The Count's Millions by Emile Gaboriau
Part 5 out of 7
have notes to a large amount overdue, so that--"
"You will be obliged to go into bankruptcy."
"Alas! I fear so."
M. Fortunat already knew what his client desired, but it was
against his principles to meet these propositions more than half
way. "Will you state your case?" said he.
The coal merchant blushed. It was hard to confess the truth; but
the effort had to be made. "This is my case," he replied, at
last. "Among my creditors I have several enemies, who will refuse
me a release. They would like to deprive me of everything I
possess. And in that case, what would become of me? Is it right
that I should be compelled to starve?"
"It is a bad outlook."
"It is, indeed, monsieur; and for this reason, I desire--if
possible, if I can do so without danger--for I am an honest man,
monsieur--I wish to retain a little property--secretly, of course,
not for myself, by any means, but I have a young wife and----"
M. Fortunat took compassion on the man's embarrassment. "In
short," he interrupted, "you wish to conceal a part of your
capital from your creditors?"
On hearing this precise and formal statement of his honorable
intentions, the coal-merchant trembled. His feelings of integrity
would not have been alarmed by a periphrasis, but this plain
speaking shocked him. "Oh, monsieur!" he protested, "I would
rather blow my brains out than defraud my creditors of a single
penny that was rightfully theirs. What I am doing is for their
interest, you understand. I shall begin business again under my
wife's name; and if I succeed, they shall be paid--yes, monsieur,
every sou, with interest. Ah! if I had only myself to think of,
it would be quite different; but I have two children, two little
girls, so that----"
"Very well," replied M. Fortunat. "I should suggest to you the
same expedient as I suggested to your friend Bouscat. But you
must gather a little ready money together before going into
"I can do that by secretly disposing of a part of my stock, so----"
"In that case, you are saved. Sell it and put the money beyond
your creditors' reach."
The worthy merchant scratched his ear in evident perplexity.
"Excuse me," said he. "I had thought of this plan; but it seemed
to me--dishonorable--and--also very dangerous. How could I
explain this decrease in my stock? My creditors hate me. If they
suspected anything, they would accuse me of fraud, and perhaps
throw me into prison; and then----"
M. Fortunat shrugged his shoulders. "When I give advice," he
roughly replied, "I furnish the means of following it without
danger. Listen to me attentively. Let us suppose, for a moment,
that some time ago you purchased, at a very high figure, a
quantity of stocks and shares, which are to-day almost worthless,
could not this unfortunate investment account for the absence of
the sum which you wish to set aside? Your creditors would be
obliged to value these securities, not at their present, but at
their former value."
"Evidently; but, unfortunately, I do not possess any such
"You can purchase them."
The coal-merchant opened his eyes in astonishment. "Excuse me,"
he muttered, "I don't exactly understand you."
He did not understand in the least; but M. Fortunat enlightened
him by opening his safe, and displaying an enormous bundle of
stocks and shares which had flooded the country a few years
previously, and ruined a great many poor, ignorant fools which
were hungering for wealth; among them were shares in the Tifila
Mining Company, the Berchem Coal Mines, the Greenland Fisheries,
the Mutual Trust and Loan Association, and so on. There had been
a time when each of these securities would have fetched five
hundred or a thousand francs at the Bourse, but now they were not
worth the paper on which they were printed.
"Let us suppose, my dear sir," resumed M. Fortunat, "that you had
a drawer full of these securities----"
But the other did not allow him to finish. "I see," he exclaimed;
"I see--I can sell my stock, and put the proceeds in my pocket
with perfect safety. There is enough to represent my capital a
thousand times over."
And, in a paroxysm of delight, he added:
"Give me enough of these shares to represent a capital of one
hundred and twenty thousand francs; and give me some of each kind.
I should like my creditors to have a variety."
Thereupon M. Fortunat counted out a pile of these worthless
securities as carefully as if he had been handling bank-notes; and
his client at the same time drew out his pocketbook.
"How much do I owe you?" he inquired.
"Three thousand francs."
The honest merchant bounded from his chair. "Three thousand
francs!" he repeated. "You must be jesting. That trash is not
worth a louis."
"I would not even give five francs for it," rejoined M. Fortunat,
coldly; "but it is true that I don't desire to purchase these
shares in my creditors' interest. With you it is quite a
different matter--this trash, as you very justly call it, will
save you at least a hundred thousand francs. I ask only three per
cent., which is certainly not dear. Still, you know, I don't
force any one to purchase them." And, in a terribly significant
tone, he added: "You can undoubtedly buy similar securities on
better terms; but take care you don't arouse your creditors'
suspicions by applying elsewhere."
"He would betray me, the scoundrel!" thought the merchant. And,
realizing that he had fallen into a trap, "Here are three thousand
francs," he sighed; "but at least, my dear sir, give me good
measure, and throw in a few thousand francs more."
The coal-merchant smiled the ghastly smile of a man who sees no
way of escape from imposition, and has, therefore, resolved to
submit with the best grace possible. But M. Fortunat's gravity
did not relax. He gave what he had promised--neither more nor
less--in exchange for the bank-notes, and even gravely exclaimed:
"See if the amount is correct."
His client pocketed the shares without counting them: but before
leaving the room he made his estimable adviser promise to assist
him at the decisive moment, and help him to prepare one of those
clear financial statements which make creditors say: "This is an
honest man who has been extremely unfortunate."
M. Fortunat was admirably fitted to render this little service;
for he devoted such part of his time as was not spent in hunting
for missing heirs to difficult liquidations, and he had indeed
made bankruptcy a specialty in which he was without a rival. The
business was a remunerative one, thanks to the expedient he had
revealed to the coal-merchant--an expedient which is common enough
nowadays, but of which he might almost be called the inventor. It
consisted in compelling the persons who asked for his advice to
purchase worthless shares at whatever price he chose to set upon
them, and they were forced to submit, under penalty of
denunciation and exposure.
The client who followed the coal-merchant proved to be a simple
creature, who had called to ask for some advice respecting a
slight difficulty between himself and his landlord. M. Fortunat
speedily disposed of him, and then, opening the door leading into
the outer office, he called: "Cashier!"
A shabbily-dressed man, some thirty-five years of age, at once
entered the private sanctum, carrying a money-bag in one hand and
a ledger in the other.
"How many debtors were visited yesterday?" inquired M. Fortunat.
"Two hundred and thirty-seven."
"What was the amount collected?"
M. Isidore Fortunat's grimace was expressive of satisfaction.
"Not bad," said he, "not at all bad."
Then a singular performance began. M. Fortunat called over the
names of his debtors, one by one, and the cashier answered each
name by reading a memorandum written against it on the margin of a
list he held. "Such a one," said the agent, "and such a one--and
such----" Whereupon the cashier replied: "Has paid two francs--was
not at home--paid twenty sous--would not pay anything."
How did it happen that M. Fortunat had so many debtors? This
question can be easily answered. In settling bankrupts' estates
it was easy for him to purchase a large number of debts which were
considered worthless, at a trifling cost, and he reaped a
bountiful harvest on a field which would have yielded nothing to
another person. It was not because he was rigorous in his
demands; he conquered by patience, gentleness, and politeness, but
also by unwearying perseverance and tenacity. When he decided
that a debtor was to pay him a certain sum, it was paid. He never
relaxed in his efforts. Every other day some one was sent to
visit the debtor, to follow him, and harass him; he was surrounded
by M. Fortunat's agents; they pursued him to his office, shop, or
cafe--everywhere, continually, incessantly--and always with the
most perfect urbanity. At last even the most determined
succumbed; to escape this frightful persecution, they, somehow or
other, found the money to satisfy M. Fortunat's claim. Besides
Victor Chupin, he had five other agents whose business it was to
visit these poor wretches. A list was assigned to each man every
morning; and when evening came, he made his report to the cashier,
who in turn reported to his employer. This branch of industry
added considerably to the profits of M. Fortunat's other business,
and was the third and last string to his bow.
The report proceeded as usual, but it was quite evident that M.
Fortunat's thoughts were elsewhere. He paused each moment to
listen eagerly for the slightest sound outside, for before
receiving the coal-merchant he had told Victor Chupin to run to
the Rue de Courcelles and ask M. Casimir for news of the Count de
Chalusse. He had done this more than an hour before; and Victor
Chupin, who was usually so prompt, had not yet made his
At last, however, he returned, whereupon M. Fortunat dismissed the
cashier, and addressed his messenger: "Well?" he asked.
"He is no longer living. They think he died without a will, and
that the pretty young lady will be turned out of the house."
This information agreed so perfectly with M. Fortunat's
presentiments that he did not even wince, but calmly asked: "Will
Casimir keep his appointment?"
"He told me that he would endeavor to come, and I'd wager a
hundred to one that he will be there; he would travel ten leagues
to put something good into his stomach."
M. Fortunat's opinion coincided with Chupin's. "Very well," said
he. "Only you were a long time on the road, Victor."
"That's true, m'sieur; but I had a little matter of my own to
attend to--a matter of a hundred francs, if you please."
M. Fortunat knit his brows angrily. "It's only right to attend to
business," said he; "but you think too much of money, Victor--
altogether too much. You are insatiable."
The young man proudly lifted his head, and with an air of
importance, replied: "I have so many responsibilities----"
"Yes, indeed, m'sieur. And why not? My poor, good mother hasn't
been able to work for a year, and who would care for her if I
didn't? Certainly not my father, the good-for-nothing scamp, who
squandered all the Duke de Sairmeuse's money without giving us a
sou of it. Besides, I'm like other men, I'm anxious to be rich,
and enjoy myself. I should like to ride in my carriage like other
people do. And whenever a gamin, such as I was once, opened the
door for ME, I should put a five-franc piece in his hand----"
He was interrupted by Madame Dodelin, the worthy housekeeper, who
rushed into the room without knocking, in a terrible state of
excitement. "Monsieur!" she exclaimed, in the same tone as if she
would have called "Fire!" "here is Monsieur de Valorsay."
M. Fortunat sprang up and turned extremely pale. "What to the
devil brings him here?" he anxiously stammered. "Tell him that
I've gone out--tell him--"
But it was useless, for the marquis at that very moment entered
the room, and the agent could only dismiss his housekeeper and
M. de Valorsay seemed to be very angry, and it looked as if he
meant to give vent to his passion. Indeed, as soon as he was
alone with M. Fortunat, he began: "So this is the way you betray
your friends, Master Twenty-per-Cent! Why did you deceive me last
night about the ten thousand francs you had promised me? Why
didn't you tell me the truth? You knew of the misfortune that had
befallen M. de Chalusse. I heard of it first scarcely an hour ago
through a letter from Madame Leon."
