The Champdoce Mystery
Part 5 out of 7
"Will he set Zora at liberty?"
"Perhaps he will; but first he must have something more from you than
promises--he must have stable guarantees."
At these words Gaston's face fell. "Guarantees," answered he sulkily.
"Is not my word of honor enough? What sort of guarantees does he
"That I cannot tell you, and you must find out for yourself; but I
will do all I can for you."
Gaston gazed upon Andre in surprise.
"Do you mean to tell me," asked he, "that you can do pretty well what
you like with the governor?"
"Not exactly; but surely you can see that I have a good deal of
influence over him. If you want a proof of this, see, here is the
money to take up these bills you told me of."
"I suppose so. I am speaking of those to which you were mad enough to
forge another man's name."
Foolish as the boy was, this act of his had caused him many a
sleepless night, and he had reflected very often how he could possibly
escape from the consequence of his act of rashness.
"Give me the money," cried he.
Andre shook his head, however. "Forgive me," said he, "but this money
does not quit my hand until the bills are handed over to me. Your
father's orders on this point are decided; but the sooner we settle
the affair the better."
"That is too bad; the governor is as sly as a fox; but he must have
his own way, I suppose, so come on. Only just wait till I slip on a
coat more suitable to my position than this lounging suit."
He rushed away, and was back again in ten minutes as neat as a new
pin, and full of gayety and good spirits.
"We can walk," said he, putting his arm through Andre's. "We have to
go to the Rue St. Anne."
Verminet had his office in this street--the office of the Mutual Loan
Society, of which he was the managing director. The house, in spite of
its grandiloquent title, was of excessively shabby exterior. The
Mutual Loan Society was frequented by those who, having lost their
credit, wished to obtain a fresh amount, and who, having no money,
wanted to borrow some.
Verminet's plan of financial operations was perfectly simple. A
tradesman on the verge of bankruptcy would come to him, Verminet would
look into his case and make him sign bills for the sum he required,
handing him in exchange bills drawn by other tradesman in quite as
serious a predicament as himself, and pocketed a commission of two per
cent. upon both the transactions. Verminet obtained clients from the
simple fact that an embarrassed tradesman is utterly reckless, cares
not what he signs, and will clutch at a straw to keep his head above
water. But there were many other transactions carried on at the office
of the Mutual Loan Society, for its largest means of income was drawn
from even less respectable sources, and it was alleged that many of
these bogus bills which are occasionally cashed by some respectable
bankers were manufactured there. At any rate, Verminet managed to make
RINGING THE CHANGES.
Andre, who was gifted with plenty of intelligence, at once judged of
the kind of business done by the Mutual Loan Society by the dinginess
of the brass plate on the door and the generally dilapidated aspect of
"I don't like the look of it at all," said he.
"It does not go in for show," answered Gaston, affecting an air of
wisdom, "but it is deemed handy sometimes. It does all sorts of
business that you would never think of. A real downy card is
Andre could easily believe this, for, of course, there could be but
one opinion concerning the character of a man who could have induced a
mere simpleton like Gaston to affix a forged signature to the bills
which he had discounted. He made no remark, however, but entered the
house, with the interior arrangements of which Gaston appeared to be
perfectly familiar. They passed through a dirty, ill-smelling passage,
went across a courtyard, cold and damp as a cell, and ascended a
flight of stairs with a grimy balustrade. On the second floor Gaston
made a halt before a door upon which several names were painted. They
passed through into a large and lofty room. The paper on the walls of
this delectable chamber was torn and spotted, and a light railing ran
along it, behind which sat two or three clerks, whose chief occupation
appeared to be consuming the breakfast which they had brought with
them to the office. The heat of the stove, which was burning in one
corner of the room, the general mouldiness of the atmosphere, and the
smell of the coarse food, were sufficient to turn the stomach of any
one coming in from the fresh air.
"Where is M. Verminet?" asked Gaston authoritatively.
"Engaged," replied one of the clerks, without pausing to empty his
mouth before he replied.
"Don't you talk to me like that. What do I care whether he is engaged
or not? Tell him that Gaston de Gandelu desires to see him at once."
The clerk was evidently impressed by his visitor's manner, and, taking
the card which was handed to him, made his exit through a door at the
other end of the room.
Gaston was delighted at this first victory, and glanced at Andre with
a triumphant smile.
The clerk came back almost at once. "M. Verminet," cried he, "has a
client with him just now. He begs that you will excuse him for a few
minutes, when he will see you"; and evidently anxious to be civil to
the gorgeously attired youths before him, he added, "My master is just
now engaged with M. de Croisenois."
"Aha," cried Gaston; "I will lay you ten to one that the dear Marquis
will be delighted to see me."
Andre started on hearing this name, and his cheek crimsoned. The man
whom he most hated in this world; the wretch who, by his possession of
some compromising secret, was forcing Sabine into a detested marriage;
the villain whom he, M. de Breulh, and Madame de Bois Arden had sworn
to overreach, was within a few paces of him, and that now he should
see him face to face. Their eyes would meet, and he would hear the
tones of the scoundrel's voice. His rage and agitation were so intense
that it was with the utmost difficulty that he concealed it. Luckily
for him, Gaston was not paying the slightest attention to his
companion; for having, at the clerk's invitation, taken a chair, he
assumed an imposing attitude, which struck the shabby young man behind
the railing with the deepest admiration.
"I suppose," said he, in a loud voice, "that you know my dear friend,
Andre made some reply, which Gaston interpreted as a negative.
"Really," said he, "you know /no/ one, as I told you before. Where
have you lived? But you must have heard of him? Henri de Croisenois is
one of my most intimate friends. He owes me over fifty louis that I
won of him one night at baccarat."
Andre was now certain that he had estimated Verminet's character
correctly, and the relations of the Marquis de Croisenois with this
very equivocal personage assumed a meaning of great significance to
him. He felt now that he had gained a clue, a beacon blazed out before
him, and he saw his way more clearly into the difficult windings of
this labyrinth of iniquity which he knew that he must penetrate before
he gained the secret he longed for.
He felt like a child playing the game called "Magic Music," when, as
the seeker nears the hiding place of the article of which he is in
search, the strains of the piano swell higher and higher. He now found
that the boy whose master he had become, knew, or said he knew, a good
deal of this marquis. Why should he not gain some information from
"Are you really intimate with the Marquis de Croisenois?" asked he.
"I should rather think I was," returned Gandelu the younger. "You will
see that precious sharp. I know all about him, and who the girl is
that he is ruining himself for, but I mustn't talk about that; mum's
the word, you know."
At that moment the door opened, and the Marquis appeared, followed by
Henri de Croisenois was attired in the most fashionable manner, and
formed an utter contrast to the flashy dress of Gaston. He was smoking
a cigar, and mechanically tapping his boots with an elegant walking
cane. In a moment the features and figure of the Viscount were
indelibly photographed upon Andre's brain. He particularly noticed his
eyes, which had in them a half-concealed look of terror, and his face
bore the haunted expression of a person who expects some terrible blow
to fall upon him at any moment.
At a little distance the Marquis still seemed young, but a closer
inspection showed that the man looked even older than he really was,
so worn and haggard were his mouth and eyes. Nights at the gaming-
table and the anxiety as to where the fresh supplies should come from
to furnish the means to prolong his life of debauchery had told
heavily upon him. To-day, however, he seemed to be in the best temper
imaginable, and in the most cheerful manner he addressed a few words
to Verminet, in conclusion of the conversation that had been going on
in the inner office.
"It is settled then," remarked he, "that I am to have nothing more to
do with a business with which neither of us has any real concern?"
"Just so," answered Verminet.
"Very well, then; but remember that any mistake you may make in the
other affair will be attended with the most serious results."
This caution seemed to suggest some new idea to Verminet, for he said
something in a low voice to his client at which they both laughed.
Gaston was fidgeting about, very uneasy at the Marquis having paid no
attention to him, and he now advanced with a magnificent salutation
and a friendly wave of the hand. If the Marquis was charmed at meeting
Gandelu, he concealed his delight in a most wonderful manner. He
seemed surprised, but not agreeably so; he bent his head, and he
extended his gloved hand with a negligent, "Ah, pleased to see you."
Then without taking any more notice of Gaston, he turned on his heel
and continued his conversation with Verminet.
"The worst part is over," said he, "and therefore no time is to be
lost. You must see Mascarin and Martin Rigal, the banker, to-day."
At these words Andre started. Were these people Croisenois'
accomplices? Certainly he had accomplices on the brain just now, and
their names remained deeply engraved on the tablets of his memory.
"Tantaine was here this morning," observed Verminet, "and told me that
his master wanted to see me at four this afternoon. Van Klopen will be
there also. Shall I say a word to him about your fine friend?"
" 'Pon my soul," remarked the Marquis, shrugging his shoulders, "I had
nearly forgotten her. There will be a tremendous fuss made, for she
will be wanting all sorts of things. Speak to Van Klopen certainly,
but do not bind yourself. Remember that I do not care a bit for the
"Quite so; I understand," answered Verminet; "but keep things quiet,
and do not have any open disturbances."
