The Count's Millions by Emile Gaboriau
Part 7 out of 7
which rested on her, suspicions which she had seemed to read in
the eyes of all who approached her, from Dr. Jodon to the Marquis
de Valorsay. It is true that the magistrate had taken her
defence; he had silenced the servants, but would that suffice?
Would she not remain branded by an abominable accusation? And even
the consciousness of her innocence did not reassure her, for
Pascal's case warned her that innocence is not a sufficient
safeguard against slander.
Could she hope to escape when he had succumbed? She could tell by
the agony that was torturing her own heart, how much he must have
suffered. Where was he now? Beyond the frontiers of France? They
had told her so, but she did not, could not believe it. Knowing
him as she knew him, it seemed to her impossible that he had
accepted his fate so quickly and without a struggle. A secret
presentiment told her that his absence was only feigned, that he
was only biding his time, and that M. Fortunat would not have far
to go in search of him. It was in M. de Chalusse's bedroom that
she thus reflected, but a few steps from the bed on which reposed
all that was mortal of the man whose weakness had made her life
one long martyrdom, whose want of foresight had ruined her future,
but whom she had not the heart to censure. She was standing in
front of the window with her burning forehead resting against the
glass. At that very moment Pascal was waiting, seated on the
curbstone opposite the mansion. At that very moment he was
watching the shadow on the window-curtain, wondering if it were
not Marguerite's. If the night had been clear she might have
discerned the motionless watcher in the street below, and divined
that it was Pascal. But how could she suspect his presence? How
could she suspect that he had hastened to the Rue de Courcelles as
she had hastened to the Rue d'Ulm?
It was almost midnight when a slight noise, a sound of stealthy
footsteps, made her turn. Madame Leon was leaving the room, and a
moment later Marguerite heard the house-door leading into the
garden open and shut again. There was nothing extraordinary about
such an occurrence, and yet a strange misgiving assailed her.
Why, she could not explain; but many trivial circumstances,
suddenly invested with a new and alarming significance, recurred
to her mind. She remembered that Madame Leon had been restless
and nervous all the evening. The housekeeper, who was usually so
inactive, who lounged in her arm-chair for hours together, had
been moving uneasily about, going up and down stairs at least a
dozen times, and continually glancing at her watch or the clock.
Twice, moreover, had the concierge come to tell her that some one
wished to see her. "Where can she be going now, at midnight?"
thought Mademoiselle Marguerite; "she who is usually so timid?"
At first, the girl resisted her desire to solve the question; her
suspicions seemed absurd to her, and, besides, it was distasteful
to her to play the spy. Still, she listened, waiting to hear
Madame Leon re-enter the house. But more than a quarter of an
hour elapsed, and yet the door did not open or close again.
Either Madame Leon had not left the house at all, or else she was
still outside. "This is very strange!" thought Mademoiselle
Marguerite. "Was I mistaken? I must convince myself." And,
obeying a mysterious influence, stronger than her own will, she
left the room and went down the stairs. She had reached the hall,
when the garden door suddenly opened, and Madame Leon came in.
The lights in the hall were burning brightly, so that it was easy
to observe the housekeeper's manner and countenance. She was
panting for breath, like a person who had been running. She was
very pale, and her dress was disordered. Her cap-strings were
untied, and her cap had slipped from her head and was hanging over
her shoulders. "What is the matter with you?" asked Mademoiselle
Marguerite in astonishment. "Where have you been?"
On seeing the girl Madame Leon recoiled. Should she fly off or
remain? She hesitated for an instant; and it was easy to read her
hesitation in her eyes. She decided to remain; but it was with a
constrained smile and in an unnatural voice that she replied: "Why
do you speak to me like that, my dear young lady? One might
suppose you were angry with me. You must know very well that I've
been in the garden!"
"At this hour of the night?"
"MON DIEU! yes--and not for pleasure, I assure you--not by any
means--I--I----" She was evidently seeking for some excuse; and,
for a moment or two, she stammered forth one incoherent sentence
after another, trying to gain time and imploring Heaven to grant
her an inspiration.
"Well?" insisted Mademoiselle Marguerite, impatiently. "Why did
you go out?"
