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“You shall not try again,” said she decidedly.

“And why not?” asked he in astonishment.

“Because this visit will be my last, Andre.”

“The last?” stammered the painter. “In what way have I so offended you, that you should inflict so terrible a punishment on me?”

“I do not wish to punish you. You asked for my portrait, and I yielded to your request; but let us talk reasonably. Do you not know that I am risking my reputation by coming here day after day?”

Andre made no reply, for this unexpected blow had almost stunned him.

“Besides,” continued Mademoiselle de Mussidan, “what is to be done with the portrait? It must be hidden away, as if it were something we were ashamed of. Remember, on your success hangs our marriage.”

“I do not forget that.”

“Hasten then to gain all honor and distinction, for the world must agree with me in saying that my choice has been a wise one.”

“I will do so.”

“I fully believe you, dear Andre, and remember what I said to you a year ago. Achieve a name, then go to my father and ask for my hand. If he refuses, if my supplications do not move him, I will quit his roof forever.”

“You are right,” answered Andre. “I should indeed by a fool if I sacrificed a future happy life for a few hours of present enjoyment, and I will implicitly–“

“And now,” said Sabine, “that we have agreed on this point, let us discuss our mutual interests, of which it seems that we have been a little negligent up till now.”

Andre at once began to tell her of all that had befallen him since they had last met, his defeats and successes.

“I am in an awkward plight,” said he. “Yesterday, that well known collector, Prince Crescenzi, came to my studio. One of my pictures took his fancy, and he ordered another from me, for which he would pay six thousand francs.”

“That was quite a stroke of luck.”

“Just so, but unfortunately he wants it directly. Then Jean Lamou, who has more in his hand than he can manage, has offered me the decoration of a palatial edifice that he is building for a great speculator, M. Gandelu. I am to engage all the workmen, and shall receive some seven or eight hundred francs a month.”

“But how does this trouble you?”

“I will tell you. I have twice seen M. Gandelu, and he wants me to begin work at once; but I cannot accept both, and must choose between them.”

Sabine reflected.

“I should execute the Prince’s commission,” said she.

“So should I, only—-“

The girl easily found the cause of his hesitation.

“Will you never forget that I am wealthy?” replied she.

“The one would bring in the most money,” he returned, “and the other most credit.”

“Then accept the offer of M. Gandelu.”

The old cuckoo-clock in the corner struck five.

“Before we part, dear Andre,” resumed she, “I must tell you of a fresh trouble which threatens us; there is a project for marrying me to M. de Breulh-Faverlay.”

“What, that very wealthy gentleman?”

“Just so.”

“Well, if I oppose my father’s wishes, an explanation must ensue, and this just now I do not desire. I therefore intend to speak openly to M. de Breulh-Faverlay, who is an honorable, straightforward man; and when I tell him the real state of the case, he will withdraw his pretensions.”

“But,” replied Andre, “should he do so, another will come forward.”

“That is very possible, and in his turn the successor will be dismissed.”

“Ah!” murmured the unhappy man, “how terrible will be your life,–a scene of daily strife with your father and mother.”

After a tender farewell, Sabine and Modeste left. Andre had wished to be permitted to go out and procure a vehicle, but this the young girl negatived, and took her leave, saying.–

“I shall see M. de Breulh-Faverlay to-morrow.”

For a moment after he was left alone Andre felt very sad, but a happy thought flashed across his brain.

“Sabine,” said he, “went away on foot, and I may follow her without injury to her reputation.”

In another moment he was in the street, and caught a glimpse of Sabine and her maid under a lamp at the next corner. He crossed to the other side of the way and followed them cautiously.

“Perhaps,” murmured he, “the time is not far distant when I shall have the right to be with her in her walks, and feel her arm pressed against mine.”

By this time Sabine and her companion had reached the Rue Blanche, and hailing a cab, were rapidly driven away. Andre gazed after it, and as soon as it was out of sight, decided to return to his work. As he passed a brilliantly lighted shop, a fresh young voice saluted him.

“M. Andre, M. Andre.”

He looked up in extreme surprise, and saw a young woman, dressed in the most extravagant style, standing by the door of a brougham, which glittered with fresh paint and varnish. In vain he tried to think who she could be, but at length his memory served him.

“Mademoiselle Rose,” said he, “or I am much mistaken.”

A shrill, squeaky voice replied, “Madame Zora Chantemille, if you please.”

Andre turned sharply round and found himself face to face with a young man who had completed an order he was giving to the coachman.

“Ah, is that you?” said he.

“Yes, Chantemille is the name of the estate that I intend to settle on madame.”

The painter examined the personage who had just addressed him with much curiosity. He was dressed in the height or rather the burlesque of fashion, wore an eyeglass, and an enormous locket on his chain. The face which surmounted all this grandeur was almost that of a monkey, and Toto Chupin had not exaggerated its ugliness when he likened it to that animal.

“Pooh,” cried Rose, “what matters a name? All you have to do is to ask this gentleman, who is an old friend of mine, to dinner.” And without waiting for a reply, she took Andre by the hand and led him into a brilliantly lighted hall. “You must dine with us,” she exclaimed; “I will take no denial. Come, let me introduce you, M. Andre, M. Gaston de Gandelu. There, that is all settled.”

The man bowed.

“Andre, Andre,” repeated Gandelu; “why, the name is familiar to me,– and so is the face. Have I not met you at my father’s house? Come in; we intend to have a jovial evening.”

“I really cannot,” pleaded Andre. “I have an engagement.”

“Throw it over then; we intend to keep you, now that we have got you.”

Andre hesitated for a moment, but he felt dispirited, and that he required rousing. “After all,” thought he, “why should I refuse? If this young man’s friends are like himself, the evening will be an amusing one.”

“Come up,” cried Rose, placing her foot upon the stairs. Andre was about to follow her, but was held back by Gandelu, whose face was radiant with delight.

“Was there ever such a girl?” whispered he; “but there, don’t jump at conclusions. I have only had her in hand for a short time, but I am a real dab at starting a woman grandly, and it would be hard to find my equal in Paris, you may bet.”

“That can be seen at a glance,” answered Andre, concealing a smile.

“Well, look here, I began at once. Zora is a quaint name, is it not? It was my invention. She isn’t a right down swell to-day, but I have ordered six dresses for her from Van Klopen; such swell gets up! You know Van Klopen, don’t you, the best man-milliner in Paris. Such taste! such ideas! you never saw the like.”

Rose had by this time reached her drawing-room. “Andre,” said she, impatiently, “are you never coming up?”

“Quick, quick,” said Gandelu, “let us go at once; if she gets into a temper she is sure to have a nervous attack, so let us hurry up.”

Rose did all she could to dazzle Andre, and as a commencement exhibited to him her domestics, a cook and a maid; then he was shown every article of furniture, and not one was spared him. He was forced to admire the drawing-room suite covered with old gold silk, trimmed blue, and to test the thickness of the curtains. Bearing aloft a large candelabra, and covering himself with wax, Gandelu led the way, telling them the price of everything like an energetic tradesman.

“That clock,” said he, “cost me a hundred louis, and dirt cheap at the price. How funny that you should have known my father! Has he not a wonderful intellect? That flower stand was three hundred francs, absolutely given away. Take care of the governor, he is as sharp as a needle. He wanted me to have a profession, but no, thank you. Yes, that occasional table was a bargain at twenty louis. Six months ago I thought that the old man would have dropped off, but now the doctors say–” He stopped suddenly, for a loud noise was heard in the vestibule. “Here come the fellows I invited,” cried he, and placing the candelabra on the table, he hurried from the room.

Andre was delighted at so grand an opportunity of studying the /genus/ masher. Rose felt flattered by the admiration her fine rooms evidently caused.

“You see,” cried she, “I have left Paul; he bothered me awfully, and ended by half starving me.”

“Why, you are joking; he came here to-day, and said he was earning twelve thousand francs a year.”

“Twelve thousand humbugs. A fellow that will take five hundred francs from an old scarecrow he never met before is–“

Rose broke off abruptly, for at that moment young Gandelu brought in his friends, and introduced them; they were all of the same type as their host, and Andre was about to study them more intently, when a white-waistcoated waiter threw open the door, exclaiming pompously, “Madame, the dinner is on the table.”

CHAPTER X.

“YOU ARE A THIEF.”

When Mascarin was asked what was the best way to achieve certain results, his invariable reply was, “Keep moving, keep moving.” He had one great advantage over other men, he put in practice the doctrines he preached, and at seven o’clock the morning after his interview with the Count de Mussidan he was hard at work in his room. A thick fog hung over the city, even penetrating into the office, which had begun to fill with clients. This crowd had but little interest for the head of the establishment, as it consisted chiefly of waiters from small eating houses, and cooks who knew little or nothing of what was going on in the houses where they were in service. Finding this to be the case, Mascarin handed them all over to Beaumarchef, and only occasionally nodded to the serviteur of some great family, who chanced to stroll in.

