The Count's Millions by Emile Gaboriau
Part 6 out of 7
several times repeating: "Make haste!"--while Pascal ran to a
street lamp near by. It was not a letter that Marguerite had sent
him, but a short note, written on a scrap of crumpled paper,
folded, and not sealed. It was written in pencil; and the
handwriting was irregular and indistinct. Still, by the
flickering light of the gas, Pascal deciphered the word
"Monsieur." It made him shudder. "Monsieur!" What did this mean?
In writing to him of recent times, Marguerite had always said, "My
dear Pascal," or, "My friend."
Nevertheless, he continued: "I have not had the courage to resist
the entreaties made to me by the Count de Chalusse, my father, in
his last agony. I have solemnly pledged myself to become the wife
of the Marquis de Valorsay.
"One cannot break a promise made to the dying. I shall keep mine,
even though my heart break. I shall do my duty. God will give me
strength and courage. Forget her whom you loved. She is now the
betrothed of another, and honor commands her to forget your very
name. Once more, and for the last time, farewell! If you love me,
you will not try to see me again. It would only add to my misery.
"Think as though she were dead--she who signs herself--MARGUERITE.
The commonplace wording of this letter, and the mistakes in
spelling that marred it, entirely escaped Pascal's notice. He
only understood one thing, that Marguerite was lost to him, and
that she was on the point of becoming the wife of the vile
scoundrel who had planned the snare which had ruined him at the
Hotel d'Argeles. Breathless, despairing, and half crazed with
rage, he sprang toward Madame Leon. "Marguerite, where is she?"
he demanded, in a hoarse, unnatural voice; "I must see her!"
"Oh! monsieur, what do you ask? Is it possible? Allow me to
explain to you----" But the housekeeper was unable to finish her
sentence, for Pascal had caught her by the hands, and holding them
in a vicelike grip, he repeated: "I must see Marguerite, and speak
to her. I must tell her that she has been deceived; I will unmask
the scoundrel who----"
The frightened housekeeper struggled with all her might, trying
her best to reach the little gate which was standing open. "You
hurt me!" she cried. "Are you mad? Let me go or I shall call for
help?" And twice indeed she shouted in a loud voice, "Help!
But her cries were lost in the stillness of the night. If any one
heard them, no one came; still they recalled Pascal to a sense of
the situation, and he was ashamed of his violence. He released
Madame Leon, and his manner suddenly became as humble as it had
been threatening. "Excuse me," he said, entreatingly. "I am
suffering so much that I don't know what I'm doing. I beseech you
to take me to Mademoiselle Marguerite, or else run and beg her to
come here. I ask but a moment."
Madame Leon pretended to be listening attentively; but, in
reality, she was quietly manoeuvring to gain the garden gate.
Soon she succeeded in doing so, whereupon, with marvellous
strength and agility, she pushed Pascal away, and sprang inside
the garden, closing the gate after her, and saying as she did so,
"Begone, you scoundrel!"
This was the final blow; and for more than a minute Pascal stood
motionless in front of the gate, stupefied with mingled rage and
sorrow. His condition was not unlike that of a man who, after
falling to the bottom of a precipice, is dragging himself up, all
mangled and bleeding, swearing that he will yet save himself, when
suddenly a heavy stone which he had loosened in his descent, falls
forward and crushes him. All that he had so far endured was
nothing in comparison with the thought that Valorsay would wed
Marguerite. Was such a thing possible? Would God permit such a
monstrous iniquity?" No, that shall never be," he muttered. "I
will murder the scoundrel rather; and afterward justice may do
whatever it likes with me."
He experienced that implacable, merciless thirsting for vengeance
which does not even recoil before the commission of a crime to
secure satisfaction, and this longing inflamed him with such
energy that, although he had been so utterly exhausted a few
moments before--he was not half an hour in making his way back to
his new home. His mother, who was waiting for him with an anxious
heart, was surprised by the flush on his cheeks, and the light
glittering in his eyes. "Ah, you bring good news," she exclaimed.
His only answer was to hand her the letter which Madame Leon had
given him, saying as he did so, "Read."
Madame Ferailleur's eyes fell upon the words: "Once more, and for
the last time, farewell!" She understood everything, turned very
pale, and in a trembling voice exclaimed: "Don't grieve, my son;
the girl did not love you."
"Oh, mother! if you knew----"
But she checked him with a gesture, and lifting her head proudly,
she said: "I know what it is to love, Pascal--it is to have
perfect faith. If the whole world had accused your father of a
crime, would a single doubt of his innocence have ever entered my
mind? This girl has doubted you. They have told her that you
cheated at cards--and she has believed it. You have failed to see
that this oath at the bedside of the dying count is only an
It was true; the thought had not occurred to Pascal. "My God!" he
cried in agony; "are you the only one who believes in my
"Without proofs--yes. It must be your task to obtain these
"And I shall obtain them," he rejoined, in a tone of
determination. "I am strong now that I have Marguerite's life to
defend--for they have deceived her, mother, or she would never
have given me up. Oh! don't shake your head. I love her, and so
I trust her."
M. Isidore Fortunat was not the man to go to sleep over a plan
when it was once formed. Whenever he said to himself, "I'll do
this, or that," he did it as soon as possible--that very evening,
rather than the next day. Having sworn that he would find out
Madame d'Argeles's son, the heir to the Count de Chalusse's
millions, it did not take him long to decide which of his agents
he would select to assist him in this difficult task. Thus his
first care, on returning home, was to ask his bookkeeper for
Victor Chupin's address.
"He lives in the Faubourg Saint-Denis," replied the bookkeeper,
"Very well," muttered M. Fortunat; "I'll go there as soon as I
have eaten my dinner." And, indeed, as soon as he had swallowed
his coffee, he requested Madame Dodelin to bring him his overcoat,
and half an hour later he reached the door of the house where his
The house was one of those huge, ungainly structures, large enough
to shelter the population of a small village, with three or four
courtyards, as many staircases as there are letters in the
alphabet, and a concierge who seldom remembers the names of the
tenants except on quarter-days when he goes to collect the rent,
and at New Year, when he expects a gratuity. But, by one of those
lucky chances made expressly for M. Fortunat, the porter did
recollect Chupin, knew him and was kindly disposed toward him, and
so he told the visitor exactly how and where to find him. It was
very simple. He had only to cross the first courtyard, take
staircase D, on the left-hand side, ascend to the sixth floor, go
straight ahead, etc., etc.
Thanks to this unusual civility, M. Fortunat did not lose his way
more than five times before reaching the door upon which was
fastened a bit of pasteboard bearing Victor Chupin's name.
Noticing that a bell-rope hung beside the door, M. Fortunat pulled
it, whereupon there was a tinkling, and a voice called out, "Come
in!" He complied, and found himself in a small and cheaply
furnished room, which was, however, radiant with the cleanliness
which is in itself a luxury. The waxed floor shone like a mirror;
the furniture was brilliantly polished, and the counterpane and
curtains of the bed were as white as snow. What first attracted
the agent's attention was the number of superfluous articles
scattered about the apartment--some plaster statuettes on either
side of a gilt clock, an etagere crowded with knickknacks, and
five or six passable engravings. When he entered, Victor Chupin
was sitting, in his shirt-sleeves, at a little table, where, by
the light of a small lamp, and with a zeal that brought a flush to
his cheeks, he was copying, in a very fair hand a page from a
French dictionary. Near the bed, in the shade, sat a poorly but
neatly clad woman about forty years of age, who was knitting
industriously with some long wooden needles.
"M. Victor Chupin?" inquired M. Fortunat.
The sound of his voice made the young man spring to his feet. He
quickly lifted the shade from his lamp, and, without attempting to
conceal his astonishment, exclaimed: "M'sieur Fortunat!--at this
hour! Where's the fire?" Then, in a grave manner that contrasted
strangely with his accustomed levity: "Mother," said he, "this is
one of my patrons, M'sieur Fortunat--you know--the gentleman whom
I collect for."
The knitter rose, bowed respectfully, and said: "I hope, sir, that
you are pleased with my son, and that he's honest."
"Certainly, madame," replied the agent; "certainly. Victor is one
of my best and most reliable clerks."
"Then I'm content," said the woman, reseating herself.
Chupin also seemed delighted "This is my good mother, sir," said
he. "She's almost blind now; but, in less than six months she
will be able to stand at her window and see a pin in the middle of
the street, so the physician who is treating her eyes promised me;
then we shall be all right again. But take a seat, sir. May we
venture to offer you anything?"
Although his clerk had more than once alluded to his
responsibilities, M. Fortunat was amazed. He marvelled at the
perfume of honesty which exhaled from these poor people, at the
dignity of this humble woman, and at the protecting and respectful
affection evinced by her son--a young man, whose usual tone of
voice and general behavior had seemed to indicate that he was
decidedly a scapegrace. "Thanks, Victor," he replied, "I won't
take any refreshment. I've just left the dinner-table. I've come
to give you my instructions respecting a very important and very
Chupin at once understood that his employer wished for a private
interview. Accordingly, he took up the lamp, opened a door, and,
in the pompous tone of a rich banker who is inviting some
important personage to enter his private room, he said: "Will you
be kind enough to step into my chamber, m'sieur?"
The room which Chupin so emphatically denominated his "chamber"
was a tiny nook, extraordinarily clean, it is true, but scantily
furnished with a small iron bedstead, a trunk, and a chair. He
offered the chair to his visitor, placed the lamp on the trunk,
and seated himself on the bed, saying as he did so: "This is
scarcely on so grand a scale as your establishment, m'sieur; but I
am going to ask the landlord to gild the window of my snuff-box."
M. Fortunat was positively touched. He held out his hand to his
clerk and exclaimed: "You're a worthy fellow, Chupin."
"Nonsense, m'sieur, one does what one can; but, zounds! how hard
it is to make money honestly! If my good mother could only see,
she would help me famously, for there is no one like her for work!
But you see one can't become a millionaire by knitting!"
"Doesn't your father live with you?"
Chupin's eyes gleamed angrily. "Ah! don't speak of that man to
me, m'sieur!" he exclaimed, "or I shall hurt somebody." And then,
as if he felt it necessary to explain and excuse his vindictive
exclamation, he added: "My father, Polyte Chupin, is a good-for-
nothing scamp. And yet he's had his opportunities. First, he was
fortunate enough to find a wife like my mother, who is honesty
itself--so much so that she was called Toinon the Virtuous when
she was young. She idolized him, and nearly killed herself by
working to earn money for him. And yet he abused her so much, and
made her weep so much, that she has become blind. But that's not
all. One morning there came to him--I don't know whence or how--
enough money for him to have lived like a gentleman. I believe it
was a munificent reward for some service he had rendered a great
nobleman at the time when my grandmother, who is now dead, kept a
dramshop called the Poivriere. Any other man would have treasured
that money, but not he. What he did was to carouse day and night,
and all the while my poor mother was working her fingers to the
bone to earn food for me. She never saw a penny of all his money;
and, indeed, once when she asked him to pay the rent, he beat her
so cruelly that she was laid up in bed for a week. However,
monsieur, you can very readily understand that when a man leads
that kind of life, he speedily comes to the end of his banking
account. So my father was soon without a penny in his purse, and
then he was obliged to work in order to get something to eat, and
this didn't suit him at all. But when he didn't know where to
find a crust he remembered us; he sought us out, and found us.
