocity that the old
fellow was almost afraid, and recoiled instinctively. "He would have
killed him," thought he.
"That which I have done for you this evening, my friend," resumed the
advocate, "I did for the viscount. I obviated, at least for the
moment, the necessity of reading all of these hundred and fifty-six
letters. I told him only to stop at those marked with a cross, and to
carefully read the passages indicated with a red pencil."
"It was an abridgment of his penance," remarked old Tabaret.
"He was seated," continued Noel, "before a little table, too fragile
even to lean upon. I was standing with my back to the fireplace in
which a fire was burning. I followed his slightest movements; and I
scanned his features closely. Never in my life have I seen so sad a
spectacle, nor shall I forget it, if I live for a thousand years. In
less than five minutes his face changed to such an extent that his own
valet would not have recognized him. He held his handkerchief in his
hand, with which from time to time he mechanically wiped his lips. He
grew paler and paler, and his lips became as white as his
handkerchief. Large drops of sweat stood upon his forehead, and his
eyes became dull and clouded, as if a film had covered them; but not
an exclamation, not a sigh, not a groan, not even a gesture, escaped
him. At one moment, I felt such pity for him that I was almost on the
point of snatching the letters from his hands, throwing them into the
fire and taking him in my arms, crying, 'No, you are my brother!
Forget all; let us remain as we are and love one another!'"
M. Tabaret took Noel's hand, and pressed it. "Ah!" he said, "I
recognise my generous boy."
"If I have not done this, my friend, it is because I thought to
myself, 'Once these letters destroyed, would he recognise me as his
"Ah! very true."
"In about half an hour, he had finished reading; he arose, and facing
me directly, said, 'You are right, sir. If these letters are really
written by my father, as I believe them to be, they distinctly prove
that I am not the son of the Countess de Commarin.' I did not answer.
'Meanwhile,' continued he, 'these are only presumptions. Are you
possessed of other proofs?' I expected, of course, a great many other
objections. 'Germain,' said I, 'can speak.' He told me that Germain
had been dead for several years. Then I spoke of the nurse, Widow
Lerouge--I explained how easily she could be found and questioned,
adding that she lived at La Jonchere."
"And what said he, Noel, to this?" asked old Tabaret anxiously.
"He remained silent at first, and appeared to reflect. All on a sudden
he struck his forehead, and said, 'I remember; I know her. I have
accompanied my father to her house three times, and in my presence he
gave her a considerable sum of money.' I remarked to him that this was
yet another proof. He made no answer, but walked up and down the room.
At length he turned towards me, saying, 'Sir, you know M. de
Commarin's legitimate son?' I answered: 'I am he.' He bowed his head
and murmured 'I thought so.' He then took my hand and added, 'Brother,
I bear you no ill will for this.'"
"It seems to me," remarked old Tabaret, "that he might have left that
to you to say, and with more reason and justice."
"No, my friend, for he is more ill-used than I. I have not been
lowered, for I did not know, whilst he! . . . ."
The old police agent nodded his head, he had to hide his thoughts, and
they were stifling him.
"At length," resumed Noel, after a rather long pause, "I asked him
what he proposed doing. 'Listen,' he said, 'I expect my father in
about eight or ten days. You will allow me this delay. As soon as he
returns I will have an explanation with him, and justice shall be
done. I give you my word of honour. Take back your letters and leave
me to myself. This news has utterly overwhelmed me. In a moment I lose
everything: a great name that I have always borne as worthily as
possible, a magnificent position, an immense fortune, and, more than
all that, perhaps, the woman who is dearer to me than life. In
exchange, it is true, I shall find a mother. We will console each
other. And I will try, sir, to make her forget you, for she must love
you, and will miss you.'"
"Did he really say that?"
"Almost word for word."
"Hypocrite!" growled the old fellow between his teeth.
"What did you say?" asked Noel.
"I say that he is a fine young man; and I shall be delighted to make
"I did not show him the letter referring to the rupture," added Noel;
"it is best that he should ignore Madame Gerdy's misconduct. I
voluntarily deprived myself of this proof, rather than give him
"What am I to do? I am waiting the count's return. I shall act more
freely after hearing what he has to say. Tomorrow I shall ask
permission to examine the papers belonging to Claudine. If I find the
letters, I am saved; if not,--but, as I have told you, I have formed
no plan since I heard of the assassination. Now, what do you advise?"
"The briefest counsel demands long reflection," replied the old
fellow, who was in haste to depart. "Alas! my poor boy, what worry you
"Terrible! and, in addition, I have pecuniary embarrassments."
"How! you who spend nothing?"
"I have entered into various engagements. Can I now make use of Madame
Gerdy's fortune, which I have hitherto used as my own? I think not."
"You certainly ought not to. But listen! I am glad you have spoken of
this; you can render me a service.
"Very willingly. What is it?"
"I have, locked up in my secretary, twelve or fifteen thousand francs,
which trouble me exceedingly. You see, I am old, and not very brave,
if any one heard I had this money--"
"I fear I cannot--" commenced the advocate.
"Nonsense!" said the old fellow. "To-morrow I will give them to you to
take care of." But remembering he was about to put himself at M.
Daburon's disposal, and that perhaps he might not be free on the
morrow, he quickly added, "No, not to-morrow; but this very evening.
This infernal money shall not remain another night in my keeping."
He hurried out, and presently reappeared, holding in his hand fifteen
notes of a thousand francs each. "If that is not sufficient," said he,
handing them to Noel, "you can have more."
"Anyhow," replied the advocate, "I will give you a receipt for these."
"Oh! never mind. Time enough to-morrow."
"And if I die to-night?"
"Then," said the old fellow to himself, thinking of his will, "I shall
still be your debtor. Good-night!" added he aloud. "You have asked my
advice, I shall require the night for reflection. At present my brain
is whirling; I must go into the air. If I go to bed now, I am sure to
have a horrible nightmare. Come, my boy; patience and courage. Who
knows whether at this very hour Providence is not working for you?"
He went out, and Noel, leaving his door open, listened to the sound of
his footsteps as he descended the stairs. Almost immediately the cry
of, "Open, if you please," and the banging of the door apprised him
that M. Tabaret had gone out. He waited a few minutes and refilled his
lamp. Then he took a small packet from one of his bureau drawers,
slipped into his pocket the bank notes lent him by his old friend, and
left his study, the door of which he double-locked. On reaching the
landing, he paused. He listened intently as though the sound of Madame
Gerdy's moans could reach him where he stood. Hearing nothing, he
descended the stairs on tiptoe. A minute later, he was in the street.
