The Return Of The Aware Applicant

In a word, why did he abandon four thousand francs in gold to encumber himself with a bundle of linen?Nevertheless, about noon, a slight but remarkable agitation became apparent in the assembly: the clattering of ten thousand tongues succeeded; and, in an instant afterward, ten thousand faces were upturned toward the heavens, ten thousand pipes descended simultaneously from the corners of ten thousand mouths, and a shout, which could be compared to nothing but the roaring of Niagara, resounded long, loudly, and furiously, through all the environs of Rotterdam. It would contain more than forty thousand cubic feet of gas; would take me up easily, I calculated, with all my implements, and, if I managed rightly, with one hundred and seventy-five pounds of ballast into the bargain. ‘As five miles, then, to eight thousand,’ would express the proportion of the earth’s area seen by me. At length, while, stupefied and terror-stricken, I stood in expectation of I knew not what hideous destruction, the car vibrated with excessive violence, and a gigantic and flaming mass of some material which I could not distinguish, came with a voice of a thousand thunders, roaring and booming by the balloon. Here he finds, among other odd things, that the people enjoy extreme happiness; that they have no law; that they die without pain; that they are from ten to thirty feet in height; that they live five thousand years; that they have an emperor called Irdonozur; and that they can jump sixty feet high, when, being out of the gravitating influence, they fly about with fans.

In coin there was rather more than four hundred and fifty thousand dollars--estimating the value of the pieces, as accurately as we could, by the tables of the period. Do you observe how mere an accident it was that these events should have occurred upon the sole day of all the year in which it has been, or may be, sufficiently cool for fire, and that without the fire, or without the intervention of the dog at the precise moment in which he appeared, I should never have become aware of the death’s-head, and so never the possessor of the treasure?” “But proceed--I am all impatience.” “Well; you have heard, of course, the many stories current--the thousand vague rumors afloat about money buried, somewhere upon the Atlantic coast, by Kidd and his associates. I made up my mind, at once, that this was of a simple species--such, however, as would appear, to the crude intellect of the sailor, absolutely insoluble without the key.” “And you really solved it?” “Readily; I have solved others of an abstruseness ten thousand times greater. Let us suppose, gentle reader, that it is now the year of the world three thousand eight hundred and thirty, and let us, for a few minutes, imagine ourselves at that most grotesque habitation of man, the remarkable city of Antioch.

You will remember that it is now the year of the world three thousand eight hundred and thirty. he says the king is coming in triumph; that he is dressed in state; that he has just finished putting to death, with his own hand, a thousand chained Israelitish prisoners! Tantum vini habet nemo Quantum sanguinis effudit!(*1) Which may be thus paraphrased: A thousand, a thousand, a thousand, A thousand, a thousand, a thousand, We, with one warrior, have slain! A thousand, a thousand, a thousand, a thousand. Sing a thousand over again! Soho!--let us sing Long life to our king, Who knocked over a thousand so fine! Such, you will allow, is the massacre of a thousand Jews. Upon the floor were found four Napoleons, an ear-ring of topaz, three large silver spoons, three smaller of métal d’Alger, and two bags, containing nearly four thousand francs in gold. In a word, why did he abandon four thousand francs in gold to encumber himself with a bundle of linen? It was not until the expiration of a week that it was deemed necessary to offer a reward; and even then this reward was limited to a thousand francs.

At the end of the tenth day it was thought advisable to double the sum originally proposed; and, at length, the second week having elapsed without leading to any discoveries, and the prejudice which always exists in Paris against the Police having given vent to itself in several serious émeutes, the Prefect took it upon himself to offer the sum of twenty thousand francs “for the conviction of the assassin,” or, if more than one should prove to have been implicated, “for the conviction of any one of the assassins.” In the proclamation setting forth this reward, a full pardon was promised to any accomplice who should come forward in evidence against his fellow; and to the whole was appended, wherever it appeared, the private placard of a committee of citizens, offering ten thousand francs, in addition to the amount proposed by the Prefecture. The entire reward thus stood at no less than thirty thousand francs, which will be regarded as an extraordinary sum when we consider the humble condition of the girl, and the great frequency, in large cities, of such atrocities as the one described. As time passed and no discovery ensued, a thousand contradictory rumors were circulated, and journalists busied themselves in suggestions. It is impossible that a person so well known to thousands as this young woman was, should have passed three blocks without some one having seen her; and any one who saw her would have remembered it, for she interested all who knew her. “‘Her foot,’ says the journal, ‘was small--so are thousands of feet. Each successive one is multiple evidence--proof not added to proof, but multiplied by hundreds or thousands. ‘It is impossible,’ it urges, ‘that a person so well known to thousands as this young woman was, should have passed three blocks without some one having seen her.’ This is the idea of a man long resident in Paris--a public man--and one whose walks to and fro in the city, have been mostly limited to the vicinity of the public offices. Would it be a rash wager--a wager of one thousand to one--that a day never passed over the heads of these boys without finding at least one of them ensconced in the umbrageous hall, and enthroned upon its natural throne? At a terrific height directly above us, and upon the very verge of the precipitous descent, hovered a gigantic ship of, perhaps, four thousand tons. From billows a thousand times more stupendous than any I have ever seen, we glide away with the facility of the arrowy sea-gull; and the colossal waters rear their heads above us like demons of the deep, but like demons confined to simple threats and forbidden to destroy.


This, then, was the very creature of which I was in search.The minister decamped; leaving his own letter--one of no importance--upon the table.” “Here, then,” said Dupin to me, “you have precisely what you demand to make the ascendancy complete--the robber’s knowledge of the loser’s knowledge of the robber.” “Yes,” replied the Prefect; “and the power thus attained has, for some months past, been wielded, for political purposes, to a very dangerous extent. We removed every carpet, and examined the boards with the microscope.” “And the paper on the walls?” “Yes.” “You looked into the cellars?” “We did.” “Then,” I said, “you have been making a miscalculation, and the letter is not upon the premises, as you suppose.” “I fear you are right there,” said the Prefect. For some minutes he remained speechless and motionless, looking incredulously at my friend with open mouth, and eyes that seemed starting from their sockets; then, apparently recovering himself in some measure, he seized a pen, and after several pauses and vacant stares, finally filled up and signed a check for fifty thousand francs, and handed it across the table to Dupin. The latter examined it carefully and deposited it in his pocket-book; then, unlocking an escritoire, took thence a letter and gave it to the Prefect. This functionary grasped it in a perfect agony of joy, opened it with a trembling hand, cast a rapid glance at its contents, and then, scrambling and struggling to the door, rushed at length unceremoniously from the room and from the house, without having uttered a syllable since Dupin had requested him to fill up the check. “The measures, then,” he continued, “were good in their kind, and well executed; their defect lay in their being inapplicable to the case, and to the man. But, then, the radicalness of these differences, which was excessive; the dirt; the soiled and torn condition of the paper, so inconsistent with the true methodical habits of D--, and so suggestive of a design to delude the beholder into an idea of the worthlessness of the document; these things, together with the hyper-obtrusive situation of this document, full in the view of every visiter, and thus exactly in accordance with the conclusions to which I had previously arrived; these things, I say, were strongly corroborative of suspicion, in one who came with the intention to suspect. When the day broke, it so happened that this history was not altogether finished, and that Scheherazade, in the nature of things could not finish it just then, since it was high time for her to get up and be bowstrung--a thing very little more pleasant than hanging, only a trifle more genteel. “Myself and my two brothers once owned a schooner-rigged smack of about seventy tons burthen, with which we were in the habit of fishing among the islands beyond Moskoe, nearly to Vurrgh.