Once I lent him a hundred sous; the next day he came for forty
more, and the next for three francs; then for five francs again.
And so it was every day: 'Give me this, or give me that!' At last
I said, 'Enough of this, the bank's closed!' Then, what do you
think he did? He watched the house until he saw me go out; then he
came in with a second-hand furniture-dealer, and tried to sell
everything, pretending that he was the master. And my poor, dear
mother would have allowed him to do it. Fortunately, I happened
to come in again. Let him sell my furniture? Not I. I would
sooner have been chopped in pieces! I went and complained to the
commissary of police, who made my father leave the house, and
since then we've lived in peace."
Certainly this was more than sufficient to explain and excuse
Victor Chupin's indignation. And yet he had prudently withheld
the most serious and important cause of his dislike. What he
refrained from telling was that years before, when he was still a
mere child, without will or discernment, his father had taken him
from his mother, and had started him down that terrible descent,
which inevitably leads one to prison or the gallows, unless there
be an almost miraculous interposition on one's behalf. This
miracle had occurred in Chupin's case; but he did not boast of it.
"Come, come!" said M. Fortunat, "don't worry too much about it. A
father's a father after all, and yours will undoubtedly reform by
He said this as he would have said anything else, out of
politeness and for the sake of testifying a friendly interest; but
he really cared no more for this information concerning the Chupin
family than the grand Turk. His first emotion had quickly
vanished; and he was beginning to find these confidential
disclosures rather wearisome. "Let us get back to business," he
remarked; "that is to say, to Casimir. What did you do with the
fool after my departure?"
"First, monsieur, I sobered him; which was no easy task. The
greedy idiot had converted himself into a wine-cask! At last,
however, when he could talk as well as you and I, and walk
straight, I took him back to the Hotel de Chalusse."
"That was right. But didn't you have some business to transact
"That's been arranged, monsieur; the agreement has been signed.
The count will have the best of funerals--the finest hearse out,
with six horses, twenty-four mourning coaches--a grand display, in
fact. It will be worth seeing."
M. Fortunat smiled graciously. "That ought to bring you a
handsome commission," he said, benignly.
Employed by the job, Chupin was the master of his own time, free
to utilize his intelligence and industry as he chose, but M.
Fortunat did not like his subordinates to make any money except
through him. Hence his approval, in the present instance, was so
remarkable that it awakened Chupin's suspicions. "I shall make a
few sous, probably," he modestly replied, "a trifle to aid my good
mother in keeping the pot boiling."
"So much the better, my boy," said M. Fortunat. "I like to see
money gained by those who make a good use of it. And to prove
this, I'm about to employ you in an affair which will pay you
handsomely if you prosecute it successfully."
Chupin's eyes brightened at first but grew dark a moment
afterward, for delight had been quickly followed by a feeling of
distrust. He thought it exceedingly strange that an employer
should take the trouble to climb to a sixth floor merely for the
purpose of conferring a favor on his clerk. There must be
something behind all this; and so it behove him to keep his eyes
open. However, he knew how to conceal his real feelings; and it
was with a joyous air that he exclaimed: "Eh! What? Money? Now?
What must I do to earn it?"
"Oh! a mere trifle," replied the agent; "almost nothing, indeed."
And drawing his chair nearer to the bed on which his employee was
seated, he added: "But first, one question, Victor. By the way in
which a woman looks at a young man in the street, at the theatre
or anywhere--would you know if she were watching her son?"
Chupin shrugged his shoulders. "What a question!" he retorted.
"Nonsense! monsieur, it would be impossible to deceive me. I
should only have to remember my mother's eyes when I return home
in the evening. Poor woman! although she's half blind, she sees
me--and if you wish to make her happy, you've only to tell her I'm
the handsomest and most amiable youth in Paris."
M. Fortunat could not refrain from rubbing his hands, so delighted
was he to see his idea so perfectly understood and so admirably
expressed. "Good!" he declared; "very good! That's intelligence,
if I am any judge. I have not been deceived in you, Victor."
Victor was on fire with curiosity. "What am I to do, monsieur?"
he asked eagerly.
"This: you must follow a woman whom I shall point out to you,
follow her everywhere without once losing sight of her, and so
skilfully as not to let her suspect it. You must watch her every
glance, and when her eyes tell you that she is looking at her son,
your task will be nearly over. You will then only have to follow
this son, and find out his name and address, what he does, and how
he lives. I don't know if I explain what I mean very clearly."
This doubt was awakened in M. Fortunat's mind by Chupin's
features, which were expressive of lively astonishment and
discontent. "Excuse me, monsieur," he said, at last, "I do not
understand at all."
"It's very simple, however. The lady in question has a son about
twenty. I know it--I'm sure of it. But she denies it; she
conceals the fact, and he doesn't even know her. She secretly
watches over him, however--she provides him with money, and every
day she finds some way of seeing him. Now, it is to my interest
to find this son."
Chupin's mobile face became actually threatening in its
expression; he frowned darkly, and his lips quivered. Still this
did not prevent M. Fortunat from adding, with the assurance of a
man who does not even suspect the possibility of a refusal: "Now,
when shall we set about our task?"
"Never!" cried Chupin, violently; and, rising, he continued: "No!
I wouldn't let my good mother eat bread earned in that way--it
would strangle her! Turn spy! I? Thanks--some one else may have
the job!" He had become as red as a turkey-cock, and such was his
indignation that he forgot his accustomed reserve and the caution
with which he had so far concealed his antecedents. "I know this
game--I've tried it!" he went on, vehemently. "One might as well
take one's ticket to prison by a direct road. I should be there
now if it hadn't been for Monsieur Andre. I was thirsting for
gold, and, like the brigand that I was, I should have killed the
man; but in revenge he drew me from the mire and placed my feet on
solid ground once more. And now, shall I go back to my vile
tricks again? Why, I'd rather cut my leg off! I'm to hunt down
this poor woman--I'm to discover her secret so that you may extort
money from her, am I? No, not I! I should like to be rich, and I
shall be rich; but I'll make my money honestly. I hope to touch
my hundred-franc pieces without being obliged to wash my hands
afterward. So, a very good evening to your establishment."
M. Fortunat was amazed, and at the same time much annoyed, to find
himself forsaken on account of such a trifle. He feared, too,
that Chupin might let his tongue wag if he left his employment.
So, since he had confided this project to Chupin, he was
determined that Chupin alone should carry it into execution.
Assuming his most severe and injured manner, he sternly exclaimed:
"I think you have lost your senses." His demeanor and intonation
were so perfectly cool that Chupin seemed slightly abashed. "It
seems that you think me capable of urging you to commit some
dangerous and dishonorable act," continued M. Fortunat.
"Why--no--m'sieur--I assure you "
There was such evident hesitation in the utterance of this "no"
that the agent at once resumed: "Come, you are not ignorant of the
fact that in addition to my business as a collector, I give my
attention to the discovery of the heirs of unclaimed estates? You
are aware of this? Very well then: pray tell me how I am to find
them without searching for them? If I wish this lady to be
watched, it is only in view of reaching a poor lad who is likely
to be defrauded of the wealth that rightfully belongs to him. And
when I give you a chance to make forty or fifty francs in a couple
of days, you receive my proposition in this style! You are an
ingrate and a fool, Victor!"
Chupin's nature combined, in a remarkable degree, the vices and
peculiarities of the dweller in the Paris faubourgs, who is born
old, but who, when aged in years, still remains a gamin. In his
youth he had seen many strange things, and acquired a knowledge of
life that would have put the experience of a philosopher to shame.
But he was not fit to cope with M. Fortunat, who had an immense
advantage over him, by reason of his position of employer, as well
as by his fortune and education. So Chupin was both bewildered
and disconcerted by the cool arguments his patron brought forward;
and what most effectually allayed his suspicions was the small
compensation offered for the work--merely forty or fifty francs.
"Small potatoes, upon my word!" he thought. "Just the price of an
honest service; he would have offered more for a piece of
rascality." So, after considering a moment, he said, aloud: "Very
well; I'm your man, m'sieur."
M. Fortunat was secretly laughing at the success of his ruse.
Having come with the intention of offering his agent a handsome
sum, he was agreeably surprised to find that Chupin's scruples
would enable him to save his money. "If I hadn't found you
engaged in study, Victor," he said, "I should have thought you had
been drinking. What venomous insect stung you so suddenly?
Haven't I confided similar undertakings to you twenty times since
you have been in my employment? Who ransacked Paris to find
certain debtors who were concealing themselves? Who discovered the
Vantrassons for me? Victor Chupin. Very well. Then allow me to
say that I see nothing in this case in any way differing from the
others, nor can I understand why this should be wrong, if the
others were not."
Chupin could only have answered this remark by saying that there
had been no mystery about the previous affairs, that they had not
been proposed to him late at night at his own home, and that he
had acted openly, as a person who represents a creditor has a
recognized right to act. But, though he felt that there WAS a
difference in the present case, it would have been very difficult
for him to explain in what this difference consisted. Hence, in
his most resolute tone: "I'm only a fool, m'sieur," he declared;
"but I shall know how to make amends for my folly."
"That means you have recovered your senses," said M. Fortunat,
ironically. "Really, that's fortunate. But let me give you one
bit of advice: watch yourself, and learn to bridle your tongue.
You won't always find me in such a good humor as I am this
So saying, he rose, passed out into the adjoining room, bowed
civilly to his clerk's mother, and went off. His last words, as
he crossed the threshold, were, "So I shall rely upon you. Be at
the office to-morrow a little before noon."
"It's agreed m'sieur."
The blind woman had risen, and had bowed respectfully; but, as
soon as she was alone with her son, she asked: "What is this
business he bids you undertake in such a high and mighty tone?"
"Oh! an every-day matter, mother."
The old woman shook her head. "Why were you talking so loud
then?" she inquired. "Weren't you quarrelling? It must be
something very grave when it's necessary to conceal it from me. I
couldn't see your employer's face, my son; but I heard his voice,
and it didn't please me. It isn't the voice of an honest,
straightforward man. Take care, Toto, and don't allow yourself to
be cajoled--be prudent."
However, it was quite unnecessary to recommend prudence to Victor
Chupin. He had promised his assistance, but not without a mental
reservation. "No need to see danger till it comes," he had said
to himself. "If the thing proves to be of questionable propriety
after all, then good-evening; I desert."
It remains to know what he meant by questionable propriety; the
meaning of the expression is rather vague. He had returned in all
honesty and sincerity of purpose to an honest life, and nothing in
the world would have induced him, avaricious though he was, to
commit an act that was positively wrong. Only the line that
separates good from evil was not very clearly defined in his mind.