"Ah! I--I--thought I heard Mirza barking in the garden. I thought
she had been forgotten in all the confusion, and that the poor
creature had been shut out, so I summoned all my courage, and----"
Mirza was an old spaniel that M. de Chalusse had been very fond
of, and the animal's caprices were respected by all the inmates of
"That's very strange," remarked Mademoiselle Marguerite, "for when
you rose to leave the room, half an hour ago, Mirza was sleeping
at your feet."
"What--really--is it possible?"
But the worthy woman had already recovered her self-possession and
her accustomed loquacity at the same time. "Ah! my dear young
lady," she said, bravely, "I'm in such sorrow that I'm losing my
senses completely. Still, it was only from the kindest of motives
that I ventured into the garden, and I had scarcely entered it
before I saw something white run away from me--I felt sure it was
Mirza--and so I ran after it. But I could find nothing. I called
'Mirza! Mirza!' and still nothing. I searched under all the
trees, and yet I could not find her. It was as dark as pitch, and
suddenly a terrible fear seized hold of me--such a terrible fright
that I really believe I called for help, and I ran back to the
house half crazed."
Any one hearing her would have sworn that she was telling the
truth. But, unfortunately, her earlier manner had proved her
Mademoiselle Marguerite was not deceived when she said to herself:
"I am on the track of some abominable act." However, she had
sufficient self-control to conceal her suspicions; and she
pretended to be perfectly satisfied with the explanation which the
house-keeper had concocted. "Ah, my dear Leon, you are altogether
too timid; it's absurd," she said, kindly.
The housekeeper hung her head. "I know that I make myself
ridiculous," she said, humbly. "But how can I help it? When a
person's frightened, she can't reason. And that white object
which I saw, as plainly as I see you, what could it have been?"
And, convinced that her fable was believed, she grew bolder, and
ventured to add: "Oh, my dear young lady, I shall tremble all
night if the garden isn't searched. Pray send the servants out to
look. There are so many thieves and rascals in Paris!"
Under any other circumstances Mademoiselle Marguerite would have
refused to listen to this ridiculous request; but, determined to
repay the hypocrite in her own coin, she replied. "Very well; it
shall be done." And calling M. Casimir and Bourigeau, the
concierge, she ordered them to take a lantern and explore the
They obeyed, though with rather bad grace, not being particularly
courageous, either of them, and, of course, they found nothing.
"No matter," said Madame Leon, "I feel safe now." And she did
indeed feel more tranquil in mind. "I had a lucky escape!" she
said to herself. "What would have become of me, if Mademoiselle
Marguerite had discovered the truth?"
But the housekeeper congratulated herself on her victory too soon.
Mademoiselle Marguerite not only suspected her of treason, but she
was endeavoring to procure proofs of it. She felt certain that
the plausible housekeeper had deceived her, and cruelly wronged
her as well. But what she could not understand was, how Madame
Leon had been able to do so. She had spent a long time in
fruitless conjectures, when suddenly she remembered the little
garden gate. "The deceitful creature must have used that gate,"
It was easy for her to verify her suspicion. The little gate had
not been exactly condemned, but many months had elapsed since it
had been used; so it would be a very simple matter to ascertain
whether it had been recently opened or not. "And I will know for
certain before an hour has passed," said Mademoiselle Marguerite
Having come to this conclusion, she feigned sleep, keeping a sharp
watch over Madame Leon from between her half-closed eyelids. The
housekeeper, after twisting uneasily in her arm-chair, at last
became quiet again; and it was soon evident that she was sleeping
soundly. Thereupon Mademoiselle Marguerite rose to her feet and
stole noiselessly from the room downstairs into the garden. She
had provided herself with a candle and some matches, and as soon
as she struck a light, she saw that her surmises were correct.
The little gate had just been opened and closed again. The
cobwebs round about the bolts were torn and broken; the rust which
had filled the keyhole had been removed, and on the dust covering
the lock the impress of a hand could be detected. "And I have
confided my most precious secrets to this wicked woman!" thought
Mademoiselle Marguerite. "Fool that I was!"
Already thoroughly convinced, she extinguished her candle. Still,
having discovered so much, she wished to pursue her investigation
to the end, and so she opened the little gate. The ground outside
had been soaked by the recent rains, and had not yet dried, and by
the light of the neighboring street-lamp, she plainly
distinguished a number of well-defined footprints on the muddy
soil. An experienced observer would have realized by the
disposition of these footprints that something like a struggle had
taken place here; but Mademoiselle Marguerite was not sufficiently
expert for that. She only understood what a child would have
understood--that two people had been standing here for some time.