Included in Madame Gerdy's lease was a coach-house, which was used by
her as a lumber room. Here were heaped together all the old rubbish of
the household, broken pieces of furniture, utensils past service,
articles become useless or cumbrous. It was also used to store the
provision of wood and coal for the winter. This old coach-house had a
small door opening on the street, which had been in disuse for many
years; but which Noel had had secretly repaired and provided with a
lock. He could thus enter or leave the house at any hour without the
concierge or any one else knowing. It was by this door that the
advocate went out, though not without using the utmost caution in
opening and closing it. Once in the street, he stood still a moment,
as if hesitating which way to go. Then, he slowly proceeded in the
direction of the St. Lazare railway station, when a cab happening to
pass, he hailed it. "Rue du Faubourg Montmarte, at the corner of the
Rue de Provence," said Noel, entering the vehicle, "and drive quick."
The advocate alighted at the spot named, and dismissed the cabman.
When he had seen him drive off, Noel turned into the Rue de Provence,
and, after walking a few yards, rang the bell of one of the handsomest
houses in the street. The door was immediately opened. As Noel passed
before him the concierge made a most respectful, and at the same time
patronizing bow, one of those salutations which Parisian concierges
reserve for their favorite tenants, generous mortals always ready to
give. On reaching the second floor, the advocate paused, drew a key
from his pocket, and opening the door facing him, entered as if at
home. But at the sound of the key in the lock, though very faint, a
lady's maid, rather young and pretty, with a bold pair of eyes, ran
"Ah! it is you, sir," cried she.
This exclamation escaped her just loud enough to be audible at the
extremity of the apartment, and serve as a signal if needed. It was as
if she had cried, "Take care!"
Noel did not seem to notice it. "Madame is there?" asked he.
"Yes, sir, and very angry too. This morning she wanted to send some
one to you. A little while ago she spoke of going to find you, sir,
herself. I have had much difficulty in prevailing on her not to
disobey your orders."
"Very well," said the advocate.
"Madame is in the smoking room," continued the girl "I am making her a
cup of tea. Will you have one, sir?"
"Yes," replied Noel. "Show me a light, Charlotte."
He passed successively through a magnificent dining-room, a splendid
gilded drawing-room in Louis XIV. style, and entered the smoking-room.
This was a rather large apartment with a very high ceiling. Once
inside one might almost fancy oneself three thousand miles from Paris,
in the house of some opulent mandarin of the celestial Empire.
Furniture, carpet, hangings, pictures, all had evidently been imported
direct from Hong Kong or Shanghai. A rich silk tapestry representing
brilliantly coloured figures, covered the walls, and hid the doors
from view. All the empire of the sun and moon was depicted thereon in
vermillion landscapes: corpulent mandarins surrounded by their
lantern-bearers; learned men lay stupefied with opium, sleeping under
their parasols; young girls with elevated eyebrows, stumbled upon
their diminutive feet swathed in bandages. The carpet of a manufacture
unknown to Europeans, was strewn with fruits and flowers, so true to
nature that they might have deceived a bee. Some great artist of Pekin
had painted on the silk which covered the ceiling numerous fantastic
birds, opening on azure ground their wings of purple and gold. Slender
rods of lacquer, inlaid with mother of pearl, bordered the draperies,
and marked the angles of the apartment. Two fantastic looking chests
entirely occupied one side of the room. Articles of furniture of
capricious and incoherent forms, tables with porcelain tops, and
chiffoniers of precious woods encumbered every recess or angle. There
were also ornamental cabinets and shelves purchased of Lien-Tsi, the
Tahan of Sou-Tcheou, the artistic city, and a thousand curiosities,
both miscellaneous and costly, from the ivory sticks which are used
instead of forks, to the porcelain teacups, thinner than soap bubbles,
--miracles of the reign of Kien-Loung. A very large and very low divan
piled up with cushions, covered with tapestry similar to the hangings,
occupied one end of the room. There was no regular window, but instead
a large single pane of glass, fixed into the wall of the house; in
front of it was a double glass door with moveable panes, and the space
between was filled with the most rare flowers. The grate was replaced
by registers adroitly concealed, which maintained in the apartment a
temperature fit for hatching silkworms, thus truly harmonising with
When Noel entered, a woman, still young, was reclining on the divan,
smoking a cigarette. In spite of the tropical heat, she was enveloped
in heavy Cashmere shawls. She was small, but then only small women can
unite in their persons every perfection. Women who are above the
medium height must be either essays, or errors of nature. No matter
how lovely they may look, they invariably present some defect, like
the work of a statuary, who, though possessed of genius, attempts for
the first time sculpture on a grand scale. She was small, but her
neck, her shoulders, and her arms had the most exquisite contours. Her
hands with their tapering fingers and rosy nails looked like jewels
preciously cared for. Her feet, encased in silken stockings almost as
thin as a spider's-web, were a marvel; not that they recalled the very
fabulous foot which Cinderella thrust into the glass slipper; but the
other, very real, very celebrated and very palpable foot, of which the
fair owner (the lovely wife of a well-known banker) used to present
the model either in bronze or in marble to her numerous admirers. Her
face was, not beautiful, nor even pretty; but her features were such
as one seldom forgets; for, at the first glance, they startled the
beholder like a flash of lightning. Her forehead was a little high,
and her mouth unmistakably large, notwithstanding the provoking
freshness of her lips. Her eyebrows were so perfect they seem to have
been drawn with India ink; but, unhappily the pencil had been used too
heavily; and they gave her an unpleasant expression when she frowned.
On the other hand, her smooth complexion had a rich golden pallor; and
her black and velvety eyes possessed enormous magnetic power. Her
teeth were of a pearly brilliancy and whiteness, and her hair, of
prodigious opulence, was black and fine, and glossy as a raven's wing.
On perceiving Noel, as he pushed aside the silken hangings, she half
arose and leaned upon her elbow. "So you have come at last?" she
observed in a tone of vexation; "you are very kind."
The advocate felt almost suffocated by the oppressive temperature of
the room. "How warm it is!" said he; "it is enough to stifle one!"
"Do you find it so?" replied the young woman. "Well, I am actually
shivering! It is true though, that I am very unwell. Waiting is
unbearable to me, it acts upon my nerves; and I have been waiting for
you ever since yesterday."
"It was quite impossible for me to come," explained Noel, "quite
"You knew, however," continued the lady, "that to-day was my settling
day; and that I had several heavy accounts to settle. The tradesmen
all came, and I had not a half-penny to give them. The coachmaker sent
his bill, but there was no money. Then that old rascal Clergot, to
whom I had given an acceptance for three thousand francs, came and
kicked up a frightful row. How pleasant all this is!"
Noel bowed his head like a schoolboy rebuked for having neglected his
lessons. "It is but one day behind," he murmured.