He was busily engaged in arranging those pieces of cardboard which had so much puzzled Paul in his first visit, and was so much occupied with his task, that all he could do was to mutter broken exclamations: “What a stupendous undertaking! but I have to work single-handed, and hold in my hands all these threads, which for twenty years, with the patience of a spider, I have been weaving into a web. No one, seeing me here, would believe this. People who pass me by in the street say, ‘That is Mascarin, who keeps a servants’ registry office;’ that is the way in which they look upon me. Let them laugh if they like; they little know the mighty power I wield in secret. No one suspects me, no, not one. I may seem too sanguine, it is true,” he continued, still glancing over his papers, “or the net may break and some of the fishes slip out. That idiot, Mussidan, asked me if I was acquainted with the Penal code. I should think I was, for no one has studied them more deeply than I have, and there is a clause in volume 3, chapter 2, which is always before me. Penal servitude for a term of years; and if I am convicted under Article 306, then it means a life sentence.” He shuddered, but soon a smile of triumph shone over his face as he resumed, “Ah, but to send a man like Mascarin for change of air to Toulon, he must be caught, and that is not such an easy task. The day he scents danger he disappears, and leaves no trace behind him. I fear that I cannot look for too much from my companions, Catenac and Hortebise; I have up to now kept them back. Croisenois would never betray me, and as for Beaumarchef, La Candele, Toto Chupin, and a few other poor devils, they would be a fine haul for the police. They couldn’t split, simply because they know nothing.” Mascarin chuckled, and then adjusting his spectacles with his favorite gesture, said, “I shall go on in the course I have commenced, straight as the flight of an arrow. I ought to make four millions through Croisenois. Paul shall marry Flavia, that is all arranged, and Flavia will make a grand duchess with her magnificent income.”

He had by this time arranged his pasteboard squares, then he took a small notebook, alphabetically arranged, from a drawer, wrote a name or two in it, and then closing it said with a deadly smile, “There, my friends, you are all registered, though you little suspect it. You are all rich, and think that you are free, but you are wrong, for there is one man who owns you, soul and body, and that man is Baptiste Mascarin; and at his bidding, high as you hold your heads now, you will crawl to his feet in humble abasement.” His musings were interrupted by a knock at the door. He struck the bell on his writing table, and the last sound of it was hardly died away, when Beaumarchef stood on the threshold.

“You desired me, sir,” said he, with the utmost deference, “to complete my report regarding young M. Gandelu, and it so happens that the cook whom he has taken into his service in the new establishment he has started is on our list. She has just come in to pay us eleven francs that she owed us, and is waiting outside. Is not this lucky?”

Mascarin made a little grimace. “You are an idiot, Beaumarchef,” said he, “to be pleased at so trivial a matter. I have often told you that there is no such thing as luck or chance, and that all comes to those who work methodically.”

Beaumarchef listened to his master’s wisdom in silent surprise.

“And pray, who is this woman?” asked Mascarin.

“You will know her when you see her, sir. She is registered under class D, that is, for employment in rather fast establishments.”

“Go and fetch her,” observed Mascarin, and as the man left the room, he muttered, “Experience has taught me that it is madness to neglect the smallest precaution.”

In another moment the woman appeared, and Mascarin at once addressed her with that air of friendly courtesy which made him so popular among such women. “Well, my good girl,” said he, “and so you have got the sort of place you wanted, eh?”

“I hope so, sir, but you see I have only been with Madame Zora de Chantemille since yesterday.”

“Ah, Zora de Chantemille, that is a fine name, indeed.”

“It is only a fancy name, and she had an awful row over it with master. She wanted to be called Raphaela, but he stood out for Zora.”

“Zora is a very pretty name,” observed Mascarin solemnly.

“Yes, sir, just what the maid and I told her. She is a splendid woman, and doesn’t she just squander the shiners? Thirty thousand francs have gone since yesterday.”

“I can hardly credit it.”

“Not cash, you understand, but tick. M. de Gandelu has not a sou of his own in the world, so a waiter at Potier’s told me, and he knew what was what; but the governor is rolling in money. Yesterday they had a house-warming–the dinner, with wine, cost over a thousand francs.”

Not seeing how to utilize any of this gossip, Mascarin made a gesture of dismissal, when the woman exclaimed,–

“Stop, sir, I have something to tell you.”

“Well,” said Mascarin, throwing himself back in his chair with an air of affected impatience, “let us have it.”

“We had eight gents to dinner, all howling swells, but my master was the biggest masher of the lot. Madame was the only woman at table. Well, by ten o’clock, they had all had their whack of drink, and then they told the porter to keep the courtyard clear. What do you think they did then? Why, they threw plates, glasses, knives, forks, and dishes bang out of the window. That is a regular swell fashion, so the waiter at Potier’s told me, and was introduced into Paris by a Russian.”

Mascarin closed his eyes and answered languidly, “Go on.”

“Well, sir, there was one gent who was a blot on the whole affair. He was tall, shabbily dressed, and with no manners at all. He seemed all the time to be sneering at the rest. But didn’t Madame make up to him just. She kept heaping up his plate and filling his glass. When the others got to cards, he sat down by my mistress, and began to talk.”

“Could you hear what they said?”

“I should think so. I was in the bedroom, and they were near the door.”

“Dear me,” remarked Mascarin, appearing much shocked, “surely that was not right?”

“I don’t care a rap whether it was right or not. I like to hear all about the people whom I engage with. They were talking about a M. Paul, who had been Madame’s friend before, and whom the gentleman also knew. Madame said that this Paul was no great shakes, and that he had stolen twelve thousand francs.”

Mascarin pricked up his ears, feeling that his patience was about to meet its reward.

“Can you tell me the gentleman’s name, to whom Madame said all this?” asked he.

“Not I. The others called him ‘The painter.’ “

This explanation did not satisfy Mascarin.

“Look here, my good girl,” said he, “try and find out the fellow’s name. I think he is an artist who owes me money.”

“All right! Rely on me; and now I must be off, for I have breakfast to get ready, but I’ll call again to-morrow;” and with a curtsy she left the room.

Mascarin struck his hand heavily on the table.

“Hortebise has a wonderful nose for sniffing out danger,” said he. “This Rose and the young fool who is ruining himself for her must both be suppressed.”

Beaumarchef again made a motion of executing a thrust with the rapier.

“Pooh, pooh!” answered his master; “don’t be childish. I can do better than that. Rose calls herself nineteen, but she is more, she is of age, while Gandelu is still a minor. If old Gandelu had any pluck, he would put Article 354 in motion.”

“Eh, sir?” said Beaumarchef, much mystified.

“Look here. Before twenty-four hours have elapsed I must know everything as to the habits and disposition of Gandelu senior. I want to know on what terms he is with his son.”

“Good. I will set La Candele to work.”

“And as the young fellow will doubtless need money, contrive to let him know of our friend Verminet, the chairman of the Mutual Loan Society.”

“But that is M. Tantaine’s business.”

Mascarin paid no heed to this, so occupied was he by his own thoughts.

“This young artist seems to have more brains than the rest of the set, but woe to him if he crosses my path. Go back to the outer office, Beaumarchef, I hear some clients coming in.”

The man, however, did not obey.

“Pardon me, sir,” said he, “but La Candele, who is outside, will see them. I have my report to make.”

“Very good. Sit down and go on.”

Enchanted at this mark of condescension, Beaumarchef went on. “Yesterday there was nothing of importance, but this morning Toto Chupin came.”

“He had not lost Caroline Schimmel, I trust?”

“No, sir; he had even got into conversation with her.”

“That is good. He is a cunning little devil; a pity that he is not a trifle more honest.”

“He is sure,” continued Beaumarchef, “that the woman drinks, for she is always talking of persons following her about who menace her, and she is so afraid of being murdered that she never ventures out alone. She lives with a respectable workingman and his wife, and pays well for her board, for she seems to have plenty of money.”

“That is a nuisance,” remarked Mascarin, evidently much annoyed. “Where does she live?”

“At Montmartre, beyond the Chateau Rouge.”

“Good. Tantaine will inquire and see if Toto has made no mistake, and does not let the woman slip through his fingers.”

“He won’t do that, for he told me that he was on the right road to find out who she was, and where she got her money from. But I ought to warn you against the young scamp, for I have found out that he robs us and sells our goods far below their value.”

“What do you mean?”

“I have long had my suspicions, and yesterday I wormed it all out from a disreputable looking fellow, who came here to ask for his friend Chupin.”

Men accustomed to danger are over prompt in their decisions. “Very well,” returned Mascarin, “if this is the case, Master Chupin shall have a taste of prison fare.”

Beaumarchef withdrew, but almost immediately reappeared.

“Sir,” said he, “a servant from M. de Croisenois is here with a note.”

“Send the man in,” said Mascarin.

The domestic was irreproachably dressed, and looked what he was, the servant of a nobleman.

He had something the appearance of an Englishman, with a high collar, reaching almost to his ears. His face was clean shaved, and of a ruddy hue. His coat was evidently the work of a London tailor, and his appearance was as stiff as though carved out of wood. Indeed, he looked like a very perfect piece of mechanism.

“My master,” said he, “desired me to give this note into your own hands.”

Under cover of breaking the seal, Mascarin viewed this model servant attentively. He was a stranger to him, for he had never supplied Croisenois with a domestic.