M. Fortunat hesitated somewhat. He was a quiet man, opposed to
violence of any kind; and it seemed to him that M. de Valorsay was
twisting and turning his cane in a most ominous manner. "I must
confess, Monsieur le Marquis," he at last replied, "that I had not
the courage to tell you of the dreadful misfortune which had
"Certainly. If you lose the hope of several millions, I also lose
the amount I advanced to you, forty thousand francs--my entire
fortune. And yet, you see that I don't complain. Do as I do--
confess that the game is lost."
The marquis was listening with an air of suppressed wrath; his
face was crimson, there was a dark frown on his brow, and his
hands were clinched. He was apparently furious with passion, but
in reality he was perfectly self-possessed. The best proof that
can be given of his coolness is that he was carefully studying M.
Fortunat's face, and trying to discover the agent's real
intentions under his meaningless words. He had expected to find
"his dear extortioner" exasperated by his loss, cursing and
swearing, and demanding his money--but not at all. He found him
more gentle and calm, colder and more reserved than ever; brimful
of resignation indeed, and preaching submission to the inevitable.
"What can this mean?" he thought, with an anxious heart. "What
mischief is the scoundrel plotting now? I'd wager a thousand to
one that he's forging some thunderbolt to crush me." And, in a
haughty tone, he said aloud:
"In a word, you desert me."
With a deprecatory gesture, M. Fortunat exclaimed: "I desert you,
Monsieur le Marquis! What have I done that you should think so ill
of me? Alas! circumstances are the only traitors. I shouldn't
like to deprive you of the courage you so much need, but,
honestly, it would be folly to struggle against destiny. How can
you hope to succeed in your plans? Have you not resorted to every
possible expedient to prolong your apparently brilliant existence
until the present time? Are you not at such a point that you must
marry Mademoiselle Marguerite in a month's time, or perish? And
now the count's millions are lost! If I might be allowed to give
you some advice, I should say, 'The shipwreck is inevitable; think
only of saving yourself.' By tact and shrewdness, you might yet
save something from your creditors. Compromise with them. And if
you need my services, here I am. Go to Nice, and give me a power
of attorney to act for you. From the debris of your fortune, I
will undertake to guarantee you a competence which would satisfy
many an ambitious man."
The marquis laughed sneeringly. "Excellent!" he exclaimed. "You
would rid yourself of me and recover your forty thousand francs at
the same time. A very clever arrangement."
M. Fortunat realized that his client understood him; but what did
it matter?" I assure you----" he began.
But the marquis silenced him with a contemptuous gesture. "Let us
stop this nonsense," said he. "We understand each other better
than that. I have never made any attempt to deceive you, nor have
I ever supposed that I had succeeded in doing so, and pray do me
the honor to consider me as shrewd as yourself." And still
refusing to listen to the agent, he continued: "If I have come to
you, it is only because the case is not so desperate as you
suppose. I still hold some valuable cards which you are ignorant
of. In your opinion, and every one else's, Mademoiselle
Marguerite is ruined. But I know that she is still worth three
millions, at the very least."
"Yes, Monsieur Twenty-per-Cent. Let her become my wife, and the
very next day I will place her in possession of an income of a
hundred and fifty thousand francs. But she must marry me first;
and this scornful maiden will not grant me her hand unless I can
convince her of my love and disinterestedness."
"But your rival?"
M. de Valorsay gave a nervous start, but quickly controlled
himself. "He no longer exists. Read this day's Figaro, and you
will be edified. I have no rival now. If I can only conceal my
financial embarrassment a little longer, she is mine. A
friendless and homeless girl cannot defend herself long in Paris--
especially when she has an adviser like Madame Leon. Oh! I shall
win her! I shall have her!--she is a necessity to me. Now you can
judge if it would be wise on your part to deprive me of your
assistance. Would you like to know what I want? Simply this--the
means to sustain me two or three months longer--some thirty
thousand francs. You can procure the money--will you? It would
make, in all, seventy thousand francs that I should owe you, and I
will promise to pay you two hundred and fifty thousand if I
succeed--and I shall succeed! Such profit is worth some risk.
Reflect, and decide. But no more subterfuges, if you please. Let
your answer be plain yes or no."
Without a second's hesitation, M. Fortunat replied, "No."
The flush on the marquis's face deepened, and his voice became a
trifle harsher; but that was all. "Confess, then, that you have
resolved to ruin me," he said. "You refuse before you have heard
me to the end. Wait, at least, until I have told you my plans,
and shown you the solid foundation which my hopes rest upon."
But M. Fortunat had resolved to listen to nothing. He wished for
no explanations, so distrustful was he of himself--so much did he
fear that his adventurous nature would urge him to incur further
risk. He was positively afraid of the Marquis de Valorsay's
eloquence; besides, he knew well enough that the person who
consents to listen is at least half convinced. "Tell me nothing,
monsieur," he hastily answered; "it would be useless. I haven't
the money. If I had given you ten thousand francs last night, I
should have been compelled to borrow them of M. Prosper Bertomy.
And even if I had the money, I should still say ' Impossible.'
Every man has his system--his theory, you know. Mine is, never to
run after my money. With me, whatever I may lose, I regard it as
finally lost; I think no more about it, and turn to something
else. So your forty thousand francs have already been entered on
my profit and loss account. And yet it would be easy enough for
you to repay me, if you would follow my advice and go quietly into
"Never!" interrupted M. de Valorsay; "never! I do not wish to
temporize," he continued. "I will save all, or save nothing. If
you refuse me your help, I shall apply elsewhere. I will never
give my good friends, who detest me, and whom I cordially hate in
return, the delicious joy of seeing the Marquis de Valorsay fall
step by step from the high position he has occupied. I will never
truckle to the men whom I have eclipsed for fifteen years. No,
never! I would rather die, or even commit the greatest crime!"
He suddenly checked himself, a trifle astonished, perhaps, by his
own plain-speaking; and, for a moment, he and M. Fortunat looked
into each other's eyes, striving to divine their respective secret
The marquis was the first to speak. "And so," said he, in a tone
which he strove to make persuasive, but which was threatening
instead, "it is settled--your decision is final?"
"You will not even condescend to listen to my explanation?"
"It would be a loss of time."
On receiving this cruel reply, M. de Valorsay struck the desk such
a formidable blow with his clenched fist that several bundles of
papers fell to the floor. His anger was not feigned now. "What
are you plotting, then?" he exclaimed; "and what do you intend to
do? What is your object in betraying me? Take care! It is my life
that I am going to defend, and as truly as there is a God in
heaven, I shall defend it well. A man who is determined to blow
his brains out if he is defeated, is a terribly dangerous
adversary. Woe to you, if I ever find you standing between me and
the Count de Chalusse's millions!"
Every drop of blood had fled from M. Fortunat's face, still his
mien was composed and dignified. "You do wrong to threaten me,"
said he. "I don't fear you in the least. If I were your enemy, I
should bring suit against you for the forty thousand francs you
owe me. I should not obtain my money, of course, but I could
shatter the tottering edifice of your fortune by a single blow.
Besides, you forget that I possess a copy of our agreement, signed
by your own hand, and that I have only to show it to Mademoiselle
Marguerite to give her a just opinion of your disinterestedness.
Let us sever our connection now, monsieur, and each go his own way
without reference to the other. If you should succeed you will
Victory perched upon the agent's banner, and it was with a feeling
of pride that he saw his noble client depart, white and speechless
with rage. "What a rascal that marquis is," he muttered. "I
would certainly warn Mademoiselle Marguerite, poor girl, if I were
not so much afraid of him."
M. Casimir, the deceased Count de Chalusse's valet, was neither
better nor worse than most of his fellows. Old men tell us that
there formerly existed a race of faithful servants, who considered
themselves a part of the family that employed them, and who
unhesitatingly embraced its interests and its ideas. At the same
time their masters requited their devotion by efficacious
protection and provision for the future. But such masters and
such servants are nowadays only found in the old melodramas
performed at the Ambigu, in "The Emigre," for instance, or in "The
Last of the Chateauvieux." At present servants wander from one
house to another, looking on their abode as a mere inn where they
may find shelter till they are disposed for another journey. And
families receive them as transient, and not unfrequently as
dangerous, guests, whom it is always wise to treat with distrust.
The key of the wine-cellar is not confided to these unreliable
inmates; they are intrusted with the charge of little else than
the children--a practice which is often productive of terrible
M. Casimir was no doubt honest, in the strict sense of the word.
He would have scorned to rob his master of a ten-sous piece; and
yet he would not have hesitated in the least to defraud him of a
hundred francs, if an opportunity had presented itself. Vain and
rapacious in disposition, he consoled himself by refusing to obey
any one save his employer, by envying him with his whole heart,
and by cursing fate for not having made him the Count de Chalusse
instead of the Count de Chalusse's servant. As he received high
wages, he served passably well; but he employed the best part of
his energy in watching the count. He scented some great family
secret in the household, and he felt angry and humiliated that
this secret had not been intrusted to his discretion. And if he
had discovered nothing, it was because M. de Chalusse had been
caution personified, as Madame Leon had declared.
Thus it happened that when M. Casimir saw Mademoiselle Marguerite
and the count searching in the garden for the fragments of a
letter destroyed in a paroxysm of rage which he had personally
witnessed, his natural curiosity was heightened to such a degree
as to become unendurable. He would have given a month's wages,
and something over, to have known the contents of that letter, the
fragments of which were being so carefully collected by the count.
And when he heard M. de Chalusse tell Mademoiselle Marguerite that
the most important part of the letter was still lacking, and saw
his master relinquish his fruitless search, the worthy valet vowed
that he would be more skilful or more fortunate than his master;
and after diligent effort, he actually succeeded in recovering
five tiny scraps of paper, which had been blown into the
They were covered with delicate handwriting, a lady's
unquestionably; but he was utterly unable to extract the slightest
meaning from them. Nevertheless, he preserved them with jealous
care, and was careful not to say that he had found them. The
incoherent words which he had deciphered on these scraps of paper
mixed strangely in his brain, and he grew more and more anxious to
learn what connection there was between this letter and the
count's attack. This explains his extreme readiness to search the
count's clothes when Mademoiselle Marguerite told him to look for
the key of the escritoire. And fortune favored him, for he not
only found the key, but he also discovered the torn fragments of
the letter, and having crumpled them up in the palm of his hand,
he contrived to slip them into his pocket. Fruitless dexterity!