Poor girl! She had not seen Pascal when he was sitting in front of
the mansion some hours before! And now no presentiment warned her
that these footprints were his. In her opinion, the man who had
been talking with Madame Leon was either M. de Fondege, or the
Marquis de Valorsay--that is to say, Madame Leon was hired to
watch her and to render an account of all she said and did.
Her first impulse was to denounce and dismiss this miserable
hypocrite; but as she was returning to the house, an idea which an
old diplomatist need not have been ashamed of entered her mind.
She said to herself that as Madame Leon was unmasked she was no
longer to be feared; so why should she be sent away? A known spy
can undoubtedly be made a most valuable auxiliary. Why shouldn't
I make use of this wicked woman?" thought Mademoiselle Marguerite.
"I can conceal from her what I don't wish her to know, and with a
little skill I can make her carry to her employers such
information as will serve my plans. By watching her, I shall soon
discover my enemy; and who knows if, by this means, I may not
succeed in finding an explanation of the fatality that pursues
When Mademoiselle Marguerite returned to her place beside the
count's bedside, she had calmly and irrevocably made up her mind.
She would not only retain Madame Leon in her service, but she
would display even greater confidence in her than before. Such a
course was most repugnant to Marguerite's loyal, truthful nature;
but reason whispered to her that in fighting with villains, it is
often necessary to use their weapons; and she had her honor, her
life, and her future to defend. A strange and but imperfectly
defined suspicion had entered her mind. To-night, for the first
time, she thought she could discover a mysterious connection
between Pascal's misfortunes and her own. Was it mere chance
which had struck them at the same time, and in much the same
manner? Who would have profited by the abominable crime which had
dishonored her lover, had it not been for M. de Chalusse's death
and her own firmness? Evidently the Marquis de Valorsay, for whom
Pascal's flight had left the field clear.
All these thoughts were well calculated to drive away sleep; but
the poor girl was only twenty, and it was the second night she had
watched by the count's bedside. Thus at last fatigue overcame
her, and she fell asleep.
In the morning, about seven o'clock, Madame Leon was obliged to
shake her to rouse her from the kind of lethargy into which she
had fallen. "Mademoiselle," said the housekeeper, in her honeyed
voice; "dear mademoiselle, wake up at once!"
"What is the matter? What is it?"
"Ah! how can I explain? My dear young lady, the undertaker's men
have come to make arrangements for the ceremony."
Those in charge of the last rites had indeed arrived, and their
heavy tread could be heard in the hall and in the courtyard. M.
Casimir, who was bursting with self-sufficiency, hurried here,
there? and everywhere, indicating, with an imperious gesture,
where he wished the black hangings, embroidered with silver and
emblazoned with the De Chalusse arms, to be suspended. As the
magistrate had given him carte-blanche, he deemed it proper, as he
remarked to Concierge Bourigeau, to have everything done in grand
style. But he took good care not to reveal the fact that he had
exacted a very handsome commission from all the people he
employed. The hundred francs derived from Chupin had only whetted
his appetite for more. At all events, he had certainly spared no
pains in view of having everything as magnificent as possible; and
it was not until he considered the display thoroughly satisfactory
that he went to warn Mademoiselle Marguerite. "I come to beg
mademoiselle to retire to her own room," he said.
He did not reply by words, but pointed to the bed on which the
body was lying, and the poor girl realized that the moment of
eternal separation had come. She rose, and dragged herself to the
bedside. Death had now effaced all traces of the count's last
agony. His face wore its accustomed expression again, and it
might have been fancied that he was asleep. For a long time
Mademoiselle Marguerite stood looking at him, as if to engrave the
features she would never behold again upon her memory.
"Mademoiselle," insisted M. Casimir; "mademoiselle, do not remain
She heard him, and summoning all her strength, she leaned over the
bed, kissed M. de Chalusse, and went away. But she was too late,
for in passing through the hall she encountered the undertakers,
who carried on their shoulders a long metallic case enclosed in
two oaken ones. And she had scarcely reached her own room before
a smell of resin told her that the men were closing the coffin
which contained all that was mortal of M. de Chalusse, her father.
