The Champdoce Mystery
Part 4 out of 7
"However compromising appearances may seem, I am the only one
deserving punishment; the Duchess has nothing to reproach herself with
in any way; it was without her knowledge, and without any
encouragement from her, that I dared to enter this house, knowing as I
did that the servants were all absent."
Norbert, however, still maintained the same gloomy silence. He too had
need to collect his thoughts. As he ascended the stairs he knew that
he should find the Duchess with a lover, but he had not calculated
upon that lover being George de Croisenois, a man whom he loathed and
detested more than any one that he was in the habit of meeting in
society. When he recognized George, it was with the utmost difficulty
that he restrained himself from springing upon him and endeavoring to
strangle him. He had suspected this man of having gained Diana's
affections, and now he found him in the character of the lover of his
wife, and he was silent simply because he had not yet made up his mind
what he would say. If his face was outwardly calm and rigid as marble,
while the flames of hell were raging in his heart, it was because his
limbs for the moment refused to obey his will; but, in spite of this,
Norbert was, for the time, literally insane.
Croisenois folded his arms, and continued,--
"I had only just come here at the moment of your arrival. Why were you
not here to listen to all that passed between us? Would to heaven that
you had been! Then you would have understood all the grandeur and
nobility of your wife's soul. I admit the magnitude of my fault, but I
am at your service, and am prepared to give you the satisfaction that
you will doubtless demand."
"From your words," answered Norbert slowly, "I presume that you allude
to a duel; that is to say, that having effected my dishonor to-night,
you purpose to kill me to-morrow morning. In the game that you have
been playing a man stakes his life, and you, I think, have lost."
Croisenois bowed. "I am a dead man," thought he as he glanced towards
the Duchess, "and not for your sake, but on account of quite another
The sound of his own voice excited Norbert, and he went on more
rapidly: "What need have I to risk my life in a duel? I come to my own
home, I find you with my wife, I blow out your brains, and the law
will exonerate me." As he said these last words, he drew a revolver
from his pocket and levelled it at George. The moment was an intensely
exciting one, but Croisenois did not show any sign of emotion, Norbert
did not press the trigger, and the suspense became more than could be
"Fire!" cried George, "fire!"
"No," returned Norbert coldly; "on reflection I have come to the
conclusion that your dead body would be a source of extreme
inconvenience to me."
"You try my forbearance too far. What are your intentions?"
"I mean to kill you," answered Norbert in such a voice of concentrated
ferocity that George shuddered in spite of all his courage, "but it
shall not be with a pistol shot. It is said that blood will wash out
any stain, but it is false; for even if all yours is shed, it will not
remove the stain from my escutcheon. One of us must vanish from the
face of the earth in such a manner that no trace of him may remain."
"I agree. Show me how this is to be done."
"I know a method," answered Norbert. "If I was certain that no human
being was aware of your presence here to-night----"
"No one can possibly know it."
"Then," answered the Duke, "instead of taking advantage of the rights
that the law gives me and shooting you down on the spot, I will
consent to risk my life against yours."
George de Croisenois breathed a sigh of relief. "I am ready," replied
he, "as I before told you."
"I heard you; but remember that this will be no ordinary duel, in the
light of day, with seconds to regulate the manner of our conduct."
"We will fight exactly as you wish."
"In that case, I name swords as the weapons, the garden as the spot,
and this instant as the hour."
The Marquis cast a glance at the window.
"You think," observed Norbert, comprehending his look, "that the night
is so dark that we cannot see the blades of our swords?"
"You need not fear; there will be light enough for this death struggle
of the one who remains in the garden, for you understand that one
"I understand you; shall we go down at once?"
Norbert shook his head in the negative.
"You are in too great a hurry," said he, "and have not given me time
to fix my conditions."
"I am listening."
"At the end of the garden there is a small plot of ground, so damp
that nothing will grow there, and consequently is almost unfrequented;
but for all that it is thither that you must follow me. We will each
take spade and pick-axe, and in a very brief period we can hollow out
a receptacle for the body of the one who falls. When this work is
completed, we will take to our swords and fight to the death, and the
one who can keep his feet shall finish his fallen adversary, drag his
body to the hole, and shovel the earth over his remains."
"Never!" exclaimed Croisenois. "Never will I agree to such barbarous
"Have a care then," returned Norbert; "for I shall use my rights. That
clock points to five minutes to eleven. If, when it strikes, you have
not decided to accept my terms, I shall fire."
The barrel of the revolver was but a few inches from George de
Croisenois' heart, and the finger of his most inveterate enemy was
curved round the trigger; but his feelings had been so highly wrought
up that he thought not of this danger. He only remembered that he had
four minutes in which to make up his mind. The events of the last
thirty minutes had pressed upon each other's heels with such
surprising alacrity that he could hardly believe that they had really
occurred, and it seemed to him as if it might not, after all, be only
a hideous vision of the night.
"You have only two minutes more," remarked the Duke.
Croisenois started; his soul was far away from the terrible present.
He glanced at the clock, then at his enemy, and lastly at Marie, who
lay upon the couch, and from her ashen complexion might have been
regarded as dead, save for the hysterical sobs which convulsed her
frame. He felt that it was impossible to leave her in such a condition
without aid of any kind, but he saw well that any show of pity on his
part would only aggravate his offence. "Heaven have mercy on us!"
muttered he. "We are at the mercy of a maniac," and with a feeling of
deadly fear he asked himself what would be the fate of this woman,
whom he loved so devotedly, were he to die. "For her sake," he
thought, "I must slay this man, or her life will be one endless
existence of torture--and slay him I will."
"I accept your terms," said he aloud.
He spoke just in time, for as the words were uttered came the whirr of
the machinery and then the first clear stroke of the bell.
"I thank you," answered Norbert coldly as he lowered the muzzle of his
The icy frigidity of manner in a period of extreme danger, which is
the marked characteristic of a certain type of education, had now
vanished from the Marquis's tone and behavior.
"But that is not all," he continued; "I, too, have certain conditions
"But we agreed--"
"Let me explain; we are going to fight in the dark in your garden
without seconds. We are to dig a grave and the survivor is to bury his
dead antagonist. Tell me, am I right?"
"But," went on the Marquis, "how can you be certain that all will end
here, and that the earth will be content to retain our secret? You do
not know, and you do not seem to care, that if one day the secret will
be disclosed and the survivor accused of being the murderer of the
other, arrested, dragged before a tribunal, condemned, and sent to a
"There is a chance of that, of course."
"And do you think that I will consent to run such a risk as that?"
"There is such a risk, of course," answered Norbert phlegmatically;
"but that will be an incentive for you to conceal my death as I should
"That will not be sufficient for me," returned De Croisenois.
"Ah! take care," sneered Norbert, "or I shall begin to think that you
"I /am/ afraid; that is, afraid of being called a murderer."
"That is a danger to which I am equally liable with yourself."
Croisenois, however, was fully determined to carry his point. "You
say," continued he, "that our chances are equal; but if I fall, who
would dream of searching here for my remains? You are in your own
house and can take every precaution; but suppose, on the other hand, I
kill you. Shall I look to the Duchess to assist me? Will not the
finger of suspicion be pointed at her? Shall she say to her gardener
when all Paris is hunting for you, 'Mind that you do not meddle with
the piece of land at the end of the garden.' "
The thought of the anonymous letter crossed Norbert's mind, and he
remembered that the writer of it must be acquainted with the coming of
George de Croisenois. "What do you propose then?" asked he.
"Merely that each of us, without stating the grounds of our quarrel,
write down the conditions and sign our names as having accepted them."
"I agree; but use dispatch."
The two men, after the conditions had been described, wrote two
letters, dated from a foreign country, and the survivor of the combat
was to post his dead adversary's letter, which would not fail to stop
any search after the vanished man. When this talk was concluded,
Norbert rose to his feet.
"One word in conclusion," said he: "a soldier is leading the horse on
which I rode here up and down in the Place des Invalides. If you kill
me, go and take the horse from the man, giving him the twenty francs I
"Now let us go down."
They left the room together. Norbert was stepping aside to permit
Croisenois to descend the stairs first, when he felt his coat gently
pulled, and, turning round, saw that the Duchess, too weak to rise to
her feet, had crawled to him on her knees. The unhappy woman had heard
everything, and in an almost inaudible voice she uttered an agonized
"Mercy, Norbert! Have mercy! I swear to you that I am guiltless. You
never loved me, why should you fight for me. Have pity! To-morrow, by
all that I hold sacred, I swear to you that I will enter a convent,
and you shall never see my face again. Have pity!"
"Pray heaven, madame, that it may be your lover's sword that pierces
my heart. It is your only hope, for then you will be free."
He tore his coat from her fingers with brutal violence, and the
unhappy woman fell to the floor with a shriek as he closed the door
upon her, and followed his antagonist downstairs.
BLADE TO BLADE.
Several times in the course of this interview Norbert de Champdoce had
been on the point of bursting into a furious passion, but he
restrained himself from a motive of self-pride; but now that his wife
was no longer present, he showed a savage intensity of purpose and a
deadly earnestness that was absolutely appalling. As he followed
Croisenois down the great staircase, he kept repeating the words,
"Quick! quick! we have lost too much time already;" for he saw that a
mere trifle might upset all his plans--such as a servant returning
home before the others. When they reached the ground-floor, he led
George into a by-room which looked like an armory, so filled was it
with arms of all kinds and nations.