This was due in a great measure to his education, and to the fact
that it had been long before he realized that police regulations
do not constitute the highest moral law. It was due also to
chance, and, since he had no decided calling, to the necessity of
depending for a livelihood upon the many strange professions which
impecunious and untrained individuals, both of the higher and
lower classes, adopt in Paris.
However, on the following morning he arrayed himself in his best
apparel, and at exactly half-past eleven o'clock he rang at his
employer's door. M. Fortunat had made quick work with his clients
that morning, and was ready, dressed to go out. He took up his
hat and said only the one word, "Come." The place where the agent
conducted his clerk was the wine-shop in the Rue de Berry, where
he had made inquiries respecting Madame d'Argeles the evening
before; and on arriving there, he generously offered him a
breakfast. Before entering, however, he pointed out Madame
d'Argeles's pretty house on the opposite side of the street, and
said to him: "The woman whom you are to follow, and whose son you
are to discover, will emerge from that house "
At that moment, after a night passed in meditating upon his
mother's prophetic warnings, Chupin was again beset by the same
scruples which had so greatly disturbed him on the previous
evening. However, they soon vanished when he heard the wine-
vendor, in reply to M. Fortunat's skilful questions, begin to
relate all he knew concerning Madame Lia d'Argeles, and the
scandalous doings at her house. The seeker after lost heirs and
his clerk were served at a little table near the door; and while
they partook of the classical beef-steak and; potatoes--M.
Fortunat eating daintily, and Chupin bolting his food with the
appetite of a ship-wrecked mariner--they watched the house
Madame d'Argeles received on Saturdays, and, as Chupin remarked,
"there was a regular procession of visitors."
Standing beside M. Fortunat, and flattered by the attention which
such a well-dressed gentleman paid to his chatter, the landlord of
the house mentioned the names of all the visitors he knew. And he
knew a good number of them, for the coachmen came to his shop for
refreshments when their masters were spending the night in play at
Madame d'Argeles's house. So he was able to name the Viscount de
Coralth, who dashed up to the door in a two-horse phaeton, as well
as Baron Trigault, who came on foot, for exercise, puffing and
blowing like a seal. The wine-vendor, moreover, told his
customers that Madame d'Argeles never went out before half-past
two or three o'clock, and then always in a carriage--a piece of
information which must have troubled Chupin; for, as soon as the
landlord had left them to serve some other customers, he leant
forward and said to M. Fortunat: "Did you hear that? How is it
possible to track a person who's in a carriage?"
"By following in another vehicle, of course."
"Certainly, m'sieur; that's as clear as daylight. But that isn't
the question. The point is this: How can one watch the face of a
person who turns her back to you? I must see this woman's face to
know whom she looks at, and how."
This objection, grave as it appeared, did not seem to disturb M.
Fortunat. "Don't worry about that, Victor," he replied. "Under
such circumstances, a mother wouldn't try to see her son from a
rapidly moving carriage. She will undoubtedly alight, and
contrive some means of passing and repassing him--of touching him,
if possible. Your task will only consist in following her closely
enough to be on the ground as soon as she is. Confine your
efforts to that; and if you fail to-day, you'll succeed to-morrow
or the day after--the essential thing is to be patient."
He did better than to preach patience--he practised it. The hours
wore away, and yet he did not stir from his post, though nothing
could have been more disagreeable to him than to remain on
exhibition, as it were, at the door of a wine-shop. At last, at a
little before three o'clock, the gates over the way turned upon
their hinges, and a dark-blue victoria, in which a woman was
seated, rolled forth into the street. "Look!" said M. Fortunat,
eagerly. "There she is!"
The woman in the carriage was none other than Madame Lia
d'Argeles. She was attired in one of those startling costumes
which are the rage nowadays, and which impart the same bold and
brazen appearance to all who wear them: so much so, that the most
experienced observers are no longer able to distinguish the honest
mother of a family from a notorious character. A Dutchman, named
Van Klopen, who was originally a tailor at Rotterdam, rightfully
ascribes the honor of this progress to himself. One can scarcely
explain how it happens that this individual, who calls himself
"the dressmaker of the queens of Europe," has become the arbiter
of Parisian elegance; but it is an undeniable fact that he does
reign over fashion. He decrees the colors that shall be worn,
decides whether dresses shall be short or long, whether paniers
shall be adopted or discarded, whether ruches and puffs and
flowers shall be allowed, and in what form; and his subjects, the
so-called elegant women of Paris, obey him implicitly.
Madame d'Argeles would personally have preferred less finery,
perhaps, but it would not have done for her to be out of the
fashion. She wore an imperceptible hat, balanced on an immense
pyramidal chignon, from which escaped a torrent of wavy hair.
"What a beautiful woman!" exclaimed the dazzled Chupin, and
indeed, seen from this distance, she did not look a day more than
thirty-five--an age when beauty possesses all the alluring charm
of the luscious fruit of autumn. She was giving orders for the
drive, and her coachman, with a rose in his buttonhole, listened
while he reined in the spirited horse. "The weather's superb,"
added Chupin. "She'll no doubt drive round the lakes in the Bois
"Ah, she's off!" interrupted M. Fortunat. "Run, Victor, run! and
don't be miserly as regards carriage hire; all your expenses shall
be liberally refunded you."
Chupin was already far away. Madame d'Argeles's horse went
swiftly enough, but the agent's emissary had the limbs and the
endurance of a stag, and he kept pace with the victoria without
much difficulty. And as he ran along, his brain was busy. "If I
don't take a cab," he said to himself, "if I follow the woman on
foot, I shall have a perfect right to pocket the forty-five sous
an hour--fifty, counting the gratuity--that a cab would cost."
But on reaching the Champ Elysees, he discovered, to his regret,
that this plan was impracticable, for on running down the Avenue
de l'Imperatrice after the rapidly driven carriage, he could not
fail to attract attention. Stifling a sigh of regret, and seeing
a cab at a stand near by, he hastily hailed it. "Where do you
want to go, sir?" inquired the driver.
"Just follow that blue victoria, in which a handsome lady is
seated, my good fellow."
The order did not surprise the cabman, but rather the person who
gave it; for in spite of his fine apparel, Chupin did not seem
quite the man for such an adventure. "Excuse me," said the Jehu,
in a slightly ironical tone, "I----"
"I said exactly what I mean," retorted Chupin, whose pride was
severely wounded. "And no more talk--hurry on, or we shall miss
This last remark was correct, for if Madame d'Argeles's coachman
had not slackened his horse's speed on passing round the Arc de
Triomphe, the woman would have escaped Chupin, for that day at
least. However, this circumstance gave the cabman an opportunity
to overtake the victoria; and after that the two vehicles kept
close together as they proceeded down the Avenue de l'Imperatrice.
But at the entrance of the Bois de Boulogne Chupin ordered his
driver to stop. "Halt!" he exclaimed; "I shall get out. Pay the
extra cab charges for passing beyond the limits of Paris!--never!
I'll crawl on my hands and knees first. Here are forty sous for
your fare--and good-evening to you."
And, as the blue victoria was already some distance in advance, he
started off at the top of his speed to overtake it. This
manoeuvre was the result of his meditations while riding along.
"What will this fine lady do when she gets to the Bois?" he asked
himself. "Why, her coachman will take his place in the
procession, and drive her slowly round and round the lakes.
Meantime I can trot along beside her without attracting attention--
and it will be good for my health."
His expectations were realized in every respect. The victoria
soon turned to the left, and took its place in the long line of
equipages which were slowly winding round the lake. Having gained
the foot-path which borders the sheet of water, Chupin followed
the carriage easily enough, with his hands in his pockets, and his
heart jubilant at the thought that he would gain the sum supposed
to have been spent in cab hire, in addition to the compensation
which had been promised him. "This is a strange way of enjoying
one's self," he muttered, as he trotted along. "There can't be
much pleasure in going round and round this lake. If ever I'm
rich, I'll find some other way of amusing myself."
Poor Chupin did not know that people do not go to the Bois to
enjoy themselves, but rather to torment others. This broad drive
is in reality only a field for the airing of vanity--a sort of
open-air bazaar for the display of dresses and equipages. People
come here to see and to be seen; and, moreover, this is neutral
ground, where so-called honest women can meet those notorious
characters from whom they are elsewhere separated by an impassable
abyss. What exquisite pleasure it must be to the dames of society
to find themselves beside Jenny Fancy or Ninette Simplon, or any
other of those young ladies whom they habitually call "creatures,"
but whom they are continually talking of, and whose toilettes,
make-up, and jargon, they assiduously copy!
However, Chupin indulged in none of these reflections. He was
engaged in noting Madame d'Argeles's evident anxiety and
restlessness. She looked eagerly on all sides, sometimes half
leaning out of her carriage, and immediately turning her head
whenever she heard the gallop of a horseman behind her. She was
evidently looking or waiting for some one, but the person did not
make his appearance, and so, growing weary of waiting, after
driving three times round the lake, she made a sign to her
coachman, who at once drew out of line, and turned his horse into
a side-path. Chupin hastened after the victoria, keeping it in
sight until he was fortunate enough to meet an empty cab, which he
at once hired. Madame d'Argeles's coachman, who had received his
orders, now drove down the Champs Elysees, again crossed the Place
de la Concorde, turned into the boulevards, and stopped short at
the corner of the Chaussee d'Antin, where, having tied a thick
veil over her face, Madame Lia abruptly alighted and walked away.
This was done so quickly that Chupin barely had time to fling two
francs to his driver and rush after her. She had already turned
round the corner of the Rue du Helder, and was walking rapidly up
the street. It was a little after five o'clock, and dusk was
setting in. Madame d'Argeles had taken the side of the street
allotted to the uneven numbers. After she had passed the Hotel de
Homburg, she slackened her pace, and eagerly scrutinized one of
the houses opposite--No. 48. Her examination lasted but a moment,
and seemed to be satisfactory. She then turned, and rapidly
retraced her steps as far as the boulevard, when, crossing the
street to the side of the even numbers, she walked up it again
very slowly, stopping before every shop-window.
Convinced that he had almost reached the goal, Chupin also
crossed, and followed closely at her heels. He soon saw her start
and resume her rapid gait. A young man was coming toward her so
quickly indeed that she had not time to avoid him, and a collision
ensued, whereupon the young man gave vent to an oath, and hurling
an opprobrious epithet in her face, passed on.
Chupin shuddered. "What if that should be her son?" he thought.
And while he pretended to be gazing into a shop window, he
stealthily watched the poor woman. She had paused, and he was so
near that he could almost have touched her. He saw her raise her
veil and follow her insulter with a look which it was impossible
to misunderstand. "Oh! oh! It was her son that called her that----"
said Chupin to himself, quite horrified. And without more ado,
he hastened after the young man.
