The Count's Millions by Emile Gaboriau
Part 4 out of 7
turned away and had begun talking with some gentlemen near by.
For the office was full that morning. Five or six gentlemen, whom
I recognized as the directors of the asylum, were standing round
the steward in the black skullcap. They were evidently talking
about me. I was certain of this by the glances they gave me,
glances which, however, were full of kindness. The superior
joined the group and began speaking with unusual vivacity, while
standing in the recess of a window, I listened with all my might.
But I must have overestimated my intelligence, for I could gain no
meaning whatever from the phrases which followed each other in
rapid succession; though the words 'adoption,' 'emancipation,'
'dowry,' 'compensation,' 'reimbursement for sums expended,'
recurred again and again. I was only certain of one point: the
Count de Chalusse wished something, and these gentlemen were
specifying other things in exchange. To each of their demands he
answered: 'Yes, yes--it's granted. That's understood.' But at
last he began to grow impatient, and in a voice which impressed
one with the idea that he was accustomed to command, he exclaimed,
'I will do whatever you wish. Do you desire anything more?' The
gentlemen at once became silent, and the superior hastily declared
that M. de Chalusse was a thousand times too good, but that one
could expect no less of him, the last representative of one of the
greatest and oldest families of France.
"I cannot describe the surprise and indignation that were raging
in my soul. I divined--I felt that it was MY fate, MY future, MY
life that were being decided, and I was not even consulted on the
matter. They were disposing of me as if they were sure in advance
of my consent. My pride revolted at the thought, but I could not
find a word to say in protest. Crimson with shame, confused and
furious, I was wondering how I could interfere, when suddenly the
consultation ceased and the gentlemen at once surrounded me. One
of them, a little old man with a vapid smile and twinkling eyes,
tapped me on the cheek, and said: 'So she is as good as she is
pretty!' I could have struck him; but all the others laughed
approvingly, with the exception of M. de Chalusse, whose manner
became more and more frigid, and whose lips wore a constrained
smile, as if he had resolved to keep his temper despite all
provocation. It seemed to me that he was suffering terribly, and
I afterward learned that I had not been mistaken. Far from
imitating the old gentleman's manner, he bowed to me very gravely,
with an air of deference that quite abashed me, and went away
after saying that he would return the next day to conclude the
"I was at last left alone with the superior, whom I longed to
question, but she gave me no time to do so, for with extreme
volubility she began to tell me of my surprising good fortune,
which was an unanswerable and conclusive proof of the kindness and
protection of Providence. 'The count,' she said, 'was to become
my guardian. He would certainly give me a dowry; and by and by,
if I were grateful to him for his goodness, he would adopt me, a
poor, fatherless and motherless girl, and I should bear the great
name of Durtal de Chalusse, and inherit an immense fortune.' In
conclusion, she said that there was no limit to the count's
generosity, that he had consented to reimburse the asylum the
money that had been spent on me, that he had offered to dower, I
do not know how many poor girls, and that he had promised to build
a chapel for the use of the establishment. This was all true,
incredible as it might seem. That very morning, M. de Chalusse
had called at the asylum, declared that he was old and childless,
a bachelor without any near relatives, and that he wished to adopt
a poor orphan. They had given him a list of all the children in
the institution, and he had chosen me. 'A mere chance, my dear
Marguerite,' repeated the superior. 'A mere chance--or rather a
true miracle.' It did, indeed, seem a miracle, but I was more
surprised than elated. I longed to be alone, so as to deliberate
and reflect, for I knew that I was free to accept or decline this
"I timidly asked permission to return to my employers to inform
them of what had happened and consult with them; but my request
was refused. The superior told me that I must deliberate and
decide alone; and that when once my decision was taken, there
could be no change. So I remained at the asylum, and dined at the
superior's table; and during the night I occupied the room of a
sister who was absent. What surprised me most of all was the
deference with which I was treated. The sisters all seemed to
consider me a person of great importance. And yet I hesitated.
"My indecision may seem absurd and hypocritical; but it was really
sincere. My present situation was certainly by no means an
enviable one. But the worst was over; my term as an apprentice
had nearly expired, and my future seemed assured. My future! What
could it be with the Count de Chalusse? It was painted in such
brilliant colors that it frightened me. Why had the count chosen
me in preference to any of the other girls? Was it really chance
which had decided him in his choice? On reflecting, the miracle
seemed to me to have been prepared in advance, and I fancied that
it must conceal some mystery. More than this, the thought of
yielding myself up to a stranger terrified me. Forty-eight hours
had been granted me to consider my decision, and till the very
last instant I remained in doubt. Who knows? Perhaps it would
have been better for me if I had returned to my humble life. At
all events, I should have been spared a great deal of sorrow and
humiliation. But I lacked the courage; and when the time expired,
I consented to the new arrangement.
"Should I live a thousand years I shall never forget the day I
left the foundling asylum to become the Count de Chalusse's ward.
It was a Saturday, and I had given my answer to the superior on
the evening before. The next morning I received a visit from my
former employers, who, having been informed of the great change in
my prospects, had come to bid me good-bye. The cancelling of my
apprenticeship had at first caused some trouble, but eventually
the count's gold silenced their objections. Still, they were
sorry to part with me, as I plainly saw. Their eyes were moist
with tears. They were sorry to lose the poor little servant who
had served them so faithfully. At the same time, however, I
noticed evident constraint in their manner. They no longer said
'thee' and 'thou' to me; they no longer spoke roughly; but they
said 'you,' and addressed me as 'mademoiselle.' Poor people! they
awkwardly apologized for having ventured to accept my services,
declaring in the same breath that they should never be able to
replace me at the same price. Madame Greloux, moreover, declared
that she should never forgive herself for not having sharply
reproved her brother for his abominable conduct. He was a good-
for-nothing fellow, she said, as was proved by the fact that he
had dared to raise his eyes to me. For the first time in my life,
I felt that I was sincerely loved; and I was so deeply touched
that if my decision had not been written and signed, I should
certainly have returned to live with these worthy people. But it
was too late. A sister came to tell me that the superior wished
to see me. I bade Father and Mother Greloux farewell and went
"In the superior's room, a lady and two shop-girls, laden with
boxes and parcels, were waiting for me. It was a dressmaker who
had come with some clothes suited to my new station in life. I
was told that she had been sent by the Count de Chalusse. This
great nobleman thought of everything; and, although he had thirty
servants to do his bidding, he never disdained to occupy himself
with the pettiest details. So, for the first time, I was arrayed
in rustling silk and clinging cashmere. My toilette was no
trifling affair. All the good sisters clustered round me, and
tried to beautify me with the same care and patience as they would
have displayed in adorning the Virgin's statue for a fete-day. A
secret instinct warned me that they were overdoing the matter, and
that they were making me look ridiculous; but I did not mind. I
allowed them to please themselves I could still feel Madame
Greloux's tears on my hand, and the scene seemed to me as
lugubrious as the last toilette of a prisoner under sentence of
death. When they had completed their task, I heard a buzz of
admiration round me. If the sisters were worthy of belief, they
had never seen such a wonderful transformation. Those who were in
the class-rooms or thee sewing-room, were summoned to view and
admire me, and some of the elder children were also admitted.
Perhaps I was intended as an example for the latter, for I heard
the lady superior say to them, 'You see, my dear children, the
result of good behavior. Be diligent and dutiful, like our dear
Marguerite, and God will reward you as He has rewarded her.' And,
meantime, miserable in my finery, I waited--waited for M. de
Chalusse, who was coming to take me away.
"At the appointed hour he appeared, with the same air of haughty
reserve, that had so awed me on the occasion of our first meeting.
He scarcely deigned to look at me, and although I watched him with
poignant anxiety, I could read neither blame nor approval on his
face. 'You see that your wishes have been scrupulously obeyed,
Monsieur le Comte,' said the superior. 'I thank you,' he replied;
'and I shall prove the extent of my gratitude to the poor children
under your charge.' Then, turning to me: 'Marguerite,' he said,
'take leave of--your mothers, and tell them that you will never
forget their kindness.'"
The girl paused, for her emotion had rendered her words almost
unintelligible. But, with an effort, she speedily conquered her
"It was only then," she continued, "that I realized how much I
loved these poor nuns, whom I had sometimes almost cursed. I felt
now how close the ties were, that bound me to this hospitable
roof, and to these unfortunate children, my companions in misery
and loneliness. It seemed to me as if my heart were breaking; and
the superior, who was generally so impassible, appeared scarcely
less moved than myself. At last, M. de Chalusse took me by the
hand and led me away. In the street there was a carriage waiting
for us, not such a beautiful one as that which had been sent to
fetch me from my workshop, but a much larger one, with trunks and
boxes piled on its roof. It was drawn by four gray horses. I
felt more dead than alive, as I entered the carriage and took the
seat which the count pointed out. He sat down opposite to me.
All the sisters had assembled at the door of the asylum, and even
the superior wept without making any attempt to hide her tears.
'Farewell!' they all cried; 'farewell, farewell, dear child! Don't
forget your old friends. We shall pray for your happiness.' Alas!
God could not have heard their prayers. At a sign from M. de
Chalusse, a footman closed the door, the postilions cracked their
whips, and the heavy vehicle rolled away.
"The die was cast. Henceforth, an impassable gulf was to separate
me from this asylum, whither I had been carried in my infancy half
dead, and wrapped in swaddling clothes, from which every mark that
could possibly lead to identification had been carefully cut away.
Whatever my future might prove, I felt that my past was gone
forever. But I was too greatly agitated even to think; and
crouching in a corner of the carriage, I watched M. de Chalusse
with the poignant anxiety a slave displays as he studies his new
master. Ah! monsieur, what a wondrous change! A mask seemed to
have fallen from the count's face; his lips quivered, a tender
light beamed in his eyes, and he drew me to him, exclaiming: 'Oh,
Marguerite! my beloved Marguerite! At last--at last!' He sobbed--
this old man, whom I had thought as cold and as insensible as
marble; he crushed me in his close embrace, he almost smothered me
with kisses. And I was frightfully agitated by the strange,
indefinable feeling, kindled in my heart; but I no longer trembled
with fear. An inward voice whispered that this was but the
renewal of a former tie--one which had somehow been mysteriously
broken. However, as I remembered the superior's assertion that it
was a miracle in my favor--a wonderful interposition of
Providence, I had courage enough to ask: 'So it was not chance
that guided you in your choice?'