M. Casimir had joined these scraps to the fragments he had found
himself, he had read and re-read the epistle, but it told him
nothing; or, at least, the information it conveyed was so vague
and incomplete that it heightened his curiosity all the more.
Once he almost decided to give the letter to Mademoiselle
Marguerite, but he resisted this impulse, saying to himself: "Ah,
no; I'm not such a fool! It might be of use to her."
And M. Casimir had no desire to be of service to this unhappy
girl, who had always treated him with kindness. He hated her,
under the pretence that she was not in her proper place, that no
one knew who or what she was, and that it was absurd that he--he,
Casimir--should be compelled to receive orders from her. The
infamous slander which Mademoiselle Marguerite had overheard on
her way home from church, "There goes the rich Count de Chalusse's
mistress," was M. Casimir's work. He had sworn to be avenged on
this haughty creature; and no one can say what he might have
attempted, if it had not been for the intervention of the
magistrate. Imperatively called to order, M. Casimir consoled
himself by the thought that the magistrate had intrusted him with
eight thousand francs and the charge of the establishment.
Nothing could have pleased him better. First and foremost, it
afforded him a magnificent opportunity to display his authority
and act the master, and it also enabled him to carry out his
compact with Victor Chupin, and repair to the rendezvous which M.
Isidore Fortunat had appointed.
Leaving his comrades to watch the magistrate's operations, he sent
M. Bourigeau to report the count's death at the district mayor's
office, and then lighting a cigar he walked out of the house, and
strolled leisurely up the Rue de Courcelles. The place appointed
for his meeting with M. Fortunat was on the Boulevard Haussmann,
almost opposite Binder's, the famous carriage builder. Although
it was rather a wine-shop than a restaurant, a capital breakfast
could be obtained there as M. Casimir had ascertained to his
satisfaction several times before. "Has no one called for me?" he
asked, as he went in.
He consulted his watch, and evinced considerable surprise. "Not
yet noon!" he exclaimed. "I'm in advance; and as that is the
case, give me a glass of absinthe and a newspaper."
He was obeyed with far more alacrity than his deceased master had
ever required him to show, and he forthwith plunged into the
report of the doings at the Bourse, with the eagerness of a man
who has an all-sufficient reason for his anxiety in a drawer at
home. Having emptied one glass of absinthe, he was about to order
a second, when he felt a tap on the shoulder, and on turning round
he beheld M. Isidore Fortunat.
In accordance with his wont, the agent was attired in a style of
severe elegance--with gloves and boots fitting him to perfection--
but an unusually winning smile played upon his lips. "You see I
have been waiting for you," exclaimed M. Casimir.
"I am late, it's true," replied M. Fortunat, "but we will do our
best to make up for lost time; for, I trust, you will do me the
honor of breakfasting with me?"
"Really, I don't know that I ought."
"Yes, yes, you must. They will give us a private room; we must
have a talk."
It was certainly not for the pleasure of the thing that M.
Fortunat cultivated M. Casimir's acquaintance, and entertained him
at breakfast. M. Fortunat, who was a very proud man, considered
this connection somewhat beneath his dignity; but at first,
circumstances, and afterward interest, had required him to
overcome his repugnance. It was through the Count de Chalusse
that he had made M. Casimir's acquaintance. While the count was
employing the agent he had frequently sent his valet to him with
messages and letters. Naturally, M. Casimir had talked on these
occasions, and the agent had listened to him; hence this
superficial friendship. Subsequently when the marriage
contemplated by the Marquis de Valorsay was in course of
preparation, M. Fortunat had profited of the opportunity to make
the count's servant his spy; and it had been easy to find a
pretext for continuing the acquaintance, as M. Casimir was a
speculator, or rather a dabbler in stocks and shares. So,
whenever he needed information, M. Fortunat invited M. Casimir to
breakfast, knowing the potent influence of a good bottle of wine
offered at the right moment. It is needless to say that he
exercised uncommon care in the composition of the menu on a day
like this when his future course depended, perhaps, on a word more
M. Casimir's eye sparkled as he took his seat at the table
opposite his entertainer. The crafty agent had chosen a little
room looking out on to the boulevard. Not that it was more
spacious or elegant than the others, but it was isolated, and this
was a very great advantage; for every one knows how unsafe and
perfidious are those so-called private rooms which are merely
separated from each other by a thin partition, scarcely thicker
than a sheet of paper. It was not long before M. Fortunat had
reason to congratulate himself on his foresight, for the breakfast
began with a dish of shrimps, and M. Casimir had not finished his
twelfth, washed down by a glass of chablis, before he declared
that he could see no impropriety in confiding certain things to a
The events of the morning had completely turned his head; and
gratified vanity and good cheer excited him to such a degree that
he discoursed with unwonted volubility. With total disregard of
prudence, he talked with inexcusable freedom of the Count de
Chalusse, and M. de Valorsay, and especially of his enemy,
Mademoiselle Marguerite. "For it is she," he exclaimed, rapping
on the table with his knife--"it is she who has taken the missing
millions! How she did it, no one will ever know, for she has not
an equal in craftiness; but it's she who has stolen them, I'm sure
of it! I would have taken my oath to that effect before the
magistrate, and I would have proved it, too, if he hadn't taken
her part because she's pretty--for she is devilishly pretty."
Even if M. Fortunat had wished to put in a word or two, he could
have found no opportunity. But his guest's loquacity did not
displease him; it gave him an opportunity for reflection. Strange
thoughts arose in his mind, and connecting M. Casimir's
affirmations with the assurances of the Marquis de Valorsay, he
was amazed at the coincidence. "It's very singular!" he thought.
"Has this girl really stolen the money? and has the marquis
discovered the fact through Madame Leon, and determined to profit
by the theft? In that case, I may get my money back, after all! I
must look into the matter."
A partridge and a bottle of Pomard followed the shrimps and
chablis; and M. Casimir's loquacity increased, and his voice rose
higher and higher. He wandered from one absurd story to another,
and from slander to slander, until suddenly, and without the
slightest warning, he began to speak of the mysterious letter
which he considered the undoubted cause of the count's illness.
At the first word respecting this missive, M. Fortunat started
violently. "Nonsense!" said he, with an incredulous air. "Why
the devil should this letter have had such an influence?"
"I don't know. But it is certain--it had." And, in support of
his assertion, he told M. Fortunat how the count had destroyed the
letter almost without reading it, and how he had afterward
searched for the fragments, in order to find an address it had
contained. "And I'm quite sure," said the valet, "that the count
intended to apply to you for the address of the person who wrote
"Are you sure of that?"
"As sure as I am of drinking Pomard!" exclaimed M. Casimir,
draining his glass.
Rarely had the agent experienced such emotion. He did not doubt
but what this missive contained the solution of the mystery.
"Were the scraps of this letter found?" he asked.
"I have them," cried the valet, triumphantly. "I have them in my
pocket, and, what's more, I have the whole of them!"
This declaration made M. Fortunat turn pale with delight.
"Indeed--indeed!" said he; "it must be a strange production."
His companion pursed up his lips disdainfully. "May be so, may be
not," he retorted. "It's impossible to understand a word of it.
The only thing certain about it is that it was written by a
"Yes, by a former mistress, undoubtedly. And, naturally, she asks
for money for a child. Women of that class always do so. They've
tried the game with me more than a dozen times, but I'm not so
easily caught." And bursting with vanity, he related three or four
love affairs in which, according to his own account, he must have
played a most ignoble part.
If M. Fortunat's chair had been a gridiron, heated by an excellent
fire, he could not have felt more uncomfortable. After pouring
out bumper after bumper for his guest, he perceived that he had
gone too far, and that it would not be easy to check him. "And
this letter?" he interrupted, at last.
"You promised to let me read it."
"That's true--that's quite true; but it would be as well to have
some mocha first, would it not? What if we ordered some mocha,
Coffee was served, and when the waiter had closed the door, M.
Casimir drew the letter, the scraps of which were fixed together,
from his pocket, and unfolded it, saying: "Attention; I'm going to
This did not suit M. Fortunat's fancy. He would infinitely have
preferred perusing it himself; but it is impossible to argue with
an intoxicated man, and so M. Casimir with a more and more
indistinct enunciation read as follows: "'Paris, October 14, 186--
.' So the lady lives in Paris, as usual. After this she puts
neither 'monsieur,' nor 'my friend,' nor 'dear count,' nothing at
all. She begins abruptly: 'Once before, many years ago, I came to
you as a suppliant. You were pitiless, and did not even deign to
answer me. And yet, as I told you, I was on the verge of a
terrible precipice; my brain was reeling, vertigo had seized hold
of me. Deserted, I was wandering about Paris, homeless and
penniless, and my child was starving!'"
M. Casimir paused to laugh. "That's like all the rest of them,"
he exclaimed; "that is exactly like all the rest! I've ten such
letters in my drawer, even more imperative in their demands. If
you'll come home with me after breakfast, I'll show them to you.
We'll have a hearty laugh over them!"
"Let us finish this first."
"Of course." And he resumed: "'If I had been alone. I should not
have hesitated. I was so wretched that death seemed a refuge to
me. But what was to become of my child? Should I kill him, and
destroy myself afterward? I thought of doing so, but I lacked the
courage. And what I implored you in pity to give me, was
rightfully mine. I had only to present myself at your house and
demand it. Alas! I did not know that then. I believed myself
bound by a solemn oath, and you inspired me with inexpressible
terror. And still I could not see my child die of starvation
before my very eyes. So I abandoned myself to my fate, and I have
sunk so low that I have been obliged to separate from my son. He
must not know the shame to which he owes his livelihood. And he
is ignorant even of my existence.'"
M. Fortunat was as motionless as if he had been turned to stone.
After the information he had obtained respecting the count's past,
and after the story told him by Madame Vantrasson, he could
scarcely doubt. "This letter," he thought, "can only be from
Mademoiselle Hermine de Chalusse."