He was between two and four-and-twenty years of age, rather above
the medium height, with very light hair and an extremely pale
complexion. His slight mustache would have been almost
imperceptible if it had not been dyed several shades darker than
his hair. He was attired with that studied carelessness which
many consider to be the height of elegance, but which is just the
reverse. And his bearing, his mustache, and his low hat, tipped
rakishly over one ear, gave him an arrogant, pretentious, rowdyish
appearance. "Zounds! that fellow doesn't suit my fancy," growled
Chupin, as he trotted along. For he was almost running in his
efforts to keep pace with Madame d'Argeles's insulter. The
latter's haste was soon explained. He was carrying a letter which
he wished to have delivered, and no doubt he feared he would not
be able to find a commissionaire. Having discovered one at last,
he called him, gave him the missive, and then pursued his way more
He had reached the boulevard, when a florid-faced youth,
remarkably short and stout, rushed toward him with both hands
amicably extended, at the same time crying, loud enough to attract
the attention of the passers-by: "Is it possible that this is my
"Yes--alive and in the flesh," replied the young man.
"Well, and what the devil have you been doing with yourself? Last
Sunday, at the races, I looked for you everywhere, and not a
vestige of Wilkie was to be found. However, you were wise not to
go. I am three hundred louis out of pocket. I staked everything
on Domingo, the Marquis de Valorsay's horse. I thought I was sure
to win--yes, sure. Well, Domingo came in third. Can you
understand that? If every one didn't know that Valorsay was a
millionaire, it might be supposed there had been some foul play--
yes, upon my word--that he had bet against his own horse, and
forbidden his jockey to win the race." But the speaker did not
really believe this, so he continued, more gayly: "Fortunately, I
shall retrieve my losses to-morrow, at Vincennes. Shall we see
"Then good-by, until to-morrow."
Thereupon they shook hands, and each departed on his way.
Chupin had not lost a word of this conversation. "Valorsay a
millionaire!" he said to himself. "That's good! Ah, well! now I
know my little gamecock's name, and I also know that he goes to
the races. Wilkie that must be an English name; I like the name
of d'Argeles better. But where the devil is he going now?"
M. Wilkie had simply paused to replenish his cigar-case at the
tobacco office of the Grand Hotel; and, after lighting a cigar, he
came out again, and walked up the boulevard in the direction of
the Faubourg Montmartre. He was no longer in a hurry now; he
strolled along in view of killing time, displaying his charms, and
staring impudently at every woman who passed. With his shoulders
drawn up on a level with his ears, and his chest thrown back, he
dragged his feet after him as if his limbs were half paralyzed; he
was indeed doing his best to create the impression that he was
used up, exhausted, broken down by excesses and dissipation. For
that is the fashion--the latest fancy--chic!
"Will you never have done?" growled Chupin.
"You shall pay for this, you little wretch!" He was so indignant
that the gamin element in his nature stirred again under his fine
broadcloth, and he had a wild longing to throw stones at M.
Wilkie. He would certainly have trodden on his heels, and have
picked a quarrel with him, had it not been for a fear of failing
in his mission, and thereby losing his promised reward.
He followed his man closely, for the crowd was very great. Light
was coming on, and the gas was lit on all sides. The weather was
very mild, and there was not an unoccupied table in front of the
cafes, for it was now the absinthe hour. How does it happen that
every evening, between five and seven o'clock, every one in Paris
who is known--who is somebody or something--can be found between
the Passage de l'Opera and the Passage Jouffroy? Hereabout you may
hear all the latest news and gossip of the fashionable world, the
last political canards--all the incidents of Parisian life which
will be recorded by the papers on the following morning. You may
learn the price of stocks, and obtain tips for to-morrow's Bourse;
ascertain how much Mademoiselle A's necklace cost, and who gave it
to her; with the latest news from Prussia; and the name of the
bank chairman or cashier who has absconded during the day, and the
amount he has taken with him.
The crowd became more dense as the Faubourg Montmartre was
approached, but Wilkie made his way through the throng with the
ease of an old boulevardier. He must have had a large circle of
acquaintances, for he distributed bows right and left, and was
spoken to by five or six promenaders. He did not pass the
Terrasse Jouffroy, but, pausing there, he purchased an evening
paper, retraced his steps, and about seven o'clock reached the
Cafe Riche, which he entered triumphantly. He did not even touch
the rim of his hat on going in--that would have been excessively
BAD form; but he called a waiter, in a very loud voice, and
imperiously ordered him to serve dinner on a table near the
window, where he could see the boulevard--and be seen.
"And now my little fighting-cock is going to feed," thought
Chupin. He, too, was hungry; and he was trying to think of some
modest restaurant in the neighborhood, when two young men passed
near him and glanced into the cafe.
"Look, there's Wilkie!" observed one of them.
"That's so, upon my word!" responded the other. "And he has
money, too; fortune has smiled upon him."
"How do you know that?"
"Why, by watching the fellow; one can tell the condition of his
purse as correctly as he could himself. If his funds are low, he
has his meals brought to his room from a cook-shop where he has
credit; his mustache droops despondingly; he is humble even to
servility with his friends, and he brushes his hair over his
forehead. When he is in average circumstances, he dines at
Launay's, waxes his mustache, and brushes his hair back from his
face. But when he dines at the Cafe Riche, my boy, when he has
dyed his mustache, and tips his hat over his ear, and deports
himself in that arrogant fashion, why, he has at least five or six
thousand francs in his pocket, and all is well with him."
"Where does he get his money from?"
"Who can tell?"
"Is he rich?"
"He must have plenty of money--I lent him ten louis once, and he
paid me back."
"Zounds! He's a very honorable fellow, then." Thereupon the two
young men laughed, and passed on.
Chupin had been greatly edified. "Now I know you as well as if I
were your concierge," he muttered, addressing the unconscious
Wilkie; "and when I've followed you home, and learned your number,
I shall have richly earned the fifty francs M. Fortunat promised
me." As well as he could judge through the windowpane, M. Wilkie
was eating his dinner with an excellent appetite. "Ah!" he
exclaimed, not without envy, "these fighting-cocks take good care
of their stomachs. He's there for an hour at least, and I shall
have time to run and swallow a mouthful myself."
So saying, Chupin hastened to a small restaurant in a neighboring
street, and magnificently disbursed the sum of thirty-nine sous.
Such extravagance was unusual on his part, for he had lived very
frugally since he had taken a vow to become rich. Formerly, when
he lived from hand to mouth--to use his own expression--he
indulged in cigars and in absinthe; but now he contented himself
with the fare of an anchorite, drank nothing but water, and only
smoked when some one gave him a cigar. Nor was this any great
privation to him, since he gained a penny by it--and a penny was
another grain of sand added to the foundation of his future
wealth. However, this evening he indulged in the extravagance of
a glass of wine, deciding in his own mind that he had fairly
When he returned to his post in front of the Cafe Riche, M. Wilkie
was no longer alone at his table. He was finishing his coffee in
the company of a man of his own age, who was remarkably good-
looking--almost too good-looking, in fact--and a glance at whom
caused Chupin to exclaim: "What! what! I've seen that face
somewhere before--". But he racked his brain in vain in trying to
remember who this newcomer was, in trying to set a name on this
face, which was positively annoying in its classical beauty, and
which he felt convinced had occupied a place among the phantoms of
his past. Irritated beyond endurance by what he termed his
stupidity, he was trying to decide whether he should enter the
cafe or not, when he saw M. Wilkie take his bill from the hands of
a waiter, glance at it, and throw a louis on the table. His
companion had drawn out his pocketbook for the ostensible purpose
of paying for the coffee he had taken; but Wilkie, with a cordial
gesture, forbade it, and made that magnificent, imperious sign to
the waiter, which so clearly implies: "Take nothing! All is paid!
Keep the change." Thereupon the servant gravely retired, more than
ever convinced of the fact that vanity increases the fabulous
total of Parisian gratuities by more than a million francs a year.
"My gallant youths are coming out," thought Chupin. "I must keep
my ears open." And approaching the door, he dropped on one knee,
and pretended to be engaged in tying his shoestrings. This is one
of the thousand expedients adopted by spies and inquisitive
people. And when a man is foolish enough to tell his secrets in
the street, he should at least be wise enough to distrust the
people near him who pretend to be absorbed in something else; for
in nine cases out of ten these persons are listening to him,
possibly for pay, or possibly from curiosity.
However, the young men whom Chupin was watching were far from
suspecting that they were under surveillance. M. Wilkie came out
first, talking very loud, as often happens when a man has just
partaken of a good dinner, and is blessed with an excellent
digestion. "Come, Coralth, my good fellow, you won't desert me in
this way? I have a box for the Varietes, and you must go with me.
We'll see if Silly imitates Theresa as perfectly as they say."
"But I have an appointment."
"Oh, well, let it wait. Come, viscount, is it agreed?"
"Ah, you do with me just as you like."
"Good! But, first of all let us take a glass of beer to finish our
cigars. And do you know whom you will find in my box?"
At this moment they passed, and Chupin rose to his feet.
"Coralth," he muttered, "Viscount de Coralth. He's not one of our
clients. Let me see, Coralth. This is certainly the first time I
have ever heard the name. Can it be that I'm mistaken?
The more he reflected, the more thoroughly he became convinced of
the accuracy of his first impression, consoling himself with the
thought that a name has but a slight significance after all. His
preoccupation had at least the advantage of shortening the time
which he spent in promenading to and fro, while the friends sat
outside a cafe smoking and drinking. It was still M. Wilkie who
monopolized the conversation, while his companion listened with
his elbow resting on the table, occasionally nodding his head in
token of approbation. One thing that incensed Chupin was that
they loitered there, when one of them had a ticket for a box at
the theatre in his pocket.
"Idiots!" he growled; "they'll wait till the play's half over
before they go in. And then they'll let the doors slam behind
them for the express purpose of disturbing everybody. Fools, go!"
As if they had heard the command, they rose suddenly, and an
instant after they entered the Varietes. They entered, but Chupin
remained on the pavement, scratching his head furiously, in
accordance with his habit whenever he wished to develop his powers
of imagination. He was trying to think how he might procure
admission to the theatre without paying for it. For several years
he had seen every play put upon the stage in Paris, without
spending a sou, and he felt that it would be actually degrading to
purchase a ticket at the office now. "Pay to see a farce!" he
thought. "Not I. I must know some one here--I'll wait for the
The wisdom of this course became apparent when among those who
left the theatre at the close of the first act he recognized an
old acquaintance, who was now working on the claque,* and who at
once procured him a ticket of admission for nothing. "Well, it is
a good thing to have friends everywhere," he muttered, as he took
the seat assigned him.
* The body of hired applauders who are employed at most Parisian
theatres to stimulate the enthusiasm of the audience.--[Trans.]
It was a very good place they had given him--a seat in the second
gallery commanding an excellent view of the house. The first
glance around told him that his "customers," as he styled them,
were in a box exactly opposite. They were now in the company of
two damsels in startling toilettes, with exceedingly dishevelled
yellow hair, who moved restlessly about, and giggled and stared,
and tried in every possible way to attract attention. And their
stratagem succeeded. However, this did not seem to please the
Viscount de Coralth, who kept himself as far back in the shade as
he possibly could. But young Wilkie was evidently delighted, and
seemed manifestly proud of the attention which the public was
compelled to bestow upon his box. He offered himself as much as
possible to the gaze of the audience; moved about, leaned forward,
and made himself fully as conspicuous as his fair companions.
