Part 2 out of 7
interests in hand. How heartily, and with what confidence in his
success, is shown by the fact that he had advanced forty thousand
francs for his client's use, out of his own private purse. After
such a proof of confidence the marquis could hardly have been
dissatisfied with his adviser; in point of fact, he was delighted
with him, and all the more so, as this invaluable man always
treated him with extreme deference, verging on servility. And in
M. de Valorsay's eyes this was a great consideration; for he was
becoming more arrogant and more irascible in proportion as his
right to be so diminished. Secretly disgusted with himself, and
deeply humiliated by the shameful intrigue to which he had
stooped, he took a secret satisfaction in crushing his accomplice
with his imaginary superiority and lordly disdain. According as
his humor was good or bad, he called him "my dear extortioner,"
"Mons. Fortunat," or "Master Twenty-per-cent." But though these
sneers and insults drove the obsequious smile from M. Fortunat's
lips, he was quite capable of including them in the bill under the
head of sundries.
The unvarying deference and submission which M. de Valorsay's
adviser displayed made his failure to keep the present appointment
all the more remarkable. Such neglect of the commonest rules of
courtesy was inconceivable on the part of so polite a man; and the
marquis's anger gradually changed to anxiety. "What can have
happened?" he thought.
He was trying to decide whether he should leave or stay, when he
heard a key grate in the lock of the outer door, and then some
quick steps along the ante-room. "At last--here he is!" he
muttered, with a sigh of relief.
He expected to see M. Fortunat enter the room at once, but he was
disappointed. The agent had no desire to show himself in the garb
which he had assumed for his excursion with Chupin; and so he had
hastened to his room to don his wonted habiliments. He also
desired a few moments for deliberation.
If--as was most probably the case--M. de Valorsay were ignorant of
the Count de Chalusse's critical condition, was it advisable to
tell him of it? M. Fortunat thought not, judging with reason that
this would lead to a discussion and very possibly to a rupture,
and he wished to avoid anything of the kind until he was quite
certain of the count's death.
Meanwhile the marquis was thinking--he was a trifle late about it--
that he had done wrong to wait in that drawing-room for three
mortal hours. Was such conduct worthy of him? Had he shown
himself proper respect? Would not M. Fortunat construe this as an
acknowledgment of the importance of his services and his client's
urgent need? Would he not become more exacting, more exorbitant
in his demands? If the marquis could have made his escape
unheard, he would, no doubt, have done so; but this was out of the
question. So he resorted to a stratagem which seemed to him
likely to save his compromised dignity. He stretched himself out
in his arm-chair, closed his eyes, and pretended to doze. Then,
when M. Fortunat at last entered the drawing-room he sprang up as
if he were suddenly aroused from slumber, rubbed his eyes, and
exclaimed: "Eh! what's that? Upon my word I must have been
But M. Fortunat was not deceived. He noticed, on the floor, a
torn and crumpled newspaper, which betrayed the impatience and
anger his client had experienced during his long waiting. "Well,"
resumed the marquis, "what time is it? Half-past twelve? This is
a pretty time to keep an appointment fixed for ten o'clock. This
is presuming on my good-nature, M. Fortunat! Do you know that my
carriage has been waiting below ever since half-past nine, and
that my horses have, perhaps, taken cold? A pair of horses worth
six hundred louis!"
M. Fortunat listened to these reproaches with the deepest
humility. "You must excuse me, Monsieur le Marquis," said he.
"If I remained out so much later than usual, it was only because
your business interests detained me."
"Zounds! that is about the same as if it had been your own
business that detained you!" And well pleased with this joke, he
added, "Ah well! How are affairs progressing?"
"On my side as well as could be desired."
The marquis had resumed his seat in the chimney-corner, and was
poking the fire with a haughty, but poorly assumed air of
indifference. "I am listening," he said carelessly.
"In that case, Monsieur le Marquis, I will state the facts in a
few words, without going into particulars. Thanks to an expedient
devised by me, we shall obtain for twenty hours a release from all
the mortgages that now encumber your estates. On that very day we
will request a certificate from the recorder. This certificate
will declare that your estates are free from all encumbrances; you
will show this statement to M. de Chalusse, and all his doubts--
that is, if he has any--will vanish. The plan was very simple;
the only difficulty was about raising the money, but I have
succeeded in doing so. All your creditors but two lent themselves
very readily to the arrangement. I have now won the consent of
the two who at first refused, but we shall have to pay dearly for
it. It will cost you about twenty-six thousand francs."
M. de Valorsay was so delighted that he could not refrain from
clapping his hands. "Then the affair is virtually concluded," he
exclaimed. "In less than a month Mademoiselle Marguerite will be
the Marquise de Valorsay, and I shall have a hundred thousand
francs a year again." Then, noting how gravely M. Fortunat shook
his head: "Ah! so you doubt it!" he cried. "Very well; now it is
your turn to listen. Yesterday I had a long conference with the
Count de Chalusse, and everything has been settled. We exchanged
our word of honor, Master Twenty-per-cent. The count does things
in a princely fashion; he gives Mademoiselle Marguerite two
"Two millions!" the other repeated like an echo.
"Yes, my dear miser, neither more nor less. Only for private
reasons, which he did not explain, the count stipulates that only
two hundred thousand francs shall appear in the marriage contract.
The remaining eighteen hundred thousand francs, he gives to me
unreservedly and unconditionally. Upon my word, I think this very
charming. How does it strike you?"
M. Fortunat made no reply. M. de Valorsay's gayety, instead of
cheering, saddened him. "Ah! my fine fellow," he thought, "you
would sing a different song if you knew that by this time M. de
Chalusse is probably dead, and that most likely Mademoiselle
Marguerite has only her beautiful eyes left her, and will dim them
in weeping for her vanished millions."
But this brilliant scion of the aristocracy had no suspicion of
the real state of affairs, for he continued: "You will say,
perhaps, it is strange, that I, Ange-Marie Robert Dalbou, Marquis
de Valorsay, should marry a girl whose father and mother no one
knows, and whose only name is Marguerite. In this respect it is
true that the match is not exactly a brilliant one. Still, as it
will appear that she merely has a fortune of two hundred thousand
francs, no one will accuse me of marrying for money on the
strength of my name. On the contrary, it will seem to be a love-
match, and people will suppose that I have grown young again." He
paused, incensed by M. Fortunat's lack of enthusiasm. "Judging
from your long face, Master Twenty-per-cent, one would fancy you
doubted my success," he said.
"It is always best to doubt," replied his adviser,
The marquis shrugged his shoulders. "Even when one has triumphed
over all obstacles?" he asked sneeringly.
"Then, tell me, if you please, what prevents this marriage from
being a foregone conclusion?"
"Mademoiselle Marguerite's consent, Monsieur le Marquis."
It was as if a glass of ice-water had been thrown in M. de
Valorsay's face. He started, turned as pale as death, and then
exclaimed: "I shall have that; I am sure of it."
You could not say that M. Fortunat was angry. Such a man, as cold
and as smooth as a hundred franc piece, has no useless passions.
But he was intensely irritated to hear his client foolishly
chanting the paeons of victory, while he was compelled to conceal
his grief at the loss of his forty thousand francs, deep in the
recesses of his heart. So, far from being touched by the
marquis's evident alarm, it pleased him to be able to turn the
dagger in the wound he had just inflicted. "You must excuse my
incredulity," said he. "It comes entirely from something you,
yourself, told me about a week ago."
"What did I tell you?"
"That you suspected Mademoiselle Marguerite of a--how shall I
express it?--of a secret preference for some other person."
The gloomiest despondency had now followed the marquis's
enthusiasm and exultation. He was evidently in torture. "I more
than suspected it," said he.
"I was certain of it, thanks to the count's house-keeper, Madame
Leon, a miserable old woman whom I have hired to look after my
interests. She has been watching Mademoiselle Marguerite, and saw
a letter written by her----"
"Certainly nothing has passed that Mademoiselle Marguerite has any
cause to blush for. The letter, which is now in my possession,
contains unmistakable proofs of that. She might proudly avow the
love she has inspired, and which she undoubtedly returns. Yet----"
M. Fortunat's gaze was so intent that it became unbearable. "You
see, then," he began, "that I had good cause to fear "
Exasperated beyond endurance, M. de Valorsay sprang up so
violently that he overturned his chair. "No!" he exclaimed, "no,
a thousand times no! You are wrong--for the man who loves
Mademoiselle Marguerite is now ruined. Yes, such is really the
case. While we are sitting here, at this very moment, he is lost--
irredeemably lost. Between him and the woman whom I wish to
marry--whom I SHALL marry--I have dug so broad and deep an abyss
that the strongest love cannot overleap it. It is better and
worse than if I had killed him. Dead, he would have been mourned,
perhaps; while now, the lowest and most degraded woman would turn
from him in disgust, or, even if she loved him, she would not dare
to confess it."
M. Fortunat seemed greatly disturbed. "Have you then put into
execution the project--the plan you spoke of?" he faltered. "I
thought you were only jesting."
The marquis lowered his head. "Yes," he answered.
His companion stood for a moment as if petrified, and then
suddenly exclaimed: "What! You have done that--you--a gentleman?"
M. de Valorsay paced the floor in a state of intense agitation.
Had he caught a glimpse of his own face in the looking-glass, it
would have frightened him. "A gentleman!" he repeated, in a tone
of suppressed rage; "a gentleman! That word is in everybody's
mouth, nowadays. Pray, what do you understand by a gentleman,
Mons. Fortunat? No doubt, you mean a heroic idiot who passed
through life with a lofty mien, clad in all the virtues, as
stoical as Job, and as resigned as a martyr--a sort of moral Don
Quixote, preaching the austerest virtue, and practising it? But,
unfortunately, nobility of soul and of purpose are expensive
luxuries, and I am a ruined man. I am no saint! I love life and
all that makes life beautiful and desirable--and to procure its
pleasures I must fight with the weapons of the age. No doubt, it
is grand to be honest; but in my case it is so impossible, that I
prefer to be dishonest--to commit an act of shameful infamy which
will yield a hundred thousand francs a year. This man is in my
way--I suppress him--so much the worse for him--he has no business
to be in my way. If I could have met him openly, I would have
dispatched him according to the accepted code of honor; but, then,
I should have had to renounce all idea of marrying Mademoiselle
Marguerite, so I was obliged to find some other way. I could not
choose my means. The drowning man does not reject the plank,
which is his only chance of salvation, because it chances to be
His gestures were even more forcible than his words; and when he
concluded, he threw himself on to the sofa, holding his head
tightly between his hands, as if he felt that it was bursting.