"And that is nothing, is it?" retorted the young woman. "A man who
respects himself, my friend, may allow his own signature to be
dishonoured, but never that of his mistress! Do you wish to destroy my
credit altogether? You know very well that the only consideration I
receive is what my money pays for. So as soon as I am unable to pay,
it will be all up with me."
"My dear Juliette," began the advocate gently.
"Oh, yes! that's all very fine," interrupted she. "Your dear Juliette!
your adored Juliette! so long as you are here it is really charming;
but no sooner are you outside than you forget everything. Do you ever
remember then that there is such a person as Juliette?"
"How unjust you are!" replied Noel. "Do you not know that I am always
thinking of you; have I not proved it to you a thousand times? Look
here! I am going to prove it to you again this very instant." He
withdrew from his pocket the small packet he had taken out of his
bureau drawer, and, undoing it, showed her a handsome velvet casket.
"Here," said he exultingly, "is the bracelet you longed for so much a
week ago at Beaugrau's."
Madame Juliette, without rising, held out her hand to take the casket,
and, opening it with the utmost indifference, just glanced at the
jewel, and merely said, "Ah!"
"Is this the one you wanted?" asked Noel.
"Yes, but it looked much prettier in the shop window." She closed the
casket, and threw it carelessly on to a small table near her.
"I am unfortunate this evening," said the advocate, much mortified.
"I see plainly the bracelet does not please you."
"Oh, but it does. I think it lovely . . . besides, it will complete
the two dozen."
It was now Noel's turn to say: "Ah! . . ." and as Juliette said
nothing, he added: "Well, if you are pleased, you do not show it."
"Oh! so that is what you are driving at!" cried the lady. "I am not
grateful enough to suit you! You bring me a present, and I ought at
once to pay cash, fill the house with cries of joy, and throw myself
upon my knees before you, calling you a great and magnificent lord!"
Noel was unable this time to restrain a gesture of impatience, which
Juliette perceived plainly enough, to her great delight.
"Would that be sufficient?" continued she. "Shall I call Charlotte, so
that she may admire this superb bracelet, this monument of your
generosity? Shall I have the concierge up, and call the cook to tell
them how happy I am to possess such a magnificent lover."
The advocate shrugged his shoulders like a philosopher, incapable of
noticing a child's banter. "What is the use of these insulting jests?"
said he. "If you have any real complaint against me, better to say so
simply and seriously."
"Very well," said Juliette, "let us be serious. And, that being so, I
will tell you it would have been better to have forgotten the
bracelet, and to have brought me last night or this morning the eight
thousand francs I wanted."
"I could not come."
"You should have sent them; messengers are still to be found at the
"If I neither brought nor sent them, my dear Juliette, it was because
I did not have them. I had trouble enough in getting them promised me
for to-morrow. If I have the sum this evening, I owe it to a chance
upon which I could not have counted an hour ago; but by which I
profited, at the risk of compromising myself."
"Poor man!" said Juliette, with an ironical touch of pity in her
voice. "Do you dare to tell me you have had difficulty in obtaining
ten thousand francs,--you?"
The young woman looked at her lover, and burst into a fit of laughter.
"You are really superb when you act the poor young man!" said she.
"I am not acting."
"So you say, my own. But I see what you are aiming at. This amiable
confession is the preface. To-morrow you will declare that your
affairs are very much embarrassed, and the day after to-morrow . . .
Ah! you are becoming very avaricious. It is a virtue you used not to
possess. Do you not already regret the money you have given me?"
"Wretched woman!" murmured Noel, fast losing patience.
"Really," continued the lady, "I pity you, oh! so much. Unfortunate
lover! Shall I get up a subscription for you? In your place, I would
appeal to public charity."
Noel could stand it no longer, in spite of his resolution to remain
calm. "You think it a laughing matter?" cried he. "Well! let me tell
you, Juliette, I am ruined, and I have exhausted my last resources! I
am reduced to expedients!"
The eyes of the young woman brightened. She looked at her lover
tenderly. "Oh, if 'twas only true, my big pet!" said she. "If I only
could believe you!"
The advocate was wounded to the heart. "She believes me," thought he;
"and she is glad. She detests me."
He was mistaken. The idea that a man had loved her sufficiently to
ruin himself for her, without allowing even a reproach to escape him,
filled this woman with joy. She felt herself on the point of loving
the man, now poor and humbled, whom she had despised when rich and
proud. But the expression of her eyes suddenly changed, "What a fool I
am," cried she, "I was on the point of believing all that, and of
trying to console you. Don't pretend that you are one of those
gentlemen who scatter their money broadcast. Tell that to somebody
else, my friend! All men in our days calculate like money-lenders.
There are only a few fools who ruin themselves now, some conceited
youngsters, and occasionally an amorous old dotard. Well, you are a
very calm, very grave, and very serious fellow, but above all, a very
"Not with you, anyhow," murmured Noel.
"Come now, stop that nonsense! You know very well what you are about.
Instead of a heart, you have a great big double zero, just like a
Homburg. When you took a fancy to me, you said to yourself, 'I will
expend so much on passion,' and you have kept your word. It is an
investment, like any other, in which one receives interest in the form
of pleasure. You are capable of all the extravagance in the world, to
the extent of your fixed price of four thousand francs a month! If it
required a franc more you would very soon take back your heart and
your hat, and carry them elsewhere; to one or other of my rivals in
"It is true," answered the advocate, coolly. "I know how to count, and
that accomplishment is very useful to me. It enables me to know
exactly how and where I have got rid of my fortune."
"So you really know?" sneered Juliette.
"And I can tell you, madam," continued he. "At first you were not very
exacting, but the appetite came with eating. You wished for luxury,
you have it; splendid furniture, you have it; a complete
establishment, extravagant dresses, I could refuse you nothing. You
required a carriage, a horse, I gave them you. And I do not mention a
thousand other whims. I include neither this Chinese cabinet nor the
two dozen bracelets. The total is four hundred thousand francs!"
"Are you sure?"
"As one can be who has had that amount, and has it no longer."
"Four hundred thousand francs, only fancy! Are there no centimes?"
"Then, my dear friend, if I make up my bill, you will still owe me
The entrance of the maid with the tea-tray interrupted this amorous
duet, of which Noel had experienced more than one repetition. The
advocate held his tongue on account of the servant. Juliette did the
same on account of her lover, for she had no secrets from Charlotte,
who had been with her three years, and with whom she had shared
everything, sometimes even her lovers.