However, M. Casimir resumed his reading: "'If I apply to you
again, if from the depth of infamy into which I have fallen, I
again call upon you for help, it is because I am at the end of my
resources--because, before I die, I must see my son's future
assured. It is not a fortune that I ask for him, but sufficient
to live upon, and I expect to receive it from you.'"
Once more the valet paused in his perusal of the letter to remark:
"There it is again sufficient to live upon, and I expect to
receive it from you!--Excellent! Women are remarkable creatures,
upon my word! But listen to the rest! 'It is absolutely
necessary that I should see you as soon as possible. Oblige me,
therefore, by calling to-morrow, October 15th, at the Hotel de
Homburg, in the Rue du Helder. You will ask for Madame Lucy
Huntley, and they will conduct you to me. I shall expect you from
three o'clock to six. Come. I implore you, come. It is painful
to me to add that if I do not hear from you, I am resolved to
demand and OBTAIN--no matter what may be the consequences--the
means which I have, so far, asked of you on my bended knees and
with clasped hands.'"
Having finished the letter, M. Casimir laid it on the table, and
poured out a glassful of brandy, which he drained at a single
draught. "And that's all," he remarked. "No signature--not even
an initial. It was a so-called respectable woman who wrote that.
They never sign their notes, the hussies! for fear of compromising
themselves, as I've reason to know." And so saying, he laughed the
idiotic laugh of a man who has been drinking immoderately. "If I
had time," he resumed, "I should make some inquiries about this
Madame Lucy Huntley--a feigned name, evidently. I should like to
know---- But what's the matter with you, Monsieur Fortunat? You
are as pale as death. Are you ill?"
To tell the truth, the agent did look as if he were indisposed.
"Thanks," he stammered. "I'm very well, only I just remembered
that some one is waiting for me."
"Nonsense!" rejoined the valet; "make some excuse; let him go
about his business. Aren't you rich enough? Pour us out another
glass of wine; it will make you all right again."
M. Fortunat complied, but he performed the task so awkwardly, or,
rather, so skilfully, that he drew toward him, with his sleeve,
the letter which was lying beside M. Casimir's plate. "To your
health," said the valet. "To yours," replied M. Fortunat. And in
drawing back the arm he had extended to chink glasses with his
guest, he caused the letter to fall on his knees.
M. Casimir, who had not observed this successful manoeuvre, was
trying to light his cigar; and while vainly consuming a large
quantity of matches in the attempt, he exclaimed: "What you just
said, my friend, means that you would like to desert me. That
won't do, my dear fellow! You are going home with me; and I will
read you some love-letters from a woman of the world. Then we
will go to Mourloup's, and play a game of billiards. That's the
place to enjoy one's self. You'll see Joseph, of the Commarin
household, a splendid comedian."
"Very well; but first I must settle the score here."
M. Fortunat rang for his bill. He had obtained more information
than he expected; he had the letter in his pocket, and he had now
only one desire, to rid himself of M. Casimir. But this was no
easy task. Drunken men cling tenaciously to their friends; and M.
Fortunat was asking himself what strategy he could employ, when
the waiter entered, and said: "There's a very light-complexioned
man here, who looks as if he were a huissier's clerk. He wishes
to speak with you, gentlemen."
"Ah! it's Chupin!" exclaimed the valet. "He is a friend. Let him
come in, and bring us another glass. 'The more the merrier,' as
the saying goes."
What could Chupin want? M. Fortunat had no idea, but he was none
the less grateful for his coming, being determined to hand this
troublesome Casimir over to his keeping. On entering the room
Chupin realized the valet's condition at the first glance, and his
face clouded. He bowed politely to M. Fortunat, but addressed
Casimir in an extremely discontented tone. "It's three o'clock,"
said he, "and I've come, as we agreed, to arrange with you about
the count's funeral."
These words had the effect of a cold shower-bath on M. Casimir.
"Upon my word, I had forgotten--forgotten entirely, upon my word!'
And the thought of his condition, and the responsibility he had
accepted, coming upon him at the same time, he continued: "Good
Heavens! I'm in a nice state! It is all I can do to stand. What
will they think at the house? What will they say?"
M. Fortunat had drawn his clerk a little on one side. "Victor,"
said he, quickly and earnestly, "I must go at once. Everything
has been paid for; but in case you need some money for a cab or
anything of the sort, here are ten francs. If there's any you
don't use, keep it for yourself. I leave this fool in your
charge, take care of him."
The sight of the ten-franc piece made Chupin's face brighten a
little. "Very well," he replied. "I understand the business. I
served my apprenticeship as a 'guardian angel' when my grandmother
kept the Poivriere."*
* See "Lecoq the Detective" by Emile Gaboriau
"Above all, don't let him return home in his present state."
"Have no fears, monsieur, I must talk business with him, and so I
shall have him all right in a jiffy." And as M. Fortunat made his
escape, Chupin beckoned to the waiter, and said:
"Fetch me some very strong coffee, a handful of salt, and a lemon.
There's nothing better for bringing a drunken man to his senses."
M. Fortunat left the restaurant, almost on the run, for he feared
that he might be pursued and overtaken by M. Casimir. But after
he had gone a couple of hundred paces, he paused, not so much to
take breath, as to collect his scattered wits; and though the
weather was cold, he seated himself on a bench to reflect.
Never in all his changeful life had he known such intense anxiety
and torturing suspense as he had just experienced in that little
room in the restaurant. He had longed for positive information
and he had obtained it; but it had upset all his plans and
annihilated all his hopes. Imagining that the count's heirs had
been lost sight of, he had determined to find them and make a
bargain with them, before they learned that they were worth their
millions. But on the contrary, these heirs were close at hand,
watching M. de Chalusse, and knowing their rights so well that
they were ready to fight for them. "For it was certainly the
count's sister who wrote the letter which I have in my pocket," he
murmured. "Not wishing to receive him at her own home, she
prudently appointed a meeting at a hotel. But what about this
name of Huntley? Is it really hers, or is it only assumed for the
occasion? Is it the name of the man who enticed her from home, or
is it the name given to the son from whom she has separated
But after all what was the use of all these conjectures? There was
but one certain and positive thing, and this was that the money he
had counted upon had escaped him; and he experienced as acute a
pang as if he had lost forty thousand francs a second time.
Perhaps, at that moment, he was sorry that he had severed his
connection with the marquis. Still, he was not the man to
despond, however desperate his plight might appear, without an
attempt to better his situation. He knew how many surprising and
sudden changes in fortune have been brought about by some
apparently trivial action. "I must discover this sister," he said
to himself--" I must ascertain her position and her plans. If she
has no one to advise her, I will offer my services; and who knows----"
A cab was passing; M. Fortunat hailed it, and ordered the Jehu to
drive him to the Rue du Helder, No. 43, Hotel de Homburg.
Was it by chance or premeditation that this establishment had
received the name of one of the gambling dens of Europe? Perhaps
the following information may serve to answer the question. The
Hotel de Homburg was one of those flash hostelries frequented by
adventurers of distinction, who are attracted to Paris by the
millions that are annually squandered there. Spurious counts and
questionable Russian princesses were sure to find a cordial
welcome there with princely luxury, moderate prices, and--but very
little confidence. Each person was called by the title which it
pleased him to give on his arrival--Excellency or Prince,
according to his fancy. He could also find numerous servants
carefully drilled to play the part of old family retainers, and
carriages upon which the most elaborate coat-of-arms could be
painted at an hour's notice. Nor was there any difficulty
whatever in immediately procuring all the accessories of a life of
grandeur--all that is needful to dazzle the unsuspecting, to throw
dust in people's eyes, and to dupe one's chance acquaintances.
All these things were provided without delay, by the month, by the
day or by the hour, just as the applicant pleased. But there was
no such thing as credit there. Bills were presented every
evening, to those lodgers who did not pay in advance: and he who
could not, or would not, settle the score, even if he were
Excellency or Prince, was requested to depart at once, and his
trunks were held as security.
When M. Fortunat entered the office of the hotel, a woman, with a
crafty looking face, was holding a conference with an elderly
gentleman, who had a black velvet skullcap on his head, and a
magnifying glass in his hand. They applied their eyes to the
glass in turn, and were engaged in examining some very handsome
diamonds, which had no doubt been offered in lieu of money by some
noble but impecunious foreigner. On hearing M. Fortunat enter,
the woman looked up.
"What do you desire, monsieur?" she inquired, politely.
"I wish to see Madame Lucy Huntley."
The woman did not reply at first, but raised her eyes to the
ceiling, as if she were reading there the list of all the
foreigners of distinction who honored the Hotel de Homburg by
their presence at that moment. "Lucy Huntley!" she repeated. "I
don't recollect that name! I don't think there's such a person in
the house--Lucy Huntley! What kind of a person is she?"
For many reasons M. Fortunat could not answer. First of all, he
did not know. But he was not in the least disconcerted, and he
avoided the question without the slightest embarrassment, at the
same time trying to quicken the woman's faulty memory. "The
person I wished to see was here on Friday, between three and six
in the afternoon; and she was waiting for a visitor with an
anxiety which could not possibly have escaped your notice."
This detail quickened the memory of the man with the magnifying
glass--none other than the woman's husband and landlord of the
hotel. "Ah! the gentleman is speaking of the lady of No. 2--you
remember--the same who insisted upon having the large private
"To be sure," replied the wife; "where could my wits have been!"
And turning to M. Fortunat: "Excuse my forgetfulness," she added.
"The lady is no longer in the house; she only remained here for a
This reply did not surprise M. Fortunat--he had expected it; and
yet he assumed an air of the utmost consternation. "Only a few
hours!" he repeated, like a despairing echo.
"Yes, monsieur. She arrived here about eleven o'clock in the
morning, with only a large valise by way of luggage, and she left
that same evening at eight o'clock."
"Alas! and where was she going?"
"She didn't tell me."
You might have sworn that M. Fortunat was about to burst into
tears. "Poor Lucy!" said he, in a tragical tone; "it was for me,
madame, that she was waiting. But it was only this morning that I
received her letter appointing a meeting here. She must have been
in despair. The post can't be depended on!"
The husband and wife simultaneously shrugged their shoulders, and
the expression of their faces unmistakably implied: "What can we
do about it? It is no business of ours. Don't trouble us."
But M. Fortunat was not the man to be dismayed by such a trifle.
"She was taken to the railway station, no doubt," he insisted.
"Really, I know nothing about it."