Anger choked his utterance--not anger so much as something he
would not confess, the quickening of his own conscience and the
revolt of every honorable instinct; for, in spite of his sins of
omission, and of commission, never, until this day, had he
actually violated any clause of the code acknowledged by men of
"You have been guilty of a most infamous act, Monsieur le
Marquis," said M. Fortunat, coldly.
"Oh! no moralizing, if you please."
"Only evil will come of it."
The marquis shrugged his shoulders, and in a tone of bitter scorn,
retorted: "Come, Mons. Fortunat, if you wish to lose the forty
thousand francs you advanced to me, it's easy enough to do so.
Run to Madame d'Argeles's house, ask for M. de Coralth, and tell
him I countermand my order. My rival will be saved, and will
marry Mademoiselle Marguerite and her millions."
M. Fortunat remained silent. He could not tell the marquis: "My
forty thousand francs are lost already. I know that only too
well. Mademoiselle Marguerite is no longer the possessor of
millions, and you have committed a useless crime." However, it
was this conviction which imparted such an accent of eagerness to
his words as he continued to plead the cause of virtue and of
honesty. Would he have said as much if he had entertained any
great hope of the success of the marquis's matrimonial enterprise?
It is doubtful, still we must do M. Fortunat the justice to admit
that he was really and sincerely horrified by what he had
unhesitatingly styled an "infamous act."
The marquis listened to his agent for a few moments in silence,
and then rose to his feet again. "All this is very true," he
interrupted; "but I am, nevertheless, anxious to learn the result
of my little plot. For this reason, Monsieur Fortunat, give me at
once the five hundred louis you promised me, and I will then bid
The agent had been preparing himself for this moment, and yet he
trembled. "I am deeply grieved, monsieur," he replied, with a
doleful smile; "it was this matter that kept me out so much later
than usual this evening. I hoped to have obtained the money from
a banker, who has always accommodated me before--M. Prosper
Bertomy, you know him: he married M. Andre Fauvel's niece----"
"Yes, I know; proceed, if you please."
"Ah, well! it was impossible for me to procure the money."
The marquis had hitherto been pale, but now his face flushed
crimson. "This is a jest, I suppose," said he.
There was a moment's silence, which the marquis probably spent in
reflecting upon the probable consequences of this disappointment,
for it was in an almost threatening tone that he eventually
exclaimed: "You know that I must have this money at once--that I
must have it."
M. Fortunat would certainly have preferred to lose a good pound of
flesh rather than the sum of money mentioned; but, on the other
hand, he felt that it would not do for him to sever his connection
with his client until the death of the Count de Chalusse was
certain; and being anxious to save his money and to keep his
client, his embarrassment was extreme. "It was the most
unfortunate thing in the world," he stammered; "I apprehended no
difficulty whatever--" Then, suddenly clapping his hand to his
forehead, he exclaimed: "But, Monsieur le Marquis, couldn't you
borrow this amount from one of your friends, the Duke de Champdoce
or the Count de Commarin?--that would be a good idea."
M. de Valorsay was anything but unsophisticated, and his natural
shrewdness had been rendered much more acute by the difficulties
with which he had recently been obliged to contend. M. Fortunat's
confusion had not escaped his keen glance; and this last
suggestion aroused his suspicions at once. "What!" he said,
slowly, and with an air of evident distrust. "YOU give me this
advice, Master Twenty-per-cent. This is wonderful! How long is it
since your opinions have undergone such a change?"
"Yes. Didn't you say to me during our first interview; 'The thing
that will save you, is that you have never in your while life
borrowed a louis from a friend. An ordinary creditor only thinks
of a large interest; and if that is paid him he holds his peace.
A friend is never satisfied until everybody knows that he has
generously obliged you. It is far better to apply to a usurer.' I
thought all that very sensible, and I quite agreed with you when
you added: 'So, Monsieur le Marquis, no borrowing of this kind
until after your marriage--not on any pretext whatever. Go
without eating rather than do it. Your credit is still good; but
it is being slowly undermined--and the indiscretion of a friend
who chanced to say: "I think Valorsay is hard up," might fire the
train, and then you'd explode.'"
M. Fortunat's embarrassment was really painful to witness. He was
not usually wanting in courage, but the events of the evening had
shaken his confidence and his composure. The hope of gain and the
fear of loss had deprived him of his wonted clearness of mind.
Feeling that he had just committed a terrible blunder, he racked
his brain to find some way of repairing it, and finding none, his
"Did you, or didn't you, use that language?" insisted M. de
Valorsay. "What have you to say in reply?"
"Urgent need--necessity. There is no rule without its exceptions.
I did not imagine you would be so rash. I have advanced you forty
thousand francs in less than five months--it is outrageous. If I
were in your place, I would be more reasonable--I would economize----"
He paused! in fact, he was compelled to pause by the piercing
glance which M. de Valorsay turned upon him. He was furious with
himself. "I am losing my wits," he thought.
"Still more wise counsel," remarked the ruined nobleman
ironically. "While you are about it, why don't you advise me to
sell my horses and carriages, and establish myself in a garret in
the Rue Amelot? Such a course would seem very natural, wouldn't
it? and, of course, it would inspire M. de Chalusse with boundless
"But without going to such extremes----"
"Hold your tongue!" interrupted the marquis, violently. "Better
than any one else you know that I cannot retrench, although the
reality no longer exists. I am condemned, cost what it may, to
keep up appearances. That is my only hope of salvation. I have
gambled, given expensive suppers, indulged in dissipation of every
kind, and I must continue to do so. I have come to hate Ninette
Simplon, for whom I have committed so many acts of folly, and yet
I still keep her--to show that I am rolling in wealth. I have
thrown thousand-franc notes out of the window, and I mustn't stop
throwing them. Indeed, what would people say if I stopped! Why,
'Valorsay is a ruined man!' Then, farewell to my hopes of marrying
an heiress. And so I am always gay and smiling; that is part of
my role. What would my servants--the twenty spies that I pay--
what would they think if they saw me thoughtful or disturbed? You
would scarcely believe it, M. Fortunat, but I have positively been
reduced to dining on credit at my club, because I had paid, that
morning, for a month's provender for my horses! It is true I have
many valuable articles in my house, but I cannot dispose of them.
People would recognize them at once; besides, they form a part of
my stock-in-trade. An actor doesn't sell his costumes because
he's hungry--he goes without food--and when it's time for the
curtain to rise, he dons his satin and velvet garments, and,
despite his empty stomach, he chants the praises of a bountiful
table and rare old wine. That is what I am doing--I, Robert
Dalbou, Marquis de Valorsay! At the races at Vincennes, about a
fortnight ago, I was bowling along the boulevard behind my four-
in-hand, when I heard a laborer say, 'How happy those rich people
must be!' Happy, indeed! Why, I envied him his lot. He was sure
that the morrow would be like the day that preceded it. On that
occasion my entire fortune consisted of a single louis, which I
had won at baccarat the evening before. As I entered the
enclosure, Isabelle, the flower-girl, handed me a rose for my
button-hole. I gave her my louis--but I longed to strangle her!"
He paused for a moment, and then, in a frenzy of passion, he
advanced toward M. Fortunat, who instinctively retreated into the
protecting embrasure of a window. "And for eight months I have
lived this horrible life!" he resumed. "For eight months each
moment has been so much torture. Ah! better poverty, prison, and
shame! And now, when the prize is almost won, actuated either by
treason or caprice, you try to make all my toil and all my
suffering unavailing. You try to thwart me on the very threshold
of success! No! I swear, by God's sacred name, it shall not be! I
will rather crush you, you miserable scoundrel--crush you like a
There was such a ring of fury in his voice that the crystals of
the candelabra vibrated; and Madame Dodelin, in her kitchen, heard
it, and shuddered. "Some one will certainly do M. Fortunat an
injury one of these days," she thought.
It was not by any means the first time that M. Fortunat had found
himself at variance with clients of a sanguine temperament; but he
had always escaped safe and sound, so that, after all, he was not
particularly alarmed in the present instance, as was proved by the
fact that he was still calm enough to reflect and plan. "In
forty-eight hours I shall be certain of the count's fate," he
thought; "he will be dead, or he will be in a fair way to
recovery--so by promising to give this frenzied man what he
desires on the day after to-morrow, I shall incur no risk."
Taking advantage of an opportunity which M. de Valorsay furnished,
on pausing to draw breath, he hastily exclaimed, "Really, Monsieur
le Marquis, I cannot understand your anger."
"Excuse me. Before insulting me, permit me to explain----"
"No explanation--five hundred louis!"
"Have the kindness to allow me to finish. Yes, I know that you
are in urgent need of money--not by-and-by, but now. To-day I was
unable to procure it, nor can I promise it to-morrow; but on the
day after to-morrow, Saturday, I shall certainly have it ready for
The marquis seemed to be trying to read his agent's very soul.
"Are you in earnest?" he asked. "Show your hand. If you don't
intend to help me out of my embarrassment, say so."
"Ah, Monsieur le Marquis, am I not as much interested in your
success as you yourself can be? Have you not received abundant
proofs of my devotion?"
"Then I can rely upon you."
"Absolutely." And seeing a lingering doubt in his client's eyes,
M. Fortunat added, "You have my word of honor!"
The clock struck three. The marquis took his hat and started
toward the door. But M. Fortunat, in whose heart the word
scoundrel was still rankling, stopped him. "Are you going to that
lady's house now? What is she called? I've forgotten her name.
Ah, yes, I remember now. Madame d'Argeles, isn't she called?
It's at her place, I believe, that the reputation of Mademoiselle
Marguerite's favored lover is to be ruined."
The marquis turned angrily. "What do you take me for, Master
Twenty-per-cent?" he rudely asked. "That is one of those things
no well-bred gentleman will do himself. But in Paris people can
be found to do any kind of dirty work, if you are willing to pay
them for it."
"Then how will you know the result?"
"Why, twenty minutes after the affair is over, M. de Coralth will
be at my house. He is there even now, perhaps." And as this
subject was anything but pleasant, he hastened away, exclaiming,
"Get to bed, my dear extortioner. Au revoir. And, above all,
remember your promise."
"My respects, Monsieur le Marquis."
But when the door closed, M. Fortunat's expression immediately
changed. "Ah! you insult me!" he muttered sullenly. "You rob me,
and you call me a scoundrel into the bargain. You shall pay
dearly for it, my fine fellow, no matter what may happen!"