"Of course not. Good morning," and with a bow to the managing director
and a nod to Gaston, he lunged out of the office, not condescending to
take the slightest notice of Andre. Verminet invited Andre and Gaston
into his sanctum, and, taking a seat, motioned to them to do the same.
Verminet was a decided contrast to his office, which was shabby and
dirty, for his dress did his tailor credit, and he appeared to be
clean. He was neither old nor young, and carried his years well. He
was fresh and plump, wore his whiskers and hair cut in the English
fashion, while his sunken eyes had no more expression in them than
those of a fish.
Gandelu was in a hurry to begin.
"Let us get to business," said he. "Last week you lent me some money."
"Just so. Do you want any more?"
"No; I want to return my bills."
A cloud passed over Verminet's face.
"The first does not fall due until the 15th," remarked he.
"No matter; I have the money with me, and I will pay it on you handing
over the bills to me."
"I can't do it."
"And why so, pray?"
"The bills have passed out of my hands."
Gaston could scarcely credit his ears, nor believe in the truth of
this last statement, and was certainly upset, now knowing what to do.
"But," stammered he, "you promised, when I signed those bills, that
they should never go out of your hands."
"I don't say I did not; but one can't always keep to one's promise. I
was forced to part with them. I wanted money, and so had to discount
Andre was not at all surprised, for he had anticipated some such
difficulty; and seeing that Gaston had entirely lost his head, he
broke in on the conversation.
"Excuse me, sir," remarked he; "but it seems to me that there are
certain circumstances in this case which should have made you keep your
Verminet stared at him.
"Who have I the honor of speaking to?" asked he, instead of making a
"I am a friend of M. de Gandelu's," returned Andre, thinking it best
not to give any name.
"A confidential friend?"
"Entirely so. He had, I think, ten thousand francs from you."
"Pardon me, five thousand."
Andre turned toward his companion in some surprise.
Gaston grew crimson.
"What is the meaning of this?" asked the artist.
"Can't you see?" whispered Gaston. "I had ten because I wanted the
other five for Zora."
"Oh, indeed," returned Andre, with a slight uplifting of his eyebrows.
"Well, then, M. Verminet, it was five thousand francs that you lent to
my young friend here. That was right enough; but what do you say to
inducing him to forge a signature?"
"I! I do such a thing?" answered Verminet. "Why, I did not know that
the signature was not genuine."
This insolent denial aroused the unhappy Gaston from his state of
"This is too much, a deuced deal too much," cried he. "Did you not
yourself tell me that, for your own security, you must insist upon
another name in addition to mine? Did you not give me a letter, and
say, 'Write a signature like the one at the bottom of this, it is that
of Martin Rigal, the banker in the Rue Montmartre'?"
"An utterly false accusation, without a shadow of proof; and remember
that a libel uttered in the presence of a third party is punishable by
"And yet, sir," continued Andre, "you did not hesitate for a moment in
discounting these bills. Have you calculated what terrible results may
come of this breach of faith on your part?--what will happen if this
forged signature is presented to M. Martin Rigal?"
"Very unlikely. Gandelu is the drawer, Rigal merely the endorser.
Bills, when due, are always presented to the drawer," returned
Evidently a trap had been laid for Gaston, but the reason was still
buried in obscurity.
"Then," remarked Andre, "we have but one course to pursue: we must
trace those notes to the hands in which they now are, and take them
"But to enable us to do so, you must first let us know the name of the
party who discounted them."
"I don't know; I have forgotten," answered Verminet, with a careless
wave of his hand.
"Then," returned Andre, in a low, deep voice of concentrated fury,
"let me advise you, for your own sake, to make an immediate call upon
your powers of memory."
"Do you threaten me?"
"And if you do not succeed in remembering the name or names, the
consequences may be more serious than you seem to anticipate."
Verminet saw that the young painter was in dangerous earnest, and rose
from his chair, but Andre was too quick for him.
"No," said he, placing his back against the door; "you will not leave
this room until you have done what I require."
For fully ten minutes the men stood gazing at each other. Verminet was
green with terror, while Andre's face, though pale, was firm and
"If the scoundrel makes any resistance," said he to himself, "I will
fling him out of the window."
"The man is a perfect athlete," thought Verminet, "and looks as if he
would stick at nothing."
Seeing that he had better give in, the managing director took up a
bulky ledger, and began to turn over the leaves with trembling
Andre saw that he was holding it upside-down.
"There it is," cried Verminet at last.
"Bills for five thousand francs. Gandelu and Rigal, booked for
discount to Van Klopen, ladies' tailor."
Andre was silent.
Why was it that Verminet had suggested Rigal's signature as the one he
ought to imitate? And why had he handed the bills over to Van Klopen?
Was it mere chance that had arranged it all? He did not believe it,
but felt sure that some secret tie united them all together, Verminet,
Van Klopen, Rigal, and the Marquis de Croisenois.
"Do you want anything more?" asked the manager of the Mutual Loan
"Are the bills in Van Klopen's hands?"
"I can't say."
"Never mind, he will have to tell me where they are, if he has not got
them," returned Andre.
They left the house, and as soon as they were again in the street
Andre took his companion's arm, and hurried him off in the direction
of the Rue de Grammont.
"I don't want to give this thief, Verminet, time to warn Van Klopen of
what has taken place; I had rather fall upon him with the suddenness
of an earthquake. Come, let us go to his establishment at once."
THE VANISHING BILLS.
Had Andre known a little more of the man he had to deal with, he would
have learned that no one could fall like an earthquake upon Van
Klopen. Shut up in the sanctum where he composed the numberless
costumes that were the wonder and delight of Paris, Van Klopen made as
careful arrangements to secure himself from the interview as the Turk
does to guard the approaches to his seraglio; and so Andre and Gandelu
were accosted in the entrance hall by his stately footmen, clad in
gorgeous liveries, glittering with gold.
"M. van Klopen is of the utmost importance," asserted Andre.
"Our master is composing."
Entreaties, threats, and even a bribe of one hundred francs were alike
useless; and Andre, seeing that he was about to be checkmated, was
half tempted to take the men by the collar and hurl them on one side,
but he calmed himself, and, already repenting of his violence at
Verminet's, he determined on a course of submission, and so meekly
followed the footmen into the famous waiting-room, styled by Van
Klopen his purgatory. The footmen, however, had spoken the truth, for
several ladies of the highest rank and standing were awaiting the
return of this /arbiter elegantiarum/. All of them turned as the young
men entered--all save one, who was gazing out of the window, drawing
with her pretty fingers on the window panes. Andre recognized her in
an instant as Madame de Bois Arden.
"Is it possible?" thought he. "Can the Countess have returned here
after what has occurred?"
Gaston felt that five charming pairs of eyes were fixed upon him, and
studied to assume his most graceful posture.
After a brief time given to arrangement, Andre grew disgusted.
"I wish that she would look round," said he to himself. "I think she
would feel rather ashamed. I will say a word to her."
He rose from his chair, and, without thinking how terribly he might
compromise the lady, he took up a position at her side. She was,
however, intently watching something that was going on in the street,
and did not turn her head.
"Madame," said he.
She started, and, as she turned and recognized Andre, she uttered a
little cry of surprise.
"Great heavens! is that you?"
"Yes, it is I."
"And here? I dare say that my presence in this place surprises you,"
she went on, "and that I have a short memory, and no feelings of
Andre made no reply, and his silence was a sufficient rejoinder to the
"You do me a great injustice," muttered the Countess. "I am here
because De Breulh told me that in your interests I ought to pardon Van
Klopen, and go to him again as I used to do; so you see, M. Andre,
that it is never safe to judge by appearance, and a woman more than
"Will you forgive me?" asked Andre earnestly.
The lady interrupted him by a little wave of her hand, invisible to
all save to him, which clearly said,--
"Take care; we are not alone."
She once more turned her eyes towards the street, and he mechanically
did the same. By this means their faces were hidden from observation.
"De Breulh," went on the lady, "has heard a good deal about De
Croisenois, and, as no doubt you can guess, but very little to his
credit, and quite enough to justify any father in refusing him his
daughter's hand; but in this case it is evident to me that De Mussidan
is yielding to a secret pressure. We must ferret out some hidden crime
in De Croisenois' past which will force him to withdraw his proposal."
"I shall find one," muttered Andre.
"But remember there is no time to be lost. According to our agreement,
I treat him in the most charming manner, and he thinks that I am
entirely devoted to his interests, and to-morrow I have arranged to
introduce him to the Count and Countess at the Hotel de Mussidan,
where the Count and Countess have agreed to receive him."
Andre started at this news.
"I saw," continued the lady, "that you were quite right in the opinion
you had formed, for in the first place the common danger has almost
reconciled the Count and Countess affectionately to each other, though
it is notorious that they have always lived in the most unhappy
manner. Their faces are careworn and full of anxiety, and they watch
every movement of Sabine with eager eyes. I think that they look upon
her as a means of safety, but shudder at the sacrifice she is making
on their account."