"You told me just now that she had a large valise, so she could
not have left your hotel on foot. She must have asked for a
vehicle. Who was sent to fetch it? One of your boys? If I could
find the driver I should, perhaps, be able to obtain some valuable
information from him."
The husband and wife exchanged a whole volume of suspicions in a
single glance. M. Isidore Fortunat's appearance was incontestably
respectable, but they were well aware that those strange men
styled detectives are perfectly conversant with the art of
dressing to perfection. So the hotelkeeper quickly decided on his
course. "Your idea is an excellent one," he said to M. Fortunat.
"This lady must certainly have taken a vehicle on leaving; and
what is more, it must have been a vehicle belonging to the hotel.
If you will follow me, we will make some inquiries on the
And rising with a willingness that augured well for their success,
he led the agent into the courtyard, where five or six vehicles
were stationed, while the drivers lounged on a bench, chatting and
smoking their pipes "Which of you was employed by a lady yesterday
evening at about eight o'clock?"
"What sort of a person was she?"
"She was a handsome woman, between thirty and forty years' old,
very fair, rather stout, and dressed in black. She had a large
"I took her," answered one of the drivers promptly. M. Fortunat
advanced toward the man with open arms, and with such eagerness
that it might have been supposed he meant to embrace him. "Ah, my
worthy fellow!" he exclaimed, "you can save my life!"
The driver looked exceedingly pleased. He was thinking that this
gentleman would certainly requite his salvation by a magnificent
gratuity. "What do you want of me?" he asked.
"Tell me where you drove this lady?"
"I took her to the Rue de Berry."
"To what number?"
"Ah, I can't tell. I've forgotten it."
But M. Fortunat no longer felt any anxiety. "Very good," said he.
"You've forgotten it--that's not at all strange. But you would
know the house again, wouldn't you?"
"Undoubtedly I should."
"Will you take me there?"
"Certainly, sir. This is my vehicle."
The hunter of missing heirs at once climbed inside; but it was not
until the carriage had left the courtyard that the landlord
returned to his office. "That man must be a detective," he
remarked to his wife.
"So I fancy."
"It's strange we're not acquainted with him. He must be a new
member of the force."
But M. Fortunat was quite indifferent as to what impression he had
left behind him at the Hotel de Homburg, for he never expected to
set foot there again. The one essential thing was that he had
obtained the information he wished for, and even a description of
the lady, and he felt that he was now really on the track. The
vehicle soon reached the Rue de Berry, and drew up in front of a
charming little private house. "Here we are, monsieur," said the
driver, bowing at the door.
M. Fortunat sprang nimbly on to the pavement, and handed five
francs to the coachman, who went off growling and swearing, for he
thought the reward a contemptibly small one, coming as it did from
a man whose life had been saved, according to his own confession.
However, the person the Jehu anathematized certainly did not hear
him. Standing motionless where he had alighted, M. Fortunat
scrutinized the house in front of him with close attention. "So
she lives here," he muttered. "This is the place; but I can't
present myself without knowing her name. I must make some
There was a wine-shop some fifty paces distant, and thither M.
Fortunat hastened, and ordered a glass of currant syrup. As he
slowly sipped the beverage, he pointed to the house in question,
with an air of well-assumed indifference, and asked: "Whom does
that pretty dwelling belong to?"
"To Madame Lia d'Argeles," answered the landlady.
M. Fortunat started. He well remembered that this was the name
the Marquis de Valorsay had mentioned when speaking of the vile
conspiracy he had planned. It was at this woman's house that the
man whom Mademoiselle Marguerite loved had been disgraced! Still
he managed to master his surprise, and in a light, frank tone he
resumed: "What a pretty name! And what does this lady do?"
"What does she do? Why, she amuses herself."
M. Fortunat seemed astonished. "Dash it!" said he. "She must
amuse herself to good purpose to have a house like that. Is she
"That depends on taste. She's no longer young, at any rate; but
she has superb golden hair. And, oh! how white she is--as white
as snow, monsieur--as white as snow! She has a fine figure as
well, and a most distinguished bearing--pays cash, too, to the
very last farthing."
There could no longer be any doubt. The portrait sketched by the
wine-vendor fully corresponded with the description given by the
hotelkeeper in the Rue de Helder. Accordingly, M. Fortunat
drained his glass, and threw fifty centimes on the counter. Then,
crossing the street, he boldly rang at the door of Madame
d'Argeles's house. If any one had asked him what he proposed
doing and saying if he succeeded in effecting an entrance, he
might have replied with perfect sincerity, "I don't know." The
fact is, he had but one aim, one settled purpose in his mind. He
was obstinately, FURIOUSLY resolved to derive some benefit, small
or great, from this mysterious affair. As for the means of
execution, he relied entirely on his audacity and sang-froid,
convinced that they would not fail him when the decisive moment
came. "First of all, I must see this lady," he said to himself.
"The first words will depend solely upon my first impressions.
After that, I shall be guided by circumstances."
An old serving-man, in a quiet, tasteful livery, opened the door,
whereupon M. Fortunat, in a tone of authority, asked: "Madame Lia
"Madame does not receive on Friday," was the reply.
With a petulant gesture, M. Fortunat rejoined: "All the same I
must speak with her to-day. It is on a matter of the greatest
importance. Give her my card." So saying, he held out a bit of
pasteboard, on which, below his name, were inscribed the words:
"Liquidations. Settlements effected for insolvent parties."
"Ah! that's a different thing," said the servant. "Will monsieur
take the trouble to follow me?"
M. Fortunat did take the trouble; and he was conducted into a
large drawing-room where he was requested to sit down and await
madame's coming. Left to himself, he began an inventory of the
apartment, as a general studies the ground on which he is about to
give battle. No trace remained of the unfortunate scene of the
previous night, save a broken candelabrum on the chimney-piece.
It was the one which Pascal Ferailleur had armed himself with,
when they talked of searching him, and which he had thrown down in
the courtyard, as he left the house. But this detail did not
attract M. Fortunat's attention. The only thing that puzzled him
was the large reflector placed above the chandelier, and it took
him some time to fathom with what object it was placed there.
Without precisely intimidating him, the luxurious appointments of
the house aroused his astonishment. "Everything here is in
princely style," he muttered, "and this shows that all the
lunatics are not at Charenton yet. If Madame d'Argeles lacked
bread in days gone by, she does so no longer--that's evident."
Naturally enough this reflection led him to wonder why such a rich
woman should become the Marquis de Valorsay's accomplice, and lend
a hand in so vile and cowardly a plot, which horrified even him--
Fortunat. "For she must be an accomplice," he thought.
And he marvelled at the freak of fate which had connected the
unfortunate man who had been sacrificed with the unacknowledged
daughter, and the cast-off sister, of the Count de Chalusse. A
vague presentiment, the mysterious voice of instinct, warned him,
moreover, that his profit in the affair would depend upon the
antagonism, or alliance, of Mademoiselle Marguerite and Madame
d'Argeles. But his meditations were suddenly interrupted by the
sound of a discussion in an adjoining room. He stepped eagerly
forward, hoping to hear something, and he did hear a man saying in
a coarse voice: "What! I leave an interesting game, and lose
precious time in coming to offer you my services, and you receive
me like this! Zounds! madame, this will teach me not to meddle
with what doesn't concern me, in future. So, good-bye, my dear
lady. You'll learn some day, to your cost, the real nature of
this villain of a Coralth whom you now defend so warmly."
This name of Coralth was also one of those which were engraven
upon M. Fortunat's memory; and yet he did not notice it at the
moment. His attention was so absorbed by what he had just heard
that he could not fix his mind upon the object of his mission; and
he only abandoned his conjectures on hearing a rustling of skirts
against the panels of the door leading into the hall.
The next moment Madame Lia d'Argeles entered the room. She was
arrayed in a very elegant dressing-gown of gray cashmere, with
blue satin trimmings, her hair was beautifully arranged, and she
had neglected none of the usual artifices of the toilette-table;
still any one would have considered her to be over forty years of
age. Her sad face wore an expression of melancholy resignation;
and there were signs of recent tears in her swollen eyes,
surrounded by bluish circles. She glanced at her visitor, and, in
anything but an encouraging tone exclaimed: "You desired to speak
with me, I believe?"
M. Fortunat bowed, almost disconcerted. He had expected to meet
one of those stupid, ignorant young women, who make themselves
conspicuous at the afternoon promenade in the Bois de Boulogne;
and he found himself in the presence of an evidently cultivated
and imperious woman, who, even in her degradation, retained all
her pride of race, and awed him, despite all his coolness and
assurance. "I do, indeed, madame, wish to confer with you
respecting some important interests," he answered.
She sank on to a chair; and, without asking her visitor to take a
seat: "Explain yourself," she said, briefly.
M. Fortunat's knowledge of the importance of the game in which he
had already risked so much had already restored his presence of
mind. He had only needed a glance to form a true estimate of
Madame d'Argeles's character; and he realized that it would
require a sudden, powerful, and well-directed blow to shatter her
composure. "I have the unpleasant duty of informing you of a
great misfortune, madame," he began. "A person who is very dear
to you, and who is nearly related to you, was a victim of a
frightful accident yesterday evening and died this morning."
This gloomy preamble did not seem to produce the slightest effect
on Madame d'Argeles. "Whom are you speaking of?" she coldly
M. Fortunat assumed his most solemn manner as he replied: "Of your
brother, madame--of the Count de Chalusse."
She sprang up, and a convulsive shudder shook her from head to
foot. "Raymond is dead!" she faltered.
"Alas! yes, madame. Struck with death at the very moment he was
repairing to the appointment you had given him at the Hotel de
This clever falsehood, which was not entirely one, would, so the
agent thought, be of advantage to him, since it would prove he was
acquainted with previous events. But Madame d'Argeles did not
seem to notice, or even to hear the remark. She had fallen back
in her arm-chair, paler than death. "How did he die?" she asked.
"From an attack of apoplexy."
"My God!" exclaimed the wretched woman, who now suspected the
truth; "my God, forgive me. It was my letter that killed him!"
and she wept as if her heart were breaking--this woman who had
suffered and wept so much.
