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“Then you too are watching Caroline,” said he. “I knew well that there was some one else in the field, but that was no matter of mine.”

“Well, tell me why you are watching her?”

“How can you ask me? You know that my motto is silence and discretion, and that this is a secret intrusted to my honor.”

Tantaine shrugged his shoulders.

“Why do you talk like that, when you know very well that you are following Ambrose on your own account, hoping by that means to penetrate a secret, only a small portion of which has been intrusted to you?” remarked he.

“Are you certain of this statement?” asked the man, with a cunning look.

“So sure that I can tell you that the matter was placed in your hands by a certain M. Catenac.”

The expression in Perpignan’s face changed from astonishment to fear.

“Why, this Mascarin knows everything,” muttered he.

“No,” replied Tantaine, “my master does not know everything, and the proof of this is, that I have come to ask you what occurred between Catenac’s client and yourself, and this is the service that we expect from you.”

“Well, if I must, I must. About three weeks ago, one morning, I had just finished with half a dozen clients at my office in the Rue de Fame, when my servant brought me Catenac’s card. After some talk, he asked me if I could find out a person that he had utterly lost sight of. Of course I said, yes, I could. Upon this he asked me to make an appointment for ten the next morning, when some one would call on me regarding the affair. At the appointed time a shabbily dressed man was shown in. I looked at him up and down, and saw that, in spite of his greasy hat and threadbare coat, his linen was of the finest kind, and that his shoes were the work of one of our best bootmakers. ‘Aha,’ said I to myself, ‘you thought to take me in, did you!’ I handed him a chair, and he at once proceeded to let me into his reasons for coming. ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘my life has not been a very happy one, and once I was compelled to take to the Foundling Asylum a child that I loved very dearly, the son of a woman whom I adored. She is dead now, and I am old and solitary. I have a small property, and would give half of it to recover the child. Tell me, is there any chance of my doing so?’ You must imagine, my dear sir,” continued he, after a slight pause, “that I was much interested in this story, for I said to myself, that the man’s fortune must be a very small one if half of it would not amply repay me for making a journey to the Foundling Hospital. So I agreed to undertake the business, but the old fellow was too sharp for me. ‘Stop a bit, and let me finish,’ said he, ‘and you will see that your task will not be so easy as you seem to think it.’ I, of course, bragged of my enormous sources of information, and the probability of ultimate success.”

“Keep to your story,” said Tantaine impatiently, “I know all about that.”

“I will leave you, then, to imagine all I said to the old man, who listened to me with great satisfaction. ‘I only hope that you are as skilful as M. Catenac says you are, and have as much influence and power as you assert, for no man has a finer chance than you now have. I have tried all means up to this, but I have failed.’ I went first to the hospital where the child had been placed, and they showed me the register containing the date of his admission, but no one knew what had become of him, for at twelve years of age he had left the place, and no one had heard of him since; and in spite of every effort, I have been unable to discover whether he is alive or dead.”

“A pretty riddle to guess,” remarked Tantaine.

“An enigma that it is impossible to solve,” returned Perpignan. “How is one to get hold of a boy who vanished ten years ago, and who must now be a grown-up man?”

“We could do it.”

Tantaine’s tone was so decided, that the other man looked sharply at him with a vague suspicion rising in his breast that the affair had also been placed in Mascarin’s hands; and if so, whether he had worked it with more success than himself.

“You might, for all I know; but I felt that the clue was absolutely wanting,” answered Perpignan sulkily. “I put on a bold face, however, and asked for the boy’s description. The man told me that he could provide me with an accurate one, for that many people, notably the lady superior, remembered the lad. He could also give other details which might be useful.”

“And these you obtained, of course?”

“Not yet.”

“Are you joking?”

“Not a bit. I do not know whether the old man was sharp enough to read in the expression of my features that I had not the smallest hope of success; be that as it may, he could give me no further information that day, declaring that he came in only to consult me, and that everything must be done in a most confidential way. I hastened to assure him that my office was a perfect tomb of secrets. He told me that he took that for granted. Then telling me that he wished me to draw up a /precis/ of my intended course, he took out a note for five hundred francs, which he handed to me for my time. I refused to take it, though it cost me a struggle to do so, for I thought that I should make more out of him later on. But he insisted on my taking it, saying that he would see me again soon, and that Catenac would communicate with me. He left me less interested in the search than in who this old man could possibly be.”

Tantaine felt that Perpignan was telling the truth.

“Did you not try and find out that?” asked he.

Perpignan hesitated; but feeling convinced that there was no loophole for escape, he answered, “Hardly had my visitor left than, slipping on a cap and a workman’s blouse, I followed him in his track, and saw him enter one of the finest houses in the Rue de Varennes.”

“He lived there then?”

“He did, and he was a very well-known man–the Duke de Champdoce.”

“Yes, I know all that,” answered Tantaine, placidly, “but I can’t, for the life of me, imagine the connection between the Duke and Caroline Schimmel.”

Perpignan raised his eyebrows.

“Why did you put a man to watch her?” asked Tantaine.

“My reasons for doing so were most simple. I made every inquiry regarding the Duke; learned that he was very wealthy, and lived a very steady life. He is married, and loves his wife dearly. They had one son, whom they lost a year ago, and have never recovered from the shock. I imagine that this Duke, having lost his legitimate heir, wished me to find his other son. Do you not think that I am right?”

“There is something in it; but, after all, you have not explained your reasons for watching Caroline.”

Perpignan was no match for Mascarin’s right-hand man, but he was keen enough to discern that Tantaine was putting a string of questions to him which had been prepared in advance. This he, however, was powerless to resent.

“As you may believe,” said he, “I made every inquiry into the past as well as the present of the Duke, and also tried to discover who was the mother of the child, but in this I entirely failed.”

“What! not with all your means?” cried Tantaine, with a sneer.

“Laugh at me as much as you like; but out of the thirty servants in the Champdoce establishment, not one has been there more than ten years. Nor could I anywhere lay my hands upon one who had been in the Duke’s service in his youth. Once, however, as I was in the wineshop in the Rue de Varennes, I quite by chance heard allusion made to a woman who had been in the service of the Duke twenty-five years ago, and who was now in receipt of a small allowance from him. This woman was Caroline Schimmel. I easily found out her address, and set a watch on her.”

“And of what use will she be to you?”

“Very little, I fear. And yet the allowance looks as if she had at one time done something out of the way for her employers. Can it be that she has any knowledge of the birth of this natural child?”

“I don’t think much of your idea,” returned Tantaine carelessly.

“Since then,” continued Perpignan, “the Duke has never put in an appearance in my office.”

“But how about Catenac?”

“I have seen him three times.”

“Has he told you nothing more? Do you not even know in which hospital the child was placed?”

“No; and on my last visit I plainly told him that I was getting sick of all this mystery; and he said that he himself was tired, and was sorry that he had ever meddled in the affair.”

Tantaine was not surprised at hearing this, and accounted for Catenac’s change of front by the threats of Mascarin.

“Well, what do you draw from this?” asked he.

“That Catenac has no more information than I have. The Duke most likely proposes to drop the affair; but, were I in his place, I should be afraid to find the boy, however much I might at one time have desired to do so. He may be in prison–the most likely thing for a lad who, at twelve years of age, ran away from a place where he was well treated. I have, however, planned a mode of operation, for, with patience, money, and skill, much might be done.”

“I agree with you.”

“Then let me tell you. I have drawn an imaginary circle round Paris. I said to myself, ‘I will visit every house and inn in the villages round within this radius; I will enter every isolated dwelling, and will say to the inhabitants, “Do any of you remember at any time sheltering and feeding a child, dressed in such and such a manner?” ‘ giving at the same time a description of him. I am sure that I should find some one who would answer in the affirmative. Then I should gain a clue which I would follow up to the end.”

This plan appeared so ingenious to Tantaine, that he involuntarily exclaimed,–

“Good! excellent!”

Perpignan hardly knew whether Tantaine was praising or blaming him. His manner might have meant either.

“You are very fast,” returned he dismally. “Perhaps presently you will be good enough to allow that I am not an absolute fool. Do you really think that I am an idiot? At any rate, I sometimes hit upon a judicious combination. For example, with regard to this boy, I have a notion which, if properly worked might lead to something.”

“Might I ask what it is?”

“I speak confidentially. If it is impossible to lay our hands upon the real boy, why should we not substitute another?”

At this suggestion, Tantaine started violently.

“It would be most dangerous, most hazardous,” gasped he.

“You are afraid, then?” said Perpignan, delighted at the effect his proposal had made.

“It seems it is you who were afraid,” retorted Tantaine.

“You do not know me when you say that,” said Perpignan.

“If you were not afraid,” asked Tantaine, in his most oily voice, “why did you not carry out your plan?”

“Because there was one obstacle that could not be got over.”

“Well, I can’t see it myself,” returned Tantaine, desirous of hearing every detail.

“Ah, there is one thing that I omitted in my narrative. The Duke informed me that he could prove the identity of the boy by certain scars.”