“It seems, my good fellow,” said he, “that your master was up earlier than usual this morning?”

The man frowned a little at this familiar address, and then slowly replied,–

“When I took service with the Marquis, he agreed to give me fifteen louis over my wages for the privilege of calling me ‘a good fellow,’ but I permit no one to do so gratis. I think that my master is still asleep,” continued the man solemnly. “He wrote the note on his return from the club.”

“Is there any reply.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good; then wait a little.”

And Mascarin, opening the note, read the following:

“MY DEAR FRIEND,–

“Baccarat has served me an ugly turn, and in addition to all my ready cash I have given an I.O.U. for three thousand francs. To save my credit I must have this by twelve to-morrow.”

“His credit,” said Mascarin. “His credit! That is a fine joke indeed.” The servant stood up stiffly erect, as one seeming to take no notice, and the agent continued reading the letter.

“Am I wrong in looking to you for this trifle? I do not think so. Indeed, I have an idea that you will send me a hundred and fifty louis over and above, so that I may not be left without a coin in my pocket. How goes the great affair? I await your decision on the brink of a precipice.

“Yours devotedly,

“HENRY DE CROISENOIS.”

“And so,” growled Mascarin, “he has flung away five thousand francs, and asks me to find it for him in my coffers. Ah, you fool, if I did not want the grand name that you have inherited from your ancestors, a name that you daily bespatter and soil, you might whistle for your five thousand francs.”

However, as Croisenois was absolutely necessary to him, Mascarin slowly took from his safe five notes of a thousand francs each, and handed them to the man.

“Do you want a receipt?” asked the man.

“No; this letter is sufficient, but wait a bit;” and Mascarin, with an eye to the future, drew a twenty franc piece from his pocket, and placing it on the table, said in his most honeyed accents,–

“There, my friend, is something for yourself.”

“No, sir,” returned the man; “I always ask wages enough to prevent the necessity of accepting presents.” And with this dignified reply he bowed with the stiff air of a Quaker, and walked rigidly out of the room.

The agent was absolutely thunderstruck. In all his thirty years’ experience he had never come across anything like this.

“I can hardly believe my senses,” muttered he; “where on earth did the Marquis pick this fellow up? Can it be that he is sharper than I fancied?”

Suddenly a new and terrifying idea flashed across his mind. “Can it be,” said he, “that the fellow is not a real servant, after all? I have so many enemies that one day they may strive to crush me, and however skilfully I may play my cards, some one may hold a better hand.” This idea alarmed him greatly, for he was in a position in which he had nothing to fear; for when a great work is approaching completion, the anxiety of the promoter becomes stronger and stronger. “No, no,” he continued; “I am getting too full of suspicions;” and with these words he endeavored to put aside the vague terrors which were creeping into his soul.

Suddenly Beaumarchef, evidently much excited, appeared upon the threshold.

“What, you here again!” cried Mascarin, angrily; “am I to have no peace to-day?”

“Sir, the young man is here.”

“What young man? Paul Violaine?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why, I told him not to come until twelve; something must have gone wrong.” He broke off his speech, for at the half-open door stood Paul. He was very pale, and his eyes had the expression of some hunted creature. His attire was in disorder and betokened a night spent in aimless wanderings to and fro.

“Ah, sir!” said he, as he caught sight of Mascarin.

“Leave us, Beaumarchef,” said the latter, with an imperious wave of his hand; “and now, my dear boy, what is it?”

Paul sank into a chair.

“My life is ended,” said he; “I am lost, dishonored for ever.”

Mascarin put on a face of the most utter bewilderment, though he well knew the cause of Paul’s utter prostration; but it was with the air of a ready sympathizer that he drew his chair nearer to that of Paul, and said,–

“Come, tell me all about it; what can possibly have happened to affect you thus?”

In deeply tragic tones, Paul replied,–

“Rose has deserted me.”

Mascarin raised his hands to heaven.

“And is this the reason that you say you are dishonored? Do you not see that the future is full of promise?”

“I loved Rose,” returned Paul, and his voice was so full of pathos that Mascarin could hardly repress a smile. “But this is not all,” continued the unhappy boy, making a vain effort to restrain his tears; “I am accused of theft.”

“Impossible!” exclaimed Mascarin.

“Yes, sir; and you who know everything are the only person in the world who can save me. You were so kind to me yesterday that I ventured to come here before the time appointed, in order to entreat your help.”

“But what do you think I can do?”

“Everything, sir; but let me tell you the whole hideous complication.”

Mascarin’s face assumed an air of the deepest interest, as he answered, “Go on.”

“After our interview,” began Paul, “I went back to the Hotel de Perou, and on the mantelpiece in my garret found this note from Rose.”

He held it out as he spoke, but Mascarin made no effort to take it.

“In it,” resumed Paul, “Rose tells me she no longer loves me, and begs me not to seek to see her again; and also that, wearied out of poverty, she has accepted the offer of unlimited supplies of money, a carriage, and diamonds.”

“Are you surprised at this?” asked Mascarin, with a sneer.

“How could I anticipate such an infidelity, when only the evening before she swore by all she held most sacred that she loved me only? Why did she lie to me? Did she write to make the blow fall heavier? When I ascended the staircase, I was picturing to myself her joy when I told her of your kind promises to me. For more than an hour I remained in my garret, overwhelmed with the terrible thought that I should never see her again.”

Mascarin watched Paul attentively, and came to the conclusion that his words were too fine for his grief to be sincere.

“But what about the accusation of theft?”

“I am coming to that,” returned the young man. “I then determined to obey your injunctions and leave the Hotel de Perou, with which I was more than ever disgusted. I went downstairs to settle with Madame Loupins, when ah! hideous disgrace! As I handed her the two weeks’ rent, she asked me with a contemptuous sneer, where I had stolen the money from?”

Mascarin secretly chuckled over the success of his plans thus announced by Paul.

“What did you say?” asked he.

“Nothing, sir; I was too horror-stricken; the man Loupins came up, and both he and his wife scowled at me threateningly. After a short pause, they asserted that they were perfectly sure that Rose and I had robbed M. Tantaine.”

“But did you not deny this monstrous charge?”

“I was utterly bewildered, for I saw that every circumstance was against me. The evening before, Rose, in reply to Madame Loupin’s importunities, had told her that she had no money, and did not know where to get any. But, as you perceive, on the very next day I appeared in a suit of new clothes, and was prepared to pay my debts, while Rose had left the house some hours before. Does not all this form a chain of strange coincidences? Rose changed the five hundred franc note that Tantaine had lent me at the shop of a grocer, named Melusin, and this suspicious fool was the first to raise a cry against us, and dared to assert that a detective had been ordered to watch us.”

Mascarin knew all this story better than Paul, but here he interrupted his young friend.

“I do not understand you,” said he, “nor whether your grief arises from indignation or remorse. Has there been a robbery?”

“How can I tell? I have never seen M. Tantaine from that day. There is a rumor that he has been plundered and important papers taken from him, and that he has consequently been arrested.”

“Why did you not explain the facts?”

“It would have been of no use. It would clearly prove that Tantaine was no friend of mine, not even an acquaintance, and they would have laughed me to scorn had I declared that the evening before he came into my room and made me a present of five hundred francs.”

“I think that I can solve the riddle,” remarked Mascarin. “I know the old fellow so well.”

Paul listened with breathless eagerness.

“Tantaine,” resumed Mascarin, “is the best and kindest fellow in the world, but he is not quite right in the upper story. He was a wealthy man once, but his liberality was his ruin. He is as poor as a church- mouse now, but he is as anxious as ever to be charitable. Unfortunately in the place I procured for him he had a certain amount of petty cash at his disposal, and moved to pity at the sight of your sufferings, he gave you the money that really belonged to others. Then he sent in his accounts, and the deficiency was discovered. He lost his head, and declared that he had been robbed. You lived in the next room; you were known to be in abject poverty on the one day and in ample funds on the next; hence these suspicions.”

All was too clear to Paul, and a cold shiver ran through his frame as he saw himself arrested, tried, and condemned.

“But,” stammered he, “M. Tantaine holds my note of hand, which is a proof that I acted honestly.”

“My poor boy, do you think that if he hoped to save himself at your expense he would produce it?”

“Luckily, sir, you know the real state of the case.”

Mascarin shook is head.

“Would my story be credited?” asked he. “Justice is not infallible, and I must confess that appearances are against you.”

Paul was crushed down beneath this weight of argument. “There is no resource for me then but death,” murmured he, “for I will not live a dishonored man.”

The conduct of Paul was precisely what Mascarin had expected, and he felt that the moment had arrived to strike a final blow.

“You must not give way to despair, my boy,” said he.

But Paul made no reply; he had lost the power of hearing. Mascarin, however, had no time to lose, and taking him by the arm, shook him roughly. “Rouse yourself. A man in your position must help himself, and bring forward proofs of his innocence.”

“There is no use in fighting,” replied Paul. “Have you not just shown me that it is hopeless to endeavor to prove my innocence?”

Mascarin grew impatient at this unnecessary exhibition of cowardice, but he concealed his feelings as best he could.