"Her conduct is perfectly sublime, and she is ready to consummate the
sacrifice without a murmur. Her self-sacrificing devotion is perfectly
admirable; but what is more admirable still is the way in which she
conceals the suffering that she endures from her parents. Noble-
hearted girl! she is calm and silent, but she has always been so. She
has grown thinner, and perhaps her cheek is a trifle paler, but her
forehead was burning and seemed to scorch my lips as I kissed her.
With this exception, however, there was nothing else about her that
would betray her tortures. Modeste, her maid, told me, moreover, that
when night came she seemed utterly worn out, and the poor girl, with
tears in her eyes, declared 'that her dear mistress was killing
Andre's eyes overflowed with tears.
"What have I done to deserve such love?" asked he.
A door suddenly opened, and Andre and the Viscountess turned hastily
at the sound. It was Van Klopen who came in, crying, according to his
"Well, and whose turn is it next?"
When, however, he saw Gaston, his face grew white, and it was with a
smile that he stepped towards him, motioning back the lady whose turn
it was, and who protested loudly against this injustice.
"Ah, M. de Gandelu," said he, "you have come, I suppose, to bespeak
some fresh toilettes for that exquisite creature, Zora de
"Not to-day," returned Gaston. "Zora is a little indisposed."
Andre, however, who had arranged the narrative that he was about to
pour into the ears of the famous Van Klopen, was in too much haste to
permit of any unnecessary delay.
"We have come here," said he hurriedly, "upon a matter of some moment.
My friend, M. Gaston de Gandelu, is about to leave Paris for some
months, and, before doing so, is anxious to settle all outstanding
accounts, and retire all his bills, which may not yet have fallen
"Have I any bills of M. de Gandelu?" said Van Klopen slowly. "Ah, yes,
I remember that I had some now. Yes, five bills of one thousand francs
each, drawn by Gandelu, and accepted by Martin Rigal. I received them
from the Mutual Loan Society, but they are no longer in my hands."
"Is that the case?" murmured Gaston, growing sick with apprehension.
"Yes, I sent them to my cloth merchants at St. Etienne, Rollon and
Van Klopen was a clever scoundrel, but he sometimes lacked the
necessary perception of when he had said enough; and this was proved
to-day, for, agitated by the steady gaze that Andre kept upon him, he
"If you do not believe my word, I can show you the acknowledgment that
I received from that firm."
"It is unnecessary," replied Andre. "Your statement is quite
"I should prefer to let you see the letter."
"No, thank you," replied Andre, not for a moment duped by the game
that was being played. "Pray take no more trouble. We shall, I
presume, find that the bills are at St. Etienne. There is no use in
taking any more trouble about them, and we will wait until they arrive
at maturity. I have the honor to wish you good morning."
And with these words he dragged away Gaston, who was actually about to
consult Van Klopen as to the most becoming costume for Zora to appear
in on leaving the prison of St. Lazare. When they were a few doors
from the man-milliner's, Andre stopped and wrote down the names of Van
Klopen's cloth merchants. Gaston was now quite at his ease.
"I think," remarked he, "that Van Klopen is a sharp fellow; he knows
that I am to be relied on."
"Where do you think your bills are?"
"At St. Etienne's, of course."
The perfect innocence of the boy elicited from Andre a gesture of
"Listen to me," said he, "and see if you can comprehend the awful
position in which you have placed yourself."
"I am listening, my dear fellow; pray go on."
"You drew these bills through Verminet because Van Klopen would not
give you credit."
"How, then, do you account for the fact that this man, who was at
first disinclined to trust you, should without rhyme or reason, offer
to supply you now as he did to-day?"
"The deuce! That never struck me. It does seem queer. Does he want to
play me a nasty trick? But which of them is it--Verminet or Van
"It is plain to me that the pair of them have entered into a pleasant
little plot to blackmail you."
Young Gandelu did not at all like this turn, and he exclaimed,--
"Blackmail me, indeed! why, I know my way about better than that. They
won't get much out of me, I can tell you."
Andre shrugged his shoulders.
"Then," said he, "just tell me what you intend to say to Verminet when
he comes to you upon the day your bills fall due, and says to you,
'Give me one hundred thousand francs for these five little bits of
paper, or I go straight to your father with them'?"
"I should say, of course--ah, well, I really do not know what I should
"You could say nothing, except that you had been imposed on in the
most infamous way. You would plead for time, and Verminet would give
it to you if you would execute a deed insuring him one hundred
thousand francs on the day you came of age."
"A hundred thousand devils are all the rogue would get from me. That's
the way I do things, do you see? If people try and ride roughshod over
me, I merely hit out, and then just look out for broken bones. Pay
this chap? Not I! I know the governor would make an almighty shine,
but I'll choose that sooner than be had like that.
He was quite serious but could only put his feelings into the language
he usually spoke.
"I think," answered Andre, "that your father would forgive this
imprudence, but that it will be even harder for him to do so than it
was to send a doctor to number the hours he had to live. He will
forgive you because he is your father, and because he loves you; but
Verminet, when he finds that the threat to go to your father does not
appall you, will menace you with criminal proceedings."
"Hulloo!" said Gandelu, stopping short. "I say, that is very poor
fun," gasped he.
"There is no fun in it, for such fun, when brought to the notice of a
court of justice, goes by the ugly name of forgery, and forgery means
a swinging heavy sentence."
Gaston turned pale, and trembled from head to foot.
"Tried and sentenced," faltered he. "No, I don't believe you, but I
hold no honors and will turn up my cards." He quite forgot that he was
in the public street, and was talking at the top of his shrill
falsetto voice, and gesticulating violently.
"The poor old governor, I might have made him so happy, and, after
all, I have only been a torment to him. Ah, could I but begin once
more; but then the cards are dealt, and I must go on with the game,
and I have made a nice muddle of the whole thing before I am twenty
years of age; but no criminal courts for me, no, the easiest way out
of it is a pistol shot, for I am an honest man's son, and I will not
bring more disgrace on him than I have already done."
"Do you really mean what you say?" asked Andre.
"Of course I do. I can be firm enough sometimes."
"Then we will not despair yet," answered the young painter. "I think
that we shall be able to settle this ugly business, but you cannot be
too cautious. Keep indoors, and remember that I may have urgent need
of you at almost any time of day or night."
"I agree, but remember this, Zora is not to be forgotten."
"Don't fret over that; I will call and see her to-morrow. And now,
farewell for to-day, as I have not an instant to lose," and with these
words Andre hurried off.
Andre's reason for haste was that he had caught a few words addressed
by Verminet to Croisenois--"I shall see Mascarin at four o'clock." And
he determined to loiter about the Rue St. Anne, and watch the Managing
Director when he came out, and so find out who this Mascarin was, who
he was certain was mixed up in the plot. He darted down the Rue de
Grammont like an arrow from a bow, and as the clock in a neighboring
belfry chimed half-past three, he was in the Rue St. Anne. There was a
small wine-shop almost opposite to the office of the Mutual Loan
Society, and there Andre ensconced himself and made a frugal meal,
while he was waiting for Verminet's appearance, and just as he had
finished his light refreshment he saw the man he wanted come out of
the office, and crept cautiously after him like a Red Indian on the
trail of his enemy.
As Verminet swaggered down the street he had the air of a successful
man, of a capitalist, in short, and the Managing Director of a highly
lucrative concern. Andre had no difficulty in following his man,
though detective's business was quite new to him, which is no such
easy matter, although every one thinks that he can become one. Andre
kept his man in sight, and was astonished at the numerous
acquaintances that Verminet seemed to have. Occasionally he said to
himself, "Perhaps I am mistaken after all, for fancy is a bad pair of
spectacles to see through. This man may be honest, and I have let my
imagination lead me astray."
Meanwhile, Verminet who had reached the Boulevard Poisonniere, assumed
a totally different air, throwing off his old manner as he cast away
his cigar. When he had reached the Rue Montorgueil he turned
underneath a large archway. Verminet had gone into the office of M. B.
Mascarin, and that person simply kept a Servants' Registry Office for
domestics of both sexes. In spite of his surprise, however, he
determined to wait for Verminet to come out; and, not to give himself
the air of loitering about the place, he crossed the road and appeared
to be interested in watching three workmen who were engaged in fixing
the revolving shutters to a new shop window. Luckily for the young
painter he had not to wait a very long while, for in less than a
quarter of an hour Verminet came out, accompanied by two men. The one
was tall and thin, and wore a pair of spectacles with colored glasses,
while the other was stout and ruddy, with the unmistakable air of a
man of the world about him. Andre would have given the twenty thousand
francs which he still had in his pocket if he could have heard a
single word of their conversation. He was moving skilfully forward so
as to place himself within earshot, when not two feet from him he
heard a shrill whistle twice repeated. There was something so strange
and curious in the sound of this whistle that Andre looked round and
noticed that the three men whom he was watching had been also
attracted by it. The tall man with the colored glasses glanced
suspiciously around him, and then after a nod to his companions turned
and re-entered the office, while Verminet and the other walked away
arm in arm. Andre was undecided; should he try and discover who these
two men were? Near the entrance he saw a lad selling hot chestnuts.