Less than ever did Chupin now forgive Wilkie for the insult he had
cast in the face of Madame Lia d'Argeles, who was probably his
As for the play, M. Fortunat's emissary did not hear twenty words
of it. He was so overcome with fatigue that he soon fell asleep.
The noise and bustle of each entr'acte aroused him a little, but
he did not thoroughly wake up until the close of the performance.
His "customers" were still in their box, and M. Wilkie was
gallantly wrapping the ladies in their cloaks and shawls. In the
vestibule, he and M. de Coralth were joined by several other young
men, and the whole party adjourned to a neighboring cafe. "These
people are certainly afflicted with an unquenchable thirst,"
growled Chupin. "I wonder if this is their everyday life?"
He, too, was thirsty after his hastily eaten dinner; and necessity
prevailing over economy, he seated himself at a table outside the
cafe, and called for a glass of beer, in which he moistened his
parched lips with a sigh of intense satisfaction. He sipped the
beverage slowly, in order to make it last the longer, but this did
not prevent his glass from becoming dry long before M. Wilkie and
his friends were ready to leave. "It seems to me we are going to
stay here all night," he thought, angrily.
His ill-humor was not strange under the circumstances, for it was
one o'clock in the morning; and after carrying all the tables and
chairs round about, inside, a waiter came to ask Chupin to go
away. All the other cafes were closing too, and the fastening of
bolts or the clanking of shutter chains could be heard on every
side. On the pavement stood groups of waiters in their shirt-
sleeves, stretching and yawning, and inhaling the fresh night air
with delight. The boulevard was fast becoming deserted--the men
were going off in little groups, and female forms could be seen
gliding along in the dark shadow cast by the houses. The police
were watching everywhere, with a word of menace ever ready on
their lips; and soon the only means of egress from the cafes were
the narrow, low doorways cut in the shutters through which the
last customers--the insatiable, who are always ordering one
thimbleful more to finish--passed out.
It was through a portal of this sort that M. Wilkie and his
companions at last emerged, and on perceiving them, Chupin gave a
grunt of satisfaction. "At last," he thought, "I can follow the
man to his door, take his number, and go home."
But his joy was short-lived, for M. Wilkie proposed that the whole
party should go and take supper. M. de Coralth demurred to the
idea, but the others over-ruled his objections, and dragged him
away with them.
"Ah! this is a bad job!" growled Chupin. "Go, go, and never
What exasperated him even more than his want of sleep was the
thought that his good mother must be waiting for him at home in an
agony of anxiety; for since his reformation he had become
remarkably regular in his habits. What should he do? "Go home,"
said Reason; "it will be easy enough to find this Wilkie again.
There can be little doubt that he lives at No. 48, in the Rue du
Helder." "Remain," whispered Avarice; "and, since you have
accomplished so much, finish your work. M. Fortunat won't pay for
conjectures, but for a certainty."
Love of money carried the day; so, weaving an interminable chaplet
of oaths, he followed the party until they entered Brebant's
restaurant, one of the best known establishments which remain open
at night-time. It was nearly two o'clock in the morning now; the
boulevard was silent and deserted, and yet this restaurant was
brilliantly lighted from top to bottom, and snatches of song and
shouts of laughter, with the clatter of knives and forks and the
clink of glasses, could be heard through the half opened windows.
"Eight dozen Marennes for No. 6," shouted a waiter to the man who
opened oysters near the restaurant door.
On hearing this order, Chupin shook his clenched fist at the
stars. "The wretches!" he muttered through his set teeth; "bad
luck to them! Those oysters are for their mouths, plainly enough,
for there are eight of them in all, counting those yellow-haired
women. They will, no doubt, remain at table until six o'clock in
the morning. And they call this enjoying themselves. And
meanwhile, poor little Chupin must wear out his shoe-leather on
the pavement. Ah! they shall pay for this!"
It ought to have been some consolation to him to see that he was
not alone in his misery, for in front of the restaurant stood a
dozen cabs with sleepy drivers, who were waiting for chance to
send them one of those half-intoxicated passengers who refuse to
pay more than fifteen sous for their fare, but give their Jehu a
gratuity of a louis. All these vehicles belonged to the peculiar
category known as "night cabs"--dilapidated conveyances with
soiled, ragged linings, and drawn by half-starved, jaded horses.
However, Chupin neither thought of these vehicles, nor of the poor
horses, nor, indeed, of the drivers themselves. His wrath had
been succeeded by philosophical resignation; he accepted with good
grace what he could not avoid. As the night air had become very
cool, he turned up the collar of his overcoat, and began to pace
to and fro on the pavement in front of the restaurant. He had
made a hundred turns perhaps, passing the events of the day in
review, when suddenly such a strange and startling idea flashed
across his mind that he stood motionless, lost in astonishment.
Reflecting on the manner in which M. Wilkie and the Viscount de
Coralth had behaved during the evening, a singular suspicion
assailed him. While M. Wilkie gradually lost his wits, M. de
Coralth had become remarkably cold and reserved. He had seemed to
oppose all M. Wilkie's propositions; but he had agreed to them at
last, so that his objections had produced much the same effect as
a stimulant. It seemed then as if M. de Coralth had some strange
interest in wishing to gain ascendency over his friend. At least
such was Chupin's opinion. "Oh, oh!" he murmured. "What if HE
should be working up the same little scheme? What if he were
acquainted with Madame Lia d'Argeles? What if he knew that there's
a fortune waiting for a claimant? I shouldn't at all be surprised
if I found that he wanted to cook his bread in our oven. But
father Fortunat wouldn't be pleased with the news. Ah! no--he
wouldn't even smile----"
While carrying on this little conversation with himself, he stood
just in front of the restaurant, looking up into the air, when all
of a sudden a window was thrown noisily open, and the figures of
two men became plainly visible. They were engaged in a friendly
struggle; one of them seemed to be trying to seize hold of
something which the other had in his hand, and which he refused to
part with. One of these men was M. Wilkie as Chupin at once
perceived. "Good!" he said to himself; "this is the beginning of
As he spoke, M. Wilkie's hat fell on the window-sill, slipped off,
and dropped on to the pavement below. With a natural impulse
Chupin picked it up, and he was turning it over and over in his
hands, when M. Wilkie leant out of the window and shouted in a
voice that was thick with wine: "Halloo! Eh, there! Who picked up
my hat? Honesty shall be rewarded. A glass of champagne and a
cigar for the fellow who'll bring it me in room No. 6."
Chupin hesitated. By going up, he might, perhaps, compromise the
success of his mission. But on the other hand his curiosity was
aroused, and he very much wished to see, with his own eyes, how
these young men were amusing themselves. Besides, he would have
an opportunity of examining this handsome viscount, whom he was
certain he had met before, though he could not tell when or where.
In the meantime, M. Wilkie had perceived him.
"Come, you simpleton!" he cried; "make haste. You can't be very
The thought of the viscount decided Chupin. Entering the
restaurant and climbing the staircase, he had just reached the
landing when a pale-looking man, who had a smoothly-shaven face
and was dressed in black, barred his way and asked: "What do you
"M'sieur, here's a hat which fell from one of your windows and----"
"All right, hand it here."
But Chupin did not seem to hear this order. He was beginning a
long explanation, when a curtain near by was pushed aside, and M.
Wilkie called out: "Philippe! eh, Philippe!--bring me the man who
picked up my hat."
"Ah!" said Chupin, "you see, m'sieur, that he asks for me."
"Very well," said Philippe. "Go on, then." And raising the
portiere he pushed Chupin into room No. 6.
It was a small, square apartment, with a very low ceiling. The
temperature was like that of a furnace, and the glare of the
gaslights almost blinded one. The supper was over, but the table
had not yet been cleared, and plates full of leavings showed that
the guests had fairly exhausted their appetites. Still, with the
exception of M. Wilkie, every one present seemed to be terribly
bored. In one corner, with her head resting on a piano, sat one
of the yellow-haired damsels, fast asleep, while, beside the
window, M. de Coralth was smoking with his elbows propped upon the
table. The four other young men were looking on phlegmatically.
"Ah! here's my hat," exclaimed M. Wilkie, as soon as Chupin
appeared. "Wait and receive your promised reward." And thereupon
he rang the bell, crying at the top of his voice: "Henry, you
sleepy-head--a clean glass and some more of the widow Cliquot's
Several bottles were standing upon the table, only half empty, and
one of M. Wilkie's friends called his attention to this fact, but
he shrugged his shoulders disdainfully. "You must take me for a
fool," he said, contemptuously. "A man doesn't drink stale wine
when he has the prospect of such an inheritance as is coming to me"
"Wilkie!" interrupted M. de Coralth, quickly; "Wilkie!"
But he was too late; Chupin had heard and understood everything.
His conjectures had proved correct. M. Wilkie knew his right to
the estate; M. Fortunat had been forestalled by the viscount, and
would merely have his labor for his pains. "No chance for the
guv'nor!" thought the agent's emissary. "And what a blow after
the De Valorsay affair! It's enough to give him the jaundice!"
For a youth of his age, Chupin controlled his feelings admirably;
but the revelation came so suddenly that he had started despite
himself, and changed color a trifle. M. de Coralth saw this; and,
though he was far from suspecting the truth, his long repressed
anger burst forth. He rose abruptly, took up a bottle, and
filling the nearest glass, he rudely exclaimed: "Come, drink that--
make haste--and clear out!"
Victor Chupin must have become very sensitive since his
conversion. In former times he was not wont to be so susceptible
as to lose his temper when some one chanced to address him in a
rather peremptory manner, or to offer him wine out of the first
available glass. But M. de Coralth inspired him with one of those
inexplicable aversions which cannot be restrained "Eh! tell me if
it's because we've drank champagne together before that you talk
to me like that?" the young fellow retorted, savagely.
It was only a random shot, but it reached home. The viscount
seemed touched to the quick. "You hear that, Wilkie," said he.
"This will teach you that the time of your compatriot, Lord
Seymour, has passed by. The good-humored race of plebeians who
respectfully submitted to the blows with which noblemen honored
them after drinking, has died out. This ought to cure you of your
unfortunate habit of placing yourself on terms of equality with
all the vagabonds you meet."
Chupin's hair fairly bristled with anger. "What! what!" he
exclaimed; "I'll teach you to call me a vagabond, you scoundrel!"
His gesture, his attitude, and his eyes were so expressive of
defiance and menace that two of the guests sprang up and caught
him by the arm. "Go, go," they said.
But he freed himself from their grasp. "Go!" he replied. "Never!
He called me a vagabond. Am I to pocket the insult quietly and
walk off with it? You can scarcely expect that. First, I demand
This was asking too much of the Viscount de Coralth. "Let the
fool alone," he remarked, with affected coolness, "and ring for
the waiters to kick him out."
It did not require this new insult to put Chupin in a furious
passion. "Come on!" he exclaimed. "Ah, ha! Where's the fellow
who'll turn me out? Let him come. I'll teach him a lesson!" And
as he spoke he squared his shoulders, inflated his chest, and
threw the weight of his entire body on his left leg, after the
most approved method of sparring-masters.
