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“Then,” said he, “Mademoiselle Sabine is the only nice one in the house?”

“Yes, she is always gentle and considerate.”

“Then you think that M. de Breulh-Faverlay will be a happy man?”

“Oh, yes; but perhaps this marriage will—-” but here Florestan interrupted himself and assumed an air of extreme caution. After looking carefully round, he lowered his voice, and continued, “Mademoiselle Sabine has been left so much to herself that she acts just as she thinks fit.”

“Do you mean,” asked Mascarin, “that the young lady has a lover?”

“Just so.”

“But that must be wrong; and let me tell you that you ought not to repeat such a story.”

The man grew quite excited.

“Story,” repeated he; “I know what I know. If I spoke of a lover, it is because I have seen him with my own eyes, not once, but twice.”

From the manner in which Mascarin received this intelligence, Florestan saw that he was interested in the highest degree.

“I’ll tell you all about it,” continued he. “The first time was when she went to mass; it came on to rain suddenly, and Modeste, her maid, begged me to go for an umbrella. As soon as I came back I went in and saw Mademoiselle Sabine standing by the receptacle for holy water, talking to a young fellow. Of course I dodged behind a pillar, and kept a watch on the pair–“

“But you don’t found all your story on this?”

“I think you would, had you seen the way they looked into each other’s eyes.”

“What was he like?”

“Very good looking, about my height, with an aristocratic air.”

“How about the second time?”

“Ah, that is a longer story. I went one day with Mademoiselle when she was going to see a friend in the Rue Marboeuf. She waited at a corner of the street, and beckoned me to her. ‘Florestan,’ said she, ‘I forgot to post this letter; go and do so; I will wait here for you.’ “

“Of course you read it?”

“No. I thought there was something wrong. She wants to get rid of you, so, instead of posting it, I slunk behind a tree and waited. I had hardly done so, when the young fellow I had seen at the chapel came round the corner; but I scarcely knew him. He was dressed just like a working man, in a blouse all over plaster. They talked for about ten minutes, and Mademoiselle Sabine gave him what looked like a photograph.”

By this time the bottle was empty, and Florestan was about to call for another, when Mascarin checked him, saying–

“Not to-day; it is growing late, and I must tell you what I want you to do for me. Is the Count at home now?”

“Of course he is; he has not left his room for two days, owing to having slipped going downstairs.”

“Well, my lad, I must see your master; and if I sent up my card, the odds are he would not see me, so I rely upon you to show me up without announcing me.”

Florestan remained silent for a few minutes.

“It is no easy job,” he muttered, “for the Count does not like unexpected visitors, and the Countess is with him just now. However, as I am not going to stay, I’ll chance it.”

Mascarin rose from his seat.

“We must not be seen together,” said he; “I’ll settle the score; do you go on, and I will follow in five minutes. Remember we don’t know each other.”

“I am fly; and mind you look out a good place for me.”

Mascarin paid the bill, and then looked into the /café/ to inform the doctor of his movements, and a few minutes later, Florestan in his most sonorous voice, threw open the door of his master’s room and announced,–

“M. Mascarin.”

CHAPTER V.

A FORGOTTEN CRIME.

Baptiste Mascarin had been in so many strange situations, from which he had extricated himself with safety and credit, that he had the fullest self-confidence, but as he ascended the wide staircase of the Hotel de Mussidan, he felt his heart beat quicker in anticipation of the struggle that was before him. It was twilight out of doors, but all within was a blaze of light. The library into which he was ushered was a vast apartment, furnished in severe taste. At the sound of the unaristocratic name of Mascarin, which seemed as much out of place as a drunkard’s oath in the chamber of sleeping innocence, M. de Mussidan raised his head in sudden surprise. The Count was seated at the other end of the room, reading by the light of four candles placed in a magnificently wrought candelabra. He threw down his paper, and raising his glasses, gazed with astonishment at Mascarin, who, with his hat in his hand and his heart in his mouth, slowly crossed the room, muttering a few unintelligible apologies. He could make nothing, however, of his visitor, and said, “Whom do you wish to see, sir?”

“The Count de Mussidan,” stuttered Mascarin; “and I hope that you will forgive this intrusion.”

The Count cut his excuse short with a haughty wave of his hand. “Wait,” said he imperiously. He then with evident pain rose from his seat, and crossing the room, rang the bell violently, and then reseated himself. Mascarin, who still remained in the centre of the room, inwardly wondered if after all he was to be turned out of the house. In another second the door opened, and the figure of the faithful Florestan appeared.

“Florestan,” said the Count, angrily, “this is the first time that you have permitted any one to enter this room without my permission; if this occurs again, you leave my service.”

“I assure your lordship,” began the man.

“Enough! I have spoken; you know what to expect.”

During this brief colloquy, Mascarin studied the Count with the deepest attention.

The Count Octave de Mussidan in no way resembled the man sketched by Florestan. Since the time of Montaigne, a servant’s portrait of his employer should always be distrusted. The Count looked fully sixty, though he was but fifty years of age; he was undersized, and he looked shrunk and shrivelled; he was nearly bald, and his long whiskers were perfectly white. The cares of life had imprinted deep furrows on his brow, and told too plainly the story of a man who, having drained the chalice of life to the bottom, was now ready to shiver the goblet. As Florestan left the room the Count turned to Mascarin, and in the same glacial tone observed, “And now, sir, explain this intrusion.”

Mascarin had often been rebuffed, but never so cruelly as this. His vanity was sorely wounded, for he was vain, as all are who think that they possess some hidden influence, and he felt his temper giving way.

“Pompous idiot!” thought he; “we will see how he looks in a short time;” but his face did not betray this, and his manner remained cringing and obsequious. “You have heard my name, my lord, and I am a general business agent.”

The Count was deceived by the honest accents which long practice had taught Mascarin to use, and he had neither a suspicion nor a presentiment.

“Ah!” said he majestically, “a business agent, are you? I presume you come on behalf of one of my creditors. Well, sir, as I have before told these people, your errand is a futile one. Why do they worry me when I unhesitatingly pay the extravagant interest they are pleased to demand? They know that they are all knaves. They are aware that I am rich, for I have inherited a great fortune, which is certainly without encumbrance; for though I could raise a million to-morrow upon my estates in Poitiers, I have up to this time not chosen to do so.”

Mascarin had at length so recovered his self-command that he listened to this speech without a word, hoping to gain some information from it.

“You may tell this,” continued the Count, “to those by whom you are employed.”

“Excuse me, my lord–“

“But what?”

“I cannot allow–“

“I have nothing more to say; all will be settled as I promised, when I pay my daughter’s dowry. You are aware that she will shortly be united to M. de Breulh-Faverlay.”

There was no mistaking the order to go, contained in these words, but Mascarin did not offer to do so, but readjusting his spectacles, remarked in a perfectly calm voice,–

“It is this marriage that has brought me here.”

The Count thought that his ears had deceived him. “What are you saying?” said he.

“I say,” repeated the agent, “that I am sent to you in connection with this same marriage.”

Neither the doctor nor Florestan had exaggerated the violence of the Count’s temper. Upon hearing his daughter’s name and marriage mentioned by this man, his face grew crimson and his eyes gleamed with a lurid fire.

“Get out of this!” cried he, angrily.

But this was an order that Mascarin had no intention of obeying.

“I assure you that what I have to say is of the utmost importance,” said he.

This speech put the finishing touch to the Count’s fury.

“You won’t go, won’t you?” said he; and in spite of the pain that at the moment evidently oppressed him, he stepped to the bell, but was arrested by Mascarin, uttering in a warning voice the words,–

“Take care; if you ring that bell, you will regret it to the last day of your life.”

This was too much for the Count’s patience, and letting go the bell rope, he snatched up a walking cane that was leaning against the chimneypiece, and made a rush toward his visitor. But Mascarin did not move or lift his hand in self-defence, contenting himself with saying calmly,–

“No violence, Count; remember Montlouis.”

At this name the Count grew livid, and dropping the cane from his nerveless hand staggered back a pace or two. Had a spectre suddenly stood up before him with threatening hand, he could not have been more horrified.

“Montlouis!” he murmured; “Montlouis!”

But now Mascarin, thoroughly assured of the value of his weapon, had resumed all his humbleness of demeanor.

“Believe me, my lord,” said he, “that I only mentioned this name on account of the immediate danger that threatens you.”

The Count hardly seemed to pay attention to his visitor’s words.

“It was not I,” continued Mascarin, “who devised the project of bringing against you an act which was perhaps a mere accident. I am only a plenipotentiary from persons I despise, to you, for whom I entertain the very highest respect.”

By this time the Count had somewhat recovered himself.

“I really do not understand you,” said he, in a tone he vainly endeavored to render calm. “My sudden emotion is only too easily explained. I had a sad misfortune. I accidentally shot my secretary, and the poor young man bore the name you just now mentioned; but the court acquitted me of all blame in the matter.”

The smile upon Mascarin’s face was so full of sarcasm that the Count broke off.

“Those who sent me here,” remarked the agent, slowly, “are well acquainted with the evidence produced in court; but unfortunately, they know the real facts, which certain honorable gentlemen had sense to conceal at any risk.”

Again the Count started, but Mascarin went on implacably,–

“But reassure yourself, your friend did not betray you voluntarily. Providence, in her inscrutable decrees—-“

The Count shuddered.