So, none of those terrible details, which so increase one's grief,
were spared her. But she had already suffered so much that she
had reached a state of gloomy apathy, almost insensibility; and
the exercise of her faculties was virtually suspended. Whiter
than marble, she fell, rather than seated herself, on a chair,
scarcely perceiving Madame Leon, who had followed her.
The worthy housekeeper was greatly excited, and not without cause.
As there were no relations, it had been decided that M. de
Fondege, the count's oldest friend, should do the honors of the
mansion to the persons invited to attend the funeral; and he had
sworn that he would be under arms at daybreak, and that they might
positively depend upon him. But the hour fixed for the ceremony
was approaching, several persons had already arrived, and yet M.
de Fondege had not put in an appearance. "It is
incomprehensible," exclaimed Madame Leon. "The General is usually
punctuality personified. He must have met with some accident."
And in her anxiety she stationed herself at the window, whence she
could command a view of the courtyard, carefully scrutinizing
every fresh arrival.
At last, about half-past nine o'clock, she suddenly exclaimed:
"Here he is! Do you hear, mademoiselle, here's the General!"
A moment later, indeed, there was a gentle rap at the door, and M.
de Fondege entered. "Ah, I'm late!" he exclaimed; "but, dash it
all! it's not my fault!" And, struck by Mademoiselle Marguerite's
immobility, he advanced and took her hand. "And you, my dear
little one, what is the matter with you?" he asked. "Have you
been ill? You are frightfully pale."
She succeeded in shaking off the torpor which was stealing over
her, and replied in a faint voice; "I am not ill, monsieur."
"So much the better, my dear child, so much the better. It is our
little heart that is suffering, is it not? Yes--yes--I understand.
But your old friends will console you. You received my wife's
letter, did you not? Ah, well! what she told you, she will do--she
will do it. And to prove it, in spite of her illness, she
followed me--in fact, she is here!"
Mademoiselle Marguerite sprang to her feet, quivering with
indignation. Her eyes sparkled and her lips trembled as she threw
back her head with a superb gesture of scorn, which loosened her
beautiful dark hair, and caused it to fall in rippling masses over
her shoulders. "Ah! Madame de Fondege is here!" she repeated, in
a tone of crushing contempt--"Madame de Fondege, your wife, here!"
It seemed to her an impossibility to receive the hypocrite who had
written the letter of the previous evening--the accomplice of the
scoundrels who took advantage of her wretchedness and isolation.
Her heart revolted at the thought of meeting this woman, who had
neither conscience nor shame, who could stoop so low as to
intrigue for the millions which she fancied had been stolen.
Mademoiselle Marguerite was about to forbid her to enter, or to
retire herself, when the thought of her determination to act
stealthily restrained her. She instantly realized her imprudence,
and, mastering herself with a great effort, she murmured: "Madame
de Fondege is too kind! How can I ever express my gratitude?"
Madame de Fondege must have heard this, for at the same moment she
entered the room. She was short, and very stout--a faded blonde,
with her complexion spoilt by a multitude of freckles. She had
very large hands, broad, thick feet, and a shrill voice; and the
vulgarity of her appearance was all the more noticeable on account
of her pretensions to elegance. For although her father had been
a wood-merchant, she boasted of her exalted birth, and endeavored
to impress people with the magnificence of her style of living,
though her fortune was problematical, and her household conducted
in the most frugal style. Her attire suggested a continual
conflict between elegance and economy--between real poverty and
feigned prodigality. She wore a corsage and overskirt of black
satin; but the upper part of the underskirt, which was not
visible, was made of lute-string costing thirty sous a yard, and
her laces were Chantilly only in appearance. Still, her love of
finery had never carried her so far as shop-lifting, or induced
her to part with her honor for gewgaws--irregularities which are
so common nowadays, even among wives and mothers of families, that
people are no longer astonished to hear of them.
No--Madame de Fondege was a faithful wife, in the strict and legal
sense of the word. But how she revenged herself! She was
"virtuous;" but so dangerously virtuous that one might have
supposed she was so against her will, and that she bitterly
regretted it. She ruled her husband with a rod of iron. And he
who was so terrible in appearance, he who twirled his ferocious
mustaches in such a threatening manner, he who swore horribly
enough to make an old hussar blush, became more submissive than a
child, and more timid than a lamb when he was beside his wife. He
trembled when she turned her pale blue eyes upon him in a certain
fashion. And woe to him if he ventured to rebel. She suppressed
his pocket-money, and during these penitential seasons he was
reduced to the necessity of asking his friends to lend him twenty-
franc pieces, which he generally forgot to return.