"Go, go!" insisted Wilkie's friends.
"Yes, I'll go with pleasure, but your friend must go, too. Is he
a man? Then let him come, and we'll settle this outside." And
seeing that they were again trying to seize him: "Hands off!" he
thundered, "or I'll strike. You were not obliged to invite me
here. It isn't my business to furnish amusement to parties who've
drunk too much wine. And why should you despise me? It's true I
haven't any money while you have plenty--that I work and you
carouse. Still that's no reason why you should scorn me.
Besides, those who are poor in the morning are sometimes rich in
the evening. Every dog has his day. I have an idea that I shall
have some coin when yours is all gone. Then it will be my turn to
laugh; and as I'm a good-natured fellow, I will give you my half-
M. Wilkie seemed delighted. He had climbed on to the piano and
seated himself, with his feet on the keyboard; and there, as on a
judgment seat, he listened and applauded, alternately taking
Chupin's part, and then the viscount's. "Bravo, gamin!" or, "Give
it to him, Coralth!" he shouted in turn.
This irritated the viscount exceedingly. "I see that we shall be
obliged to call in the police to settle the affair," he said,
"The police!" roared Chupin. "Ah! that won't do, you scamp--" But
his voice died away in his throat, and he stood motionless,
speechless, with his arm raised as if he were about to strike, and
his eyes dilated with astonishment.
For a change of expression in M. de Coralth's face had enlightened
him; and he suddenly recollected when and under what circumstances
he had known this so-called viscount. He remembered, too, the
name he had borne when he first met him. "Oh!" he stammered; "oh!
However, the effect of this discovery was to dispel his anger, or
rather to restore his calmness, and, addressing M. de Coralth, he
exclaimed: "Don't be angry at what I've said, m'sieur; it was only
a jest--I know that there's a wide difference between a poor devil
like me and a viscount like you--I haven't a sou, you see, and
that maddens me. But I'm not so very bad-looking, fortunately,
and I'm always hoping that the daughter of some rich banker will
fall in love with me and marry me. Some people have such luck,
you know. If I meet with any you may be sure I shall pass myself
off as the lost child of some great personage--of a duke, for
instance--and if the real son exists, and troubles me, why I'll
quietly put him out of the way, if possible."
With but one exception the persons present did not understand a
single word of this apparent nonsense; and indeed the yellow-
haired damsels stared at the speaker in amazement. Still it was
evident that each of these words had a meaning, and a terrible
meaning for M. de Coralth. Accustomed for years to control his
features, he remained apparently unmoved--he even smiled; but a
close observer could have detected anguish in his eyes, and he had
become very pale. At last, unable to endure the scene any longer,
he drew a hundred-franc bank-note from his pocketbook, crumpled it
in his hand and threw it at Chupin, saying: "That's a very pretty
story you are telling, my boy; but we've had enough of it. Take
your pay and leave us."
Unfortunately, the note struck Chupin full in the face. He
uttered a hoarse cry of rage, and, by the way in which he seized
and brandished an empty bottle, it might have been imagined that
M. de Coralth was about to have his head broken. But no. Thanks
to a supreme effort of will, Chupin conquered this mad fury; and,
dropping the bottle, he remarked to the young women who were
uttering panic-stricken shrieks: "Be quiet; don't you see that I
was only in fun."
But even M. Wilkie had found the fun a little rough, and even
dangerous. Several of the young fellows present sprang up, with
the evident intention of pushing Chupin out of the room, but he
checked them with a gesture. "Don't disturb yourselves,
gentlemen," he said. "I'm going, only let me find the bank-note
which this gentleman threw at me."
"That's quite proper," replied M. Wilkie, approvingly; "look for
Chupin did so, and at last found it lying almost under the piano.
"Now," he remarked, "I should like a cigar."
A score or so were lying in a dish. He gravely selected one of
them and coolly cut off the end of it before placing it in his
mouth. Those around watched him with an air of profound
astonishment, not understanding this ironical calmness following
so closely upon such a storm of passion. Then he, Victor Chupin,
who had, it seems to me, but one aim in life--to become rich--
Victor Chupin, who loved money above anything else, and had
stifled all other passions in his soul--he who often worked two
whole days to earn five francs--he who did not disdain to claim
his five sous when he went to hire a cab for his employer--he,
Chupin, twisted the bank-note in his fingers, lit it at the gas,
and used it to light his cigar.
"Ah! he's crazy!" murmured the yellow-haired damsels, with despair
in their voices.
But M. Wilkie was enthusiastic. "There's form!" said he. "Fine
form and no mistake!"
But Chupin did not even deign to turn his head. He opened the
door, and standing on the threshold, he bowed to M. de Coralth
with an ironical smile. "Until we meet again, Monsieur Paul,"
said he. "And kindly remember me to Madame Paul, if you please."
If the others had been less astonished, they would have no doubt
have remarked the prodigious effect of this name upon their
brilliant friend. He became ghastly pale and fell back in his
chair. Then, suddenly, he bounded up as if he wished to attack
his enemy. But pursuit seemed likely to yield no result, for
Chupin was already on the boulevard.
It was daybreak. Paris was waking up; the bakers were standing at
their doors, and boys in their shirt-sleeves, with their eyes
swollen with sleep, were taking down the shutters of the wine-
shops. A cloud of dust, raised by the street-sweepers, hung in
the distance; the rag-pickers wandered about, peering among the
rubbish; the noisy milk-carts jolted along at a gallop, and
workmen were proceeding to their daily toil, with hunches of bread
in their hands. The morning air was very chilly; nevertheless,
Chupin seated himself on a bench across the boulevard, at a spot
where he could watch the entrance of the restaurant without being
seen. He had just experienced one of those sudden shocks which so
disturb the mind, that one becomes insensible to outward
circumstances, whatever they may be. He had recognized in the so-
called Viscount de Coralth, the man whom he had hated above all
others in the world, or, rather, the only man whom he hated, for
his was not a bad heart. Impressionable to excess like a true
child of the faubourgs, he had the Parisian's strange mobility of
feeling. If his anger was kindled by a trifle, the merest nothing
usually sufficed to extinguish it. But matters were different
respecting this handsome viscount! God! how I hate him!" he
hissed through his set teeth. "God! how I hate him!"
For once, years before, as he had confessed to M. Fortunat, Chupin
had been guilty of a cowardly and abominable act, which had nearly
cost a man his life. And this crime, if it had been successful,
would have benefited the very fellow who concealed his sinful,
shameful past under the high-sounding name of Coralth. How was it
that Chupin had not recognized him at once? Because he had worked
for this fellow without knowing him, receiving his orders through
the miserable wretches who pandered to his vices. He had only
seen him personally once or twice, and had never spoken to him.
Later--too late--he discovered what vile intrigue it was that he
had served. And when he became sincerely repentant he loathed
this Coralth who had caused his crime.
Nor was this all. The recognition of Coralth had inspired him
with remorse. It had aroused in the recesses of his conscience a
threatening voice which cried: "What are you doing here? You are
acting as a spy for a man you distrust, and whose real designs you
are ignorant of. It was in this way you began before. Have you
forgotten what it led to? Have you not sin enough already upon
your conscience? Blood enough upon your hands? It is folly to
pretend that one may serve as a tool for villains, and still
remain an honest man!"
It was this voice which had given Chupin the courage to light his
cigar with the bank-note. And this voice still tortured him, as
seated on the bench he now tried to review the situation. Where,
indeed, was he? With rare good luck he had discovered the son whom
Madame Lia d'Argeles had so long and successfully concealed. But
contrary to all expectations, this young fellow already knew of
the inheritance which he was entitled to. M. de Coralth had
already achieved what M. Fortunat had meant to do; and so the plan
was a failure, and it was useless to persist in it.
This would have ended the matter if Chupin had not chanced to know
the Viscount de Coralth's shameful past. And this knowledge
changed everything, for it gave him the power to interfere in a
most effectual manner. Armed with this secret, he could bestow
the victory on M. Fortunat, and force M. de Coralth to capitulate.
And he could do this all the more easily, as he was sure that
Coralth had not recognized him, and that he was perhaps ignorant
of his very existence. Chupin had allowed himself to be carried
away by a sudden impulse of anger which he regretted; he had made
an ironical illusion to his enemy's past life, but after all this
had done no particular harm. So nothing prevented him from
lending M. Fortunat his assistance, and thus killing two birds
with one stone. He could have his revenge on Coralth, and at the
same time insure his patron a large fee, of which he could claim a
considerable share for himself. But no! The idea of deriving any
profit whatever from this affair inspired him with a feeling of
disgust--honor triumphed over his naturally crafty and avaricious
nature. It seemed to him that any money made in this way would
soil his fingers; for he realized there must be some deep villainy
under all this plotting and planning; he was sure of it, since
Coralth was mixed up in the affair. "I will serve my guv'nor for
nothing," he decided. "When a man is avenged, he's well paid."
Chupin decided upon this course because he could think of no
better plan. Still, if he had been master of events he would have
acted otherwise. He would have quietly presented the government
with this inheritance which he found M. Wilkie so unworthy of.
"The devil only knows what he'll do with it," he thought. "He'll
squander it as my father squandered the fortune that was given
him. It is only fools who meet with such luck as that."
However, his meditations did not prevent him from keeping a close
watch over the restaurant, for it was of the utmost importance
that M. Wilkie should not escape him. It was now broad daylight,
and customers were leaving the establishment; for, after passing
what is generally conceded to be a joyous night, they felt the
need of returning home to rest and sleep. Chupin watched them as
they emerged. There were some who came out with drooping heads,
mumbling incoherent phrases; while others who were equally
intoxicated, but more nervous, evinced considerable animation, and
sang snatches of songs, or jested loudly with the street-sweepers
as they passed on. The more sober, surprised by the sunlight, and
blushing at themselves, slunk hastily and quietly away. There was
one man, moreover, whom the waiters were obliged to carry to his
cab, for he could no longer stand on his feet.
At last Chupin saw the individual clad in black whom Wilkie had
addressed as Philippe, and who had endeavored to prevent him from
entering the restaurant, come out, and walk rapidly away. He was
warmly clad in a thick overcoat, but he shivered, and his pale,
wan face betrayed the man who is a martyr to the pleasures of
others--the man who is condemned to be up all night and sleep only
in the daytime--the man who can tell you how much folly and
beastliness lurk in the depths of the wine-cup, and who knows
exactly how many yawns are expressed by the verb "to amuse one's
self." Chupin was beginning to feel uneasy. "Can M. Wilkie and
his friends have made their escape?" he wondered.
But at that very moment they made their appearance. They lingered
awhile on the pavement to chat, and Chupin had an opportunity of
observing the effect of their night's dissipation on their faces.
The brilliant sunlight made their eyes blink, and the cold sent
purple blotches to their bloated cheeks. As for the young women
with yellow hair, they appeared as they really were--hideous.