“No, no,” answered he; “I only wished to show you the worst side of the affair.”

“There is only one side.”

“Not so, for it is only a supposition that Tantaine had made away with money entrusted to him, and we are not certain of it. And we only surmise that he has been arrested, and thrown the blame on you. Before giving up the game, would it not be best to be satisfied on these points?”

Paul felt a little reassured.

“I say nothing,” continued Mascarin, “of the influence I exercise over Tantaine, and which may enable me to compel him to confess the truth.”

Weak natures like Paul’s are raised in a moment from the lowest depths of depression to the highest pitch of exultation, and he already considered that he was saved.

“Shall I ever be able to prove my gratitude to you?” said he impulsively.

Mascarin’s face assumed a paternal expression.

“Perhaps you may,” answered he; “and as a commencement you must entirely forget the past. Daylight dispels the hideous visions of the night. I offer you a fresh lease of life; will you become a new man?”

Paul heaved a deep sigh. “Rose,” he murmured; “I cannot forget her.”

Mascarin frowned. “What,” said he, “do you still let your thoughts dwell on that woman? There are people who cringe to the hand that strikes them, and the more they are duped and deceived, the more they love. If you are made of this kind of stuff, we shall never get on. Go and find your faithless mistress, and beg her to come back and share your poverty, and see what she will say.”

These sarcasms roused Paul. “I will be even with her some day,” muttered he.

“Forget her; that is the easiest thing for you to do.”

Even now Paul seemed to hesitate. “What,” said his patron reproachfully, “have you no pride?”

“I have, sir.”

“You have not, or you would never wish to hamper yourself with a woman like Rose. You should keep your hands free, if you want to fight your way through the battle of life.”

“I will follow your advice, sir,” said Paul hurriedly.

“Very soon you will thank Rose deeply for having left you. You will climb high, I can tell you, if you will work as I bid you.”

“Then,” stammered Paul, “this situation at twelve thousand francs a year—-“

“There never has been such a situation.”

A ghastly pallor overspread Paul’s countenance, as he saw himself again reduced to beggary.

“But, sir,” he murmured, “will you not permit me to hope–“

“For twelve thousand francs! Be at ease, you shall have that and much more. I am getting old. I have no ties in the world–you shall be my adopted son.”

A cloud settled on Paul’s brow, for the idea that his life was to be passed in this office was most displeasing to him. Mascarin divined his inmost thoughts with perfect ease. “And the young fool does not know where to go for a crust of bread,” thought he. “Ah, if there were no Flavia, no Champdoce;” then, speaking aloud, he resumed, “don’t fancy, my dear boy, that I wish to condemn you to the treadmill that I am compelled to pass my life in. I have other views for you, far more worthy of your merits. I have taken a great liking to you, and I will do all I can to further your ambitious views. I was thinking a great deal of you, and in my head I raised the scaffolding of your future greatness. ‘He is poor,’ said I, ‘and at his age, and with his tastes, this is a cruel thing. Why, pray, should I not find a wife for him among those heiresses who have a million or two to give the man they marry? When I talk like this, it is because I know of an heiress, and my friend, Dr. Hortebise, shall introduce her to you. She is nearly, if not quite, as pretty as Rose, and has the advantage of her in being well-born, well-educated, and wealthy. She has influential relatives, and if her husband should happen to be a poet, or a composer, she could assist him in becoming famous.”

A flush came over Paul’s face, This seemed like the realization of some of his former dreams.

“With regard to your birth,” continued Mascarin, “I have devised a wonderful plan. Before ’93, you know, every bastard was treated as a gentleman, as he might have been the son of some high and mighty personage. Who can say that your father may not have been of the noblest blood of France, and that he has not lands and wealth? He may even now be looking for you, in order to acknowledge you and make you his heir. Would you like to be a duke?”

“Ah, sir,” stammered the young man.

Mascarin burst into a fit of laughter. “Up to now,” said he, “we are only in the region of suppositions.”

“Well, sir, what do you wish me to do?” asked Paul, after a short pause.

Mascarin put on a serious face. “I want absolute obedience from you,” said he; “a blind and undeviating obedience, one that makes no objections and asks no questions.”

“I will obey you, sir; but, oh! do not desert me.”

Without making any reply, Mascarin rang for Beaumarchef, and as soon as the latter appeared, said, “I am going to Van Klopen’s, and shall leave you in charge here.” Then, turning to Paul, he added, “I always mean what I say; we will go and breakfast at a neighboring restaurant. I want to have a talk with you, and afterward–afterward, my boy, I will show you the girl I intend to be your wife. I am curious to know how you like her looks.”

CHAPTER XI.

THE MAN-MILLINER.

Gaston de Gandelu was much surprised at finding that Andre should be ignorant of the existence of Van Klopen, the best-known man in Paris. To assure oneself of this, it was only necessary to glance at his circulars, which were ornamented with the representations of medals won at all sorts of exhibitions in different quarters of the world, together with various decorations received from foreign potentates. One had been presented to him by the Queen of Spain, while he had a diploma appointing him the supplier to the Court of the Czar. The great Van Klopen was not an Alsatian, as was generally supposed, but a stout, handsome Dutchman, who, in the year 1850, had been a tailor in his small native town, and manufactured in cloth, purchased on credit, the long waistcoats and miraculous coats worn by the wealthy citizens of Rotterdam. Van Klopen, however, was not successful in his business, and was compelled to close his shop and abscond from his creditors. He took refuge in Paris, where he seemed likely to die of hunger. One day over a magnificent establishment in the Rue de Grammont appeared a signboard with the name of Van Klopen, dressmaker, and in the thousands of handbills distributed with the utmost profusion, he called himself the “Regenerator of Fashion.” This was an idea that would have never originated in the brain of the phlegmatic Dutchman, and whence came the funds to carry on the business? On this point he was discreetly silent. The enterprise was at first far from a success, for during nearly a month Paris almost split its sides laughing at the absurd pretensions of the self-dubbed “Regenerator of Fashion.” Van Klopen bent before the storm he had aroused, and in due time his advertisements brought him two customers, who were the first to blow the trumpet of his fame. One was the Duchess de Suirmeuse, a very great lady indeed, and renowned for her eccentricities and extravagant manner, while the other was an example of another class being no less than the celebrated Jennie Fancy, who was at that time under the protection of the Count de Tremouselle; and for these two Van Klopen invented such dresses as had never been seen before. From this moment his success was certain; indeed, it was stupendous, and Paris resounded with his praises. Now he has achieved a world-wide reputation, and has nothing to fear from the attacks of his rivals. He would not execute orders for every one, saying that he must pick and choose his customers, and he did so, excising the names of such as he did not think would add to his reputation. Rank and wealth disputed the honor of being his customers. The haughtiest dames did not shrink from entrusting to him secrets of form and figure, which they even hid from their husbands. They endured without shrinking the touch of his coarse hands as he measured them. He was the rage, and his showrooms were a species of neutral ground, where women of all circles of society met and examined each other. The Duchess of — did not shrink from being in the same room with the celebrated woman for whom the Baron de — had blown out the few brains he possessed. Perhaps the Duchess thought that by employing the same costumier, she might also gain some of the venal beauteous attractions. Mademoiselle D—, of the Gymnase Theatre, who was well known to earn just one thousand francs per annum, took a delight in astonishing the haughty ladies of fashion by the reckless extravagance of her orders. Van Klopen, who was a born diplomatist, distributed his favors between his different customers; consequently he was termed the most charming and angelic of men. Many a time had he heard the most aristocratic lips let fall the words, “I shall die, Van Klopen, if my dress is not ready.” On the evenings of the most aristocratic balls a long line of carriages blocked up the road in front of his establishment, and the finest women in Paris crowded the showrooms for a word of approval from him.

He gave credit to approved customers, and also, it was whispered, lent money to them. But woe to the woman who permitted herself to be entrapped in the snare of credit that he laid for her; for the woman who owed him a bill was practically lost, never knowing to what depths she might be degraded to obtain the money to settle her account. It was not surprising that such sudden prosperity should have turned Van Klopen’s head. He was stout and ruddy, impudent, vain, and cynical. His admirers said that he was witty.

It was to this man’s establishment that Mascarin conducted Paul after a sumptuous breakfast at Philipe’s.

It is necessary to give a slight description of Van Klopen’s establishment. Carpets of the most expensive description covered the stairs to his door on the first floor, at which stood the liveried menials resplendent in gold lace and scarlet. As soon as Mascarin made his appearance, one of these gorgeous creatures hastened to him and said, “M. Van Klopen is just now engaged with the Princess Korasoff, but as soon as he hears of your arrival he will manage to get rid of her. Will you wait for him in his private room?”

But Mascarin answered,–

“We are in no hurry, and may as well wait in the public room with the other customers. Are there many of them?”

“There are about a dozen ladies, sir.”

“Good; I am sure that they will amuse me.”

And, without wasting any more words, Mascarin opened a door which led into a magnificent drawing-room, decorated in very florid style. The paper on the walls almost disappeared beneath a variety of watercolor sketches, representing ladies in every possible style of costume. Each picture had an explanatory note beneath it, such as “Costume of Mde. de C— for a dinner at the Russian Ambassador’s,” “Ball costume of the Marchioness de V— for a ball at the Hotel de Ville,” etc.