“I repeat, then, that I only half felt, and never intellectually believed. P. Is God, then, material? P. You assert, then, that the unparticled matter, in motion, is thought? Valdemar?” The answer now was immediate, but even less audible than before: “No pain--I am dying.” I did not think it advisable to disturb him farther just then, and nothing more was said or done until the arrival of Dr. There were two particulars, nevertheless, which I thought then, and still think, might fairly be stated as characteristic of the intonation--as well adapted to convey some idea of its unearthly peculiarity. Valdemar’s house, accompanied, now and then, by medical and other friends. This, then, was the very creature of which I was in search.

I looked around triumphantly, and said to myself--“Here at least, then, my labor has not been in vain.” My next step was to look for the beast which had been the cause of so much wretchedness; for I had, at length, firmly resolved to put it to death. For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold--then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her violent and now final death-agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated. But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before. And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock. And the rumor of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise--then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust. It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the revellers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave-cerements and corpse-like mask which they handled with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form. Yon dark, gloomy niche, too, yawns right opposite her chamber window--what, then, could there be in its shadows--in its architecture--in its ivy-wreathed and solemn cornices--that the Marchesa di Mentoni had not wondered at a thousand times before? At first they wore the aspect of charity, and seemed white and slender angels who would save me; but then, all at once, there came a most deadly nausea over my spirit, and I felt every fibre in my frame thrill as if I had touched the wire of a galvanic battery, while the angel forms became meaningless spectres, with heads of flame, and I saw that from them there would be no help. Then, very suddenly, thought, and shuddering terror, and earnest endeavor to comprehend my true state.

My worst thoughts, then, were confirmed. There were in all, then, a hundred paces; and, admitting two paces to the yard, I presumed the dungeon to be fifty yards in circuit. Even then, while I gazed, they came up in troops, hurriedly, with ravenous eyes, allured by the scent of the meat. With the particles of the oily and spicy viand which now remained, I thoroughly rubbed the bandage wherever I could reach it; then, raising my hand from the floor, I lay breathlessly still. Apart, however, from the inevitable conclusion, a priori that such causes must produce such effects----that the well-known occurrence of such cases of suspended animation must naturally give rise, now and then, to premature interments--apart from this consideration, we have the direct testimony of medical and ordinary experience to prove that a vast number of such interments have actually taken place. Then, for weeks, all was void, and black, and silent, and Nothing became the universe. When the grim Darkness overspread the Earth, then, with every horror of thought, I shook--shook as the quivering plumes upon the hearse. And, even then, my mortal terrors would listen to no reason--would accept no consolation. Then, after a long interval, a ringing in the ears; then, after a lapse still longer, a prickling or tingling sensation in the extremities; then a seemingly eternal period of pleasurable quiescence, during which the awakening feelings are struggling into thought; then a brief re-sinking into non-entity; then a sudden recovery. And now the Comforter fled for ever, and a still sterner Despair reigned triumphant; for I could not help perceiving the absence of the paddings which I had so carefully prepared--and then, too, there came suddenly to my nostrils the strong peculiar odor of moist earth.

It is indeed evident that with less of the instinctive philosophy which, now and then, stands so well in the stead of experience, Mr. Let me seek, then, a spot not far from a populous city--whose vicinity, also, will best enable me to execute my plans.” In search of a suitable place so situated, Ellison travelled for several years, and I was permitted to accompany him. He was civil, even cordial in his manner, but just then, I was more intent on observing the arrangements of the dwelling which had so much interested me, than the personal appearance of the tenant. It was never opened save for the three periodical egressions and ingressions already mentioned; then, in every creak of its mighty hinges, we found a plenitude of mystery--a world of matter for solemn remark, or for more solemn meditation. He hesitated but for an instant; then, with a slight sigh, drew in silence, and put himself upon his defence. How, then, am I mad?

And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously--oh, so cautiously--cautiously (for the hinges creaked)--I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. In the mean time my own disease--for I have been told that I should call it by no other appellation--my own disease, then, grew rapidly upon me, and assumed finally a monomaniac character of a novel and extraordinary form--hourly and momently gaining vigor--and at length obtaining over me the most incomprehensible ascendancy. The words were the singular but simple ones of the poet Ebn Zaiat:--“Dicebant mihi sodales si sepulchrum amicae visitarem, curas meas aliquantulum fore levatas.” Why then, as I perused them, did the hairs of my head erect themselves on end, and the blood of my body become congealed within my veins? They penetrate, however, rudderless or compassless into the vast ocean of the “light ineffable,” and again, like the adventures of the Nubian geographer, “agressi sunt mare tenebrarum, quid in eo esset exploraturi.” We will say, then, that I am mad.

And then, lastly, the voluminous cloud uprose, and, abandoning the tops of the mountains to the dimness of old, fell back into the regions of Hesper, and took away all its manifold golden and gorgeous glories from the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass. /

This is what I racked my brain to discover, but without success.The servants at the Hotel de Chalusse, one of the most magnificent mansions in the Rue de Courcelles in Paris, were assembled in the porter’s lodge, a little building comprising a couple of rooms standing on the right hand side of the great gateway. Bourigeau, was a person of immense importance, always able and disposed to make any one who was inclined to doubt his authority, feel it in cruel fashion. As could be easily seen, he held all the other servants in his power.