"Here," said he, with a bitter sneer, "we can find, I think, what we
want"; and placing the candle he carried on the mantelpiece, he leaped
upon the cushioned seat that ran round the room, and took down from
the wall several pairs of duelling swords, and, throwing them upon the
floor, exclaimed, "Choose your own weapon."
George was an anxious as Norbert to bring this painful scene to a
close, for anything was preferable to this hideous state of suspense.
The last despairing glance of the Duchess had pierced his heart like a
dagger thrust, and when he saw Norbert thrust aside his trembling wife
with such brutality, it was all he could do to refrain from striking
him down. He made no choice of weapons, but grasped the nearest,
"One will do as well as another."
"We cannot fight in this darkness," said Norbert, "but I have a means
to remedy that. Come with me this way, so that we may avoid the
observation of the porter."
They went into the stables, where he took up a large lantern, which he
"This," said he, "will afford ample light for our work."
"Ah, but the neighbors will see it, too; and at this hour a light in
the garden is sure to attract attention," observed George.
"Don't be afraid; my grounds are not overlooked."
They entered the garden, and soon reached the spot to which the Duke
had alluded. Norbert hung the lantern on the bough of a tree, and it
gave the same amount of light as an ordinary street lamp.
"We will dig the grave in that corner," observed he; "and when it is
filled in, we can cover it with that heap of stones over there."
He threw off his great coat, and, handing a spade to Croisenois, took
another himself, repeating firmly the words,--
"To work! To work!"
Croisenois would have toiled all night before he could have completed
the task, but the muscles of the Duke were hardened by his former
laborious life, and in forty minutes all was ready.
"That will do," said Norbert, exchanging his spade for a sword. "Take
Croisenois, however, did not immediately obey. Impressible by nature,
he felt a cold shiver run through his frame; the dark night, the
flickering lantern, and all these preparations, made in so cold-
blooded a manner, affected his nerves. The grave, with its yawning
mouth, fascinated him.
"Well," said Norbert impatiently, "are you not ready?"
"I will speak," exclaimed De Croisenois, driven to desperation. "In a
few minutes one of us will be lying dead on this spot. In the presence
of death a man's words are to be relied on. Listen to me. I swear to
you, on my honor and by all my hopes of future salvation, that the
Duchess de Champdoce is entirely free from guilt."
"You have said that before; why repeat it again?"
"Because it is my duty; because I am thinking that, if I die, it will
be my insane passions that have caused the ruin of one of the best and
purest women in the world. I entreat you to believe that she has
nothing to repent of. See, I am not ashamed to descend to entreaty.
Let my death, if you kill me, be an expiation for everything. Be
gentle with your wife; and if you survive me, do not make her life one
prolonged existence of agony."
"Silence, or I shall look upon you as a dastard," returned Norbert
"Miserable fool!" said De Croisenois. "On guard, then, and may heaven
decide the issue!"
There was a sharp clash as their swords crossed, and the combat began
with intense vigor.
The space upon which the rays of the lantern cast a glimmering and
uncertain light was but a small one; and while one of the combatants
was in complete shade the other was in the light, and exposed to
thrusts which he could not see. This was fatal to Croisenois, and, as
he took a step forward, Norbert made a fierce lunge which pierced him
to the heart.
The unfortunate man threw up his arms above his head; his sword
escaping from his nerveless fingers and his knees bending under him,
he fell heavily backwards without a word escaping from his lips.
Thrice he endeavored to regain his feet, and thrice he failed in his
attempts. He strove to speak, but he could only utter a few
unintelligible words, for his life blood was suffocating him. A
violent convulsion shook every limb, then arose a long, deep-drawn
sigh, and then silence--George de Croisenois was dead.
Yes, he was dead, and Norbert de Champdoce stood over him with a wild
look of terror in his eyes, and his hair bristling upon his head, as a
shudder of horror convulsed his body. Then, for the first time, he
realized the horror of seeing a man slain by his own hand; and yet
what affected Norbert most was not that he had killed George de
Croisenois--for he believed that justice was on his side and that he
could not have acted otherwise--but the perspiration stood in thick
beads upon his forehead, as he thought that he must raise up that
still warm and quivering body, and place it in its unhallowed grave.
He hesitated and reasoned with himself for some time, going over all
the reasons that made dispatch so absolutely necessary--the risk of
detection, and the honor of his name.
He stooped and prepared to raise it, but recoiled again before his
hands had touched the body. His heart failed him, and once more he
assumed an erect position. At last he nerved himself, grasped the
body, and, with an immense exertion of strength, hurled it into the
gaping grave. It fell with a dull, heavy sound which seemed to Norbert
like the roar of an earthquake. The violent emotions which he had
endured had ended by acting on his brain, and, snatching up the spade
which his late antagonist had used with so unpracticed a hand,
shovelled the earth upon the body, flattened down the ground, and
finally covered it with straw and dead leaves.
"And this is the end of a man who wronged a Champdoce; yes, his life
has paid the penalty of his deed."
All at once, a few paces off, in the deep shadow of the trees, he
thought that he detected the outline of a human head with a pair of
glittering eyes fixed upon him. The shock was so terrible that for an
instant he stopped and nearly fell, but he quickly recovered himself,
and, snatching up his blood-stained sword, he dashed to the spot where
he fancied he had seen this terrible witness of his deed.
At this rapid movement on the part of the Duke, a figure started up
with a faint cry for mercy. It was a woman.
She fled with inconceivable swiftness towards the house, but he caught
her just as she had gained the steps.
"Have mercy on me!" cried she. "Do not murder me!"
He dragged her back to where the lantern was hanging. She was a girl
of about eighteen years of age, ugly, badly clothed, and dirty
looking. Norbert looked earnestly at her, but could not say who she
was, though he was certain that he had seen her face somewhere.
"Who are you?" asked he.
She burst into a flood of tears, but made no other reply.
"Come," resumed he, in more soothing accents; "you shall not be hurt.
Tell me who you are."
"Caroline?" repeated he.
"Yes. I have been in your service as scullery maid for the last three
"How is it that you did not go to the wedding with the rest of them?"
"It was not my fault. I was asked, and I did so long to go, but I was
too shabby; I had no finery to put on. I am very poor now, for I have
only fifteen francs a month, and none of the other maids would lend me
anything to wear."
"How did you come into the garden?" asked Norbert.
"I was very miserable, and was sitting in the garden crying, when I
suddenly saw a light down there. I thought it was theirs, and crept
down the back stairs."
"And what did you see?"
"I saw it all."
"When I got down here, you and the other were digging. I thought you
were looking for money! but ah, dear me! I was wrong. Then the other
began to say something, but I couldn't catch a word; then you fought.
Oh, it was awful! I was so frightened, I could not take my eyes off
you. Then the other fell down on his back."
"Then," she faltered, "you buried him, and then----"
"Could you recognize this--this other?"
"Yes, my lord duke, I did."
"Had you ever seen him before? Do you know who he was?"
"Listen to me, my girl. If you know how to hold your tongue, if you
can forget all you have seen to-night, it will be the greatest piece
of luck for you in the world that you did not go to this wedding."
"I won't open my lips to a soul, my lord duke. Hear me swear, I won't.
Oh, do believe me!"
"Very well; keep your oath, and your fortune is made. To-morrow I will
give you a fine, large sum of money, and you can go back to your
village and marry some honest fellow to whom you have taken a fancy."
"Are you not making game of me?"
"No; go to your room and go to bed, as if nothing had happened. Jean
will tell you what to do to-morrow, and you must obey him as you would
"Oh, my lord! Oh, my lord duke!"
Unable to contain her delight, she mingled her laughter and her tears.
And Norbert knew that his name, his honor, and perhaps his life were
in the hands of a wretched girl like this. All the peace and happiness
of his life were gone, and he felt like some unhappy prisoner who
through the bars of his dungeon sees his jailer's children sporting
with lighted matches and a barrel of gunpowder. He was at her mercy,
for well he knew that it would resolve into this--that the smallest
wish of this girl would become an imperative command that he dared not
disobey. However absurd might be her whims and caprices, she had but
to express them, and he dared not resist. What means could he adopt to
free himself from this odious state of servitude? He knew but of one--
the dead tell no tales. There were four persons who were the sharer of
Norbert's secret. First, the writer of the anonymous letter; then the
Duchess; then Caroline Schimmel; and, finally, Jean, to whom he must
confide all. With these thoughts ringing through his brain, Norbert
carefully effaced the last traces of the duel, and then bent his steps
towards his wife's chamber.
He had expected to find her still unconscious on the spot where he had
left her lying. Marie was seated in an armchair by the side of the
fire; her face was terribly pale, and her eyes sparkling with the
inward flame that consumed her.
"My honor has been vindicated; the Marquis de Croisenois is no more; I
have slain your lover, madame."
Marie did not start; she had evidently prepared herself for this blow.
Her face assumed a more proud and disdainful expression, and the light
in her dark eyes grew brighter and brighter.
"You are wrong," said she, "M. de Croisenois was not my lover."
"You need no longer take the pains to lie; I ask nothing now."
Marie's utter calmness jarred inexpressibly upon Norbert's exasperated
frame of mind. He would have given much to change this mood of hers,
which he could not at all understand. But in vain did he say the most
cutting things, and coupled them with bitter taunts, for she had
reached a pitch of exaltation far above his sarcasms and abuse.
"I am not lying," answered she frigidly. "What should I gain by it?