It is in vain that the law has endeavored to shield private life
from prying eyes. The scribes who pander to Parisian curiosity
surmount all obstacles and brave every danger. Thanks to the
"High Life" reporters, every newspaper reader is aware that twice
a week--Mondays and Thursdays--Madame Lia d'Argeles holds a
reception at her charming mansion in the Rue de Berry. Her guests
find plenty of amusement there. They seldom dance; but card-
playing begins at midnight, and a dainty supper is served before
the departure of the guests.
It was on leaving one of these little entertainments that that
unfortunate young man, Jules Chazel, a cashier in a large banking-
house, committed suicide by blowing out his brains. The brilliant
frequenters of Madame d'Argeles's entertainments considered this
act proof of exceeding bad taste and deplorable weakness on his
part. "The fellow was a coward," they declared. "Why, he had
lost hardly a thousand louis!"
He had lost only that, it is true--a mere trifle as times go.
Only the money was not his; he had taken it from the safe which
was confided to his keeping, expecting, probably, to double the
amount in a single night. In the morning, when he found himself
alone, without a penny, and the deficit staring him in the face,
the voice of conscience cried, "You are a thief!" and he lost his
The event created a great sensation at the time, and the Petit
Journal published a curious story concerning this unfortunate
young man's mother. The poor woman--she was a widow--sold all she
possessed, even the bed on which she slept, and when she had
succeeded in gathering together twenty thousand francs--the ransom
of her son's honor--she carried them to the banker by whom her boy
had been employed. He took them, without even asking the mother
if she had enough left to purchase her dinner that evening; and
the fine gentleman, who had won and pocketed Jules Chazel's stolen
gold, thought the banker's conduct perfectly natural and just. It
is true that Madame d'Argeles was in despair during forty-eight
hours or so; for the police had begun a sort of investigation, and
she feared this might frighten her visitors and empty her drawing-
rooms. Not at all, however; on the contrary, she had good cause
to congratulate herself upon the notoriety she gained through this
suicide. For five days she was the talk of Paris, and Alfred
d'Aunay even published her portrait in the Illustrated Chronicle.
Still, no one was able to say exactly who Madame Lia d'Argeles
was. Who was she, and whence did she come? How had she lived
until she sprang up, full grown, in the sunshine of the
fashionable world? Did the splendid mansion in the Rue de Berry
really belong to her? Was she as rich as she was supposed to be?
Where had she acquired such manners, the manners of a thorough
woman of the world, with her many accomplishments, as well as her
remarkable skill as a musician? Everything connected with her was
a subject of conjecture, even to the name inscribed upon her
visiting cards--"Lia d'Argeles."
But no matter. Her house was always filled to over-flowing; and
at the very moment when the Marquis de Valorsay and M. Fortunat
were speaking of her, a dozen coroneted carriages stood before her
door, and her rooms were thronged with guests. It was a little
past midnight, and the bi-weekly card party had just been made up,
when a footman announced, "Monsieur le Vicomte de Coralth!
Monsieur Pascal Ferailleur!"
Few of the players deigned to raise their heads. But one man
growled, "Good--two more players!" And four or five young men
exclaimed, "Ah! here's Ferdinand! Good evening, my dear fellow!"
M. de Coralth was very young and remarkably good-looking, almost
too good-looking, indeed; for his handsomeness was somewhat
startling and unnatural. He had an exceedingly fair complexion,
and large, melting black eyes, while a woman might have envied him
his wavy brown hair and the exquisite delicacy of his skin. He
dressed with great care and taste, and even coquettishly; his
turn-down collar left his firm white throat uncovered, and his
rose-tinted gloves fitted as perfectly as the skin upon his soft,
delicate hands. He bowed familiarly on entering, and with a
rather complacent smile on his lips, he approached Madame
d'Argeles, who, half reclining in an easy chair near the fire-
place, was conversing with two elderly gentlemen of grave and
distinguished bearing. "How late you are, viscount," she remarked
carelessly. "What have you been doing to-day? I fancied I saw
you in the Bois, in the Marquis de Valorsay's dog-cart."
A slight flush suffused M. de Coralth's cheeks, and to hide it,
perhaps, he turned toward the visitor who had entered with him,
and drew him toward Madame d'Argeles, saying, "Allow me, madame,
to present to you one of my great friends, M. Pascal Ferailleur,
an advocate whose name will be known to fame some day."
"Your friends are always welcome at my house, my dear viscount,"
replied Madame d'Argeles. And before Pascal had concluded his
bow, she averted her head, and resumed her interrupted
The new-comer, however, was worthy of more than that cursory
notice. He was a young man of five or six-and-twenty, dark-
complexioned and tall; each movement of his person was imbued with
that natural grace which is the result of perfect harmony of the
muscles, and of more than common vigor. His features were
irregular, but they gave evidence of energy, kindness of heart,
and honesty of purpose. A man possessing such a proud,
intelligent, and open brow, such a clear, straightforward gaze,
and such finely-cut lips, could be no ordinary one. Deserted by
his sponsor, who was shaking hands right and left, he seated
himself on a sofa a little in the background; not because he was
embarrassed, but because he felt that instinctive distrust of self
which frequently seizes hold of a person on entering a crowd of
strangers. He did his best to conceal his curiosity, but
nevertheless he looked and listened with all his might.
The salon, was an immense apartment, divided into two rooms by
sliding doors and hangings. When Madame d'Argeles gave a ball,
the rooms were thrown into one; but, as a general rule, one room
was occupied by the card-players, and the other served as a refuge
for those who wished to chat. The card-room, into which Pascal
had been ushered, was an apartment of noble proportions, furnished
in a style of tasteful magnificence. The tints of the carpet were
subdued; there was not too much gilding on the cornices; the clock
upon the mantel-shelf was chaste and elegant in design. The only
thing at all peculiar about the room and its appointments was a
reflector, ingeniously arranged above the chandelier in such a way
as to throw the full glare of the candles upon the card-table
which stood directly beneath it. The table itself was adorned
with a rich tapestry cover, but this was visible only at the
corners, for it was covered, in turn, with a green baize cloth
considerably the worse for wear. Madame d'Argeles's guests were
probably not over fifty in number, but they all seemed to belong
to the very best society. The majority of them were men of forty
or thereabouts; several wore decorations, and two or three of the
eldest were treated with marked deference. Certain well-known
names which Pascal overheard surprised him greatly. "What! these
men here?" he said to himself; "and I--I regarded my visit as a
sort of clandestine frolic."
There were only seven or eight ladies present, none of them being
especially attractive. Their toilettes were very costly, but in
rather doubtful taste, and they wore a profusion of diamonds.
Pascal noticed that these ladies were treated with perfect
indifference, and that, whenever the gentlemen spoke to them, they
assumed an air of politeness which was too exaggerated not to be
A score of persons were seated at the card-table, and the guests
who had retired into the adjoining salon were silently watching
the progress of the game, or quietly chatting in the corners of
the room. It surprised him to note that every one spoke in very
low tones; there was something very like respect, even awe, in
this subdued murmur. One might have supposed that those present
were celebrating the rites of some mysterious worship. And is not
gaming a species of idolatry, symbolized by cards, and which has
its images, its fetishes, its miracles, its fanatics, and its
Occasionally, above the accompaniment of whispers, rose the
strange and incoherent exclamations of the players: "Here are
twenty louis! I take it--I pass! The play is made! Banco!"
"What a strange gathering!" thought Pascal Ferailleur. "What
singular people!" And he turned his attention to the mistress of
the house, as if he hoped to decipher the solution of the enigma
on her face.
But Madame Lia d'Argeles defied all analysis. She was one of
those women whose uncertain age varies according to their mood,
between the thirties and the fifties; one who did not look over
thirty in the evening, but who would have been charged with being
more than fifty the next morning. In her youth she must have been
very beautiful, and she was still good-looking, though she had
grown somewhat stout, and her face had become a trifle heavy, thus
marring the symmetry of her very delicate features. A perfect
blonde, she had eyes of so clear a blue that they seemed almost
faded. The whiteness of her skin was so unnatural that it almost
startled one. It was the dull, lifeless white which suggests an
excessive use of cosmetics and rice powder, and long baths, late
hours, and sleep at day-time, in a darkened room. Her face was
utterly devoid of expression. One might have fancied that its
muscles had become relaxed after terrible efforts to feign or to
conceal some violent emotions; and there was something melancholy,
almost terrifying in the eternal, and perhaps involuntary smile,
which curved her lips. She wore a dress of black velvet, with
slashed sleeves and bodice, a new design of the famous man-
milliner, Van Klopen.
Pascal was engaged in these observations when M. de Coralth,
having made his round, came and sat down on the sofa beside him.
"Well, what do you think of it?" he inquired.
"Upon my word!" replied the young advocate, "I am infinitely
obliged to you for inviting me to accompany you here. I am
"Good! My philosopher is captivated."
"Not captivated, but interested, I confess." Then, in the tone of
good-humor which was habitual to him, he added: "As for being the
sage you call me, that's all nonsense. And to prove it, I'm going
to risk my louis with the rest."
M. de Coralth seemed amazed, but a close observer might have
detected a gleam of triumph in his eyes. "You are going to play--
"Yes. Why not?"
"Of what, pray? The worst I can do is to lose what I have in my
pocket--something over two hundred francs."
The viscount shook his head thoughtfully. "It isn't that which
one has cause to fear. The devil always has a hand in this
business, and the first time a man plays he's sure to win."
"And is that a misfortune?"
"Yes, because the recollection of these first winnings is sure to
lure you back to the gaming-table again. You go back, you lose,
you try to recover your money, and that's the end of it--you
become a gambler."
Pascal Ferailleur's smile was the smile of a man who has full
confidence in himself. "My brain is not so easily turned, I
hope," said he. "I have the thought of my name, and the fortune I
must make, as ballast for it."
"I beseech you not to play," insisted the viscount. "Listen to
me; you don't know what this passion for play is; the strongest
and the coldest natures succumb--don't play."