Thus, it is needless to say that M. Bourigeau and his wife were treated by their fellow-servants with the most servile adulation. “The place is really intolerable,” she was saying. “The wages are high, the food of the very best, the livery just such as would show off a good-looking man to the best advantage, and Madame Leon, the housekeeper, who has entire charge of everything, is not too lynx-eyed.” “And the work?” “A mere nothing.

Think, there are eighteen of us to serve only two persons, the count and Mademoiselle Marguerite. But then there is never any pleasure, never any amusement here.” “What! is one bored then?” “Bored to death. This grand house is worse than a tomb.

They are always closed; and the furniture is dropping to pieces under its coverings. There are not three visitors in the course of a month.” She was evidently incensed, and the new footman seemed to share her indignation. “Why, how is it?” he exclaimed.

“Is the count an owl? Sometimes, in the evening, he drives with Mademoiselle Marguerite to the Bois de Boulogne in a closed carriage; but that seldom happens. Besides, there is no such thing as teasing the poor man. I’ve been in the house for six months, and I’ve never heard him say anything but: ‘yes’; ‘no’; ‘do this’; ‘very well’; ‘retire.’ You would think these are the only words he knows. Casimir if I’m not right.” “Our guv’nor isn’t very gay, that’s a fact,” responded the valet. The footman was listening with a serious air, as if greatly interested in the character of the people whom he was to serve. “And mademoiselle,” he asked, “what does she say to such an existence?” “Bless me!

during the six months she has been here, she has never once complained.” “If she is bored,” added M. Casimir, “she conceals it bravely.” “Naturally enough,” sneered the waiting-maid, with an ironical gesture; “each month that mademoiselle remains here, brings her too much money for her to complain.” By the laugh that greeted this reply, and by the looks the older servants exchanged, the new-comer must have realized that he had discovered the secret skeleton hidden in every house. what!” he exclaimed, on fire with curiosity; “is there really anything in that? To tell the truth, I was inclined to doubt it.” His companions were evidently about to tell him all they knew, or rather all they thought they knew, when the front-door bell rang vigorously. He’s outside, in my vehicle----” Without pausing to listen any longer, the servants rushed out, and the driver’s incoherent explanation at once became intelligible. He must have fallen forward, face downward, and owing to the jolting of the vehicle his head had slipped under the front seat. Casimir, “he must have had a stroke of apoplexy.” The valet was peering into the vehicle as he spoke, and his comrades were approaching, when suddenly he drew back, uttering a cry of horror.

it is the count!” Whenever there is an accident in Paris, a throng of inquisitive spectators seems to spring up from the very pavement, and indeed more than fifty persons had already congregated round about the vehicle. This circumstance restored M.

Run to the nearest doctor, and don’t return until you bring one with you.” The concierge had opened the gate, but the driver had disappeared; they called him, and on receiving no reply the valet seized the reins and skilfully guided the cab through the gateway. Having escaped the scrutiny of the crowd, it now remained to remove the count from the vehicle, and this was a difficult task, on account of the singular position of his body; still, they succeeded at last, by opening both doors of the cab, the three strongest men uniting in their efforts. Then they placed him in a large arm-chair, carried him to his own room, and speedily had him undressed and in bed. He had so far given no sign of life; and as he lay there with his head weighing heavily on the pillow, you might have thought that all was over. His most intimate friend would scarcely have recognized him.

His features were swollen and discolored; his eyes were closed, and a dark purple circle, looking almost like a terrible bruise, extended round them. A spasm had twisted his lips, and his distorted mouth, which was drawn on one side and hung half open imparted a most sinister expression to his face. His forehead had been grazed by a piece of iron, and a tiny stream of blood was trickling down upon his face. However, he still breathed; and by listening attentively, one could distinguish a faint rattling in his throat. Perhaps they unconsciously loved this master, whose bread they ate. Perhaps their grief was only selfishness, and they were merely wondering what would become of them, where they should find another situation, and if it would prove a good one. The more sensible among them were proposing to go and inform mademoiselle or Madame Leon, whose rooms were on the floor above, when the rustling of a skirt against the door suddenly made them turn. The person whom they called “mademoiselle” was standing on the threshold. Mademoiselle Marguerite was a beautiful young girl, about twenty years of age. “What is the cause of all the noise I have heard?

I have rung three times and the bell was not answered.” No one ventured to reply, and in her surprise she cast a hasty glance around. From where she stood, she could not see the bed stationed in an alcove; but she instantly noted the dejected attitude of the servants, the clothing scattered about the floor, and the disorder that pervaded this magnificent but severely furnished chamber, which was only lighted by the lamp which M. “A great misfortune, mademoiselle, a terrible misfortune.

But Mademoiselle Marguerite had understood him. Deeply moved by the sight of this despair, the servants held their breath, wondering how it would all end. “I have sent for one, mademoiselle,” replied M. He was a young man, although his head was almost quite bald. Without a word, without a bow, he walked straight to the bedside, lifted the unconscious man’s eyelids, felt his pulse, and uncovered his chest, applying his ear to it. “This is a serious case,” he said at the close of his examination. Mademoiselle Marguerite, who had followed his movements with the most poignant anxiety, could not repress a sob.

“But all hope is not lost, is it, monsieur?” she asked in a beseeching voice, with hands clasped in passionate entreaty. “You will save him, will you not--you will save him?” “One may always hope for the best.” This was the doctor’s only answer. He had drawn his case of instruments from his pocket, and was testing the points of his lancets on the tip of his finger. When he had found one to his liking: “I must ask you, mademoiselle,” said he, “to order these women to retire, and to retire yourself. The men will remain to assist me, if I require help.” She obeyed submissively, but instead of returning to her own room, she remained in the hall, seating herself upon the lower step of the staircase near the door, counting the seconds, and drawing a thousand conjectures from the slightest sound. Jodon--for such was his name--was an ambitious man who played a part. Educated by a “prince of science,” more celebrated for the money he gained than for the cures he effected, he copied his master’s method, his gestures, and even the inflections of his voice. By casting in people’s eyes the same powder as his teacher had employed, he hoped to obtain the same results: a large practice and an immense fortune. In his secret heart he was by no means disconcerted by his patient’s condition; on the contrary, he did not consider the count’s state nearly as precarious as it really was. He remained speechless and motionless; the only result obtained, was that his breathing became a trifle easier.