What more have I to gain in this world? You desire to learn the truth;
here it is then: It was with my knowledge and permission that George
was here to-night. He came because I had asked him to do so, and I
left the gate in the garden wall open, so as to facilitate his
entrance. He had not been more than five minutes in the room, when you
arrived, and he had never been there before. It would have been easy
for me to have left you; but as I bear your name, I could not dishonor
it. As you entered, he was entreating me to fly with him; both his
life and his honor were in my hands. Ah, why did I pause for an
instant? Had I consented, he would still have been alive, and in some
far distant country he and I might have learned that this world has
something more to offer than unhappiness and misery. Yes, as you will
have it, you shall have all. I loved him ere I knew that you even
existed. I have only my own folly to blame, only my own unhappy
weakness to deplore. Why did I not steadily refuse to become your
wife? You say that you have slain George. Not so, for in my heart his
memory will ever remain bright and ineffaceable."
"Beware!" said Norbert furiously, "beware if ----"
"Ah, would you kill me too? Do not fear resistance; my life is a blank
without him. He is dead; let death come to me; it would be a welcome
visitant. The only kindness that you could now bestow upon me would be
my death-blow. Strike then, and end it all! In death we should be
united, George and I; and as my limbs grew stiff and my breath passed
away, my whitening lips would murmur words of thanks."
Norbert listened to her, overwhelmed by the intensity of her passion,
and marvelling that he had any power to feel after the terrible event
which had fallen upon his devoted head.
Could this be Marie, the soft and gentle woman, who spoke with such
passionate vehemence and boldly braved his anger? How could he have so
misunderstood her? He forgot all his anger in his admiration. She
seemed to him to have undergone a complete change. There was an
unearthly style of beauty around her--her eyes blazed and shone with
the lurid light of a far-distant planet, while her wealth of raven
hair fell in disordered masses on her shoulders. It was passion, real
passion, that he beheld to-night, not that mere empty delusion which
he had so long followed blindly. Marie was really capable of a deep-
rooted feeling of adoration for the man she loved, while with Diana de
Mussidan, the woman with her fair hair and the steel-blue eyes, love
was but the lust of conquest, or the desire to jeer at a suitor's
earnestness. Ah, what a revelation had been made to him now! And what
would he not have given to have wiped out the past! He advanced
towards her with outstretched arms.
"Marie!" said he, "Marie!"
"I forbid you to call me Marie!" shrieked she wildly.
He made no reply, but still advanced towards her, when, with a
terrible cry, she recoiled from him.
"Blood!" she screamed, "ah, heavens! he has blood upon his hands!"
Norbert glanced downwards; upon the wristband of his shirt there was a
tell-tale crimson stain.
The Duchess raised her hand, and pointed towards the door.
"Leave me," said she, with an extraordinary assumption of energy,
"leave me; the secret of your crime is safe; I will not betray you or
hand you over to justice. But remember that a murdered man stands
between us, and that I loathe and execrate you."
Rage and jealousy tortured Norbert's soul. Though George de Croisenois
was no more, he was still his successful rival in Marie's love.
"You forget," said he in a voice hoarse with passion, "that you are
mine, and that, as your husband, I can make your existence one long
scene of agony and misery. Keep this fact in your memory. To-morrow,
at six o'clock, I shall be here."
The clock was striking two as he left the house and hastened to the
spot where he had left his horse.
The soldier was still pacing backwards and forwards, leading the
"My faith!" said the man, as soon as he perceived Norbert, "you pay
precious long visits. I had only leave to go to the theatre, and I
shall get into trouble over this."
"Pshaw! I promised you twenty francs. Here are two louis."
The soldier pocketed the money with an air of delighted surprise, and
Norbert sprang into the saddle.
An hour later he gave the appointed signal upon the window pane,
behind which the trusty Jean was waiting.
"Take care that no one sees you as you take the horse to the stable,"
said the Duke hastily, "and then come to me, for I want your
assistance and advice."
THE HEIR OF CHAMPDOCE.
As long as she was in Norbert's presence, anger and indignation gave
the Duchess de Champdoce strength; but as soon as she was left alone
her energy gave way, and with an outburst of tears she sank, half
fainting, upon a couch. Her despair was augmented from the fact that
she felt that had it not been for her, George de Croisenois would
never have met with his death.
"Had I not made that fatal appointment," she sobbed, "he would be
alive and well now; my love has slain him as surely as if my hand had
held the steel that has pierced his heart!"
She at first thought of seeking refuge with her father, but abandoned
the idea almost immediately, for she felt that he would refuse to
enter into her grievance, or would say, "You are a duchess; you have
an enormous fortune. You must be happy; and if you are not, it must be
your own fault."
In terrible anguish the night passed away; and when her maids entered
the room, they found her lying on the floor, dressed as she had been
the night before. No one knew what to do, and messengers were
dispatched in all directions to summon medical advice.
Norbert's return was eagerly welcomed by the terrified domestics, and
a general feeling of relief pervaded the establishment.
The Duke had grown very uneasy as to what might have happened during
his absence. He questioned the servants as diplomatically as he could;
and while he was thus engaged, the doctors who had been summoned
After seeing their patient, they did not for a moment conceal their
opinion that the case was a very serious one, and that it was possible
that she might not survive this mysterious seizure. They impressed
upon Norbert the necessity of the Duchess being kept perfectly quiet
and never left alone, and then departed, promising to call again in
Their injunctions were unnecessary, for Norbert had established
himself by his wife's bedside, resolved not to quit her until her
health was re-established or death had intervened to release her from
suffering. Fever had claimed her for its own, and in her delusion she
uttered many incoherent ravings, the key to which Norbert alone held,
and which filled his soul with dread and terror.
This was the second time that Norbert had been compelled to watch over
a sick-bed, guarding within his heart a terrible secret. At Champdoce
he had sat by his father's side, who could have revealed the terrible
attempt against his life; and now it was his wife that he was keeping
a watch on, lest her lips should utter the horrible secret of the
death of George de Croisenois.
Compelled to remain by his wife's side, the thoughts of his past life
forced themselves upon him, and he shuddered to think that, at the age
of twenty-five he had only to look back upon scenes of misery and
crime, which cast a cloud of gloom and horror over the rest of his
days. What a terrible future to come after so hideous a past!
He had another source of anxiety, and frequently rang the bell to
inquire for Jean.
"Send him to me as soon as he comes," was his order.
At last Jean made his appearance, and his master led him into a
"Well?" asked he.
"All is settled, my lord; be easy."
"Has left. I gave her twenty thousand francs, and saw her into the
train myself. She is going to the States, where she hopes to find a
cousin who will marry her; at least, that is her intention."
Norbert heaved a deep sigh of relief, for the thought of Caroline
Schimmel had laid like a heavy burden upon his heart.
"And how about the other matter?" asked he.
The old man shook his head.
"What has been done?"
"I have got hold of a young fellow who believes that I wish to send
him to Egypt, to purchase cotton. He will start to-morrow, and will
post the two letters written by the Marquis de Croisenois, one at
Marseilles, and the other at Cairo."
"Do you not think that these letters will insure my perfect security?"
"I see that any indiscretion on our agent's part, or a mere act of
carelessness, may ruin us."
"And yet it must be done."
After consulting together, the doctors had given some slight hope, but
the position of the patient was still very precarious. It was
suggested that her intellect might be permanently affected; and during
all these long and anxious hours Norbert did not even dare to close
his eyes, and it was with feelings of secret terror that he permitted
the maids to perform their duties around their invalid mistress.
Upon the fourth day the fever took a favorable turn, and Marie slept,
giving Norbert time to review his position.
How was it that Madame de Mussidan, who was a daily visitor, had not
appeared at the house since that eventful night? He was so much
surprised at this that he ventured to dispatch a short note,
acquainting her of the sudden illness of his wife.
In an hour he received a reply, merely containing these words:--
"Can you account for M. de Mussidan's sudden determination to spend
the winter in Italy? We leave this evening. Farewell.--D."
And so she, too, had abandoned him, taking with her all the hopes he
had in the world. Still, however, his infatuation held its sway over
him, and he forced himself to believe that she felt this separation as
keenly as he did.
Some five days afterwards, when the Duchess de Champdoce had been
pronounced out of immediate danger, one of the doctors took him
mysteriously aside. He said that he wanted to inform the Duke of a
startling, but he hoped a welcome piece of intelligence--that the
Duchess de Champdoce was in the way to present the Duke with an heir
to his title and estates.
It was the knowledge of this that had decided her not to leave her
husband's roof, and had steeled her heart against George's entreaties.
She had hesitated, and had almost yielded to the feelings of her
heart, when this thought troubled her.
Unfortunately for herself, she had not disclosed her condition to her
husband, and, at the news, all Norbert's former suspicions revived,
and his wrath rose once more to an extraordinary height. His lips grew
pale, and his eyes blazed with fury.
"Thank you, doctor!" exclaimed he. "Of course, the news is very
welcome. Good-by. I must go to the Duchess at once."
Instead of going to his wife, Norbert went and locked himself up in
his own private apartment. He had need to be alone, in order to look
this fresh complication more fully in the face, and the more he
reflected, the more convinced was he that he had been the dupe of a
guilty woman. He had begun by doubting, and he ended by being
convinced that the child was not his. Was he to accept this degraded
position, and rear up as his own the child of George de Croisenois?
The child would grow up under his own roof-tree, bear his name, and
finally inherit his title and gigantic fortune. "Never," muttered he.
"No, never; for sooner than that, I will crush the life out of it with
my own hands!"