“Scars? And of what kind, pray?”

“Now you are asking me too much. I do not know.”

On receiving this reply, Tantaine rose hastily from his chair, and thus concealed his agitation from his companion.

“I have a hundred apologies to make for taking up so much of your valuable time. My master has got it into his head that you were after the same game as ourselves. He was mistaken, and now we leave the field clear to you.”

Before Perpignan could make any reply, the old man had passed through the doorway. On the threshold he paused, and said,–

“Were I in your place, I would stick to my first plan. You will never find the boy, but you will get several thousand francs out of the Duke, which I am sure will come in handy.”

“There are scars now, then,” muttered Tantaine, as he moved away from the house, “and that Master Catenac never said a word about them!”

CHAPTER XXIII.

FATHER AND SON.

Two hours after Andre had left the Avenue de Matignon, one of Mascarin’s most trusty emissaries was at his heels, who could watch his actions with the tenacity of a bloodhound. Andre, however, now that he had heard of Sabine’s convalescence, had entirely recovered the elasticity of his spirits, and would never have noticed that he was being followed. His heart, too, was much rejoiced at the friendship of M. de Breulh and the promise of assistance from the Viscountess de Bois Arden; and with the assistance of these two, he felt that he could end his difficulties.

“I must get to work again,” muttered he, as he left M. de Breulh’s hospitable house. “I have already lost too much time. To-morrow, if you look up at the scaffolding of a splendid house in the Champs Elysees, you will see me at work.”

Andre was busy all night with his plans for the rich contractor, M. Gandelu, who wanted as much ornamental work on the outside of his house as he had florid decorations within. He rose with the lark, and having gazed for a moment on Sabine’s portrait, started for the abode of M. Gandelu, the proud father of young Gaston. This celebrated contractor lived in a splendid house in the Rue Chasse d’Antin, until his more palatial residence should be completed.

When Andre presented himself at the door, an old servant, who knew him well, strongly urged him not to go up.

“Never,” said he, “in all the time that I have been with master, have I seen him in such a towering rage. Only just listen!”

It was easy to hear the noise alluded to, mingled with the breaking of glass and the smashing of furniture.

“The master has been at this game for over an hour,” remarked the servant, “ever since his lawyer, M. Catenac, has left him.”

Andre, however, decided not to postpone his visit. “I must see him in spite of everything; show me up,” said he.

With evident reluctance the domestic obeyed, and threw open the door of a room superbly furnished and decorated, in the centre of which stood M. Gandelu waving the leg of a chair frantically in his hand. He was a man of sixty years of age, but did not look fifty, built like a Hercules, with huge hands and muscular limbs which seemed to fret under the restraint of his fashionable garments. He had made his enormous fortune, of which he was considerably proud, by honest labor, and no one could say that he had not acted fairly throughout his whole career. He was coarse and violent in his manner, but he had a generous heart and never refused aid to the deserving and needy. He swore like a trooper, and his grammar was faulty; but for all that, his heart was in the right place, and he was a better man than many who boast of high birth and expensive education.

“What idiot is coming here to annoy me?” roared he, as soon as the door was opened.

“I have come by appointment,” answered Andre, and the contractor’s brow cleared as he saw who his visitor was.

“Ah, it is you, is it? Take a seat; that is, if there is a sound chair left in the room. I like you, for you have an honest face and don’t shirk hard work. You needn’t color up, though; modesty is no fault. Yes, there is something in you, and when you want a hundred thousand francs to go into business with, here it is ready for you; and had I a daughter, you should marry her, and I would build your house for you.”

“I thank you much,” said Andre; “but I have learned to depend entirely on myself.”

“True,” returned Gandelu, “you never knew your parents; you never knew what a kind father would do for his child. Do you know my son?” asked he, suddenly turning upon Andre.

This question at once gave Andre the solution of the scene before him. M. Gandelu was irritated at some folly that his son had committed. For a moment Andre hesitated; he did not care to say anything that might revive the old man’s feeling of anger, and therefore merely replied that he had only met his son Gaston two or three times.

“Gaston,” cried the old man, with a bitter oath; “do not call him that. Do you think it likely that old Nicholas Gandelu would ever have been ass enough to call his son Gaston? He was called Peter, after his grandfather, but it wasn’t a good enough one for the young fool; he wanted a swell name, and Peter had too much the savor of hard work in it for my fine gentleman. But that isn’t all; I could let that pass,” continued the old man. “Pray have you seen his cards? Over the name of Gaston de Gandelu is a count’s coronet. He a count indeed! the son of a man who has carried a hod for years!”

“Young people will be young people,” Andre ventured to observe; but the old man’s wrath would not be assuaged by a platitude like this.

“You can find no excuse for him, only the fellow is absolutely ashamed of his father. He consorts with titled fools and is in the seventh heaven if a waiter addresses him as ‘Count,’ not seeing that it is not he that is treated with respect, but the gold pieces of his old father, the working man.”

Andre’s position was now a most painful one, and he would have given a good deal not to be the recipient of a confidence which was the result of anger.

“He is only twenty, and yet see what a wreck he is,” resumed Gandelu. “His eyes are dim, and he is getting bald; he stoops, and spends his nights in drink and bad company. I have, however, only myself to blame, for I have been far too lenient; and if he had asked me for my head, I believe that I should have given it to him. He had only to ask and have. After my wife’s death, I had only the boy. Do you know what he has in this house? Why, rooms fit for a prince, two servants and four horses. I allow him monthly, fifteen hundred francs, and he goes about calling me a niggard, and has already squandered every bit of his poor mother’s fortune.” He stopped, and turned pale, for at that moment the door opened, and young Gaston, or rather Peter, slouched into the room.

“It is the common fate of fathers to be disappointed in their offspring, and to see the sons who ought to have been their honor and glory the scourge to punish their worldly aspirations,” exclaimed the old man.

“Good! that is really a very telling speech,” murmured Gaston approvingly, “considering that you have not made a special study of elocution.”

Fortunately his father did not catch these words, and continued in a voice broken by emotion, “That, M. Andre, is my son, who for twenty years has been my sole care. Well, believe it or not, as you like, he has been speculating on my death, as you might speculate on a race- horse at Vincennes.”

“No, no,” put in Gaston, but his father stopped him with a disdainful gesture.

“Have at least the courage to acknowledge your fault. You thought me blind because I said nothing, but your past conduct has opened my eyes.”

“But, father!”

“Do not attempt to deny it. This very morning my man of business, M. Catenac, wrote to me, and with that real courage which only true friends possess, told me all. I must tell you, M. Andre,” resumed the contractor, “I was ill. I had a severe attack of the gout, such as a man seldom recovers from, and my son was constant in his attendance at my sick couch. This consoled me. ‘He loves me after all,’ said I. But it was only my testamentary arrangements that he wanted to discover, and he went straight to a money-lender called Clergot and raised a hundred thousand francs assuring the blood-sucker that I had not many hours to live.”

“It is a lie!” cried Gaston, his face crimsoning with shame.

The old man raised the leg of the chair in his hand, and made so threatening a movement that Andre flung himself between father and son. “Great heavens!” cried he, “think what you are doing, sir, and forbear.”

The old man paused, passed his hand round his brow, and flung the weapon into a remote corner of the room. “I thank you,” said he, grasping Andre’s hand; “you have saved me from a great crime. In another moment I should have murdered him.”

Gaston was no coward, and he still retained the position he had been in before.

“This is quite romantic,” muttered he. “The governor seems to be going in for infanticide.”

Andre did not allow him to finish the sentence, for, grasping the young man’s wrist, he whispered fiercely, “Not another word; silence!”

“But I want to know what it all means?” answered the irrepressible youth.

“I had in my hands,” said the old man, addressing Andre, and ignoring the presence of his son, “the important paper he had copied. Yes; not more than an hour ago I read it. These were the terms: if I died within eight days from the date of signature, my son agreed to pay a bonus of thirty thousand francs; but if I lived for one month, he would take up the bill by paying one hundred and fifty thousand. If, however, by any unforeseen chance, I should recover entirely, he bound himself to pay Clergot the hundred thousand francs.”

The old man tore the cravat from his swelling throat, and wiped the beads of cold sweat that bedewed his brow.

“When this man recovers his self-command,” thought Andre, “he will never forgive me for having been the involuntary listener to this terrible tale.” But in this Andre was mistaken, for unsophisticated nature requires sympathy, and Nichols Gandelu would have said the same to the first comer.

“Before, however, delivering the hundred thousand francs, the usurer wished to make himself more secure, and asked for a certificate from some one who had seen me. This person was his friend. He spoke to me of a medical man, a specialist, who would understand my case at once. Would I not see him? Never had I seen my son so tender and affectionate. I yielded to his entreaties at last, and one evening I said to him, ‘Bring in this wonderful physician, if you really think he can do anything for me,’ and he did bring him.