Madame Juliette Chaffour was a Parisienne. She was born about 1839,
somewhere in the upper end of the Faubourg Montmarte. Her father was
unknown. Her infancy was a long alternation of beatings and caresses,
equally furious. She had lived as best she could, on sweetmeats and
damaged fruit; so that now her stomach could stand anything. At twelve
years old she was as thin as a nail, as green as a June apple, and
more depraved than the inmates of the prison of St. Lazare. Prudhomme
would have said that this precocious little hussy was totally
destitute of morality. She had not the slightest idea what morality
was. She thought the world was full of honest people living like her
mother, and her mother's friends. She feared neither God nor devil,
but she was afraid of the police. She dreaded also certain mysterious
and cruel persons, whom she had heard spoken of, who dwell near the
Palais de Justice, and who experience a malicious pleasure in seeing
pretty girls in trouble. As she gave no promise of beauty, she was on
the point of being placed in a shop, when an old and respectable
gentleman, who had known her mamma some years previously, accorded her
his protection. This old gentleman, prudent and provident like all old
gentlemen, was a connoisseur, and knew that to reap one must sow. He
resolved first of all to give his protege just a varnish of education.
He procured masters for her, who in less than three years taught her
to write, to play the piano, and to dance. What he did not procure
her, however, was a lover. She therefore found one for herself, an
artist who taught her nothing very new, but who carried her off to
offer her half of what he possessed, that is to say nothing. At the
end of three months, having had enough of it, she left the nest of her
first love, with all she possessed tied up in a cotton pocket
During the four years which followed, she led a precarious existence,
sometimes with little else to live upon but hope, which never wholly
abandons a young girl who knows she has pretty eyes. By turns she sunk
to the bottom, or rose to the surface of the stream in which she found
herself. Twice had fortune in new gloves come knocking at her door,
but she had not the sense to keep her. With the assistance of a
strolling player, she had just appeared on the stage of a small
theatre, and spoken her lines rather well, when Noel by chance met
her, loved her, and made her his mistress. Her advocate, as she called
him, did not displease her at first. After a few months, though, she
could not bear him. She detested him for his polite and polished
manners, his manly bearing, his distinguished air, his contempt, which
he did not care to hide, for all that is low and vulgar, and, above
all, for his unalterable patience, which nothing could tire. Her great
complaint against him was that he was not at all funny, and also, that
he absolutely declined to conduct her to those places where one can
give a free vent to one's spirits. To amuse herself, she began to
squander money; and her aversion for her lover increased at the same
rate as her ambition and his sacrifices. She rendered him the most
miserable of men, and treated him like a dog; and this not from any
natural badness of disposition, but from principle. She was persuaded
that a woman is beloved in proportion to the trouble she causes and
the mischief she does.
Juliette was not wicked, and she believed she had much to complain of.
The dream of her life was to be loved in a way which she felt, but
could scarcely have explained. She had never been to her lovers more
than a plaything. She understood this; and, as she was naturally
proud, the idea enraged her. She dreamed of a man who would be devoted
enough to make a real sacrifice for her, a lover who would descend to
her level, instead of attempting to raise her to his. She despaired of
ever meeting such a one. Noel's extravagance left her as cold as ice.
She believed he was very rich, and singularly, in spite of her
greediness, she did not care much for money. Noel would have won her
easier by a brutal frankness that would have shown her clearly his
situation. He lost her love by the delicacy of his dissimulation, that
left her ignorant of the sacrifices he was making for her.
Noel adored Juliette. Until the fatal day he saw her, he had lived
like a sage. This, his first passion, burned him up; and, from the
disaster, he saved only appearances.
The four walls remained standing, but the interior of the edifice was
destroyed. Even heroes have their vulnerable parts, Achilles died from
a wound in the heel. The most artfully constructed armour has a flaw
somewhere. Noel was assailable by means of Juliette, and through her
was at the mercy of everything and every one. In four years, this
model young man, this advocate of immaculate reputation, this austere
moralist, had squandered not only his own fortune on her, but Madame
Gerdy's also. He loved her madly, without reflection, without measure,
with his eyes shut. At her side, he forgot all prudence, and thought
out loud. In her boudoir, he dropped his mask of habitual
dissimulation, and his vices displayed themselves, at ease, as his
limbs in a bath. He felt himself so powerless against her, that he
never essayed to struggle. She possessed him. Once or twice he
attempted to firmly oppose her ruinous caprices; but she had made him
pliable as the osier. Under the dark glances of this girl, his
strongest resolutions melted more quickly than snow beneath an April
sun. She tortured him; but she had also the power to make him forget
all by a smile, a tear, or a kiss. Away from the enchantress, reason
returned at intervals, and, in his lucid moments, he said to himself,
"She does not love me. She is amusing herself at my expense!" But the
belief in her love had taken such deep root in his heart that he could
not pluck it forth. He made himself a monster of jealousy, and then
argued with himself respecting her fidelity. On several occasions he
had strong reasons to doubt her constancy, but he never had the
courage to declare his suspicions. "If I am not mistaken, I shall
either have to leave her," thought he, "or accept everything in the
future." At the idea of a separation from Juliette, he trembled, and
felt his passion strong enough to compel him to submit to the lowest
indignity. He preferred even these heartbreaking doubts to a still
more dreadful certainty.
The presence of the maid who took a considerable time in arranging the
tea-table gave Noel an opportunity to recover himself. He looked at
Juliette; and his anger took flight. Already he began to ask himself
if he had not been a little cruel to her. When Charlotte retired, he
came and took a seat on the divan beside his mistress, and attempted
to put his arms round her. "Come," said he in a caressing tone, "you
have been angry enough for this evening. If I have done wrong, you
have punished me sufficiently. Kiss me, and make it up."
She repulsed him angrily, and said in a dry tone,--"Let me alone! How
many times must I tell you that I am very unwell this evening."
"You suffer, my love?" resumed the advocate, "where? Shall I send for
"There is no need. I know the nature of my malady; it is called ennui.
You are not at all the doctor who could do anything for me."
Noel rose with a discouraged air, and took his place at the side of
the tea-table, facing her. His resignation bespoke how habituated he
had become to these rebuffs. Juliette snubbed him; but he returned
always, like the poor dog who lies in wait all day for the time when
his caresses will not be inopportune. "You have told me very often
during the last few months, that I bother you. What have I done?" he
"Well, then, why--?"
"My life is nothing more than a continual yawn," answered the young
woman; "is it my fault? Do you think it very amusing to be your
mistress? Look at yourself. Does there exist another being as sad, as
dull as you, more uneasy, more suspicious, devoured by a greater
"Your reception of me, my dear Juliette," ventured Noel "is enough to
extinguish gaiety and freeze all effusion. Then one always fears when
"Really! Then one should seek a woman to suit oneself, or have her
made to order; shut her up in the cellar, and have her brought
upstairs once a day, at the end of dinner, during dessert, or with the
champagne just by way of amusement."