It is needless to say that M. Fortunat was moved with sympathy; he
always evinced a respectful sympathy for the woes of others; but
in the present instance, his emotion was greatly mitigated by the
satisfaction he felt at having succeeded so quickly and so
completely. Madame d'Argeles had confessed everything! This was
indeed a victory, for it must be admitted that he had trembled
lest she should deny all, and bid him leave the house. He still
saw many difficulties between his pocket and the Count de
Chalusse's money; but he did not despair of conquering them after
such a successful beginning. And he was muttering some words of
consolation, when Madame d'Argeles suddenly looked up and said: "I
must see him--I will see him once more! Come, monsieur!" But a
terrible memory rooted her to the spot and with a despairing
gesture, and in a voice quivering with anguish she exclaimed:
"No, no--I cannot even do that."
M. Fortunat was not a little disturbed; and it was with a look of
something very like consternation that he glanced at Madame
d'Argeles, who had reseated herself and was now sobbing violently,
with her face hidden on the arm of her chair. "What prevents
her?" he thought. "Why this sudden terror now that her brother is
dead? Is she unwilling to confess that she is a Chalusse? She must
make up her mind to it, however, if she wishes to receive the
count's property--and she must make up her mind to it, for my
sake, if not for her own."
He remained silent, until it seemed to him that Madame d'Argeles
was calmer, then: "Excuse me, madame," he began, "for breaking in
upon your very natural grief, but duty requires me to remind you
of your interests."
With the passive docility of those who are wretched, she wiped
away her tears, and replied, gently: "I am listening, monsieur."
He had had time to prepare his discourse. "First of all, madame,"
he remarked, "I must tell you that I was the count's confidential
agent. In him I lose a protector. Respect alone prevents me from
saying a friend. He had no secrets from me." M. Fortunat saw so
plainly that Madame d'Argeles did not understand a word of this
sentimental exordium that he thought it necessary to add: "I tell
you this, not so much to gain your consideration and good-will, as
to explain to you how I became acquainted with these matters
relating to your family--how I became aware of your existence, for
instance, which no one else suspected." He paused, hoping for some
reply, a word, a sign, but not receiving this encouragement, he
continued: "I must, first of all, call your attention to the
peculiar situation of M. de Chalusse, and to the circumstances
which immediately preceded and attended his departure from life.
His death was so unexpected that he was unable to make any
disposition of his property by will, or even to indicate his last
wishes. This, madame, is fortunate for you. M. de Chalusse had
certain prejudices against you, as you are aware. Poor count. He
certainly had the best heart in the world, and yet hatred with him
was almost barbaric in its intensity. There can be no doubt
whatever, that he had determined to deprive you of your
inheritance. With this intention he had already begun to convert
his estates into ready money, and had he lived six months longer
you would not have received a penny."
With a gesture of indifference, which was difficult to explain
after the vehemence and the threatening tone of her letter, Madame
"Ah, well! what does it matter?"
"What does it matter?" repeated M. Fortunat. "I see, madame, that
your grief prevents you from realizing the extent of the peril you
have escaped. M. de Chalusse had other, and more powerful reasons
even than his hatred for wishing to deprive you of your share of
his property. He had sworn that he would give a princely fortune
to his beloved daughter."
For the first time, Madame d'Argeles's features assumed an
expression of surprise. "What, my brother had a child?"
"Yes, madame, an illegitimate daughter, Mademoiselle Marguerite, a
lovely and charming girl whom I had the pleasure of restoring to
his care some years ago. She has been living with him for six
months or so; and he was about to marry her, with an enormous
dowry, to a nobleman bearing one of the proudest names in France,
the Marquis de Valorsay."
The name shook Madame d'Argeles as if she had experienced the
shock of an electric battery, and springing to her feet, with
flashing eyes: "You say that my brother's daughter was to marry M.
de Valorsay?" she asked.
"It was decided--the marquis adored her."
"But she--she did not love him--confess that she did not love
M. Fortunat did not know what to reply. The question took him
completely by surprise; and feeling that his answer would have a
very considerable influence upon what might follow, he hesitated.
"Will you answer me?" insisted Madame d'Argeles, imperiously.
"She loved another, did she not?"
"To tell the truth, I believe she did," the agent stammered. "But
I have no proof of it, madame."
"Ah! the wretch!" she exclaimed with a threatening gesture; "the
traitor! the infamous scoundrel! Now I understand it all. And to
think that it occurred in my house. But no; it was best so, I can
still repair everything." And darting to the bell-rope, she pulled
A servant at once appeared. "Job," she said, "hasten after Baron
Trigault--he left the house a moment ago and bring him back. I
must speak with him. If you do not overtake him, go to his club,
to his house, to the houses of his friends, go to every place
where there is any chance of finding him. Make haste, and do not
return without him."
And as the man turned to obey, she added: "My carriage must be in
the courtyard. Take it."
Meanwhile M. Fortunat's expression of countenance had undergone a
marked change. "Well!" thought he, "I have just made a mess of
it! M. Valorsay is unmasked; and now, may I be hung, if he ever
marries Mademoiselle Marguerite. Certainly, I do not owe much to
the scoundrel, for he has defrauded me of forty thousand francs,
but what will he say when he discovers what I've done? He will
never believe me if I tell him that it was an involuntary blunder,
and Heaven only knows what revenge he will plan! A man of his
disposition, knowing that he is ruined, is capable of anything! So
much the worse for me. Before night I shall warn the commissary
of police in my district, and I shall not go out unarmed!"
The servant went off, and Madame d'Argeles then turned to her
visitor again. But she seemed literally transfigured by the storm
of passion which was raging in her heart and mind; her cheeks were
crimson, and an unwonted energy sparkled in her eyes. "Let us
finish this business," she said, curtly; "I am expecting some
M. Fortunat bowed with a rather pompous, but at the same time
obsequious air. "I have only a few more words to say," he
declared. "M. de Chalusse having no other heir, I have come to
acquaint you with your rights."
"Very good; continue, if you please."
"You have only to present yourself, and establish your identity,
to be put in possession of your brother's property."
Madame d'Argeles gave the agent a look of mingled irony and
distrust; and after a moment's reflection, she replied: "I am very
grateful for your interest, monsieur; but if I have any rights, it
is not my intention to urge them."
It seemed to M. Fortunat as if he were suddenly falling from some
immense height. "You are not in earnest," he exclaimed, "or you
are ignorant of the fact that M. de Chalusse leaves perhaps twenty
millions behind him."
"My course is decided on, monsieur; irrevocably decided on."
"Very well, madame; but it often happens that the court institutes
inquiries for the heirs of large fortunes, and this may happen in
"I should reply that I was not a member of the Chalusse family,
and that would end it. Startled by the news of my brother's
death, I allowed my secret to escape me. I shall know how to keep
it in future."
Anger succeeded astonishment in M. Fortunat's mind. "Madame,
madame, what can you be thinking of?" he cried, impetuously.
"Accept--in Heaven's name--accept this inheritance; if not for
yourself, for the sake of----"
In his excitement, he was about to commit a terrible blunder. He
saw it in time, and checked himself.
"For the sake of whom?" asked Madame d'Argeles, in an altered
"For the sake of Mademoiselle Marguerite, madame; for the sake of
this poor child, who is your niece. The count never having
acknowledged her as his daughter, she will be left actually
without bread, while her father's millions go to enrich the
"That will suffice, monsieur; I will think of it. And now,
The dismissal was so imperious that M. Fortunat bowed and went
off, completely bewildered by this denouement. "She's crazy!" he
said to himself. "Crazy in the fullest sense of the word. She
refuses the count's millions from a silly fear of telling people
that she belongs to the Chalusse family. She threatened her
brother, but she would never have carried her threats into
execution. And she prefers her present position to such a
fortune. What lunacy!" But, although he was disappointed and
angry, he did not by any means despair. "Fortunately for me," he
thought, "this proud and haughty lady has a son somewhere in the
world. And she'll do for him what she would not consent to do for
herself. Through her, with a little patience and Victor Chupin's
aid, I shall succeed in discovering this boy. He must be an
intelligent youth--and we'll see if he surrenders his millions as
easily as his mamma does."
It is a terrible task to break suddenly with one's past, without
even having had time for preparation; to renounce the life one has
so far lived, to return to the starting point, and begin existence
anew; to abandon everything--the position one has gained, the work
one has become familiar with, every fondly cherished hope, and
friend, and habit; to forsake the known to plunge into the
unknown, to leave the certain for the uncertain, and desert light
for darkness; to cast one's identity aside, assume a strange
individuality, become a living lie, change name, position, face,
and clothes--in one phrase, to cease to be one's self, in order to
become some one else.
This is indeed, a terrible ordeal, and requires an amount of
resolution and energy which few human beings possess. The boldest
hesitate before such a sacrifice, and many a man has surrendered
himself to justice rather than resort to this last extremity. And
yet this was what Pascal Ferailleur had the courage to do, on the
morrow of the shameful conspiracy that had deprived him of his
good name. When his mother's exhortations and Baron Trigault's
encouraging words had restored his wonted clearness of perception,
the only course he felt disposed to pursue was to disappear and
fly from the storm of slander and contempt; and then, in a secure
hiding-place, to watch for the time and opportunity of
rehabilitation and revenge.
Madame Ferailleur and her son made all needful arrangements. "I
shall start out at once," said Pascal, "and before two hours have
elapsed I shall have found a modest lodging, where we must conceal
ourselves for the present. I know a locality that will suit us,
and where no one will certainly ever think of looking for us."
"And I," asked Madame Ferailleur, "what shall I do in the
"You, mother; you must, at once, sell all that we possess here--
everything--even my books. You will only keep such of our linen
and clothes as you can pack in three or four trunks. We are
undoubtedly watched; and so it is of the utmost importance that
every one should imagine I have left Paris, and that you are going
to join me."
"And when everything is sold, and my trunks are ready?"
"Then, mother, you must send some one for a cab, and order the
driver to take you to the Western Railway Station, where you will
have the trunks removed from the cab and placed in the baggage-
room, as if you did not intend to leave Paris till the next day."
"Very good, I will do so; even if any one is watching us, he won't
be likely to suspect this ruse. But afterward?"
"Afterward, mother, you must go to the waiting-room upstairs, and
you will find me there. I will then take you to the rooms I shall
have rented, and to-morrow we'll send a messenger with the receipt
the railway people will give you, to fetch our luggage for us."
Madame Ferailleur approved of this plan, deeming herself fortunate
in this great calamity that despair had not destroyed her son's
energy and resources of mind. "Shall we retain our name, Pascal?"
"Oh, no. That would be an unpardonable imprudence."
"What name shall we take, then? I must know, for they may ask me
at the station."