"Ah!" said he, "the little chestnut seller will always be there; but I
may lose the others if I stay here." He followed the two men as
quickly as possible. They did not go very far, and speedily entered a
fine house in the Rue Montmartre. Here Andre was for a moment puzzled,
as he did not know to whom they were paying a visit, but noticing an
inscription on the wall of "Cashier's Office on the first floor," he
"Ah! it is to the banker's they have gone!"
He questioned a man coming downstairs and heard that M. Martin Rigal,
the banker, had his offices and residence there.
"I have struck a vein of good luck to-day," thought he; "and now if my
little friend the chestnut seller can only tell me the names of these
men, I have done a good day's work. I /do/ hope that he has not gone."
The boy was still there, and he had two customers standing by the
chafing-dish which contained the glowing charcoal, and a working lad
in cap and blouse was arguing so hotly with the lad that they did not
notice Andre's appearance.
"You can stow that chat," said the boy; "I have told your father the
price I would take. You want my station and stock-in-trade. Hand over
two hundred and fifty francs, and they are yours."
"But my dad will only give two hundred," returned the other.
"Then he don't need give nothing, for he won't get 'em," answered the
chestnut vender sharply. "Two hundred francs for a pitch like this!
Why, I have sometimes taken ten francs and more, and that ain't a lie,
on the word of Toto Chupin."
Andre was tickled with this strange designation, and addressed himself
to the lad who bore it.
"My good boy," said he, "I think you were here an hour ago. Did you
see anything of three gentlemen who came out of the house and stood
talking together for a short time?"
The lad turned sharply round and examined his questioner from tip to
toe with an air of the most supreme impertinence; and then, in a tone
which matched his look, replied,--
"What does it signify to you who they are? Mind your own business, and
Andre had had some little experience of this delightful class of
street arab, of which Toto Chupin was so favorable a specimen, and
knew their habits, customs, and language.
"Come, my chicken," said he, "spit it out, it won't blister your
tongue, to answer a man who asks a civil question."
"Well, then, I saw 'em, sharp enough, and what then?"
"Why, that I should like to have their names if they have such an
article belonging to 'em!"
Toto raised his cap and scratched his head, as if to stimulate his
brains, and as he brushed up his thick head of dirty yellow hair, he
eyed Andre cunningly.
"And suppose I know the blokes' names and tells 'em out to you, what
will you stand?" asked he.
The delightful youth puffed out his cheeks, then expelled the pent-up
wind by a sudden slap, as a mark of his disgust at the meanness of the
"Pull up your braces, my lord," said he sarcastically, "or you'll be
losing the contents of your breeches pockets. Ten sous, indeed!
Perhaps you'd like me to lend 'em to yer?"
Andre smiled pleasantly.
"Did you think, my little man, that I was going to offer you twenty
thousand shiners?" asked he.
"Won again!" cried Toto; "I laid myself a new hat that you weren't a
fool, and I have collared the stakes."
"Why do you think I am not a fool?"
"Because a fool would have begun by offering me five francs and gone
up slick to ten, while you began at a modest figure."
The painter smiled.
"But you were too old a bird to be caught like that," continued the
lad; and as he spoke, he stopped, and contracted his brow as if in
deep perplexity. Of course he was acquainted with the names, but ought
he to give them? Instantly he scented an enemy. Harmless people did
not usually ask questions of itinerant chestnut venders, and to open
his mouth might be to injure Mascarin, Beaumarchef, or the guileless
This last thought determined the lad.
"Keep your ten sous, my pippin," said the boy; "I'll tell you what you
want to know all gratis and for nothing, because I've taken a real
fancy to the cut of your mug. The tall chap was Mascarin, the fat un
Doctor Hortebise, and t'other--stop, let me think it out in my
knowledge box; ah! I have it, he was Verminet."
Andre was so delighted that, drawing from his pocket a five-franc
piece, he tossed it to the boy.
"Thanks, my noble lord," said Chupin, and was about to add something
more in a similar vein, when he glanced down the street. His look
changed in an instant, and he fixed his eyes upon the painter's face
with a very strange expression.
"What is the matter, my lad?" asked Andre, surprised at this sudden
"Nothing," answered Chupin; "nothing at all; only as you seem a
decentish sort of chap, I should recommend you to keep your wits about
you, and to look out for squalls."
"Eh, what do you mean?"
"I mean--why--be careful, of course. Hang me if I exactly know what I
do mean. It is just an idea that came to me all of a jump. But there,
be off; I ain't going to say another word."
With much difficulty Andre repressed his astonishment. He saw that
this young scamp was the possessor of many secrets which might be of
inestimable value to him; but he also saw that he was determined to
hold his tongue, and that it would at present be a waste of time to
try and get anything out of him; and an empty cab passing at this
moment, Andre hailed it, and told the coachman to drive fast to the
Champs Elysees. In obedience to the warning that he had just received
from Toto, he did not give the name of the /café/ where he was to meet
De Breulh, for he made up his mind to be careful, yes, extremely
careful. He recollected the two odd whistles which had seemed to make
Mascarin wince, and which certainly broke off the conference of the
three men, and he remembered that it was after a glance down the
street that Toto had become less communicative and had given him that
curt warning. "By heaven," said he, as the recollection of a story he
had read not long ago dawned on him, "I am being followed." He lowered
the front glass of the cab, and attracted the coachman's attention by
pulling him by the sleeve.
"Listen to me," said he, as the man turned, "and do not slacken your
speed. Here, take your five francs in advance."
"But look here----"
"Listen to me. Go as sharp as you can to the Rue de Matignon; turn
down it, and, as you do, go a bit slower; then drive on like
lightning, and when you are in the Champs Elysees do what you like,
for your cab will be empty."
The driver chuckled.
"Aha," said he; "I see you are being followed, and you want to give
'em leg bail."
"Yes, yes; you are right."
"Then listen to me. Take care when you jump, and don't do it on the
pavement, for t'other is the safest."
Andre succeeded in alighting safely, and turned down a narrow court
before his pursuer had entered the street; but it was vain for the
young painter to lurk in a doorway, for after five minutes had elapsed
there was nothing to be seen, and no spy had made his appearance.
"I have been over-cautious," muttered he.
More than a quarter of an hour had elapsed, and Andre felt that he
might leave his hiding-place, and go in quest of De Breulh; and as he
approached the spot chosen for their meeting-place, he saw his
friend's carriage, and near it was the owner, smoking a cigar. The two
men caught sight of each other almost at the same moment. De Breulh
advanced to greet the young man with extended hand.
"I have been waiting for you for the last twenty minutes," said he.
Andre commenced to apologize, but his friend checked him.
"Never mind," returned he; "I know that you must have had some
excellent reasons; but, to tell you the honest truth, I had become
rather nervous about you."
"Nervous! and why, pray?"
"Do you not recollect what I said the other evening? De Croisenois is
a double-dyed scoundrel."
Andre remained silent, and his friend, putting his arm affectionately
through his, continued,--
"Let us walk," said he; "it is better than sitting down in the /café/.
I believe De Croisenois capable of anything. He had the prospect
before him of a large fortune,--that of his brother George; but this
he has already anticipated. A man in a position like this is not to be
"I do not fear him."
"But I do. I am, however, a little relieved by the fact that he has
never seen you."
The painter shook his head.
"Not only has he seen me, but I half believe that he suspects my
"But I am sure that I have been followed to-day. I have no actual
proof, but still I am fully convinced that it was so."
And Andre recounted all that had occurred during the day.
"You are certainly being watched," answered De Breulh, "and every step
that you take will be known to your enemies, and at this very moment
perhaps eyes are upon us."
As he spoke he glanced uneasily around; but it was quite dark, and he
could see no one.
"We will give the spies a little gentle exercise," said he, "and if we
dine together they will find it hard to discover the place."
De Breulh's coachman was dozing on the driving-seat. His master
aroused him, and whispered some order in his ear. The two young men
then got in, and the carriage started at a quick pace.
"What do you think of this expedient?" asked De Breulh. "We shall go
at this pace for the next hour. We will then alight at the corner of
the Chaussee d'Autin, and be free for the rest of the night, and those
who wish to follow us to-night must have good eyes and legs."
All came to pass as De Breulh had arranged; but as he jumped out he
saw a dark form slip from behind the carriage and mingle with the
crowd on the Boulevard.
"By heavens," said he; "that was a man. I thought that I was throwing
a spy off the track, and I was in reality only treating him to a
To make sure, he took off his glove and felt the springs of the
"See," said he, "they are still warm from the contact with a human
The young painter was silent, but all was now explained: while he
jumped from the cab, his tracker had been carried away upon it. This
discovery saddened the dinner, and a little after ten Andre left his
friend and returned home.