Finding his endeavors fruitless, the doctor at last declared that all immediate remedies were exhausted, that “the women” might be allowed to return, and that nothing now remained but to wait for the effect of the remedies he was about to prescribe, and which they must procure from the nearest chemist. Any other man would have been touched by the agony of entreaty contained in the glance that Mademoiselle Marguerite cast upon the physician as she returned into the room; but it did not affect him in the least. He calmly said, “I cannot give my decision as yet.” “My God!” murmured the unhappy girl; “oh, my God, have mercy upon me!” But the doctor, copying his model, had stationed himself near the fireplace, with his elbow leaning on the mantel-shelf, in a graceful, though rather pompous attitude. “Now,” he said, addressing his remarks to M. Is this the first time the Count de Chalusse has had such an attack?” “Yes, sir--at least since I have been in attendance upon him.” “Very good.

That is a chance in our favor. Tell me--have you ever heard him complain of vertigo, or of a buzzing in his ears?” “Never.” Mademoiselle Marguerite seemed inclined to volunteer some remark, but the doctor imposed silence upon her by a gesture, and continued his examination. “Is the count a great eater?” he inquired. “Does he drink heavily?” “The count is moderation itself, monsieur, and he always takes a great deal of water with his wine.” The doctor listened with an air of intent thoughtfulness, his head slightly inclined forward, his brow contracted, and his under lip puffed out, while from time to time he stroked his beardless chin. He was copying his master. Nothing in the count’s constitution predisposes him to such an accident----” Then, suddenly turning toward Mademoiselle Marguerite: “Do you know, mademoiselle, whether the count has experienced any very violent emotion during the past few days?” “Something occurred this very morning, which seemed to annoy him very much.” “Ah! “Why did you not tell me all this at first? It will be necessary for you to give me the particulars, mademoiselle.” The young girl hesitated.

The servants were dazed by the doctor’s manner; but Mademoiselle Marguerite was far from sharing their awe and admiration. As for this coarse examination in the presence of all these servants, and by the bedside of a man who, in spite of his apparent unconsciousness, was, perhaps, able to hear and to comprehend, she looked upon it as a breach of delicacy, even of propriety. “It is of the most urgent importance that I should be fully informed of these particulars,” repeated the physician peremptorily. Mademoiselle Marguerite seemed to collect her thoughts, and then she sadly said: “Just as we sat down to breakfast this morning, a letter was handed to the count. No sooner had his eyes fallen upon it, than he turned as white as his napkin. He rose from his seat and began to walk hastily up and down the dining-room, uttering exclamations of anger and sorrow.

However, after a few moments, he resumed his seat at the table, and began to eat----” “As usual?” “He ate more than usual, monsieur. At last, after quite a struggle, he seemed to come to some decision. He tore the letter to pieces, and threw the pieces out of the window that opens upon the garden.” Mademoiselle Marguerite expressed herself with the utmost simplicity, and there was certainly nothing particularly extraordinary in her story. Still, those around her listened with breathless curiosity, as though they were expecting some startling revelation, so much does the human mind abhor that which is natural and incline to that which is mysterious.

I dared not disturb him by any remarks; but suddenly he said to me: ‘It’s strange, but I feel very uncomfortable.’ A moment passed, without either of us speaking, and then he added: ‘I am certainly not well. Here is the key of my escritoire; open it, and on the upper shelf you will find a small bottle which please bring to me.’ I noticed with some surprise that M. de Chalusse, who usually speaks very distinctly, stammered and hesitated considerably in making this request, but, unfortunately, I did not think much about it at the time. de Chalusse seemed to feel much better, and retired to his study as usual. I hastened there, very much surprised, for the weather was extremely disagreeable.

‘Dear Marguerite,’ he said, on seeing me, ‘help me to find the fragments of that letter which I flung from the window this morning. Several times he spoke of his regret, and cursed his precipitation.” M. They had seen the count searching for the remnants of this letter, and had thought him little better than an idiot. “I was much grieved at the count’s disappointment,” continued Mademoiselle Marguerite, “but suddenly he exclaimed, joyfully: ‘That address--why, such a person will give it to me--what a fool I am!’” The physician evinced such absorbing interest in this narrative that he forgot to retain his usual impassive attitude. Who--who was this person?” he inquired eagerly, without apparently realizing the impropriety of his question.

She silenced her indiscreet questioner with a haughty glance, and in the driest possible tone, replied: “I have forgotten the name.” Cut to the quick, the doctor suddenly resumed his master’s pose; but all the same his imperturbable sang-froid was sensibly impaired. “Believe me, mademoiselle, that interest alone--a most respectful interest--” She did not even seem to hear his excuse, but resumed: “I know, however, monsieur, that M. de Chalusse intended applying to the police if he failed to obtain this address from the person in question. After this he appeared to be entirely at ease. At three o’clock he rang for his valet, and ordered dinner two hours earlier than usual. At five he rose, kissed me gayly, and left the house on foot, telling me that he was confident of success, and that he did not expect to return before midnight.” The poor child’s firmness now gave way; her eyes filled with tears, and it was in a voice choked with sobs that she added, pointing to M.

de Chalusse: “But at half-past six they brought him back as you see him now----” An interval of silence ensued, so deep that one could hear the faint breathing of the unconscious man still lying motionless on his bed. almost nothing, sir; not ten words.” “You must find this man and bring him to me.” Two servants rushed out in search of him. He could not be far away, for his vehicle was still standing in the courtyard. Some of the inquisitive spectators who had been disappointed in their curiosity by Casimir’s thoughtfulness had treated him to some liquor, and in exchange he had told them all he knew about the affair. He had quite recovered from his fright, and was cheerful, even gay. He emptied his glass and followed them with very bad grace, muttering and swearing between his set teeth. He declared that the gentleman had hired him at twelve o’clock, hoping by this means to extort pay for five hours’ driving, which, joined to the liberal gratuity he could not fail to obtain, would remunerate him handsomely for his day’s work. Living is dear, it should be remembered, and a fellow makes as much as he can. When the cabby had gone off, still growling, although a couple of louis had been placed in his hand, the doctor returned to his patient. He involuntarily assumed his accustomed attitude, with crossed arms, a gloomy expression of countenance, and his forehead furrowed as if with thought and anxiety.

But this time he was not acting a part.

A thousand vague and undefinable suspicions crossed his mind. It would bring him into notice; he would be mentioned in the papers; and his increased practice would fill his hands with gold. He approached Mademoiselle Marguerite, who was weeping in an arm-chair, and touched her gently on the shoulder. “One more question, mademoiselle,” said he, imparting as much solemnity to his tone as he could. de Chalusse took this morning?” “Alas! no, monsieur.” “It is very important that I should know. The accuracy of my diagnosis is dependent upon it. de Chalusse replaced it in his escritoire.” The physician pointed to an article of furniture to the left of the fireplace: “There?” he asked.