"My question seemed to take him by surprise. 'Poor Marguerite!'
he murmured, 'dearly beloved child! for years I have been laboring
to bring about this chance!' Instantly all the romantic stories I
had heard in the asylum recurred to my mind. And Heaven knows
there are plenty of these stories transmitted by the sisters from
generation to generation, till they have become a sort of Golden
Legend for poor foundlings. That sad formula, 'Father and mother
unknown,' which figures on certificates of birth, acts as a
dangerous stimulant for unhealthy imaginations, and leaves an open
door for the most extravagant hopes. And thus influenced, I fixed
my eyes on the face of the Count de Chalusse, striving to discover
some resemblance in his features to my own. But he did not seem
to notice my intent gaze, and following his train of thought, he
muttered: 'Chance! It was necessary that they should think so, and
they did think so. And yet the cleverest detectives in Paris,
from old Tabaret to Fortunat, both masters in the art of following
up a clue, had exhausted their resources in helping me in my
despairing search.' The agony of suspense I was enduring had
become intolerable; and unable to restrain myself longer, I
exclaimed, with a wildly throbbing heart: 'Then, you are my
father, Monsieur le Comte?' He pressed his hand to my lips with
such violence that he hurt me, and then, in a voice quivering with
excitement, he replied: 'Imprudent girl! What can you mean? Forget
that unfortunate idea. Never utter the name of father--you hear
me--never! I forbid it!' He had become extremely pale, and he
looked anxiously around him, as if he feared that some one had
overheard me--as if he had forgotten that we were alone in a
carriage which was dashing onward at full speed!
"I was stupefied and alarmed by the sudden terror which M. de
Chalusse had displayed and could not control. What could it all
mean? What sorrowful recollections, what mysterious apprehensions,
had my words aroused in the count's mind? I could not understand
or imagine why he should regard my question as strange or
unnatural. On the contrary, I thought it perfectly natural,
dictated as it had been by circumstances, and by the count's own
words and manner. And, in spite of my confusion and agitation,
the inexplicable voice which we call presentiment whispered in my
heart: 'He has forbidden you to CALL him father, but he has not
said that he is not your father.' However, I had not time to
reflect or to question M. de Chalusse any more, though at that
moment I should have had the courage to do so; afterward I did not
"Our carriage had drawn up outside the railway station, and the
next instant we alighted. Then, for the first time, I learned the
magical power of money, I, a poor girl--reared by public charity--
and who for three years had worked for my daily bread. M. de
Chalusse found the servants, who were to accompany us, awaiting
him. They had thought of everything, and made every possible
arrangement for our comfort. I had scarcely time to glance round
me before we were on the platform in front of a train, which was
ready to start. I perceived the very carriage that had brought us
to the station already fastened on a low open truck, and I was
advancing to climb into it, when M. de Chalusse stopped me. 'Not
there,' said he, 'come with me.' I followed him, and he led me to
a magnificent saloon carriage, much higher and roomier than the
others, and emblazoned with the Chalusse coat-of-arms. 'This is
our carriage, dear Marguerite, he said. I got in. The whistle
sounded; and the train started off."
Mademoiselle Marguerite was growing very tired. Big drops of
perspiration stood out on her forehead, she panted for breath, and
her voice began to fail her.
The magistrate was almost frightened. "Pray rest a little,
mademoiselle," he entreated, "there is no hurry."
But she shook her head and replied: "It is better to go on. I
should never have courage to begin again if I paused." And
thereupon she continued: "I had never gone farther than
Versailles. This journey was at first as delightful as a glimpse
into fairy-land. Our carriage was one of those costly whims which
some millionaires indulge in. It consisted of a central saloon--a
perfect chef-d'oeuvre of taste and luxury--with two compartments
at either end, furnished with comfortable sleeping accommodation.
And all this, the count seemed never weary of repeating, was mine--
mine alone. Leaning back on the velvet cushions, I gazed at the
changing landscape, as the train rushed madly on. Leaning over
me, M. de Chalusse named all the towns and villages we passed:
Brunoy, Melun, Fontainebleau, Villeneuve, Sens, Laroche. And each
time the train stopped the servants came to ask if we wished for
anything. When we reached Lyons, in the middle of the night, we
found a delicious supper awaiting us. It was served as soon as we
alighted, and in due time we were warned that the train was ready
to start, and then we resumed our journey. You can imagine,
perhaps, how marvellous all this seemed to a poor little
apprentice, whose only ambition a week before was to earn five
francs a day. What a change indeed! At last the count made me
retire to one of the compartments, where I soon fell asleep,
abandoning my efforts to distinguish what was dreamlike in my
situation from reality. However, when I woke up I became terribly
anxious. I asked myself what was awaiting me at the end of this
long journey. M. de Chalusse's manner continued kind, and even
affectionate; but he had regained his accustomed reserve and self-
control, and I realized that it would be useless on my part to
question him. At last, after a thirty hours' journey by rail, we
again entered the count's berline, drawn by post-horses, and
eventually M. de Chalusse said to me: 'Here is Cannes--we are at
our journey's end.'
"In this town, which is one of the most charming that overlook the
blue waters of the Mediterranean, the count owned a palace
embowered among lovely orange-trees, only a few steps from the
sea, and in full view of the myrtle and laurel groves which deck
the isles of Sainte Marguerite. He told me that he proposed
spending a few months here in seclusion, so as to give me time to
accustom myself to my new position and the luxury that surrounded
me. I was, indeed, extremely awkward, and my excessive timidity
was increased by my pride. I did not know what to say, or what to
do. I did not know how to use my hands, nor how to walk, nor how
to carry myself. Everything embarrassed and frightened me; and I
was conscious of my awkwardness, without being able to remedy it.
I saw my blunders, and knew that I spoke a different language to
that which was spoken around me. And yet the memory of Cannes
will ever be dear to me. For there I first met the only friend I
have now left in this world. I did not exchange a word with him,
but by the quickened throbbings of my heart, when our eyes met, I
felt that he would exert a powerful influence over my life, and
events have since proved that I was not deceived. At that time,
however, he was a stranger to me; and nothing on earth would have
induced me to make inquiries concerning him. It was only by
chance I learned that he lived in Paris, that his name was Pascal,
and that he had come south as a companion to a sick friend.
"By a single word the count could have insured the happiness of my
life and his own, but he did not speak it. He was the kindest and
most indulgent of guardians, and I was often affected to tears by
his tenderness. But, although my slightest wish was law, he did
not grant me his confidence. The secret--the mystery that stood
between us--was like a wall of ice. Still, I was gradually
becoming accustomed to my new life, and my mind was regaining its
equilibrium, when one evening the count returned home more
agitated and excited, if possible, than on the day of my departure
from the asylum. He summoned his valet, and, in a tone that
admitted no reply, he exclaimed, 'I wish to leave Cannes at once--
I must start in less than an hour--so procure some post-horses
instantly.' And in answer to my inquiring glance, he said: 'It
must be. It would be folly to hesitate. Each moment increases
the peril that threatens us.'
"I was very young, inexperienced, and totally ignorant of life;
but my sufferings, my loneliness, and the prospect of being
compelled to rely upon myself, had imparted to my mind that
precocious maturity which is so often observed among the children
of the poor. Knowing from the very first that there was some
mystery connected with the count's life, I had studied him with a
child's patient sagacity--a sagacity which is all the more
dangerous, as it is unsuspected--and I had come to the conclusion
that a constant dread rendered his life a burden. Could it be for
himself that he trembled, this great nobleman, who was so powerful
by reason of his exalted rank, his connections, and his wealth?
Certainly not. Was it for me, then? Undoubtedly it was. But why?
It had not taken me long to discover that he was concealing me,
or, at least, that he endeavored by all means in his power to
prevent my presence in his house from being known beyond a very
limited circle of friends. Our hurried departure from Cannes
confirmed me in my impression.
"It might have been truly called a flight. We left that same
evening at eleven o'clock, in a pouring rain, with the first
horses that could be procured. Our only attendant was the count's
valet--not Casimir, the man who insulted me a little while ago--
but another man, an old and valued servant, who has since died,
unfortunately, and who possessed his master's entire confidence.
The other servants were dismissed with a princely gratuity, and
told to disperse two days after our departure. We did not return
to Paris, but journeyed toward the Italian frontier, and on
arriving at Nice in the dead of night, we drove directly to the
quay. The postilions unharnessed the horses, and we remained in
the carriage. The valet, however, hastened off, and more than two
hours elapsed before he returned. He declared that he had found
it very difficult to procure what he wished for, but that at last,
by a prodigal outlay of money, he had succeeded in overcoming all
obstacles. What M. de Chalusse desired was a vessel ready for
sea, and the bark which the valet had chartered now came up to the
quay. Our carriage was put on board, we went below, and before
daybreak we were under way.
"Three days later we were in Genoa, registered under a false name
in a second class hotel. While we were on the open sea, the count
had seemed to be less agitated, but now he was far from calm, and
the precautions he took proved that he still feared pursuit. A
malefactor flying from justice could not have taken greater pains
to mislead the detectives on his track. And facts proved
conclusively that I was the sole cause of the count's
apprehension. On one occasion I even heard him discussing with
his valet the feasibility of clothing me in masculine attire. And
it was only the difficulty of obtaining a suitable costume that
prevented him from carrying this project into execution. I ought
to mention, however, that the servant did not share his master's
anxiety, for three or four times I overheard him saying: 'The
count is too good to worry himself so much about such bad stock.
Besides, she won't overtake us. It isn't certain that she has
even followed us. How can she know anything about it?' She! Who
was she? This is what I racked my brain to discover, but without
success. I must confess, monsieur, that being of a practical
nature, and not in the least degree romantic, I arrived at the
conclusion that the peril chiefly existed in the count's
imagination, or that he greatly exaggerated it. Still he suffered
none the less on that account, as was shown by the fact that the
following month was spent in hurried journeys from one Italian
city to another.
"It was the end of May before M. de Chalusse would consent to
return to France; and then we went direct to Lyons. We had spent
a couple of days there, when the count informed me that prudence
required us to separate for a time--that our safety demanded this
sacrifice. And without giving me time to say a word, he began to
explain the advantages that would accrue from such an arrangement.
I was extremely ignorant, and he wished me to profit by our
temporary separation to raise my knowledge to a level with my new
social position. He had, accordingly, made arrangements for me to
enter the convent of Sainte-Marthe, an educational establishment
which is as celebrated in the department of the Rhone as the
Convent des Oiseaux is in Paris. He added that it would not be
prudent for him to visit me; and he made me solemnly promise that
I would never mention his name to any of my schoolmates. I was to
send any letters I might write to an address which he would give
me, and he would sign his answers with a fictitious name. He also
told me that the lady superior of Sainte-Marthe knew his secret,
and that I could confide in her. He was so restless and so
miserably unhappy on the day when he acquainted me with these
plans, that I really believed him insane. Nevertheless, I replied
that I would obey him, and to tell the truth, I was not ill
pleased at the thought of the change. My life with M. de Chalusse
was a monotonous and cheerless one. I was almost dying of ennui,
for I had been accustomed to work, bustle, and confusion with the
Greloux, and I felt delighted at the prospect of finding myself
among companions of my own age.
"Unfortunately, M. de Chalusse had forgotten one circumstance,
which made my two years' sojourn at Sainte-Marthe a lingering and
cruel agony. At first I was kindly treated by my schoolmates. A
new pupil is always welcome, for her arrival relieves the monotony
of convent-life. But it was not long before my companions wished
to know my name; and I had none other than Marguerite to give
them. They were astonished and wished to know who my parents
were. I could not tell an untruth; and I was obliged to confess
that I knew nothing at all respecting my father or my mother.