"I should have done better not to have come," murmured the advocate.
"Of course. I am to remain alone here, without anything to occupy me
except a cigarette and a stupid book, that I go to sleep over? Do you
call this an existence, never to budge out of the house even?"
"It is the life of all the respectable women that I know," replied the
"Then I cannot compliment them on their enjoyment. Happily, though, I
am not a respectable woman, and I can tell you I am tired of living
more closely shut up than the wife of a Turk, with your face for sole
"You live shut up, you?"
"Certainly!" continued Juliette, with increased bitterness. "Come,
have you ever brought one of your friends here? No, you hide me. When
have you offered me your arm for a walk? Never, your dignity would be
sullied, if you were seen in my company. I have a carriage. Have you
entered it half a dozen times? Perhaps; but then you let down the
blinds! I go out alone. I walk about alone!"
"Always the same refrain," interrupted Noel, anger getting the better
of him, "always these uncalled for complaints. As though you had still
to learn the reason why this state of things exists."
"I know well enough," pursued the young woman, "that you are ashamed
of me. Yet I know many bigger swells then you, who do not mind being
seen with their mistresses. My lord trembles for his fine name of
Gerdy that I might sully, while the sons of the most noble families
are not afraid of showing themselves in public places in the company
of the stupidest of kept women."
At last Noel could stand it no longer, to the great delight of Madame
"Enough of these recriminations!" cried he, rising. "If I hide our
relations, it is because I am constrained to do so. Of what do you
complain? You have unrestrained liberty; and you use it, too, and so
largely that your actions altogether escape me. You accuse me of
creating a vacuum around you. Who is to blame? Did I grow tired of a
happy and quiet existence? My friends would have come to see us in a
home in accordance with a modest competence. Can I bring them here? On
seeing all this luxury, this insolent display of my folly, they would
ask each other where I obtained all the money I have spent on you. I
may have a mistress, but I have not the right to squander a fortune
that does not belong to me. If my acquaintances learnt to-morrow that
it is I who keep you, my future prospects would be destroyed. What
client would confide his interests to the imbecile who ruined himself
for the woman who has been the talk of all Paris? I am not a great
lord, I have neither an historical name to tarnish, nor an immense
fortune to lose. I am plain Noel Gerdy, a advocate. My reputation is
all that I possess. It is a false one, I admit. Such as it is,
however, I must keep it, and I will keep it."
Juliette who knew her Noel thoroughly, saw that she had gone far
enough. She determined, therefore, to put him in a good humor again.
"My friend," said she, tenderly, "I did not wish to cause you pain.
You must be indulgent, I am so horribly nervous this evening."
This sudden change delighted the advocate, and almost sufficed to calm
his anger. "You will drive me mad with your injustice," said he.
"While I exhaust my imagination to find what can be agreeable to you,
you are perpetually attacking my gravity; yet it is not forty-eight
hours since we were plunged in all the gaiety of the carnival. I kept
the fete of Shrove Tuesday like a student. We went to a theatre; I
then put on a domino, and accompanied you to the ball at the opera,
and even invited two of my friends to sup with us."
"It was very gay indeed!" answered the young woman, making a wry face.
"So I think."
"Do you! Then you are not hard to please. We went to the Vaudeville,
it is true, but separately, as we always do, I alone above, you below.
At the ball you looked as though you were burying the devil. At the
supper table your friends were as melancholy as a pair of owls. I
obeyed your orders by affecting hardly to know you. You imbibed like a
sponge, without my being able to tell whether you were drunk or not."
"That proves," interrupted Noel, "that we ought not to force our
tastes. Let us talk of something else."
He took a few steps in the room, then looking at his watch said:
"Almost one o'clock; my love, I must leave you."
"What! you are not going to remain?"
"No, to my great regret; my mother is dangerously ill."
He unfolded and counted out on the table the bank notes he had
received from old Tabaret.
"My little Juliette," said he, "here are not eight thousand francs,
but ten thousand. You will not see me again for a few days."
"Are you leaving Paris, then?"
"No; but my entire time will be absorbed by an affair of immense
importance to myself. If I succeed in my undertaking, my dear, our
future happiness is assured, and you will then see whether I love
"Oh, my dear Noel, tell me what it is."
"I cannot now."
"Tell me I beseech you," pleaded the young woman, hanging round his
neck, raising herself upon the tips of her toes to press her lips to
his. The advocate embraced her; and his resolution seemed to waver.
"No," said he at length, "seriously I cannot. Of what use to awaken in
you hopes which can never be realized? Now, my darling, listen to me.
Whatever may happen, understand, you must under no pretext whatever
again come to my house, as you once had the imprudence to do. Do not
even write to me. By disobeying, you may do me an irreparable injury.
If any accident occurs, send that old rascal Clergot to me. I shall
have a visit from him the day after to-morrow, for he holds some bills
Juliette recoiled, menacing Noel with a mutinous gesture. "You will
not tell me anything?" insisted she.
"Not this evening, but very soon," replied the advocate, embarrassed
by the piercing glance of his mistress.
"Always some mystery!" cried Juliette, piqued at the want of success
attending her blandishments.
"This will be the last, I swear to you!"
"Noel, my good man," said the young woman in a serious tone, "you are
hiding something from me. I understand you, as you know; for several
days past there has been something or other the matter with you, you
have completely changed."
"I swear to you, Juliette--"
"No, swear nothing; I should not believe you. Only remember, no
attempt at deceiving me, I forewarn you. I am a woman capable of
The advocate was evidently ill at ease. "The affair in question,"
stammered he, "can as well fail as succeed."
"Enough," interrupted Juliette; "your will shall be obeyed. I promise
that. Come, sir, kiss me. I am going to bed."
The door was hardly shut upon Noel when Charlotte was installed on the
divan near her mistress. Had the advocate been listening at the door,
he might have heard Madame Juliette saying, "No, really, I can no
longer endure him. What a bore he is, my girl. Ah! if I was not so
afraid of him, wouldn't I leave him at once? But he is capable of
The girl vainly tried to defend Noel; but her mistress did not listen.
She murmured, "Why does he absent himself, and what is he plotting? An
absence of eight days is suspicious. Can he by any chance intend to be
married? Ah! if I only knew. You weary me to death, my good Noel, and
I am determined to leave you to yourself one of these fine mornings;
but I cannot permit you to quit me first. Supposing he is going to get
married? But I will not allow it. I must make inquiries."
Noel, however, was not listening at the door. He went along the Rue de
Provence as quickly as possible, gained the Rue St. Lazare, and
entered the house as he had departed, by the stable door. He had but
just sat down in his study, when the servant knocked.