They entered the only cab that remained, the most dilapidated one
of all, and the driver of which had no little difficulty in
setting his horse in motion; whereupon the gentlemen went off on
Many persons would have been vexed and even humiliated by the
necessity of appearing at this hour on the boulevard in disorderly
attire, which plainly indicated that they had spent the night in
debauchery. But with the exception of the Viscount de Coralth,
who was evidently out of humor, the party seemed delighted with
themselves, as it was easy to see by the way they met the glances
of the passers-by. They considered themselves first-class form--
they were producing an effect--they were astonishing people. And
what more could they desire?
One thing is certain--they were irritating Chupin terribly. He
was following them on the opposite side of the boulevard, at some
little distance in the rear, for he was afraid of being
recognized. "The wretches!" he growled. "One couldn't draw a
pint of manly blood from the veins of all six of them. Ah, if
they knew how I hate them!"
But he had not long to nurse his wrath. On reaching the Rue
Drouot, two of the gentlemen left the party, and two more went
down the Rue Lepelletier. M. Wilkie and the viscount were left to
walk down the boulevard alone. They linked their arms and carried
on an animated conversation until they reached the Rue du Helder,
where they shook hands and separated. What had they said at
parting? What agreement had been made between them? Chupin would
willingly have given a hundred sous from his private purse to have
known. He would have given as much more to have been able to
double himself, in order to pursue the viscount, who had started
off in the direction of the Madeleine, without having to give up
watching and following his friend. But the days of miracles are
over. So Chupin sighed, and, following Wilkie, he soon saw him
enter No. 48 of the Rue du Helder. The concierge, who was at the
door busily engaged in polishing the bell-handle, bowed
respectfully. "So there it is!" grumbled Chupin. "I knew he
lived there--I knew it by the way that Madame d'Argeles looked at
the windows yesterday evening. Poor woman! Ah! her son's a fine
fellow and no mistake!"
His compassion for the unhappy mother seemed to recall him to a
sense of duty. "Scoundrel that I am!" he exclaimed, striking his
forehead with his clenched fist. "Why, I'm forgetting my own good
mother!" And as his task was now ended, he started off on the run,
taking the shortest cut to the Faubourg Saint-Denis. "Poor
mother!" he said to himself as he tore along, "what a night she
must have had! She must have cried her eyes out!"
He spoke the truth. The poor woman had passed a night of agony--
counting the hours, and trembling each time the door of the house
opened, announcing some tenant's return. And as morning
approached, her anxiety increased. "For her son would not have
allowed her to remain in such suspense," she said to herself,
"unless he had met with some accident or encountered some of his
former friends--those detestable scamps who had tried to make him
as vile as themselves." Perhaps he had met his father, Polyte
Chupin, the man whom she still loved in spite of everything,
because he was her husband, but whom she judged, and whom indeed
she knew, to be capable of any crime. And of all misfortunes, it
was an accident, even a fatal accident, that she dreaded least.
In her heroic soul the voice of honor spoke even more loudly than
the imperious instinct of maternity; and she would rather have
found her son lying dead on the marble slabs of the Morgue than
seated in the dock at the Assize Court.
Her poor eyes were weary of weeping when she at last recognized
Victor's familiar step approaching down the passage. She hastily
opened the door, and as soon as she FELT that he was near her, for
she could not see him, she asked: "Where have you spent the night?
Where have you come from? What has happened?"
His only answer was to fling his arms round her neck, following
alike the impulse of his heart and the advice of experience, which
told him that this would be the best explanation he could give.
Still it did not prevent him from trying to justify himself,
although he was careful not to confess the truth, for he dreaded
his mother's censure, knowing well enough that she would be less
indulgent than his own conscience.
"I believe you, my son," said the good woman, gravely; "you
wouldn't deceive me, I'm sure." And she added: "What reassured
me, when you kissed me, was that you hadn't been drinking."
Chupin did not speak a word; this confidence made him strangely
uneasy. "May I be hung," he thought, "if after this I ever do
anything that I can't confess to this poor good woman!"
But he hadn't time for sentimental reflections. He had gone too
far to draw back, and it was necessary for him to report the
result of his researches as soon as possible. Accordingly, he
hastily ate a morsel, for he was faint with hunger, and started
out again, promising to return to dinner. He was in all the
greater haste as it was Sunday. M. Fortunat was in the habit of
passing these days in the country, and Chupin feared he might fail
to see him if he was not expeditious in his movements. And while
running to the Place de la Bourse, he carefully prepared the story
he meant to relate, deeply impressed by the wisdom of the popular
maxim which says: "It is not always well to tell the whole truth."
Ought he to describe the scene at the restaurant, mention Coralth,
and say that there was nothing more to be done respecting M.
Wilkie? After mature deliberation he decided in the negative. If
he revealed everything, M. Fortunat might become discouraged and
abandon the affair. It would be better to let him discover the
truth himself, and profit by his anger to indicate a means of
It happened that M. Fortunat had decided not to go to the country
that Sunday. He had slept later than usual, and was still in his
dressing-gown when Chupin made his appearance. He uttered a
joyful cry on seeing his emissary, feeling assured that he must be
the bearer of good news, since he came so early. "You have
succeeded, then?" he exclaimed.
"You have discovered Madame d'Argeles's son?"
"I have him."
"Ah! I knew that you were a clever fellow. Quick, tell me
everything. But no, wait a moment."
He rang the bell, and Madame Dodelin at once made her appearance.
"Put another plate on the table," said the agent. "M. Chupin will
breakfast with me--and serve us at once. You agree, don't you,
Victor? It's ten o'clock; I'm hungry; and we can talk better over
a bottle of wine."
This was a great honor; and it gave Chupin a fitting idea of the
value of the service he had rendered. He was not too much elated,
however; though he felt very sorry that he had eaten before he
came. On his side, M. Fortunat by no means regretted having
conferred this favor on his clerk, for the story which the latter
related, caused him intense delight. "Very good!--well done," he
exclaimed every other minute. "I could not have done better
myself. You shall be abundantly rewarded, Victor, if this affair
is successful." And at this thought his satisfaction overflowed in
a complacent monologue: "Why shouldn't it succeed?" he asked
himself. "Could anything be more simple and certain? I can make
any demand I please--one, two, three hundred thousand francs. Ah,
it was a good thing that the Count de Chalusse died! Now, I can
forgive Valorsay. Let him keep my forty thousand francs; he's
quite welcome to them! Let him marry Mademoiselle Marguerite; I
wish them a large and flourishing family! And Madame d'Argeles,
too, has my benediction!"
He was so confident his fortune was made that at noon he could
restrain himself no longer. He hired a cab and accompanied by
Chupin he set out for M. Wilkie's abode, declaring that he would
wake that young gentleman up if needs be, but at all events he
must see him without delay. When he reached the Rue du Helder, he
told Chupin to wait in the cab, and then entering the house, he
asked: "Monsieur Wilkie?"
"On the second floor, the door to the right," replied the
M. Fortunat ascended the stairs very slowly, for he felt the
necessity of regaining all his composure, and it was not until he
had brought himself to a proper frame of mind that he rang the
bell. A small servant, M. Wilkie's fag, who took his revenge in
robbing his employer most outrageously, came to the door, and
began by declaring that his master was out of town. But M.
Fortunat understood how to force doors open, and his manoeuvres
succeeded so well that he was finally allowed to enter a small
sitting-room, while the servant went off, saying: "I will go and
Instead of wasting time in congratulating himself on this first
achievement the agent began to inspect the room in which he found
himself, as well as another apartment, the door of which stood
open. For he was of the opinion that a dwelling-place indicates
the character of its inmate, as surely as a shell indicates the
form of the creature that inhabits it. M. Wilkie was comfortably
lodged; but his rooms were most pretentiously ornamented. They
were indeed decorated in more than doubtful taste. There were
very few books lying about, but costly riding-whips, spurs,
rifles, cartridge-boxes, and all the paraphernalia of a
fashionable sporting man, were here in abundance.
The only pictures on the wall were a few portraits of celebrated
horses, which foreshadowed the fact that M. Wilkie must have, at
least, an eighth share in some well-known racer. After this
inspection, M. Fortunat smiled complacently. "This young fellow
has expensive tastes," he thought. "It will be very easy to
However his reflections were interrupted by the return of the
servant, who exclaimed: "My master is in the dining-room, and if
monsieur will enter----"
The heir-hunter did enter, and found himself face to face with M.
Wilkie, who was partaking of a cup of chocolate. He was not only
up, but he was dressed to go out--dressed in such a style that he
would have been taken for a respectable groom. A couple of hours'
sleep had made him himself again; and he had regained the
arrogance of manner which was the distinguishing trait of his
character, and a sure sign that he was in prosperous
circumstances. As his unknown visitor entered he looked up, and
bruskly asked: "What do you want?"
"I called on business, monsieur."
"Ah, well! this isn't a favorable moment. I must be at Vincennes
for the races. I'm interested in a horse. So, you understand----"
M. Fortunat was secretly amused by M. Wilkie's nonchalance. "The
young fellow won't be in so much of a hurry when he learns my
business," he thought. And he replied aloud: "I can explain what
brings me in a few words, monsieur."
M. Fortunat began by closing the door which had been intentionally
left open by the servant; and then, returning to M. Wilkie's side,
he began with an air of the greatest mystery: "What would you give
a shrewd man if he suddenly placed you in undisputed possession of
an immense fortune--of a million--two millions, perhaps?"
He had prepared this little effect most carefully, and he fully
expected to see Wilkie fall on his knees before him. But not at
all; the young gentleman's face never moved a muscle; and it was
in the calmest possible tone, and with his mouth half full that he
replied: "I know the rest. You come, don't you, to sell me the
secret of an unclaimed inheritance, which belongs to me? Very
well, you have come too late."
If the ceiling had fallen and crushed M. Fortunat there and then
he would, mentally at least, have not been in a more pitiable
condition. He stood silent, motionless, utterly confounded, with
his mouth wide open, and such an expression of consternation in
his eyes that M. Wilkie burst into a hearty laugh. Still the
agent struggled against fate, and ultimately faltered: "Let me
"Oh, it would be useless. I know my rights. I have already
arranged with a party to prosecute my claims; the agreement will
be signed on the day after to-morrow."
"Ah, excuse me; that's my affair."
He had finished his chocolate, and he now poured out a glass of
ice-water, drank it, wiped his mouth, and rose from the table.
"You will excuse me, my dear sir, if I leave you," he remarked.
"As I said before, I am going to Vincennes. I have staked a
thousand louis on 'Pompier de Nanterre,' my horse, and my friends
have ventured ten times as much. Who knows what may happen if I'm
not there at the start?" And then, ignoring M. Fortunat as
completely as if he had not existed, M. Wilkie exclaimed: "Toby,
you fool! where are you? Is my carriage below? Quick, bring me my
cane, my gloves, and my glasses. Take down that basket of
champagne. Run and put on your new livery. Make haste, you
little beast, I shall be too late."