After that 'the bastard'--for such was the name they gave me--was
soon condemned to isolation. No one would associate with me
during play-time. No one would sit beside me in the school-room.
At the piano lesson, the girl who played after me pretended to
wipe the keyboard carefully before commencing her exercises. I
struggled bravely against this unjust ostracism; but all in vain.
I was so unlike these other girls in character and disposition,
and I had, moreover, been guilty of a great imprudence. I had
been silly enough to show my companions the costly jewels which M.
de Chalusse had given me, but which I never wore. And on two
occasions I had proved to them that I had more money at my
disposal than all the other pupils together. If I had been poor,
they would, perhaps, have treated me with affected sympathy; but
as I was rich, I became an enemy. It was war; and one of those
merciless wars which sometimes rage so furiously in convents,
despite their seeming quiet.
"I should surprise you, monsieur, if I told you what refined
torture these daughters of noblemen invented to gratify their
petty spite. I might have complained to the superior, but I
scorned to do so. I buried my sorrow deep in my heart, as I had
done years before; and I firmly resolved never to show ought but a
smiling, placid face, so as to prove to my enemies that they were
powerless to disturb my peace of mind. Study became my refuge and
consolation; and I plunged into work with the energy of despair.
I should probably still live at Sainte-Marthe now, had it not been
for a trivial circumstance. One day I had a quarrel with my most
determined enemy, a girl named Anais de Rochecote. I was a
thousand times right; and I would not yield. The superior dared
not tell me I was wrong. Anais was furious, and wrote I don't
know what falsehoods to her mother. Madame de Rochecote thereupon
interested the mothers of five or six other pupils in her
daughter's quarrel, and one evening these ladies came in a body,
and nobly and courageously demanded that the 'bastard' should be
expelled. It was impossible, outrageous, monstrous, they
declared, that their daughters should be compelled to associate
with a girl like me--a nameless girl, who humiliated the other
girls with her ill-gotten wealth. The superior tried to take my
part; but these ladies declared they would take their daughters
from the convent if I were not sent away. There was no help for
it: I was sacrificed. Summoned by telegraph, M. de Chalusse
hastened to Lyons, and two days later I left Sainte-Marthe with
jeers and opprobrious epithets ringing in my ears."
Once before, that very morning, the magistrate had witnessed a
display of the virile energy with which misfortune and suffering
had endowed this proud but naturally timid girl. But he was none
the less surprised at the sudden explosion of hatred which he now
beheld; for it was hatred. The way in which Mademoiselle
Marguerite's voice had quivered as she pronounced the name of
Anais de Rochecote proved, unmistakably, that hers was one of
those haughty natures that never forget an insult. All signs of
fatigue had now disappeared. She had sprung from her chair, and
remembrance of the shameful, cowardly affront she had received had
brought a vivid flush to her cheeks and a bright gleam to her
"This atrocious humiliation happened scarcely a year ago,
monsieur," she resumed; "and there is but little left for me to
tell you. My expulsion from Sainte-Marthe made M. de Chalusse
frantic with indignation. He knew something that I was ignorant
of--that Madame de Rochecote, who enacted the part of a severe and
implacable censor, was famed for the laxity of her morals. The
count's first impulse was to wreak vengeance on my persecutors;
for, in spite of his usual coolness, M. de Chalusse had a furious
temper at times. It was only with the greatest difficulty that I
dissuaded him from challenging General de Rochecote, who was
living at the time. However, it now became necessary to make some
other arrangements for me. M. de Chalusse offered to find another
school, promising to take such precautions as would insure my
peace of mind. But I interrupted him before he had spoken a dozen
words, declaring I would rather return to the book-binders than
chance another such experiment. And what I said I meant. A
subterfuge--a fictitious name, for instance--could alone shield me
from persecution similar to what I had endured at Sainte-Marthe.
But I knew that I was incapable of playing such a part--I felt
that I should somehow confess everything. My firmness imparted
some resolution to M. de Chalusse. He exclaimed, with an oath,
that I was right--that he was weary of all this deception and
concealment, and that he would make arrangements to have me near
him. 'Yes,' he concluded, embracing me, 'the die is cast, come
"However, these measures required a certain delay; and, in the
meantime, he decided to install me in Paris, which is the only
place where one can successfully hide from prying eyes. He
purchased a small but convenient house, surrounded by a garden, in
the neighborhood of the Luxembourg Palace, and here he installed
me, with two old women and a trusty man-servant. As I needed a
chaperon, he went in quest of one, and found Madame Leon."
On hearing this name, the magistrate gave the young girl a
searching look, as if he hoped to discover what estimate she had
formed of the housekeeper's character, as well as what degree of
confidence she had granted her. But Mademoiselle Marguerite's
face remained unaltered in expression.
"After so many trials," she resumed, "I thought I should now find
rest and peace. Yes, I believed so; and the few months I spent in
that quiet house will be the happiest of my life--I am sure of it.
Judge of my surprise when, on going down into the little garden on
the second day after my arrival, I saw the young man whom I had
met at Cannes, and whose face had lingered in my memory for more
than two years as the type of all that was best and noblest in the
human countenance. He was standing near the gate. A cloud passed
before my eyes. What mysterious freak of fate had caused him to
pause there at that particular moment? This much is certain, he
recognized me as I had recognized him. He bowed, smiling
somewhat, and I fled indoors again, indignant with myself for not
being angry at his audacity. I made many plans that day, but the
next morning, at the same hour, I hid myself behind a Venetian
blind, and saw him pause at the gate, and gaze at the garden with
evident anxiety. I soon learned that he lived near by, with his
widowed mother; and twice a day, when he went to the Palais de
Justice and returned, he passed my home."
Her cheeks were crimson now, her eyes were lowered, and she was
evidently embarrassed. But suddenly, as if ashamed of her
blushes, she proudly raised her head, and said, in a firmer voice:
"Shall I tell you our simple story? Is it necessary? I should not
have concealed anything that has passed from my mother, if I had
been so happy as to possess a mother. A few moments' conversation
now and then, the exchange of a few letters, the pressure of a
hand through the garden gate, and that is all. Still, I have been
guilty of a grave and irreparable fault: I have disobeyed the one
rule of my life--frankness; and I am cruelly punished for doing
so. I did not tell all this to M. de Chalusse--in fact, I dared
not. I was ashamed of my cowardice; from day to day I vowed that
I would confess everything, and yet I procrastinated. I said to
myself every night, 'It shall be done to-morrow; but when the
morrow came I said, 'I will give myself another day--just one more
day.' Indeed, my courage failed me when I thought of the count's
aristocratic prejudices; and besides, I knew how ambitious he was
for my future. On the other hand, moreover, Pascal was always
pleading: 'Don't speak now. My circumstances are constantly
improving. The day is not far off when I shall be able to offer
you wealth and fame. When that day comes I will go to your
guardian and ask him for your hand; but in Heaven's name don't
speak now.' I understood Pascal's motives well enough. The
count's immense fortune frightened him, and he feared that he
would be accused of being a fortune-hunter. So I waited, with
that secret anguish which still haunts those who have been unhappy
even when their present is peaceful, and their future seems
bright. I kept my secret, saying to myself that such happiness
was not meant for me, that it would soon take flight.
"It took flight all too soon. One morning I heard a carriage draw
up outside our door, and the next moment the Count de Chalusse
entered the sitting-room. 'Everything is ready to receive you at
the Hotel de Chalusse, Marguerite,' said he, 'come!' He
ceremoniously offered me his arm, and I accompanied him. I could
not even leave a message for Pascal, for I had never made a
confidante of Madame Leon. Still, a faint hope sustained me. I
thought that the precautions taken by M. de Chalusse would
somewhat dispel the uncertainty of my position, and furnish me at
least with some idea of the vague danger which threatened me. But
no. His efforts, so far as I could discover, had been confined to
changing his servants. Our life in this grand house was the same
as it had been at Cannes--even more secluded, if that were
possible. The count had aged considerably. It was evident that
he was sinking beneath the burden of some ever-present sorrow. 'I
am condemning you to a cheerless and melancholy youth,' he
sometimes said to me, 'but it will not last forever--patience,
patience!' Did he really love me? I think so. But his affection
showed itself in a strange manner. Sometimes his voice was so
tender that my heart was touched. At others there was a look of
hatred in his eyes which terrified me. Occasionally he was severe
almost to brutality, and then the next moment he would implore me
to forgive him, order the carriage, take me with him to his
jewellers', and insist upon me accepting some costly ornaments.
Madame Leon declares that my jewels are worth more than twenty
thousand francs. At times I wondered if his capricious affection
and sternness were really intended for myself. It often seemed to
me that I was only a shadow--the phantom of some absent person, in
his eyes. It is certain that he often requested me to dress
myself or to arrange my hair in a certain fashion, to wear such
and such a color, or to use a particular perfume which he gave me.
Frequently, when I was moving about the house, he suddenly
exclaimed: 'Marguerite! I entreat you, remain just where you are!'
"I obeyed him, but the illusion had already vanished. A sob or an
oath would come from his lips, and then in an angry voice he would
bid me leave the room."
The magistrate did not raise his eyes from his talismanic ring; it
might have been supposed that it had fascinated him. Still, his
expression denoted profound commiseration, and he shook his head
thoughtfully. The idea had occurred to him that this unfortunate
young girl had been the victim, not precisely of a madman, but of
one of those maniacs who have just enough reason left to invent
the tortures they inflict upon those around them.
Speaking more slowly than before, as if she were desirous of
attracting increased attention on the magistrate's part,
Mademoiselle Marguerite now continued: "If I reminded M. de
Chalusse of a person whom he had formerly loved, that person may
have been my mother. I say, MAY HAVE BEEN, because I am not
certain of it. All my efforts to discover the truth were
unavailing. M. de Chalusse seemed to take a malicious pleasure in
destroying all my carefully-arranged theories, and in upsetting
the conjectures which he had encouraged himself only twenty-four
hours previously. Heaven only knows how anxiously I listened to
his slightest word! And it can be easily understood why I did so.
My strange and compromising connection with him drove me nearly
frantic. It was not strange that people's suspicions were
aroused. True, he had changed all his servants before my arrival
here; but he had requested Madame Leon to remain with me, and who
can tell what reports she may have circulated? It has often
happened that when returning from mass on Sundays, I have
overheard persons say, 'Look! there is the Count de Chalusse's
mistress!' Oh! not a single humiliation has been spared me--not a
single one! However, on one point I did not feel the shadow of a
doubt. The count had known my mother. He frequently alluded to
her, sometimes with an outburst of passion which made me think
that he had once adored, and still loved her; sometimes, with
insults and curses which impressed me with the idea that she had
cruelly injured him. But most frequently he reproached her for
having unhesitatingly sacrificed me to insure her own safety. He
said she could have had no heart; and that it was an unheard of,
incomprehensible, and monstrous thing that a woman could enjoy
luxury and wealth, undisturbed by remorse, knowing that her
innocent and defenceless child was exposed all the while to the
hardships and temptations of abject poverty. I was also certain
that my mother was a married woman, for M. de Chalusse alluded to
her husband more than once. He hated him with a terrible hatred.