“Yes, monsieur.” He deliberated, but at last conquering his hesitation, he said: “Could we not obtain this vial?” Mademoiselle Marguerite blushed. Casimir approached: “It must be in the count’s pocket, and if mademoiselle will allow me----” But she stepped back with outstretched arms as if to protect the escritoire. I will not permit it----” “But, mademoiselle,” insisted the doctor, “your father----” “The Count de Chalusse is not my father!” Dr. Jodon was greatly disconcerted by Mademoiselle Marguerite’s vehemence. ah!” In less than a second, a thousand strange and contradictory suppositions darted through his brain. Who, then, could this girl be, if she were not Mademoiselle de Chalusse? Above all, why this angry outburst for no other apparent cause than a very natural and exceedingly insignificant request on his part? de Chalusse’s pocket for the key of his escritoire.” Astonished by what he regarded as a new caprice, the valet obeyed.

He gathered up the garments strewn over the floor, and eventually drew a key from one of the waistcoat pockets. Mademoiselle Marguerite took it from him, and then in a determined tone, exclaimed: “A hammer.” It was brought; whereupon, to the profound amazement of the physician, she knelt down beside the fireplace, laid the key upon one of the andirons, and with a heavy blow of the hammer, broke it into fragments. All the servants understood the motive that had influenced her, and were saying to themselves, “Mademoiselle is right. If anything were missed, why any of us might be accused. But if the key is destroyed, it will be impossible to suspect any one.” However, the physician’s conjectures were of an entirely different nature. But there was no excuse for prolonging his visit. Once more he examined the sick man, whose condition remained unchanged; and then, after explaining what was to be done in his absence, he declared that he must leave at once, as he had a number of important visits to make; he added, however, that he would return about midnight. de Chalusse,” replied Mademoiselle Marguerite; “that is sufficient assurance, monsieur, that your orders will be obeyed to the letter.

Jodon, who had met with the same misfortune in this aristocratic neighborhood several times before. When an accident happened, he was summoned because he chanced to be close at hand, but just as he was flattering himself that he had gained a desirable patient, he found himself in presence of some celebrated physician, who had come from a distance in his carriage. Accustomed to such disappointments, he knew how to conceal his dissatisfaction.

“Were I in your place, mademoiselle, I should do precisely what you suggest,” he answered, “and should you think it unnecessary for me to call, I----” “Oh! But Mademoiselle Marguerite followed him on to the landing. Is his condition hopeless?” “Alarming--yes; hopeless--no.” “But, monsieur, this terrible unconsciousness----” “It usually follows such an attack as he has been the victim of. Still we may hope that the paralysis will gradually disappear, and the power of motion return after a time.” Mademoiselle Marguerite was listening, pale, agitated, and embarrassed. de Chalusse should not recover, will he die without regaining consciousness--without being able to speak?” “I am unable to say, mademoiselle--the count’s malady is one of those which set at naught all the hypotheses of science.” She thanked him sadly, sent a servant to summon Madame Leon, and returned to the count’s room.

Is she afraid that the count will regain consciousness? or, on the contrary, does she wish him to speak? Is there any question of a will under all this? What is at stake?” His preoccupation was so intense that he almost forgot where he was going, and he paused on every step.

It was not until the fresh air of the courtyard blew upon his face, reminding him of the realities of life, that the charlatanesque element in his nature regained the ascendency. And to-morrow, you must inform the commissary of police.” Ten minutes later a thick bed of straw had been strewed across the thoroughfare, and the drivers of passing vehicles involuntarily slackened their speed, for every one in Paris knows what this signifies. His general expression was shrewd, and at the same time impudent, and surprising audacity gleamed in his eyes. Isidore Fortunat.” “Oh, yes.

I recollect.” “I came, in obedience to my employer’s orders, to inquire if you had obtained the information you promised him; but seeing that something had happened at your house, I didn’t dare go in, but decided to watch for you----” “And you did quite right, my lad. The Marquis de Valorsay was closeted with the count for two hours yesterday. “Is it for him that the straw has been strewed in the street?” “It’s for him.” “What a lucky fellow! But I have an idea that my guv’nor will hardly laugh when I tell him this.

Everything, to the very last plume, is warranted to give perfect satisfaction. Well, is it understood?” The valet shrugged his shoulders. “Nonsense!” said he, carelessly; “what is all that to me?” “Ah! I forgot to mention that there would be a commission of two hundred francs to divide between us.” “That’s consideration. Victor Chupin drew a huge silver watch from his pocket and consulted it.

“Five minutes to eight,” he growled, “and the guv’nor expects me at eight precisely. Isidore Fortunat resided at No.

He had a handsome suite of apartments: a drawing-room, a dining-room, a bed-room, a large outer office where his clerks worked, and a private one, which was the sanctuary of his thoughts and meditations. His lease entitled him, moreover, to the use of a room ten feet square, up under the eaves, where he lodged his servant, Madame Dodelin, a woman of forty-six or thereabouts, who had met with reverses of fortune, and who now took such good charge of his establishment, that his table--for he ate at home--was truly fit for a sybarite.

Having been established here for five years or more, M. Fortunat was very well known in the neighborhood, and, as he paid his rent promptly, and met all his obligations without demur, he was generally respected. Fortunat derived his income. He gave his attention to contested claims, liquidations, the recovery of legacies, and so on, as was shown by the inscription in large letters which figured on the elegant brass plate adorning his door. He must have had a prosperous business, for he employed six collectors in addition to the clerks who wrote all day long in his office; and his clients were so numerous that the concierge was often heard to complain of the way they ran up and down the stairs, declaring that it was worse than a procession. He was some thirty-eight years of age, extremely methodical in his habits, gentle and refined in his manner, intelligent, very good-looking, and always dressed in perfect taste. He was accused of being, in business matters, as cold, as polished, and as hard as one of the marble slabs of the Morgue; but then, no one was obliged to employ him unless they chose to do so. This much is certain: he did not frequent cafes or places of amusement.

His housekeeper suspected him of matrimonial designs, and perhaps she was right. Isidore Fortunat had been dining alone and was sipping a cup of tea when the door-bell rang, announcing the arrival of a visitor. Madame Dodelin hastened to open the door, and in walked Victor Chupin, breathless from his hurried walk. It had not taken him twenty-five minutes to cover the distance which separates the Rue de Courcelles from the Place de la Bourse. “That’s true, monsieur, but it isn’t my fault. Everything was in confusion down there, and I was obliged to wait.” “How is that?