“In short, sir, in short—-“

Up to this time Mascarin had remained standing, but now that he saw that his position was fully established, he drew up a chair and sat down. The Count grew more livid at this insolent act, but made no comment, and this entirely removed any doubts from the agent’s mind.

“The event to which I have alluded has two eye-witnesses, the Baron de Clinchain, and a servant, named Ludovic Trofin, now in the employ of the Count du Commarin.”

“I did not know what had become of Trofin.”

“Perhaps not, but my people do. When he swore to keep the matter secret, he was unmarried, but a few years later, having entered the bonds of matrimony, he told all to his young wife. This woman turned out badly; she had several lovers, and through one of them the matter came to my employer’s ears.”

“And it was on the word of a lackey, and the gossip of a dissolute woman, that they have dared to accuse me.”

No word of direct accusation had passed, and yet the Count sought to defend himself.

Mascarin saw all this, and smiled inwardly, as he replied, “We have other evidence than that of Ludovic.”

“But,” said the Count, who was sure of the fidelity of his friend, “you do not, I suppose, pretend that the Baron de Clinchain has deceived me?”

The state of mental anxiety and perturbation into which this man of the world had been thrown must have been very intense for him not to have perceived that every word he uttered put a fresh weapon in his adversary’s hands.

“He has not denounced you by word of mouth,” replied the agent. “He has done far more; he has written his testimony.”

“It is a lie,” exclaimed the Count.

Mascarin was not disturbed by this insult.

“The Baron has written,” repeated he, “though he never thought that any eye save his own would read what he had penned. As you are aware, the Baron de Clinchain is a most methodical man, and punctilious to a degree.”

“I allow that; continue.”

“Consequently you will not be surprised to learn that from his earliest years he has kept a diary, and each day he puts down in the most minute manner everything that has occurred, even to the different conditions of his bodily health.”

The Count knew of his friend’s foible, and remembered that when they were young many a practical joke had been played upon his friend on this account, and now he began to perceive the dangerous ground upon which he stood.

“On hearing the facts of the case from Ludovic’s wife’s lover,” continued Mascarin, “my employers decided that if the tale was a true one, some mention of it would be found in the Baron’s diary; and thanks to the ingenuity and skill of certain parties, they have had in their possession for twenty-four hours the volume for the year 1842.”

“Scoundrels!” muttered the Count.

“They find not only one, but three distinct statements relating to the affair in question.”

The Count started again to his feet with so menacing a look, that the worthy Mascarin pushed back his chair in anticipation of an immediate assault.

“Proofs!” gasped the Count. “Give me proofs.”

“Everything has been provided for, and the three leaves by which you are so deeply compromised have been cut from the book.”

“Where are these pages?”

Mascarin at once put on an air of injured innocence.

“I have not seen them, but the leaves have been photographed, and a print has been entrusted to me, in order to enable you to recognize the writing.”

As he spoke he produced three specimens of the photographic art, wonderfully clear and full of fidelity. The Count examined them with the utmost attention, and then in a voice which trembled with emotion, he said, “True enough, it is his handwriting.”

Not a line upon Mascarin’s face indicated the delight with which he received this admission.

“Before continuing the subject,” he observed placidly, “I consider it necessary for you to understand the position taken up by the Baron de Clinchain. Do you wish, my lord, to read these extracts, or shall I do so for you?”

“Read,” answered the Count, adding in a lower voice, “I cannot see to do so.”

Mascarin drew his chair nearer to the lights on the table. “I perceive,” said he, “that the first entry was made on the evening after the–well, the accident. This is it: ‘October 26, 1842. Early this morning went out shooting with Octave de Mussidan. We were accompanied by Ludovic, a groom, and by a young man named Montlouis, whom Octave intends one day to make his steward. It was a splendid day, and by twelve o’clock I had killed a leash of hares. Octave was in excellent spirits, and by one o’clock we were in a thick cover not far from Bevron. I and Ludovic were a few yards in front of the others, when angry voices behind attracted our attention. Octave and Montlouis were arguing violently, and all at once the Count struck his future steward a violent blow. In another moment Montlouis came up to me. “What is the matter?” cried I. Instead of replying to my question, the unhappy young man turned back to his master, uttering a series of threats. Octave had evidently been reproaching him for some low intrigue he had been engaged in, and was reflecting upon the character of the woman. “At any rate,” cried Montlouis, “she is quite as virtuous as Madame de Mussidan was before her marriage.”

” ‘As Octave heard these words, he raised the loaded gun he held in his hand and fired. Montlouis fell to the ground, bathed in blood. We all ran up to him, but he was quite dead, for the charge of shot had penetrated his heart. I was almost beside myself, but Octave’s despair was terrible to witness. Tearing his hair, he knelt beside the dead man. Ludovic, however, maintained his calmness. “We must say that it was an accident,” observed he quickly. “Thinking that Montlouis was not near, my master fired into cover.”

” ‘This was agreed to, and we carefully arranged what we should say. It was I who went before the magistrate and made a deposition, which was unhesitatingly received. But, oh, what a fearful day! My pulse is at eighty, and I feel I shall not sleep all night. Octave is half mad, and Heaven knows what will become of him.’ “

The Count, from the depths of his armchair, listened without apparent emotion to this terrible revelation. He was quite crushed, and was searching for some means to exorcise the green spectre of the past, which had so suddenly confronted him. Mascarin never took his eyes off him. All at once the Count roused himself from his prostration, as a man awakes from a hideous dream. “This is sheer folly,” cried he.

“It is folly,” answered Mascarin, “that would carry much weight with it.”

“And suppose I were to show you,” returned the Count, “that all these entries are the offspring of a diseased mind?”

Mascarin shook his head with an air of affected grief. “There is no use, my lord, in indulging in vain hopes. We,” he continued, wishing to associate himself with the Count, “we might of course admit that the Baron de Clinchain had made this entry in his diary in a moment of temporary insanity, were it not for the painful fact that there were others. Le me read them.”

“Go on; I am all attention.”

“We find the following, three days later: ‘Oct. 29th, 1842. I am most uneasy about my health. I feel shooting pains in all my joints. The derangement of my system arises entirely from this business of Octave’s. I had to run the gauntlet of a second court, and the judge’s eyes seemed to look me through and through. I also saw with much alarm that my second statement differs somewhat from the first one, so I have now learned it by heart. Ludovic is a sharp fellow, and quite self-possessed. I would like to have him in my household. I keep myself shut up in my house for fear of meeting friends who want to hear all the details of the accident. I believe I may say that I have repeated the story more than a couple of dozen times.’ Now, my lord,” added Mascarin, “what do you say to this?”

“Continue the reading of the extracts.”

“The third allusion, though it is short, is still very important: ‘November 3rd, 1842. Thank Heaven! all is over. I have just returned from the court. Octave has been acquitted. Ludovic had behaved wonderfully. He explained the reason of the misadventure in a way that was really surprising in an uneducated man, and there was not an atom of suspicion among judge, jury, or spectators. I have changed my mind; I would not have a fellow like Ludovic in my service; he is much too sharp. When I had been duly sworn, I gave my evidence. Though I was much agitated, I went through it all right; but when I got home I felt very ill, and discovered that my pulse was down to fifty. Ah, me! what terrible misfortunes are wrought by a momentary burst of anger. I now write this sentence in my diary: /”Never give way to first impulses.”/’ These words,” continued Mascarin, “were inscribed on every one of the pages following,–at least so those who examined the entries informed me.”

Mascarin persisted in representing himself as the agent of others, but still the Count made no allusion to the persons in the background.

After a few moments the Count rose and limped up and down, as though he hoped by this means to collect his ideas, or perhaps in order to prevent his visitor from scanning his face too closely.

“Have you done?” asked he, all at once.

“Yes, my lord.”

“Have you thought what an impartial judge would say?”

“I think I have.”

“He would say,” broke in the Count, “that no sane man would have written such things down, for there are certain secrets which we do not whisper even to ourselves, and it is hardly likely that any man would make such compromising entries in a diary which might be lost or stolen, and which would certainly be read by his heir. Do you think that a man of high position would record his perjury, which is a crime that would send him to penal servitude?”

Mascarin gazed upon the Count with an air of pity.

“You are not going the right way, my lord, to get out of your trouble. No lawyer would adopt your theory. If the remaining volumes of M. de Clinchain’s diaries were produced in court, I imagine that other equally startling entries would be found in them.”

The Count now appeared to have arrived at some decision, and to continue the conversation simply for the purpose of gaining time.

“Well,” said he, “I will give up this idea; but how do I know that these documents are not forgeries? Nowadays, handwritings are easily facsimilied, when even bankers find it hard to distinguish between their own notes and counterfeit ones.”

“That can be settled by seeing if certain leaves are missing from the Baron’s diary.”

“That does not prove much.”

“Pardon me, it proves a great deal. This new line of argument, I assure you, will avail you as little as the other. I am perfectly aware that the Baron de Clinchain will utter whatever words you may place in his mouth. Let us suppose that the leaves which have been torn out should fit into the book exactly. Would not that be a strong point?”

The Count smiled ironically, as though he had a crushing reply in reserve.

“And so this is your opinion, is it?” said he.

“It is indeed.”