One evening, when he was more communicative than usual, he gave me
to understand that the great danger he dreaded for me came either
from my mother or her husband. He afterward did his best to
counteract this impression; but he did not succeed in convincing
me that his previous assertion was untrue."
The magistrate looked searchingly at Mademoiselle Marguerite.
"Then those letters which we found just now in the escritoire are
from your mother, mademoiselle?" he remarked.
The girl blushed. She had previously been questioned respecting
these letters, and she had then made no reply. Now, she hesitated
for a moment, and then quietly said: "Your opinion coincides with
Thereupon, as if she wished to avoid any further questioning on
the subject, she hurriedly continued: "At last a new and even
greater trouble came--a positive calamity, which made me forget
the disgrace attached to my birth. One morning at breakfast,
about a month ago, the count informed me that he expected two
guests to dinner that evening. This was such an unusual
occurrence that I was struck speechless with astonishment. 'It is
extraordinary, I admit,' he added, gayly; 'but it is nevertheless
true. M. de Fondege and the Marquis de Valorsay will dine here
this evening. So, my dear Marguerite, look your prettiest in
honor of our old friend.' At six o'clock the two gentlemen
arrived together. I was well acquainted with M. de Fondege--the
general, as he was commonly called. He was the count's only
intimate friend, and often visited us. But I had never before
seen the Marquis de Valorsay, nor had I ever heard his name until
M. de Chalusse mentioned it that morning. I don't pretend to
judge him. I will only say that as soon as I saw him, the dislike
I felt for him bordered on aversion. My false position rendered
his close scrutiny actually painful to me, and his attentions and
compliments pleased me no better. At dinner he addressed his
conversation exclusively to me, and I particularly remember a
certain picture he drew of a model household, which positively
disgusted me. In his opinion, a husband ought to content himself
with being his wife's prime minister--the slave of her slightest
caprice. He intended, if he married, to allow the Marquise de
Valorsay perfect freedom, with an unlimited amount of money, the
handsomest carriages, and the most magnificent diamonds in Paris--
everything, indeed, that could gratify her vanity, and render her
existence a fairylike dream. 'With such ideas on her husband's
part the marchioness will be very difficult to please if she is
not contented with her lot,' he added, glancing covertly at me.
This exasperated me beyond endurance, and I dryly replied: 'The
mere thought of such a husband would drive me to the shelter of a
convent.' He seemed considerably disconcerted; and I noticed that
the general, I mean M. de Fondege, gave him a mischievous look.
"However, when the gentlemen had gone, M. de Chalusse scolded me
severely. He said that my sentimental philosophy was quite out of
place in a drawing-room, and that my ideas of life, marriage, and
duty could only have been gained in a foundling asylum. As I
attempted to reply, he interrupted me to sound the praises of the
Marquis de Valorsay, who not only came of an ancient family, and
possessed immense, unencumbered estates, but was a talented,
handsome man into the bargain; in short, one of those favored
mortals whom all young girls sigh for. The scales fell from my
eyes. I instantly understood that M. de Chalusse had selected the
Marquis de Valorsay to be my husband, and thus the marquis had
designedly explained his matrimonial programme for my benefit. It
was a snare to catch the bird. I felt indignant that he should
suppose me so wanting in delicacy of feeling and nobility of
character as to be dazzled by the life of display and facile
pleasure which he had depicted. I had disliked him at first, and
now I despised him; for it was impossible to misunderstand the
shameless proposal concealed beneath his half-jesting words. He
offered me my liberty in exchange for my fortune. That is only a
fair contract, one might say. Perhaps so; but if he were willing
to do this for a certain amount of money, what would he not do for
a sum twice or thrice as large? Such were my impressions, though I
asked myself again and again if I were not mistaken. No; the
events that followed only confirmed my suspicions. Three days
later the marquis came again. His visit was to the count, and
they held a long conference in this study. Having occasion to
enter the room, after the marquis's departure, I noticed on the
table a number of title deeds which he had probably brought for
the count's inspection. On the following week there was another
conference, and this time a lawyer was present. Any further
doubts I might have felt were dispelled by Madame Leon, who was
always well informed--thanks to her habit of listening at the
keyholes. 'They are talking of marrying you to the Marquis de
Valorsay--I heard them,' she remarked to me.
"However, the information did not terrify me. I had profited by
the time allowed me for reflection, and I had decided upon the
course I should pursue. I am timid, but I am not weak; and I was
determined to resist M. de Chalusse's will in this matter, even if
it became necessary for me to leave his house, and renounce all
hopes of the wealth he had promised me. Still I said nothing to
Pascal of my mental struggle and final determination. I did not
wish to bind him by the advice which he would certainly have given
me. I had his troth, and that sufficed. And it was with a thrill
of joy that I said to myself: 'What does it matter if M. de
Chalusse should be so angered by my refusal to obey him as to
drive me from his house? It will rather be so much the better;
Pascal will protect me.'
"But resistance is only possible when you are attacked; and M. de
Chalusse did not even allude to the subject--perhaps because
affairs had not yet been satisfactorily arranged between the
marquis and himself--possibly because he wished to deprive me of
the power to oppose him by taking me unawares. It would have been
great imprudence on my part to broach the subject myself, and so I
waited calmly and resignedly, storing up all my energy for the
decisive hour. I willingly confess that I am not a heroine of
romance--I do not look upon money with the contempt it deserves.
I was resolved to wed solely in accordance with the dictates of my
heart; but I wished, and HOPED, that M. de Chalusse would give me,
not a fortune, but a modest dowry. He had become more
communicative than usual on money matters, and took no pains to
conceal the fact that he was engaged in raising the largest
possible amount of ready cash. He received frequent visits from
his stockbroker, and sometimes when the latter had left him, he
showed me rolls of bank-notes and packages of bonds, saying, as he
did so: 'You see that your future is assured, my dear Marguerite.'
"I am only doing the count justice when I say that my future was a
subject of constant anxiety to him during the last few months of
his life. Less than a fortnight after he had taken me from the
asylum, he drew up a will, in which he adopted me and made me his
sole legatee. But he afterward destroyed this document on the
plea that it did not afford me sufficient security; and a dozen
others shared the same fate. For his mind was constantly occupied
with the subject, and he seemed to have a presentiment that his
death would be a sudden one. I am forced to admit that he seemed
less anxious to endow me with his fortune than to frustrate the
hopes of some persons I did not know. When he burned his last
will in my presence, he remarked: 'This document is useless: they
would contest it, and probably succeed in having it set aside. I
have thought of a better way; I have found an expedient which will
provide for all emergencies.' And as I ventured some timid
objection--for it was repugnant to my sense of honor to act as an
instrument of vengeance or injustice, or assist, even passively,
in despoiling any person of his rightful inheritance--he harshly,
almost brutally, replied: 'Mind your own business! I will
disappoint the folks who are waiting for my property as they
deserve to be disappointed. They covet my estates do they! Very
well, they shall have them. I will leave them my property, but
they shall find it mortgaged to its full value.'
"Unfortunate man! all his plans have failed. The heirs whom he
hated so bitterly, and whom I don't even know, whose existence
people have not even suspected, can now come, and they will find
the wealth he was determined to deprive them of intact. He
dreamed of a brilliant destiny for me--a proud name, and the rank
of a marchioness--and he has not even succeeded in protecting me
from the most shameful insults. I have been accused of theft
before his body was even cold. He wished to make me rich,
frightfully rich, and he has not left me enough to buy my bread--
literally, not enough to buy bread. He was in constant terror
concerning my safety, and he died without even telling me what
were the mysterious dangers which threatened me; without even
telling me something which I am morally certain of--that he was my
father. He raised me against my will to the highest social
position--he placed that wonderful talisman, gold, in my hand; he
showed me the world at my feet; and suddenly he allowed me to fall
even to lower depths of misery than those in which he found me.
Ah! M. de Chalusse, it would have been far better for me if you
had left me in the foundling asylum to have earned my own bread.
And yet, I freely forgive you."
Mademoiselle Marguerite reflected for a moment, questioning her
memory to ascertain if she had told everything--if she had
forgotten any particulars of importance. And as it seemed to her
that she had nothing more to add, she approached the magistrate,
and, with impressive solemnity of tone and manner, exclaimed: "My
life up to the present hour is now as well known to you as it is
to myself. You know what even the friend, who is my only hope,
does not know as yet. And now, when I tell him what I really am,
will he think me unworthy of him?"
The magistrate sprang to his feet, impelled by an irresistible
force. Two big tears, the first he had shed for years, trembled
on his eyelashes, and coursed down his furrowed cheeks. "You are
a noble creature, my child," he replied, in a voice faltering with
emotion; "and if I had a son, I should deem myself fortunate if he
chose a wife like you."
She clasped her hands, with a gesture of intense joy and relief,
and then sank into an arm-chair, murmuring: "Oh, thanks, monsieur,
thanks!" For she was thinking of Pascal; and she had feared he
might shrink from her when she fully revealed to him her wretched,
sorrowful past, of which he was entirely ignorant. But the
magistrate's words had reassured her.
The clock on the mantel-shelf struck half-past four. The
magistrate and Mademoiselle Marguerite could hear stealthy
footsteps in the hall, and a rustling near the door. The servants
were prowling round about the study, wondering what was the reason
of this prolonged conference. "I must see how the clerk is
progressing with the inventory." said the magistrate. "Excuse me
if I absent myself for a moment; I will soon return." And so
saying he rose and left the room.
But it was only a pretext. He really wished to conceal his
emotion and regain his composure, for he had been deeply affected
by the young girl's narrative. He also needed time for
reflection, for the situation had become extremely complicated
since Mademoiselle Marguerite had informed him of the existence of
heirs--of those mysterious enemies who had poisoned the count's
peace. These persons would, of course, require to know what had
become of the millions deposited in the escritoire, and who would
be held accountable for the missing treasure? Mademoiselle
Marguerite, unquestionably. Such were the thoughts that flitted
through the magistrate's mind as he listened to his clerk's
report. Nor was this all; for having solicited Mademoiselle
Marguerite's confidence, he must now advise her. And this was a
matter of some difficulty.
However, when he returned to the study he was quite self-possessed
and impassive again, and he was pleased to see that on her side
the unfortunate girl had, to some extent, at least, recovered her
wonted composure. "Let us now discuss the situation calmly," he
began. "I shall convince you that your prospects are not so
frightful as you imagine. But before speaking of the future, will
you allow me to refer to the past?" The girl bowed her consent.
"Let us first of all consider the subject of the missing millions.
They were certainly in the escritoire when M. de Chalusse replaced
the vial; but now they are not to be found, so that the count must
have taken them away with him."
"That thought occurred to me also."
"Did the treasure form a large package?"
"Yes, it was large; but it could have been easily concealed under
the cloak which M. de Chalusse wore."
"Very good! What was the time when he left the house?"
"About five o'clock."
"When was he brought back?"
"At about half-past six."
"Where did the cabman pick him up?"
"Near the church of Notre Dame de Lorette, so he told me."
"Do you know the driver's number?"