The more he thought how he should have to deceive the world by
feigning love and lavishing caresses upon this interloping child, the
more he felt that it would be impossible to perform his task. He had,
however, much to do at present. The sudden and mysterious
disappearance of George de Croisenois had created much stir and
excitement in Paris, and the letter which had been posed by the agent
dispatched by Jean, instead of explaining matters, had only deepened
the mystery and caused fresh grounds of surprise to arise in the minds
of the friends of the Marquis and the police authorities. But the
disappearance of the Marquis was only a nine days' wonder after all.
Some other strange event excited the attention of the fickle public,
and George de Croisenois' name was no longer in every one's mouth.
Norbert breathed freely once more, for he felt his secret was safe.
Diana de Mussidan had now been absent for three months and had not
vouchsafed him a single line. A river of blood flowed between him and
his wife. Among all his acquaintances he had not one friend on whom he
could rely, and his reckless life of debauchery and dissipation began
to weary him. His thoughts were always fixed upon this coming child.
How could he ever bear to bring it up as if it were his own? He had
thought over many plans, but always trusted to the first one he had
conceived. This was to procure an infant, it mattered not where or by
what means, and substitute it for the new-born child of his wife. As
time rolled on, he became more imbued with this idea, and at length he
summoned Jean to him, that faithful old man, who served his master so
truly out of affection to the house of Champdoce.
For the first time Jean raised an objection to his master's proposal,
declaring that such an act would bring shame and misery upon all
concerned in it; but when he found that Norbert was determined, and
that, if he refused, his master would employ some less scrupulous
agent, he, with tears in his eyes and a tremor in his voice, promised
About a month later, Jean came to his master and suggested that it
would be best the /accouchement/ of the Duchess should take place at a
chateau belonging to the Champdoce family near Montroire, and that
this once done, he, Jean would arrange everything. The removal was
effected almost at once, and the Duchess, who was a mere shadow of her
former self, made no opposition. She and Norbert lived together as
perfect strangers. Sometimes a week would elapse without their
meeting; and if they had occasion to communicate, it was done by
The estate to which Norbert had conducted the Duchess was admirably
adapted for his purpose. The unhappy woman was entirely alone in the
world, and had no one to whom she could apply for protection or
advice. Her father, the Count de Puymandour, had died suddenly a month
before, owing to chagrin caused by his defeat when a candidate for a
seat in the Chamber. The brief note from the despairing mother, in
which followed the words, "Have mercy! Give me back my child!" hardly
describes the terrible events that occurred in the lonely Chateau to
which Norbert had conducted his innocent victim.
The child of the Duchess de Champdoce had been placed by Jean in the
Foundling Hospital at Vendome, while the infant that was baptized with
the grandiloquent names of Anne Rene, Gontran de Duepair, Marquis de
Champdoce, was the bastard child of a girl living near Montroire, who
was known in the neighborhood as "The Witch."
This was the conclusion of the manuscript handed by Mascarin to Paul
Violaine, and the young man laid down the roll of paper with the
remark, "And that is all."
He had consumed six hours in reading this sad account of the follies
and crimes of the owners of illustrious names.
Mascarin had listened with the complacency of an author who hears his
own work read aloud to him, but all the while he was keenly watching
him beneath his spectacles and the faces of his companions. The effect
that was produced was immense, and exactly what he had anticipated.
Paul, Hortebise, and Catenac gazed upon each other with faces in which
astonishment at the strange recital, and then at the power of the man
who had collected these facts together, were mingled, and Catenac was
the first who spoke. The sound of his own voice seemed gradually to
dispel the vague sense of apprehension that hung about the office.
"Aha!" cried he, "I always said that our old friend Mascarin would
make his mark in literature. As soon as his pen touches the paper the
business man vanishes; we have no longer a collection of dry facts and
proofs, but the stirring pages of a sensational novel."
"Do you really consider that as a mere romance?" asked Hortebise.
"It reads like one certainly; you must allow that."
"Catenac," remarked Mascarin in his bitterly sarcastic tone, "is best
able to pronounce upon the truth or falsehood of this narrative, as he
is the professional adviser of this same Duke de Champdoce, the very
Norbert whose life has just been read to you."
"I do not deny that there is some slight foundation to it," returned
"Then what is it that you do deny"
"Nothing, nothing; I merely objected, more in jest than otherwise, to
the sentimental manner in which you have set forward your case."
"Catenac," remarked Mascarin, addressing the others, "has received
many confidential communications from his noble client, which he has
not thought fit to communicate to us; and though he fancied that we
were drifting into quicksands and among breakers, he displayed no
signal of warning to save us from our danger, hoping, like a true
friend, that, by this means, he might get rid of us."
Catenac began to utter protestations and denials, but Mascarin cut him
short with an imperative gesture, and, after a long pause, he again
"You must understand that my inquisitors have had but little to do in
this affair, for my work has chiefly consisted in putting fragments
together. It is not to me that you are indebted for the sensational (I
think that that was the term used) part of my story, but rather to
Madame de Mussidan and Norbert de Champdoce. I am sure that some of
the phrases must have struck you considerably."
"It seems to me," objected Catenac--
"Perhaps," broke in Mascarin, "you have forgotten the correspondence
which the Countess de Mussidan preserved so carefully--both his
letters and her own, which Norbert returned to her."
"And we have those?"
"Of course we have, only there is a perfect romance contained in these
letters. What I have read is a mere bald extract from them; and this
is not all. The man who assisted me in the unravelling of this dark
intrigue was the original promoter--Daumon."
"What, is the Counsellor still alive?"
"Certainly, and you know him. He is not quite in his first youth, and
has aged somewhat, but his intellect is as brilliant as ever."
Catenac grew serious. "You tell me a great deal," said he.
"I can tell you even more. I can tell you that the account of the deed
was written under the dictation of Caroline Schimmel," broke in
Mascarin. "This unlucky woman started for Havre, intending to sail for
the United States, but she got no further than that seaport town, for
the good looks and the persuasive tongue of a sailor induced her to
alter her plans. As long as her money lasted he remained an ardent
lover, but vanished with the disappearance of her last thousand-franc
note. Starving and poverty-stricken, Caroline returned to Paris and to
the Duke de Champdoce, who accepted her constant demands for money as
a penitent expiation of his crime. But she remained faithful to her
oath; and had it not been for her terrible propensity for drink,
Tantaine would never have succeeded in extracting her secret from her.
If, on her recovery from her fit of drunk coma, she recollects what
has taken place, she will, if I read her character right, go straight
to the Duke de Champdoce and tell him that his secret has passed into
At this idea being promulgated, Catenac started from his chair with a
"Did you think," asked Mascarin, "that I should feel so much at my
ease if I found that there was the slightest risk? Let us consider
what it is that Caroline can say. Who is it that she can accuse of
having stolen her secret from her? Why, only a poor old wretch named
Tantaine. How can the Duke possibly trace any connection between this
miserable writer and Catenac?"
"Yes, I think that it would be a difficult task."
"Besides," pursued Mascarin, "what have we to fear from the Duke de
Champdoce? Nothing, as far as I can see. Is he not as much in our
power as the woman he formerly loved--Diana de Mussidan? Do we not
hold the letters of both of them, and do we not know in what corner of
his garden to dig to discover a damning piece of evidence? Remember
that there will be no difficulty in identifying the skeleton, for at
the time of his disappearance, Croisenois had about him several
Spanish doubloons, a fact which was given to the police."
"Well," said Catenac, "I will act faithfully. Tell me your plans, and
I will let you know all that I hear from the Duke."
For a moment a smile hovered upon Mascarin's lips, for this time he
placed firm reliance upon the good faith of the lawyer.
"Before we go further," said he, "let me conclude this narrative which
Paul has just read. It is sad and simple. The united ages of the Duke
and Duchess did not exceed fifty years; they had unlimited wealth, and
bore one of the grandest historic names of France; they were
surrounded with every appliance of luxury, and yet their lives were a
perfect wreck. They simply dragged on an existence and had lost all
hopes of happiness, but they made up their minds to conceal the
skeleton of their house in the darkest cupboard, and the world knew
nothing of their inner life. The Duchess suffered much in health, and
merely went out to visit the sick and poor. The Duke worked hard to
make up for the deficiencies of his early education, and made a name
and reputation throughout Europe."
"And how about Madame de Mussidan?" asked Catenac.
"I am coming to that," returned Mascarin. "With that strange
determination that fills the hearts of our women, she did not consider
her revenge complete until Norbert learned that she was the sole
instrument in heaping the crowing sorrow of his life on his head; and
on her return from Italy, she sent for him and told him everything.
Yes, she absolutely had the audacity to tell him that it was she who
had done her best to throw his wife into De Croisenois' arms. She told
him that it was she who had worked the arrangements for the meeting,
and had written the anonymous letter."
"Why did he not kill her?" cried Hortebise. "Had she not all his
letters, and taunted him with the production of them? Ah, my dear
friends, do not let us flatter ourselves that we have the sole
monopoly of blackmailing. The high-born Countess plunged her hand into
the Duke's coffers just as if she had been a mere adventuress. It is
only ten days ago that she borrowed--you will observe the entry of it
as a loan--a large sum to settle an account of Van Klopen's. But let
us now speak of the child who took the place of the boy whom the
Duchess brought into the world. You know him, doctor?"
"Yes, I have often seen him. He was a good-looking young fellow."
"He was, but he was a degraded scoundrel, after all. He was educated
and brought up without regard to expense, but he always displayed low
tastes, and, had he lived, would have brought discredit on the name he
bore. He was a thorn in the side of the Duke and Duchess, and I
believe that they felt great relief when he died of brain fever,
brought on by a drunken debauch. His parents, or those whom he
supposed to be such, were present at his death-bed, for they had
learned to consider their sorrows as the just chastisement of heaven.