Why?” “The Count de Chalusse was stricken with apoplexy this evening, and he is probably dead by this time.” M. Fortunat sprang from his chair with a livid face and trembling lips. “I am ruined!” Then, fearing Madame Dodelin’s curiosity, he seized the lamp and rushed into his office, crying to Chupin: “Follow me.” Chupin obeyed without a word, for he was a shrewd fellow, and knew how to make the best of a trying situation. He was not usually allowed to enter this private room, the floor of which was covered with a magnificent carpet; and so, after carefully closing the door, he remained standing, hat in hand, and looking somewhat intimidated. Fortunat seemed to have forgotten his presence.

“If the count is dead,” he muttered, “the Marquis de Valorsay is lost! He walked straight to Chupin, and caught him by the collar, as if the young fellow had been the cause of this misfortune. “It isn’t possible,” said he; “the count CANNOT be dead. You must have misunderstood--you only wished to give some excuse for your delay perhaps. Speak, say something!” As a rule, Chupin was not easily impressed, but he felt almost frightened by his employer’s agitation. Casimir told me, monsieur,” was his reply. He then wished to furnish some particulars, but M. Fortunat had already resumed his furious tramp to and fro, giving vent to his wrath and despair in incoherent exclamations.

I see them yet, counted and placed in the hand of the Marquis de Valorsay in exchange for his signature. That cursed marquis! And he was to come here this evening, and I was to give him ten thousand francs more. Fortunat’s lips, and any one seeing him then would subsequently have had but little confidence in his customary good-natured air and unctuous politeness. “And yet the marquis is as much to be pitied as I am,” he continued. What speculation can a fellow engage in after this? And a man must put his money somewhere; he can’t bury it in the ground!” Chupin listened with an air of profound commiseration; but it was only assumed.

He was inwardly jubilant, for his interest in the affair was in direct opposition to that of his employer. Fortunat lost forty thousand francs by the Count de Chalusse’s death, Chupin expected to make a hundred francs commission on the funeral. A poor devil who has only a few sous to leave behind him always takes this precaution. He thinks he may be run over by an omnibus and suddenly killed, and he always writes and signs his last wishes. His excitement had quickly spent itself by reason of its very violence. “This much is certain,” he resumed, slowly, and in a more composed voice, “whether the count has made a will or not, Valorsay will lose the millions he expected from Chalusse. If there is no will, Mademoiselle Marguerite won’t have a sou, and then, good evening! If there is one, this devil of a girl, suddenly becoming her own mistress, and wealthy into the bargain, will send Monsieur de Valorsay about his business, especially if she loves another, as he himself admits--and in that case, again good evening!” M.

Fortunat drew out his handkerchief, and, pausing in front of the looking-glass, wiped the perspiration from his brow, and arranged his disordered hair. It only remains to be seen if it would not be possible to regain them in the same affair.” He was again master of himself, and never had his mind been more clear. He seated himself at his desk, leant his elbows upon it, rested his head on his hands, and remained for some time perfectly motionless; but there was triumph in his gesture when he at last looked up again. If there is no will a fourth of the millions shall be mine! Ah, when a man knows his ground, he never need lose the battle! “I must open the campaign this very evening.” Motionless in his dark corner, Chupin still retained his commiserating attitude; but he was so oppressed with curiosity that he could scarcely breathe. He opened his eyes and ears to the utmost, and watched his employer’s slightest movements with intense interest.

Prompt to act when he had once decided upon his course, M. Fortunat now drew from his desk a large portfolio, crammed full of letters, receipts, bills, deeds of property, and old parchments. “I can certainly discover the necessary pretext here,” he murmured, rummaging through the mass of papers. But he did not at once find what he sought, and he was growing impatient, as could be seen by his feverish haste, when all at once he paused with a sigh of relief. “At last!” He held in his hand a soiled and crumpled note of hand, affixed by a pin to a huissier’s protest, thus proving conclusively that it had been dishonored. Fortunat waved these strips of paper triumphantly, and with a satisfied air exclaimed: “It is here that I must strike; it is here--if Casimir hasn’t deceived me--that I shall find the indispensable information I need.” He was in such haste that he did not wait to put his portfolio in order. He threw it with the papers it had contained into the drawer of his desk again, and, approaching Chupin, he asked, “It was you, was it not, Victor, who obtained that information respecting the solvency of the Vantrassons, husband and wife, who let out furnished rooms?” “Yes, monsieur, and I gave you the answer: nothing to hope for----” “I know; but that doesn’t matter. They are now living on the Asnieres Road, beyond the fortifications, on the right hand side.” “What is the number?” Chupin hesitated, reflected for a moment, and then began to scratch his head furiously, as he was in the habit of doing whenever his memory failed him and he wished to recall it to duty. “I’m not sure whether the number is eighteen or forty-six,” he said, at last; “that is----” “Never mind,” interrupted M. There is a tract of unoccupied land on one side, and a kitchen-garden in the rear.” “Very well; you shall accompany me there.” Chupin seemed astonished by this strange proposal.

“What, m’sieur,” said he, “do you think of going there at this time of night?” “Why not? Shall we find the establishment closed?” “No; certainly not. Vantrasson doesn’t merely keep furnished rooms; he’s a grocer, and sells liquor too.

His place is open until eleven o’clock at least. It’s an out-of-the-way place too; and in such cases, a man has been known to settle his account with whatever came handiest--with a cudgel, or a bullet, for instance.” “Are you afraid?” This question seemed so utterly absurd to Chupin that he was not in the least offended by it; his only answer was a disdainful shrug of the shoulders. He made no reply, but began to examine the horses with the air of a connoisseur, until at last he found an animal that suited him. Most jobmasters are in the habit of giving five sous to any servant who comes in search of a cab for his master; and this was the custom here. But the keeper of the office, who felt sure that Chupin was not a servant, hesitated; and this made the young fellow angry. “If you don’t, I shall run to the nearest stand.” The woman at once threw him five sous, which he pocketed with a satisfied grin. They were his--rightfully his--since he had taken the trouble to gain them.

He then hastily returned to the office to inform his employer that the cab was waiting at the door, and found himself face to face with a sight which made him open his eyes to their widest extent. Fortunat had profited by his clerk’s absence, not to disguise himself--that would be saying too much--but to make some changes in his appearance. He had arrayed himself in a long overcoat, shiny with grease and wear, and falling below his knees; in place of his elegant satin cravat he had knotted a gaudy silk neckerchief about his throat; his boots were worn, and out of shape; and his hat would have been treated with contempt even by a dealer in old clothes. Of the prosperous Fortunat, so favorably known round about the Place de la Bourse, naught remained save his face and his hands.