"Casimir asked him for it, I believe."
Had any one inquired the reason of this semi-official examination,
the magistrate would have replied that Mademoiselle Marguerite's
interests alone influenced him in the course he was taking. This
was quite true; and yet, without being altogether conscious of the
fact, he was also impelled by another motive. This affair
interested, almost fascinated, him on account of its mysterious
surroundings, and influenced by the desire for arriving at the
truth which is inherent in every human heart, he was anxious to
solve the riddle. After a few moments' thoughtful silence, he
remarked: "So the point of departure in our investigation, if
there is an investigation, will be this: M. de Chalusse left the
house with two millions in his possession; and while he was
absent, he either disposed of that enormous sum--or else it was
stolen from him."
Mademoiselle Marguerite shuddered. "Oh! stolen," she faltered.
"Yes, my child--anything is possible. We must consider the
situation in every possible light. But to continue. Where was M.
de Chalusse going?"
"To the house of a gentleman who would, he thought, be able to
furnish the address given in the letter he had torn up."
"What was this gentleman's name?"
The magistrate wrote the name down on his tablets, and then,
resuming his examination, he said: "Now, in reference to this
unfortunate letter which, in your opinion, was the cause of the
count's death, what did it say?"
"I don't know, monsieur. It is true that I helped the count in
collecting the fragments, but I did not read what was written on
"That is of little account. The main thing is to ascertain who
wrote the letter. You told me that it could only have come from
the sister who disappeared thirty years ago, or else from your
"That was, and still is, my opinion."
The magistrate toyed with his ring; and a smile of satisfaction
stole over his face. "Very well!" he exclaimed, "in less than
five minutes I shall be able to tell you whether the letter was
from your mother or not. My method is perfectly simple. I have
only to compare the handwriting with that of the letters found in
Mademoiselle Marguerite sprang up, exclaiming: "What a happy
But without seeming to notice the girl's surprise, he added:
"Where are the remnants of this letter which you and the count
picked up in the garden?"
"M. de Chalusse placed them in his pocket."
"They must be found. Tell the count's valet to look for them."
The girl rang; but M. Casimir, who was supposed to be engaged in
making preparations for the funeral, was not in the house.
However, another servant and Madame Leon offered their services,
and certainly displayed the most laudable zeal, but their search
was fruitless; the fragments of the letter could not be found.
"How unfortunate!" muttered the magistrate, as he watched them
turn the pockets of the count's clothes inside out. "What a
fatality! That letter would probably have solved the mystery."
Compelled to submit to this disappointment, he returned to the
study; but he was evidently discouraged. Although he did not
consider the mystery insoluble, far from it, he realized that time
and research would be required to arrive at a solution, and that
the affair was quite beyond his province. One hope alone
By carefully studying the last words which M. de Chalusse had
written and spoken he might arrive at the intention which had
dictated them. Experience had wonderfully sharpened his
penetration, and perhaps he might discover a hidden meaning which
would throw light upon all this doubt and uncertainty.
Accordingly, he asked Mademoiselle Marguerite for the paper upon
which the count had endeavored to pen his last wishes; and in
addition he requested her to write on a card the dying man's last
words in the order they had been uttered. But on combining the
written and the spoken words the only result obtained was as
follows:--"My entire fortune--give--friends--against--Marguerite--
despoiled--your mother--take care." These twelve incoherent words
revealed the count's absorbing and poignant anxiety concerning his
fortune and Marguerite's future, and also the fear and aversion
with which Marguerite's mother inspired him. But that was all;
the sense was not precise enough for any practical purpose.
Certainly the word "give" needed no explanation. It was plain
that the count had endeavored to write, "I give my entire
fortune." The meaning of the word "despoiled" was also clear. It
had evidently been wrung from the half-unconscious man by the
horrible thought that Marguerite--his own daughter,
unquestionably--would not have a penny of all the millions he had
intended for her. "Take care" also explained itself. But there
were two words which seemed absolutely incomprehensible to the
magistrate, and which he vainly strove to connect with the others
in an intelligible manner. These were the words "friends" and
"against," and they were the most legibly written of all. For the
thirtieth time the magistrate was repeating them in an undertone,
when a rap came at the door, and almost immediately Madame Leon
entered the room.
"What is it?" inquired Mademoiselle Marguerite.
Laying a package of letters, addressed to M. de Chalusse, on the
desk, the housekeeper replied: "These have just come by the post
for the poor count. Heaven rest his soul!" And then handing a
newspaper to Mademoiselle Marguerite, she added, in an unctuous
tone: "And some one left this paper for mademoiselle at the same
"This paper--for me? You must be mistaken."
"Not at all. I was in the concierge's lodge when the messenger
brought it; and he said it was for Mademoiselle Marguerite, from
one of her friends." And with these words she made one of her very
best courtesies, and withdrew.
The girl had taken the newspaper, and now, with an air of
astonishment and apprehension, she slowly unfolded it. What first
attracted her attention was a paragraph on the first page marked
round with red chalk. The paper had evidently been sent in order
that she might read this particular passage, and accordingly she
began to peruse it. "There was a great sensation and a terrible
scandal last evening at the residence of Madame d'A----, a well
known star of the first magnitude----"
It was the shameful article which described the events that had
robbed Pascal of his honor. And to make assurance doubly sure, to
prevent the least mistake concerning the printed initials, the
coward who sent the paper had appended the names of the persons
mixed up in the affair, at full length, in pencil. He had written
d'Argeles, Pascal Ferailleur, Ferdinand de Coralth, Rochecote.
And yet, in spite of these precautions, the girl did not at first
seize the full meaning of the article; and she was obliged to read
it over again. But when she finally understood it--when the
horrible truth burst upon her--the paper fell from her nerveless
hands, she turned as pale as death, and, gasping for breath,
leaned heavily against the wall for support.
Her features expressed such terrible suffering that the magistrate
sprang from his chair with a bound. "What has happened?" he
She tried to reply, but finding herself unable to do so, she
pointed to the paper lying upon the floor, and gasped: "There!
The magistrate understood everything at the first glance; and this
man, who had witnessed so much misery--who had been the confidant
of so many martyrs--was filled with consternation at thought of
the misfortunes which destiny was heaping upon this defenceless
girl. He approached her, and led her gently to an arm-chair, upon
which she sank, half fainting. "Poor child!" he murmured. "The
man you had chosen--the man whom you would have sacrificed
everything for--is Pascal Ferailleur, is he not?"
"Yes, it is he."
"He is an advocate?"
"As I have already told you, monsieur."
"Does he live in the Rue d'Ulm?"
The magistrate shook his head sadly. "It is the same," said he.
"I also know him, my poor child; and I loved and honored him.
Yesterday I should have told you that he was worthy of you. He
was above slander. But now, see what depths love of play has
brought him to. He is a thief!"
Mademoiselle Marguerite's weakness vanished. She sprang from her
chair, and indignantly faced the magistrate. "It is false!" she
cried, vehemently; "and what that paper says is false as well!"
Had her reason been affected by so many successive blows? It
seemed likely; for, livid a moment before, her face had now turned
scarlet. She trembled nervously from head to foot, and there was
a gleam of insanity in her big black eyes.
"If she doesn't weep, she is lost," thought the magistrate. And,
instead of encouraging her to hope, he deemed it best to try and
destroy what he considered a dangerous illusion. "Alas! my poor
child," he said sadly, "you must not deceive yourself. The
newspapers are often hasty in their judgment; but an article like
that is only published when proof of its truth is furnished by
witnesses of unimpeachable veracity."
She shrugged her shoulders as if she were listening to some
monstrous absurdities, and then thoughtfully muttered: "Ah! now
Pascal's silence is explained: now I understand why he has not yet
replied to the letter I wrote him last night."
The magistrate persevered, however, and added: "So, after the
article you have just read, no one can entertain the shadow of a
Mademoiselle Marguerite hastily interrupted him. "But I have not
doubted him for a second!" she exclaimed. "Doubt Pascal! I doubt
Pascal! I would sooner doubt myself. I might commit a
dishonorable act; I am only a poor, weak, ignorant girl, while he--
he---- You don't know, then, that he was my conscience? Before
undertaking anything, before deciding upon anything, if ever I
felt any doubt, I asked myself, 'What would he do? ' And the mere
thought of him is sufficient to banish any unworthy idea from my
heart." Her tone and manner betokened complete and unwavering
confidence; and her faith imparted an almost sublime expression to
her face. "If I was overcome, monsieur," she continued, "it was
only because I was appalled by the audacity of the accusation.
How was it possible to make Pascal even SEEM to be guilty of a
dishonorable act? This is beyond my powers of comprehension. I am
only certain of one thing--that he is innocent. If the whole
world rose to testify against him, it would not shake my faith in
him, and even if he confessed that he was guilty I should be more
likely to believe that he was crazed than culpable!"
A bitter smile curved her lips, she was beginning to judge the
situation more correctly, and in a calmer tone she resumed:
"Moreover, what does circumstantial evidence prove? Did you not
this morning hear all our servants declaring that I was
accountable for M. de Chalusse's millions? Who knows what might
have happened if it had not been for your intervention? Perhaps,
by this time, I should have been in prison."
"This is not a parallel case, my child."
"It IS a parallel case, monsieur. Suppose, for one moment, that I
had been formally accused--what do you think Pascal would have
replied if people had gone to him, and said, 'Marguerite is a
thief?' He would have laughed them to scorn, and have exclaimed,
The magistrate's mind was made up. In his opinion, Pascal
Ferailleur was guilty. Still it was useless to argue with the
girl, for he felt that he should not be able to convince her.
However, he determined, if possible, to ascertain her plans in
order to oppose them, if they seemed to him at all dangerous.
"Perhaps you are right, my child," he conceded, "still, this
unfortunate affair must change all your arrangements."
"Rather, it modifies them." Surprised by her calmness, he looked
at her inquiringly. "An hour ago," she added, "I had resolved to
go to Pascal and claim his aid and protection as one claims an
undeniable right or the fulfilment of a solemn promise; but now--"
"Well?" eagerly asked the magistrate.
"I am still resolved to go to him--but as an humble suppliant.
And I shall say to him, 'You are suffering, but no sorrow is
intolerable when there are two to bear the burden; and so, here I
am. Everything else may fail you--your dearest friends may basely
desert you; but here am I. Whatever your plans may be--whether
you have decided to leave Europe or to remain in Paris to watch
for your hour of vengeance, you will need a faithful, trusty
companion--a confidant--and here I am! Wife, friend, sister--I
will be which ever you desire. I am yours--yours
unconditionally.'" And as if in reply to a gesture of surprise
which escaped the magistrate, she added: "He is unhappy--I am
free--I love him!"
The magistrate was struck dumb with astonishment. He knew that
she would surely do what she said; he had realized that she was
one of those generous, heroic women who are capable of any
sacrifice for the man they love--a woman who would never shrink
from what she considered to be her duty, who was utterly incapable
of weak hesitancy or selfish calculation.
"Fortunately, my dear young lady, your devotion will no doubt be
useless," he said at last.