Madame de Fondege was, as a rule, most imperious, envious, and
spiteful in disposition; but on coming to the Hotel de Chalusse
she had provided herself with any amount of sweetness and
sensibility, and when she entered the room, she held her
handkerchief to her lips as if to stifle her sobs. The General
led her toward Mademoiselle Marguerite, and, in a semi-solemn,
semi-sentimental tone, he exclaimed: "Dear Athenais, this is the
daughter of my best and oldest friend. I know your heart--I know
that she will find in you a second mother."
Mademoiselle Marguerite stood speechless and rigid. Persuaded
that Madame de Fondege was about to throw her arms round her neck
and kiss her, she was imposing the most terrible constraint upon
herself, in order to conceal her horror and aversion. But she was
unnecessarily alarmed. The hypocrisy of the General's wife was
superior to that of Madame Leon. Madame de Fondege contented
herself with pressing Mademoiselle Marguerite's hands and
faltering: "What a misfortune! So young--so sudden! It is
frightful!" And, as she received no reply, she added, with an air
of sorrowful dignity: "I dare not ask your full confidence, my
dear unfortunate child. Confidence can be born only of long
acquaintance and mutual esteem. But you will learn to know me.
You will give me that sweet name of mother when I shall have
Standing at a little distance off, the General listened with the
air of a man who has a profound respect for his wife's ability.
"Now the ice is broken," he thought, "it will be strange if
Athenais doesn't do whatever she pleases with that little savage."
His hopes were so brightly reflected upon his countenance, that
Madame Leon, who was furtively watching him, became alarmed. "Ah!
what do these people want?" she said to herself; "and what do all
these endearments mean? Upon my word, I must warn my patron at
once." And, fancying that no one noticed her, she slipped quietly
and noiselessly from the room.
But Mademoiselle Marguerite was on the watch. Determined to
fathom the plotting that was going on around her, and frustrate
it, she realized that everything depended upon her watchfulness
and her ability to profit even by the most futile incidents. She
had noticed the General's triumphant smile, and the look of
anxiety that had suddenly clouded Madame Leon's face. so, without
troubling herself about "the proprieties," she asked M. and Madame
de Fondege to excuse her for a second, and darted alter the
housekeeper. Ah! she did not need to go far. Leaning over the
banisters, she saw Madame Leon and the Marquis de Valorsay in
earnest conversation in the hall below; the marquis as phlegmatic
and as haughty as usual, but the house-keeper fairly excited.
Marguerite at once understood that as Madame Leon knew that the
marquis was among the funeral guests, she had gone to warn him of
Madame de Fondege's presence. This trivial circumstance proved
that M. de Fondege's interests were opposed to those of M. de
Valorsay; that they must, therefore, hate each other, and that,
with a little patience and skill, she might utilize them, one
against the other. It also proved that Madame Leon was the
Marquis de Valorsay's paid spy and that he must therefore have
long been aware of Pascal's existence. But she lacked the time to
follow out this train of thought. Her absence might awaken the
Fondeges' suspicions; and her success depended on letting them
suppose that she was their dupe. She therefore returned to them
as soon as possible, excusing herself for her abrupt departure as
well as she could; but she was not accustomed to deceive, and her
embarrassment might have betrayed her had it not been for the
General, who fortunately interrupted her by saying: "I, too, must
excuse myself, my dear child; but Madame de Fondege will remain
with you. I must fulfil a sacred duty. They are waiting for me
downstairs, and they are no doubt becoming impatient. It is the
first time in my life that I was ever behind time."
The General was right in losing no more time. At least a hundred
and fifty guests had assembled in the reception-rooms on the
ground floor, and they were beginning to think it very strange
that they should be kept waiting in this style. And yet curiosity
somewhat tempered their impatience. Some of the strange
circumstances attending the count's death had been noised abroad;
and some well-informed persons declared that a fabulous sum of
money had been stolen by a young girl. It is true, they did not
think this embezzlement a positive crime. It certainly proved
that the young lady in question possessed a strong and determined
character; and many of the proudest among the guests would gladly
have taken the place of De Valorsay, who, it was rumored, was
about to marry the pretty thief and her millions.