Paul, who was a little nervous at finding himself among such splendor, hesitated in the doorway; but Mascarin seized his young friend by the arm, and, as he drew him to a settee, whispered in his ear,–

“Keep your eyes about you; the heiress is here.”

The ladies were at first a little surprised at this invasion of the room by the male element, but Paul’s extreme beauty soon attracted their attention. The hum of conversation ceased, and Paul’s embarrassment increased as he found a battery of twelve pairs of eyes directed full upon him.

Mascarin, however, was quite at his ease, and upon his entrance had made a graceful though rather old-fashioned bow to the fair inmates of the room. His coolness was partly due to the contempt he felt for the human race in general, and also to his colored glasses, which hid the expression of his countenance. When he saw that Paul still kept his eyes on the ground, he tapped him gently on the arm.

“Is this the first time you ever saw well-dressed women? Surely you are not afraid of them. Look to the right,” continued Mascarin, “and you will see the heiress.”

A young girl, not more than eighteen, was seated near one of the windows. She was not perhaps so beautiful as Mascarin had described, but her face was a very striking one nevertheless. She was slight and good-looking, with the clear complexion of a brunette. Her features were not perhaps very regular, but her glossy black hair was a beauty in itself. She had a pair of dark, melting eyes, and her wide, high forehead showed that she was gifted with great intelligence. There was an air of restrained voluptuousness about her, and she seemed the very embodiment of passion.

Paul felt insensibly attracted toward her. Their eyes met, and both started at the same moment. Paul was fascinated in an instant, and the girl’s emotion was so evident that she turned aside her head to conceal it.

The babel had now commenced again, and general attention was being paid to a lady who was enthusiastically describing the last new costume which had made its appearance in the Bois de Boulogue.

“It was simply miraculous,” said she; “a real triumph of Van Klopen’s art. The ladies of a certain class are furious, and Henry de Croisenois tells me that Jenny Fancy absolutely shed tears of rage. Imagine three green skirts of different shades, each draped—-“

Mascarin, however, only paid attention to Paul and the young girl, and a sarcastic smile curled his lips.

“What do you think of her?” asked he.

“She is adorable!” answered Paul, enthusiastically.

“And immensely wealthy.”

“I should fall at her feet if she had not a sou.”

Mascarin gave a little cough, and adjusted his glasses.

“Should you, my lad?” said he to himself; “whether your admiration is for the girl or her money, you are in my grip.”

Then he added, aloud,–

“Would you not like to know her name?”

“Tell me, I entreat you.”

“Flavia.”

Paul was in the seventh heaven, and now boldly turned his eyes on the girl, forgetting that owing to the numerous mirrors, she could see his every movement.

The door was at this moment opened quietly, and Van Klopen appeared on the threshold. He was about forty-four, and too stout for his height. His red, pimply face had an expression upon it of extreme insolence, and his accent was thoroughly Dutch. He was dressed in a ruby velvet dressing-gown, with a cravat with lace ends. A huge cluster-diamond ring blazed on his coarse, red hand.

“Who is the next one?” asked he, rudely.

The lady who had been talking so volubly rose to her feet, but the tailor cut her short, for catching sight of Mascarin, he crossed the room, and greeted him with the utmost cordiality.

“What!” said he; “is it you that I have been keeping waiting? Pray pardon me. Pray go into my private room; and this gentleman is with you? Do me the favor, sir, to come with us.”

He was about to follow his guests, when one of the ladies started forward.

“One word with you, sir, for goodness sake!” cried she.

Van Klopen turned sharply upon her.

“What is the matter?” asked he.

“My bill for three thousand francs falls due to-morrow.”

“Very likely.”

“But I can’t meet it.”

“That is not my affair.”

“I have come to beg you will renew it for two months, or say one month, on whatever terms you like.”

“In two months,” answered the man brutally, “you will be no more able to pay than you are to-day. If you can’t pay it, it will be noted.”

“Merciful powers! then my husband will learn all.”

“Just so; that will be what I want; for he will then have to pay me.”

The wretched woman grew deadly pale.

“My husband will pay you,” said she; “but I shall be lost.”

“That is not my lookout. I have partners whose interests I have to consult.”

“Do not say that, sir! He has paid my debts once, and if he should be angry and take my children from me–Dear M. Van Klopen, be merciful!”

She wrung her hands, and the tears coursed down her cheeks; but the tailor was perfectly unmoved.

“When a woman has a family of children, one ought to have in a needlewoman by the hour.”

She did not desist from her efforts to soften him, and, seizing his hand, strove to carry it to her lips.

“Ah! I shall never dare to go home,” wailed she; “never have the courage to tell my husband.”

“If you are afraid of your own husband, go to some one else’s,” said he roughly; and tearing himself from her, he followed Mascarin and Paul.

“Did you hear that?” asked he, as soon as he had closed the door of his room with an angry slam. “These things occasionally occur, and are not particularly pleasant.”

Paul looked on in disgust. If he had possessed three thousand francs, he would have given them to this unhappy woman, whose sobs he could still hear in the passage.

“It is most painful,” remarked he.

“My dear sir,” said the tailor, “you attach too much importance to these hysterical outbursts. If you were in my place, you would soon have to put their right value on them. As I said before, I have to look after my own and my partners’ interests. These dear creatures care for nothing but dress; father, husband, and children are as nothing in comparison. You cannot imagine what a woman will do in order to get a new dress, in which to outshine her rival. They only talk of their families when they are called on to pay up.”

Paul still continued to plead for some money for the poor lady, and the discussion was getting so warm that Mascarin felt bound to interfere.

“Perhaps,” said he, “you have been a little hard.”

“Pooh,” returned the tailor; “I know my customer; and to-morrow my account will be settled, and I know very well where the money will come from. Then she will give me another order, and we shall have the whole comedy over again. I know what I am about.” And taking Mascarin into the window, he made some confidential communication, at which they both laughed heartily.

Paul, not wishing to appear to listen, examined the consulting-room, as Van Klopen termed it. He saw a great number of large scissors, yard measures, and patterns of material, and heaps of fashion plates.

By this time the two men had finished their conversation.

“I had,” said Mascarin, as they returned to the fireplace, “I had meant to glance through the books; but you have so many customers waiting, that I had better defer doing so.”

“Is that all that hinders you?” returned Van Klopen, carelessly. “Wait a moment.”

He left the room, and in another moment his voice was heard.

“I am sorry, ladies, very sorry, on my word; but I am busy with my silk mercer. I shall not be very long.”

“We will wait,” returned the ladies in chorus.

“That is the way,” remarked Van Klopen, as he returned to the consulting-room. “Be civil to women, and they turn their backs on you; try and keep them off, and they run after you. If I was to put up ‘no admittance’ over my door, the street would be blocked up with women. Business has never been better,” continued the tailor, producing a large ledger. “Within the last ten days we have had in orders amounting to eighty-seven thousand francs.”

“Good!” answered Mascarin; “but let us have a look at the column headed ‘Doubtful.’ “

“Here you are,” returned the arbiter of fashion, as he turned over the leaves. “Mademoiselle Virginie Cluhe has ordered five theatrical costumes, two dinner, and three morning dresses.”

“That is a heavy order.”

“I wanted for that reason to consult you. She doesn’t owe us much– perhaps a thousand francs or so.”

“That is too much, for I hear that her friend has come to grief. Do not decline the order, but avoid taking fresh ones.”

Van Klopen made a few mysterious signs in the margin of his ledger.

“On the 6th of this month the Countess de Mussidan gave us an order–a perfectly plain dress for her daughter. Her account is a very heavy one, and the Count has warned us that he will not pay it.”

“Never mind that. Go on with the order, put press for payment.”

“On the 7th a new customer came–Mademoiselle Flavia, the daughter of Martin Rigal, the banker.”

When Paul heard this name, he could not repress a start, of which, however, Mascarin affected to take no notice.

“My good friend,” said he, turning to Van Klopen, “I confide this young lady to you; give her your whole stock if she asks for it.”

By the look of surprise which appeared upon the tailor’s face, Paul could see that Mascarin was not prodigal of such recommendations.

“You shall be obeyed,” said Van Klopen, with a bow.

“On the 8th a young gentleman of the name of Gaston de Gandelu was introduced by Lupeaux, the jeweller. His father is, I hear, very wealthy, and he will come into money on attaining his majority, which is near at hand. He brought with him a lady,” continued the tailor, “and said her name was Zora de Chantemille, a tremendously pretty girl.”

“That young man is always in my way,” said Mascarin. “I would give something to get him out of Paris.”

Van Klopen reflected for a moment. “I don’t think that would be difficult,” remarked he; “that young fellow is capable of any act of folly for that fair girl.”

“I think so too.”

“Then the matter is easy. I will open an account with him; then, after a little, I will affect doubts as to his solvency, and ask for a bill; and we shall then place our young friend in the hands of the Mutual Loan Society, and M. Verminet will easily persuade him to write his name across the bottom of a piece of stamped paper. He will bring it to me; I will accept it, and then we shall have him hard and fast.”