“Yes, M. Andre, he found a medical man base and vile enough to become the tool of my son, and a money-lender; and if I choose, I can expose him to the loathing of the world, and the contempt of his brethren.

“The fellow came, and his visit lasted nearly an hour. I can see him now, asking questions and feeling my pulse. He went away at last, and my son followed him. They both met Clergot, who was waiting in the street. ‘You can pay him the cash; the old man won’t last twenty-four hours longer,’ said the doctor; and then my son came back happy and radiant, and assured me that I should soon be well again. And strange as it may seem, a change for the better took place that very night. Clergot had asked for forty-eight hours in which to raise the sum required. He heard of my convalescence, and my son lost the money.

“Was it courage you lacked?” asked the old man, turning for the first time to his son. “Did you not know that ten drops instead of one of the medicine I was taking would have freed you from me for ever?”

Gaston did not seem at all overwhelmed. Indeed, he was wondering how the matter had reached his father’s ears, and how Catenac had discovered the rough draft of the agreement.

The contractor had imagined that his son would implore forgiveness; but seeing that he remained obdurate, his violence burst forth again. “And do you know what use my son would make of my fortune? He would squander it on a creature he picked up out of the streets,–a woman he called Madame de Chantemille,–a fit companion for a noble count!”

The shaft had penetrated the impassability which Gaston had up to this displayed. “You should not insult Zora,” said he.

“I shall not,” returned his father with a grim laugh, “take the trouble to do that; you are not of age, and I shall clap your friend Madame de Chantemille into prison.”

“You would not do that!”

“Would I not? You are a minor; but your Zora, whose real name is Rose, is much older; the law is wholly on my side.”

“But father–“

“There is no use in crying; my lawyer has the matter in hand, and by nightfall your Zora will be securely caged.”

This blow was so cruel and unexpected, that the young man could only repeat,–

“Zora in prison!”

“Yes, in the House of Correction, and from thence to Saint Lazare. Catenac told me the very things to be done.”

“Shameful!” exclaimed Gaston, “Zora in prison! Why, I and my friends will lay siege to the place. I will go to the Court, stand by her side, and depose that this all comes from your devilish malignity. I will say that I love and esteem her, and that as soon as I am of age I will marry her; the papers will write about us. Go on, go on; I rather like the idea.”

However great a man’s self-control may be, it has its limits. M. Gandelu had restrained himself even while he told his son of his villainous conduct; but these revolting threats were more than he could endure, and Andre seeing this, stepped forward, opened the door, and thrust the foolish youth into the corridor.

“What have you done” cried the contractor; “do you not see that he will go and warn that vile creature, and that she will escape from justice?”

And as Andre, fearing he knew not what, tried to restrain him, the old man, exerting all his muscular strength, thrust him on one side with perfect ease, and rushed from the room, calling loudly to his servants.

Andre was horrified at the scene at which, in spite of himself, he had been compelled to assist as a witness. He was not a fool, and had lived too much in the world of art not to have witnessed many strange scenes and met with many dissolute characters; but, as a rule, the follies of the world had amused rather than disgusted him. But this display of want of feeling on the part of a son toward a father absolutely chilled his blood. In a few minutes M. Gandelu appeared with a calmer expression upon his face.

“I will tell you how matters now stand,” said he, in a voice that quivered in spite of his efforts. “My son is locked up in his room, and a trustworthy servant whom he cannot corrupt has mounted guard over him.”

“Do you not fear, sir, that in his excitement and anger he may—-?”

The contractor shrugged his shoulders.

“You do not know him,” answered he, “if you imagine that he resembles me in any way. What do you think that he is doing now? Lying on his bed, face downward, yelling for his Zora. Zora, indeed! As if that was a name fit for a Christian. How is it that these creatures are enabled to drug our boys and lead them anywhere? Had his mother not been a saint on earth, I should scarcely believe that he was my son.”

The contractor sank into a chair and buried his face in his hands.

“You are in pain, sir?” said Andre.

“Yes; my heart is deeply wounded. Up to this time I have only felt as a father; now I feel as a man. To-morrow I send for my family and consult with them; and I shall advertise that for the future I will not be responsible for any debts that my son may contract. He shall not have a penny, and will soon learn how society treats a man with empty pockets. As to the girl, she will disappear in double quick time. I have thoroughly weighed the consequences of sending this girl to gaol, and they are very terrible. My son will do as he has threatened, I am sure of that; and I can picture him tied to that infamous creature for life, looking into her face, and telling her that he adores her, and glorying in his dishonor, which will be repeated by every Parisian newspaper.”

“But is there no other way of proceeding?” asked Andre.

“No, none whatever. If all modern fathers had my courage, we should not have so many profligate sons. It is impossible that this conferring with the doctor and the money-lender could have originated in my son’s weak brain. He is a mere child, and some one must have put him up to it.”

The poor father was already seeking for some excuse for the son’s conduct.

“I must not dwell on this longer,” continued Gandelu, “or I shall get as mad as I was before. I will look at your plans another day. Now, let us get out of the house. Come and look at the new building in the Champs Elysees.”

The mansion in question was situated at the corner of the Rue de Chantilly, near the Avenue des Champs Elysees, and the frontage of it was still marked by scaffolding, so that but little of it could be seen. A dozen workmen, engaged by Andre, were lounging about. They had expected to see him early, and were surprised at his non-appearance, as he was usually punctuality itself. Andre greeted them in a friendly manner, but M. Gandelu, though he was always on friendly terms with his workmen, passed by them as if he did not even notice their existence. He walked through the different rooms and examined them carelessly, without seeming to take any interest in them, for his thoughts were with his son,–his only son.

After a short time he returned to Andre.

“I cannot stay longer,” said he; “I am not feeling well; I will be here to-morrow;” and he went away with his head bent down on his chest.

The workmen noticed his strange and unusual manner.

“He does not look very bright,” remarked one to his comrade. “Since his illness he has not been the same man. I think he must have had some terrible shock.”

CHAPTER XXIV.

AN ARTFUL TRICK.

Andre had removed his coat and donned his blouse, the sleeves of which were rolled up to his shoulders. “I must get to business,” murmured he, “to make up for lost time.” He set to work with great vigor, but had hardly got into the swing, when a lad came actively up the ladder and told him that a gentleman wished to see him, “and a real swell, too,” added the boy. Andre was a good deal put out at being disturbed, but when he reached the street and saw that it was M. de Breulh- Faverlay who was waiting for him, his ill-humor disappeared like chaff before the wind.

“Ah, this is really kind of you,” cried he; for he could never forget the debt of gratitude he owed to the gentleman. “A thousand thanks for remembering me. Excuse my not shaking hands, but see;” and he exhibited his palms all white with plaster. As he did so the smile died away on his lips, for he caught sight of his friend’s face.

“What is the matter?” exclaimed he, anxiously. “Is Sabine worse? Has she had a relapse?”

De Breulh shook his head, but the expression of his face clearly said,–

“Would to heavens it were only that!”

But the news that Sabine was not worse relieved Andre at once, and he patiently waited for his friend to explain.

“I have seen her twice for you,” answered De Breulh; “but it is absolutely necessary that you should come to a prompt decision on an important affair.”

“I am quite at your service,” returned Andre a good deal surprised and troubled.

“Then come with me at once, I did not drive here, but we shall not be more than a quarter of an hour in reaching my house.”

“I will follow you almost immediately. I only ask five minutes’ grace to go up to the scaffold again.”

“Have you any orders to give?”

“No, I have none.”

“Why should you go, then?”

“To make myself a little more presentable.”

“Is it an annoyance or inconvenience for you to go out in that dress?”

“Not a bit, I am thoroughly used to it; but it was for your sake.”

“If that is all, come along.”

“But people will stare at seeing you in company with a common workman.”

“Let them stare.” And drawing Andre’s arm through his, M. de Breulh set off.

Andre was right; many persons did turn round to look at the fashionably dressed gentleman walking arm in arm with a mason in his working attire, but De Breulh took but little heed, and to all Andre’s questions simply said, “Wait till we reach my house.”

At length they arrived, without having exchanged twenty words, and entering the library closed the door. M. de Breulh did not inflict the torture of suspense upon his young friend a moment longer than was necessary.

“This morning, about twelve o’clock, as I was crossing the Avenue de Matignon, I saw Modeste, who had been waiting for you more than an hour.”

“I could not help it.”

“I know that. As soon as she saw me, she ran up to me at once. She was terribly disappointed at not having seen you; but knowing our intimacy, she intrusted me with a letter for you from Mademoiselle de Mussidan.”

Andre shuddered; he felt that the note contained evil tidings, with which De Breulh was already acquainted. “Give it to me,” said he, and with trembling hands he tore open the letter and perused its contents.

“DEAREST ANDRE,–

“I love you, and shall ever continue to do so, but I have duties– most holy ones–which I must fulfil; duties which my name and position demand of me, even should the act cost me my life. We shall never meet again in this world, and this letter is the last one you will ever receive from me. Before long you will see the announcement of my marriage. Pity me, for great as your wretchedness will be, it will be as nothing compared to mine. Heaven have mercy upon us both! Andre, try and tear me out of your heart. I have not even the right to die, and oh, my darling, this–this is the last word you will ever receive from your poor unhappy

“SABINE.”