The Viscountess de Bois Arden had not been wrong when she told Andre
in Van Klopen's establishment that community of sorrow had brought the
Count and Countess of Mussidan nearer together, and that Sabine had
made up her mind to sacrifice herself for the honor of the family.
Unfortunately, however, this change in the relations of husband and
wife had not taken place immediately; for after her interview with
Doctor Hortebise, Diana's first impulse had not been to go to her
husband, but to write to Norbert, who was as much compromised by the
correspondence as she herself. Her first letter did not elicit a
reply. She wrote a second, and then a third, in which, though she did
not go into details, she let the Duke know that she was the victim of
a dark intrigue, and that a deadly peril was hanging over her
daughter's head. This last letter was brought back to her by the
messenger, without any envelope, and across it Norbert had written,--
"The weapon which you have used against me has now been turned against
yourself. Heaven is just."
These words started up in letters of fire before her eyes as the
presage of coming misfortune, and telling her that the hour of
retribution had now come, and that she must be prepared to suffer, as
an atonement for her crimes. Then it was that she felt all was lost,
and she must go to her husband for aid, unless she desired that copies
of the stolen letters should be sent to him; and in a little boudoir,
adjoining Sabine's own room, she opened her heart and told her husband
all. She performed it with all the skill of a woman who, without
descending to falsehood, contrives to conceal the truth. But she could
not hide the share that she had taken, both in the death of the late
Duke of Champdoce and the disappearance of George de Croisenois.
The Count's brain reeled. He called up to his memory what Diana had
been when he first saw and loved her at Laurebourg: how pure and
modest she looked! what virginal candor sat upon her brow! and yet she
was even then doing her best to urge on a son to murder his father.
De Mussidan had had hideous doubts concerning the relations of Norbert
and Diana, both before and after marriage; but his wife firmly denied
this at the moment when she was revealing the other guilty secrets of
her past life. He had believed that Sabine was not his child, and now
he had to reproach himself with the indifference he had displayed
He made no answer to the terrible revelation that was poured into his
ears; but when the Countess had concluded, he rose and left the room,
stretching out his hands and grasping the walls for support, like a
The Count and Countess believed that Sabine had slept through this
interview, but they were mistaken, for Sabine had heard all those
fatal words--"ruin, dishonor, and despair!" At first she scarcely
understood. Were not these words merely the offspring of her delirium?
She strove to shake it off, but too soon she knew that the whispered
words were sad realities, and she lay on her bed quivering with
terror. Much of the conversation escaped her, but she heard enough.
Her mother's past sins were to be exposed if the daughter did not
marry a man entirely unknown to her--the Marquis de Croisenois. She
knew that her torments would not be of very long duration, for to part
with her love for Andre would be to part with life itself. She made up
her mind to live until she had saved her parents' honor by the
sacrifice of herself, and then she would be free to accept the calm
repose of the grave.
But the terrible revelation bore its fruits, for her fever came back,
and a relapse was the result. But youth and a sound constitution
gained the day, and when she was convalescent her will was as strong
Her first act was to write the letter to her lover which had driven
him to the verge of distraction; and then, fearing lest her father
might, in his agony and remorse, be driven to some rash act, she went
to him and told him that she knew all.
"I never loved M. de Breulh," said she with a pitiful smile, "and
therefore the sacrifice is not so great after all."
The Count was not for a moment the dupe of the generous-souled girl,
but he did not dare to brave the scandal of the death of Montlouis,
and still less the exposure of his wife's conduct. Time was passing,
however, and the miscreants in whose power they were made no signs of
life. Hortebise did not appear any more, and there were moments when
the miserable Diana actually ventured to hope. "Have they forgotten
us?" thought she.
Alas! no; they were people who never forgot.
The Champdoce affair had been satisfactorily arranged, and every
precaution had been taken to prevent the detection of Paul as an
impostor, and engaged as he had been, Mascarin had no time to turn his
attention to the marriage of Sabine and De Croisenois. The famous
Limited Company, with the Marquis as chairman, had, too, to be
started, the shares of which were to be taken up by the unhappy
victims of the blackmailers; but first some decided steps must be
taken with the Mussidans, and Tantaine was dispatched on this errand.
This amiable individual, though he was going into such very excellent
society, did not consider it necessary to make any improvement in his
attire. This was the reason why the footman, upon seeing such a shabby
visitor and hearing him ask for the Count or Countess, did not
hesitate to reply, with a sneer, that his master and mistress had been
out for some months, and were not likely to return for a week or two.
This fact did not disconcert the wily man, for drawing one of
Mascarin's cards from his pocket, he begged the kind gentleman to take
it upstairs, when he was sure that he would at once be sent for.
De Mussidan, when he read the name on the card, turned ghastly pale.
"Show him into the library," said he curtly.
Florestan left the room, and the Count mutely handed the card to his
wife, but she had no need to read it.
"I can tell what it is," gasped she.
"The day for settling accounts has come," said the Count, "and this
name is the fatal sign."
The Countess flung herself upon her knees, and taking the hand that
hung placidly by his side, pressed her lips tenderly to it.
"Forgive me, Octave!" she muttered. "Will you not forgive me? I am a
miserable wretch, and why did not Heaven punish me for the sins that I
have committed, and not make others expiate my offences?"
The Count put her gently aside. He suffered intensely, and yet no word
of reproach escaped his lips against the woman who had ruined his
"And Sabine," she went on, "must she, a De Mussidan, marry one of
these wretched scoundrels?"
Sabine was the only one in the room who preserved her calmness; she
had so schooled herself that her distress of mind was not apparent to
the outward eye.
"Do not make yourselves miserable," said she, with a faint smile; "how
do we know that M. de Croisenois may not make me an excellent husband
The Count gazed upon his daughter with a look of the fondest affection
"Dearest Sabine!" murmured he. Her fortitude had restored his self-
command. "Let us be outwardly resigned," said he, "whatever our
feelings may be. Time may do much for us, and at the very church door
we may find means of escape."
A CRUEL SLUR.
Florestan had conducted Tantaine to the sumptuous library, in which
the Count had received Mascarin's visit; and, to pass away the time,
the old man took a mental inventory of the contents of the room. He
tried the texture of the curtains, looked at the handsome bindings of
the books, and admired the magnificent bronzes on the mantelpiece.
"Aha," muttered he, as he tried the springs of a luxurious armchair,
"everything is of the best, and when matters are settled, I half think
that I should like a resting-place just like this----"
He checked himself, for the door opened, and the Count made his
appearance, calm and dignified, but very pale. Tantaine made a low
bow, pressing his greasy hat against his breast.
"Your humble servant to command," said he.
The Count had come to a sudden halt.
"Excuse me," said he, "but did you send up a card asking for an
"I am not Mascarin certainly, but I used that highly respectable
gentleman's name, because I knew that my own was totally unknown to
you. I am Tantaine, Adrien Tantaine."
M. de Mussidan gazed with extreme surprise upon the squalid individual
before him. His mild and benevolent face inspired confidence, and yet
he doubted him.
"I have come on the same business," pursued the old man. "I have been
ordered to tell you that it must be hurried on."
The Count hastily closed the door and locked it; the manner of this
man made him feel even too plainly the ignominy of his position.
"I understand," answered he. "But how is it that you have come, and
not the other one?"
"He intended to come; but at the last moment he drew back; Mascarin,
you see, has a great deal to lose, while I----" He paused, and holding
up the tattered tails of his coat, turned round, as though to exhibit
his shabby attire. "All my property is on my back," continued he.
"Then I can treat with you?" asked the Count.
Tantaine nodded his head. "Yes, Count, I have the missing leaves from
the Baron's journal, and also, well--I suppose you know everything,
all of your wife's correspondence."
"Enough," answered the Count, unable to hide his disgust. "Sit down."
"Now, Count, I will go to the point--are you going to put the police
"I have said that I would do nothing of the kind."
"Then we can get to business."
The old man shrugged his shoulders.
"There is no 'if' in the case," returned he. "We state our conditions,
for acceptance or rejection."
These words were uttered in a tone of such extreme insolence that the
Count was strongly tempted to hurl the extortionate scoundrel from the
window, but he contrived to restrain his passion.
"Let us hear the conditions then," said he impatiently.
Tantaine extracted from some hidden recess of his coat a much-worn
pocketbook, and drew from it a paper.
"Here are our conditions," returned he slowly. "The Count de Mussidan
promises to give the hand of his daughter to Henri Marquis de
Croisenois. He will give his daughter a wedding portion of six hundred
thousand francs, and promises that the marriage shall take place
without delay. The Marquis de Croisenois will be formally introduced
at your house, and he must be cordially received. Four days afterwards
he must be asked to dinner. On the fifteenth day from that M. de
Mussidan will give a grand ball in honor of the signing of the
marriage contract. The leaves from the diary and the whole of the
correspondence will be handed to M. de Mussidan as soon as the civil
ceremony is completed."