The person who was most disturbed by the delay was the master of
the ceremonies. Arrayed in his best uniform, his thin legs
encased in black silk stockings, his mantle thrown gracefully over
his shoulders, and his cocked hat under his arm, he was looking
anxiously about for some one in the assembled crowd to whom he
could give the signal for departure. He was already talking of
starting off when M. de Fondege appeared. The friends of M. de
Chalusse who were to hold the cords of the pall came forward.
There was a moment's confusion, then the hearse started, and the
whole cortege filed out of the courtyard.
Deep silence followed, so deep that the noise made in closing the
heavy gates came upon one with startling effect. "Ah!" moaned
Madame de Fondege, "it is over."
Marguerite's only reply was a despairing gesture. It would have
been impossible for her to articulate a syllable--her tears were
choking her. What would she not have given to be alone at this
moment--to have been able to abandon herself without constraint to
her emotions! Alas! prudence condemned her to play a part even
now. The thought of her future and her honor lent her strength to
submit to the deceitful consolations of a woman whom she knew to
be a dangerous enemy. And the General's wife was by no means
sparing of her consolatory phrases; in fact, it was only after a
long homily on the uncertainty of life below that she ventured to
approach the subject of her letter of the previous evening. "For
it is necessary to face the inevitable," she pursued. "The
troublesome realities of life have no respect for our grief. So
it is with you, my dear child; you would find a bitter pleasure in
giving vent to your sorrow, but you are compelled to think of your
future. As M. de Chalusse has no heirs, this house will be
closed--you can remain here no longer."
"I know it, madame."
"Where will you go?"
"Alas! I don't know."
Madame de Fondege raised her handkerchief to her eyes as if to
wipe a furtive tear away, and then, almost roughly, she exclaimed:
"I must tell you the truth, my child. Listen to me. I see only
two courses for you to adopt. Either to ask the protection of
some respectable family, or to enter a convent. This is your only
hope of safety."
Mademoiselle Marguerite bowed her head, without replying. To
learn the plans which the General's wife had formed she must let
her disclose them. However, the girl's silence seemed to make
Madame de Fondege uncomfortable, and at last she resumed: "Is it
possible that you think of braving the perils of life alone? I
cannot believe it! It would be madness. Young, beautiful, and
attractive as you are, it is impossible for you to live
unprotected. Even if you had sufficient strength of character to
lead a pure and honest life, the world would none the less refuse
you its esteem. Mere prejudice, you say? You are quite right; but
it is nevertheless true that a young girl who braves public
opinion is lost."
It was easy to see by Madame de Fondege's earnestness that she
feared Mademoiselle Marguerite would avail herself of this
opportunity of recovering her liberty. "What shall I do, then?"
asked the girl.
"There is the convent."
"But I love life."
"Then ask the protection of some respectable family."
"The idea of being in any one's charge is disagreeable to me."
Strange to say, Madame de Fondege did not protest, did not speak
of her own house. She was too proud for that. Having once
offered hospitality, she thought it would arouse suspicion if she
insisted. So she contented herself with enumerating the arguments
for and against the two propositions. remarking from time to
time: "Come, you must decide! Don't wait until the last moment!"
Mademoiselle Marguerite had already decided but before announcing
her decision she wished to confer with the only friend she had in
the world--the old justice of the peace. On the previous evening
he had said to her: "Farewell until to-morrow," and knowing that
his work in the house had not been concluded, she was extremely
surprised that he had not yet put in an appearance.
While conversing with Madame de Fondege she had dexterously
avoided compromising herself in any way when suddenly a servant
appeared and announced the magistrate's arrival. He entered the
room, with his usual benevolent smile upon his lips, but his
searching eyes were never once taken off Madame de Fondege's face.
He bowed, made a few polite remarks, and then addressing
Marguerite, he said: "I must speak with you, mademoiselle, at
once. You may tell madame, however, that you will certainly
return in less than a quarter of an hour."
Marguerite followed him, and when they were alone in the count's
study and the doors had been carefully closed, the magistrate
exclaimed: "I have been thinking a great deal of you, my child, a
great deal; and it seems to me that I can explain certain things
which worried you yesterday. But first of all, what has happened
since I left you?"
Briefly, but with remarkable precision, Marguerite recounted the
various incidents which had occurred--her useless journey to the
Rue d'Ulm, Madame Leon's strange midnight ramble and conversation
with the Marquis de Valorsay, Madame de Fondege's letter, and
lastly, her visit and all that she had said.