If M. de Breulh had insisted upon taking Andre home with him before he handed him the letter, it was because Modeste had given him some inkling of its contents. He feared that the effect would be tremendous upon nerves so highly strung and sensitive as those of Andre. But he need not have been alarmed on this point. As the young painter mastered the contents of the letter his features became ghastly pale, and a shudder convulsed every nerve and muscle of his frame. With a mechanical gesture he extended the paper to M. de Breulh, uttering the one word, “Read.”

His friend obeyed him, more alarmed by Andre’s laconism than he could have been by some sudden explosion of passion.

“Do not lose heart,” exclaimed he.

But Andre interrupted him. “Lose heart!” said he; “you do not know me. When Sabine was ill, perhaps dying, far away from me, I did feel cast down; but now that she tells me that she loves me, my feelings are of an entirely different nature.”

M. de Breulh was about to speak, but Andre went on.

“What is this marriage contract which my poor Sabine announces to me, as if it was her death-warrant? Her parents must all along have intended to break with you, but you were beforehand with them. Can they have received a more advantageous offer of marriage already? It is scarcely likely. When she confided the secret of her life to you, she certainly knew nothing of this. What terrible event has happened since then? My brave Sabine would never have submitted unless some coercion had been used that she could not struggle against; she would rather have quitted her father’s house for ever.”

As Andre uttered these words De Breulh’s mind was busy with similar reflections, for Modeste had given him some hint of the approaching marriage, and had begged him to be most careful how he communicated the facts to Andre.

“You must have noticed,” continued the young painter, “the strange coincidence between Sabine’s illness and this note. You left her happy and full of hope, and an hour afterward she falls senseless, as though struck by lightning; as soon as she recovers a little she sends me this terrible letter. Do you remember that Madame de Bois Arden told us that during Sabine’s illness her father and mother never left her bedside? Was not this for fear lest some guilty secret of theirs might escape her lips in a crisis of delirium?”

“Yes, I remember that, and I have long had reason to imagine that there is some terrible family secret in the Mussidans’ family, such as we too often find among the descendants of noble houses.”

“What can it be?”

“That I have no means of ascertaining, but that there is one I am sure.”

Andre turned away and paced rapidly up and down the room. “Yes,” said he, suddenly, “there is a mystery; but you and I will leave no stone unturned until we penetrate it.” He drew a chair close to the side of his friend, who was reclining on a couch. “Listen,” said he, “and correct me if you fancy that I am not right in what I am saying. Do you believe that the most terrible necessity alone has compelled Sabine to write this letter?”

“Most certainly.”

“Both the Count and Countess were willing to accept you as their son- in-law?”

“Exactly so.”

“Could M. de Mussidan have found a more brilliant match for his daughter, one who could unite so many advantages of experience and education to so enormous a fortune?”

De Breulh could hardly repress a smile.

“I am not wishing to pay you a compliment,” said Andre impatiently. “Reply to my question.”

“Very well then, I admit that according to the opinion of the world, I was a most eligible suitor, and that M. de Mussidan would find it hard to replace me.”

“Then tell me how it comes about that neither the Count nor the Countess has made any effort to prevent this rupture?”

“Their pride, perhaps, has been wounded.”

“Not so, for Modeste tells us that on the very day you sent the letter the Count was going to call on you to break off the engagement.”

“Yes, that is so, if we are to believe Modeste.”

As if to give more emphasis to his words, Andre started to his feet. “This,” cried he, “this man, who has so suddenly appeared upon the scene, will marry Sabine, not only against her own will, but against that of her parents, and for what reason? Who is this man, and what is the mysterious power that he possesses? His power is too great to spring from an honorable source. Sabine is sacrificing herself to this man for some reason or other, and he, like a dastardly cur, is ready to take advantage of the nobleness of her heart.”

“I admit the correctness of your supposition,” said he; “and now, how do you propose to act?”

“I shall do nothing as yet,” answered the young man, with a fierce gleam in his eyes. “Sabine asks me to tear her from my heart. I will affect to do so for the time. Modeste believes in me, and will help me. I have patience. The villain who has wrecked my life does not know me, and I will only reveal myself upon the day that I hold him helpless in my hand.”

“Take care, Andre,” urged De Breulh; “a false step would ruin your hopes for ever.”

“I will make none; as soon as I have this man’s name, I will insult him; there will be a duel, and I shall kill him–or he me.”

“A duel will be the height of madness, and would ruin all your hopes of marriage with Sabine.”

“The only thing that holds me back is that I do not wish that there should be a corpse between Sabine and myself. Blood on a bridal dress, they say, brings misery; and if this man is what I suspect him to be, I should be doing him too much honor if I crossed swords with him. No, I must have a deeper vengeance than this, for I can never forget that he nearly caused Sabine’s death.”

He paused for a few seconds, and once again broke the silence which reigned in the room.

“To abuse the power that he must possess shows what a miserable wretch he must be; and men do not attain such a height of infamy by a single bound. The course of his life must be full of similar crimes, growing deeper and deadlier as he moves on. I will make it my business to unmask him and to hold him up to the scorn and contempt of his fellow- men.”

“Yes; that is the plan to pursue.”

“And we will do so, sir. Ah! heaven help me! I say ‘we,’ for I have relied on you. The generous offer that you made to me I refused, and I was in the right in doing so; but I should now be a mere madman if I did not entreat you to grant me your aid and advice. We have both known hardship and are capable of going without food or sleep, if necessity requires it of us. We have both graduated in the school of poverty and sorrow. We can keep our plans to ourselves and act.”

Andre paused, as if waiting for a reply, but his friend remained silent.

“My plan is most simple,” resumed the young painter. “As soon as we know the fellow’s name we shall be able to act. He will never suspect us, and we can follow him like his very shadow. There are professional detectives who, for a comparatively small sum, will lay bare a man’s entire life. Are we not as clever as this fine fellow? We can work well together in our different circles; you, in the world of fashion, can pick up intelligence that I could not hope to gain; while I, from my lowly position, will study the hidden side of his life, for I can talk to the servants lounging at the front doors or the grooms at the public-houses without suspicion.”

M. de Breulh was delighted at finding that he could have some occupation which would fill up the dreary monotony of his life.

“I am yours!” cried he; “and will work with you heart and soul!”

Before the artist could reply a loud blow was struck upon the library door, and a woman’s voice exclaimed,–

“Let me in, Gontran, at once.”

“It is Madame de Bois Arden,” remarked De Breulh, drawing the bolt back; and the Viscountess rushed hastily into the room and threw herself into a low chair.

Her beautiful face was bedewed with tears, and she was in a terrible state of excitement.

“What is the matter, Clotilde?” asked De Breulh kindly, as he took her hand.

“Something terrible,” answered she with a sob; “but you may be able to help me. Can you lend me twenty thousand francs?”

De Breulh smiled; a heavy weight had been lifted from his heart.

“If that is all you require, do not shed any more tears.”

“But I want them at once.”

“Can you give me half an hour?”

“Yes; but lose no time.”

De Breulh drew a check and despatched his valet for the money.

“A thousand thanks!” said the Viscountess; “but money is not all that I require, I want your advice.”

Andre was about to leave the cousins together, but the lady stopped him.

“Pray remain, M. Andre,” said she; “you are not at all in the way; besides, I shall have to speak of some one in whom you take a very deep interest–of Mademoiselle de Mussidan, in short.

“I never knew such a strange occurrence,” continued the Viscountess, recovering her spirits rapidly, “as that to which, my dear Gontran, you owe my visit. Well, I was just going up to dress, for I had been detained by visitor after visitor, when at two o’clock another came before I could give my order, ‘Not at home.’ This was the Marquis de Croisenois, the brother of the man who twenty years ago disappeared in so mysterious a manner. I hardly knew him at all, though of course we have met in society, and he bows to me in the Bois, but that is all.”

“And yet he called on you to-day?” remarked De Breulh.

“Don’t interrupt me,” said the Viscountess. “Yes, he called, and that is enough. He is good-looking, faultlessly dressed, and talks well. He brought a letter from an old friend of my grandmother’s, the Marchioness d’Arlanges. She is a dear old thing, she uses awful language, and some of her stories are quite too–you know what I mean. In the letter the old lady said that the Marquis was one of her friends, and begged me for her sake to do him the service he required. Of course I asked him to be seated, and assured him that I would do anything that lay in my power. Then he began talking about M. de Clinchain, and told me a funny story about that eccentric man and a little actress, when I heard a great noise in the anteroom. I was about to ring and inquire the cause, when the door flew open and in came Van Klopen, the ladies’ tailor, with a very inflamed countenance. I thought that he had come in a hurry because he had hit on something extremely fetching and wished me to be the first to see it. But do you know what the impudent fellow wanted?”