"Because M. Ferailleur owes it to you, and, what is more, he owes
it to himself, not to accept such a sacrifice." Failing to
understand his meaning, she looked at him inquiringly. "You will
forgive me, I trust," he continued, "if I warn you to prepare for
a disappointment. Innocent or guilty, M. Ferailleur is--
disgraced. Unless something little short of a miracle comes to
help him, his career is ended. This is one of those charges--one
of those slanders, if you prefer that term, which a man can never
shake off. So how can you hope that he will consent to link your
destiny to his?"
She had not thought of this objection, and it seemed to her a
terrible one. Tears came to her dark eyes, and in a despondent
voice she murmured: "God grant that he will not evince such cruel
generosity. The only great and true misfortune that could strike
me now would be to have him repel me. M. de Chalusse's death
leaves me without means--without bread; but now I can almost bless
my poverty since it enables me to ask him what would become of me
if he abandoned me, and who would protect me if he refused to do
so. The brilliant career he dreamed of is ended, you say. Ah,
well! I will console him, and though we are unfortunate, we may
yet be happy. Our enemies are triumphant--so be it: we should
only tarnish our honor by stooping to contend against such
villainy. But in some new land, in America, perhaps, we shall be
able to find some quiet spot where we can begin a new and better
career." It was almost impossible to believe that it was
Mademoiselle Marguerite, usually so haughtily reserved, who was
now speaking with such passionate vehemence. And to whom was she
talking in this fashion? To a stranger, whom she saw for the first
time. But she was urged on by circumstances, the influence of
which was stronger than her own will. They had led her to reveal
her dearest and most sacred feelings and to display her real
nature free from any kind of disguise.
However, the magistrate concealed the emotion and sympathy which
filled his heart and refused to admit that the girl's hopes were
likely to be realized. "And if M. Ferailleur refused to accept
your sacrifice?" he asked.
"It is not a sacrifice, monsieur."
"No matter; but supposing he refused it, what should you do?"
"What should I do?" she muttered. "I don't know. Still I should
have no difficulty in earning a livelihood. I have been told that
I have a remarkable voice. I might, perhaps, go upon the stage."
The magistrate sprang from his arm-chair. "You become an actress,
"Under such circumstances it would little matter what became of
"But you don't suspect--you cannot imagine----"
He was at a loss for words to explain the nature of his objections
to such a career; and it was Mademoiselle Marguerite who found
them for him. "I suspect that theatrical life is an abominable
life for a woman," she said, gravely; "but I know that there are
many noble and chaste women who have adopted the profession. That
is enough for me. My pride is a sufficient protection. It
preserved me as an apprentice; it would preserve me as an actress.
I might be slandered; but that is not an irremediable misfortune.
I despise the world too much to be troubled by its opinion so long
as I have the approval of my own conscience. And why should I not
become a great artiste if I consecrated all the intelligence,
passion, energy, and will I might possess, to my art?"
Hearing a knock at the door she paused; and a moment later a
footman entered with lights, for night was falling. He was
closely followed by another servant, who said: "Mademoiselle, the
Marquis de Valorsay is below, and wishes to know if mademoiselle
will grant him the honor of an interview."
On hearing M. de Valorsay's name, Mademoiselle Marguerite and the
magistrate exchanged glances full of wondering conjecture. The
girl was undecided what course to pursue; but the magistrate put
an end to her perplexity. "Ask the marquis to come up," he said
to the servant.
The footman left the room; and, as soon as he had disappeared,
Mademoiselle Marguerite exclaimed: "What, monsieur! after all I
have told you, you still wish me to receive him?"
"It is absolutely necessary that you should do so. You must know
what he wishes and what hope brings him here. Calm yourself, and
submit to necessity."
In a sort of bewilderment, the girl hastily arranged her
disordered dress, and caught up her wavy hair which had fallen
over her shoulders. "Ah! monsieur," she remarked, "don't you
understand that he still believes me to be the count's heiress? In
his eyes, I am still surrounded by the glamor of the millions
which are mine no longer."
"Hush! here he comes!"
The Marquis de Valorsay was indeed upon the threshold, and a
moment later he entered the room. He was clad with the exquisite
taste of those intelligent gentlemen to whom the color of a pair
of trousers is a momentous matter, and whose ambition is satisfied
if they are regarded as a sovereign authority respecting the cut
of a waistcoat. As a rule, his expression of face merely denoted
supreme contentment with himself and indifference as to others,
but now, strange to say, he looked grave and almost solemn. His
right leg--the unfortunate limb which had been broken when he fell
from his horse in Ireland--seemed stiff, and dragged a trifle more
than usual, but this was probably solely due to the influence of
the atmosphere. He bowed to Mademoiselle Marguerite with every
mark of profound respect, and without seeming to notice the
"You will excuse me, I trust, mademoiselle," said he, "in having
insisted upon seeing you, so that I might express my deep
sympathy. I have just heard of the terrible misfortune which has
befallen you--the sudden death of your father."
She drew back as if she were terrified, and repeated: "My father!"
The marquis did not evince the slightest surprise. "I know," said
he, in a voice which he tried to make as feeling as possible, "I
know that M. de Chalusse kept this fact concealed from you; but he
confided his secret to me."
"To you?" interrupted the magistrate, who was unable to restrain
himself any longer.
The marquis turned haughtily to this old man dressed in black, and
in the dry tone one uses in speaking to an indiscreet inferior, he
replied: "To me, yes, monsieur; and he acquainted me not only by
word of mouth, but in writing also, with the motives which
influenced him, expressing his fixed intention, not only of
recognizing Mademoiselle Marguerite as his daughter, but also of
adopting her in order to insure her undisputed right to his
fortune and his name."
"Ah!" said the magistrate as if suddenly enlightened; "ah! ah!"
But without noticing this exclamation which was, at least,
remarkable in tone, M. de Valorsay again turned to Mademoiselle
Marguerite, and continued: "Your ignorance on this subject,
mademoiselle, convinces me that your servants have not deceived me
in telling me that M. de Chalusse was struck down without the
slightest warning. But they have told me one thing which I cannot
believe. They have told me that the count made no provision for
you, that he left no will, and that--excuse a liberty which is
prompted only by the most respectful interest--and that, the
result of this incomprehensible and culpable neglect is that you
are ruined and almost without means. Can this be possible?"
"It is the exact truth, monsieur," replied Mademoiselle
Marguerite. "I am reduced to the necessity of working for my
She spoke these words with a sort of satisfaction, expecting that
the marquis would betray his disappointed covetousness by some
significant gesture or exclamation, and she was already prepared
to rejoice at his confusion. But her expectations were not
realized. Instead of evincing the slightest dismay or even
regret, M. de Valorsay drew a long breath, as if a great burden
had been lifted from his heart, and his eyes sparkled with
apparent delight. "Then I may venture to speak," he exclaimed,
with unconcealed satisfaction, "I will speak, rnademoiselle, if
you will deign to allow me."
She looked at him with anxious curiosity, wondering what was to
come. "Speak, monsieur," she faltered.
"I will obey you, mademoiselle," he said, bowing again. "But
first, allow me to tell you how great my hopes have been. M. de
Chalusse's death is an irreparable misfortune for me as for
yourself. He had allowed me, mademoiselle, to aspire to the honor
of becoming a suitor for your hand. If he did not speak to you on
the subject, it was only because he wished to leave you absolutely
free, and impose upon me the difficult task of winning your
consent. But between him and me everything had been arranged in
principle, and he was to give a dowry of three millions of francs
to Mademoiselle Marguerite de Chalusse, his daughter."
"I am no longer Mademoiselle de Chalusse, Monsieur le Marquis, and
I am no longer the possessor of a fortune."
He felt the sharp sting of this retort, for the blood rose to his
cheeks, still he did not lose his composure. "If you were still
rich, mademoiselle," he replied, in the reproachful tone of an
honest man who feels that he is misunderstood, "I should, perhaps,
have strength to keep the sentiments with which you have inspired
me a secret in my own heart; but--" He rose, and with a gesture
which was not devoid of grace, and in a full ringing voice he
added: "But you are no longer the possessor of millions; and so I
may tell you, Mademoiselle Marguerite, that I love you. Will you
be my wife?"
The poor girl was obliged to exercise all her powers of self-
control to restrain an exclamation of dismay. It was indeed more
than dismay; she was absolutely terrified by the Marquis de
Valorsay's unexpected declaration, and she could only falter:
But with an air of winning frankness he continued: "Need I tell
you who I am, mademoiselle? No; that is unnecessary. The fact
that my suit was approved of by M. de Chalusse is the best
recommendation I can offer you. The pure and stainless name I
bear is one of the proudest in France; and though my fortune may
have been somewhat impaired by youthful folly, it is still more
than sufficient to maintain an establishment in keeping with my
Mademoiselle Marguerite was still powerless to reply. Her
presence of mind had entirely deserted her, and her tongue seemed
to cleave to her palate. She glanced entreatingly at the old
magistrate, as if imploring his intervention, but he was so
absorbed in contemplating his wonderful ring, that one might have
imagined he was oblivious of all that was going on around him.
"I am aware that I have so far not been fortunate enough to please
you, mademoiselle," continued the marquis. "M. de Chalusse did
not conceal it from me--I remember, alas! that I advocated in your
presence a number of stupid theories, which must have given you a
very poor opinion of me. But you will forgive me, I trust. My
ideas have entirely changed since I have learned to understand and
appreciate your vigorous intellect and nobility of soul. I
thoughtlessly spoke to you in the language which is usually
addressed to young ladies of our rank of life--frivolous beauties,
who are spoiled by vanity and luxury, and who look upon marriage
only as a means of enfranchisement."
His words were disjointed as if emotion choked his utterance. At
times, it seemed as if he could scarcely command his feelings; and
then his voice became so faint and trembling that it was scarcely
However, by allowing him to continue, by listening to what he
said, Mademoiselle Marguerite was encouraging him, even more--
virtually binding herself. She understood that this was the case,
and making a powerful effort, she interrupted him, saying: "I
assure you, Monsieur le Marquis, that I am deeply touched--and
grateful--but I am no longer free."
"Pray, mademoiselle, pray do not reply to-day. Grant me a little
time to overcome your prejudices."
She shook her head, and in a firmer voice, replied: "I have no
prejudices; but for some time past already, my future has been
decided, irrevocably decided."
He seemed thunderstruck, and his manner apparently indicated that
the possibility of a repulse had never entered his mind. His eyes
wandered restlessly from Mademoiselle Marguerite to the
countenance of the old magistrate, who remained as impassive as a
sphinx, and at last they lighted on a newspaper which was lying on
the floor at the young girl's feet. "Do not deprive me of all
hope," he murmured.
She made no answer, and understanding her silence, he was about to
retire when the door suddenly opened and a servant announced:
"Monsieur de Fondege."
Mademoiselle Marguerite touched the magistrate on the shoulder to
attract his attention. "This gentleman is M. de Chalusse's friend
whom I sent for this morning."