"Sir," cried she, "in heaven's name answer me!"
He opened the door and said impatiently, "What is it?"
"Sir," stammered the girl in tears, "this is the third time I have
knocked, and you have not answered. Come, I implore you. I am afraid
madame is dying!"
He followed her to Madame Gerdy's room. He must have found the poor
woman terribly changed, for he could not restrain a movement of
terror. The invalid struggled painfully beneath her coverings. Her
face was of a livid paleness, as though there was not a drop of blood
left in her veins; and her eyes, which glittered with a sombre light,
seemed filled with a fine dust. Her hair, loose and disordered,
falling over her cheeks and upon her shoulders, contributed to her
wild appearance. She uttered from time to time a groan hardly audible,
or murmured unintelligible words. At times, a fiercer pang than the
former ones forced a cry of anguish from her. She did not recognise
"You see, sir," said the servant.
"Yes. Who would have supposed her malady could advance so rapidly?
Quick, run to Dr. Herve's, tell him to get up, and to come at once,
tell him it is for me." And he seated himself in an arm-chair, facing
the suffering woman.
Dr. Herve was one of Noel's friends, an old school-fellow, and the
companion of his student days. The doctor's history differed in
nothing from that of most young men, who, without fortune, friends, or
influence, enter upon the practice of the most difficult, the most
hazardous of professions that exist in Paris, where one sees so many
talented young doctors forced, to earn their bread, to place
themselves at the disposition of infamous drug vendors. A man of
remarkable courage and self-reliance, Herve, his studies over, said to
himself, "No, I will not go and bury myself in the country, I will
remain in Paris, I will there become celebrated. I shall be surgeon-
in-chief of an hospital, and a knight of the Legion of Honour."
To enter upon this path of thorns, leading to a magnificent triumphal
arch, the future academician ran himself twenty thousand francs in
debt to furnish a small apartment. Here, armed with a patience which
nothing could fatigue, an iron resolution that nothing could subdue,
he struggled and waited. Only those who have experienced it can
understand what sufferings are endured by the poor, proud man, who
waits in a black coat, freshly shaven, with smiling lips, while he is
starving of hunger! The refinements of civilization have inaugurated
punishments which put in the shade the cruelties of the savage. The
unknown physician must begin by attending the poor who cannot pay him.
Sometimes too the patient is ungrateful. He is profuse in promises
whilst in danger; but, when cured, he scorns the doctor, and forgets
to pay him his fee.
After seven years of heroic perseverance, Herve has secured at last a
circle of patients who pay him. During this he lived and paid the
exorbitant interest of his debt, but he is getting on. Three or four
pamphlets, and a prize won without much intrigue, have attracted
public attention to him. But he is no longer the brave young
enthusiast, full of the faith and hope that attended him on his first
visits. He still wishes, and more than ever, to acquire distinction,
but he no longer expects any pleasure from his success. He used up
that feeling in the days when he had not wherewith to pay for his
dinner. No matter how great his fortune may be in the days to come, he
has already paid too dearly for it. For him future success is only a
kind of revenge. Less than thirty-five years old, he is already sick
of the world, and believes in nothing. Under the appearance of
universal benevolence he conceals universal scorn. His finesse,
sharpened by the grindstone of adversity, has become mischievous. And,
while he sees through all disguises worn by others, he hides his
penetration carefully under a mask of cheerful good nature and
jovialness. But he is kind, he loves his friends, and is devoted to
He arrived, hardly dressed, so great had been his haste. His first
words on entering were, "What is the matter?"
Noel pressed his hand in silence, and by way of answer, pointed to the
bed. In less than a minute, the doctor seized the lamp, examined the
sick woman, and returned to his friend. "What has happened?" he asked
sharply. "It is necessary I should know."
The advocate started at the question. "Know what?" stammered he.
"Everything!" answered Herve. "She is suffering from inflammation of
the brain. There is no mistaking that. It is by no means a common
complaint, in spite of the constant working of that organ. What can
have caused it? There appears to be no injury to the brain or its bony
covering, the mischief, then, must have been caused by some violent
emotion, a great grief, some unexpected catastrophe . . ."
Noel interrupted his friend by a gesture, and drew him into the
embrasure of the window. "Yes, my friend," said he in a low tone,
"Madame Gerdy has experienced great mental suffering, she has been
frightfully tortured by remorse. Listen, Herve. I will confide our
secret to your honour and your friendship. Madame Gerdy is not my
mother; she despoiled me, to enrich her son with my fortune and my
name. Three weeks ago I discovered this unworthy fraud; she knows it,
and the consequences terrify her. Ever since, she has been dying
minute by minute."
The advocate expected some exclamations of astonishment, and a host of
questions from his friend; but the doctor received the explanation
without remark, as a simple statement, indispensable to his
understanding the case.
"Three weeks," he murmured; "then, that explains everything. Has she
appeared to suffer much during the time?"
"She complained of violent headaches, dimness of sight, and
intolerable pains in her ears, she attributed all that though to
megrims. Do not, however, conceal anything from me, Herve; is her
complaint very serious?"
"So serious, my friend, so invariably fatal, that I am almost
undertaking a hopeless task in attempting a cure."
"Ah! good heaven!"
"You asked for the truth, and I have told it you. If I had that
courage, it was because you told me this poor woman is not your
mother. Nothing short of a miracle can save her; but this miracle we
may hope and prepare for. And now to work!"
The clock of the St. Lazare terminus was striking eleven as old
Tabaret, after shaking hands with Noel, left his house, still
bewildered by what he had just heard. Obliged to restrain himself at
the time, he now fully appreciated his liberty of action. It was with
an unsteady gait that he took his first steps in the street, like the
toper, who, after being shut up in a warm room, suddenly goes out into
the open air. He was beaming with pleasure, but at the same time felt
rather giddy, from that rapid succession of unexpected revelations,
which, so he thought, had suddenly placed him in possession of the
Notwithstanding his haste to arrive at M. Daburon's he did not take a
cab. He felt the necessity of walking. He was one of those who require
exercise to see things clearly. When he moved about his ideas fitted
and classified themselves in his brain, like grains of wheat when
shaken in a bushel. Without hastening his pace, he reached the Rue de
la Chaussee d'Antin, crossed the Boulevard with its resplendent cafes,
and turned to the Rue Richelieu.
He walked along, unconscious of external objects, tripping and
stumbling over the inequalities of the sidewalk, or slipping on the
greasy pavement. If he followed the proper road, it was a purely
mechanical impulse that guided him. His mind was wandering at random
through the field of probabilities, and following in the darkness the
mysterious thread, the almost imperceptible end of which he had seized
at La Jonchere.