He had raised his voice, as if he intended to be overheard by two
guests who had just approached the sofa. They did indeed hear
him. "Can I believe my own eyes and ears!" exclaimed one of them,
an elderly man. "Can this really be Ferdinand who is trying to
shake the allegiance of the votaries of our noble lady--the Queen
M. de Coralth turned quickly round: "Yes, it is indeed I," he
answered. "I have purchased with my patrimony the right of
saying: 'Distrust yourself, and don't do as I've done,' to an
The wisest counsels, given in a certain fashion, never fail to
produce an effect diametrically opposed to that which they
seemingly aim at. M. de Coralth's persistence, and the importance
he attached to a mere trifle, could not fail to annoy the most
patient man in the world, and in fact his patronizing tone really
irritated Pascal. "You are free, my friend, to do as you please,"
said he; "but I----"
"Are you resolved?" interrupted the viscount.
"So be it, then. You are no longer a child, and I have warned
you. Let us play, then." Thereupon they approached the table;
room was made for them, and they seated themselves, Pascal being
on M. Ferdinand de Coralth's right-hand side.
The guests were playing "Baccarat tournant," a game of terrible
and infantile simplicity. There are no such things as skill or
combination possible in it; science and calculation are useless.
Chance alone decides, and decides with the rapidity of lightning.
Amateurs certainly assert that, with great coolness and long
practice, one can, in a measure at least, avert prolonged ill-
luck. Maybe they are right, but it is not conclusively proved.
Each person takes the cards in his turn, risks what he chooses,
and when his stakes are covered, deals. If he wins, he is free to
follow up his vein of good-luck, or to pass the deal. When he
loses, the deal passes at once to the next player on the right.
A moment sufficed for Pascal Ferailleur to learn the rules of the
game. It was already Ferdinand's deal. M. de Coralth staked a
hundred francs; the bet was taken; he dealt, lost, and handed the
cards to Pascal.
The play, which had been rather timid at first--since it was
necessary, as they say, to try the luck--had now become bolder.
Several players had large piles of gold before them, and the heavy
artillery--that is to say, bank-notes--were beginning to put in
appearance. But Pascal had no false pride. "I stake a louis!"
The smallness of the sum attracted instant attention, and two or
three voices replied: "Taken!"
He dealt, and won. "Two louis!" he said again. this wager was
also taken; he won, and his run of luck was so remarkable that, in
a wonderfully short space of time, he won six hundred francs.
"Pass the deal," whispered Ferdinand, and Pascal followed this
advice. "Not because I desire to keep my winnings," he whispered
in M. de Coralth's ear, "but because I wish to have enough to play
until the end of the evening without risking anything."
But such prudence was unnecessary so far as he was concerned.
When the deal came to him again, fortune favored him even more
than before. He started with a hundred francs, and doubling them
each time in six successive deals, he won more than three thousand
"The devil! Monsieur is in luck."--"Zounds! And he is playing for
the first time."--"That accounts for it. The inexperienced always
Pascal could not fail to hear these comments. The blood mantled
over his cheeks, and, conscious that he was flushing, he, as
usually happens, flushed still more. His good fortune embarrassed
him, as was evident, and he played most recklessly. Still his
good luck did not desert him; and do what he would he won--won
continually. In fact, by four o'clock in the morning he had
thirty-five thousand francs before him.
For some time he had been the object of close attention. "Do you
know this gentleman?" inquired one of the guests.
"No. He came with Coralth."
"He is an advocate, I understand."
And all these whispered doubts and suspicions, these questions
fraught with an evil significance, these uncharitable replies,
grew into a malevolent murmur, which resounded in Pascal's ears
and bewildered him. He was really becoming most uncomfortable,
when Madame d'Argeles approached the card-table and exclaimed:
"This is the third time, gentlemen, that you have been told that
supper is ready. What gentleman will offer me his arm?"
There was an evident unwillingness to leave the table, but an old
gentleman who had been losing heavily rose to his feet. "Yes, let
us go to supper!" he exclaimed; "perhaps that will change the
This was a decisive consideration. The room emptied as if by
magic; and no one was left at the table but Pascal, who scarcely
knew what to do with all the gold piled up before him. He
succeeded, however, in distributing it in his pockets, and was
about to join the other guests in the dining-room, when Madame
d'Argeles abruptly barred his passage.
"I desire a word with you, monsieur," she said. Her face still
retained its strange immobility, and the same stereotyped smile
played about her lips. And yet her agitation was so evident that
Pascal, in spite of his own uneasiness, noticed it, and was
astonished by it.
"I am at your service, madame," he stammered, bowing.
She at once took his arm, and led him to the embrasure of a
window. "I am a stranger to you, monsieur," she said, very
hurriedly, and in very low tones, "and yet I must ask, and you
must grant me, a great favor."
She hesitated, as if at a loss for words, and then all of a sudden
she said, eagerly: "You will leave this house at once, without
warning any one, and while the other guests are at supper."
Pascal's astonishment changed into stupor.
"Why am I to go?" he asked.
"Because--but, no; I cannot tell you. Consider it only a caprice
on my part--it is so; but I entreat you, don't refuse me. Do me
this favor, and I shall be eternally grateful."
There was such an agony of supplication in her voice and her
attitude, that Pascal was touched. A vague presentiment of some
terrible, irreparable misfortune disturbed his own heart.
Nevertheless, he sadly shook his head, and bitterly exclaimed:
"You are, perhaps, not aware that I have just won over thirty
"Yes, I am aware of it. And this is only another, and still
stronger reason why you should protect yourself against possible
loss. It is well to pattern after Charlemagne* in this house.
The other night, the Count d'Antas quietly made his escape
bareheaded. He took a thousand louis away with him, and left his
hat in exchange. The count is a brave man; and far from indulging
in blame, every one applauded him the next day. Come, you have
decided, I see--you will go; and to be still more safe, I will
show you out through the servants' hall, then no one can possibly
* French gamblers use this expression which they explain by the
fact that Charlemagne departed this life with all his possessions
intact, having always added to his dominions without ever
experiencing a loss. Historically this is no doubt incorrect, hut
none the less, the expression prevails in France.--[TRANS.]
Pascal had almost decided to yield to her entreaties; but this
proposed retreat through the back-door was too revolting to his
pride to be thought of for a moment. "I will never consent to
such a thing," he declared. "What would they think of me?
Besides I owe them their revenge and I shall give it to them."
Neither Madame d'Argeles nor Pascal had noticed M. de Coralth, who
in the meantime had stolen into the room on tiptoe, and had been
listening to their conversation, concealed behind the folds of a
heavy curtain. He now suddenly revealed his presence. "Ah! my
dear friend," he exclaimed, in a winning tone. "While I honor
your scruples, I must say that I think madame is a hundred times
right. If I were in your place, if I had won what you have won, I
shouldn't hesitate. Others might think what they pleased; you
have the money, that is the main thing."
For the second time, the viscount's intervention decided Pascal.
"I shall remain," he said, resolutely.
But Madame d'Argeles laid her hand imploringly on his arm. "I
entreat you, monsieur," said she. "Go now, there is still time "
"Yes, go," said the viscount, approvingly, "it would be a most
excellent move. Retreat and save the cash."
These words were like the drop which makes the cup overflow.
Crimson with anger and assailed by the strangest suspicions,
Pascal turned from Madame d'Argeles and hastened into the dining-
room. The conversation ceased entirely on his arrival there. He
could not fail to understand that he had been the subject of it.
A secret instinct warned him that all the men around him were his
enemies--though he knew not why--and that they were plotting
against him. He also perceived that his slightest movements were
watched and commented upon. However he was a brave man; his
conscience did not reproach him in the least, and he was one of
those persons who, rather than wait for danger, provoke it.
So, with an almost defiant air, he seated himself beside a young
lady dressed in pink tulle, and began to laugh and chat with her.
He possessed a ready wit, and what is even better, tact; and for a
quarter of an hour astonished those around him by his brilliant
sallies. Champagne was flowing freely; and he drank four or five
glasses in quick succession. Was he really conscious of what he
was doing and saying? He subsequently declared that he was not,
that he acted under the influence of a sort of hallucination
similar to that produced by the inhalation of carbonic gas.
However, the guests did not linger long at the supper-table. "Let
us go back!" cried the old gentleman, who had insisted upon the
suspension of the game; "we are wasting a deal of precious time
Pascal rose with the others, and in his haste to enter the
adjoining room he jostled two men who were talking together near
the door. "So it is understood," said one of them.
"Yes, yes, leave it to me; I will act as executioner."
This word sent all Pascal's blood bounding to his heart. "Who is
to be executed?" he thought? "I am evidently to be the victim. But
what does it all mean?"
Meanwhile the players at the green table had changed places, and
Pascal found himself seated not on Ferdinand's right, but directly
opposite him, and between two men about his own age--one of them
being the person who had announced his intention of acting as
executioner. All eyes were fixed upon the unfortunate advocate
when it came his turn to deal. He staked two hundred louis, and
lost them. There was a slight commotion round the table; and one
of the players who had lost most heavily, remarked in an
undertone: "Don't look so hard at the gentleman--he won't have any
As Pascal heard this ironical remark, uttered in a tone which made
it as insulting as a blow, a gleam of light darted through his
puzzled brain. He suspected at last, what any person less honest
than himself would have long before understood. He thought of
rising and demanding an apology; but he was stunned, almost
overcome by the horrors of his situation. His ears tingled, and
it seemed to him as if the beating of his heart were suspended.
However the game proceeded; but no one paid any attention to it.
The stakes were insignificant, and loss or gain drew no
exclamation from any one. The attention of the entire party was
concentrated on Pascal; and he, with despair in his heart,
followed the movements of the cards, which were passing from hand
to hand, and fast approaching him again. When they reached him
the silence became breathless, menacing, even sinister. The
ladies, and the guests who were not playing, approached and leaned
over the table in evident anxiety. "My God!" thought Pascal, "my
God, if I can only lose!"
He was as pale as death; the perspiration trickled down from his
hair upon his temples, and his hands trembled so much that he
could scarcely hold the cards. "I will stake four thousand
francs," he faltered.
"I take your bet," answered a voice.
Alas! the unfortunate fellow's wish was not gratified; he won.
Then in the midst of the wildest confusion, he exclaimed: "Here
are eight thousand francs!"
But as he began to deal the cards, his neighbor sprang up, seized
him roughly by the hands and cried: "This time I'm sure of it--
you are a thief!"
With a bound, Pascal was on his feet. While his peril had been
vague and undetermined, his energy had been paralyzed. But it was
restored to him intact when his danger declared itself in all its
horror. He pushed away the man who had caught his hands, with
such violence that he sent him reeling under a sofa; then he
stepped back and surveyed the excited throng with an air of menace
and defiance. Useless! Seven or eight players sprang upon him and
overpowered him, as if he had been the vilest criminal.