With firmly compressed lips and clenched hands, the Count sat
listening to these conditions.
"And who can tell me," said he, "that you will keep your engagements,
and that these papers will be restored to me at all?"
Tantaine looked at him with a air of pity.
"Your own good sense," answered he. "What more could we expect to get
out of you than your daughter and your money?"
The Count did not answer, but paced up and down the room, eyeing the
ambassador keenly, and endeavoring to detect some weak point in his
manner of cynicism and audacity. Then speaking in the calm tone of a
man who had made up his mind, he said,--
"You hold me as in a vice, and I admit myself vanquished. Stringent as
your conditions are, I accept them."
"That is the right style of way to talk in," remarked Tantaine
"Then," continued the Count, with a ray of hope gleaming in his face,
"why should I give my daughter to De Croisenois at all?--surely this
is utterly unnecessary. What you want is simply six hundred thousand
francs; well, you can have them, and leave me Sabine."
He paused and waited for the reply, believing that the day was his;
but he was wrong.
"That would not be the same thing at all," answered Tantaine. "We
should not gain our ends by such means."
"I can do more," said the Count. "Give me six months, and I will add a
million to the sum I have already offered."
Tantaine did not appear impressed by the magnitude of this offer. "I
think," remarked he, "that it will be better to close this interview,
which, I confess, is becoming a little annoying. You agreed to accept
the conditions. Are you still in that mind?"
The Count bowed. He could not trust himself to speak.
"Then," went on Tantaine, "I will take my leave. Remember, that as you
fulfil your engagement, so we will keep to ours."
He had laid his hand on the handle of the door, when the Count said,--
"Another word, if you please. I can answer for myself and Madame de
Mussidan, but how about my daughter?"
Tantaine's face changed. "What do you mean?" asked he.
"My daughter may refuse to accept M. de Croisenois."
"Why should she? He is good-looking, pleasant, and agreeable."
"Still she may refuse him."
"If mademoiselle makes any objection," said the old man in peremptory
accents, "you must let me see her for a few minutes, and after that
you will have no further difficulty with her."
"Why, what could you have to say to my daughter?"
"I should say----"
"Well, what would you say?"
"I should say that if she loves any one, it is not M. de Breulh." He
endeavored to pass through the half-opened door, but the Count closed
"You shall not leave this room," cried he, "until you have explained
this insulting remark."
"I had no intention of offending you," answered Tantaine humbly. "I
only----" He paused, and then, with an air of sarcasm which sat
strangely upon a person of his appearance, went on, "I am aware that
the heiress of a noble family may do many things without having her
reputation compromised, when girls in a lower social grade would be
forever lost by the commission of any one of them; and I am sure if
the family of M. de Breulh knew that the young lady to whom he was
engaged had been in the habit of passing her afternoons alone with a
young man in his studio----"
He paused, and hastily drew a revolver, for it seemed to him as if the
Count were about to throw himself upon him. "Softly, softly, if you
please," cried he. "Blows and insults are fatal mistakes. I have
better information than yourself, that is all. I have more than ten
times seen your daughter enter a house in the Rue Tour d'Auvergne, and
asking for M. Andre, creep silently up the staircase."
The Count felt that he was choking. He tore off his cravat, and cried
wildly, "Proofs! Give me proofs!"
During the last five minutes Tantaine had shifted his ground so
skilfully that the heavy library table now stood between himself and
the Count, and he was comparatively safe behind this extemporized
"Proofs?" answered he. "Do you think that I carry them about with me?
In a week I could give you the lovers' correspondence. That, you will
say, is too long to wait; but you can set your doubts at rest at once.
If you go to the address I will give you before eight to-morrow
morning, and enter the rooms occupied by M. Andre, you will find the
portrait of Mademoiselle Sabine carefully concealed from view behind a
green curtain, and a very good portrait it is. I presume you will
admit that it could not have been executed without a sitting."
"Leave this," cried the Count, "without a moment's delay."
Tantaine did not wait for a repetition of these words. He passed
through the doorway, and as soon as he was outside he called out in
cheerful accents. "Do not forget the address, Number 45, Rue Tour
d'Auvergne, name of Andre, and mind and be there before eight a.m."
The Count made a rush at him on hearing this last insult, but he was
too late, for Tantaine slammed the door, and was in the hall before
the infuriated master of the house could open it. Tantaine had resumed
all his airs of humility, and took off his hat to the footmen as he
descended the steps. "Yes," muttered he, as he walked along, "the idea
was a happy one. Andre knows that he is watched, and will be careful;
and now that M. de Mussidan is aware that his sweet, pure daughter has
had a lover, he will be only too happy to accept the Marquis de
Croisenois as his son-in-law." Tantaine believed that Sabine was more
culpable than she really had been, for the idea of pure and honorable
love had never entered his brain.
By this time Tantaine was in the Champs Elysees, and stared anxiously
around. "If my Toto makes no mistake," muttered he, "surely my order
was plain enough."
The old man got very cross as he at last perceived the missing lad
conversing with the proprietor of a pie-stall, having evidently been
doing a little jawing with him.
"Toto," he called, "Toto, come here."
Toto Chupin heard him, for he looked round, but he did not move, for
he was certainly much interested in the conversation he was carrying
on. Tantaine shouted again, and this time more angrily than before,
and Toto, reluctantly leaving his companion, came slowly up to his
"You have been a nice time getting here," said the lad sulkily. "I was
just going to cut it. Ain't you well that you make such a row? If you
ain't, I'd better go for a doctor.
"I am in a tremendous hurry, Toto."
"Yes, and so is the postman when he is behind time. I'm busy too."
"What, with the man you have just left?"
"Yes; he is a sharper chap than I am. How much do you earn every day,
Daddy Tantaine? Well, that chap makes his thirty or forty francs every
night, and does precious little for it. I should like a business like
that, and I think that I shall secure one soon."
"Have patience. I thought that you were going into business with those
two young men you were drinking beer with at the Grand Turk?"
Toto uttered a shrill cry of anger at these words. "Business with
them?" shrieked he; "they are regular clever night thieves."
"Have they done you any harm, my poor lad?"
"Yes; they have utterly ruined me. Luckily, I saw Mascarin yesterday,
and he set me up in the hot-chestnut line. He ain't a bad one, is
Tantaine curled his lip disdainfully. "Not a bad fellow, I dare say,
as long as you don't ask him for anything."
Toto was so surprised at hearing Tantaine abuse Mascarin, that he was
unable to utter a word.
"Ah, you may look surprised," continued the old man, "but when a man
is rolling in riches, and leaves an old friend to starve, then he is
not what I call a real good fellow. Now, Toto, you are a bright lad,
and so I don't mind letting you know that I am only waiting for a good
chance to drop Mascarin, and set up on my own account. Work for
yourself, my boy."
"I know that; but it is a good deal easier to say than to do."
"You have tried then?"
"Yes, I have; but I came to grief over it. You know all about it as
well as I do, for don't tell me you didn't hear every word I said that
night you were hunting up Caroline Schimmel. However, I'll tell you.
One day when I saw a lady who looked rather nervous get out of a cab,
I followed her. I was decently togged out, so I rang at the door. I
was so sure that I was going to make a haul that I would not have
taken ninety-nine francs for the hundred that I expected to make.
Well, I rang, a girl opened the door, and in I went. What an ass I
made of myself! I found a great brute of a man there, who thrashed me
within an inch of my life, and then kicked me downstairs. See, he made
his mark rather more plainly than I liked." And removing his cap, the
boy showed several bruises about his forehead.
During this conversation Tantaine and the lad had been walking slowly
up the Champs Elysees, and had by this time arrived just opposite M.
Gandelu's house, where Andre was at work. Tantaine sat down on a
"Let us rest a bit," said he; "I am tired out; and now let me tell
you, my lad, that your tale only shows me that it is experience you
want. Now, I have any amount of that, and I was really the prime mover
in most of Mascarin's schemes. If I were to start on my own account, I
should be driving in my carriage in twelve months. The only thing
against my success is my age, for I am getting to be an old man. Why,
even now I have a matter in my hands that is simply splendid. I have
had half the money down, but I want a smart young fellow to pull it
"Why couldn't I be the smart young fellow?" asked Toto.
Tantaine shook his head. "You are as much too young as I am too old,"
answered he. "At your age you are too apt to be frightened, and would
shrink back at the critical time. Besides, I have a conscience."
"And so have I," exclaimed Toto; "and it's grown like your own, old
man; it can be stretched for miles and folded up into nothing."
"Well, we may be able to do something," returned Tantaine, as, drawing
out a ragged check pocket-handkerchief, he wiped his glasses.