“Then all I have to do is to plead guilty. I did kill Montlouis, just as Clinchain describes, but—-” and as he spoke he took a heavy volume from a shelf, and opening it at a certain place laid it before Mascarin, remarking,–“this is the criminal code; read. ‘All proceedings in criminal law shall be cancelled after a lapse of ten years.’ “

The Count de Mussidan evidently thought that he had crushed his adversary by this shattering blow; but it was not so, for instead of exhibiting any surprise, Mascarin’s smile was as bland as ever.

“I, too, know a little of the law,” said he. “The very first day this matter was brought to me, I turned to this page and read what you have just shown me to my employers.”

“And what did they say?”

“That they knew all this, but that you would be glad to compromise the affair, even at the expense of half your fortune.”

The agent’s manner was so confident that the Count felt they had discovered some means of turning this crime of his early days to advantage; but he was still sufficiently master of himself to show no emotion.

“No,” replied he, “it is not such an easy matter as you think to get hold of half my fortune. I fancy that your friends’ demands will assume a more modest tone, the more so when I repeat that these morsels of paper, stolen from my friend’s diary, are absolutely worthless.”

“Do you think so?”

“Certainly, for the law on this matter speaks plainly enough.”

Mascarin readjusted his glasses, a sure indication that he was going to make an important reply.

“You are quite right, my lord,” said he, slowly. “There is no intention of taking you before any court, for there is no penalty now for a crime committed twenty-three years ago; but the miserable wretches whom I blush to act for have arranged a plan which will be disagreeable in the highest degree both for you and the Baron.”

“Pray tell me what this clever plan is.”

“Most certainly. I came here to-day for this very purpose. Let us first conclude that you have rejected the request with which I approached you.”

“Do you call this style of thing a request?”

“What is the use of quarrelling over words. Well, to-morrow, my clients–though I am ashamed to speak of them as such–will send to a well known morning paper a tale, with the title, ‘Story of a Day’s Shooting.’ Of course only initials will be used for the names, but no doubt will exist as to the identity of the actors in the tragedy.”

“You forget that in actions for libel proofs are not admitted.”

Mascarin shrugged his shoulders.

“My employers forget nothing,” remarked he; “and it is upon this very point that they have based their plans For this reason they introduce into the matter a fifth party, of course an accomplice, whose name is introduced into the story in the paper. Upon the day of its appearance, this man lodges a complaint against the journal, and insists on proving in a court of justice, that he did not form one of the shooting-party.”

“Well, what happens then?”

“Then, my lord, this man insists that the journal should give a retraction of the injurious statement and summons as witnesses both yourself and the Baron de Clinchain, and as a conclusion, Ludovic; and as he claims damages, he employs a lawyer, who is one of the confederates and behind the scenes. The lawyer will speak something to this effect: ‘That the Count de Mussidan is clearly a murderer; that the Baron de Clinchain is a perjurer, as proved by his own handwriting; Ludovic has been tampered with, but my client, an honorable man, must not be classed with these, etc., etc.’ Have I made myself understood?”

Indeed, he had, and with such cold and merciless logic that it seemed hopeless to expect to escape from the net that had been spread.

As these thoughts passed through the Count’s brain, he saw at a glance the whole terrible notoriety that the case would cause, and society gloating over the details. Yet such was the obstinacy of his disposition, and so impatient was he of control, that the more desperate his position seemed, the fiercer was his resistance. He knew the world well, and he also knew that the cutthroats who demanded his money with threats had every reason to dread the lynx eye of the law. If he refused to listen to them, as his heart urged him, perhaps they would not dare to carry out their threats. Had he alone been concerned in the matter, he would have resisted to the last, and fought it out to the last drop of his blood, and as a preliminary, would have beaten the sneering rogue before him to a jelly; but how dared he expose his friend Clinchain, who had already braved so much for him? As he paced up and down the library, these and many other thoughts swept across his brain, and he was undecided whether to submit to these extortions or throw the agent out of the window. His excited demeanor and the occasional interjections that burst from his lips showed Mascarin that the account of him was not exaggerated, and that when led by passion he would as soon shoot a fellow-creature as a rabbit. And yet, though he knew not whether he should make his exit by the door or the window, he sat twirling his fingers with the most unconcerned air imaginable. At last the Count gave ear to prudence. He stopped in front of the agent, and, taking no pains to hide his contempt, said,–

“Come, let us make an end of this. How much do you want for these papers?”

“Oh, my lord!” exclaimed Mascarin; “surely you do not think that I could be guilty—-?”

M. de Mussidan shrugged his shoulders. “Pray, do not take me for a fool,” said he, “but name your sum.”

Mascarin seemed a little embarrassed, and hesitated. “We don’t want money,” answered he at length.

“Not money!” replied the Count.

“We want something that is of no importance to you, but of the utmost value to those who despatched me here. I am commissioned to inform you that my clients desire that you should break off the engagement between your daughter and M. de Breulh-Faverlay, and that the missing paper will be handed to you on the completion of her marriage with any else whom you may deem worthy of such an honor.”

This demand, which was utterly unexpected, so astonished the Count that he could only exclaim, “Why, this is absolute madness!”

“No; it is plain, good sense, and a /bona fide/ offer.”

An idea suddenly flashed across the Count’s mind. “Is it your intention,” asked he, “to furnish me with a son-in-law too?”

“I am sure, my lord,” answered Mascarin, looking the picture of disinterested honesty, “that, even to save yourself, you would never sacrifice your daughter.”

“But–“

“You are entirely mistaken; it is M. de Breulh-Faverlay whom my clients wish to strike at, for they have taken an oath that he shall never wed a lady with a million for her dowry.”

So surprised was the Count, that the whole aspect of the interview seemed to have changed, and he now combated his own objections instead of those of his unwelcome visitor. “M. de Breulh-Faverlay has my promise,” remarked he; “but of course it is easy to find a pretext. The Countess, however, is in favor of the match, and the chief opposition to any change will come from her.”

Mascarin did not think it wise to make any reply, and the Count continued, “My daughter also may not view this rupture with satisfaction.”

Thanks to the information he had received from Florestan, Mascarin knew how much importance to attach to this. “Mademoiselle, at her age and with her tastes, is not likely to have her heart seriously engaged.” For fully a quarter of an hour the Count still hesitated. He knew that he was entirely at the mercy of those miscreants, and his pride revolted at the idea of submission; but at length he yielded.

“I agree,” said he. “My daughter shall not marry M. de Breulh- Faverlay.”

Even in his hour of triumph, Mascarin’s face did not change. He bowed profoundly, and left the room; but as he descended the stairs, he rubbed his hands, exclaiming, “If the doctor has made as good a job of it as I have, success is certain.”

CHAPTER VI.

A MEDICAL ADVISER.

Doctor Hortebise did not find it necessary to resort to any of those expedients which Mascarin had found it advisable to use in order to reach Madame de Mussidan. As soon as he presented himself–that is, after a brief interval of five minutes–he was introduced into the presence of the Countess. He rather wondered at this, for Madame de Mussidan was one of those restless spirits that are seldom found at home, but are to be met with at exhibitions, on race-courses, at the /salons/, restaurants, shops, or theatres; or at the studio of some famous artist; or at the rooms of some musical professor who had discovered a new tenor; anywhere and everywhere, in fact, except at home. Hers was one of those restless natures constantly craving for excitement; and husband, home, and child were mere secondary objects in her eyes. She had many avocations; she was a patroness of half a dozen charitable institutions, but the chief thing that she did was to spend money. Gold seemed to melt in her grasp like so much snow, and she never knew what became of the sums she lavished so profusely. Husband and wife had long been almost totally estranged, and led almost separate existences. Dr. Hortebise was well aware of this, in common with others who moved in society. Upon the appearance of the doctor, the Countess dropped the book she had been perusing, and gave vent to an exclamation of delight. “Ah, doctor, this is really very kind of you;” and at the same time signed to the servant to place a chair for the visitor.

The Countess was tall and slender, and at forty-five had the figure of a girl. She had an abundance of fair hair, the color of which concealed the silver threads which plentifully interspersed it. A subtle perfume hung about her, and her pale blue eyes were full of pride and cold disdain.

“You know how to time your visits so well, doctor!” said she. “I am thoroughly bored, and am utterly weary of books, for it always seems to me, when I read, that I had perused the same thing before somewhere or other. You have arrived at so opportune a moment, that you appear to be a favorite of timely chance.”

The doctor was indeed a favorite of chance; but the name of the chance was Baptiste Mascarin.

“I see so few visitors,” continued Madame de Mussidan, “that hardly any one comes to see me. I must really set aside one day in the week for my at home; for when I do happen to stay at home, I feel fearfully dull and lonely. For two mortal hours I have been in this room. I have been nursing the Count.”

The doctor knew better than this; but he smiled pleasantly, and said, “Perfectly so,” exactly at the right moment.

“Yes,” continued the Countess, “my husband slipped on the stairs, and hurt himself very much. Our doctor says it is nothing; but then I put little faith in what doctors say.”

“I know that by experience, madame,” replied Hortebise.

“Present company of course always excepted; but, do you know, I once really believed in you; but your sudden conversion to homeopathy quite frightened me.”

The doctor smiled. “It is as safe a mode of practice as any other.”

“Do you really think so?”