The boy having died, the family of Champdoce seemed likely to become
extinct, and then it was that Norbert decided to do what his wife had
long urged upon him, to seek for and reclaim the child which he had
caused to be placed in the Foundling Hospital at Vendome. It went
against his pride to diverge from the course he had determined on as
best, but doubts had arisen in his mind as to his wife's guilt, and
Diana's confessions had reassured him as to the paternity of the
missing boy. It was thus with hope in his heart, and furnished with
every necessary document, that he started for Vendome; but there a
terrible disappointment awaited him. The authorities of the hospital,
on consulting the register, found that a child had been admitted on
the day and hour mentioned by Norbert, and that his description of the
infant's clothing tallied exactly with the entries. But the child was
no longer in the hospital, and there was no clue to his whereabouts.
He had, at the age of twelve, been apprenticed to a tanner, but he had
run away from his master, and the most active and energetic search had
failed to arrest the fugitive."
Catenac listened to all these exact details with an unpleasant feeling
gnawing at his heart, for he saw that his associates knew everything,
and he had relied upon again securing their confidence by furnishing
them with those details which were evidently already known to them.
Mascarin, however, affected not to notice his surprise, and went on
with his narrative.
"This terrible disappointment will certainly kill the Duke de
Champdoce. It seemed to him that after having so bitterly expiated the
crimes and follies of his youth, he might hope to have his old age in
peace and quiet, with a son who might cheer the loneliness of his
desolate fireside. His countenance, as soon as he appeared before the
Duchess, who had been expecting his return in an agony of anguish and
suspense, told her at once that all hope had fled. In a few days,
however, the Duke had perfectly recovered from the shock, and had
decided that to give up the search would be an act of madness. The
world is wide, and a friendless boy, without a name, difficult to
trace; but, with ample funds, almost anything can be done, and he was
willing to sacrifice both life and fortune to attain his object. So
immense were his resources, that it was easy for him to employ the
most skilful detectives; and whatever the result might be, he had come
to look upon this task as a sacred duty to which he ought to devote
all the remaining years of his life. He swore that he would never rest
or cease from his search until he had been furnished with the
indisputable proofs of the existence or the death of his son. He did
not confide all this project to the Duchess; for he feared--and he had
by this time learned to have some consideration for her enfeebled
frame--her health had given way so completely that any extra degree of
excitement might prove fatal to her. He, therefore, as a preliminary,
applied to that element which in the Rue de Jerusalem acts as the
terrestrial guardians of society. But the police could do nothing for
the Duke. They heard what he had to say gravely, took notes, told him
to call again later on, and there was an end to their proceedings. It
can easily be understood that the rank and position of the Duke
prevented him from making his name known in his inquiries; and as he
dared not divulge the whole truth, he gave such a bald version of the
case, that it excited no deep feelings of interest. At last he was
sent to a certain M. Lecoq."
To Paul's utter astonishment, the name produced a sudden and terrible
effect upon Doctor Hortebise, who started to his feet as if propelled
from his chair by the unexpected application of some hidden motive
power, and, fingering the locket that hung from his chain, gazed round
upon his associates with wild and excited eyes.
"Stop!" cried he. "If that fellow Lecoq is to put his nose into your
case, I withdraw; I will have nothing to do with it, for it is certain
to be a failure."
He appeared to be so thoroughly frightened, that Catenac condescended
"Yes, yes," said he, "I can understand your alarm; but be at ease;
Lecoq has nothing to do with us."
But Hortebise was not satisfied with Catenac's assurance, and looked
for confirmation from Mascarin.
"Lecoq has nothing to do with us," repeated his friend. "The fool said
that his position prevented him from giving his time to any
investigation of a private nature, which, by the way, is quite true.
The Duke offered him a heavy sum to throw up his appointment, but he
refused, saying he did not work for money, but from love for his
"Which is quite true," interrupted Catenac.
"However," continued Mascarin, "to cut short my narrative, the Duke,
on the refusal of Lecoq to act, applied to Catenac."
"Yes," answered the lawyer, "and the Duke has placed the conduct of
the search in my hands."
"Have you formed any plan of action?"
"Not at present. The Duke said, 'Ask every living soul in the world,
if you can succeed in no other way'; this is all the instruction he
has given me; and," added he, with a slight shrug of his shoulders, "I
am almost of Perpignan's opinion, that the search will be a fruitless
"Lecoq did not think so."
"He only said that he believed he should succeed if he were to take it
"Well," answered Mascarin coldly, "I have been certain of success from
the very commencement."
"Have you been to Vendome?" asked Catenac.
"Never mind, I have been somewhere, and at this very moment could
place my hand upon the shoulder of the heir to the dukedom of
"Are you in earnest?"
"I was never more in earnest in my life. I have found him; only as it
is impossible for me to appear in the matter, I shall delegate to you
and Perpignan the happiness of restoring the lost son to his father's
Catenac glanced from Mascarin to Hortebise, and from them to Paul, and
seemed to wish to be certain that he was not being made an object of
"And why do you not wish to appear in the matter?" asked he at last,
in a suspicious tone of voice. "Do you foresee some risk, and want me
to bear the brunt?"
Mascarin shrugged his shoulders.
"First," said he, "I am not a traitor, as you know well enough; and
then the interests of all of us depend on your safety. Can one of us
be compromised without endangering his associates? You know that this
is impossible. All you have to do is to point out where the traces
commence; others will follow them at their own risk, and all you will
have to do will be to look calmly on."
Mascarin lost his patience, and with a deep frown, replied,--
"That is enough. We require no more argument, I am the master, and it
is for you to obey."
When Mascarin adopted this tone, resistance was out of the question;
and as he invariably made all yield to him, it was best to obey with a
good grace, and Catenac relapsed into silence, completely subjugated
and very much puzzled.
"Sit down at my desk," continued Mascarin, "and take careful notes of
what I now say. Success is, as I have told you, inevitable, but I must
be ably backed. All now depends upon your exactitude in obeying my
orders; one false step may ruin us all. You have heard this, and
cannot say that you are not fully warned."
A SUDDEN CHECK.
Catenac seated himself at the writing-table without a word, concealing
his anger and jealousy beneath a careless smile. Mascarin was no
longer the plotter consulting with his confederates; he was the master
issuing his orders to his subordinates. He had now taken from a box
some of those square pieces of pasteboard, which he spent his time in
"Try and not miss one word of what I am saying," remarked he, bending
his keen glance upon Paul; then, turning to Catenac, he continued,
"Can you persuade the Duke de Champdoce and Perpignan to start for
Vendome on Saturday?"
"Perhaps I may be able to do so."
"I want a Yes or No. Can you or can you not make these people go
"Well, yes, then."
"Very well. Then, on going to Vendome, you will stop at the Hotel de
"Hotel de Porte," repeated Catenac, as he made a note of the name.
"Upon the day of your arrival at Vendome," continued Mascarin, "you
could do very little. Your time would be taken up in resting after
your journey, and perhaps you may make a few preliminary inquiries. It
will be on Sunday that you will go to the hospital together, and make
the same inquires which the Duke formerly made by himself. The lady
superior is a woman of excellent taste and education, and she will do
all that she can to be useful to you. Through her you will be able to
obtain the boy's description, and the date on which he left the
hospital to be apprenticed to a tanner. She will tell you that,
disliking the employment, he ran away from them at the age of twelve
and a half years, and that since then no trace of him has been found.
You will hear from her that he was a tall, well-built lad, looking two
years older than he really was, with an intelligent cast of feature,
and keen, bright eyes, full of health and good looks. He had on, on
the day of his disappearance, blue and white striped trousers, a gray
blouse, a cap with no peak, and a spotted silk cravat. Then to assist
you still further in your researches she will add that he carried in a
bundle, enveloped in a red plaid cotton handkerchief, a white blouse,
a pair of gray cloth trousers, and a pair of new shoes."
Catenac watched Mascarin as he was speaking with an expression of ill-
"You are well informed, on my word," muttered he.
"I think I am," returned Mascarin. "After this you will go back to the
hotel, and not until then--do you understand?--and you will consult as
to the first steps to be taken. The plan proposed by Perpignan is an
"What! you know it then?"
"Of course I do. He proposed to divide Vendome and its suburbs into a
certain number of circles, and to make a house-to-house visitation in
each of them. Let him go to work in this manner. Of course, to do so,
you will require a guide."
"Of course we should require such a person."
"Here, Catenac, I must leave a little to chance, for I am not quite
omnipotent. But there are nine chances out of ten that your host will
advise you to avail yourself of the services of a man called Frejot,
who acts as commissioner to the hotel. It may be, however, that he may
designate some one else; but in that case you must, by some means or
other, manage to employ the services of one other man."
"What am I to say to him?"
"He understands what he is to do completely. Well, these preliminaries
being settled, you will commence on Monday morning to search the
suburb called Areines, under the guidance of Frejot. Leave all the
responsibility to Perpignan, but make sure that the Duke comes with
you. Ask the denizens a series of questions which you have prepared
beforehand, such as 'My friends, we are in search of a boy. A reward
of ten thousand francs is offered to any one who will put us on his
track. He must have left these parts in August, 1856, and some of you
may have seen him.' "
Here Catenac stopped Mascarin.
"Wait a moment. Your own words are excellent; I will write them down."