Another Fortunat had taken his place, more than needy in aspect--wretched, famished, gaunt with hunger, ready for any desperate deed. And, yet, he seemed at ease in this garb; it yielded to his every movement, as if he had worn it for a long time. The butterfly had become a chrysalis again. Chupin’s admiring smile must have repaid him for his trouble. Fortunat felt sure that Vantrasson would take him for what he wished to appear--a poor devil of an agent, who was acting on some other person’s behalf. But just as he was leaving the ante-room, he remembered an order of great importance which he wished to give. He called Madame Dodelin, and without paying the slightest heed to her astonishment at seeing him thus attired: “If the Marquis de Valorsay comes, in my absence,” said he--“and he WILL come--ask him to wait for me. Don’t take him into my office--he can wait in the drawing-room.” This last order was certainly unnecessary, since M. Fortunat had closed and double-locked his office door and placed the key carefully in his own pocket.

But perhaps he had forgotten this circumstance. There were now no traces of his recent anger and disappointment. He was in excellent humor; and you might have supposed that he was starting on an enterprise from which he expected to derive both pleasure and profit. Chupin was climbing to a place on the box beside the driver when his employer bade him take a seat inside the vehicle. They were not long in reaching their destination, for the horse was really a good one, and the driver had been stimulated by the promise of a magnificent gratuity. Fortunat and his companion reached the Asnieres Road in less than forty minutes. Are you satisfied?” he inquired, as he opened the door. “Perfectly satisfied,” replied M. “Here is your promised gratuity. Don’t stir from this place.

Do you understand?” But the driver shook his head. This precaution on the driver’s part convinced him that Chupin had not exaggerated the evil reputation of this quarter of the Parisian suburbs. And, indeed, there was little of a reassuring character in the aspect of this broad road, quite deserted at this hour, and shrouded in the darkness of a tempestuous night. The rain had ceased falling, but the wind blew with increased violence, twisting the branches off the trees, tearing slates from the roofs, and shaking the street-lamps so furiously as to extinguish the gas. They could not see a step before them; the mud was ankle-deep, and not a person, not a solitary soul was visible. “Almost there, m’sieur.” Chupin said this; but to tell the truth, he knew nothing about it.

He tried to discover where he was, but did not succeed. Houses were becoming scanty, and vacant plots of building ground more numerous; it was only with the greatest difficulty that one could occasionally discern a light. A large building, five stories high, sinister of aspect, and standing quite alone, could just be distinguished in the darkness. Plainly enough, the speculator who had undertaken the enterprise had not been rich enough to complete it. On seeing the many closely pierced windows of the facade, a passer-by could not fail to divine for what purpose the building had been erected; and in order that no one should remain in ignorance of it, this inscription: “Furnished Rooms,” figured in letters three feet high, between the third and fourth floors. However, Victor Chupin’s memory had misled him. This establishment was not on the right, but on the left-hand side of the road, a perfect mire through which M.

Fortunat and his companion were obliged to cross. Their eyes having become accustomed to the darkness, they could discern sundry details as they approached the building. The ground floor comprised two shops, one of which was closed, but the other was still open, and a faint light gleamed through the soiled red curtains. Over the frontage appeared the shop-keeper’s name, Vantrasson, while on either side, in smaller letters, were the words: “Groceries and Provisions--Foreign and French Wines.” Everything about this den denoted abject poverty and low debauchery. At the farther end of the store Fortunat could vaguely discern the figure of a man seated on a stool. He seemed to be asleep, for his crossed arms rested on a table, with his head leaning on them. “Good luck!” whispered Chupin in his employer’s ear; “there is not a customer in the place. Vantrasson and his wife are alone.” This circumstance was by no means displeasing to M.

Fortunat, as could be seen by his expression of face. Fortunat did not reply at once; but he drew the note with which he had provided himself from his pocket, and displayed it. “I am a huissier’s clerk,” he then exclaimed; “and I called in reference to this little matter--a note of hand for five hundred and eighty-three francs, value received in goods, signed Vantrasson, and made payable to the order of a person named Barutin.” “An execution!” said the woman, whose voice suddenly soured. “Vantrasson, wake up, and come and see about this.” This summons was unnecessary. On hearing the words “note of hand,” the man had lifted his head; and at the name of Barutin, he rose and approached with a heavy, uncertain step, as if he had not yet slept off his intoxication. He was younger than his wife, tall, with a well-proportioned and athletic form. His features were regular, but the abuse of alcohol and all sorts of excesses had greatly marred them, and their present expression was one of ferocious brutishness.

“Is it to mock people that you come and ask for money on the 15th of October--rent day? Where have you seen any money left after the landlord has made his round? Besides, what is this bill? Fortunat was not guilty of such folly; he did not intrust the paper to Vantrasson’s hand, but held it a little distance from him, and then read it aloud.

When he had finished: “That note fell due eighteen months ago,” declared Vantrasson. “It is worth nothing now.” “You are mistaken--a note of this kind is of value any time within five years after the day it goes to protest.” “Possibly; but as Barutin has failed, and gone no one knows where, I am released----” “Another mistake on your part. You owe these five hundred and eighty-three francs to the person who bought this note at Barutin’s sale, and who has given my employer orders to prosecute----” The blood had risen to Vantrasson’s face. My furniture is all pawned or mortgaged, and my stock is not worth a hundred francs. You can’t injure a man like me.” “Do you really think so?” “I’m sure of it.” “Unfortunately you are again mistaken, for although the holder of the note doesn’t care so very much about obtaining his dues, he’ll spend his own money like water to make trouble for you.” And thereupon M. Vantrasson rolled his eyes and brandished his formidable fist in the most defiant manner; but his wife was evidently much alarmed.