“I am perfectly sure of it.”

“Well, now that you /are/ here, I am half inclined to ask your advice.”

“I trust that you are not suffering.”

“No, thank heaven; I have never any cause to complain of my health; but I am very anxious about Sabine’s state.”

Her affection of maternal solicitude was a charming pendant to her display of conjugal affection, and again the doctor’s expression of assent came in in the right place.

“Yes, for a month, doctor, I have hardly seen Sabine, I have been so much engaged; but yesterday I met her, and was quite shocked at the change in her appearance.”

“Did you ask her what ailed her?”

“Of course, and she said, ‘Nothing,’ adding that she was perfectly well.”

“Perhaps something had vexed her?”

“She,–why, don’t you know that every one likes her, and that she is one of the happiest girls in Paris; but I want you to see her in spite of that.” She rang the bell as she spoke, and as soon as the footman made his appearance, said, “Lubin, ask Mademoiselle to have the goodness to step downstairs.”

“Mademoiselle has gone out, madame.”

“Indeed! how long ago?”

“About three o’clock, madame.”

“Who went with her?”

“Her maid, Modeste.”

“Did Mademoiselle say where she was going to?”

“No, madame.”

“Very well, you can go.”

Even the imperturbable doctor was rather surprised at a girl of eighteen being permitted so much freedom.

“It is most annoying,” said the Countess. “However, let us hope that the trifling indisposition, regarding which I wished to consult you, will not prevent her marriage.”

Here was the opening that Hortebise desired.

“Is Mademoiselle going to be married?” asked he with an air of respectful curiosity.

“Hush!” replied Madame de Mussidan, placing her finger on her lips; “this is a profound secret, and there is nothing definitely arranged; but you, as a doctor, are a perfect father confessor, and I feel that I can trust you. Let me whisper to you that it is quite possible that Sabine will be Madame de Breulh-Faverlay before the close of the year.”

Hortebise had not Mascarin’s courage; indeed, he was frequently terrified at his confederate’s projects; but having once given in his adherence, he was to be relied on, and did not hesitate for a moment. “I confess, madame, that I heard that mentioned before;” returned he cautiously.

“And, pray, who was your informant?”

“Oh, I have had it from many sources; and let me say at once that it was this marriage, and no mere chance, that brought me here to-day.”

Madame de Mussidan liked the doctor and his pleasant and witty conversation very much, and was always charmed to see him; but it was intolerable that he should venture to interfere in her daughter’s marriage. “Really, sir, you confer a great honor upon the Count and myself,” answered she haughtily.

Her severe manner, however, did not cause the doctor to lose his temper. He had come to say certain things in a certain manner. He had learned his part, and nothing that the Countess could say would prevent his playing it.

“I assure you, madame,” returned he, “that when I accepted the mission with which I am charged, I only did so from my feelings of respect to you and yours.”

“You are really very kind,” answered the Countess superciliously.

“And I am sure, madame, that after you have heard what I have to say, you will have even more reason to agree with me.” His manner as he said this was so peculiar, that the Countess started as though she had received a galvanic shock. “For more than twenty-five years,” pursued the doctor, “I have been the constant depository of strange family secrets, and some of them have been very terrible ones. I have often found myself in a very delicate position, but never in such an embarrassing one as I am now.”

“You alarm me,” said the Countess, dropping her impatient manner.

“If, madame, what I have come to relate to you are the mere ravings of a lunatic, I will offer my most sincere apologies; but if, on the contrary, his statements are true–and he has irrefragable proofs in his possession,–then, madame—-“

“What then, doctor?”

“Then, madame, I can only say, make every use of me, for I will willingly place my life at your disposal.”

The Countess uttered a laugh as artificial as the tears of long- expectant heirs. “Really,” said she, “your solemn air and tones almost kill me with laughter.”

“She laughs too heartily, and at the wrong time. Mascarin is right,” thought the doctor. “I trust, madame,” continued he, “that I too may laugh at my own imaginary fears; but whatever may be the result, permit me to remind you that a little time back you said that a doctor was a father confessor; for, like a priest, the physician only hears secrets in order to forget them. He is also more fitted to console and advise, for, as his profession brings him into contact with the frailties and passions of the world, he can comprehend and excuse.”

“And you must not forget, doctor, that like the priest also, he preaches very long sermons.”

As she uttered this sarcasm, there was a jesting look upon her features, but it elicited no smile from Hortebise, who, as he proceeded, grew more grave.

“I may be foolish,” he said; “but I had better be that than reopen some old wound.”

“Do not be afraid, doctor; speak out.”

“Then, I will begin by asking if you have any remembrance of a young man in your own sphere of society, who, at the time of your marriage, was well known in every Parisian /salon/. I speak of the Marquis de Croisenois.”

The Countess leaned back in her chair, and contracted her brow, and pursed up her lips, as though vainly endeavoring to remember the name.

“The Marquis de Croisenois?” repeated she. “It seems as if—-no–wait a moment. No; I cannot say that I can call any such person to mind.”

The doctor felt that he must give the spur to this rebellious memory.

“Yes, Croisenois,” he repeated. “His Christian name was George, and he had a brother Henry, whom you certainly must know, for this winter I saw him at the Duchess de Laumeuse’s, dancing with your daughter.”

“You are right; I remember the name now.”

Her manner was indifferent and careless as she said this.

“Then perhaps you also recollect that some twenty-three years ago, George de Croisenois vanished suddenly. This disappearance caused a terrible commotion at the time, and was one of the chief topics of society.”

“Ah! indeed?” mused the Countess.

“He was last seen at the Café de Paris, where he dined with some friends. About nine he got up to leave. One of his friends proposed to go with him, but he begged him not to do so, saying, ‘Perhaps I shall see you later on at the opera, but do not count on me.’ The general impression was that he was going to some love tryst.”

“His friends thought that, I suppose.”

“Yes, for he was attired with more care than usual, though he was always one of the best dressed men in Paris. He went out alone, and was never seen again.”

“Never again,” repeated the Countess, a slight shade passing across her brow.

“Never again,” echoed the unmoved doctor. “At first his friends merely thought his absence strange; but at the end of a week they grew anxious.”

“You go very much into details.”

“I heard them all at the time, madame, and they were only brought back to my memory this morning. All are to be found in the records of a minute search that the authorities caused to be made into the affair. The friends of De Croisenois had commenced the search; but when they found their efforts useless, they called in the aid of the police. The first idea was suicide: George might have gone into some lonely spot and blown out his brains. There was no reason for this; he had ample means, and always appeared contented and happy. Then it was believed that a murder had been committed, and fresh inquiries were instituted, but nothing could be discovered–nothing.”

The Countess affected to stifle a yawn, and repeated like an echo, “Nothing.”

“Three months later, when the police had given up the matter in despair, one of George de Croisenois’ friends received a letter from him.”

‘He was not dead then, after all?”

Dr. Hortebise made a mental note of the tone and manner of the Countess, to consider over at his leisure.

“Who can say?” returned he. “The envelope bore the Cairo post-mark. In it George declared that, bored with Parisian life, he was going to start on an exploring expedition to Central Africa, and that no one need be anxious about him. People thought this letter highly suspicious. A man does not start upon such an expedition as this without money; and it was conclusively proved that on the day of De Croisenois’ disappearance he had not more than a thousand francs about him, half of which was in Spanish doubloons, won at whist before dinner. The letter was therefore regarded as a trick to turn the police off the scent; but the best experts asserted that the handwriting was George’s own. Two detectives were at once despatched to Cairo, but neither there nor anywhere on the road were any traces of the missing man discovered.”

As the doctor spoke, he kept his eyes riveted on the Countess, but her face was impassable.

“Is that all?” asked she.

Dr. Hortebise paused a few moments before he replied, and then answered slowly,–

“A man came to me yesterday, and asserts that you can tell me what has become of George de Croisenois.”

A man could not have displayed the nerve evinced by this frail and tender woman, for however callous he may be, some feature will betray the torture he is enduring; but a woman can often turn a smiling face upon the person who is racking her very soul. At the mere name of Montlouis the Count had staggered, as though crushed down by a blow from a sledge hammer; but at this accusation of Hortebise the Countess burst into a peal of laughter, apparently perfectly frank and natural, which utterly prevented her from replying.

“My dear doctor,” said she at length, as soon as she could manage to speak, “your tale is highly sensational and amusing, but I really think that you ought to consult a /clairvoyant/, and not a matter-of- fact person like me, about the fate of George de Croisenois.”

But the doctor, who was ready with his retort, and, not at all disconcerted by the cachinations of the Countess, heaved a deep sigh, as though a great load had been removed from his heart, and, with an air of extreme delight, exclaimed, “Thank Heaven! then I was deceived.”

He uttered these words with an affectation of such sincerity that the Countess fell into the trap.

“Come,” said she, with a winning smile, “tell me who it is that says I know so much.”

“Pooh! pooh!” returned Hortebise. “What good would that do? He has made a fool of me, and caused me to risk losing your good opinion. Is not that enough? To-morrow, when he comes to my house, my servants will refuse to admit him; but if I were to do as my inclinations lead me, I should hand him over to the police.”

“That would never do,” returned the Countess, “for that would change a mere nothing into a matter of importance. Tell me the name of your mysterious informer. Do I know him?”