"All Monday," continued Mascarin, "you will not make much progress,
and for the next few days it will be the same, but on Saturday prepare
yourself for a great surprise; for on that day Frejot will take you to
a large, lonely farmhouse, on the shores of a lake. This farm is held
by a man named Lorgelin, who cultivates it with the assistance of his
wife and his two sons. You will find these worthy people at dinner.
They will offer you some refreshment, and you will accept. At the next
word you utter you will find that they will glance at each other in a
meaning manner, and the wife will exclaim, 'Blessed Virgin! Surely the
gentleman is speaking of the poor lad we have so often talked
As Mascarin went on describing his arrangements, his whole form seemed
to dilate, and his face shone with the knowledge of mastery and power.
His voice was so clear and his manner so full of authority and
command, that it carried conviction to the minds of all those who were
seated listening to him. He spoke of what would happen as if he was
dealing with an absolute certainty, and went on with such wonderful
lucidity and force of reasoning that they seemed to be absolutely
"Oh! the farmer's wife will say this, will she?" demanded Catenac, in
a tone of the utmost surprise.
"Yes, this, and nothing more. Then the husband will explain that they
found the poor lad half dead in a ditch by the side of the road, and
that they took him home, and did what they could for him; and will
add, this was in the beginning of September, 1856. You will offer to
read him your description of the lad, but he will volunteer his own,
which you will find exactly to tally with the one you have. Then
Lorgelin will tell you what an excellent lad he was, and how the farm
seemed quite another place as long as he remained there. All the
family will join in singing his praises--he was so good-tempered, so
obliging, and at thirteen he could write like a lawyer's clerk. And
then they will produce some of his writing in an old copy book. But
after all the old woman, with a tear in her eye, will say that she
found the lad had not much gratitude in his composition, for at the
end of the following September he left the farm where he had received
so much kindness. Yes, he left them to go away with some strolling
performers. You will be absolutely affected by the words of these
worthy people, and before you leave they will show you the clothes the
lad left behind him."
Catenac was waiting for the conclusion, and then exclaimed, in rather
a disappointed tone,--
"But I do not see what we have gained when Lorgelin's story has been
repeated to us."
Mascarin raised his hand, as though to deprecate immediate criticism,
and to ask for further patience on the part of his audience.
"Permit me to go on," said he. "You would now not know what to do, but
Perpignan will not hesitate for a moment. He will tell you that he
holds the end of the clue, and that all that remains to be done is to
follow it up carefully."
"I think that you overrate Perpignan's talents."
"Not a bit; each man to his own line of business. Besides, if he
wanders off the course, you must get him back to it. In this you must
act diplomatically. His first move will naturally be to take you to
the office of the mayor of the township, where a register of licenses
is kept. There you will find that in September, 1857, there passed
through the place a troupe of travelling performers, consisting of
nine persons, with the caravans, under the management of a man known
as Vigoureux, nicknamed the Grasshopper."
Catenac rapidly jotted down these items. "Not so fast," said he; "I
cannot follow you."
After a short pause, Mascarin continued.
"An attentive examination of the book will prove to you that no other
troupe of itinerant performers passed through the place during that
month; and it is clear that it must have been the Grasshopper with
whom the lad went away. You will then peruse the man's description.
Vigoureux, born at Bourgogne, Vosges. Age, forty-seven. Height, six
feet two inches. Eyes, small and gray, rather near-sighted. Complexion
dark. Third finger of left hand cut off at first joint. If you
confound him, after reading this, with any other man of his
profession, you must certainly be rather foolish."
"I shall now be able to find him," muttered Catenac.
"But that is Perpignan's business. You will see him put on an air of
the greatest importance, and appear quite overjoyed at the news he has
obtained at the office of the mayor. He will say that the inquiry at
Vendome is over, and that it will be best to return to Paris at once.
Of course, you will make no objection. You will permit the Duke to
make a handsome present to Lorgelin and Frejot; but take care not to
leave him behind you. I advise you to regain Paris without a moment's
delay. The wily Perpignan, on your return, will at once take you to
the head police office, where Vigoureux will have left his papers,
like other men of his profession. If there is any difficulty in
obtaining a sight of them, the Duke de Champdoce will act as a
talisman. You will then discover that in 1864, the man Vigoureux was
sentenced to a term of imprisonment for disorderly conduct, and that
he now keeps a wine-shop at the corner of the Rue Depleux."
"Stop a bit," said Catenac, "and let me take down the address."
"When you go there, you will recognize Vigoureux by the loss of his
finger. He will at once admit that the lad followed him, and remained
in the troupe for ten months. He was a good enough lad, but as grand
as a peacock, and as lazy as a dormouse. He made great friends with an
old Alsatian, called Fritz, who was the conductor of the orchestra,
and by-and-by both were so fond of each other, that one day they went
off in each other's company. Now you want to know what has become of
Fritz? I know Vigoureux will get tired of this prolonged string of
questions, and behave violently; then you will threaten him for having
carried off a youth of tender years, and he will calm down, and become
as mild as mother's milk, and will promise to gain information for
you. In a week he will give the information that Fritz is to be found
at the Hospital Magloire."
Absolutely dumb with surprise, the audience listened to these strange
assertions, which dovetailed so exactly into each other, and seemed to
have been the work of years of research.
"Fritz," continued Mascarin, "is a sly old dog. You will find an old,
rickety, blue-eyed man at the hospital, and remember to tell the Duke
de Champdoce that he must not put too much faith in him. This wily old
Alsatian will tell you of all the sacrifices he made for the dear lad.
He will tell you that he often went without his beer and tobacco in
order to pay for the music lessons that he forced the boy to take. He
will tell you that he wanted to get him into the Government School of
Music, for that he possessed great vocal and instrumental talent, and
he cherished the hope of one day seeing him a great composer, like
Weber or Mozart. I expect that this flow of self-praise will melt the
heart of your client, for he will see that his son had made an effort
to rise out of the mire by his own exertions, and will, in this
energy, recognize one of the characteristics of the Champdoce family;
and on the strength of this testimony he will almost be ready to
accept the young man as his son."
Catenac had for some time past been striving to decipher the meaning
hidden behind the inscrutable countenance of Mascarin, but in vain.
"Let us get on," said the lawyer impatiently. "All that you have told
me I shall hear later on in the course of the inquiry."
"If your sagacity requires no further explanation from me," rejoined
Mascarin, "you will, I trust, permit me to continue them for the
benefit of our young friend, Paul Violaine. You will feel compassion
when the Alsatian tells you of his sufferings, at the boys'
description of him, and his subsequent prosperity in the Rue d'Arras.
You had better listen to the old man as long as he continues to
grumble on, the more so as you will detect in the rancor and
bitterness of his remarks all the vexation of a disappointed
speculator. He will confess to you besides that he subsists entirely
on the bounty of the lad, whom he had stigmatized as an ungrateful
villain. Of course, the Duke will have to leave behind him some
testimonial of his pleasure, and you will hurry off to the Rue
d'Arras. The proprietor of the house will tell you that some four
years ago he got rid of his musician, the only one of his class who
had dared to establish himself there, and a small present and a few
adroit questions will obtain for you the address of one of the young
man's pupils, Madame Grandorge, a widow lady, residing in the Rue St.
Louis. This lady will tell you that she does not know the address of
her former master, but that he used to live at 57, Rue de la Harpe.
From the Rue de la Harpe you will be sent to the Rue Jacob, and from
thence to the Rue Montmartre, at the corner of the Rue Joquelet."
Mascarin paused, drew a long breath, and chuckled inwardly, as though
at some excellent joke.
"Be comforted, Catenac," said he. "You have nearly reached the end of
your journey. The portress at the house in the Rue Montmartre is the
most obliging woman in the world. She will tell you that the musician
still retains his rooms in the house, but that he resides there no
longer, for he has made a lucky hit, and last month he married the
daughter of a wealthy banker living close by. The young lady,
Mademoiselle Rigal, saw him, and fell in love with him."
A clever man like Catenac should have foreseen what was coming, but he
had not, and at this conclusion he uttered a loud exclamation of
"Yes, just so," said Mascarin, with an air of bland triumph. "The Duke
de Champdoce will then drag you off to our mutual friend Martin Rigal,
and there you will find our young /protégé/, the happy husband of the
Mascarin drew himself up, and adjusted his glasses firmly on his nose.
"Now, my dear Catenac, show the liberality and amiability of your
disposition by congratulating our friend Paul as Gontran, Marquis de
Hortebise, of course, knew what was coming; he knew the lines of the
plot of the play as if he had been a joint author of it, and was as
much excited as if he were assisting at a first rehearsal.
"Bravo!" he exclaimed, clapping his hands together. "Bravo, my dear
Mascarin, you have excelled yourself to-day!"
Worried and perplexed as Paul had been, as Mascarin concluded he sank
back in his chair, sick and giddy with emotion.
"Yes," said Mascarin in a clear and ringing voice, "I accept your
praise without any affectation of false modesty. We have no reason to
fear the intervention of that grain of sand which sometimes stops the
working of the machine. Perpignan, poor fool though he is, will be our
best friend, and will do our work quite unconsciously. Can the Duke
retain any atom of suspicion after these minute investigations?
Impossible. But to remove the slightest element of doubt, I have
another and an additional plan. I will make him retrace the path upon
which he has started. He shall take Paul to all these various places,
and at all of them the statements will be even more fully confirmed.