A smile shone in De Breulh’s eyes, as he answered,–

“Money, perhaps!”

“You are right,” returned the Viscountess, gravely; “he brought my bill into my very drawing-room, and handed it in before a stranger. I never thought that a man who supplies the most aristocratic portion of society could have been guilty of such a piece of impertinence. I ordered him to leave the room, taking it for granted that he would do so with an apology, but I was wrong. He flew into a rage and threatened me, and swore that if I did not settle the bill on the spot, he would go to my husband. The bill was nearly twenty thousand francs; imagine my horror! I was so thunderstruck at the amount that I absolutely entreated him to give me time. But my humility added to his annoyance, and taking a seat in an armchair, he declared that he would not move from it until he received his money, or had seen my husband.”

“What was Croisenois doing all this time?” asked M. de Breulh.

“He did nothing at first, but at this last piece of audacity he took out his pocketbook, and throwing it in Van Klopen’s face, said: ‘Pay yourself, you insolent scoundrel, and get out of this.’ “

“And the tailor went off?”

“No. ‘I must give you a receipt,’ said he, and taking writing materials from his pocket, he wrote at the foot of the bill, ‘Received from the Marquis de Croisenois, on account of money owing by the Viscountess de Bois Arden, the sum of twenty thousand francs.’ “

“Well,” said De Breulh, looking very grave, “and after Van Klopen’s departure, I suppose Croisenois remained to ask the favor regarding which he had called?”

“You are mistaken,” answered his cousin. “I had great difficulty in making him speak; but at last he confessed that he was deeply in love with Mademoiselle de Mussidan, and entreated me to present him to her parents and exert all my influence in his behalf.”

Both the young men started.

“That is the man!” cried they.

“What do you mean?” asked the Viscountess, looking from one to the other.

“That your Marquis de Croisenois is a despicable scoundrel, who had imposed upon the Marchioness d’Arlanges. Just you listen to our reasons for coming to this conclusion.” And with the most perfect clearness De Breulh had the whole state of the case before the Viscountess.

The lady listened attentively, and then said,–

“Your premises are wrong; just let me say a word on the matter. You say that there is some man who by means of the influence that he exercises over the Count and Countess, can coerce them into granting him Sabine’s hand. But, my dear Gontran, an utter stranger to the family could not exercise this power. Now M. de Croisenois has never entered the doors of the house, and came to me to ask for an introduction.”

The justness of this remark silenced De Breulh, but Andre took another view of the matter.

“This seems all right at a first glance, but still, after the extraordinary scene that the Viscountess has described, I should like to ask a few questions. Was not Van Klopen’s behavior very unexpected?”

“It was brutal and infamous.”

“Are you not one of his best customers?”

“I am, and I have spent an enormous sum with him.”

“But Van Klopen is nasty sometimes; did he not sue Mademoiselle de Riversac?” asked De Breulh.

“But he did not, I expect, force his way into her drawing-room and behave outrageously before a perfect stranger. Do you know M. de Croisenois?” returned Andre.

“Very slightly; he is of good family, and his brother George was much esteemed by all who knew him.”

“Has he plenty of money?”

“I do not think so, but in time he will inherit a large fortune; very likely he is over head and ears in debt.”

“And yet he had twenty thousand francs in his pocketbook; is not that rather a large sum to carry when you are simply making a morning call? and it is curious, too, that it should have been the exact sum wanted. Then there is another point; the pocketbook was hurled into Van Klopen’s face. Did he submit without a word to such treatment?”

“He certainly said nothing,” replied Madame de Bois Arden.

“One question more, if you please. Did Van Klopen open the book and count the notes before he gave the receipt?”

The Viscountess thought for a moment.

“I was a good deal excited,” said she at length, “but I am almost sure that I saw no notes in Van Klopen’s hands.”

Andre’s face grew radiant.

“Good, very good; he was told to pay himself, and yet he never looked to see if the money was there, but gave a receipt at once. Of course, as Van Klopen kept the pocketbook, the Marquis could have had nothing in it besides the exact sum that was required.”

“It does seem odd,” muttered De Breulh.

“But,” said Andre, “your bill was not exactly twenty thousand francs, was it?”

“No,” answered the Viscountess. “I ought to have had change to the amount of a hundred or a hundred and twenty francs, but I suppose he was too much excited to give it me.”

“But for all that he could remember that he had writing materials with him, and give you a receipt?”

The Viscountess was utterly bewildered.

“And,” continued Andre, “how is it that Van Klopen knew De Croisenois’ name? And now, lastly, where is the receipt?”

Madame de Bois Arden turned very pale and trembled violently.

“Ah,” said she, “I felt sure that something was going to happen, and it was on this very point that I wanted your advice. Well, I have not got the receipt. M. de Croisenois crumpled it up in his hand and threw it on the table. After a while, however, he took it up and put it in his pocket.”

“It is all perfectly clear,” said Andre in jubilant tones; “M. de Croisenois had need of your aid, he saw that he could not easily obtain it, and so sought to bind you by the means of a loan made to you at a time of great need.”

“You are right,” said De Breulh.

The Viscountess’ giddy mode of action had brought her into many scrapes, but never into so terrible a one as this.

“Great heavens!” cried she, “what do you think that M. de Croisenois will do with this receipt?”

“He will do nothing,” answered M. de Breulh, “if you do everything to advance his suit; but pause for an instant, and he will show the hand of steel which has up to now been covered by the velvet glove.”

“I am not alarmed at a new slander?” returned the Viscountess.

“And why not?” answered De Breulh. “You know very well that in these days of lavish expenditure and unbridled luxury there are many women in society who are so basely vile that they ruin their lovers with as little compunction as their frailer sisters. To-morrow even De Croisenois may say at the club, ‘On my word that little Bois Arden costs me a tremendous lot,’ and hands about this receipt for twenty thousand francs. What do you imagine that people will think then?”

“The world knows me too well to think so ill of me.”

“No, no, Clotilde, there is no charity in society; they will simply say that you are his mistress, and finding that the allowance from your husband is not enough for your needs, you are ruining your lover. There will be a significant laugh among the members, and in time, a very short time, the scandal in a highly sensational form will come to the ears of your husband.”

The Viscountess wrung her hands.

“It is too horrible,” wailed she. “And do you know that Bois Arden would put the worst construction on the whole affair, for he declares that a woman will sacrifice anything in order to outshine her sex in dress. Ah, I will never run up another bill anywhere; tell me, Gontran, what I had better do. Can you not get the receipt from De Croisenois?”

M. de Breulh paused for a moment and then replied, “Of course I could do so, but such a step would be very damaging to your reputation. I have no proof; and if I went to him, he would deny everything of course, and it would make him your enemy for life.”

“Besides,” added Andre, “you would put him on his guard, and he would escape us.”

The unhappy woman glanced from one to the other in utter despair.

“Then I am lost,” she exclaimed. “Am I to remain for the rest of my days in this villain’s power?”

“Not so,” returned Andre, “for I hope soon to put it out of M. de Croisenois’ power to injure any one. What did he say when he asked you to introduce him to the Mussidans?”

“Nothing pointed.”

“Then, madame, do not disturb yourself to-night. So long as he hopes you will be useful, so long he will stay his hand. Do as he wishes; never allude to the receipt; introduce him and speak well of him, while I, aided by M. de Breulh, will do my utmost to unmask this scoundrel; and as long as he believes himself to be in perfect security, our task will be an easy one.”

Just then the servant returned from the bank, and as soon as the man had left the room De Breulh took the notes and placed them in his cousin’s hand.

“Here is the money for De Croisenois,” said he. “Take my advice, and give it to him this evening with a polite letter of thanks.”

“A thousand thanks, Gontran; I will act as you advise.”

“Remember you must not allude in your letter to his introduction to the Mussidans. What do you think, Andre?”

“I think a receipt for the money would be a great thing,” answered he.

“But such a demand would arouse his suspicions.”

“I think not, madame, and I see a way of doing it; have you a maid upon whom you could rely?”

“Yes, I have one.”

“Good, then give the girl a letter and the notes done up in a separate parcel, and tell her exactly what she is to do. When she sees the Marquis, let her pretend to be alarmed at the great responsibility that she is incurring in carrying this large sum, and insist upon a receipt for her own protection.”

“There is sound sense in that,” said De Breulh.

“Yes, yes,” said the Viscountess, “Josephine will do–as sharp a girl as you could find in a day’s journey–and will manage the thing admirably. Trust to me,” she continued, as a smile of hope spread over her face; “I will keep De Croisenois in a good humor; he will confide in me, and I will tell you everything. But, oh dear! what shall I do without Van Klopen? Why, there is not another man in Paris fit to stand in his shoes.”

With these words the Viscountess rose to leave.

“I am completely worn out,” remarked she; “and I have a dinner-party to-night. Good-bye then, until we meet again;” and with her spirits evidently as joyous as ever, she tripped into her carriage.