"Listen to me, my lad; I'll put what we call a supposititious case to
you. You hate those two fellows who have robbed you, for I suppose
that is what you meant; well, suppose you knew that they were at work
all day on a high scaffold like that one opposite to us, what would
Toto scratched his head, and remarked after a pause,--
"If that crack-jawed idea you talk of was true," answered he, "those
gay lads might as well make their wills, for I'd step up the
scaffolding at night and just saw the planks that they are in the
habit of clapping their toes on, half through, and when one of the
mates stepped on it, why, there would be a bit of a smash, eh, Daddy
"Not so bad, not so bad for a lad of your years," said the old man
with an approving smile.
Toto's bosom swelled with pride.
"Besides," he continued, "I would arrange matters so well that not a
soul would think that I had done the trick."
"The more I hear you speak, Chupin," answered Tantaine, "the more I
believe you are the lad I want, and I am sure that we shall make heaps
of money together."
"I am cock sure of that too."
"You can use carpenters' tools, I think you once told me?"
"Well," continued Tantaine, "let me tell you then that I know an old
man with any amount of money, and there is a fellow whom he hates and
detests, a young chap who ran off with the girl he loved."
"The old bloke must have been jolly wild."
"Well, to tell the truth, he wasn't a bit pleased. Now it so happens
that this gay young dog spends ten hours a day at least on that very
scaffolding opposite to us. The old fellow, who has his head screwed
on the right way, had the very same idea as yours, but he is too old
and too stout to do the trick for himself; and, to cut the matter
short, he would give five thousand francs to the persons who would
carry out his idea. Just think, two thousand francs for a few cuts of
The boy was violently agitated, but Tantaine pretended not to notice
"First, my lad," said he, "I must explain to you in what measure the
old gentleman's plans are different from yours. If we did not take
care, some other poor devil might break his neck, but I have hit on a
dodge to avoid all this."
"I ain't curious, but I should like to hear it."
Tantaine smiled blandly.
"Listen! Do you see high up; that little shed built of planks? That is
used by the carvers and stone-cutters. Well, this little house, a
couple of hundred feet above us, has a kind of a window; well, if this
window and the planks below it were cut nearly through, any one
leaning against it would be very likely to fall into the street and
perhaps to hurt himself."
"Now, suppose," went on Tantaine, "that the enemy of our old gentleman
was in that little shed, all at once he hears a woman shriek, 'Help!
It is I you love; help me!' what would this young fellow do? Why, he
would recognize the voice, rush to the window, lean out, and as the
woodwork and supports had been cut away, he would---- Well, do you see
Chupin hesitated for a moment.
"I don't say I won't," muttered he; "but, look here, will the old chap
pay down smart?"
"Yes, and besides, did I not tell you that he had given half down?"
The boy's eyes glistened as the old man unpinned the tattered lining
of his pocket, and holding the pin between his teeth, pulled out the
banknotes, each one for a thousand francs. Chupin's heart rose at the
sight of this wealth.
"Is one of those for me?" asked he. Tantaine held the note towards the
boy, who shuddered at the touch of the crisp paper and kissed the
precious object in a paroxysm of pleasure. He then started from his
seat, and regardless of the astonishment of the passers-by, executed a
wild dance of triumph.
All was soon settled. Toto was to creep into the unfinished building
by night, and not to leave it until he had completed his work.
Tantaine, who had a thought for everything, told the boy what sort of
a saw to employ, and gave him the address of a man who supplied the
best class instruments.
"You must remember, my dear lad," said he, "not to leave behind you
any traces of your work which may cause suspicion. One grain of
sawdust on the floor might spoil the whole game. Take a dark lantern
with you, grease your saw, and rasp out the tooth-nicks of the saw
when you have finished your work."
Toto listened to the old man in surprise; he had never thought that he
was of so practical a turn. He promised that he would be careful, and
imagining that he had received all his directions, rose to leave; but
the old man still detained him.
"Here," said he, "suppose you tell me a little about Caroline
Schimmel. You told Beaumarchef that she said I had made her scream,
and that when she caught me, I should have a bad time of it, eh?"
"You weren't my partner then," returned the lad with an impudent
laugh; "and I wanted to give you a bit of a fright. The truth is, that
you made the poor old girl so drunk that she has had to go to the
Tantaine was overjoyed at this news, and, rising from his seat, said,
"Where are you living now?"
"Nowhere in particular. Yesterday I slept in a stable, but there isn't
room for all my furniture there, so I must shift."
"Would you like to have my room for a day or two?" asked Tantaine,
chuckling at the boy's jest. "I have moved from there, but the attic
is mine for another fortnight yet."
"I'm gone; where is it?"
"You know well enough, in the Hotel de Perou, Rue de la Hachette. Then
I will send a line to the landlady"; and tearing a leaf from his
pocketbook, he scrawled on it a few words, saying that young relative
of his, M. Chupin, was to have his room.
This letter, together with his banknote, Toto carefully tied up in the
corner of his neckerchief, and as he crossed the street the old man
watched him for a moment, and then stood gazing at the workmen on the
scaffolding. Just then Gandelu and his son came out, and the
contractor paused to give a few instructions. For a few seconds Gaston
and Chupin stood side by side, and a strange smile flitted across
Tantaine's face as he noted this. "Both children of Paris," muttered
he, "and both striking examples of the boasted civilization. The dandy
struts along the pavement, while the street arab plays in the gutter."
But he had no time to spend in philosophical speculations, as the
omnibus that he required appeared, and entering it, in another half-
hour he entered Paul Violaine's lodgings in the Rue Montmartre.
The portress, Mother Brigaut, was at her post as Tantaine entered the
courtyard and asked,--
"And how is our young gentleman to-day?"
"Better, sir, ever so much better; I made him a lovely bowl of soup
yesterday, and he drank up every drop of it. He looks like a real king
this morning, and the doctor sent in a dozen of wine to-day, which
will, I am sure, effect a perfect cure."
With a smile and a nod Tantaine was making his way to the stairs, when
Mother Brigaut prevented his progress.
"Some one was here yesterday," remarked she, "asking about M. Paul."
"What sort of a looking person was it?"
"Oh, a man like any other, nothing in particular about him, but he
wasn't a gentleman, for after keeping me for fully fifteen minutes
talking and talking, he only gave me a five-franc piece."
The description was not one that would lead to a recognition of the
person, and Tantaine asked in tones of extreme annoyance,--
"Did you not notice anything particular about the man?"
"Yes, he had on gold spectacles with the mountings as fine as a hair,
and a watch chain as thick and heavy as I have ever seen."
"And is that all?"
"Yes," answered she. "Oh! there was one thing more--the person knows
that you come here."
"Does he? Why do you think so?"
"Because all the time he was talking to me he was in a rare fidget,
and always kept his eyes on the door."
"Thanks, Mother Brigaut; mind and keep a sharp lookout," returned
Tantaine, as he slowly ascended the stairs.
Every now and then he paused to think. "Who upon earth can this fellow
be?" asked he of himself. He reviewed the whole question--chances,
probabilities, and risks, not one was neglected, but all in vain.
"A thousand devils!" growled he; "are the police at my heels?"
His nerves were terribly shaken, and he strove in vain to regain his
customary audacity. By this time he had reached the door of Paul's
room, and, on his ringing, the door was at once opened; but at the
sight of this woman he started back, with a cry of angry surprise; for
it was a female figure that stood before him, a young girl--Flavia,
the daughter of Martin Rigal, the banker.
The keen eyes of Tantaine showed him that Flavia's visit had not been
of long duration. She had removed her hat and jacket, and was holding
in her hand a piece of fancy work.
"Whom do you wish to see, sir?" asked she.
The old man strove to speak, but his lips would not frame a single
sentence. A band of steel seemed to be compressing his throat, and he
appeared like a man about to be seized with an apoplectic fit.
Flavia gazed upon the shabby-looking visitor with an expression of
intense disgust. It seemed to her that she had seen him somewhere; in
fact, there was an inexplicable manner about him which entirely
"I want to speak to M. Paul," said the old man in a low, hoarse
whisper; "he is expecting me."
"Then come in; but just now his doctor is with him."
She threw open the door more widely, and stepped back, so that the
greasy garments of the visitor might not touch her dress. He passed
her with an abject bow, and crossed the little sitting-room with the
air of a man who perfectly understands his way. He did not knock at
the door of the bedroom, but went straight in; there a singular
spectacle at once arrested his attention. Paul, with a very pale face,
was seated on the bed, while Hortebise was attentively examining his
bare shoulder. The whole of Paul's right arm and shoulder was a large
open wound, which seemed to have been caused by a burn or scald, and
must have been extremely painful. The doctor was bending over him,
applying a cooling lotion to the injured place with a small piece of
sponge. He turned sharply round on Daddy Tantaine's entrance; and so
accustomed were these men to read each other's faces at a glance that
Hortebise saw at once what had happened; for Tantaine's expression
plainly said, "Is Flavia mad to be here?" while the eyes of Hortebise
answered, "She may be, but I could not help it."
Paul turned, too, and greeted the old man with an exclamation of
"Come here," said he merrily, "and just see to what a wretched state I
have been reduced between the doctor and M. Mascarin."