Paul, the son-in-law of Martin Rigal, the husband of Flavia, will be
recognized in the Rue Montmartre, the Rue Jacob, and the Rue de la
Harpe. He will be joyfully welcomed in the Rue d'Arras; Fritz will
embrace his ungrateful pupil; Vigoureux will remind him of his
skillful feats on the trapeze; the Lorgelin family will press the lad
whom they gave shelter to, to their hearts, and this will happen,
Catenac, because I will it, and because all the people from the
portress in the Rue Montmartre to the Lorgelins are my slaves, and
dare not disobey one single command which I may issue."
Catenac rose slowly and solemnly from his seat.
"I recognize your patience and ingenuity thoroughly, only I am going
with one word to crush the fabric of hope that you have so carefully
Catenac might be a coward, he might also be a traitor but he was a
clever and clear-sighted man too. Consequently Hortebise shivered as
he heard these words, but Mascarin smiled disdainfully, basking in his
dream of success.
"Go on then," said he.
"Well, then, let me tell you that you will not overreach and deceive
"And why not, pray?" asked Mascarin. "But are you sure that I wish to
deceive him? You have not been open with me, why should I be frank
with you? Am I in the habit of confiding in those who do not repose
confidence in me? Does Perpignan for a moment suspect the part that he
is to play? Why may I not have judged it best to keep from you the
fact that Paul is really the child you are seeking?"
Mascarin spoke so confidently that Catenac gazed upon him, hardly
knowing to what conclusion to come, for his conscience was by no means
clear. His intellect quickly dived into the depths of all
probabilities, and yet he could not see in all these combinations any
possible peril to himself.
"I only hope," said he, "that Paul is all that you represent him to
be; but why all these precautions? Only, mark my words, the Duke has
an infallible way of detecting, or rather of preventing, any attempt
at imposition. It is ever thus, the most trivial circumstance will
overset the best laid plans, and the inevitable destroy the
combinations of the most astute intellect."
Mascarin interrupted his associate.
"Paul is the son of the Duke de Champdoce," said he decisively.
What was the meaning of this? Catenac felt that he was being played
with, and grew angry.
"As you please; but you will, I presume, permit me to convince myself
of the truth of this assertion."
Then, advancing towards Paul, the lawyer said,--
"Have the goodness to remove your coat."
Paul took it off, and threw it upon the back of a chair.
"Now," added Catenac, "roll up your right shirt sleeve to the
Scarcely had the young man obeyed, and the lawyer cast a rapid glance
at the bare flesh, than he turned to his associates and observed,--
"No, he is not the right man."
To his extreme surprise, Mascarin and Hortebise burst into a fit of
"No," pursued the lawyer, "this is not the child who was sent to the
Hospital of Vendome, and the Duke will recognize this better than I
can. You laugh, but it is because you do not know all."
"Enough," returned Mascarin, and then, turning to the doctor, he
remarked, "Tell him, my friends, that we know more than he thinks."
"And so," said Hortebise, taking Paul's hand, "you are certain that
this is not the lost child because he has not certain marks about him;
but these will be seen upon the day on which Paul is introduced to the
Duke, and legibly enough to satisfy the most unbelieving."
"What do you mean?"
"Let me explain in my own way. If in early childhood Paul had been
scalded on his shoulder by boiling water, he would have a scar whose
appearance would denote its origin?"
Catenac nodded, "You are quite accurate," said he.
"Well, then listen. Paul is coming home with me. I shall take him into
my consulting-room; he will lie on a couch. I shall give him
chloroform, for I do not wish him to suffer any pain. Mascarin will
help me. Then I shall apply, on the proper part, a piece of flannel
steeped in a certain liquid which is an invention of my own. I am not
a fool, as you may have discovered before this; and in a drawer at
home is a piece of flannel cut so as exactly to resemble the irregular
outline of a scar of the kind you describe, and a few little bits here
and there will do the rest of the work artistically. When the liquid
has effected its work, which will be in ten minutes, I shall remove
it, and apply an ointment, another invention of my own, to the wound;
then I shall restore Paul to his senses, and go to dinner."
Mascarin rubbed his hands with delight.
"But you forget that a certain space of time is required to give a
scar the appearance of not having been recent," objected Catenac.
"Let me speak," broke in the doctor. "If we only needed time--six
months, say, or a year--we should postpone our concluding act until
then; but I, Hortebise, assure you that in two months, thanks to
another discovery of my own--will show you a scar that will pass
muster, not perhaps before a fellow-practitioner, but certainly before
Catenac's sunken eyes blazed as he thought of the prospective
"May the devil fly away with all scruples!" cried he. "My friends, I
am yours soul and body; you may rely on your devoted Catenac."
The doctor and Mascarin exchanged a look of triumph.
"Of course we share and share alike," observed the lawyer. "It is true
that I come in rather late; but the part I play is a delicate and an
important one, and you can do nothing without me."
"You shall have your share," answered Mascarin evasively.
"One word more," said the lawyer. "Do you think that the Duke has kept
nothing back? The infant was hardly seen by him or the Duchess; but
Jean saw it, and he, though very old and infirm, would come forward at
any moment to defend the name and honor of the Champdoce family."
"Well, and what then?"
"Jean, you know, was against the substitution of another child. May he
not have foreseen the chance of such a case as this arising?"
Mascarin looked grave. "I have thought of that before," returned he;
"but what can be done?"
"I will find out," said Catenac. "Jean has the most implicit
confidence in me, and I will question him."
The cold calmness of the lawyer had vanished, and Catenac only
displayed the zealous eagerness of the man who, admitted at a late
hour into an enterprise which he imagines will be lucrative, burns to
do as much as he can to further it.
"But," added he, as an after-thought, "how can we be certain that
there is no one to recognize Paul?"
"I can answer for that; his poverty had isolated him from all but a
woman named Rose, and I took care that she should be sent to the
prison of St. Lazare. At one time I was a little anxious, as I heard
that Paul had a patron; but he, as I have found out, was the Count de
Mussidan, the murderer of Montlouis, who, as you may have guessed, was
"We have nothing, then, to fear from that quarter," said the doctor.
"Nothing; and while you get on with your work, I will hurry on Paul's
marriage with Rigal's daughter. But this will not prevent my busying
myself in another quarter; for before a month Henri de Croisenois will
have floated his Company, and become the husband of Sabine de
"I think that it is about time for dinner," remarked Hortebise, and,
turning to the /protégé/ of the association, he added, "Come, Paul."
But Paul made no movement, and then for the first time it was seen
that the poor boy had fainted, and they had to sprinkle cold water
upon him before he regained consciousness.
"Surely," remarked the doctor, "it is not the idea of a trifling
operation that you will not feel which has so frightened you?"
Paul shook his head. "It is not that," said he.
"What, then, is it?"
"Simply that the real man exists; I know him, and know where he
"What do you mean?" they cried.
"I know him, I tell you--the son of the Duke de Champdoce."
"Let us hear all!" cried Mascarin, who was the first to come to his
senses. "Explain yourself."
"Simply this. I know such a young man, and it was the thought of this
that made me feel so ill. He is thirty-three. He was at the Foundling
Hospital; he left it at the age of twelve and a half years; and he has
just such a scald on his shoulder, which he got when he was
apprenticed to a tanner."
"And where," asked Mascarin quickly, "is this same young man? What is
his name, and what does he do for a living?"
"He is a painter; his name is Andre, and he lives--"
A blasphemous oath from Mascarin interrupted him. "This is the third
time," said he fiercely, "that this cursed fellow has crossed our
path; but I swear that it shall be the last."
Hortebise and Catenac were livid with alarm.
"What do you intend to do?" asked they.
"I shall do nothing," answered he; "but you know that this Andre, in
addition to being a painter, is an ornamental sculptor and house
decorator, and so is often on lofty scaffolds. Have you never heard
that accidents frequently happen to that class of people?"
A MELANCHOLY MASHER.
When Mascarin spoke of suppressing the man who stood in his way as
easily as if he was alluding to extinguishing a candle, he was not
aware that there was one circumstance which considerably enhanced the
difficulty of his task, for Andre had been forewarned, and this note
of warning had been sounded on the day on which he had received that
letter from Sabine, in which she spoke in such despairing terms of her
approaching marriage, which she had been compelled to agree to to save
the honor of her family. This feeling was strengthened by a long
conversation he had had with M. de Breulh-Faverlay and the Viscountess
de Bois Arden, in which it was unanimously decided that the Count and
Countess de Mussidan were victims of some plot of which Henri de
Croisenois was certainly one of the promoters. He had no conception on
what side to look for the danger, but he had an instinctive feeling
that it was impending. He prepared, therefore, to act on the
defensive. It was not only his life that was in danger, but his love
and his future happiness. M. de Breulh-Faverlay had also serious
apprehensions for the safety of a man for whom he entertained so great
a respect and regard.
"I would lay a heavy wager," said he, "that we have to do with some
villainous blackmailers, and the difficulty of the business is, that
we must do the work ourselves, for we dare not invite the aid of the
police. We have no proof to offer, and the police will not stir a foot
on mere suppositions, and we should not earn the thanks of those we
are desirous of assisting if we called the attention of the law to
certain acts in their past lives; for who can say what the terrible
secret is, that some vile wretch holds over the heads of M. and Madame
de Mussidan? And it is quite on the cards that the Count and the
Countess might be compelled to join the blackmailers and oppose us. We
must act with the greatest prudence and caution. Remember, that if you
are out at night, you must avoid dark corners, for it would be the
easiest thing in the world to put a knife into your back."