Meanwhile, the executioner, as he had styled himself, had risen to
his feet with his cravat untied, and his clothes in wild disorder.
"Yes," he said, addressing Pascal, "you are a thief! I saw you
slip other cards among those which were handed to you."
"Wretch!" gasped Pascal.
"I saw you--and I am going to prove it." So saying he turned to
the mistress of the house, who had dropped into an arm-chair, and
imperiously asked, "How many packs have we used?"
"Then there ought to be two hundred and sixty cards upon the
Thereupon he counted them slowly and with particular care, and he
found no fewer than three hundred and seven. "Well, scoundrel!"
he cried; "are you still bold enough to deny it?"
Pascal had no desire to deny it. He knew that words would weigh
as nothing against this material, tangible, incontrovertible
proof. Forty-seven cards had been fraudulently inserted among the
others. Certainly not by him! But by whom? Still he, alone, had
been the gainer through the deception.
"You see that the coward will not even defend himself!" exclaimed
one of the women.
He did not deign to turn his head. What did the insult matter to
him? He knew himself to be innocent, and yet he felt that he was
sinking to the lowest depths of infamy--he beheld himself
disgraced, branded, ruined. And realizing that he must meet facts
with facts, he besought God to grant him an idea, an inspiration,
that would unmask the real culprit.
But another person came to his aid. With a boldness which no one
would have expected on his part, M. de Coralth placed himself in
front of Pascal, and in a voice which betokened more indignation
than sorrow, he exclaimed: "This is a terrible mistake,
gentlemen. Pascal Ferailleur is my friend; and his past vouches
for his present. Go to the Palais de Justice, and make inquiries
respecting his character there. They will tell you how utterly
impossible it is that this man can be guilty of the ignoble act he
is accused of."
No one made any reply. In the opinion of all his listeners,
Ferdinand was simply fulfilling a duty which it would have been
difficult for him to escape. The old gentleman who had decided
the suspension and the resumption of the game, gave audible
expression to the prevailing sentiment of the party. He was a
portly man, who puffed like a porpoise when he talked, and whom
his companions called the baron. "Your words do you honor--really
do you honor," he said, addressing Ferdinand--"and no possible
blame can attach to you. That your friend is not an honest man is
no fault of yours. There is no outward sign to distinguish
Pascal had so far not opened his lips. After struggling for a
moment in the hands of his captors, he now stood perfectly
motionless, glancing furiously around him as if hoping to discover
the coward who had prepared the trap into which he had fallen.
For he felt certain that he was the victim of some atrocious
conspiracy, though it was impossible for him to divine what motive
had actuated his enemies. Suddenly those who were holding him
felt him tremble. He raised his head; he fancied he could detect
a ray of hope. "Shall I be allowed to speak in my own defence?"
He tried to free himself; but those beside him would not relax
their hold, so he desisted, and then, in a voice husky with
emotion, he exclaimed: "I am innocent! I am the victim of an
infamous plot. Who the author of it is I do not know. But there
is some one here who must know." Angry exclamations and sneering
laughs interrupted him. "Would you condemn me unheard?" he
resumed, raising his voice. "Listen to me. About an hour ago,
while you were at supper, Madame d'Argeles almost threw herself at
my feet as she entreated me to leave this house. Her agitation
astonished me. Now I understand it."
The gentleman known as the baron turned toward Madame d'Argeles:
"Is what this man says true?"
She was greatly agitated, but she answered: "Yes."
"Why were you so anxious for him to go?"
"I don't know--a presentiment--it seemed to me that something was
going to happen."
The least observant of the party could not fail to notice Madame
d'Argeles's hesitation and confusion; but even the shrewdest were
deceived. They supposed that she had seen the act committed, and
had tried to induce the culprit to make his escape, in order to
avoid a scandal.
Pascal saw he could expect no assistance from this source. "M. de
Coralth could assure you," he began.
"Oh, enough of that," interrupted a player. "I myself heard M. de
Coralth do his best to persuade you not to play."
So the unfortunate fellow's last and only hope had vanished.
Still he made a supreme effort, and addressing Madame d'Argeles:
"Madame," he said, in a voice trembling with anguish?" I entreat
you, tell what you know. Will you allow an honorable man to be
ruined before your very eyes? Will you abandon an innocent man
whom you could save by a single word?" But she remained silent;
and Pascal staggered as if some one had dealt him a terrible blow.
"It is all over!" he muttered.
No one heard him; everybody was listening to the baron, who seemed
to be very much put out. "We are wasting precious time with all
this," said he. "We should have made at least five rounds while
this absurd scene has been going on. We must put an end to it.
What are you going to do with this fellow? I am in favor of
sending for a commissary of police."
Such was not at all the opinion of the majority of the guests.
Four or five of the ladies took flight at the bare suggestion and
several men--the most aristocratic of the company--became angry at
once. "Are you mad?" said one of them. "Do you want to see us all
summoned as witnesses? You have probably forgotten that Garcia
affair, and that rumpus at Jenny Fancy's house. A fine thing it
would be to see, no one knows how many great names mixed up with
those of sharpers and notorious women!"
Naturally of a florid complexion, the baron's face now became
scarlet. "So it's fear of scandal that deters you! Zounds, sir! a
man's courage should equal his vices. Look at me."
Celebrated for his income of eight hundred thousand francs a year,
for his estates in Burgundy, for his passion for gaming, his
horses, and his cook, the baron wielded a mighty influence.
Still, on this occasion he did not carry the day, for it was
decided that the "sharper " should be allowed to depart
unmolested. "Make him at least return the money," growled a
loser; "compel him to disgorge."
"His winnings are there upon the table."
"Don't believe it," cried the baron. "All these scoundrels have
secret pockets in which they stow away their plunder. Search him
by all means."
"That's it--search him!"
Crushed by this unexpected, undeserved and incomprehensible
misfortune, Pascal had almost yielded to his fate. But the
shameful cry: "Search him!" kindled terrible wrath in his brain.
He shook off his assailants as a lion shakes off the hounds that
have attacked him, and, reaching the fireplace with a single
bound, he snatched up a heavy bronze candelabrum and brandished it
in the air, crying: "The first who approaches is a dead man!"
He was ready to strike, there was no doubt about it; and such a
weapon in the hands of a determined man, becomes positively
terrible. The danger seemed so great and so certain that his
enemies paused--each encouraging his neighbor with his glance; but
no one was inclined to engage in this struggle, by which the
victor would merely gain a few bank-notes. "Stand back, and allow
me to retire?" said Pascal, imperiously. They still hesitated;
but finally made way. And, formidable in his indignation and
audacity, he reached the door of the room unmolested, and
This superb outburst of outraged honor, this marvellous energy--
succeeding, as it did, the most complete mental prostration--and
these terrible threats, had proved so prompt and awe-inspiring
that no one had thought of cutting off Pascal's retreat. The
guests had not recovered from their stupor, but were still
standing silent and intimidated when they heard the outer door
close after him.
It was a woman who at last broke the spell. "Ah, well!" she
exclaimed, in a tone of intense admiration, "that handsome fellow
"He naturally desired to save his plunder!"
It was the same expression that M. de Coralth had employed; and
which had, perhaps, prevented Pascal from yielding to Madame
d'Argeles's entreaties. Everybody applauded the sentiment--
everybody, the baron excepted. This rich man, whose passions had
dragged him into the vilest dens of Europe, was thoroughly
acquainted with sharpers and scoundrels of every type, from those
who ride in their carriages down to the bare-footed vagabond. He
knew the thief who grovels at his victim's feet, humbly confessing
his crime, the desperate knave who swallows the notes he has
stolen, the abject wretch who bares his back to receive the blows
he deserves, and the rascal who boldly confronts his accusers and
protests his innocence with the indignation of an honest man. But
never, in any of these scoundrels, had the baron seen the proud,
steadfast glance with which this man had awed his accusers.
With this thought uppermost in his mind he drew the person who had
seized Pascal's hands at the card-table a little aside. "Tell
me," said he, "did you actually see that young man slip the cards
into the pack?"
"No, not exactly. But you know what we agreed at supper? We were
sure that he was cheating; and it was necessary to find some
pretext for counting the cards."
"What if he shouldn't be guilty, after all?"
"Who else could be guilty then? He was the only winner."
To this terrible argument--the same which had silenced Pascal--the
baron made no reply. Indeed his intervention became necessary
elsewhere, for the other guests were beginning to talk loudly and
excitedly around the pile of gold and bank-notes which Pascal had
left on the table. They had counted it, and found it to amount to
the sum of thirty-six thousand three hundred and twenty francs;
and it was the question of dividing it properly among the losers
which was causing all this uproar. Among these guests, who
belonged to the highest society--among these judges who had so
summarily convicted an innocent man, and suggested the searching
of a supposed sharper only a moment before--there were several who
unblushingly misrepresented their losses. This was undeniable;
for on adding the various amounts that were claimed together a
grand total of ninety-one thousand francs was reached. Had this
man who had just fled taken the difference between the two sums
away with him? A difference amounting almost to fifty-five
thousand francs? No, this was impossible; the supposition could
not be entertained for a moment. However, the discussion might
have taken an unfortunate turn, had it not been for the baron. In
all matters relating to cards, his word was law. He quietly said,
"It is all right;" and they submitted.
Nevertheless, he absolutely refused to take his share of the
money; and after the division, rubbing his hands as if he were
delighted to see this disagreeable affair concluded, he exclaimed:
"It is only six o'clock; we have still time for a few rounds."
But the other guests, pale, disturbed, and secretly ashamed of
themselves, were eager to depart, and in fact they were already
hastening to the cloak-room. "At least play a game of ecarte,"
cried the baron, "a simple game of ecarte, at twenty louis a
But no one listened, and he reluctantly prepared to follow his
departing friends, who bowed to Madame d'Argeles on the landing,
as they filed by, M. de Coralth, who was among the last to retire,
had already reached the staircase, and descended two or three
steps, when Madame d'Argeles called to him. "Remain," said she; "I
want to speak with you."
"You will excuse me," he began; "I----"
But she again bade him "remain" in such an imperious tone that he
dared not resist. He reascended the stairs, very much after the
manner of a man who is being dragged into a dentist's office, and
followed Madame d'Argeles into a small boudoir at the end of the
gambling-room. As soon as the door was closed and locked, the
mistress of the house turned to her prisoner. "Now you will
explain," said she. "It was you who brought M. Pascal Ferailleur
"Alas! I know only too well that I ought to beg your forgiveness.