“I should have proposed another course.”

“I see no other way, however,” He suddenly stopped, for a loud noise was heard in the ante-room, and the sound of voices in loud contention.

“I should like to know,” said Van Klopen, rising to his feet, “who the impudent scoundrel is, who comes here kicking up a row. I expect that it is some fool of a husband.”

“Go and see what it is,” suggested Mascarin.

“Not I! My servants are paid to spare me such annoyances.”

Presently the noise ceased.

“And now,” resumed Mascarin, “let us return to our own affairs. Under the circumstances, your proposal appears to be a good one. How about writing in another name? A little forgery would make our hands stronger.” He rose, and taking the tailor into the window recess, again whispered to him.

During this conversation Paul’s cheek had grown paler and paler, for, occupied as he was, he could not fail to comprehend something of what was going on. During the breakfast Mascarin had partially disclosed many strange secrets, and since then he had been even more enlightened. It was but too evident to him that his protector was engaged in some dark and insidious plot, and Paul felt that he was standing over a mine which might explode at any moment. He now began to fancy that there was some mysterious link between the woman Schimmel, who was so carefully watched, and the Marquis de Croisenois, so haughty, and yet on such intimate terms with the proprietor of the registry office. Then there was the Countess de Mussidan, Flavia, the rich heiress, and Gaston de Gandelu, who was to be led into a crime the result of which would be penal servitude,–all jumbled and mixed up together in one strange phantasmagoria. Was he, Paul, to be a mere tool in such hands? Toward what a precipice was he being impelled! Mascarin and Van Klopen were not friends, as he had at first supposed, but confederates in villainy. Too late did he begin to see collusion between Mascarin and Tantaine, which had resulted in his being accused of theft during his absence. But the web had been woven too securely, and should he struggle to break through it, he might find himself exposed to even more terrible dangers. He felt horrified at his position, but with this there was mingled no horror of the criminality of his associates, for the skilful hand of Mascarin had unwound and mastered all the bad materials of his nature. He was dazzled at the glorious future held out before him, and said to himself that a man like Mascarin, unfettered by law, either human or Divine, would be most likely to achieve his ends. “I should be in no danger,” mused he to himself, “if I yield myself up to the impetuous stream which is already carrying me along, for Mascarin is practised swimmer enough to keep both my head and his own above water.”

Little did Paul think that every fleeting expression in his countenance was caught up and treasured by the wily Mascarin; and it was intentionally that he had permitted Paul to listen to this compromising conversation. He had decided that very morning, that if Paul was to be a useful tool, he must be at once set face to face with the grim realities of the position.

“Now,” said he, “for the really serious reason for my visit. How do we stand now with regard to the Viscountess Bois Arden?”

Van Klopen gave his shoulders a shrug as he answered, “She is all right. I have just sent her several most expensive costumes.”

“How much does she owe you?”

“Say twenty-five thousand francs. She has owed us more than that before.”

“Really” remarked Mascarin, “that woman has been grossly libelled; she is vain, frivolous, and fond of admiration, but nothing more. For a whole fortnight I have been prying into her life, but I can’t hit upon anything in it to give us a pull over her. The debt may help us, however. Does her husband know that she has an account with us?”

“Of course he does not; he is most liberal to her, and if he inquired– “

“Then we are all right; we will send in the bill to him.”

“But, my good sir,” urged Van Klopen, “it was only last week that she paid us a heavy sum on account.”

“The more reason to press her, for she must be hard up.”

Van Klopen would have argued further, but an imperious sign from Mascarin reduced him to silence.

“Listen to me,” said Mascarin, “and please do not interrupt me. Are you known to the domestics at the house of the Viscountess?”

“Not at all.”

“Well, then, at three o’clock sharp, the day after to-morrow, call on her. Her footman will say that Madame has a visitor with her.”

“I will say I will wait.”

“Not at all. You must almost force your way in, and you will find the Viscountess talking to the Marquis de Croisenois. You know him, I suppose?”

“By sight–nothing more.”

“That is sufficient. Take no notice of him; but at once present your bill, and violently insist upon immediate payment.”

“What can you be thinking of? She will have me kicked out of doors.”

“Quite likely; but you must threaten to take the bill to her husband. She will command you to leave the house, but you will sit down doggedly and declare that you will not move until you get the money.”

“But that is most unbusinesslike behavior.”

“I quite agree with you; but the Marquis de Croisenois will interfere; he will throw a pocketbook in your face, exclaiming, ‘There is your money, you impudent scoundrel!’ “

“Then I am to slink away?”

“Yes, but before doing so, you will give a receipt in this form– ‘Received from the Marquis de Croisenois, the sum of so many francs, in settlement of the account of the Viscountess Bois Arden.’ “

“If I could only understand the game,” muttered the puzzled Van Klopen.

“There is no necessity for that now; only act up to your instructions.”

“I will obey, but remember that we shall not only lose her custom, but that of all her acquaintance.”

Again the same angry sounds were heard in the corridor.

“It is scandalous,” cried a voice. “I have been waiting an hour; my sword and armor. What, ho, lackeys; hither, I say. Van Klopen is engaged, is he? Hie to him and say I must see him at once.”

The two accomplices exchanged looks, as though they recognized the shrill, squeaky voice.

“That is our man,” whispered Mascarin, as the door was violently flung open, and Gaston de Gandelu burst in. He was dressed even more extravagantly than usual, and his face was inflamed with rage.

“Here am I,” cried he; “and an awful rage I am in. Why, I have been waiting twenty minutes. I don’t care a curse for your rules and regulations.”

The tailor was furious at this intrusion; but as Mascarin was present, and he felt that he must respect his orders, he by a great effort controlled himself.

“Had I known, sir,” said he sulkily, “that you were here—-“

These few words mollified the gorgeous youth, who at once broke in.

“I accept your apologies,” cried he; “the lackeys remove our arms, the joust is over. My horses have been standing all this time, and may have taken cold. Of course you have seen my horses. Splendid animals, are they not? Zora is in the other room. Quick, fetch her here.”

With these words he rushed into the passage and shouted out, “Zora, Mademoiselle de Chantemille, my dear one, come hither.”

The renowned tailor was exquisitely uncomfortable at so terrible a scene in his establishment. He cast an appealing glance at Mascarin, but the face of the agent seemed carved in marble. As to Paul, he was quite prepared to accept this young gentleman as a perfect type of the glass of fashion and the mould of form, and could not forbear pitying him in his heart. He went across the room to Mascarin.

“Is there no way,” whispered he, “of saving this poor young fellow?”

Mascarin smiled one of those livid smiles which chilled the hearts of those who knew him thoroughly.

“In fifteen minutes,” said he, “I will put the same question to you, leaving you to reply to it. Hush, this is the first real test that you have been subjected to; if you are not strong enough to go through it, then we had better say farewell. Be firm, for a thunderbolt is about to fall!”

The manner in which these apparently trivial words were spoken startled Paul, who, by a strong effort, recovered his self-possession; but, prepared as he was, it was with the utmost difficulty that he stifled the expression of rage and surprise that rose to his lips at the sight of the woman who entered the room. The Madame de Chantemille, the Zora of the youthful Gandelu, was there, attired in what to his eyes seemed a most dazzling costume. Rose seemed a little timid as Gandelu almost dragged her into the room.

“How silly you are!” said he. “What is there to be frightened at? He is only in a rage with his flunkies for having kept us waiting.”

Zora sank negligently into an easy chair, and the gorgeously attired youth addressed the all-powerful Van Klopen.

“Well, have you invented a costume that will be worthy of Madame’s charms?”

For a few moments Van Klopen appeared to be buried in profound meditation.

“Ah,” said he, raising his hand with a grandiloquent gesture, “I have it; I can see it all in my mind’s eye.”

“What a man!” murmured Gaston in deep admiration.

“Listen,” resumed the tailor, his eye flashing with the fire of genius. “First, a walking costume with a polonaise and a cape /a la pensionnaire/; bodice, sleeves, and underskirt of a brilliant chestnut—-“

He might have continued in this strain for a long time, and Zora would not have heard a word, for she had caught sight of Paul, and in spite of all her audacity, she nearly fainted. She was so ill at ease, that young Gandelu at last perceived it; but not knowing the effect that the appearance of Paul would necessarily cause, and being also rather dull of comprehension he could not understand the reason for it.

“Hold hard, Van Klopen, hold hard! the joy has been too much for her, and I will lay you ten to one that she is going into hysterics.”

Mascarin saw that Paul’s temper might blaze forth at any moment, and so hastened to put an end to a scene which was as absurd as it was dangerous.

“Well, Van Klopen, I will say farewell,” said he. “Good morning, madame; good morning, sir;” and taking Paul by the arm, he led him away by a private exit which did not necessitate their passing through the great reception-room.

It was time for him to do so, and not until they were in the street did the wily Mascarin breathe freely.

“Well, what do you say, now?” asked he.

Paul’s vanity had been so deeply wounded, and the effort that he had made to restrain himself so powerful, that he could only reply by a gasp.

“He felt it more than I thought he would,” said Mascarin to himself. “The fresh air will revive him.”