“Now,” said Andre, as soon as they were once more alone, “we are on the track of De Croisenois. He evidently holds Madame de Mussidan as he holds Madame de Bois Arden. His is a really honorable mode of action; he surprises a secret, and then turns extortioner.”

CHAPTER XXV.

A NEW SKIN.

Dr. Hortebise’s private arrangements were sadly upset by his being compelled to accede to the desire of Tantaine and Mascarin, and in granting hospitality to Paul Violaine; and in spite of the brilliant visions of the future, he often devoutly wished that Mascarin and his young friend were at the other side of the world; but for all that he never thought of attempting to evade the order he had received. He therefore set himself steadily to his task, endeavoring to form Paul’s mind, blunt his conscience, and prepare him for the inevitable part that he would soon have to play.

Paul found in him a most affable companion, pleasant, witty, and gifted with great conversational powers. Five days were thus spent breakfasting at well-known restaurants, driving in the Bois, and dining at clubs of which the doctor was a member, while the evenings were passed at the banker’s. The doctor played cards with his host, while Paul and Flavia conversed together in low whispers, or else hung over the piano together. But every kind of agreeable existence comes to an end, and one day Daddy Tantaine entered the room, his face radiant with delight.

“I have secured you the sweetest little nest in the world,” cried he merrily. “It is not so fine as this, but more in accordance with your position.”

“Where is it?” asked Paul.

Tantaine waited. “You won’t wear out much shoe leather,” said he, “in walking to a certain banker’s, for your lodgings are close to his house.”

That Tantaine had a splendid talent for arrangement Paul realized as soon as he entered his new place of abode, which was in the Rue Montmartre, and consisted of some neat, quiet rooms, just such as an artist who had conquered his first difficulties would inhabit. The apartments were on the third floor, and comprised a tiny entrance hall, sitting-room, bed and dressing room. A piano stood near the window in the sitting-room. The furniture and curtains were tasteful and in good order, but nothing was new. One thing surprised Paul very much; he had been told that the apartments had been taken and furnished three days ago, and yet it seemed as if they had been inhabited for years, and that the owner had merely stepped out a few minutes before. The unmade bed, and the half-burnt candles in the sleeping-room added to this impression, while on the rug lay a pair of worn slippers. The fire had not gone out entirely, and a half-smoked cigar lay on the mantelpiece.

On the table in the sitting-room was a sheet of music paper, with a few bars jotted down upon it. Paul felt so convinced that he was in another person’s rooms, that he could not help exclaiming, “But surely some one has been living in these chambers.”

“We are in your own home, my dear boy,” said Tantaine.

“But you took over everything, I suppose, and the original proprietor simply walked out?”

Tantaine smiled, as though an unequivocal compliment had been paid him.

“Why, do you not know your own home?” asked he; “you have been living here for the last twelve months.”

“I can’t understand you,” answered Paul, opening his eyes in astonishment; “you must be jesting.”

“I am entirely in earnest; for more than a year you have been established here. If you want a proof of the correctness of my assertion, call up the porter.” He ran to the head of the staircase and called out, “Come up, Mother Brigaut.”

In a few moments a stout old woman came panting into the room.

“And how are you, Mother Brigaut?” said Tantaine gayly. “I have a word or two to say to you. You know that gentleman, do you not?”

“What a question? as if I did not know one of the gentlemen lodging here?”

“What is his name?”

“M. Paul.”

“What, plain M. Paul, and nothing else?”

“Well, sir, it is not his fault if he did not know his father or mother.”

“What does he do?”

“He is a musician; he gives lessons on the piano, and composes music.”

“Does he do a good business?”

“I can’t say, sir, but I should guess about two or three hundred francs a month; and he makes that do, for he is economical and quiet, and as modest as a young girl.”

Tantaine’s face shone all over with satisfaction.

“You must have known M. Paul for some time, as you seem so thoroughly acquainted with his habits?” said he.

“Well, I ought to, for he has been here nearly fifteen months, and all that time I have looked after his room.”

“Do you know where he lived before he came here?”

“Of course I do, for I went to inquire about him in the Rue Jacob. The people there were quite cut up at his leaving, but you see this was more handy for the music publisher in the Rue Richelieu, for whom he works.”

“Good, Mother Brigaut; that will do; you can leave us now.”

As Paul listened to this brief conversation, he wondered if he was awake or asleep. Tantaine stood at the door and watched the woman down stairs; then he closed it carefully, and coming up to Paul, said,–

“Well, what do you think of all this?”

At first Paul was so astounded that he could hardly find words in which to express himself; but he remembered the words that Dr. Hortebise had so often dinned into his ears during the last five days,–

“Let nothing astonish you.”

“I suppose,” said he at last, “that you had taught this old woman her lesson beforehand.”

“Merciful powers!” exclaimed Tantaine in tones of extreme disgust. “If these are all the ideas you have gained from what you have heard, our task will not be by any means an easy one.”

Paul was wounded by Tantaine’s contemptuous manner.

“I understand well enough, sir,” answered he sulkily, “that this is merely a prologue to a romantic drama.”

“You are right, my lad,” cried he, in a more satisfied voice; “and it is one that is quite indispensable. The plot of the drama will be revealed to you later on, and also the reward you will receive if you play your part well.”

“But why cannot you tell me everything now?”

Tantaine shook his head.

“Have patience, you rash boy!” said he. “Rome was not built in a day. Be guided by me, and follow blindly the orders of those interested in you. This is your first lesson; think it over seriously.”

“My first lesson! What do you mean?”

“Call it a rehearsal if you like. All that the good woman told you,” continued Tantaine, “you must look upon as true; nay, it is true, and when you believe this thoroughly, you are quite prepared for the fray, but until then you must remain quiescent. Remember this, you cannot impress others unless you firmly believe yourself. The greatest impostors of all ages have ever been their own dupes.”

At the word impostor, Paul seemed about to speak, but a wave of Tantaine’s hand silenced him.

“You must cast aside your old skin, and enter that of another. Paul Violaine, the natural son of a woman who kept a small drapery shop at Poitiers, Paul Violaine, the youthful lover of Rose, no longer exists. He died of cold and hunger in a garret in the Hotel de Perou, as M. de Loupins will testify when necessary.”

The tone in which Tantaine spoke showed his intense earnestness, and with emphatic gestures he drove each successive idea into Paul’s brain.

“You will rid yourself of your former recollections as you do of an old coat, which you throw aside, and forget the very existence of. And not only that, but you must lose your memory, and that so entirely, that if any one in the street calls out Violaine, you will never even dream of turning round.”

Paul’s brain seemed to tremble beneath the crime that his companion was teaching him.

“Who am I then?” asked he.

A sardonic smile crossed Tantaine’s face.

“You are just what the portress told you, Paul, and nothing more. Your first recollections are of a Foundling Hospital, and you never knew your parents. You have lived here fifteen months, and before that you resided in the Rue Jacob. The portress knows no more; but if you will come with me to the Rue Jacob, the people there can tell you more about your life when you were a lodger in the house. Perhaps, if you are careful, we may take you back to your more childish days, and even find you a father.”

“But,” said Paul, “I might be questioned regarding my past life: what then? M. Rigal or Mademoiselle Flavia might interrogate me at any moment?”

“I see; but do not disquiet yourself. You will be furnished with all necessary papers, so that you can account for all your life during the twenty-five years you spent in this world.”

“Then I presume that the person into whose shoes I have crept was a composer and a musician like myself?”

Again Tantaine’s patience gave way, and it was with an oath that he exclaimed,–

“Are you acting the part of a fool, or are you one in reality? No one has ever been here except you. Did you not hear what the old woman said? She told you that you are a musician, a self-made one, and while waiting until your talents are appreciated, you give lessons in music.”

“And to whom do I /give/ them?”

Tantaine took three visiting cards from a china ornament on the mantelshelf.

“Here are three pupils of yours,” said he, “who can pay you one hundred francs per month for two lessons a week, and two of them will assure you that you have taught them for some time. The third, Madame Grandorge, a widow, will vow that she owes all her success, which is very great, to your lessons. You will go and give these pupils their lessons at the hours noted on their cards, and you will be received as if you had often been to the house before; and remember to be perfectly at your ease.”

“I will do my best to follow your instructions.”

“One last piece of information. In addition to your lessons, you are in the habit of copying for certain wealthy amateurs the fragments of old and almost obsolete operas, and on the piano lies the work that you are engaged on for the Marquis de Croisenois, a charming composition by Valserra. You see,” continued Tantaine, taking Paul by the arm, and showing him round the room, “that nothing has been forgotten, and that you have lived here for years past. You have always been a steady young man, and have saved up a little money. In this drawer you will find eight certificates of scrip from the Bank of France.”

Paul would have put many more questions, but the visitor was already on the threshold, and only paused to add these words,–

“I will call here to-morrow with Dr. Hortebise.” Then, with a strange smile playing on his lips, he added, as Mascarin had before, “You will be a duke yet.”

The old portress was waiting for Tantaine, and as soon as she saw him coming down the stairs immersed in deep thought, out she ran toward him with as much alacrity as her corpulency would admit.