Like all persons labouring under strong emotion without knowing it, he
talked aloud, little thinking into what indiscreet ears his
exclamations and disjointed phrases might fall. At every step, we meet
in Paris people babbling to themselves, and unconsciously confiding to
the four winds of heaven their dearest secrets, like cracked vases
that allow their contents to steal away. Often the passers-by mistake
these eccentric monologuists for lunatics. Sometimes the curious
follow them, and amuse themselves by receiving these strange
confidences. It was an indiscretion of this kind which told the ruin
of Riscara the rich banker. Lambreth, the assassin of the Rue de
Venise, betrayed himself in a similar manner.
"What luck!" exclaimed old Tabaret. "What an incredible piece of good
fortune! Gevrol may dispute it if he likes, but after all, chance is
the cleverest agent of the police. Who would have imagined such a
history? I was not, however, very far from the reality. I guessed
there was a child in the case. But who would have dreamed of a
substitution?--an old sensational effect, that playwrights no longer
dare make use of. This is a striking example of the danger of
following preconceived ideas in police investigation. We are
affrighted at unlikelihood; and, as in this case, the greatest
unlikelihood often proves to be the truth. We retire before the
absurd, and it is the absurd that we should examine. Everything is
possible. I would not take a thousand crowns for what I have learnt
this evening. I shall kill two birds with one stone. I deliver up the
criminal; and I give Noel a hearty lift up to recover his title and
his fortune. There, at least; is one who deserves what he will get.
For once I shall not be sorry to see a lad get on, who has been
brought up in the school of adversity. But, pshaw! he will be like all
the rest. Prosperity will turn his brain. Already he begins to prate
of his ancestors. . . . Poor humanity he almost made me laugh. . . .
But it is mother Gerdy who surprises me most. A woman to whom I would
have given absolution without waiting to hear her confess. When I
think that I was on the point of proposing to her, ready to marry her!
At this thought, the old fellow shivered. He saw himself married, and
all on a sudden, discovering the antecedents of Madame Tabaret,
becoming mixed up with a scandalous prosecution, compromised, and
"When I think," he continued, "that my worthy Gevrol is running after
the man with the earrings! Run, my boy, run! Travel is a good thing
for youth. Won't he be vexed? He will wish me dead. But I don't care.
If any one wishes to do me an injury, M. Daburon will protect me. Ah!
there is one to whom I am going to do a good turn. I can see him now,
opening his eyes like saucers, when I say to him, 'I have the rascal!'
He can boast of owing me something. This investigation will bring him
honour, or justice is not justice. He will, at least, be made an
officer of the Legion of Honour. So much the better! I like him. If he
is asleep, I am going to give him an agreeable awaking. Won't he just
overpower me with questions! He will want to know everything at once."
Old Tabaret, who was now crossing the Pont des Saints-Peres, stopped
suddenly. "But the details!" said he. "By Jove! I have none. I only
know the bare facts." He resumed his walk, and continued, "They are
right at the office, I am too enthusiastic; I jump at conclusions, as
Gevrol says. When I was with Noel, I should have cross-examined him,
got hold of a quantity of useful details; but I did not even think of
doing so. I drank in his words. I would have had him tell the story in
a sentence. All the same, it is but natural; when one is pursuing a
stag, one does not stop to shoot a blackbird. But I see very well now,
I did not draw him out enough. On the other hand, by questioning him
more, I might have awakened suspicions in Noel's mind, and led him to
discover that I am working for the Rue de Jerusalem. To be sure, I do
not blush for my connection with the police, I am even vain of it; but
at the same time, I prefer that no one should know of it. People are
so stupid, that they detest the police, who protect them; I must be
calm and on my best behaviour, for here I am at the end of my
M. Daburon had just gone to bed, but had given orders to his servant;
so that M. Tabaret had but to give his name, to be at once conducted
to the magistrate's sleeping apartment. At sight of his amateur
detective, M. Daburon raised himself in his bed, saying, "There is
something extraordinary! What have you discovered? have you got a
"Better than that," answered the old fellow, smiling with pleasure.
"I know the culprit!"
Old Tabaret ought to have been satisfied; he certainly produced an
effect. The magistrate bounded in his bed. "Already!" said he. "Is it
"I have the honour to repeat to you, sir," resumed the old fellow,
"that I know the author of the crime of La Jonchere."
"And I," said M. Daburon, "I proclaim you the greatest of all
detectives, past or future. I shall certainly never hereafter
undertake an investigation without your assistance."
"You are too kind, sir. I have had little or nothing to do in the
matter. The discovery is due to chance alone."
"You are modest, M. Tabaret. Chance assists only the clever, and it is
that which annoys the stupid. But I beg you will be seated and
Then with the lucidness and precision of which few would have believed
him capable, the old fellow repeated to the magistrate all that he had
learned from Noel. He quoted from memory the extracts from the
letters, almost without changing a word.
"These letters," added he, "I have seen; and I have even taken one, in
order to verify the writing. Here it is."
"Yes," murmured the magistrate--"Yes, M. Tabaret, you have discovered
the criminal. The evidence is palpable, even to the blind. Heaven has
willed this. Crime engenders crime. The great sin of the father has
made the son an assassin."
"I have not given you the names, sir," resumed old Tabaret. "I wished
first to hear your opinion."
"Oh! you can name them," interrupted M. Daburon with a certain degree
of animation, "no matter how high he may have to strike, a French
magistrate has never hesitated."
"I know it, sir, but we are going very high this time. The father who
has sacrificed his legitimate son for the sake of his bastard is Count
Rheteau de Commarin, and the assassin of Widow Lerouge is the bastard,
Viscount Albert de Commarin!"
M. Tabaret, like an accomplished artist, had uttered these words
slowly, and with a deliberate emphasis, confidently expecting to
produce a great impression. His expectation was more than realized. M.
Daburon was struck with stupor. He remained motionless, his eyes
dilated with astonishment. Mechanically he repeated like a word
without meaning which he was trying to impress upon his memory:
"Albert de Commarin! Albert de Commarin!"
"Yes," insisted old Tabaret, "the noble viscount. It is incredible, I
know." But he perceived the alteration in the magistrate's face, and a
little frightened, he approached the bed. "Are you unwell, sir?" he
"No," answered M. Daburon, without exactly knowing what he said. "I am
very well; but the surprise, the emotion,--"
"I understand that," said the old fellow.
"Yes, it is not surprising, is it? I should like to be alone a few
minutes. Do not leave the house though; we must converse at some
length on this business. Kindly pass into my study, there ought still
to be a fire burning there. I will join you directly."