Paul’s legs bent under him, and he staggered so that Mascarin led him into a little /café/ hard by, and ordered a glass of cognac, and in a short time Paul was himself once again.

“You are better now,” observed Mascarin; and then, believing it would be best to finish his work, he added, “A quarter of an hour ago I promised that I would ask you to settle what our intentions were to be regarding M. de Gandelu.”

“That is enough,” broke in Paul, violently.

Mascarin put on his most benevolent smile.

“You see,” remarked he, “how circumstances change ideas. Now you are getting quite reasonable.”

“Yes, I am reasonable enough now; that is, that I mean to be wealthy. You have no need to urge me on any more. I am willing to do whatever you desire, for I will never again endure degradation like that I have gone through to-day.”

“You have let temper get the better of you,” returned Mascarin, with a shrug of his shoulders.

“My anger may pass over, but my determination will remain as strong as ever.”

“Do not decide without thinking the matter well over,” answered the agent. “To-day you are your own master; but if you give yourself up to me, you must resign your dearly loved liberty.”

“I am prepared for all.”

Victory had inclined to the side of Mascarin, and he was proportionally jubilant.

“Good,” said he. “Then Dr. Hortebise shall introduce you to Martin Rigal, the father of Mademoiselle Flavia, and one week after your marriage I will give you a duke’s coronet to put on the panels of your carriage.”

CHAPTER XII.

A STARTLING REVELATION.

When Sabine de Mussidan told her lover that she would appeal to the generosity of M. de Breulh-Faverlay, she had not calculated on the necessity she would have for endurance, but had rather listened to the dictates of her heart; and this fact came the more strongly before her, when in the solitude of her own chamber, she inquired of herself how she was to carry out her promise. It seemed to her very terrible to have to lay bare the secrets of her soul to any one, but the more so to M. de Breulh-Faverlay, who had asked for her hand in marriage. She uttered no word on her way home, where she arrived just in time to take her place at the dinner table, and never was a more dismal company assembled for the evening meal. Her own miseries occupied Sabine, and her father and mother were suffering from their interviews with Mascarin and Dr. Hortebise. What did the liveried servants, who waited at table with such an affectation of interest, care for the sorrows of their master or mistress? They were well lodged and well fed, and nothing save their wages did they care for. By nine o’clock Sabine was in her own room trying to grow accustomed to the thoughts of an interview with M. de Breulh-Faverlay. She hardly closed her eyes all night, and felt worn out and dispirited by musing; but she never thought of evading the promise she had made to Andre, or of putting it off for a time. She had vowed to lose no time, and her lover was eagerly awaiting a letter from her, telling him of the result. In the perplexity in which she found herself, she could not confide in either father or mother, for she felt that a cloud hung over both their lives, though she knew not what it was. When she left the convent where she had been educated, and returned home, she felt that she was in the way, and that the day of her marriage would be one of liberation to her parents from their cares and responsibilities. All this prayed terribly upon her mind, and might have driven a less pure- minded girl to desperate measures. It seemed to her that it would be less painful to fly from her father’s house than to have this interview with M. de Breulh-Faverlay. Luckily for her, frail as she looked, she possessed an indomitable will, and this carried her through most of her difficulties.

For Andre’s sake, as well as her own, she did not wish to violate any of the unwritten canons of society, but she longed for the hour to come when she could acknowledge her love openly to the world. At one moment she thought of writing a letter, but dismissed the thought as the height of folly. As the time passed Sabine began to reproach herself for her cowardice. All at once she heard the clang of the opening of the main gates. Peeping from her window, she saw a carriage drive up, and, to her inexpressible delight, M. de Breulh-Faverlay alighted from it.

“Heaven has heard my prayer, and sent him to me,” murmured she.

“What do you intend to do, Mademoiselle?” asked the devoted Modeste; “will you speak to him now?”

“Yes, I will. My mother is still in her dressing-room, and no one will venture to disturb my father in the library. If I meet M. de Breulh- Faverlay in the hall and take him into the drawing-room, I shall have time for a quarter of an hour’s talk, and that will be sufficient.”

Calling up all her courage, she left her room on her errand. Had Andre seen the man selected by the Count de Mussidan for his daughter’s husband, he might well have been proud of her preference for him. M. de Breulh-Faverlay was one of the best known men in Paris, and fortune had showered all her blessings on his head. He was not forty, of an extremely aristocratic appearance, highly educated, and witty; and, in addition, one of the largest landholders in the country. He had always refused to enter public life. “For,” he would say to those who spoke to him on the matter, “I have enough to spend my money on without making myself ridiculous.” He was a perfect type of what a French gentleman should be–courteous, of unblemished reputation, and full of chivalrous devotion and generosity. He was, it is said, a great favorite with the fair sex; but, if report spoke truly, his discretion was as great as his success. He had not always been wealthy, and there was a mysterious romance in his life. When he was only twenty, he had sailed for South America, where he remained twelve years, and returned no richer than he was before; but shortly afterward his aged uncle, the Marquis de Faverlay, died bequeathing his immense fortune to his nephew on the condition that he should add the name of Faverlay to that of De Breulh. De Breulh was passionately fond of horses; but he was really a lover of them, and not a mere turfite, and this was all that the world knew of the man who held in his hands the fates of Sabine de Mussidan and Andre. As soon as he caught sight of Sabine he made a profound inclination.

The girl came straight up to him.

“Sir,” said she, in a voice broken by conflicting emotions, “may I request the pleasure of a short private conversation with you?”

“Mademoiselle,” answered De Breulh, concealing his surprise beneath another bow, “I am at your disposal.”

One of the footmen, at a word from Sabine, threw open the door of the drawing-room in which the Countess had thrown down her arms in her duel with Dr. Hortebise. Sabine did not ask her visitor to be seated, but leaning her elbow on the marble mantel-piece, she said, after a silence equally trying to both,–

“This strange conduct on my part, sir, will show you, more than any explanation, my sincerity, and the perfect confidence with which you have inspired me.”

She paused, but De Breulh made no reply, for he was perfectly mystified.

“You are,” she continued, “my parents’ intimate friend, and must have seen the discomforts of our domestic hearth, and that though both my father and mother are living, I am as desolate as the veriest orphan.”

Fearing that M. de Breulh might not understand her reason for speaking thus, she threw a shade of haughtiness into her manner as she resumed,–

“My reason, sir, for seeing you to-day is to ask,–nay, to entreat you, to release me from my engagement to you, and to take the whole responsibility of the rupture on yourself.”

Man of the world as he was, M. de Breulh could not conceal his surprise, in which a certain amount of wounded self-love was mingled.

“Mademoiselle!” commenced he–

Sabine interrupted him.

“I am asking a great favor, and your granting it will spare me many hours of grief and sadness, and,” she added, as a faint smile flickered across her pallid features, “I am aware that I am asking but a trifling sacrifice on your part. You know scarcely anything of me, and therefore you can only feel indifference toward me.”

“You are mistaken,” replied the young man gravely; “and you do not judge me rightly. I am not a mere boy, and always consider a step before I take it; and if I asked for your hand, it was because I had learned to appreciate the greatness both of your heart and intellect; and I believe that if you would condescend to accept me, we could be very happy together.”

The girl seemed about to speak, but De Breulh continued,–

“It seems, however, that I have in some way displeased you,–I do not know how; but, believe me, it will be a source of sorrow to me for the rest of my life.”

De Breulh’s sincerity was so evident, that Mademoiselle de Mussidan was deeply affected.

“You have not displeased me in any way,” answered she softly, “and are far too good for me. To have become your wife would have made me a proud and happy woman.”

Here she stopped, almost choked by her tears, but M. de Breulh wished to fathom this mystery.

“Why then this resolve?” asked he.

“Because,” replied Sabine faintly, as she hid her face,–“because I have given all my love to another.”

The young man uttered an exclamation so full of angry surprise, that Sabine turned upon him at once.

“Yes, sir,” answered she, “to another; one utterly unknown to my parents, yet one who is inexpressibly dear to me. This ought not to irritate you, for I gave him my love long before I met you. Besides, you have every advantage over him. He is at the foot, while you are at the summit, of the social ladder. You are of aristocratic lineage,–he is one of the people. You have a noble name,–he does not even know his own. Your wealth is enormous,–while he works hard for his daily bread. He has all the fire of genius, but the cruel cares of life drag and fetter him to the earth. He carries on a workman’s trade to supply funds to study his beloved art.”

Incautiously, Sabine had chosen the very means to wound this noble gentleman most cruelly, for her whole beauty blazed out as, inflamed by her passion, she spoke so eloquently of Andre and drew such a parallel between the two young men.

“Now, sir,” said she, “do you comprehend me? I know the terrible social abyss which divides me from the man I love, and the future may hold in store some terrible punishment for my fidelity to him, but no one shall ever hear a word of complaint from my lips, for—-” she hesitated, and then uttered these simple words–“for I love him.”