“It is impossible that you could do so, madame, for he is far below you in the social grade. You would learn nothing from his name. He is a man I once helped, and is called Daddy Tantaine.”

“A mere nickname, of course.”

“He is miserably poor, a cynic, philosopher, but as sharp as a needle; and this last fact causes me great uneasiness, for at first I thought that he had been sent to me by some one far above him in position, but–“

“But, doctor,” interposed the Countess, “you spoke to me of proofs, of threats, of certain mysterious persons.”

“I simply repeated Daddy Tantaine’s words. The old idiot said to me, ‘Madame de Mussidan knows all about the fate of the Marquis, and this is clearly proved by letters that she has received from him, as well as from the Duke de Champdoce.’ “

This time the arrow went home. She grew deadly pale, and started to her feet with her eyes dilated with horror.

“My letters!” exclaimed she hoarsely.

Hortebise appeared utterly overwhelmed by this display of consternation, of which he was the innocent cause.

“Your letters, madame,” replied he with evident hesitation, “this double-dyed scoundrel declares he has in his possession.”

With a cry like that of a wounded lioness, the Countess, taking no notice of the doctor’s presence, rushed from the room. Her rapid footfall could be heard on the stairs, and the rustle of her silken skirts against the banisters. As soon as he was left alone, the doctor rose from his seat with a cynical smile upon his face.

“You may search,” mused he, “but you will find that the birds have flown.” He walked up to one of the windows, and drummed on the glass with his fingers. “People say,” remarked he, “that Mascarin never makes a mistake. One cannot help admiring his diabolical sagacity and unfailing logic. From the most trivial event he forges a long chain of evidence, as the botanist is able, as he picks up a withered leaf, to describe in detail the tree it came from. A pity, almost, that he did not turn his talents to some nobler end; but no; he is now upstairs putting the Count on the rack, while I am inflicting tortures on the Countess. What a shameful business we are carrying on! There are moments when I think that I have paid dearly for my life of luxury, for I know well,” he added, half consciously fingering his locket, “that some day we shall meet some one stronger than ourselves, and then the inevitable will ensue.”

The reappearance of the Countess broke the chain of his thoughts. Her hair was disturbed, her eyes had a wild look in them, and everything about her betrayed the state of agitation she was in.

“Robbed! robbed!” cried she, as she entered the room. Her excitement was so extreme that she spoke aloud, forgetting that the door was open, and that the lackey in the ante-room could hear all she said. Luckily Hortebise did not lose his presence of mind, and, with the ease of a leading actor repairing the error of a subordinate, he closed the door.

“What have you lost?” asked he.

“My letters; they are all gone.”

She staggered on to a couch, and in broken accents went on. “And yet these letters were in an iron casket closed by a secret spring; that casket was in a drawer, the key of which never leaves me.”

“Good heavens!” exclaimed Hortebise in affected tones, “then Tantaine spoke the truth.”

“He did,” answered the Countess hoarsely. “Yes,” she continued, “I am the bondslave to people whose names I do not even know, who can control my every movement and action.”

She hid her face in her hands as though her pride sought to conceal her despair.

“Are these letters, then, so terribly compromising?” asked the doctor.

“I am utterly lost,” cried she. “In my younger days I had no experience; I only thought of vengeance, and lately the weapons I forged myself have been turned against me. I dug a pitfall for my adversaries and have fallen into it myself.”

Hortebise did not attempt to stay the torrent of her words, for the Countess was in one of those moods of utter despair when the inner feelings of the soul are made manifest, as during a violent tempest the weeds of ocean are hurled up to the surface of the troubled waters.

“I would sooner be lying in my grave a thousand times,” wailed she, “than see these letters in my husband’s hands. Poor Octave! have I not caused him sufficient annoyance already without this crowning sorrow? Well, Dr. Hortebise, I am menaced with the production of these letters, and they will be handed to my husband unless I agree to certain terms. What are they? Of course money is required; tell me to what amount.”

The doctor shook his head.

“Not money?” cried the Countess; “what, then, do they require? Speak, and do not torture me more.”

Sometimes Hortebise confessed to Mascarin that, putting his interests on one side, he pitied his victims; but he showed no sign of this feeling, and went on,–

“The value of what they require, madame, is best estimated by yourself.”

“Tell me what it is; I can bear anything now.”

“These compromising letters will be placed in your hands upon the day on which your daughter marries Henry de Croisenois, the brother of George.”

Madame de Mussidan’s astonishment was so great that she stood as though petrified into a statue.

“I am commissioned to inform you, madame, that every delay necessary for altering any arrangements that may exist will be accorded you; but, remember, if your daughter marries any one else than Henry de Croisenois, the letters will be at once placed in your husband’s hands.”

As he spoke the doctor watched her narrowly. The Countess crossed the room, faint and dizzy, and rested her head on the mantelpiece.

“And that is all?” asked she. “What you ask me to do is utterly impossible: and perhaps it is for the best, for I shall have no long agony of suspense to endure. Go, doctor, and tell the villain who holds my letters that he can take them to the Count at once.”

The Countess spoke in such a decided tone that Hortebise was a little puzzled.

“Can it be true,” she continued, “that scoundrels exist in our country who are viler than the most cowardly murderers,–men who trade in the shameful secrets that they have learned, and batten upon the money they earn by their odious trade? I heard of such creatures before, but declined to believe it; for I said to myself that such an idea only existed in the unhealthy imaginations of novel writers. It seems, however that I was in error; but do not let these villains rejoice too soon; they will reap but a scanty harvest. There is one asylum left for me where they cannot molest me.”

“Ah, madame!” exclaimed the doctor in imploring accents; but she paid no attention to his remonstrances, and went on with increasing violence,–

“Do the miserable wretches think that I fear death? For years I have prayed for it as a final mercy from the heaven I have so deeply offended. I long for the quiet of the sepulchre. You are surprised at hearing one like me speak in this way,–one who has all her life been admired and flattered,–I, Diana de Laurebourg, Countess de Mussidan. Even in the hours of my greatest triumphs my soul shuddered at the thought of the grim spectre hidden away in the past; and I wished that death would come and relieve my sufferings. My eccentricities have often surprised my friends, who asked if sometimes I were not a little mad. Mad? Yes, I am mad! They do not know that I seek oblivion in excitement, and that I dare not be alone. But I have learned by this time that I must stifle the voice of conscience.”

She spoke like a woman utterly bereft of hope, who had resolved on the final sacrifice. Her clear voice rang through the room, and Hortebise turned pale as he heard the footsteps of the servants pacing to and fro outside the door, as they made preparations for dinner.

“All my life has been one continual struggle,” resumed she,–“a struggle which has cost me sore; but now all is over, and to-night, for the first time for many years, Diana de Mussidan will sleep a calm and untroubled sleep.”

The excitement of the Countess had risen to so high a pitch that the doctor asked himself how he could allay a tempest which he had not foreseen; for her loud tones would certainly alarm the servants, who would hasten to acquaint the Count, who was himself stretched upon the rack; then the entire plot would be laid bare, and all would be lost.

Madame de Mussidan was about to rush from the room, when the doctor, perceiving that he must act decisively, seized her by both wrists, and, almost by force, caused her to resume her seat.

“In Heaven’s name, madame,” he whispered, “for your daughter’s sake, listen to me. Do not throw up all; am not I here ready to do your bidding, whatever it may be? Rely upon me,–rely upon the knowledge of a man of the world, and of one who still possesses some portion of what is called a heart. Cannot we form an alliance to ward off this attack?”

The doctor continued in this strain, endeavoring to reassure the Countess as much as he had previously endeavored to terrify her, and soon had the satisfaction of seeing his efforts crowned with success; for Madame de Mussidan listened to his flow of language, hardly comprehending its import, but feeling calmer as he went on; and in a quarter of an hour he had persuaded her to look the situation boldly in the face. Then Hortebise breathed more freely, and, wiping the perspiration from his brow, felt that he had gained the victory.

“It is a nefarious plot,” said the Countess.

“So it is, madame; but the facts remain. Only tell me one thing, have you any special objection to M. de Croisenois paying his addresses to your daughter?”

“Certainly not.”

“He comes from a good family, is well educated, handsome, popular, and only thirty-four. If you remember, George was his senior by fifteen years. Why, then, is not the marriage a suitable one? Certainly, he has led rather a fast life; but what young man is immaculate? They say that he is deeply in debt; but then your daughter has enough for both. Besides, his brother left him a considerable fortune, not far short of two millions, I believe; and to this, of course Henry will eventually succeed.”

Madame de Mussidan was too overwhelmed by what she had already gone through to offer any further exposition of her feelings on the subject.

“All this is very well,” answered she; “but the Count has decided that Sabine is to become the wife of M. de Breulh-Faverlay, and I have no voice in the matter.”

“But if you exert your influence?”

The Countess shook her head. “Once on a time,” said she sadly, “I reigned supreme over Octave’s heart; I was the leading spirit of his existence. Then he loved me; but I was insensible to the depths of his affection, and wore out a love that would have lasted as long as life itself. Yes, in my folly I slew it, and now—-” She paused for a moment as if to collect her ideas, and then added more slowly: “and now our lives are separate ones. I do not complain; it is all my own fault; he is just and generous.”

“But surely you can make the effort?”