“Did I do it all right?” asked she.

“Hush!” answered he, pushing her quickly into her lodge, the door of which stood open. “Hush! are you mad or drunk, to talk like this, when you do not know who is listening?”

“I hope you were pleased with my success,” continued the woman, aghast at his sudden anger.

“You did well–very well; you piled up the evidence perfectly. I shall have an excellent report to make of you to M. Mascarin.”

“I am so glad; and now my husband and I are quite safe?”

The old man shook his head with an air of doubt.

“Well, I can hardly say that yet; the master’s arm is long and strong; but you have numerous enemies. All the servants in the house hate you, and would be glad to see you come to grief.”

“Is that really so, sir? How can that be, for both I and my husband have been very kind to all of them?”

“Yes, perhaps you have been lately, but how about the times before? You and your husband both acted very foolishly. Article 386 cannot be got now, and two women can swear that they saw you and your husband, with a bunch of keys in your hand, on the second floor.”

The fat woman’s face turned a sickly yellow, she clasped her hands, and whined in tones of piteous entreaty,–

“Don’t speak so loud, sir, I beg of you.”

“You made a terrible mistake in not coming to my master earlier, for there had been then so much talk that the matter had reached the ears of the police.”

“But for all that, if M. Mascarin pleased—-“

“He does please, my good woman, and is quite willing to serve you. I am sure that he will manage to break the inquiry; or if it must go on, he has several witnesses who will depose in your favor; but, you know, he gives nothing for nothing, and must have implicit obedience.”

“Good, kind man that he is, my husband and I would go through fire and water for him, while my daughter, Euphenice, would do anything in the world for him.”

Tantaine recoiled uneasily, for the old woman’s gratitude was so demonstrative that he feared she was about to embrace him.

“All you have to do is to stick firmly to what you have said about Paul,” continued he, when he found himself at a safe distance; “and if ever you breathe a word of what you have been doing, he will hand you over to the law, and then take care of Article 386.”

It was evident that this portion of the Code, that had reference to the robbery of masters by servants, struck terror into the woman’s soul.

“If I stood on the scaffold,” said she, “I would tell the story about M. Paul exactly as I have been taught.”

Her tone was so sincere, that Tantaine addressed her in a kindlier voice.

“Stick to that,” said he, “and I can say to you, ‘Hope.’ Upon the day on which the young man’s business is settled you will get a paper from me, which will prove your complete innocence, and enable you to say, ‘I have been grossly maligned.’ “

“May the dear young man’s business be settled sharp,” said she.

“It will not be long before it is so; but, remember, in the meantime you must keep an eye upon him.”

“I will do so.”

“And, remember, report to me whoever comes to see him, no matter who it may be.”

“Not a soul can go upstairs without my seeing or hearing him.”

“Well, if any one, save the master, Dr. Hortebise, or myself comes, do not lose a moment, but come and report.”

“You shall know in five minutes.”

“I wonder if that is all I have to say?” mused Tantaine. “Ah! I remember: note exactly the hour at which this young man comes and goes. Do not have any conversation with him; answer all questions he addresses you with a simple ‘Yes,’ or ‘No,’ and, as I said before, watch his every movement.”

And Tantaine turned to go away, paying no attention to the woman’s eager protestations.

“Keep a strict watch,” were his last words, “and, above all, see that the lad gets into no scrape.”

In Tantaine’s presence Paul had endeavored to assume an air of bravado, but as soon as he was left alone he was seized with such mortal terror, that he sank in a half fainting condition into an easy- chair. He felt that he was not going to put on a disguise for a brief period, but for life, and that now, though he rose in life, wealth, title, even a wife would all have been obtained by a shameful and skilfully planned deception, and this deception he must keep up until the day of his death. He shuddered as he recalled Tantaine’s words, “Paul Violaine is dead.” He recalled the incidents in the life of the escaped galley-slave Coignard, who, under the name of Pontis de St. Helene, absolutely assumed the rank of a general officer, and took command of a domain. Coignard was recognized and betrayed by an old fellow-prisoner, and this was exactly the risk that Paul knew he must run, for any of his old companions might recognize and denounce him. Had he on such an occasion sufficient presence of mind to turn laughingly to his accuser, and say, “Really, my good fellow, you are in error, for I never set eyes on you before?”

He felt that he could not do it, and had he any means of existence, he would have solved the difficulty by taking to flight. But he knew that men like Mascarin, Hortebise, and Tantaine were not easily eluded, and his heart sank within him as he remembered the various crumbs of information that each of these men had dropped before him. To agree to their sordid proposals, and to remain in the position in which he was, was certainly to incur a risk, but it was one that was a long way off, and might never eventually come to pass; while to change his mind would be as sure to bring down swift and condign punishment upon his head; and the weak young man naturally chose the more remote contingency, and with this determination the last qualms of his conscience expired.

The first night he slept badly in his new abode, for it seemed to him as if the spectre of the man whose place he was to usurp was hovering over his couch. But with the dawn of day, and especially when the hour arrived for him to go out and give his lessons, he felt his courage return to him, though rashness perhaps would be the more correct word. And with a mien of perfect confidence he repaired to the house of Mademoiselle Grandorge, the oldest of his pupils. Impelled by the same feeling of curiosity as to how Paul would comport himself, both Dr. Hortebise and Father Tantaine had been hanging about the Rue Montmartre, and taking advantage of a heavy dray that was passing, caught a good glimpse of the young man.

“Aha,” chuckled Tantaine, delighted at seeing Paul look so brisk and joyous, “our young cock is in full feather; last night he was decidedly rather nervous.”

“Yes,” answered the doctor, “he is on the right road, and I think that we shall have no further trouble with him.”

They then thought it would be as well to see Mother Brigaut, and were received by the old woman with slavish deference.

“No one has been near the dear young gentleman,” said she, in reply to their questions. “Last night he came down about seven o’clock, and asked where the nearest eating-house was. I directed him to Du Val’s, and he was back by eight, and by eleven I saw that he had put out his light.”

“How about to-day?”

“I went up stairs at nine, and he had just finished dressing. He told me to get his breakfast ready, which I did. He ate well, and I said to myself, ‘Good; the bird is getting used to its cage.’ “

“And then?”

“Then he commenced singing like a very bird, the dear fellow. His voice is as sweet as his face; any woman would fall in love with him. I’m precious glad that my girl, Euphenice is nowhere near.”

“And after that he went out?” continued Tantaine. “Did he say how long he would be away?”

“Only to give his lessons. I suppose he expected that you would call.”

“Very good,” remarked the old man; then, addressing Dr. Hortebise, he said, “Perhaps, sir, you are going to the Registry Office?”

“Yes; I want to see Mascarin.”

“He is not there; but if you want to see him on any special matter, you had better come to our young friend’s apartment, and await his arrival.”

“Very well, I will do so,” answered the doctor.

Hortebise was much more impressed than Paul with the skill of the hand which had imparted such a look of long occupation to the rooms.

“On my word, the quiet simplicity of these rooms would induce any father to give his daughter to this young fellow.”

The old man’s silence surprised him, and turning sharply round, he was struck by the gloomy look upon his features.

“What is the matter?” asked Hortebise, with some anxiety. “What is troubling you?”

Tantaine had thrown himself into a chair, and for a moment made no reply; then, springing to his feet, he gave the expiring embers a furious kick, and faced the doctor with folded arms.

“I see much trouble before us,” said he at last.

The doctor’s face grew as gloomy as that of his companion.

“Is it Perpignan who interferes?” asked he.

“No, Perpignan is only a fool; but he will do what I tell him.”

“Then I really do not see–“

“Do not see,” exclaimed Tantaine; “but luckily for us all, I am not so blind. Have you forgotten this marriage of De Croisenois? There lies the danger. All had gone so smoothly, every combination had been arranged, and every difficulty foreseen, and now—-“

“Well, you had made too sure, that was all; and you were unprepared for the slightest check.”

“Not so, but I had made no attempt to guard against the impossible.”

“Of course, there are limits to all human intelligence, but pray explain yourself.”

“This is it, then, doctor. The most adroit energy could never have put in our way such an obstacle as now threatens us. Have you in your experience of society ever come across a wealthy heiress who is indifferent to all the allurements of luxury, and is capable of disinterested love?”

The doctor smiled an expressive denial.

“But such an heiress does exist,” said Tantaine, “and her name is Sabine de Mussidan. She loves–and whom do you think?–why a mere painter, who has crossed my path three times already. He is full, too, of energy and perseverance, and for these qualities I have never met his equal.”

“What, a man without friends, money, or position, what can–“

A rapid gesture of Tantaine’s checked his companion’s speech.

“Unfortunately he is not without friends,” remarked the genial Tantaine. “He has one friend at least; can you guess who it is? No less a personage than the man who was to have married Sabine, M. de Breulh-Faverlay.”

At this unexpected news Hortebise remained silent and aghast.