At the same moment a man who looked some sixty years of age
entered the room. He was very tall, and as straight as the letter
I, being arrayed in a long blue frock-coat, while his neck, which
was as red and as wrinkled as that of a turkey-cock, was encased
in a very high and stiff satin cravat. On seeing his ruddy face,
his closely cropped hair, his little eyes twinkling under his
bushy eyebrows, and his formidable mustaches a la Victor Emmanuel,
you would have immediately exclaimed: "That man is an old
A great mistake! M. de Fondege had never been in the service, and
it was only in mockery of his somewhat bellicose manners and
appearance that some twenty years previously his friends had
dubbed him "the General." However, the appellation had clung to
him. The nickname had been changed to a title, and now M. de
Fondege was known as "the General" everywhere. He was invited and
announced as "the General." Many people believed that he had
really been one, and perhaps he fancied so himself, for he had
long been in the habit of inscribing "General A. de Fondege" on
his visiting cards. The nickname had had a decisive influence on
his life. He had endeavored to show himself worthy of it, and the
manners he had at first assumed, eventually became natural ones.
He seemed to be the conventional old soldier--irascible and jovial
at the same time; brusk and kind; at once frank, sensible and
brutal; as simple as a child, and yet as true as steel. He swore
the most tremendous oaths in a deep bass voice, and whenever he
talked his arms revolved like the sails of a windmill. However,
Madame de Fondege, who was a very angular lady, with a sharp nose
and very thin lips, assured people that her husband was not so
terrible as he appeared. He was not considered very shrewd, and
he pretended to have an intense dislike for business matters. No
one knew anything precise about his fortune, but he had a great
many friends who invited him to dinner, and they all declared that
he was in very comfortable circumstances.
On entering the study this worthy man did not pay the slightest
attention to the Marquis de Valorsay, although they were intimate
friends. He walked straight up to Mademoiselle Marguerite, caught
her in his long arms, and pressed her to his heart, brushing her
face with his huge mustaches as he pretended to kiss her.
"Courage, my dear," he growled; "courage. Don't give way. Follow
my example. Look at me!" So saying he stepped back, and it was
really amusing to see the extraordinary effort he made to combine
a soldier's stoicism with a friend's sorrow. "You must wonder at
my delay, my dear," he resumed, "but it was not my fault. I was
at Madame de Rochecote's when I was informed that your messenger
was at home waiting for me. I returned, and heard the frightful
news. It was a thunderbolt. A friend of thirty years' standing!
A thousand thunderclaps! I acted as his second when he fought his
first duel. Poor Chalusse!
A man as sturdy as an oak, and who ought to have outlived us all.
But it is always so; the best soldiers always file by first at
The Marquis de Valorsay had beaten a retreat, the magistrate was
hidden in a dark corner, and Mademoiselle Marguerite, who was
accustomed to the General's manner, remained silent, being well
aware that there was no chance of putting in a word as long as he
had possession of the floor. "Fortunately, poor Chalusse was a
prudent man," continued M. de Fondege. "He loved you devotedly,
my dear, as his testamentary provisions must have shown you."
"Yes, most certainly. Surely you don't mean to try and conceal
anything from one who knows all. Ah! you will be one of the
greatest catches in Europe, and you will have plenty of suitors."
Mademoiselle Marguerite sadly shook her head. "You are mistaken,
General; the count left no will, and has made no provision
whatever for me."
M. de Fondege trembled, turned a trifle pale, and in a faltering
voice, exclaimed: "What! You tell me that? Chalusse! A thousand
thunderclaps! It isn't possible."
"The count was stricken with apoplexy in a cab. He went out about
five o'clock, on foot, and a little before seven he was brought
home unconscious. Where he had been we don't know."
"You don't know? you don't know?"
"Alas! no; and he was only able to utter a few incoherent words
before he died." Thereupon the poor girl began a brief account of
what had taken place during the last four-and-twenty hours. Had
she been less absorbed in her narrative she would have noticed
that the General was not listening to her. He was sitting at the
count's desk and was toying with the letters which Madame Leon had
brought into the room a short time previously. One of them
especially seemed to attract his attention, to exercise a sort of
fascination over him as it were. He looked at it with hungry
eyes, and whenever he touched it, his hand trembled, or
involuntarily clinched. His face, moreover, had become livid; his
eyes twitched nervously; he seemed to have a difficulty in
breathing, and big drops of perspiration trickled down his
forehead. If the magistrate were able to see the General's face,
he must certainly have been of opinion that a terrible conflict
was raging in his mind. The struggle lasted indeed for fully five
minutes, and then suddenly, certain that no one saw him, he caught
up the letter in question and slipped it into his pocket.
Poor Marguerite was now finishing her story: "You see, monsieur,
that, far from being an heiress, as you suppose, I am homeless and
penniless," she said.
The General had risen from his chair, and was striding up and down
the room with every token of intense agitation. "It's true," he
said apparently unconscious of his words. "She's ruined--lost--
the misfortune is complete!" Then, suddenly pausing with folded
arms in front of Mademoiselle Marguerite: "What are you going to
do?" he asked.
"God will not forsake me, General," she replied.
He turned on his heel and resumed his promenade, wildly
gesticulating and indulging in a furious monologue which was
certainly not very easy to follow. "Frightful! terrible!" he
growled. "The daughter of an old comrade--zounds!--of a friend of
thirty years' standing--to be left in such a plight! Never, a
thousand thunderclaps!--never! Poor child!--a heart of gold, and
as pretty as an angel! This horrible Paris would devour her at a
single mouthful! It would be a crime--an abomination! It sha'n't
be!--the old veterans are here, firm as rocks!"
Thereupon, approaching the poor girl again, he exclaimed in a
coarse but seemingly feeling voice: "Mademoiselle Marguerite."
"You are acquainted with my son, Gustave Fondege, are you not?"
"I think I have heard you speak of him to M. de Chalusse several
The General tugged furiously at his mustaches as was his wont
whenever he was perplexed or embarrassed. "My son," he resumed,
"is twenty-seven. He's now a lieutenant of hussars, and will soon
be promoted to the rank of captain. He's a handsome fellow, sure
to make his way in the world, for he's not wanting in spirit. As
I never attempt to hide the truth, I must confess that he's a
trifle dissipated; but his heart is all right, and a charming
little wife would soon turn him from the error of his ways, and
he'd become the pearl of husbands." He paused, passed his
forefinger three or four times between his collar and his neck,
and then, in a half-strangled voice, he added: "Mademoiselle
Marguerite, I have the honor to ask for your hand in marriage on
behalf of Lieutenant Gustave de Fondege, my son."
There was a dangerous gleam of anger in Mademoiselle Marguerite's
eyes, as she coldly replied: "I am honored by your request,
monsieur; but my future is already decided."
Some seconds elapsed before M. de Fondege could recover his powers
of speech. "This is a piece of foolishness," he faltered, at last
with singular agitation." Let me hope that you will reconsider the
matter. And if Gustave doesn't please you, we will find some one
better. But under no circumstances will Chalusse's old comrade
ever desert you. I shall send Madame de Fondege to see you this
evening. She's a good woman and you will understand each other.
Come, answer me, what do you say to it?"
His persistence irritated the poor girl beyond endurance, and to
put an end to the painful scene, she at last asked: "Would you not
like to look--for the last time--at M. de Chalusse?"
"Ah! yes, certainly--an old friend of thirty years' standing." So
saying he advanced toward the door leading into the death-room,
but on reaching the threshold, he cried in sudden terror: "Oh! no,
no, I could not." And with these words he withdrew or rather he
fled from the room down the stairs.
As long as the General had been there, the magistrate had given no
sign of life. But seated beyond the circle of light cast by the
lamps, he had remained an attentive spectator of the scene, and
now that he found himself once more alone with Mademoiselle
Marguerite he came forward, and leaning against the mantelpiece
and looking her full in the face he exclaimed: "Well, my child?"
The girl trembled like a culprit awaiting sentence of death, and
it was in a hollow voice that she replied: "I understood--"
"What?" insisted the pitiless magistrate.
She raised her beautiful eyes, in which angry tears were still
glittering, and then answered in a voice which quivered with
suppressed passion, "I have fathomed the infamy of those two men
who have just left the house. I understood the insult their
apparent generosity conceals. They had questioned the servants,
and had ascertained that two millions were missing. Ah, the
scoundrels! They believe that I have stolen those millions; and
they came to ask me to share the ill-gotten wealth with them.
What an insult! and to think that I am powerless to avenge it! Ah!
the servants' suspicions were nothing in comparison with this. At
least, they did not ask for a share of the booty as the price of
The magistrate shook his head as if this explanation scarcely
satisfied him. "There is something else, there is certainly
something else," he repeated. But the doors were still open, so
he closed them carefully, and then returned to the girl he was so
desirous of advising. "I wish to tell you," he said, "that you
have mistaken the motives which induced these gentlemen to ask for
your hand in marriage."
"Do you believe, then, that you have fathomed them?"
"I could almost swear that I had. Didn't you remark a great
difference in their manner? Didn't one of them, the marquis,
behave with all the calmness and composure which are the result of
reflection and calculation? The other, on the contrary, acted most
precipitately, as if he had suddenly come to a determination, and
formed a plan on the impulse of the moment."
Mademoiselle Marguerite reflected.
"That's true," she said, "that's indeed true. Now I recollect the
"And this is my explanation of it," resumed the magistrate. "'The
Marquis de Valorsay,' I said to myself, 'must have proofs in his
possession that Mademoiselle Marguerite is the count's daughter--
written and conclusive proofs, that is certain--probably a
voluntary admission of the fact from the father. Who can prove
that M. de Valorsay does not possess this acknowledgment? In fact,
he must possess it. He hinted it himself.' Accordingly on hearing
of the count's sudden death, he said to himself, 'If Marguerite
was my wife, and if I could prove her to be M. de Chalusse's
daughter, I should obtain several millions.' Whereupon he
consulted his legal adviser who assured him that it would be the
best course he could pursue; and so he came here. You repulsed
him, but he will soon make another assault, you may rest assured
of that. And some day or other he will come to you and say,
'Whether we marry or not, let us divide.'"
Mademoiselle Marguerite was amazed. The magistrate's words seemed
to dispel the mist which had hitherto hidden the truth from view.
"Yes," she exclaimed, "yes, you are right, monsieur."
He was silent for a moment, and then he resumed: "I understand M.
de Fondege's motive less clearly; but still I have some clue. He
had not questioned the servants. That is evident from the fact
that on his arrival here he believed you to be the sole legatee.
He was also aware that M. de Chalusse had taken certain
precautions we are ignorant of, but which he is no doubt fully
acquainted with. What you told him about your poverty amazed him,
and he immediately evinced a desire to atone for the count's
neglect with as much eagerness as if he were the cause of this
negligence himself. And, indeed, judging by the agitation he
displayed when he was imploring you to become his son's wife, one
might almost imagine that the sight of your misery awakened a
remorse which he was endeavoring to quiet. Now, draw your own
The wretched girl looked questioningly at the magistrate as if she
hesitated to trust the thoughts which his words had awakened in
her mind. "Then you think, monsieur," she said, with evident
reluctance, "you think, you suppose, that the General is
acquainted with the whereabouts of the missing millions?"