The magistrate listened with his eyes fixed on his ring "This is
very serious, very serious," he said at last. "Perhaps you are
right. Perhaps M. Ferailleur is innocent. And yet, why should he
abscond? why should he leave the country?"
"Ah! monsieur, Pascal's flight is only feigned. He is in Paris--
concealed somewhere--I'm sure of it; and I know a man who will
find him for me. Only one thing puzzles me--his silence. To
disappear without a word, without giving me any sign of life----"
The magistrate interrupted her by a gesture. "I see nothing
surprising in that since your companion is the Marquis de
Valorsay's spy. How do you know that she has not intercepted or
destroyed some letter from M. Pascal?"
Mademoiselle Marguerite turned pale. "Great Heavens! how blind I
have been!" she exclaimed. "I did not think of that. Oh, the
wretch! if one could only question her and make her confess her
crime. It is horrible to think that if I wish to arrive at the
truth, I must remain with her and treat her in the future just as
I have treated her till now."
But the magistrate was not the man to wander from the subject he
was investigating. "Let us return to Madame de Fondege," said he.
"She is extremely unwilling to see you go out into the world
alone. Why?--through affection? No. Why, then? This is what we
must ascertain. Secondly, she seems indifferent as to whether you
accept her hospitality or enter a convent."
"She seems to prefer that I should enter a convent."
"Very well. What conclusion can we draw from that? Simply, that
the Fondege family don't particularly care about keeping you with
them, or marrying you to their son. If they don't desire this, it
is because they are perfectly sure that the missing money was not
taken by you. Now, let me ask, how can they be so certain? Simply
because they know where the missing millions are--and if they
"Ah! monsieur, it is because they've stolen them!"
The magistrate was silent. He had turned the bezel of his ring
inside, a sure sign of stormy weather, so his clerk would have
said--and though he had his features under excellent control he
could not entirely conceal some signs of a severe mental conflict
he was undergoing. "Well, yes, my child," he said, at last.
"Yes, it is my conviction that the Fondeges possess the millions
you saw in the count's escritoire, and which we have been unable
to find. How they obtained possession of the money I can't
conceive--but they have it, or else logic is no longer logic." He
paused again for a moment, and then he resumed, more slowly: "In
acquainting you with my opinion on this subject, I have given you,
a young girl, almost a child, a proof of esteem and confidence
which, it seems to me, few men are worthy of; for I may be
deceived, and a magistrate ought not to accuse a person unless he
is absolutely certain of his guilt. So you must forget what I
have just told you, Mademoiselle Marguerite."
She looked at him with an air of utter astonishment. "You advise
me to forget," she murmured, "you wish me to forget."
"Yes; you must conceal these suspicions in the deepest recesses of
your heart, until the time comes when you have sufficient proof to
convict the culprits. It is true that it will be a difficult task
to collect such proofs; but it is not impossible, with the aid of
time, which divulges so many crimes. And you may count upon me; I
will give you the benefit of all my influence and experience. It
shall never be said that I allowed a defenceless girl to be
crushed while I saw any chance of saving her."
Tears came to Mademoiselle Marguerite's eyes. So the world was
not composed entirely of scoundrels! "Ah! how kind you are,
monsieur," she said; "how kind you are!"
"To be sure!" he interrupted, in a benevolent tone. "But, my
child, you must help yourself. Remember this: if the Fondeges
suspect our suspicions, all is lost. Repeat this to yourself at
every moment in the day--and be discreet, impenetrable; for people
with unclean consciences and hands are always distrustful of
There was no necessity to say anything more on this point; and so,
with a sudden change of tone he asked: "Have you any plan?"
She felt that she could, and ought, to confide everything to this
worthy old man, and so rising to her feet, with a look of energy
and determination on her face, she replied in a firm voice: "My
decision is taken, monsieur, subject, of course, to your approval.
In the first place I shall keep Madame Leon with me, in whatever
capacity she likes, it doesn't matter what. Through her I shall
no doubt be able to watch the Marquis de Valorsay, and perhaps
eventually discover his hopes and his aim. In the second place, I
shall accept the hospitality offered me by the General and his
wife. With them, I shall be in the very centre of the intrigue,
and in a position to collect proofs of their infamy."