“But suppose Sabine loves M. de Breulh-Faverlay?”

“But, madame, a mother can always influence her daughter.”

The Countess seized the doctor’s hand, and grasped it so tightly that he could hardly bear the pain.

“I must,” said she in a hoarse whisper, “divulge to you the whole extent of my unhappiness. I am estranged from my husband, and my daughter dislikes and despises me. Some people think that life can be divided into two portions, one consecrated to pleasure and excitement, and the other to domestic peace and happiness; but the idea is a false one. As youth has been, so will be age, either a reward or an expiation.”

Dr. Hortebise did not care to follow this train of argument–for the Count might enter at any moment, or a servant might come in to announce dinner–and only sought to soothe the excited feelings of Madame de Mussidan, and to prove to her that she was frightened by shadows, and that in reality she was not estranged from her husband, nor did her daughter dislike her; and finally a ray of hope illuminated the saddened heart of the unfortunate lady.

“Ah, doctor!” said she, “it is only misfortune that teaches us to know our true friends.”

The Countess, like her husband, had now laid down her arms; she had made a longer fight of it, but in both cases the result had been the same. She promised that she would commence operations the next day, and do her utmost to break off the present engagement.

Hortebise then took his leave, quite worn out with the severe conflict he had waged during his two hours’ interview with the Countess. In spite of the extreme cold, the air outside seemed to refresh him considerably, and he inhaled it with the happy feeling that he had performed his duty in a manner worthy of all praise. He walked up the Rue de Faubourg Saint Honore, and again entered the /café/ where he and his worthy confederate had agreed to meet. Mascarin was there, an untasted cutlet before him, and his face hidden by a newspaper which his anxiety would not permit him to peruse. His suspense was terrible. Had Hortebise failed? had he encountered one of those unforeseen obstacles which, like a minute grain of sand, utterly hinders the working of a piece of delicate machinery?

“Well, what news?” said he eagerly, as soon as he caught sight of the doctor.

“Success, perfect success!” said Hortebise gayly. “But,” added he, as he sank exhausted upon a seat, “the battle has been a hard one.”

CHAPTER VII.

IN THE STUDIO.

Staggering like a drunken man, Paul Violaine descended the stairs when his interview with Mascarin had been concluded. The sudden and unexpected good fortune which had fallen so opportunely at his feet had for the moment absolutely stunned him. He was now removed from a position which had caused him to gaze with longing upon the still waters of the Seine, to one of comparative affluence. “Mascarin,” said he to himself, “has offered me an appointment bringing in twelve thousand francs per annum, and proposed to give me the first month’s salary in advance.”

Certainly it was enough to bewilder any man, and Paul was utterly dazed. He went over all the events that had occurred during the day– the sudden appearance of old Tantaine, with his loan of five hundred francs, and the strange man who knew the whole history of his life, and who, without making any conditions, had offered him a valuable situation. Paul was in no particular hurry to get back to the Hotel de Perou, for he said to himself that Rose could wait. A feeling of restlessness had seized upon him. He wanted to squander money, and to have the sympathy of some companions,–but where should he go, for he had no friends? Searching the records of his memory, he remembered that, when poverty had first overtaken him, he had borrowed twenty francs from a young fellow of his own age, named Andre. Some gold coins still jingled in his pocket, and he could have a thousand francs for the asking. Would it not add to his importance if he were to go and pay this debt? Unluckily his creditor lived a long distance off in the Rue de la Tour d’Auvergne. He, however, hailed a passing cab, and was driven to Andre’s address. This young man was only a casual acquaintance, whom Paul had picked up one day in a small wine-shop to which he used to take Rose when he first arrived in Paris. Andre, with whose other name Paul was unacquainted, was an artist, and, in addition, was an ornamental sculptor, and executed those wonderful decorations on the outside of houses in which builders delight. The trade is not a pleasant one, for it necessitates working at dizzy heights, on scaffolds that vibrate with every footstep, and exposes you to the heat of summer and the frosts of winter. The business, however, is well paid, and Andre got a good price for his stone figures and wreaths. But all the money he earned went in the study of the painter’s art, which was the secret desire of his soul. He had taken a studio, and twice his pictures had been exhibited at the /Salon/, and orders began to come in. Many of his brother artists predicted a glorious future for him. When the cab stopped, Paul threw the fare to the driver, and asked the clean-looking portress, who was polishing the brasswork on the door, if M. Andre was at home.

“He is, sir,” replied the old woman, adding, with much volubility, “and you are likely to find him in, for he has so much work; but he is such a good and quiet young man, and so regular in his habits! I don’t believe he owes a penny in the world; and as for drink, why he is a perfect Anchorite. Then he has very few acquaintances,–one young lady, whose face for a month past I have tried to see, but failed, because she wears a veil, comes to see him, accompanied by her maid.”

“Good heavens, woman!” cried Paul impatiently, “will you tell me where to find M. Andre?”

“Fourth floor, first door to the right,” answered the portress, angry at being interrupted; and as Paul ran up the stairs, she muttered, “A young chap with no manners, taking the words out of a body’s mouth like that! Next time he comes, I’ll serve him out somehow.”

Paul found the door, with a card with the word “Andre” marked upon it nailed up, and rapped on the panel. He heard the sound of a piece of furniture being moved, and the jingle of rings being passed along a rod; then a clear, youthful voice answered, “Come in!”

Paul entered, and found himself in a large, airy room, lighted by a skylight, and exquisitely clean and orderly. Sketches and drawings were suspended on the walls; there was a handsome carpet from Tunis, and a comfortable lounge; a mirror in a carved frame, which would have gladdened the heart of a connoisseur, stood upon the mantelpiece. An easel with a picture upon it, covered with a green baize curtain, stood in one corner. The young painter was in the centre of his studio, brush and palette in hand. He was a dark, handsome young man, well built and proportioned, with close-cut hair, and a curling beard flowing down over his chest. His face was full of expression, and the energy and vigor imprinted upon it formed a marked contrast to the appearance of Mascarin’s /protégé/. Paul noticed that he did not wear the usual painter’s blouse, but was carefully dressed in the prevailing fashion. As soon as he recognized Paul, Andre came forward with extended hand. “Ah,” said he, “I am pleased to see you, for I often wondered what had become of you.”

Paul was offended at this familiar greeting. “I have had many worries and disappointments,” said he.

“And Rose,” said Andre, “how is she–as pretty as ever, I suppose?”

“Yes, yes,” answered Paul negligently; “but you must forgive me for having vanished so suddenly. I have come to repay your loan, with many thanks.”

“Pshaw!” returned the painter, “I never thought of the matter again; pray, do not inconvenience yourself.”

Again Paul felt annoyed, for he fancied that under the cloak of assumed generosity the painter meant to humiliate him; and the opportunity of airing his newly-found grandeur occurred to him.

“It was a convenience to me, certainly,” said he, “but I am all right now, having a salary of twelve thousand francs.”

He thought that the artist would be dazzled, and that the mention of this sum would draw from him some exclamations of surprise and envy. Andre, however, made no reply, and Paul was obliged to wind up with the lame conclusion, “And at my age that is not so bad.”

“I should call it superb. Should I be indiscreet in asking what you are doing?”

The question was a most natural one, but Paul could not reply to it, as he was entirely ignorant as to what his employment was to be, and he felt as angry as if the painter had wantonly insulted him.

“I work for it,” said he, drawing himself up with such a strange expression of voice and feature that Andre could not fail to notice it.

“I work too,” remarked he; “I am never idle.”

“But I have to work very hard,” returned Paul, “for I have not, like you, a friend or protector to interest himself in me.”

Paul, who had not a particle of gratitude in his disposition, had entirely forgotten Mascarin.

The artist was much amused by this speech. “And where do you think that a foundling, as I am, would find a protector?”

Paul opened his eyes. “What,” said he, “are you one of those?”

“I am; I make no secret of it, hoping that there is no occasion for me to feel shame, though there may be for grief. All my friends know this; and I am surprised that you are not aware that I am simply a foundling from the Hopital de Vendome. Up to twelve years of age I was perfectly happy, and the master praised me for the knack I had of acquiring knowledge. I used to work in the garden by day, and in the evening I wasted reams of paper; for I had made up my mind to be an artist. But nothing goes easily in this world, and one day the lady superintendent conceived the idea of apprenticing me to a tanner.”

Paul, who had taken a seat on the divan in order to listen, here commenced making a cigarette; but Andre stopped him. “Excuse me; but will you oblige me by not smoking?”

Paul tossed the cigarette aside, though he was a little surprised, as the painter was an inveterate smoker. “All right,” said he, “but continue your story.”

“I will; it is a long one. I hated the tanner’s business from the very beginning. Almost the first day an awkward workman scalded me so severely that the traces still remain.” As he spoke he rolled up his shirt sleeve, and exhibited a scar that covered nearly all one side of his arm. “Horrified at such a commencement, I entreated the lady superintendent, a hideous old woman in spectacles, to apprentice me to some other trade, but she sternly refused. She had made up her mind that I should be a tanner.”

“That was very nasty of her,” remarked Paul.