The conclusion that was arrived at, at this interview, was that for
the present Andre and De Breulh should cease to see each other so
frequently. They felt convinced that a watch had been set on them, and
that their intimacy would certainly be notified to De Croisenois; and
of course they had every desire to cause him to imagine that they were
not acting in any way together. The arrangement, therefore, that they
entered into was that each should act from his own point of vantage
against Henri de Croisenois, and that when necessary they should meet
in the evening to compare notes in a small /café/ in the Champs
Elysees, not far from the house in which Andre was at work.
His courage was still as high as ever, but the first symptoms of
rashness had vanished. He was a born diplomatist, and fully realized
that cunning and treachery must be met by similar weapons. He must not
break his engagement to M. Gandelu; but how could he superintend the
workmen and keep an eye on Croisenois at the same time? Money was
absolutely necessary, and yet he felt a strange disinclination to
accept a loan from M. de Breulh. If he were to throw up his work, it
would naturally create suspicion.
M. Gandelu had a shrewd head, and Andre, remembering the old man's
kindness to him on all occasions, determined to confide the matter to
him, and with this object he called on him the next morning as the
clock was striking nine. His surprise was extreme when he saw Gaston
de Gandelu in the courtyard. He was just the same looking Gaston, the
lover of Madame de Chantemille, to the outward eye, but some grave
calamity had evidently entirely changed the inner man. He was smoking
his cigar with an air of desperation, and seemed to be utterly weary
of the world and its belongings.
At the moment Andre entered the young man caught sight of him.
"Halloo!" said he; "here is my artistic friend. I lay ten to one that
you have come to ask my father to do you a favor."
"You are quite right; is he at home?"
"The governor is in the sulks; he has shut himself up, and will not
"You are joking."
"Not I; the old man is a regular despot, and I am sick of everything."
Noticing that one of the grooms was listening, Gaston had sufficient
sense to draw Andre a little on one side.
"Do you know," asked he, "that the governor has docked my screw and
vows that he will advertise himself as not responsible for the debts
of yours truly; but I cannot think he will do so, for that would be a
regular smash-up for me. You haven't such a trifle as ten thousand
francs about you that you could lend me, have you? I'd give twenty
thousand for the accommodation when I came of age."
"I must say--," began Andre.
"All right; never mind; I understand. If you had the ready, you
wouldn't be hanging about here; but for all that, I must have the
cash. Hang it all, I signed bills to that amount payable to Verminet.
Do you know the fellow?"
"Not at all."
"Where were you dragged up? Why, he is the head of the Mutual Loan
Society. The only nuisance is, that to make matters run a bit smooth,
I wrote down the wrong name. Do you tumble, eh?"
"But, great heavens! that is forgery," said Andre, aghast.
"Not a bit, for I always intended to pay; besides, I wanted the money
to square Van Klopen. You know /him/, I suppose?"
"Well, he is the chap to dress a girl. I had those costumes for Zora
from him; but it is out and out the governor's fault. Why did he drive
me to desperation? Yes, it is all the old man's doing. He wasn't
satisfied with pitching into me, but he collared that poor, helpless
lamb and shut her up. She never did him any harm, and I call it a
right down cowardly and despicable act to hurt Zora."
"Zora," repeated Andre, who did not recognize the name.
"Yes, Zora; you know; you had a feed with us one day."
"Yes, yes; you mean Rose."
"That's it; but I don't like any one to call her by that ugly, common
name. Well, the governor has gone mad about her, and filed a complaint
against her of decoying a minor, as if I was a fellow any one could
decoy. Well, the end of it was, that she is now in the prison of St.
The tears started to the young man's eyes as he related this
"Poor Zora," he added; "I was never mashed on a woman like I was on
her. And then what a splendid form she has! Why, the hairdresser said
he had never seen such hair in his life; and she is at St. Lazare. As
soon as the police came for her, her first thoughts were of me, and
she shrieked out, 'Poor Gaston will kill himself when he hears of
this.' The cook told me this, and added that her mistress's sufferings
were terrible. And she is at St. Lazare. I tried to see her, but it
was no go"; and here the boy's voice broke into a sob.
"Come," said Andre, "keep up your spirits."
"Ah! you shall see if, as soon as I am twenty-one, I don't marry her.
I don't put all the blame on the old man. He has been advised by his
lawyer, a beast by the name of Catenac. Do you know /him/?"
"You don't seem to know any one. Well, I shall send him a challenge
to-morrow. I have got my seconds all ready. By the way, would you like
to act for me? I can easily get rid of one of the others."
"I have had no experience in such matters."
"Ah, then you would be of no use. My seconds must put him into a
regular blue funk."
"In that case--"
"No; I know what you are going to say: you mean that I had best look
out for a military swell; but, after all, the matter lies in a
nutshell. I am the insulted party, and draw pistols at ten paces. If
that frightens him, he will make the governor drop all this rubbish."
Had his mind not been so much occupied, this rhodomontade on Gaston's
part would have amused Andre very much, but now he asked himself what
would be the quickest way to escape from him.
Just at this moment a servant emerged from the house.
"Sir," said he, addressing Andre, "my master has seen you from his
window, and begs that you will go up to him at once."
"I will be with him immediately," answered Andre; and, holding out his
hand to Gaston, he took leave of him with a few words of
A GENTLEMAN IN DIFFICULTIES.
When Andre had got rid of the young man, and had been ushered into M.
Gandelu's presence, the change in the gentleman's appearance struck
him with horror. His eyes were red and swollen as if he had been
weeping, but as soon as he caught sight of Andre his face brightened,
and he welcomed him warmly.
"Oh, it does me good to see you, and I bless the fortunate chance that
has brought you here to-day."
"It is not a very fortunate chance," answered Andre, as he shook his
For the first time Gandelu noticed the air of gravity which marked the
young man, and the shade of sorrow upon his brow.
"What ails you, Andre?" asked he.
"A great misfortune is hanging over me."
"What do you mean?"
"The naked truth and this misfortune may bring death and despair to
"I am your friend, my dear boy," said the old man, "and would gladly
be of service to you. Tell me if I can be of any use?"
"I come to you to-day to ask a favor at your hands."
"And you thought of the old man, then? I thank you for doing so. Give
me your hand; I like to feel the grasp of an honest man's hand; it
warms my heart."
"It is the secret of my life that I am going to confide to you," said
he, with some solemnity.
M. Gandelu made no reply, but struck his clenched fist upon his
breast, as though to show that any secret confided to him would be
locked up in the safe security of his heart.
Then Andre hesitated no longer, and, with the exception of giving
names, told the whole story of his love, his ambitions, and his hopes,
and gave a clear account of how matters stood.
"How can I help you?" asked M. Gandelu.
"Allow me," said Andre, "to hand over the work with which you have
intrusted me to one of my friends. I will retain the responsibility,
but will merely act as one of the workmen. This, to a certain extent,
will give me my liberty, while at the same time I shall be earning a
little money, which is just now of vast importance to me."
"Is that what you call a favor?"
"Certainly, and a very great one, too."
Gandelu rose hastily, and, opening an iron safe which stood in one
corner of the room, and taking from it a bundle of banknotes, he
placed them on the table before Andre with an expressive look, which
meant, "Take what you desire."
The unlooked-for kindness of this man, who forgot all his own sorrows
in his anxiety to relieve the necessities of another, affected Andre
"I do not need money," began he.
With a wave of his hand Gandelu inspired silence. "Take these twenty
thousand francs," said he, "and then I can tell you why I asked you to
A refusal would have wounded the old man deeply, and so Andre took the
Gandelu resumed his seat, and remained in gloomy silence for some
"My dear boy," said he, in a voice broken by emotion, "a day or two
back you saw something of the trouble that I am laboring under. I have
no longer any respect or esteem for that wretched fool, my son,
Andre had already guessed that he had been incensed with reference to
something connected with Gaston.
"You son has behaved very foolishly," said he; "but remember he is
A sad smile passed over the old man's face.
"My son is old in vice," replied he. "I have thought the matter over
only too plainly. Yesterday he declared that he would kill himself. An
absurd threat. Up to this time I have been culpably weak, and it is no
use now to act in an opposite direction. The unhappy boy is infatuated
with a degraded woman named Rose, and I have had her locked up; but I
have made up my mind to let her out again, and also to pay his debts.
It is weak folly, I allow; but what am I to do? I am his father after
all; and while I cannot respect her, I must love him. He has almost
broken my heart, but it was his to do as he liked with."
Andre made no reply, and Gandelu went on.
"I have not deceived myself; my son is ruined. I can but stand by and
wait for the end. If this Rose is not everything that is bad, her
influence may be of some use to him. But I want some one to undertake
these negotiations, and I had hopes, Andre, that you would have been
able to do so."
Andre felt that all his efforts ought to be devoted to the interests
of Sabine, but at the same time he could not leave the kind old man to
the mercy of others, and by a display of absolute heroism he
determined to accede to the broken-hearted father's desires and
briefly told him that he was at his service. Gandelu thanked him
warmly, and Andre seating himself at the table, the two men entered
into a long discussion as to the best means to be adopted. It was
finally decided that Andre should act with freedom and according to
his own instincts, and that M. Gandelu should, to actual appearance,
remain firm in the course he had entered upon, and should only be
induced, by Andre's intercession, to adopt milder measures. The result
justified their anticipations, for Gaston was even more crushed and
downcast than Andre had imagined, and it was in an agony of suspense
that he awaited the return of the young painter. As soon as he saw him
descending the steps he sprang forward to greet him.
"Well," said he, in a tone of eager inquiry.
"Your father," returned Andre, "is terribly angry with you, but I hope
to be able to induce him to do something for you."
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