M. de Breulh listened with an outwardly impassible face, but the venomed tooth of jealousy was gnawing at his heart. He had not told Sabine the entire truth, for he had studied her for a long time, and his love had grown firm and strong. Without an unkind thought the girl had shattered the edifice which he had built up with such care and pain. He would have given his name, rank, and title to have been in this unknown lover’s place, who, though he worked for his bread, and had no grand ancestral name, was yet so fondly loved. Many a man in his position would have shrugged his shoulders and coldly sneered at the words, “I love him,” but he did not, for his nature was sufficiently noble to sympathize with hers. He admired her courage and frankness, which disdaining all subterfuges, went straight and unhesitatingly to the point she desired to reach. She might be imprudent and reckless, but in his eyes these seemed hardly to be faults, for it is seldom that convent-bred young ladies err in this way.

“But this man,” said he, after a long pause,–“how do you manage ever to see him?

“I meet him out walking,” replied she, “and I sometimes go to his studio.”

“To his studio?”

“Yes, I have sat to him several times for my portrait; but I have never done anything that I need blush to own. You know all now, sir,” continued Sabine; “and it has been very hard for a young girl like me to say all this to you. It is a thing that ought to be confided to my mother.”

Only those who have heard a woman that they are ardently attached to say, “I do not love you,” can picture M. de Breulh’s frame of mind. Had any one else than Sabine made this communication he would not have withdrawn, but would have contested the prize with his more fortunate rival. But now that Mademoiselle de Mussidan had, as it were, thrown herself upon his mercy, he could not bring himself to take advantage of her confidence.

“It shall be as you desire,” said he, with a faint tinge of bitterness in his tone. “To-night I will write to your father, and withdraw my demand for your hand. It is the first time that I have ever gone back from my word; and I am sure that your father will be highly indignant.”

Sabine’s strength and firmness had now entirely deserted her. “From the depth of my soul, sir,” said she, “I thank you; for by this act of generosity I shall avoid a contest that I dreaded.”

“Unfortunately,” broke in De Breulh, “you do not see how useless to you will be the sacrifice that you exact from me. Listen! you have not appeared much in society; and when you did, it was in the character of my betrothed; as soon as I withdraw hosts of aspirants for your hand will spring up.”

Sabine heaved a deep sigh, for Andre had foreseen the same result.

“Then,” continued De Breulh, “your situation will become even a more trying one; for if your noble qualities are not enough to excite admiration in the bosoms of the other sex, your immense wealth will arouse the cupidity of the fortune-hunters.”

When De Breulh referred to fortune-hunters, was this a side blow at Andre? With this thought rushing through her brain, she gazed upon him eagerly, but read no meaning in his eyes.

“Yes,” answered she dreamily, “it is true that I am very wealthy.”

“And what will be your reply to the next suitor, and to the one after that?” asked De Breulh.

“I know not; but I shall find some loophole of escape when the time comes; for if I act in obedience to the dictates of my heart and conscience, I cannot do wrong, for Heaven will come to my aid.”

The phrase sounded like a dismissal; but De Breulh, man of the world as he was, did not accept it.

“May I permit myself to offer you a word of advice?”

“Do so, sir.”

“Very well, then; why not permit matters to remain as they now are? So long as our rupture is not public property, so long will you be left in peace. It would be the simplest thing in the world to postpone all decisive steps for a twelvemonth, and I would withdraw as soon as you notified me that it was time.”

Sabine put every confidence in this proposal, believing that everything was in good faith. “But,” said she, “such a subterfuge would be unworthy of us all.”

M. de Breulh did not urge this point; a feeling of deep sympathy had succeeded to his wounded pride; and, with all the chivalrous instinct of his race, he determined to do his best to assist these lovers.

“Might I be permitted,” asked he, “now that you have placed so much confidence in me, to make the acquaintance of the man whom you have honored with your love?”

Sabine colored deeply. “I have no reason to conceal anything from you: his name is Andre, he is a painter, and lives in the Rue de la Tour d’Auvergne.”

De Breulh made a mental note of the name, and continued,–

“Do not think that I ask this question from mere idle curiosity; my only desire is to aid you. I should be glad to be a something in your life. I have influential friends and connections—-“

Sabine was deeply wounded. Did this man propose patronizing Andre, and thus place his position and wealth in contrast with that of the obscure painter? In his eagerness de Breulh had made a false move.

“I thank you,” answered she coldly; “but Andre is very proud, and any offer of assistance would wound him deeply. Forgive my scruples, which are perhaps exaggerated and absurd. All he has of his own are his self-respect and his natural pride.”

As she spoke, Sabine rang the bell, to show her visitor that the conversation was at an end.

“Have you informed my mother of M. de Breulh-Faverlay’s arrival?” asked she, as the footman appeared at the door.

“I have not, mademoiselle; for both the Count and Countess gave the strictest order that they were not to be disturbed on any pretext whatsoever.”

“Why did you not tell me that before?” demanded M. de Breulh; and, without waiting for any explanation, he bowed gravely to Sabine, and quitted the room, after apologizing for his involuntary intrusion, and by his manner permitted all the domestics to see that he was much put out.

“Ah!” sighed Sabine, “that man is worthy of some good and true woman’s affection.”

As she was about to leave the room, she heard some one insisting upon seeing the Count de Mussidan. Not being desirous of meeting strangers, she remained where she was. The servant persisted in saying that his master could receive no one.

“What do I care for your orders?” cried the visitor; “your master would never refuse to see his friend the Baron de Clinchain;” and, thrusting the lackey on one side, he entered the drawing-room; and his agitation was so great that he hardly noticed the presence of the young girl.

M. de Clinchain was a thoroughly commonplace looking personage in face, figure, and dress, neither tall nor short, handsome nor ill- looking. The only noticeable point in his attire was that he wore a coral hand on his watch chain; for the Baron was a firm believer in the evil eye. When a young man, he was most methodical in his habits; and, as he grew older, this became an absolute mania with him. When he was twenty, he recorded in his diary the pulsations of his heart, and at forty he added remarks regarding his digestion and general health.

“What a fearful blow!” murmured he; “and to fall at such a moment when I had indulged in a more hearty dinner than usual. I shall feel it for the next six months, even if it does not kill me outright.”

Just then M. de Mussidan entered the room, and the excited man ran up to him, exclaiming,–

“For Heaven’s sake, Octave, save us both, by cancelling your daughter’s engagement with M. de–“

The Count laid his hand upon his friend’s lips.

“Are you mad?” said he; “my daughter is here.”

In obedience to a warning gesture, Sabine left the room; but she had heard enough to fill her heart with agitation and terror. What engagement was to be cancelled, and how could such a rupture affect her father or his friend? That there was some mystery, was proved by the question with which the Count had prevented his friend from saying any more. She was sure that it was the name of M. de Breulh-Faverlay with which the Baron was about to close his sentence, and felt that the destiny of her life was to be decided in the conversation about to take place between her father and his visitor. It was deep anxiety that she felt, not mere curiosity; and while these thoughts passed through her brain, she remembered that she could hear all from the card-room, the doorway of which was only separated from the drawing- room by a curtain. With a soft, gliding step she gained her hiding- place and listened intently. The Baron was still pouring out his lamentations.

“What a fearful day this has been!” groaned the unhappy man. “I ate much too heavy a breakfast, I have been terribly excited, and came here a great deal too fast. A fit of passion caused by a servant’s insolence, joy at seeing you, then a sudden interruption to what I was going to say, are a great deal more than sufficient to cause a serious illness at my age.”

But the Count, who was usually most considerate of his friend’s foibles, was not in a humor to listen to him.

“Come, let us talk sense,” said he sharply; “tell me what has occurred.”

“Occurred!” groaned De Clinchain; “oh, nothing, except that the whole truth is known regarding what took place in the little wood so many years back. I had an anonymous letter this morning, threatening me with all sorts of terrible consequences if I do not hinder you from marrying your daughter to De Breulh. The rogues say that they can prove everything.”

“Have you the letter with you?”

De Clinchain drew the missive from his pocket. It was to the full as threatening as he had said; but M. de Mussidan knew all its contents beforehand.

“Have you examined your diary, and are the three leaves really missing?”

“They are.”

“How were they stolen? Are you sure of your servants?”

“Certainly; my valet has been sixteen years in my service. You know Lorin? The volumes of my diary are always locked up in the escritoire, the key of which never leaves me. And none of the other servants ever enter my room.”

“Some one must have done so, however.”

Clinchain struck his forehead, as though an idea had suddenly flashed across his brain.

“I can partly guess,” said he. “Some time ago Lorin went for a holiday, and got drunk with some fellows he picked up in the train. Drink brought on fighting, and he was so knocked about that he was laid up for some weeks. He had a severe knife wound in the shoulder and was much bruised.”

“Who took his place?”

“A young fellow that my groom got at a servants’ registry office.”

M. de Mussidan felt that he was on the right track, for he remembered that the man who had called on him had had the audacity to leave a card, on which was marked:

“B. MASCARIN, Servants’ Registry Office, “Rue Montorgueil.”

“Do you know where this place is?” asked he.

“Certainly; in the Rue du Dauphin nearly opposite to my house.”

The Count swore a deep oath. “The rogues are very wily; but, my dear fellow if you are ready, we will defy the storm together.”

De Clinchain felt a cold tremor pass through his whole frame at this