"Quite correct," answered the magistrate, and then as if he feared
that he had gone too far, he added: "but draw your own conclusions
respecting the matter. You have the whole night before you. We
will talk it over again to-morrow, and if I can be of service to
you in any way, I shall be only too glad."
"Oh--to-morrow, to-morrow--I must go to dinner now; besides, my
clerk must be getting terribly impatient."
The clerk was, indeed, out of temper. Not that he had finished
taking an inventory of the appurtenances of this immense house,
but because he considered that he had done quite enough work for
one day. And yet his discontent was sensibly diminished when he
calculated the amount he would receive for his pains. During the
nine years he had held this office he had never made such an
extensive inventory before. He seemed somewhat dazzled, and as he
followed his superior out of the house, he remarked: "Do you know,
monsieur, that as nearly as I can discover the deceased's fortune
must amount to more than twenty millions--an income of a million a
year! And to think that the poor young lady shouldn't have a penny
of it. I suspect she's crying her eyes out."
But the clerk was mistaken. Mademoiselle Marguerite was then
questioning M. Casimir respecting the arrangements which he had
made for the funeral, and when this sad duty was concluded, she
consented to take a little food standing in front of the sideboard
in the dining-room. Then she went to kneel in the count's room,
where four members of the parochial clergy were reciting the
prayers for the dead.
She was so exhausted with fatigue that she could scarcely speak,
and her eyelids were heavy with sleep. But she had another task
to fulfil, a task which she deemed a sacred duty. She sent a
servant for a cab, threw a shawl over her shoulders, and left the
house accompanied by Madame Leon. The cabman drove as fast as
possible to the house where Pascal and his mother resided in the
Rue d'Ulm; but on arriving there, the front door was found to be
closed, and the light in the vestibule was extinguished.
Marguerite was obliged to ring five or six times before the
concierge made his appearance.
"I wish to see Monsieur Ferailleur," she quietly said.
The man glanced at her scornfully, and then replied: "He no longer
lives here. The landlord doesn't want any thieves in his house.
He's sold his rubbish and started for America, with his old witch
of a mother."
So saying he closed the door again, and Marguerite was so
overwhelmed by this last and unexpected misfortune, that she could
hardly stagger back to the vehicle. "Gone!" she murmured; "gone!
without a thought of me! Or does he believe me to be like all the
rest? But I will find him again. That man Fortunat, who
ascertained addresses for M. de Chalusse, will find Pascal for
Few people have any idea of the great number of estates which, in
default of heirs to claim them, annually revert to the government.
The treasury derives large sums from this source every year. And
this is easily explained, for nowadays family ties are becoming
less and less binding. Brothers cease to meet; their children no
longer know each other; and the members of the second generation
are as perfect strangers as though they were not united by a bond
of consanguinity. The young man whom love of adventure lures to a
far-off country, and the young girl who marries against her
parents' wishes, soon cease to exist for their relatives. No one
even inquires what has become of them. Those who remain at home
are afraid to ask whether they are prosperous or unfortunate, lest
they should be called upon to assist the wanderers. Forgotten
themselves, the adventurers in their turn soon forget. If fortune
smiles upon them, they are careful not to inform their relatives.
Poor--they have been cast off; wealthy--they themselves deny their
kindred. Having become rich unaided, they find an egotistical
satisfaction in spending their money alone in accordance with
their own fancies. Now when a man of this class dies what
happens? The servants and people around him profit of his
loneliness and isolation, and the justice of the peace is only
summoned to affix the seals, after they have removed all the
portable property. An inventory is taken, and after a few
formalities, as no heirs present themselves, the court declares
the inheritance to be in abeyance, and appoints a trustee.
This trustee's duties are very simple. He manages the property
and remits the income to the Treasury until a legal judgment
declares the estate the property of the country, regardless of any
heirs who may present themselves in future.
"If I only had a twentieth part of the money that is lost in this
way, my fortune would be made," exclaimed a shrewd man, some
thirty years ago.
The person who spoke was Antoine Vaudore. For six months he
secretly nursed the idea, studying it, examining it in all
respects, weighing its advantages and disadvantages, and at last
he decided that it was a good one. That same year, indeed,
assisted by a little capital which he had obtained no one knew
how, he created a new, strange, and untried profession to supply a
Thus Vaudore was the first man who made heir-hunting a profession.
As will be generally admitted, it is not a profession that can be
successfully followed by a craven. It requires the exercise of
unusual shrewdness, untiring activity, extraordinary energy and
courage, as well as great tact and varied knowledge. The man who
would follow it successfully must possess the boldness of a
gambler, the sang-froid of a duelist, the keen perceptive powers
and patience of a detective, and the resources and quick wit of
the shrewdest attorney.
It is easier to decry the profession than to exercise it. To
begin with, the heir-hunter must be posted up with information
respecting unclaimed inheritances, and he must have sufficient
acquaintance with the legal world to be able to obtain information
from the clerks of the different courts, notaries, and so on.
When he learns that a man has died without any known heirs, his
first care is to ascertain the amount of unclaimed property, to
see if it will pay him to take up the case. If he finds that the
inheritance is a valuable one, he begins operations without delay.
He must first ascertain the deceased's full name and age. It is
easy to procure this information; but it is more difficult to
discover the name of the place where the deceased was born, his
profession, what countries he lived in, his tastes and mode of
life--in a word, everything that constitutes a complete biography.
However, when he has armed himself with the more indispensable
facts, our agent opens the campaign with extreme prudence, for it
would be ruinous to awake suspicion. It is curious to observe the
incomparable address which the agent displays in his efforts to
learn the particulars of the deceased's life, by consulting his
friends, his enemies, his debtors, and all who ever knew him,
until at last some one is found who says: "Such and such a man--
why, he came from our part of the country. I never knew HIM, but
I am acquainted with one of his brothers--with one of his uncles--
or with one of his nephews."
Very often years of constant research, a large outlay of money,
and costly and skilful advertising in all the European journals,
are necessary before this result is reached. And it is only when
it has been attained that the agent can take time to breathe. But
now the chances are greatly in his favor. The worst is over. The
portion of his task which depended on chance alone is concluded.
The rest is a matter of skill, tact, and shrewdness. The
detective must give place to the crafty lawyer. The agent must
confer with this heir, who has been discovered at the cost of so
much time and trouble and induce him to bestow a portion of this
prospective wealth on the person who is able to establish his
claim. There must be an agreement in writing clearly stating what
proportion--a tenth, a third, or a half--the agent will be
entitled to. The negotiation is a very delicate and difficult
one, requiring prodigious presence of mind, and an amount of
duplicity which would make the most astute diplomatist turn pale
with envy. Occasionally, the heir suspects the truth, sneers at
the proposition, and hurries off to claim the whole of the
inheritance that belongs to him. The agent may then bid his hopes
farewell. He has worked and spent money for nothing.
However, such a misfortune is of rare occurrence. On hearing of
the unexpected good fortune that has befallen him, the heir is
generally unsuspicious, and willingly promises to pay the amount
demanded of him. A contract is drawn up and signed; and then, but
only then, does the agent take his client into his confidence.
"You are the relative of such a person, are you not?" "Yes." "Very
well. He is dead, and you are his heir. Thank Providence, and
make haste to claim your money."
As a rule, the heir loyally fulfils his obligation. But sometimes
it happens that, when he has obtained undisputed possession of the
property, he declares that he has been swindled, and refuses to
fulfil his part of the contract. Then the case must go to the
courts. It is true, however, that the judgment of the tribunals
generally recalls the refractory client to a sense of gratitude
Now our friend M. Isidore Fortunat was a hunter of missing heirs.
Undoubtedly he often engaged in other business which was a trifle
less respectable; but heir-hunting was one of the best and most
substantial sources of his income. So we can readily understand
why he so quickly left off lamenting that forty thousand francs
lent to the Marquis de Valorsay.
Changing his tactics, he said to himself that, even if he had lost
this amount through M. de Chalusse's sudden death, it was much
less than he might obtain if he succeeded in discovering the
unknown heirs to so many millions. And he had some reason to hope
that he would be able to do so. Having been employed by M. de
Chalusse when the latter was seeking Mademoiselle Marguerite, M.
Fortunat had gained some valuable information respecting his
client, and the additional particulars which he had obtained from
Madame Vantrasson elated him to such an extent that more than once
he exclaimed: "Ah, well! it is, perhaps, a blessing in disguise,
Still, M. Isidore Fortunat slept but little after his stormy
interview with the Marquis de Valorsay. A loss of forty thousand
francs is not likely to impart a roseate hue to one's dreams--and
M. Fortunat prized his money as if it had been the very marrow of
his bones. By way of consolation, he assured himself that he
would not merely regain the sum, but triple it; and yet this
encouragement did not entirely restore his peace of mind. The
gain was only a possibility, and the loss was a certainty. So he
twisted, and turned, and tossed on his bed as if it had been a hot
gridiron, exhausting himself in surmises, and preparing his mind
for the difficulties which he would be obliged to overcome.
His plan was a simple one, but its execution was fraught with
difficulties. "I must discover M. de Chalusse's sister, if she is
still living--I must discover her children, if she is dead," he
said to himself. It was easy to SAY this; but how was he to do
it? How could he hope to find this unfortunate girl, who had
abandoned her home thirty years previously, to fly, no one knew
where, or with whom? How was he to gain any idea of the life she
had lived, or the fate that had befallen her? At what point on the
social scale, and in what country, should he begin his
investigations? These daughters of noble houses, who desert the
paternal roof in a moment of madness, generally die most miserably
after a wretched life. The girl of the lower classes is armed
against misfortune, and has been trained for the conflict. She
can measure and calculate the force of her fall, and regulate and
control it to a certain extent. But the others cannot. They have
never known privation and hardship, and are, therefore,
defenceless. And for the very reason that they have been hurled
from a great height, they often fall down into the lowest depths
"If morning would only come," sighed M. Isidore Fortunat, as he
tossed restlessly to and fro. "As soon as morning comes I will
set to work!"
But just before daybreak he fell asleep; and at nine o'clock he
was still slumbering so soundly that Madame Dodelin, his
housekeeper, had considerable difficulty in waking him. "Your
clerks have come," she exclaimed, shaking him vigorously; "and two
clients are waiting for you in the reception-room."
He sprang up, hastily dressed himself, and went into his office.
It cost him no little effort to receive his visitors that morning;
but it would have been folly to neglect all his other business for
the uncertain Chalusse affair. The first client who entered was a
man still young, of common, even vulgar appearance. Not being
acquainted with M. Fortunat, he deemed it proper to introduce
himself without delay. "My name is Leplaintre, and I am a coal
merchant," said he. "I was recommended to call on you by my
friend Bouscat, who was formerly in the wine trade."
M. Fortunat bowed. "Pray be seated," was his reply. "I remember
your friend very well. If I am not mistaken I gave him some
advice with reference to his third failure."
"Precisely; and it is because I find myself in the same fix as
Bouscat that I have called on you. Business is very bad, and I
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