Tantaine examined the wound carefully. "Are you quite sure," asked he,
"that not only will it deceive the Duke, who will see but with our
eyes, but also those of his wife, and perhaps of his medical man?"
"We will hoodwink the lot of them."
"And how long must we wait," asked the old man, "until the place skins
over, and assumes the appearance of having been there from childhood?"
"In a month's time Paul can be introduced to the Duke de Champdoce."
"Are you speaking seriously?"
"Listen to me. The scar will not be quite natural then, but I intend
to subject it to various other modes of treatment."
The dressing was now over, and Paul's shirt being readjusted, he was
permitted to lie down again.
"I am quite willing to remain here forever," said he, "as long as I am
allowed to retain the services of the nurse that I have in the next
room, and who, I am sure, is waiting with the greatest eagerness for
Hortebise fumed, and cast a glance at Paul which seemed to say, "Be
silent"; but the conceited young man paid no heed to it.
"How long has this charming nurse been with you?" asked Tantaine in an
"Ever since I have been in bed," returned Paul with the air of a gay
young fellow. "I wrote a note that I was unable to go over to her, so
she came to me. I sent my letter at nine o'clock, and at ten minutes
past she was with me."
The diplomatic doctor slipped behind Tantaine, and made violent
gestures to endeavor to persuade Paul to keep silence, but all was in
"M. Martin Rigal," continued the vain young fool, "passes the greater
part of his life in his private office. As soon as he gets up he goes
there, and is not seen for the rest of the day. Flavia can therefore
do entirely as she likes. As soon as she knows that her worthy father
is deep in his ledgers, she puts on her hat and runs round to me, and
no one could have a kinder and a prettier visitor than she is."
The doctor was hard at work at his danger signals, but it was useless.
Paul saw them, but did not comprehend their meaning; and Tantaine
rubbed his glasses savagely.
"You are perhaps deceiving yourself a little," said he at last.
"And why? You know that Flavia loves me, poor girl. I ought to marry
her, and of course I shall; but still, if I do not do so--well, you
know, I need say no more."
"You wretched scoundrel!" exclaimed the usually placid Tantaine. His
manner was so fierce and threatening that Paul shifted his position to
one nearer the wall.
It was impossible for Tantaine to say another word, for Hortebise
placed his hand upon his lips, and dragged him from the room.
THE TAFILA COPPER MINES, LIMITED.
Paul could not for the life of him imagine why Tantaine had left the
room in apparently so angry a mood. He had certainly spoken of Flavia
in a most improper manner; for the very weakness of which she had been
guilty should have caused him to treat her with tender deference and
respect. He could understand the anger of Hortebise, who was Rigal's
friend; but what on earth had Tantaine in common with the wealthy
banker and his daughter? Forgetful of the pain which the smallest
movement upon his part produced, Paul sat up in his bed, and listened
with intense eagerness, hoping to catch what was going on in the next
room; but he could hear nothing through the thick walls and the closed
"What can they be doing?" asked he. "What fresh plot are they
Daddy Tantaine and Hortebise passed out of the room hastily, but when
they reached the staircase they stood still. The doctor wore the same
smiling expression of face, and he endeavored to calm his companion,
who appeared to be on the verge of desperation.
"Have courage," whispered he; "what is the use of giving way to
passion? You cannot help this; it is too late now. Besides, even if
you could, you would not, as you know very well, indeed!"
The old man was moving his spectacles, not to wipe his glasses, but
"Ah!" moaned he, "now I can enter into the feelings of M. de Mussidan
when I proved to him that his daughter had a lover. I have been hard
and pitiless, and I am cruelly punished."
"My old friend, you must not attach too much importance to what you
have heard. Paul is a mere boy, and, of course, a boaster."
"Paul is a miserably cowardly dog," answered the old man in a fierce
undertone. "Paul does not love the girl as she loves him; but what he
says is true, only too true, I can feel. Between her father and her
lover she would not hesitate for a moment. Ah! unhappy girl, what a
terrible future lies before her."
He stopped himself abruptly.
"I cannot speak to her myself," resumed he; "do you, doctor, strive
and make her have reason."
Hortebise shrugged his shoulders. "I will see what my powers of
oratory can do," answered he; "but you are not quite yourself to-day.
Remember that a chance word will betray the secret of our lives."
"Go at once, and I swear to you that, happen what may, I will be
The doctor went back into Paul's room, while Tantaine sat down on the
topmost stair, his face buried in his hands.
Mademoiselle Flavia was just going to Paul, when the doctor again
"What, back again?" asked she petulantly. "I thought that you had been
far away by this time."
"I want to say something to you," answered he, "and something of a
rather serious nature. You must not elevate those charming eyebrows. I
see you guess what I am going to say, and you are right. I am come to
tell you that this is not the proper place for Mademoiselle Rigal."
"I know that."
This unexpected reply, made with the calmest air in the world, utterly
disconcerted the smiling doctor.
"It seems to me----" began he.
"That I ought not to be here; but then, you see, I place duty before
cold, worldly dictates. Paul is very ill, and has no one to take care
of him except his affianced bride; for has not my father given his
consent to our union?"
"Flavia, listen to the experience of a man of the world. The nature of
men is such that they never forgive a woman for compromising her
reputation, even though it be in their own favor. Do you know what
people will say twenty-four hours after your marriage? Why, that you
had been his mistress for weeks before, and that it was only the
knowledge of that fact that inclined your father to consent to the
Flavia's face grew crimson. "Very well," said she, "I will obey, and
never say again that I was obstinate; but let me say one word to Paul,
and then I will leave him."
The doctor retired, not guessing that this obedience arose from the
sudden suspicion which had arisen in Flavia's mind. "It is done," said
he, as he rejoined Tantaine on the stairs; "let us hasten, for she
will follow us at once."
By the time that Tantaine got into the street, he seemed to have
recovered a certain amount of his self-command. "We have succeeded,"
said he, "but we shall have to work hard, and this marriage must be
hastened by every means in our power. It can be celebrated now without
any risk, for in twelve hours the only obstacle that stands between
that youth there and the colossal fortune of the Champdoce will have
Though he had expected something of the kind, the face of the doctor
grew very pale.
"What, Andre?" faltered he.
"Andre is in great danger, doctor, and may not survive to-morrow, and
a portion of the work necessary to this end will be done to-night by
our young friend Toto Chupin."
"By that young scamp? Why, only the other day you laughed when I
suggested employing him."
"I shall this time kill two birds with one stone. Once an
investigation is made--let us speak plainly--into Andre's death, there
will be some inquiry made as to a certain window frame that has been
sawed through, and suspicion will fall upon Toto Chupin, who will have
been seen lurking about the spot. It will be proved that he purchased
a saw, and that he changed just before a note for one thousand francs;
he will be found hiding in a garret in the Hotel de Perou."
The doctor looked aghast. "Are you mad?" cried he. "Toto will accuse
"Very likely, but by that time poor old Tantaine will be dead and
buried. Then Mascarin will disappear, our faithful Beaumarchef will be
in the United States, and we can afford to laugh at the police."
"It seems like a success," said the doctor, "but push on for mercy's
sake; all these delays and fluctuations will make me seriously ill."
The two worthy associates held this conversation in a doorway, anxious
to be sure that Flavia had kept her promise. In a brief space of time
they saw her come out of the house and move in the direction of her
"Now," said Tantaine, "I can go in peace, doctor; farewell for the
present;" and without waiting for a reply he was walking rapidly away
when he was stopped by Beaumarchef, who came up breathless and barred
"I was looking for you," cried he; "the Marquis de Croisenois is in
the office and is swearing at me like anything."
"Go back to the office and tell the Marquis that the master will soon
be with him;" and thus speaking, Tantaine disappeared down a court by
the side of Martin Rigal's house.
The Marquis was striding up and down the office, every now and then
discharging a rumbling cannonade of oaths. "Fine business people,"
remarked he, "to make an appointment and then not to keep it!" He
checked himself; for the door of the inner office slowly opened, and
Mascarin appeared on the threshold. "Punctuality," said he, "does not
consist in coming /before/, but /at/ the time appointed."
The Marquis was cowed at once, and followed Mascarin into the sanctum
and watched him with curious gaze as the redoubtable head of the
association seemed to be searching for something among the papers on
his desk. When Mascarin had found what he was in search of, he turned
and addressed the Marquis.
"I desired to see you," said he, "with reference to the great
financial enterprise which you are to launch almost immediately."
"Yes; I understand that we must discuss it, fully understand it, and
feel our way."
Mascarin uttered a contemptuous whistle.
"Do you think," asked he, "that I am the kind of person to stand and
wait while you feel your way? Because if you do, the sooner you
undeceive yourself the better. Things that I take in hand are carried
out like a flash of lightning. You have been playing while I and
Catenac have been working, and nothing remains to be done but to act."
"Act! What do you mean?"
"I mean that offices have been taken in the Rue Vivienne, that the
articles of association have been drawn up, the directors chosen, and
the Company registered. The printer brought the prospectus here
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