“How on earth those two met I cannot imagine. It must have been Sabine that brought them together, but the facts remain the same. They are close friends anyhow. And these two men have in their interests the very woman that I had selected to push De Croisenois’ suit.”

“Is it possible?”

“That is my present belief. At any rate, these three had a long interview last night, and doubtless came to a decision hostile to the interests of the Marquis.”

“What do you mean?” asked Hortebise, his lips tightly compressed with anxiety. “Do you mean that they are aware of the manner by which De Croisenois hopes to succeed?”

“Look here?” answered Tantaine. “A general, on the eve of a battle, takes every precaution, but among his subordinates there are always fools, if not traitors. I had arranged a pretty little scene between Croisenois and Van Klopen, by which the Viscountess would be securely trapped. Unfortunately, though the rehearsal was excellent, the representation was simply idiotic. Neither of the actors took the least trouble to enter into the spirit of his part. I had arranged a scene full of delicacy and /finesse/, and they simply made a low, coarse exhibition of it and themselves. Fools! they thought it was the easiest thing in the world to deceive a woman; and finally the Marquis, to whom I had recommended the most perfect discretion, opened fire, and actually spoke of Sabine and his desire to press his suit. The Viscountess found, with a woman’s keen perceptions, that there was something arranged between Van Klopen and her visitor, and hurried off to her cousin, M. de Breulh-Faverlay for advice and assistance.”

The doctor listened to this recital, pallid and trembling.

“Who told you all this?” gasped he.

“No one; I discovered it; and it was easy to do so. When we have a result, it is easy to trace it back to the cause. Yes, this is what took place.”

“Why don’t you say at once that the whole scheme is knocked on the head?” asked the doctor.

“Because I do not think that it is; I know that we have sustained a very severe check; but when you are playing /ecarte/ and your adversary has made five points to your one, you do not necessarily throw down the cards and give up the game? Not a bit; you hold on and strive to better your luck.”

The worthy Dr. Hortebise did not know whether the most to admire the perseverance or deplore the obstinacy of the old man, and exclaimed,–

“Why, this is utter madness; it is like plunging headlong into a deep pit, which you can easily see in your path.”

Tantaine gave a long, low whistle.

“My friend,” said he, “what in your opinion would be the best course to pursue?”

“I should say, without a moment’s hesitation, turn up the whole scheme, and look out for another one, which, if less lucrative, would not be so full of danger. You had hoped to win the game, and with good reason too. Now throw aside all feelings of wounded vanity, and accept your defeat. After all, it does not matter to us who Mademoiselle de Mussidan marries. The great enterprise fortunately does not lie in this alliance. We have still the idea of the Company to which all old people must subscribe remaining to us, and we can work it up at once.”

He stopped short, abashed by the look on Tantaine’s face.

“It strikes me,” resumed the doctor, a little mortified, “that my proposal is not utterly ridiculous, and certainly deserves some consideration.”

“Perhaps so; but is it a practical one?”

“I see no reason why it should not be.”

“Indeed, then, you look at the thing in a very different manner to myself. We are too far advanced, my dear doctor, to be our own masters. We must go on, and have no option to do otherwise. To beat a retreat would simply be to invite our enemies to fall upon our disorganized battalions. We must give battle; and as the first to strike has always the best chance of victory, we must strive to take the initiative.”

“The idea is good, but these are mere words.”

“Was the secret that we confided to De Croisenois only words?”

This thrust went home.

“Do you mean that you think he would betray us?” said he.

“Why should he not if it were to his interests to do so? Reflect, Croisenois is almost at the end of his tether. We have dangled the line of a princely fortune before his eyes. Do you think he would do nothing if we were to say, ‘Excuse us, but we made a mistake; poor as you are, so you must remain, for we do not intend to help you?’ “

“But is it necessary to say that at all?”

“Well, at any rate, whatever we choose to say, what limit do you think he will place upon his extortions now that he holds our secret? We have taught him his music, and he will make us do our part in the chorus, and can blackmail us as well as we can others.”

“We played a foolish game,” answered Dr. Hortebise moodily.

“No; we had to confide in some one. Besides, the two affairs, that of Madame de Mussidan and the Duke de Champdoce, ran so well together. They were the simultaneous emanations of my brain. I worked them up together, and together they must stand or fall.”

“Then you are determined to go on?”

“Yes; more determined than ever.”

The doctor had been playing with his locket for some time, and the contact of the cold metal seemed to have affected his nerves; for it was in a trembling voice that he replied,–

“I vowed long ago that we should sink or swim together.” He paused, and then, with a melancholy smile upon his face, continued,–“I have no intention of breaking my oath, you see; but I repeat, that your road seems to be a most perilous one, and I will add that I consider you headstrong and self-opinionated; but for all that I will follow you, even though the path you have chosen leads to the grave. I have at this moment a something between my fingers that will save me from shame and disgrace–a little pill to be swallowed, a gasp, a little dizziness, and all is over.”

Tantaine did not seem to care for the doctor’s explanation.

“There, that will do,” said he. “If things come to the worst, you can use the contents of your locket as much as you like, but in the meantime leave it alone, and do not keep jingling it in that distracting manner. For people of our stamp a danger well known is a comparatively slight peril, for threats furnish us with means of defence. Woe, I say, woe to the man who crosses my path, for I will hold my hand from nothing!” He stopped for a little, opened every door, and assured himself that there were no eavesdroppers, and then, in a low whisper, he said to Hortebise, “Do you not see that there is but one obstacle to our success, and that is Andre? Remove him, and the whole of our machinery will work as smoothly as ever.”

Hortebise winced, as if suffering from a sudden pain.

“Do you mean—-?” asked he.

But Tantaine interrupted him with a low laugh, terrible to listen to.

“And why not?” said he. “Is it not better to kill than to be killed?”

Hortebise trembled from head to foot. He had no objection to extorting money by the basest threats, but he drew the line at murder.

“And suppose we were found out?” muttered he.

“Nonsense! How could we be discovered? Justice always looks for a motive; how, then could they bring it home to us? They could only find out that a young lady adored by De Breulh had thrown him over in order to marry Andre.”

“Horrible!” murmured the doctor, much shocked.

“I daresay that it is horrible, and I have no wish to proceed to extremities. I only wish to speak of it as a remote possibility, and one that we may be compelled to adopt. I hate violence just as much as you do, and trust that it may not be necessary.”

Just then the door opened, and Paul entered, a letter in his hand. He seemed in excellent spirits, and shook hands with both his visitors.

Tantaine smiled sarcastically as he contrasted Paul’s high spirits with the state of depression in which he had left him not many hours ago.

“Things are evidently going well with you,” remarked the doctor, forcing a smile.

“Yes; I cannot find any reason for complaint.”

“Have you given your lesson?”

“Yes; what a delightful woman Madame Grandorge is! she has treated me so kindly.”

“That is a good reason for your being so happy,” remarked the doctor, with a tinge of irony in his voice.

“Ah, that is not the only reason,” returned Paul.

“Shall I be indiscreet if I ask the real cause, then?”

“I am not quite sure whether I ought to speak on this matter,” said he fatuously.

“What! a love adventure already?” laughed the doctor.

The vanity of Paul’s nature beamed out in a smile.

“Keep your secret, my boy,” said Tantaine, in louder accents.

This, of course, was enough to loosen Paul’s tongue.

“Do you think, sir,” said he, “that I would keep anything from you?” He opened the letter he held in his hand, continuing: “The portress handed this to me as I came in; she said it was left by a bank messenger. Can you guess where it came from? Let me tell you–it is from Mademoiselle Flavia Rigal, and leaves no room to doubt of her sentiments toward me.”

“Is that a fact?”

“It is so; and whenever I choose, Mademoiselle Flavia will be only too ready to become Madame Paul.”

For an instant a bright flush crimsoned old Tantaine’s wrinkled face, but it faded away almost as soon as it appeared.

“Then you feel happy?” asked he, with a slight quiver in his voice.

Paul threw back his coat, and, placing his fingers in the armholes of his waistcoat, remarked carelessly,–

“Yes, of course, I am happy, as you may suppose; but the news is not particularly startling to me. On my third visit to M. Rigal’s, the girl let me know that I need not sigh in vain.”

Tantaine covered his face with his hands as Paul passed his fingers through his hair, and, striking what he considered an imposing attitude, read as follows:–

“MY DEAR PAUL,–

“I was very naughty, and I repent of it. I could not sleep all night, for I was haunted by the look of sorrow I saw in your face when you took leave of me. Paul, I did it to try you. Can you forgive me? You might, for I suffered much more than you could have done. Some one who loves me–perhaps more than you do–has told me that when a girl shows all the depths of her heart to a man she runs the risk of his despising her. Can this be true? I hope not, Paul, for never–no, never–can I conceal my feelings; and the proof of my faith in you is that I am going now to tell you all. I am sure that if your good friend and mine, Dr. Hortebise, came to my father with a certain request from you, it would not be rejected.

“Your own
“FLAVIA.”