He reflected for a moment and then said: "We'll take your maiden
name, mother. It will bring us good luck. Our new lodgings shall
be hired in the name of the Widow Maumejan."
They talked for some time longer, anxious to take every precaution
that prudence could suggest. And when they were convinced that
they had forgotten nothing, Madame Ferailleur suggested that
Pascal should start off. But before doing so he had a sacred duty
to perform. "I must warn Marguerite," he muttered. And seating
himself at his desk, he wrote his beloved a concise and exact
account of the events which had taken place. He told her of the
course he intended to pursue; and promised her that she should
know his new abode as soon as he knew it himself. In conclusion,
he entreated her to grant him an interview, in which he could give
her the full particulars of the affair and acquaint her with his
hopes. As for exculpating himself, even by so much as a single
word--as for explaining the snare he had been the victim of, the
idea never once occurred to him. He was worthy of Mademoiselle
Marguerite; he knew that not a doubt would disturb the perfect
faith she had in his honor.
Leaning over her son's shoulder, Madame Ferailleur read what he
had written. "Do you intend to trust this letter to the post?"
she inquired. "Are you sure, perfectly sure, that it will reach
Mademoiselle Marguerite, and not some one else who might use it
Pascal shook his head. "I know how to insure its safe receipt,"
he replied. "Some time ago, Marguerite told me that if ever any
great peril threatened us, I might call for the housekeeper at the
Chalusse mansion and intrust my message to her. The danger is
sufficiently great to justify such a course in the present
instance. So I shall pass down the Rue de Courcelles, ask to see
Madame Leon, and give her this letter. Have no fear, my dear
As he spoke, he began to pack all the legal documents which had
been confided to him into a large box, which was to be carried to
one of his former friends, who would distribute the papers among
the people they belonged to. He next made a small bundle of the
few important private papers and valuables he possessed; and then,
ready for the sacrifice, he took a last survey of the pleasant
home where success had smiled so favorably upon his efforts, where
he had been so happy, and where he had cherished such bright
dreams of the future. Overcome by a flood of recollections, the
tears sprang to his eyes. He embraced his mother, and fled
precipitately from the house.
"Poor child!" murmured Madame Ferailleur; "poor Pascal!"
Was she not also to be pitied? This was the second time within
twenty years that a thunderbolt had fallen on her in the full
sunlight of happiness. And yet now, as on the day following her
husband's death, she found in her heart the robust energy and
heroic maternal constancy which enable one to rise above every
misfortune. It was in a firm voice that she ordered her servant
to go in search of the nearest furniture dealer, no matter which,
provided he would pay cash. And when the man arrived she showed
him through the rooms with stoical calmness. God alone knew how
intensely she was suffering. And yet while she was waiting for
the dealer, each piece of furniture had acquired an extraordinary
value in her eyes. It seemed to her as if each object were a part
of herself, and when the man turned and twisted a chair or a table
she almost considered it a personal affront.
The rich, who are accustomed from birth to the luxury that
surrounds them, are ignorant of the terrible sufferings which
attend such cases as these. The persons who do suffer are those
of the middle classes, not the parvenus, but those who bid fair to
become parvenus when misfortune overtook them. Their hearts bleed
when inexorable necessity deprives them of all the little comforts
with which they had gradually surrounded themselves, for there is
not an object that does not recall a long ungratified desire, and
the almost infantile joy of possession. What happiness they felt
on the day when they purchased that large arm-chair! How many
times they had gone to admire those velvet curtains in the shop
windows before buying them! Those carpets represented months of
self-denial. And that pretty clock--ah! they had fancied it would
only herald the flight of prosperous and pleasant hours. And all
these things the dealer handles, and shakes, and jeers at, and
depreciates. He will scarcely condescend to purchase. Who would
care to buy such trash? He knows that the owner is in need of
money, and he profits by this knowledge. It is his business.
"How much did this cost you?" he asks, as he inspects one piece of
furniture after another.
"Well, you must have been terribly cheated."
You know very well that if there is a cheat in the world, it is
this same man; but what can you say? Any other dealer you might
send for would act in the same way. Now, Madame Ferailleur's
furniture had cost some ten thousand francs; and, although it was
no longer new, it was worth at least a third of that sum. But she
obtained only seven hundred and sixty francs for it. It is true,
however, that she was in haste, and that she was paid cash.
Nine o'clock was striking when her trunks were at last piled on a
cab, and she called out to the driver: "Take me to the Place du
Havre--to the railway station." Once before, when defrauded by a
scoundrel, she had been obliged to part with all her household
treasures. Once before she had left her home, taking merely the
wreck of her fortune with her. But what a difference between then
Then, the esteem and sympathy of all who knew her was hers, and
the admiring praise she received divested the sacrifice of much of
its bitterness, and increased her courage two-fold. Now, she was
flying secretly, and alone, under an assumed name, trembling at
the thought of pursuit or recognition--flying as a criminal flies
at thought of his crime, and fear of punishment. She had far less
suffered on the day, when, with her son upon her knees, she
journeyed to the cemetery, following all that was mortal of the
man who had been her only thought, her love, her pride, her
happiness, and hope. Though crushed by the sense of her
irreparable loss, she had not rebelled against the hand that
struck her; but now it was human wickedness that assailed her
through her son, and her suffering was like that of the innocent
man who perishes for want of power to prove his innocence. Her
husband's death had not caused her such bitter tears as her son's
dishonor. She who was so proud, and who had such good reason to
be proud, she could note the glances of scorn she was favored with
as she left her home. She heard the insulting remarks made by
some of her neighbors, who, like so many folks, found their chief
delight in other people's misfortunes.
"Crocodile tears," some had exclaimed. "She is going to meet her
son; and with what he has stolen they will live like princes in
America." Rumor, which enlarges and misrepresents everything, had,
indeed, absurdly exaggerated the affair at Madame d'Argeles's
house. It was reported in the Rue d'Ulm that Pascal had spent
every night at the gaming table for more than five years; and
that, being an incomparable trickster, he had stolen millions.
Meanwhile, Madame Ferailleur was approaching the station. The cab
horse soon slackened its pace to climb the acclivity of the Rue
d'Amsterdam; and shortly afterward the vehicle drew up in the
courtyard of the railway station. Faithfully observing the
directions which had been given her, the worthy woman had her
trunks taken to the baggage-room, declaring that she should not
leave Paris until the next day, whereupon she received a receipt
from the man in charge of the room. She was oppressed by vague
apprehensions, and looked closely at every one who passed her;
fearing the presence of spies, and knowing full well that the most
profound secrecy could alone insure the success of Pascal's plans.
However, she did not see a single suspicious looking person. Some
Englishmen--those strange travellers, who are at the same time so
foolishly prodigal and so ridiculously miserly--were making a
great hue and cry over the four sous gratuity claimed by a poor
commissionaire; but these were the only persons in sight.
Partially reassured, Madame Ferailleur hastily ascended the
staircase, and entered the large waiting-room. It was here that
Pascal had promised to meet her; but, though she looked round on
all sides, she did not perceive him. Still, this delay did not
alarm her much; nor was it at all strange, since Pascal had
scarcely known what he would have to do when he left the house.
She seated herself on a bench, as far back in the shade as
possible and gazed sadly at the ever-changing throng, when all of
a sudden she was startled by a man, who abruptly paused in front
of her. This man proved to be Pascal. But his hair had been
closely cut, and he had shaved off his beard. And thus shorn,
with his smooth face, and with a brown silk neckerchief in lieu of
the white muslin tie he usually wore, he was so greatly changed
that for an instant his own mother did not recognize him. "Well?"
asked Madame Ferailleur, as she realized his identity.
"I have succeeded. We have secured such rooms as I wished for."
"Ah!--a long way off, my poor mother--many a league from those we
have known and loved--in a thinly populated part of the suburbs,
on the Route de la Revolte, just outside the fortifications, and
almost at the point where it intersects the Asnieres road. You
will not be very comfortable there, but you will have the pleasure
of a little garden."
She rose, summoning all her energy. "What does it matter where or
what our abode is?" she interrupted, with forced gayety. "I am
confident that we shall not remain there long."
But it seemed as if her son did not share her hopes, for he
remained silent and dejected; and as his mother observed him
closely, she fancied by the expression of his eyes, that some new
anxiety had been added to all his other troubles.
"What is the matter?" she inquired, unable to master her alarm--
"what has happened?"
"Ah! a great misfortune!"
"My God! still another?"
"I have been to the Rue de Courcelles; and I have spoken to Madame
"What did she say?"
"The Count de Chalusse died this morning."
Madame Ferailleur drew a long breath, as if greatly relieved. She
was certainly expecting to hear something very different, and she
did not understand why this death should be a great misfortune to
them personally. One point, however, she did realize, that it was
imprudent, and even dangerous, to carry on this conversation in a
hall where a hundred persons were passing and repassing every
minute. So she took her son's arm, and led him away, saying:
"Come, let us go."
Pascal had kept the cab which he had been using during the
afternoon; and having installed his mother inside, he got in
himself, and gave his new address to the driver. "Now tell me
all," said Madame Ferailleur.
Poor Pascal was in that state of mind in which it costs one actual
suffering to talk; but he wished to mitigate his mother's anxiety
as much as possible; and moreover, he did not like her to suppose
him wanting in endurance. So, with a powerful effort, he shook
off the lethargy that was creeping over him, and in a voice loud
enough to be heard above the noise of the carriage wheels, he
began: "This is what I have done, mother, since I left you. I
remembered that some time ago, while I was appraising some
property, I had seen three or four houses on the Route de la
Revolte, admirably suited to our present wants. Naturally I went
there first. A suite of rooms was vacant in one of these houses.
I have taken it; and in order that nothing may interfere with the
liberty of my movements, I have paid six months' rent in advance.
Here is the receipt, drawn up in the name we shall henceforth
bear." So saying, he showed his mother a document in which the
landlord declared that he had received from M. Maumejan the sum of
three hundred and fifty francs for two quarters' rent, etc. "My
bargain concluded," he resumed, "I returned into Paris, and
entered the first furniture shop I saw. I meant to hire the
necessary things to furnish our little home, but the dealer made
all sorts of objections. He trembled for his furniture, he wanted
a sum of money to be deposited as security, or the guarantee of
three responsible business men. Seeing this, and knowing that I
had no time to lose, I preferred to purchase such articles as were
absolutely necessary. One of the conditions of the purchase was
that everything should be in the house and in its place by eleven
o'clock to-night. As I stipulated in writing that the dealer
should forfeit three hundred francs in case he failed to fulfil
his agreement, I can rely upon his punctuality; I confided the key
of our lodgings to him, and he must now be there waiting for us."