M. Fortunat left the room. The frightful anger that had followed
his idiotic stupor sent his blood rushing madly to his brain. A
purple mist swam before his eyes; there was a loud ringing in his
ears, and with each pulsation of his heart his head seemed to
receive a blow from a heavy hammer. His feelings were so terrible
that he was really frightened. "Am I about to have an attack of
apoplexy?" he wondered. And, as every surrounding object seemed
to whirl around him, the very floor itself apparently rising and
falling under his feet, he remained on the landing waiting for
this horrible vertigo to subside and doing his best to reason with
himself. It was fully five minutes before he dared to risk the
descent; and even when he reached the street, his features were so
frightfully distorted that Chupin trembled.
He sprang out, assisted his employer into the cab, and bade the
driver return to the Place de la Bourse. It was really pitiful to
see the despair which had succeeded M. Fortunat's joyful
confidence. "This is the end of everything," he groaned. "I'm
robbed, despoiled, ruined! And such a sure thing as it seemed.
These misfortunes happen to no one but me! Some one in advance of
me! Some one else will capture the prize! Oh, if I knew the
wretch, if I only knew him!"
"One moment," interrupted Chupin; "I think know the man."
M. Fortunat gave a violent start. "Impossible!" he exclaimed.
"Excuse me, monsieur--it must be a vile rascal named Coralth."
It was a bellow rather than a cry of rage that escaped M.
Fortunat's lips. To a man of his experience, only a glimmer of
light was required to reveal the whole situation. "Ah! I
understand!--I see!" he exclaimed. "Yes, you are right, Victor;
it's he--Coralth--Valorsay's tool! Coralth was the traitor who, in
obedience to Valorsay's orders, ruined the man who loved
Mademoiselle Marguerite. The deed was done at Madame d'Argeles's
house. So Coralth knows her, and knows her secret. It's he who
has outwitted me." He reflected for a moment, and then, in a very
different tone, he said: "I shall never see a penny of the count's
millions, and my forty thousand francs are gone forever; but, as
Heaven hears me, I will have some satisfaction for my money. Ah!--
so Coralth and Valorsay combine to ruin me! Very well!--since
this is the case, I shall espouse the cause of Mademoiselle
Marguerite and of the unfortunate man they've ruined. Ah, my
cherubs, you don't know Fortunat yet! Now well see if the
innocent don't get the best of you, and if they don't unmask you.
I shall do my best, since you have forced me to do it--and gratis
Chupin was radiant; his vengeance was assured. "And I, monsieur,"
said he, "will give you some information about this Coralth.
First of all, the scoundrel's married and his wife keeps a
tobacco-shop somewhere near the Route d'Asnieres. I'll find her
for you--see if I don't"
The sudden stopping of the vehicle which had reached the Place de
la Bourse, cut his words short. M. Fortunat ordered him to pay
the driver, while he himself rushed upstairs, eager to arrange his
plan of campaign--to use his own expression. In his absence a
commissionaire had brought a letter for him which Madame Dodelin
now produced. He broke the seal, and read to his intense
surprise: "Monsieur--I am the ward of the late Count de Chalusse.
I must speak to you. Will you grant me an interview on Wednesday
next, at a quarter-past three o'clock? Yours respectfully,
When Mademoiselle Marguerite left the dead count's bedside at ten
o'clock at night to repair to Pascal Ferailleur's house, she did
not yet despair of the future. Father, friend, rank, security,
fortune--she had lost all these in a single moment--but she could
still see a promise of happiness in the distance.
She suffered undoubtedly, and yet she experienced a sort of bitter
pleasure at the thought of uniting her life to the man who was as
unfortunate as herself, who was slandered as she herself had been
slandered, branded with the most cruel and unjust imputations, and
had neither fortune nor friends. Others might scorn them; but
what did they care for the world's disdain so long as they had the
approval of their consciences? Would not their mutual esteem
suffice since they loved each other? It seemed to Marguerite that
their very misfortunes would bind them more closely to each other,
and cement the bonds of their love more strongly. And if it were
absolutely necessary for them to leave France--ah, well! they
would leave it. To them Fatherland would always be the spot where
they lived together.
As the cab approached the Rue d'Ulm she pictured Pascal's sorrow,
and the joy and surprise he would feel when she suddenly appeared
before him, and faltered: "They accuse you--here I am! I know that
you are innocent, and I love you!"
But the brutal voice of the concierge, informing her of Pascal's
secret departure, in the most insulting terms, abruptly dispelled
her dreams. If Pascal had failed her, everything had failed her.
If she had lost him, she had lost her all. The world seemed
empty--struggling would be folly--happiness was only an empty
name. She indeed longed for death!
Madame Leon who had a set of formulas adapted to all
circumstances, undertook to console her. "Weep, my dear young
lady, weep; it will do you good. Ah! this is certainly a horrible
catastrophe. You are young, fortunately, and Time is a great
consoler. M. Ferailleur isn't the only man on earth. Others will
love you. There are others who love you already!"
"Silence!" interrupted Marguerite, more revolted than if she had
heard a libertine whispering shameful proposals in her ear.
"Silence! I forbid you to add another word." To speak of another--
what sacrilege! Poor girl. She was one of those whose life is
bound up in one love alone, and if that fails them--it is death!
The thought that she was utterly alone added to the horror of her
situation. Whom could she depend upon? Not on Madame Leon. She
distrusted her; she had no confidence whatever in her. Should she
ask for the advice of either of her suitors? The Marquis de
Valorsay inspired her with unconquerable aversion, and she
despised the so-called General de Fondege. So her only friend,
her only protector was a stranger, the old justice of the peace
who had taken her defence, by crushing the slander of the
servants, and whom she had opened her heart to. But he would soon
forget her, she thought; and the future, such as it was presented
to her imagination, seemed a terrible one. However, she was too
courageous to remain for long in despair--she struggled against
her sorrow; and the thought that she might, perhaps, reach Pascal
through M. Fortunat at last occurred to her mind. This hope was
her sole chance of salvation. She clung to it as a shipwrecked
mariner clings to the plank which is his only hope of life.
When she returned to the mansion her mind was made up, and she had
regained her usual composure. For ten minutes or so she had been
praying by the count's bedside, when M. Bourigeau, the concierge,
appeared and handed her a letter which had just been brought to
the house. It was addressed to "Mademoiselle Marguerite de Durtal
de Chalusse, at the Hotel de Chalusse, Rue de Courcelles."
Mademoiselle Marguerite blushed. Who was it that addressed her by
this name which she no longer had the right to bear? She studied
the handwriting for a moment, but she did not remember ever having
seen it before. At last, however, she opened the letter and read:
" My dear, dear child." "Dear child!" indeed. What could this
mean? Was there any one in the world sufficiently interested in
her welfare, or loving her enough, to address her in this style?
She quickly turned the sheet to see the signature; and when her
eyes fell on it she turned pale. "Ah!" she exclaimed,
involuntarily, "ah! ah!"
The letter was signed: "Athenais de Fondege." It had been written
by the General's wife. She resumed her perusal of it, and this is
what she read: "I this instant hear of the cruel loss you have
sustained, and also learn that, for want of testamentary
provisions, the poor Count de Chalusse leaves you, his idolized
daughter, almost without resources. I will not attempt to offer
you consolation, God alone can assuage certain sorrows. I should
come and weep with you if I were not kept in bed by illness. But
to-morrow, whatever happens, I shall be with you before breakfast.
It is at such a time as this, my poor dear afflicted child, that
one can tell one's true friends; and we are yours as I hope to
prove. The General feels that he should be insulting and
betraying the memory of a man who was his dearest friend for
thirty years, if he did not take the count's place, if he did not
become your second father. He has offered you our modest home;
you have refused. Why? With the authority conferred upon me by my
age and my position as the mother of a family, I tell you that you
ought to accept. What other course can you possibly think of?
Where would you go, my poor, dear child? But we will discuss this
matter to-morrow. I shall find a way to persuade you to love us,
and to allow yourself to be loved. In MY heart you will fill the
place of the beloved and lamented daughter I have lost--my
beautiful and gentle Bathilde. Once more I say farewell until to-
morrow--trusting that you will accept the sympathy and affection
of your best friend,
"ATHENAIS DE FONDEGE."
Mademoiselle Marguerite was thunderstruck, for the writer of this
epistle was a lady whom she had only met five or six times, who
had never visited her, and with whom she had scarcely exchanged
twenty words. Moreover, she well remembered certain glances with
which Madame de Fondege had, on one occasion, tried to crush her--
glances so full of cruel contempt that they had drawn bitter tears
of sorrow, shame, and anger, from the poor girl. The count
himself had said to her at the time: "Don't be so childish,
Marguerite, as to trouble yourself about this foolish and impudent
And now this same woman sent her a letter overflowing with
sympathy, and claimed her affection and confidence in the tone of
an old and tried friend. Was such a change natural? Not being
what is called a credulous person, Mademoiselle Marguerite was
unable to believe it. She divined that Madame de Fondege must
have had some hidden motive in writing such a letter--but what
motive was it? Alas! she divined this also only too well. The
General, suspecting that she had stolen the missing money, had
imparted his suspicions to his wife; and she, being as avaricious
and as unscrupulous as himself, was doing her best to secure the
booty for her son. Such a calculation is a common one nowadays.
Steal yourself? Fie. never! You would not dare. Besides, you are
honest. But it is quite a different thing to profit by other
people's rascality. Besides, there are no risks to be
On perusing the letter a second time, it seemed to Mademoiselle
Marguerite that she could hear the General and his wife discussing
the means of obtaining a share of the two millions. She could
hear Madame de Fondege saying to her husband: "You are a block-
head! You frightened the girl by your precipitancy and roughness.
But fortunately, I'm here. Let me manage the affair; and I'll
prove that women are far more clever than men." And, thereupon,
she had seized her pen, and commenced this letter. In
Mademoiselle Marguerite's opinion, the epistle betrayed the joint
efforts of the pair. She could have sworn that the husband had
dictated the sentence: "The General feels that he should be
insulting and betraying the memory of a man who was his dearest
friend for thirty years, if he did not become your second father."
On the other hand, the phrase, "I shall find a way to persuade you
to love us, and to allow yourself to be loved," was unmistakably
the wife's work. The writer's insincerity was fully revealed by
one passage of the letter. "You will fill the place of the
beloved daughter I have lost," wrote Madame de Fondege. It is
true that she had once had a daughter; but the child had died of
croup when only six months old, and more than twenty-five years
It was strange, moreover, that this letter had not been sent until
ten o'clock in the evening; but, on reflection, Mademoiselle
Marguerite was able to explain this circumstance satisfactorily to
herself. Before taking any decided step, M. and Madame de Fondege
had wished to consult their son; and they had been unable to see
him until late in the evening. However, as soon as the brilliant
hussar had approved the noble scheme concocted by his parents, a
servant had been dispatched with the letter. All these surmises
were surely very plausible; but it was difficult to reconcile them
with the opinion advanced by the magistrate--that M. de Fondege
must know what had become of the missing millions.
Mademoiselle Marguerite did not think of this, however. She was
losing her presence of mind at thought of the odious suspicions
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