However, this affair will cost me dear myself. It has already
embroiled me in a difficulty with that fool of a Rochecote, with
whom I shall have to fight in less than a couple of hours."
"Where did you make his acquaintance?"
Madame d'Argeles's sempiternal smile had altogether disappeared.
"I am speaking seriously," said she, with a threatening ring in
her voice. "How did you happen to become acquainted with M.
"That can be very easily explained. Seven or eight months ago I
had need of an advocate's services, and he was recommended to me.
He managed my case very cleverly, and we kept up the
"What is his position?"
M. de Coralth's features wore an expression of exceeding weariness
as if he greatly longed to go to sleep. He had indeed installed
himself in a large arm-chair, in a semi-recumbent position. "Upon
my word, I don't know," he replied. "Pascal had always seemed to
be the most irreproachable man in the world--a man you might call
a philosopher! He lives in a retired part of the city, near the
Pantheon, with his mother, who is a widow, a very respectable
woman, always dressed in black. When she opened the door for me,
on the occasion of my first visit, I thought some old family
portrait had stepped down from its frame to receive me. I judge
them to be in comfortable circumstances. Pascal has the
reputation of being a remarkable man, and people supposed he would
rise very high in his profession."
"But now he is ruined; his career is finished."
"Certainly! You can be quite sure that by this evening all Paris
will know what occurred here last night."
He paused, meeting Madame Argeles's look of withering scorn with a
cleverly assumed air of astonishment. "You are a villain!
Monsieur de Coralth," she said, indignantly.
"Because it was you who slipped those cards, which made M.
Ferailleur win, into the pack; I saw you do it! And yielding to my
entreaties, the young fellow was about to leave the house when
you, intentionally, prevented him from saving himself. Oh! don't
M. de Coralth rose in the coolest possible manner. "I deny
nothing, my dear lady," he replied, "absolutely nothing. You and
I understand each other."
Confounded by his unblushing impudence, Madame d'Argeles remained
speechless for a moment. "You confess it!" she cried, at last.
"You dare to confess it! Were you not afraid that I might speak
and state what I had seen?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "No one would have believed you," he
"Yes, I should have been believed, Monsieur de Coralth, for I
could have given proofs. You must have forgotten that I know you,
that your past life is no secret to me, that I know who you are,
and what dishonored name you hide beneath your borrowed title! I
could have told my guests that you are married--that you have
abandoned your wife and child, leaving them to perish in want and
misery--I could have told them where you obtain the thirty or
forty thousand francs you spend each year. You must have
forgotten that Rose told me everything, Monsieur--Paul!"
She had struck the right place this time, and with such precision
that M. de Coralth turned livid, and made a furious gesture, as if
he were about to fell her to the ground. "Ah, take care!" he
exclaimed; "take care!"
But his rage speedily subsided, and with his usual indifferent
manner, and in a bantering tone, he said: "Well, what of that? Do
you fancy that the world doesn't already suspect what you could
reveal? People have suspected me of being even worse than I am.
When you proclaim on the housetops that I am an adventurer, folks
will only laugh at you, and I shall be none the worse for it. A
matter that would crush a dozen men like Pascal Ferailleur would
not injure me in the least. I am accustomed to it. I must have
luxury and enjoyment, everything that is pleasant and beautiful--
and to procure all this, I do my very best. It is true that I
don't derive my income from my estate in Brie; but I have plenty
of money, and that is the essential thing. Besides, it is so
difficult to earn a livelihood nowadays, and the love of luxury is
so intense that no one knows at night what he may do--or, rather,
what he won't do--the next day. And last, but not least, the
people who ought to be despised are so numerous that contempt is
an impossibility. A Parisian who happened to be so absurdly
pretentious as to refuse to shake hands with such of his
acquaintances as were not irreproachable characters, might walk
for hours on the Boulevards without finding an occasion to take
his hands out of his pockets."
M. de Coralth talked well enough, and yet, in point of fact, all
this was sheer bravado on his part. He knew better than any one
else, on what a frail and uncertain basis his brilliant existence
was established. Certainly, society does show great indulgence to
people of doubtful reputation. It shuts its eyes and refuses to
look or listen. But this is all the more reason why it should be
pitiless when a person's guilt is positively established. Thus,
although he assumed an air of insolent security, the "viscount"
anxiously watched the effect of his words upon Madame d'Argeles.
Fortunately for himself, he saw that she was abashed by his
cynicism; and so he resumed: "Besides, as our friend, the baron,
would say, we are wasting precious time in discussing improbable,
and even impossible, suppositions. I was sufficiently well
acquainted with your heart and your intelligence, my dear madame,
to be sure that you would not speak a word to my disparagement."
"Indeed! What prevented me from doing so?"
"I did; or perhaps I ought rather to say, your own good sense,
which closed your mouth when Monsieur Pascal entreated you to
speak in his defence. I am entitled to considerable indulgence,
madame, and a great deal ought to be forgiven me. My mother,
unfortunately, was an honest woman, who did not furnish me with
the means of gratifying every whim."
Madame d'Argeles recoiled as if a serpent had suddenly crossed her
"What do you mean?" she faltered.
"You know as well as I do."
"I don't understand you--explain yourself."
With the impatient gesture of a man who finds himself compelled to
answer an idle question, and assuming an air of hypocritical
commiseration, he replied: "Well, since you insist upon it, I
know, in Paris--in the Rue de Helder, to be more exact--a nice
young fellow, whose lot I have often envied. He has wanted for
nothing since the day he came into the world. At school, he had
three times as much money as his richest playfellow. When his
studies were finished, a tutor was provided--with his pockets full
of gold--to conduct this favored youth to Italy, Egypt, and
Greece. He is now studying law; and four times a year, with
unvarying punctuality, he receives a letter from London containing
five thousand francs. This is all the more remarkable, as this
young man has neither a father nor a mother. He is alone in the
world with his income of twenty thousand francs. I have heard him
say, jestingly. that some good fairy must be watching over him;
but I know that he believes himself to be the illegitimate son of
some great English nobleman. Sometimes, when he has drunk a
little too much, he talks of going in search of my lord, his
The effect M. de Coralth had created by these words must have been
extremely gratifying to him, for Madame d'Argeles had fallen back
in her chair, almost fainting. "So, my dear madame," he
continued, "if I ever had any reason to fancy that you intended
causing me any trouble, I should go to this charming youth and
say: 'My good fellow, you are strangely deceived. Your money
doesn't come from the treasure-box of an English peer, but from a
small gambling den with which I am very well acquainted, having
often had occasion to swell its revenues with my franc-pieces.'
And if he mourned his vanished dreams, I should tell him: 'You are
wrong; for, if the great nobleman is lost, the good fairy remains.
She is none other than your mother, a very worthy person, whose
only object in life is your comfort and advancement.' And if he
doubted my word, I should bring him to his mother's house some
baccarat night; and there would be a scene of recognition worthy
of Fargueil's genius."
Any man but M. de Coralth would have had some compassion, for
Madame d'Argeles was evidently suffering agony. "It is as I
feared!" she moaned, in a scarcely audible voice.
However, he heard her. "What!" he exclaimed in a tone of intense
astonishment; "did you really doubt it? No; I can't believe it; it
would be doing injustice to your intelligence and experience. Are
people like ourselves obliged to talk in order to understand each
other? Should I ever have ventured to do what I have done, in your
house, if I had not known the secret of your maternal tenderness,
delicacy of feeling, and devotion?"
She was weeping; big tears were rolling down her face, tracing a
broad furrow through the powder on her cheeks. "He knows
everything!" she murmured; "he knows everything!"
"By the merest chance, I assure you. As I don't like folks to
meddle with my affairs, I never meddle with theirs. As I have
just said, it was entirely the work of chance. One April
afternoon I came to invite you to a drive in the Bois. I was
ushered into this very room where we are sitting now, and found
you writing. I said I would wait until you finished your letter;
but some one called you, and you hastily left the room. How it
was that I happened to approach your writing-table I cannot
explain; but I did approach it, and read your unfinished letter.
Upon my word it touched me deeply. I can give no better proof of
the truth of my assertion than the fact that I can repeat it,
almost word for word, even now. 'DEAR SIR,'--you wrote to your
London correspondent--'I send you three thousand francs, in
addition to the five thousand for the regular quarterly payment.
Forward the money without delay. I fear the poor boy is greatly
annoyed by his creditors. Yesterday I had the happiness of seeing
him in the Rue de Helder, and I found him looking pale and
careworn. When you send him this money, forward at the same time
a letter of fatherly advice. It is true, he ought to work and win
an honorable position for himself; but think of the dangers and
temptation that beset him, alone and friendless, in this corrupt
city.' There, my dear lady, your letter ended; but the name and
address were given, and it was easy enough to understand it. You
remember, perhaps, a little incident that occurred after your
return. On perceiving that you had forgotten your letter, you
turned pale and glanced at me. 'Have you read it, and do you
understand it?' your eyes asked; while mine replied: 'Yes, but I
shall be silent.'"
"And I shall be silent too," said Madame d'Argeles.
M. de Coralth took her hand and raised it to his lips. "I knew we
should understand each other," he remarked, gravely. "I am not
bad at heart, believe me; and if I had possessed money of my own,
or a mother like you----"
She averted her face, fearing perhaps that M. de Coralth might
read her opinion of him in her eyes; but after a short pause she
exclaimed beseechingly: "Now that I am your accomplice, let me
entreat you to do all you possibly can to prevent last night's
affair from being noised abroad."
"If not for M. Ferailleur's sake, for the sake of his poor widowed
"Pascal must be put out of the way!"
"Why do you say that? Do you hate him so much then? What has he
done to you?"
"To me, personally? Nothing--I even feel actual sympathy for him."
Madame d'Argeles was confounded. "What!" she stammered; "it
wasn't on your own account that you did this?"
She sprang to her feet, and quivering with scorn and indignation,
cried: "Ah! then the deed is even more infamous--even more
cowardly!" But alarmed by the threatening gleam in M. de Coralth's
eyes, she went no further.
"A truce to these disagreeable truths," said he, coldly. "If we
expressed our opinions of each other without reserve, in this
world, we should soon come to hard words. Do you think I acted
for my own pleasure? Suppose some one had seen me when I slipped
the cards into the pack. If that had happened, I should have been
"And you think that no one suspects you?"
"No one. I lost more than a hundred louis myself. If Pascal
belonged to our set, people might investigate the matter, perhaps;
but to-morrow it will be forgotten."