“It was, indeed; but from that day I made up my mind, and I determined to run away as soon as I could get a little money together. I therefore stuck steadily to the business, and by the end of the year, by means of the strictest economy, I found myself master of thirty francs. This, I thought, would do, and, with a bundle containing a change of linen, I started on foot for Paris. I was only thirteen, but I had been gifted by Providence with plenty of that strong will called by many obstinacy. I had made up my mind to be a painter.”

“And you kept your vow?”

“But with the greatest difficulty. Ah! I can close my eyes and see the place where I slept that first night I came to Paris. I was so exhausted that I did not awake for twelve hours. I ordered a good breakfast; and finding funds at a very low ebb, I started in search of work.”

Paul smiled. He, too, remembered /his/ first day in Paris. He was twenty-two years of age, and had forty francs in his pocket.

“I wanted to make money–for I felt I needed it–to enable me to pursue my studies. A stout man was seated near me at breakfast, and to him I addressed myself.

” ‘Look here,’ said I, ‘I am thirteen, and much stronger than I look. I can read and write. Tell me how I can earn a living.’

“He looked steadily at me, and in a rough voice answered, ‘Go to the market to-morrow morning, and try if one of the master masons, who are on the lookout for hands, will employ you.’ “

“And you went?”

“I did; and was eagerly watching the head masons, when I perceived my stout friend coming toward me.

” ‘I like the looks of you, my lad,’ he said; ‘I am an ornamental sculptor. Do you care to learn my trade?’

“When I heard this proposal, it seemed as if Paradise was opening before me, and I agreed with enthusiasm.”

“And how about your painting?”

“That came later on. I worked hard at it in all my hours of leisure. I attended the evening schools, and worked steadily at my art and other branches of education. It was a very long time before I ventured to indulge in a glass of beer. ‘No, no, Andre,’ I would say to myself, ‘beer costs six sous; lay the money by.’ Finally, when I was earning from eighty to a hundred francs a week, I was able to give more time to the brush.”

The recital of this life of toil and self-denial, so different from his own selfish and idle career, was inexpressibly mortifying to Paul; but he felt that he was called upon to say something.

“When one has talents like yours,” said he, “success follows as a matter of course.”

He rose to his feet, and affected to examine the sketches on the walls, though his attention was attracted to the covered picture on the easel. He remembered what the garrulous old portress had said about the veiled lady who sometimes visited the painter, and that there had been some delay in admitting him when he first knocked. Then he considered, for whom had the painter dressed himself with such care? and why had he requested him not to smoke? From all these facts Paul came to the conclusion that Andre was expecting the lady’s visit, and that the veiled picture was her portrait. He therefore determined to see it; and with this end in view, he walked round the studio, admiring all the paintings on the walls, maneuvering in such a manner as to imperceptibly draw nearer to the easel.

“And this,” said he, suddenly extending his hand toward the cover, “is, I presume, the gem of your studio?”

But Andre was by no means dull, and had divined Paul’s intention, and grasped the young man’s outstretched hand just as it touched the curtain.

“If I veil this picture,” said he, “it is because I do not wish it to be seen.”

“Excuse me,” answered Paul, trying to pass over the matter as a jest, though in reality he was boiling over with rage at the manner and tone of the painter, and considered his caution utterly ridiculous.

“At any rate,” said he to himself, “I will lengthen out my visit, and have a glimpse of the original instead of her picture;” and, with this amiable resolution, he sat down by the artist’s table, and commenced an apparently interminable story, resolved not to attend to any hints his friend might throw out, who was glancing at the clock with the utmost anxiety, comparing it every now and then with his watch.

As Paul talked on, he saw close to him on the table the photograph of a young lady, and, taking advantage of the artist’s preoccupation, looked at it.

“Pretty, very pretty!” remarked he.

At these words the painter flushed crimson, and snatching away the photograph with some little degree of violence, thrust it between the leaves of a book.

Andre was so evidently in a patina, that Paul rose to his feet, and for a second or two the men looked into each other’s eyes as two adversaries do when about to engage in a mortal duel. They knew but little of each other, and the same chance which had brought them together might separate them again at any moment, but each felt that the other exercised some influence over his life.

Andre was the first to recover himself.

“You must excuse me; but I was wrong to leave so precious an article about.”

Paul bowed with the air of a man who accepts an apology which he considers his due; and Andre went on,–

“I very rarely receive any one except my friends; but to-day I have broken through my rule.”

Paul interrupted him with a magniloquent wave of the hand.

“Believe me, sir,” said he, in a voice which he endeavoured to render cutting and sarcastic, “had it not been for the imperative duty I before alluded to, I should not have intruded.”

And with these words he left the room, slamming the door behind him.

“The deuce take the impudent fool!” muttered Andre. “I was strongly tempted to pitch him out of the window.”

Paul was in a furious rage for having visited the studio with the kindly desire of humiliating the painter. He could not but feel that the tables had been turned upon himself.

“He shall not have it all his own way,” muttered he; “for I will see the lady,” and not reflecting on the meanness of his conduct, he crossed the street, and took up a position from which he could obtain a good view of the house where Andre resided. It was snowing; but Paul disregarded the inclemency of the weather in his eagerness to act the spy.

He had waited for fully half an hour, when a cab drove up. Two women alighted from it. The one was eminently aristocratic in appearance, while the other looked like a respectable servant. Paul drew closer; and, in spite of a thick veil, recognized the features he had seen in the photograph.

“Ah!” said he, “after all, Rose is more to my taste, and I will get back to her. We will pay up Loupins, and get out of his horrible den.”

CHAPTER VIII.

MADEMOISELLE DE MUSSIDAN.

Paul had not been the only watcher; for at the sound of the carriage wheels the ancient portress took up her position in the doorway, with her eyes fixed on the face of the young lady. When the two women had ascended the stairs, a sudden inspiration seized her, and she went out and spoke to the cabman.

“Nasty night,” remarked she; “I don’t envy you in such weather as this.”

“You may well say that,” replied the driver; “my feet are like lumps of ice.”

“Have you come far?”

“Rather; I picked them up in the Champs Elysees, near the Avenue de Matignon.”

“That is a distance.”

“Yes; and only five sous for drink money. Hang your respectable women!”

“Oh! they are respectable, are they?”

“I’ll answer for that. The other lot are far more open-handed. I know both of them.”

And with these words and a knowing wink, he touched up his horse and drove away; and the portress, only half satisfied, went back to her lodge.

“Why that is the quarter where all the swells live,” murmured she. “I’ll tip the maid next time, and she’ll let out everything.”

After Paul’s departure, Andre could not remain quiet; for it appeared to him as if each second was a century. He had thrown open the door of his studio, and ran to the head of the stairs at every sound.

At last their footsteps really sounded on the steps. The sweetest music in the world is the rustle of the beloved one’s dress. Leaning over the banisters, he gazed fondly down. Soon she appeared, and in a short time had gained the open door of the studio.

“You see, Andre,” said she, extending her hand, “you see that I am true to my time.”

Pale, and trembling with emotion, Andre pressed the little hand to his lips.

“Ah! Mademoiselle Sabine, how kind you are! Thanks, a thousand thanks.”

Yes, it was indeed Sabine, the scion of the lordly house of Mussidan, who had come to visit the poor foundling of the Hotel de Vendome in his studio, and who thus risked all that was most precious to her in the world, her honor and her reputation. Yes, regardless of the conventionalities among which she had been reared, dared to cross that social abyss which separates the Avenue de Matignon from the Rue de la Tour d’Auvergne. Cold reason finds no excuse for such a step, but the heart can easily solve this seeming riddle. Sabine and Andre had been lovers for more than two years. Their first acquaintance had commenced at the Chateau de Mussidan. At the end of the summer of 1865, Andre, whose constant application to work had told upon his health, determined to take a change, when his master, Jean Lanier, called him, and said,–

“If you wish for a change, and at the same time to earn three or four hundred francs, now is your time. An architect has written to me, asking me for a skilled stone carver, to do some work in the country at a magnificent mansion in the midst of the most superb scenery. Would you care about undertaking this?”

The proposal was a most acceptable one to Andre, and in a week’s time he was on his way to his work with a prospect of living for a month in pure country air. Upon his arrival at the Chateau, he made a thorough examination of the work with which he had been entrusted. He saw that he could finish it with perfect ease, for it was only to restore the carved work on a balcony, which would not take more than a fortnight. He did not, however, press on the work, for the beautiful scenery enchanted him.

He made many exquisite sketches, and his health began to return to him. But there was another reason why he was in no haste to complete his task, one which he hardly ventured even to confess to himself: he had caught a glimpse of a young girl in the park of the Chateau who had caused a new feeling to spring up in his heart. It was Sabine de Mussidan. The Count, as the season came on, had gone to Germany, the Countess had flitted away to Luzon, and the daughter was sent to the dull old country mansion in charge of her old aunt. It was the old, old story; two young hearts loving with all the truth and energy of their natures. They had exchanged a few words on their first meeting, and on the next Sabine went on to the balcony and watched the rapid play of Andre’s chisel with childish delight. For a long time they conversed, and Sabine was surprised at the education and refinement of the young workman. Utterly fresh, and without experience, Sabine could not understand her new sensations. Andre held, one night, a long converse with himself, and was at last obliged to confess that he loved her fondly. He ran the extent of his folly and madness, and recognized the barrier of birth and wealth that stood between them, and was overwhelmed with consternation.