The magistrate gave vent to an exclamation of delight. "You are a
brave girl, Mademoiselle Marguerite," he said, "and at the same
time a prudent one. Yes; that is the proper course to pursue."
Nothing now remained save to make arrangements for her departure.
She possessed some very handsome diamonds and other costly jewels;
should she keep them? "They are undoubtedly mine," said she; "but
after the infamous accusations levelled at me, I can't consent to
take them away with me. They are worth a very handsome amount. I
shall leave them with you, monsieur. If the courts restore them
to me later--well--I shall take them--and not without pleasure, I
frankly confess." Then as the magistrate questioned her anxiously
as to her resources, she replied: "Oh! I'm not without money. M.
de Chalusse was generosity itself, and my tastes are very simple.
From the money he gave me for my clothes I saved more than eight
thousand francs in less than six months. That is more than
sufficient to maintain me for a year."
The magistrate then explained that when the court took possession
of this immense estate, it would surely allow her a certain sum.
For whether the count was her father or not, he was at any rate
her officially appointed guardian, and she would be considered a
minor. And in support of his assertion, he quoted Article 367 of
the Civil Code, which says: "In the event of the officially
appointed guardian dying without adopting, his ward, the said ward
shall be furnished during her minority with the means of
subsistence from the said guardian's estate," etc., etc.
"An additional reason why I should give up my jewels," said
The only point that now remained was to decide upon some plan by
which she could communicate with her friend, the magistrate,
without the knowledge of the General or his wife. The magistrate
accordingly explained a system of correspondence which would defy
the closest surveillance, and then added: "Now, make haste back to
your visitor. Who knows what suspicions your absence may have
But Mademoiselle Marguerite had one more request to make. She had
often seen in M. de Chalusse's possession a little note-book, in
which he entered the names and addresses of the persons with whom
he had business transactions. M. Fortunat's address must be
there, so she asked and obtained permission to examine this note-
book, and to her great joy, under the letter "F," she found the
entry: "Fortunat (Isidore), No. 28 Place de la Bourse." "Ah! I'm
sure that I shall find Pascal now!" she exclaimed. And after once
more thanking the magistrate, she returned to her room again.
Madame de Fondege was awaiting her with feverish impatience. "How
long you stayed!" she cried.
"I had so many explanations to give, madame."
"How you are tormented, my poor child!"
This furnished Madame de Fondege with another excuse for
proffering her advice. But Mademoiselle Marguerite would not
allow herself to be convinced at once. She raised a great many
objections, and parleyed for a long time before telling Madame de
Fondege that she would be happy to accept the hospitality which
had been offered her. And her consent was by no means
unconditional. She insisted on paying her board, and expressed
the wish to retain the services of Madame Leon to whom she was so
much attached. The worthy housekeeper was present at this
conference. For an instant she had feared that Mademoiselle
Marguerite suspected her manoeuvres but her fears were now
dispelled, and she even congratulated herself on her skilfulness.
Everything was arranged, and the agreement had been sealed with a
kiss, when the General returned about four o'clock. "Ah, my
dear!" cried his wife, "what happiness! We have a daughter!"
But even this intelligence was scarcely sufficient to revive her
husband's drooping spirits. He had almost fainted when he heard
the earth falling on M. de Chalusse's coffin; and this display of
weakness on the part of a man adorned with such terrible and
ferocious mustaches had excited no little comment. "Yes, it is a
great happiness!" he now replied. "But thunder and lightning! I
never doubted the dear girl's heart!"
Still both he and his wife could scarcely conceal their
disappointment when the magistrate informed them that their
beloved daughter would not take her diamonds. "Dash it!" growled
the General. "I recognize her father in this! What delicacy!
almost too much, perhaps!"
However, when the magistrate informed him that the court would
undoubtedly order the restitution of the jewels, his face
brightened again, and he went down to superintend the removal of
Mademoiselle Marguerite's trunks, which were being loaded on one
of the vehicles of the establishment.
Then the moment of departure came. Mademoiselle Marguerite
acknowledged the parting remarks of the servants, who were
secretly delighted to be freed from her presence, and then, before
entering the carriage, she cast a long, sad look upon this
princely mansion which she had once had the right to believe her
own, but which she was, alas! now leaving, in all probability, for
The conclusion of this exciting narrative will be found in the
volume called "Baron Trigault's Vengeance."
Back to Full Books