"And will he have no suspicions?"
"He will have no proofs to offer, in any case."
Madame d'Argeles seemed to resign herself to the inevitable. "I
hope you will, at least, tell me on whose behalf you acted," she
"Impossible," replied M. de Coralth. And, consulting his watch,
he added, "But I am forgetting myself; I am forgetting that that
idiot of a Rochecote is waiting for a sword-thrust. So go to
sleep, my dear lady, and--till we meet again."
She accompanied him so far as the landing. "It is quite certain
that he is hastening to the house of M. Ferailleur's enemy," she
thought. And, calling her confidential servant, "Quick, Job," she
said; "follow M. de Coralth. I want to know where he is going.
And, above all, take care that he doesn't see you."
If through the length and breadth of Paris there is a really
quiet, peaceful street, a refuge for the thoughtfully inclined, it
is surely the broad Rue d'Ulm, which starts from the Place du
Pantheon, and finishes abruptly at the Rue des Feuillantines. The
shops are unassuming, and so few that one can easily count them.
There is a wine-shop on the left-hand side, at the corner of the
Rue de la Vieille-Estrapade; then a little toy-shop, then a
washerwoman's and then a book-binder's establishment; while on the
right-hand you will find the office of the Bulletin, with a
locksmith's, a fruiterer's, and a baker's--that is all. Along the
rest of the street run several spacious buildings, somewhat
austere in appearance, though some of them are surrounded by large
gardens. Here stands the Convent of the Sisters of the Cross,
with the House of Our Lady of Adoration; while further on, near
the Rue des Feuillantines, you find the Normal School, with the
office of the General Omnibus Company hard by. At day-time you
mostly meet grave and thoughtful faces in the street: priests,
savants, professors, and clerks employed in the adjacent public
libraries. The only stir is round about the omnibus office; and
if occasional bursts of laughter are heard they are sure to come
from the Normal School. After nightfall, a person might suppose
himself to be at least a hundred leagues from the Boulevard
Montmartre and the Opera-House, in some quiet old provincial town,
at Poitiers, for instance. And it is only on listening
attentively that you can catch even a faint echo of the tumult of
It was in this street--"out of the world," as M. de Coralth
expressed it--that Pascal Ferailleur resided with his mother.
They occupied a second floor, a pretty suite of five rooms,
looking out upon a garden. Their rent was high. Indeed, they
paid fourteen hundred francs a year. But this was a burden which
Pascal's profession imposed upon him; for he, of course, required
a private office and a little waiting-room for his clients. With
this exception, the mother and son led a straightened, simple
life. Their only servant was a woman who came at seven o'clock to
do the heavy work, went home again at twelve, and did not return
again until the evening, to serve dinner. Madame Ferailleur
attended to everything, not blushing in the least when she was
compelled to open the door for some client. Besides, she could do
this without the least risk of encountering disrespect, so
imposing and dignified were her manners and her person.
M. de Coralth had shown excellent judgment when he compared her to
a family portrait. She was, in fact, exactly the person a painter
would select to represent some old burgher's wife--a chaste and
loving spouse, a devoted mother, an incomparable housewife--in one
phrase, the faithful guardian of her husband's domestic happiness.
She had just passed her fiftieth birthday, and looked fully her
age. She had suffered. A close observer would have detected
traces of weeping about her wrinkled eyelids; and the twinge of
her lips was expressive of cruel anguish, heroically endured.
Still, she was not severe, nor even too sedate; and the few
friends who visited her were often really astonished at her wit.
Besides, she was one of those women who have no history, and who
find happiness in what others would call duty. Her life could be
summed up in a single sentence: she had loved; she had mourned.
The daughter of a petty clerk in one of the government
departments, and merely dowered with a modest portion of three
thousand francs, she had married a young man as poor as herself,
but intelligent and industrious, whom she loved, and who adored
her. This young man on marrying had sworn that he would make a
fortune; not that he cared for money for himself, but he wished to
provide his idol with every luxury. His love, enhancing his
energy, no doubt hastened his success. Attached as a chemist to a
large manufacturing establishment, his services soon became so
invaluable to his employers that they gave him a considerable
interest in the business. His name even obtained an honorable
place among modern inventors; and we are indebted to him for the
discovery of one of those brilliant colors that are extracted from
common coal. At the end of ten years he had become a man of
means. He loved his wife as fondly as on the day of their
marriage, and he had a son--Pascal.
Unfortunate fellow! One day, in the full sunshine of happiness and
success, while he was engaged in a series of experiments for the
purpose of obtaining a durable, and at the same time perfectly
harmless, green, the chemicals exploded, smashing the mortar which
he held, and wounding him horribly about the head and chest. A
fortnight later he died, apparently calm, but in reality a prey to
bitter regrets. It was a terrible blow for his poor wife, and the
thought of her son alone reconciled her to life. Pascal was now
everything to her--her present and her future; and she solemnly
vowed that she would make a noble man of him. But alas!
misfortunes never come singly. One of her husband's friends, who
acted as administrator to the estate, took a contemptible
advantage of her inexperience. She went to sleep one night
possessing an income of fifteen thousand francs, but she awoke to
find herself ruined--so completely ruined that she did not know
where to obtain her dinner for that same evening. Had she been
alone in the world, she would not have grieved much over the
catastrophe, but she was sadly affected by the thought that her
son's future was, perhaps, irrevocably blighted, and that, in any
case, this disaster would condemn him to enter life through the
cramped and gloomy portals of poverty.
However, Madame Ferailleur was of too courageous and too proud a
nature not to meet this danger with virile energy. She wasted no
time in useless lamentations. She determined to repair the harm
as far as it was in her power to repair it, resolving that her
son's studies at the college of Louis-the-Great should not be
interrupted, even if she had to labor with her own hands. And
when she spoke of manual toil, it was no wild, unmeaning
exaggeration born of sorrow and a passing flash of courage. She
found employment as a day-servant and in sewing for large shops,
until she at last obtained a situation as clerk in the
establishment where her husband had been a partner. To obtain
this she was obliged to acquire a knowledge of bookkeeping, but
she was amply repaid for her trouble; for the situation was worth
eighteen hundred francs a year, besides food and lodging. Then
only did her efforts momentarily abate; she felt that her arduous
task was drawing to a happy close. Pascal's expenses at school
amounted to about nine hundred francs a year; she did not spend
more than one hundred on herself; and thus she was able to save
nearly eight hundred francs year.
It must be admitted that she was admirably seconded in her efforts
by her son. Pascal was only twelve years old when his mother said
to him: "I have ruined you, my son. Nothing remains of the
fortune which your father accumulated by dint of toil and self-
sacrifice. You will be obliged to rely upon yourself, my boy.
God grant that in years to come you will not reproach me for my
The child did not throw himself into her arms, but holding his
head proudly erect, he answered: "I shall love you even more, dear
mother, if that be possible. As for the fortune which my father
left you, I will restore it to you again. I am no longer a
school-boy, I am a man--as you shall see."
One could not fail to perceive that he had taken a solemn vow.
Although he possessed a remarkable mind, and the power of
acquiring knowledge rapidly, he had, so far, worked indifferently,
and then only by fits and starts, whenever examination time drew
near. But from that day forward he did not lose a moment. His
remarks, which were at once comical and touching, were those of
the head of a family, deeply impressed by a sense of his own
responsibility. "You see," he said to his companions, who were
astonished at his sudden thirst for knowledge, "I can't afford to
wear out my breeches on the college forms, now that my poor mother
has to pay for them with her work."
His good-humor was not in the least impaired by his resolve not to
spend a single penny of his pocket money. With a tact unusual at
his age, or indeed at any other, he bore his misfortunes simply
and proudly, without any of the servile humility or sullen envy
which so often accompanies poverty. For three years in succession
the highest prizes at the competitions rewarded him for his
efforts; but these successes, far from elating him unduly, seemed
to afford him but little satisfaction. "This is only glory," he
thought; and his great ambition was to support himself.
He was soon able to do so, thanks to the kindness of the head-
master, who offered him his tuition gratis if he would assist in
superintending some of the lower classes. Thus one day when
Madame Ferailleur presented herself as usual to make her quarterly
payment, the steward replied: "You owe us nothing, madame;
everything has been paid by your son."
She almost fainted; after bearing adversity so bravely, this
happiness proved too much for her. She could scarcely believe it.
A long explanation was necessary to convince her of the truth, and
then big tears, tears of joy this time, gushed from her eyes.
In this way, Pascal Ferailleur paid all the expenses of his
education until he had won his degree, arming himself so as to
resist the trials that awaited him, and giving abundant proof of
energy and ability. He wished to be a lawyer; and the law, he was
forced to admit, is a profession which is almost beyond the reach
of penniless young men. But there are no insurmountable obstacles
for those whose hearts are really set on an object. On the very
day that Pascal inscribed his name as a student at the law school,
he entered an advocate's office as a clerk. His duties, which
were extremely tiresome at first, had the two-fold advantage of
familiarizing him with the forms of legal procedure, and of
furnishing him with the means of prosecuting his studies. After
he had been in the office six months, his employer agreed to pay
him eight hundred francs a year, which were increased to fifteen
hundred at the end of the second twelvemonth. In three years,
when he had passed his final examination qualifying him to
practise, his patron raised him to the position of head-clerk,
with a salary of three thousand francs, which Pascal was moreover
able to increase considerably by drawing up documents for busy
attorneys, and assisting them in the preparation of their least
It was certainly something wonderful to have achieved such a
result in so short a time; but the most difficult part of his task
had still to be accomplished. It was a perilous undertaking to
abandon an assured position, to cast a certainty aside for the
chances of life at the bar. It was a grave step--so grave,
indeed, that Pascal hesitated for a long time. He was threatened
with the danger that always threatens subordinates who are useful
to their superiors. He felt that his employer, who was in the
habit of relieving himself of his heaviest duties by intrusting
them to him, would not be likely to forgive him for leaving. And
on starting on his own account, he could ill afford to dispense
with this lawyer's good-will. The patronage that could scarcely
fail to follow him from an office where he had served for four
years was the most substantial basis of his calculations for the
future. Eventually he succeeded to his satisfaction, though not
without some difficulty, and only by employing that supreme
finesse which consists in absolute frankness.
Before his office had been open a fortnight, he had seven or eight
briefs waiting their turn upon his desk, and his first efforts
were such as win the approving smile of old judges, and draw from
them the prediction: "That young man will rise in his profession."