The Chateau of Mussidan stands in a very lonely spot, and one of the roads leading to it passes through a dense forest, and therefore it had been arranged that Andre was to take his meals in the house. After a time Sabine began to feel that this isolation was a needless humiliation.

“Why can’t M. Andre take his meals with us?” asked she of her aunt. “He is certainly more gentlemanlike than many of those who visit us, and I think that his conversation would entertain you.”

The old lady was easily persuaded to adopt this suggestion, though at first it seemed an odd kind of thing to admit a mere working man to her table; but she was so bored with the loneliness of the place that she hailed with delight anything that would break its monotony. Andre at once accepted the proposal, and the old lady would hardly believe her eyes when her guest entered the room with the dress and manners of a highbred gentleman. “It is hardly to be believed,” said she, as she was preparing to go to bed, “that a mere carver of stone should be so like a gentleman. It seems to me that all distinctions of social rank have vanished. It is time for me to die, or we are rapidly approaching a state of anarchy.”

In spite of her prejudices, however, Andre contrived to win the old lady’s heart, and won a complete victory by painting her portrait in full gala costume. From that moment he was treated as one of the family, and, having no fear of a rebuff, was witty and sprightly in his manner. Once he told the old lady the true story of his life. Sabine was deeply interested, and marvelled at his energy and endurance, which had won for him a place on the ladder that leads to future eminence. She saw in him the realization of all her girlish dreams, and finally confessed to herself that she loved him. Both her father and mother had their own pleasures and pursuits, and Sabine was as much alone in the world as Andre.

The days now fled rapidly by. Buried in this secluded country house, they were as free as the breeze that played through the trees of the forest, for the old lady rarely disturbed them. After the morning meal, she would beg Andre to read the newspaper to her, and fell into a doze before he had been five minutes at the task. Then the young people would slip quietly away, as merry as truants from school. They wandered beneath the shade of the giant oaks, or climbed the rocks that stood by the river bank. Sometimes, seated in a dilapidated boat, they would drift down the stream with its flower-bedecked banks. The water was often almost covered with rushes and water lilies. Two months of enchantment thus fled past, two months of the intoxications of love, though the mention of the tender passion never rose to their lips from their hearts, where it was deeply imbedded. Andre had cast all reflections regarding the perils of the future to the winds, and only thanked heaven for the happiness that he was experiencing.

“Am I not too happy?” he would say to himself. “I fear this cannot last.” And he was right. Anxious to justify his remaining at Mussidan after his task was completed, Andre determined to add to what he had already done a masterpiece of modern art, by carving a garland of fruit and flowers over the old balcony, and every morning he rose with the sun to proceed with his task.

One morning the valet came to him, saying that the old lady was desirous of seeing him, and begged him to lose no time, as the business was urgent. A presentiment of evil came like a chilly blast upon the young man’s heart. He felt that his brief dream of happiness was at an end, and he followed the valet as a criminal follows his executioner to the scaffold.

As he opened the door in which Sabine’s aunt was awaiting him, the old man whispered,–

“Have a care, sir, have a care. Madame is in a terrible state; I have not seen her like this since her husband died.”

The old lady was in a terrible state of excitement, and in spite of rheumatic pains was walking up and down the room, gesticulating wildly, and striking her crutch-handled stick on the floor.

“And so,” cried she in that haughty tone adopted by women of aristocratic lineage when addressing a supposed inferior, “you have, I hear, had the impudence to make love to my niece?”

Andre’s pale face grew crimson as he stammered out,–

“Madame–“

“Gracious powers, fellow!” cried the angry woman, “do you dare to deny this when your very face betrays you? Do you know that you are an insolent rogue even to venture to look on Sabine de Mussidan? How dare you! Perhaps you thought that if you compromised her, we should be forced to submit to this ignoble alliance.”

“On my honor, madame, I assure you–“

“On your honor! To hear you speak, one would suppose that you were a gentleman. If my poor husband were alive, he would break every bone in your body; but I am satisfied with ordering you out of the house. Pick up your tools, and be off at once.”

Andre stood as though petrified into stone. He took no notice of her imperious manner, but only realized the fact that he should never see Sabine again, and, turning deadly pale, staggered to a chair. The old lady was so surprised at the manner in which Andre received her communication, that for a time she too was bewildered, and could not utter a word.

“I am unfortunately of a violent temper,” said she, speaking in more gentle accents, “and perhaps I have spoken too severely, for I am much to blame in this matter, as the priest of Berron said when he came to inform me of what was going on. I am so old that I forgot what happens when young people are thrown together, and I was the only one who did not know what was going on when you were affording subject of gossip for the whole countryside; my niece–“

But here Andre started to his feet with a threatening look upon his face.

“I could strangle them all,” cried he.

“That is right,” returned the old lady, secretly pleased at his vigor and energy, “but you cannot silence every idle tongue. Fortunately, matters have not gone too far. Go away, and forget my niece.”

She might as well have told the young man to go away and die.

“Madame!” cried he in accents of despair, “pray listen to me. I am young, and full of hope and courage.”

The old lady was so touched by his evident sorrow, that the tears rolled down her wrinkled cheeks.

“What is the good of saying this to me?” asked she. “Sabine is not my daughter. All that I can do is never to say a word to her father and mother. Great heavens, if Mussidan should ever learn what has occurred! There, do go away. You have upset me so that I do not believe I shall eat a mouthful for the next two days.”

Andre staggered out of the room. It seemed to him as if the flooring heaved and rolled beneath his feet. He could see nothing, but he felt some one take him by the hand. It was Sabine, pallid and cold as a marble statue.

“I have heard everything, Andre,” murmured she.

“Yes,” stammered he. “All is over, and I am dismissed.”

“Where are you going to?”

“Heaven only knows, and when once I leave this place I care not.”

“Do not be desperate,” urged Sabine, laying her hand upon his arm.

His fixed glance terrified her as he muttered,–

“I cannot help it; I am driven to despair.”

Never had Sabine appeared so lovely; her eyes gleamed with some generous impulse, and her face glowed.

“Suppose,” said she, “I could give you a ray of future hope, what would you do then?”

“What would I /not/ do then? All that a man could. I would fight my way through all opposition. Give me the hardest task, and I will fulfil it. If money is wanted, I will gain it; if a name, I will win it.”

“There is one thing that you have forgotten, and that is patience.”

“And that, Mademoiselle, I possess also. Do you not understand that with one word of hope from you I can live on?”

Sabine raised her head heavenwards. “Work!” she exclaimed. “Work and hope, for I swear that I will never wed other than you.”

Here the voice of the old lady interrupted the lovers.

“Still lingering here!” she cried, in a voice like a trumpet call. Andre fled away with hope in his heart, and felt that he had now something to live for. No one knew exactly what happened after his departure. No doubt Sabine brought round her aunt to her way of thinking, for at her death, which happened two months afterward, she left the whole of her immense fortune directly to her niece, giving her the income while she remained single, and the capital on her marriage, whether with or without the consent of her parents. Madame de Mussidan declared that the old lady had gone crazy, but both Andre and Sabine knew what she had intended, and sincerely mourned for the excellent woman, whose last act had been to smooth away the difficulties from their path. Andre worked harder than ever, and Sabine encouraged him by fresh promises. Sabine was even more free in Paris than at Mussidan, and her attached maid, Modeste, would have committed almost any crime to promote the happiness of her beloved mistress. The lovers now corresponded regularly, and Sabine, accompanied by Modeste, frequently visited the artist’s studio, and never was a saint treated with greater respect and adoration than was Sabine by Andre.

CHAPTER IX.

ROSE’S PROMOTION.

As soon as Andre had released her hand, Sabine took off her hat, and, handing it to Modeste, remarked,–

“How am I looking to-day, Andre?”

The young painter hastened to reassure her on this point, and she continued in joyous tones,–

“No, I do not want compliments; I want to know if I look the right thing for sitting for my portrait.”

Sabine was very beautiful, but hers was a different style of beauty from that of Rose, whose ripe, sensuous charms were fitted to captivate the admiration of the voluptuary, while Sabine was of the most refined and ethereal character. Rose fettered the body with earthly trammels, while Sabine drew the soul heavenward. Her beauty was not of the kind that dazzles, for the air of proud reserve which she threw over it, in some slight measure obscured its brilliancy.

She might have passed unnoticed, like the work of a great master’s brush hanging neglected over the altar of a village church; but when the eye had once fathomed that hidden beauty, it never ceased to gaze on it with admiration. She had a broad forehead, covered with a wealth of chestnut hair, soft, lustrous eyes, and an exquisitely chiselled mouth.

“Alas!” said Andre, “when I gaze upon you, I have to confess how impossible it is to do you justice. Before you came I had fancied that the portrait was completed, but now I see that I have only made a failure.”

As he spoke, he drew aside the curtain, and the young girl’s portrait was revealed. It was by no means a work of extraordinary merit. The artist was only twenty-four years of age, and had been compelled to interrupt his studies to toil for his daily bread, but it was full of originality and genius. Sabine gazed at it for a few moments in silence, and then murmured the words,–

“It is lovely!”

But Andre was too discouraged to notice her praise.

“It is like,” remarked he, “but a photograph also has that merit. I have only got your features, but not your expression; it is an utter failure. Shall I try again?”

Sabine stopped him with a gesture of denial.