So, before thinking of his love, and Mademoiselle Marguerite,
Pascal had taken the necessary measures for the execution of his
plan to regain his lost honor. Madame Ferailleur had scarcely
supposed him capable of so much courage and firmness, and she
rewarded him with a warm pressure of the hand. Then, as he was
silent: "When did you see Madame Leon, then?" she asked.
"When all the household arrangements were completed, mother. On
leaving the furniture-shop, I found that I had still an hour and a
quarter before me. I could defer no longer, and at the risk of
obliging you to wait for me, I hastened to the Rue de Courcelles."
It was evident that Pascal felt extreme embarrassment in speaking
of Mademoiselle Marguerite. There is an instinctive delicacy and
dislike of publicity in all deep passion, and true and chaste love
is ever averse to laying aside the veil with which it conceals
itself from the inquisitive. Madame Ferailleur understood this
feeling; but she was a mother, and as such, jealous of her son's
tenderness, and anxious for particulars concerning this rival who
had suddenly usurped her place in the heart where she had long
reigned supreme. She was also a woman--that is to say, distrustful
and suspicious in reference to all other women. So, without
taking pity on Pascal's embarrassment, she urged him to continue.
"I gave the driver five francs on condition that he would hurry
his horses," he resumed, "and we were rattling along at a rapid
rate, when, suddenly, near the Hotel de Chalusse, I noticed a
change in the motion of the vehicle. I looked out and saw that we
were driving over a thick layer of straw which had been spread
across the street. I can scarcely describe my feelings on seeing
this. A cold perspiration came over me--I fancied I saw
Marguerite in agony, dying--far from me, and calling me in vain.
Without waiting for the vehicle to stop, I sprang to the ground,
and was obliged to exercise all my self-control to prevent myself
from rushing into the concierge's lodge, and wildly asking: 'Who
is dying here?' But an unforeseen difficulty presented itself. It
was evident that I ought not to go in person to inquire for Madame
Leon. Whom could I send? There were no commissionaires at the
street corners, and nothing would have induced me to confide the
message to any of the lads in the neighboring wine-shops.
Fortunately, my driver--the same who is driving us now--is an
obliging fellow, and I intrusted him with the commission, while I
stood guard over his horses. Ten minutes later, Madame Leon left
the house and came to meet me. I knew her at once, for I had seen
her a hundred times with Marguerite when they lived near the
Luxembourg; and having seen me pass and repass so often, she
recognized me in spite of my changed appearance. Her first words,
'M. de Chalusse is dead,' relieved my heart of a terrible weight.
I could breathe again. But she was in such haste that she could
not stop to tell me any particulars. Still I gave her my letter,
and she promised me a prompt reply from Marguerite. Everybody
will be up and moving about the house to-night, and she said she
could easily make her escape for a few moments. So, at half-past
twelve to-night she will be at the little garden gate, and if I am
promptly at hand, I shall have a reply from Marguerite."
Madame Ferailleur seemed to be expecting something more, and as
Pascal remained silent, she remarked: "You spoke of a great
misfortune. In what does it consist? I do not perceive it."
With an almost threatening gesture, and in a gloomy voice, he
answered: "The misfortune is this: if it had not been for this
abominable conspiracy, which has dishonored me, Marguerite would
have been my wife before a month had elapsed, for now she is free,
absolutely free to obey the dictates of her own will and heart."
"Then why do you complain?"
"Oh, mother! don't you understand? How can I marry her? Would it
be right for me to think of offering her a dishonored name? It
seems to me that I should be guilty of a most contemptible act--of
something even worse than a crime--if I dared speak to her of my
love and our future before I have crushed the villains who have
Regret, anger, and the consciousness of his present powerlessness
drew from him tears which fell upon Madame Ferailleur's heart like
molten lead; but she succeeded in concealing her agony. "All the
more reason," she answered, almost coldly, "why you should not
lose a second, but devote all your energy and intelligence to the
work of justification."
"Oh, I shall have my revenge, never fear. But in the meantime,
what is to become of HER? Think, mother, she is alone in the
world, without a single friend. It is enough to drive one mad!"
"She loves you, you tell me. What have you to fear? Now she will
be freed from the persecutions of the suitor they intended to
force upon her, whom she has spoken to you about--the Marquis de
Valorsay, is it not?"
This name sent Pascal's blood to his brain. "Ah, the scoundrel!"
he exclaimed. "If there was a God in heaven----"
"Wretched boy!" interrupted Madame Ferailleur; "you blaspheme when
Providence has already interposed on your behalf. And who suffers
most at this moment, do you think?--you, strong in your innocence,
or the marquis, who realizes that he has committed an infamous
crime in vain?"
The sudden stopping of the cab put an end to their conversation.
Leaving the Route d'Asnieres, the driver had turned into the Route
de la Revolte, and had drawn up in front of an unpretentious two-
storied house which stood entirely alone. "We have arrived,
mother," said Pascal.
A man, who was standing on the threshold, stepped forward to open
the cab door. It was the furniture-dealer. "Here you are at
last, M. Maumejan," said he. "Come in, and you'll see that I've
strictly fulfilled the conditions of our contract." His words
proved true. He was paid the sum stipulated, and went away
"Now, my dear mother," said Pascal, "allow me to do the honors of
the poor abode I have selected."
He had taken only the ground floor of this humble dwelling. The
story above, which had an independent entrance and staircase, was
occupied by the quiet family of the owner. Although the space was
small, the architect had made the most of it. He had divided it
into four small rooms, separated by a corridor; and the kitchen
looked out upon a little garden about four times as large as an
ordinary sheet. The furniture which Pascal had purchased was more
than plain; but it was well suited to this humble abode. It had
just been brought in, but any one would have supposed it had been
in its place for a couple of years.
"We shall be very comfortable here," declared Madame Ferailleur.
"Yes, very comfortable. By to-morrow evening you won't recognize
the place. I have saved a few trifles from the wreck--some
curtains, a couple of lamps, a clock--you'll see. It's wonderful
how much four trunks can be made to hold."
When his mother set him such a noble example Pascal would have
blushed to allow himself to be outdone. He very quietly explained
the reasons which had influenced him in choosing these rooms, the
principal one being that there was no concierge, and he was
therefore assured absolute liberty in his movements, as well as
entire immunity from indiscreet gossip. "Certainly, my dear
mother," he added, "it is a lonely and unattractive neighborhood;
but you will find all the necessaries of life near at hand. The
owner of the house lives on the floor above. I have talked with
the wife--they seem to be honest, quiet people--and she will pilot
you about. I inquired for some one to do the heavy work, and she
mentioned a poor woman named Vantrasson, who lives in the
neighborhood, and who is anxious to obtain employment. They were
to inform her this evening, and you will see her to-morrow. And
above all, don't forget that you are henceforth Madame Maumejan."
Occupied with these arrangements for the future, he was still
talking, when Madame Ferailleur, drawing out her watch, gently
remarked: "And your appointment? You forget that the cab is
waiting at the door."
It was true; he had forgotten it. He caught up his hat, hastily
embraced his mother, and sprang into the vehicle. The horses were
almost exhausted, but the driver was so willing that he found a
means of making them trot as far as the Rue de Courcelles.
However, on arriving there, he declared that his animals and
himself could endure no more, and after receiving the amount due
to him, he departed.
The air was chilly, the night dark, and the street deserted. The
gloomy silence was only disturbed at long intervals by the opening
or shutting of a door, or by the distant tread of some belated
pedestrian. Having at least twenty minutes to wait, Pascal sat
down on the curbstone opposite the Hotel de Chalusse, and fixed
his eyes upon the building as if he were striving to penetrate the
massive walls, and see what was passing within. Only one window--
that of the room where the dead man was lying--was lighted up, and
he could vaguely distinguish the motionless form of a woman
standing with her forehead pressed against the pane of glass. A
prey to the indescribable agony which seizes a man when he feels
that his life is at stake--that his future is about to be
irrevocably decided--Pascal counted the seconds as they passed by.
He found it impossible to reflect, to deliberate, to decide on any
plan of action. He forgot the tortures he had endured during the
last twenty-four hours; Coralth, Valorsay, Madame d'Argeles, the
baron, no longer existed for him. He forgot his loss of honor and
position, and the disgrace attached to his name. The past was
annihilated, as it were, and he could think of no future beyond
the next few moments. His physical condition undoubtedly
contributed to his mental weakness. He had taken no food that
day, and he was faint from want of nourishment. He had come
without an overcoat, moreover, and the cold night air chilled him
to the bone. There was a strange ringing in his ears, and a mist
swam before his eyes. At last the bell at the Beaujon Hospital
tolled the appointed hour, and roused him from his lethargy. He
seemed to hear a voice crying to him in the darkness, "Up! the
hour has come!"
Trembling, and with tottering limbs, he dragged himself to the
little gate opening into the gardens of the Chalusse mansion.
Soon it softly opened, and Madame Leon appeared. Ah! it was not
she that Pascal had hoped to see. Unfortunate man! He had been
listening to that mysterious echo of our own desires which we so
often mistake for a presentiment; and it had whispered in his
heart: "Marguerite herself will come!"
With the candor of wretchedness, he could not refrain from telling
Madame Leon the hope he had entertained. But, on hearing him, the
housekeeper recoiled with a gesture of outraged propriety, and
reproachfully exclaimed: "What are you thinking of, monsieur?
What! could you suppose that Mademoiselle Marguerite would abandon
her place by her dead father's bedside to come to a rendezvous?
Ah! you should think better of her than that, the dear child!"
He sighed deeply, and in a scarcely audible voice, he asked:
Hasn't she even sent me a reply?"
"Yes, monsieur, she has; and although it is a great indiscretion
on my part, I bring you the letter. Here it is. Now, good-
evening. I must go at once. What would become of me if the
servants discovered my absence, and found that I had gone out
She was hurrying away, but Pascal detained her. "Pray wait until
I see what she has written," he said, imploringly. "I shall
perhaps be obliged to send her some message in reply."
Madame Leon obeyed, though with rather bad grace, and not without
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