He had not desired to make any display of his knowledge or talent,
but merely to win the cases confided to him; and, unlike many
beginners, he evinced no inclination to shine at his clients'
expense. Rare modesty, and it served him well. His first ten
months of practice brought him about eight thousand francs,
absorbed in part by the expense attaching to a suitable office.
The second year his fees increased by about one-half, and, feeling
that his position was now assured, he insisted that his mother
should resign her clerkship. He proved to her what was indeed the
truth--that by superintending his establishment, she would save
more than she made in her present position.
From that time the mother and the son had good reason to believe
that their heroic energy had conquered fate. Clients became so
numerous that Pascal found it necessary to draw nearer the
business centre, and his rent was consequently doubled; but the
income he derived from his profession increased so rapidly that he
soon had twelve thousand francs safely invested as a resource
against any emergency. Madame Ferailleur now laid aside the
mourning she had worn since her husband's death. She felt that
she owed it to Pascal; and, besides, after believing there was no
more happiness left for her on earth, her heart rejoiced at her
Pascal was thus on the high-road to fame, when a complication in
M. Ferdinand de Coralth's affair, brought that young nobleman to
his office. The trouble arose from a little stock exchange
operation which M. Ferdinand had engaged in--an affair which
savored a trifle of knavery. It was strange, but Pascal rather
took a liking to M. de Coralth. The honest worker felt interested
in this dashing adventurer; he was almost dazzled by his brilliant
vices, his wit, his hardihood, conceit, marvellous assurance, and
careless impudence; and he studied this specimen of the Parisian
flora with no little curiosity. M. de Coralth certainly did not
confide the secret of his life and his resources to Pascal but the
latter's intelligence should have told him to distrust a man who
treated the requirements of morality even more than cavalierly,
and who had infinitely more wants than scruples. However, the
young advocate seemed to have no suspicions; they exchanged visits
occasionally, and it was Pascal himself who one day requested the
viscount to take him to one of those "Reunions in High Life" which
the newspapers describe in such glowing terms.
Madame Ferailleur was playing a game of whist with a party of old
friends, according to her custom every Thursday evening, when M.
de Coralth called to invite the young advocate to accompany him to
Madame d'Argeles's reception. Pascal considered his friend's
invitation exceedingly well timed. He dressed himself with more
than ordinary care, and, as usual before going out, he approached
his mother to kiss her and wish her good-bye. "How fine you are!"
she said, smiling.
"I am going to a soiree, my dear mother," he replied; "and it is
probable that I shall not return until very late. So don't wait
for me, I beg of you; promise me to go to bed at your usual hour."
"Have you the night-key?"
"Very well, then; I will not wait for you. When you come in you
will find your candle and some matches on the buffet in the ante-
room. And wrap yourself up well, for it is very cold." Then
raising her forehead to her son's lips, she gayly added: "A
pleasant evening to you, my boy!"
Faithful to her promise, Madame Ferailleur retired at the usual
hour; but she could not sleep. She certainly had no cause for
anxiety, and yet the thought that her son was not at home filled
her heart with vague misgivings such as she had never previously
felt under similar circumstances. Possibly it was because she did
not know where Pascal was going. Possibly M. de Coralth was the
cause of her strange disquietude, for she utterly disliked the
viscount. Her woman's instinct warned her that there was
something unwholesome about this young man's peculiar
handsomeness, and that it was not safe to trust to his professions
of friendship. At all events, she lay awake and heard the clock
of the neighboring Normal School strike each successive hour--two,
three, and four. "How late Pascal stays," she said to herself.
And suddenly a fear more poignant even than her presentiments
darted through her mind. She sprang out of bed and rushed to the
window. She fancied she had heard a terrible cry of distress in
the deserted street. At that very moment, the insulting word
"thief" was being hurled in her son's face. But the street was
silent, and deciding that she had been mistaken, she went back to
bed laughing at herself for her fears; and at last she fell
asleep. But judge of her terror in the morning when, on rising to
let the servant in, she saw Pascal's candle still standing on the
buffet. Was it possible that he had not returned? She hastened to
his room--he was not there. And it was nearly eight o'clock.
This was the first time that Pascal had spent a night from home
without warning his mother in advance; and such an act on the part
of a man of his character was sufficient proof that something
extraordinary had occurred. In an instant all the dangers that
lurk in Paris after nightfall flashed through her mind. She
remembered all the stories she had read of men decoyed into dark
corners, of men stabbed at the turn of some deserted street, or
thrown into the Seine while crossing one of the bridges. What
should she do? Her first impulse was to run to the Commissary of
Police's office or to the house of Pascal's friend; but on the
other hand, she dared not go out, for fear he might return in her
absence. Thus, in an agony of suspense, she waited--counting the
seconds by the quick throbbings of her temples, and straining her
ears to catch the slightest sound.
At last, about half-past eight o'clock, she heard a heavy,
uncertain footfall on the stairs. She flew to the door and beheld
her son. His clothes were torn and disordered; his cravat was
missing, he wore no overcoat, and he was bareheaded. He looked
very pale, and his teeth were chattering. His eyes stared
vacantly, and his features had an almost idiotic expression.
"Pascal, what has happened to you?" she asked.
He trembled from head to foot as the sound of her voice suddenly
roused him from his stupor. "Nothing," he stammered; "nothing at
all." And as his mother pressed him with questions, he pushed her
gently aside and went on to his room.
"Poor child!" murmured Madame Ferailleur, at once grieved and
reassured; "and he is always so temperate. Some one must have
forced him to drink."
She was entirely wrong in her surmise, and yet Pascal's sensations
were exactly like those of an intoxicated man. How he had
returned home, by what road, and what had happened on the way, he
could not tell. He had found his way back mechanically, merely by
force of habit--physical memory, as it might be called. He had a
vague impression, however, that he had sat down for some time on a
bench in the Champs-Elysees, that he had felt extremely cold, and
that he had been accosted by a policeman, who threatened him with
arrest if he did not move on. The last thing he could clearly
recollect was rushing from Madame d'Argeles's house in the Rue de
Berry. He knew that he had descended the staircase slowly and
deliberately; that the servants in the vestibule had stood aside
to allow him to pass; and that, while crossing the courtyard, he
had thrown away the candelabrum with which he had defended
himself. After that, he remembered nothing distinctly. On
reaching the street he had been overcome by the fresh air, just as
a carouser is overcome on emerging from a heated dining-room.
Perhaps the champagne which he had drank had contributed to this
cerebral disorder. At all events, even now, in his own room,
seated in his own arm-chair, and surrounded by familiar objects,
he did not succeed in regaining the possession of his faculties.
He had barely strength enough to throw himself on to the bed, and
in a moment he was sleeping with that heavy slumber which so often
seizes hold of one on the occasion of a great crisis, and which
has so frequently been observed among persons condemned to death,
on the night preceding their execution. Four or five times his
mother came to listen at the door. Once she entered, and seeing
her son sleeping soundly, she could not repress a smile of
satisfaction. "Poor Pascal!" she thought; "he can bear no excess
but excess of work. Heavens! how surprised and mortified he will
be when he awakes!"
Alas! it was not a trifling mortification, but despair, which
awaited the sleeper on his wakening; for the past, the present,
and the future were presented simultaneously and visionlike to his
imagination. Although he had scarcely regained the full use of
his faculties, he was, to some extent, at least capable of
reflection and deliberation, and he tried to look the situation
bravely in the face. First, as to the past, he had not the shadow
of a doubt. He realized that he had fallen into a vile trap, and
the person who had laid it for him was undoubtedly M. de Coralth,
who, seated at his right, had prepared the "hands" with which he
had won. This was evident. It seemed equally proven that Madame
d'Argeles knew the real culprit--possibly she had detected him in
the act, possibly he had taken her into his confidence. But what
he could not fathom was M. de Coralth's motive. What could have
prompted the viscount to commit such an atrocious act? The
incentive must have been very powerful, since he had naturally
incurred the danger of detection and of being considered an
accomplice at the least. And then what influence had closed
Madame d'Argeles's lips? But after all, what was the use of these
conjectures? It was an actual, unanswerable, and terrible fact
that this infamous plot had been successful, and that Pascal was
dishonored. He was honesty itself, and yet he was accused--more
than that, CONVICTED--of cheating at cards! He was innocent, and
yet he could furnish no proofs of his innocence. He knew the real
culprit, and yet he could see no way of unmasking him or even of
accusing him. Do what he would, this atrocious, incomprehensive
calumny would crush him. The bar was closed against him; his
career was ended. And the terrible conviction that there was no
escape from the abyss into which he had fallen made his reason
totter--he felt that he was incapable of deciding on the best
course, and that he must have a friend's advice.
Full of this idea, he hastily changed his clothes, and hurried
from his room. His mother was watching for him--inclined to laugh
at him a little; but a single glance warned her that her son was
in terrible trouble, and that some dire misfortune had certainly
befallen him. "Pascal, in heaven's name, what has happened?" she
"A slight difficulty--a mere trifle," he replied.
"Where are you going?"
"To the Palais de Justice." And such was really the case, for he
hoped to meet his most intimate friend there.
Contrary to his usual custom, he took the little staircase on the
right, leading to the grand vestibule, where several lawyers were
assembled, earnestly engaged in conversation. They were evidently
astonished to see Pascal, and their conversation abruptly ceased
on his approach. They assumed a grave look and turned away their
heads in disgust. The unfortunate man at once realized the truth,
and pressed his hand to his forehead, with a despairing gesture,
as he murmured: "Already!--already!"
However, he passed on, and not seeing his friend, he hurried to
the little conference hall, where he found five of his fellow-
advocates. On Pascal's entrance, two of them at once left the
hall, while two of the others pretended to be very busily engaged
in examining a brief which lay open on the table. The fifth, who
did not move, was not the friend Pascal sought, but an old college
comrade named Dartelle. Pascal walked straight toward him.
"Well?" he asked.
Dartelle handed him a Figaro, still damp from the printing-press,
but crumpled and worn, as if it had already passed through more
than a hundred hands. "Read!" said he.
Pascal read as follows: "There was great sensation and a terrible
scandal last night at the residence of Madame d'A----, a well-
known star of the first magnitude. A score of gentlemen of high
rank and immense wealth were enjoying a quiet game of baccarat,
when it was observed that M. F---- was winning in a most
extraordinary manner. He was watched and detected in the very act
of dexterously slipping some cards into the pack he held. Crushed