Then M. Daburon slowly got out of bed, put on a dressing gown, and
seated himself, or rather fell, into an armchair. His face, to which
in the exercise of his austere functions he had managed to give the
immobility of marble, reflected the most cruel agitation; while his
eyes betrayed the inward agony of his soul. The name of Commarin, so
unexpectedly pronounced, awakened in him the most sorrowful
recollections, and tore open a wound but badly healed. This name
recalled to him an event which had rudely extinguished his youth and
spoilt his life. Involuntarily, he carried his thoughts back to this
epoch, so as to taste again all its bitterness. An hour ago, it had
seemed to him far removed, and already hidden in the mists of the
past; one word had sufficed to recall it, clear and distinct. It
seemed to him now that this event, in which the name of Albert de
Commarin was mixed up, dated from yesterday. In reality nearly two
years elapsed since.
Pierre-Marie Daburon belonged to one of the oldest families of Poitou.
Three or four of his ancestors had filled successively the most
important positions in the province. Why, then, had they not
bequeathed a title and a coat of arms to their descendants?
The magistrate's father possesses, round about the ugly modern chateau
which he inhabits, more than eight hundred thousand francs' worth of
the most valuable land. By his mother, a Cottevise-Luxe, he is related
to the highest nobility of Poitou, one of the most exclusive that
exists in France, as every one knows.
When he received his nomination in Paris, his relationship caused him
to be received at once by five or six aristocratic families, and it
was not long before he extended his circle of acquaintance.
He possessed, however, none of the qualifications which ensure social
success. He was cold and grave even to sadness, reserved and timid
even to excess. His mind wanted brilliancy and lightness; he lacked
the facility of repartee, and the amiable art of conversing without a
subject; he could neither tell a lie, nor pay an insipid compliment.
Like most men who feel deeply, he was unable to interpret his
impressions immediately. He required to reflect and consider within
However, he was sought after for more solid qualities than these: for
the nobleness of his sentiments, his pleasant disposition, and the
certainty of his connections. Those who knew him intimately quickly
learned to esteem his sound judgment, his keen sense of honour, and to
discover under his cold exterior a warm heart, an excessive
sensibility, and a delicacy almost feminine. In a word, although he
might be eclipsed in a room full of strangers or simpletons, he
charmed all hearts in a smaller circle, where he felt warmed by an
atmosphere of sympathy.
He accustomed himself to go about a great deal. He reasoned, wisely
perhaps, that a magistrate can make better use of his time than by
remaining shut up in his study, in company with books of law. He
thought that a man called upon to judge others, ought to know them,
and for that purpose study them. An attentive and discreet observer,
he examined the play of human interests and passions, exercised
himself in disentangling and manoeuvring at need the strings of the
puppets he saw moving around him. Piece by piece, so to say, he
laboured to comprehend the working of the complicated machine called
society, of which he was charged to overlook the movements, regulate
the springs, and keep the wheels in order.
And on a sudden, in the early part of the winter of 1860 and 1861, M.
Daburon disappeared. His friends sought for him, but he was nowhere to
be met with. What could he be doing? Inquiry resulted in the discovery
that he passed nearly all his evenings at the house of the Marchioness
d'Arlange. The surprise was as great as it was natural.
This dear marchioness was, or rather is,--for she is still in the land
of the living,--a personage whom one would consider rather out of
date. She is surely the most singular legacy bequeathed us by the
eighteenth century. How, and by what marvellous process she had been
preserved such as we see her, it is impossible to say. Listening to
her, you would swear that she was yesterday at one of those parties
given by the queen where cards and high stakes were the rule, much to
the annoyance of Louis XIV., and where the great ladies cheated openly
in emulation of each other.
Manners, language, habits, almost costume, she has preserved
everything belonging to that period about which authors have written
only to display the defects. Her appearance alone will tell more than
an exhaustive article, and an hour's conversation with her, more than
She was born in a little principality, where her parents had taken
refuge whilst awaiting the chastisements and repentance of an erring
and rebellious people. She had been brought up amongst the old nobles
of the emigration, in some very ancient and very gilded apartment,
just as though she had been in a cabinet of curiosities. Her mind had
awakened amid the hum of antediluvian conversations, her imagination
had first been aroused by arguments a little less profitable than
those of an assembly of deaf persons convoked to decide upon the
merits of the work of some distinguished musician. Here she imbibed a
fund of ideas, which, applied to the forms of society of to-day, are
as grotesque as would be those of a child shut up until twenty years
of age in an Assyrian museum.
The first empire, the restoration, the monarchy of July, the second
republic, the second empire, have passed beneath her windows, but she
has not taken the trouble to open them. All that has happened since
'89 she considers as never having been. For her it is a nightmare from
which she is still awaiting a release. She has looked at everything,
but then she looks through her own pretty glasses which show her
everything as she would wish it, and which are to be obtained of
dealers in illusions.
Though over sixty-eight years old she is as straight as a poplar, and
has never been ill. She is vivacious, and active to excess, and can
only keep still when asleep, or when playing her favorite game of
piquet. She has her four meals a day, eats like a vintager, and takes
her wine neat. She professes an undisguised contempt for the silly
women of our century who live for a week on a partridge, and inundate
with water grand sentiments which they entangle in long phrases. She
has always been, and still is, very positive, and her word is prompt
and easily understood. She never shrinks from using the most
appropriate word to express her meaning. So much the worse, if some
delicate ears object! She heartily detests hypocrisy.
She believes in God, but she believes also in M. de Voltaire, so that
her devotion is, to say the least, problematical. However, she is on
good terms with the curate of her parish, and is very particular about
the arrangement of her dinner on the days she honours him with an
invitation to her table. She seems to consider him a subaltern, very
useful to her salvation, and capable of opening the gate of paradise
Such as she is, she is shunned like the plague. Everybody dreads her
loud voice, her terrible indiscretion, and the frankness of speech
which she affects, in order to have the right of saying the most
unpleasant things which pass through her head. Of all her family,
there only remains her granddaughter, whose father died very young.
Of a fortune originally large, and partly restored by the indemnity
allowed by the government, but since administered in the most careless
manner, she has only been able to preserve an income of twenty
thousand francs, which diminishes day by day. She is, also, proprietor
of the pretty little house which she inhabits, situated near the
Invalides, between a rather narrow court-yard, and a very extensive
So circumstanced, she considers herself the most unfortunate of God's
creatures, and passes the greater part of her life complaining of her
poverty. From time to time, especially after some exceptionally bad
speculation, she confesses that what she fears most is to die in a
A friend of M. Daburon's presented him one evening to the Marchioness
d'Arlange, having dragged him to her house in a mirthful mood, saying,
"Come with me, and I will show you a phenomenon, a ghost of the past
in flesh and bone."