At last she could bear it no longer, and rising hastily she led her husband to the rear of the shop, saying: “Come, I must speak with you.” He followed her, and they remained for some little time conversing together in a low tone, but with excited gestures. Fortunat, “we have no money just now; business is so very bad, and if you prosecute us, we are lost. My employer, who isn’t a bad man at heart, hasn’t the slightest desire for revenge. He said to me: ‘Go and see these Vantrassons, and if they seem to be worthy people, propose a compromise. If they choose to accept it, I shall be quite satisfied.’” “And what is this compromise?” “It is this: you must write an acknowledgment of the debt on a sheet of stamped paper, together with a promise to pay a little on account each month. In exchange I will give you this note of hand.” The husband and wife exchanged glances, and it was the woman who said: “We accept.” But to carry out this arrangement it was necessary to have a sheet of stamped paper, and the spurious clerk had neglected to provide himself with some. This circumstance seemed to annoy him greatly, and you might almost have sworn that he regretted the concession he had promised. Madame Vantrasson feared so, and turning eagerly to her husband, she exclaimed: “Run to the tobacco shop in the Rue de Levis; you will find some paper there!” He started off at once, and M. He had certainly retained his composure admirably during the interview, but more than once he had fancied that Vantrasson was about to spring on him, crush him with his brawny hands, tear the note from him, burn it, and then throw him, Fortunat, out into the street, helpless and nearly dead. She brought him the only unbroken chair in the establishment, and insisted that he should partake of some refreshment--a glass of wine at the very least.

While rummaging among the bottles, she alternately thanked him and complained, declaring she had a right to repine, since she had known better days--but fate had been against her ever since her marriage, though she had little thought she would end her days in such misery, after having been so happy in the Count de Chalusse’s household many years before.

Fortunat listened with the mere superficial interest which ordinary politeness requires one to show, but in reality his heart was filled with intense delight. He had preserved his power over the Vantrassons, had won their confidence, had succeeded in obtaining a tete-a-tete with the wife, and to crown all, this woman alluded, of her own accord, to the very subject upon which he was longing to question her. But you know how it is--one is never content with one’s lot, and then the heart is weak----” She had not succeeded in finding the sweet wine which she proposed to her guest; so in its place she substituted a mixture of ratafia and brandy in two large glasses which she placed upon the counter. He belonged to the Paris Guards then. All the women were crazy about soldiers, and my head was turned, too----” Her tone, her gestures, and the compression of her thin lips, revealed the bitterness of her disappointment and her unavailing regret. This one had heard of my savings. Chupin, who was still at his post outside, experienced a thrill of envy, and involuntarily licked his lips.

“I shouldn’t object to one myself.” However, this choice compound seemed to inspire Madame Vantrasson with renewed energy, for, with still greater earnestness, she resumed: “At first, all went well. Vantrasson kept sober for a few months, but gradually he fell into his old habits. Oh, you wouldn’t believe it if I told you how we have lived for the past four years.” She did not tell him, but contented herself with adding, “When you begin to go down hill, there is no such thing as stopping; you roll lower and lower, until you reach the bottom, as we have done. Here we live, no one knows how; we have to pay our rent each week, and if we are driven from this place, I see no refuge but the river.” “If I had been in your position, I should have left my husband,” M. People advised me to do so, and I tried.

Besides, I’m his wife; I’ve paid dearly for him; he’s mine--I won’t yield him to any one else. He beats me, no doubt; I despise him, I hate him, and yet I----” She poured out part of a glass of brandy, and swallowed it; then, with a gesture of rage, she added: “I can’t give him up! As it is now, it will be until the end, until he starves, or I----” M. Fortunat’s countenance wore an expression of profound commiseration. Time was passing, and the conversation was wandering farther and farther from the object of his visit. “I am surprised, madame,” said he, “that you never applied to your former employer, the Count de Chalusse.” “Alas! I did apply to him for assistance several times----” “With what result?” “The first time I went to him he received me; I told him my troubles, and he gave me bank-notes to the amount of five thousand francs.” M. Fortunat raised his hands to the ceiling. “Five thousand francs!” he repeated, in a tone of astonishment; “this count must be very rich----” “So rich, monsieur, that he doesn’t know how much he’s worth. He owns, nobody knows how many houses in Paris, chateaux in every part of the country, entire villages, forests--his gold comes in by the shovelful.” The spurious clerk closed his eyes, as if he were dazzled by this vision of wealth.

de Chalusse dismissed all the old servants, so they told me. He even sent away the concierge and the housekeeper.” “Why didn’t you apply to his wife?” “M. de Chalusse isn’t married. He never has been married.” From the expression of solicitude upon her guest’s features, Madame Vantrasson supposed he was racking his brain to discover some mode of escape from her present difficulties. “If I were in your place,” he said, “I should try to interest his relatives and family in my case----” “The count has no relatives.” “Impossible!” “He hasn’t, indeed.

During the ten years I was in his service, I heard him say more than a dozen times that he alone was left of all his family--that all the others were dead.

People pretend that this is the reason why he is so immensely rich.” M. Fortunat’s interest was no longer assumed; he was rapidly approaching the real object of his visit. “Who, then, will inherit his millions when he dies?” Madame Vantrasson jerked her head. I was thinking of the count’s sister, Mademoiselle Hermine.” “His sister! Isidore Fortunat was literally upon the rack; and to make his sufferings still more horrible, he dared not ask any direct question, nor allow his curiosity to become manifest, for fear of alarming the woman. “Let me see,” said he; “I think--I am sure that I have heard--or that I have read--I cannot say which--some story about a Mademoiselle de Chalusse.

When I entered the count’s service, six years later, there was still an old gardener who knew the whole story, and who told it to me, making me swear that I would never betray his confidence.” Lavish of details as she had been in telling her own story, it was evident that she was determined to exercise a prudent reserve in everything connected with the De Chalusse family; and M. Fortunat inwardly cursed this, to him, most unseasonable discretion. But he was experienced in these examinations, and he had at his command little tricks for loosening tongues, which even an investigating magistrate might have envied.

If I remain here any longer, I shall miss the last omnibus; and I live on the other side of the river, near the Luxembourg.” “But our agreement, monsieur?” “We will draw that up at some future time. She feared, if she allowed this supposed clerk to go without signing the agreement, that the person who came in his stead might not prove so accommodating; and even if he called again himself, he might not be so kindly disposed. “Wait just a moment longer, monsieur,” she pleaded; “my husband will soon be back, and the last omnibus doesn’t leave the Rue de Levis until midnight.” “I wouldn’t refuse, but this part of the suburbs is so lonely.” “Vantrasson will see you on your way.” And, resolved to detain him at any cost, she poured out a fresh glass of liquor for him, and said: “Where were we? I was about to tell you Mademoiselle Hermine’s story.” Concealing his delight with an assumed air of resignation, M. Fortunat reseated himself, to the intense disgust of Chupin, who was thoroughly tired of waiting outside in the cold. “I must tell you,” began Madame Vantrasson, “that when this happened--at least twenty-five years ago--the De Chalusse family lived in the Rue Saint-Dominique. Mademoiselle Hermine, who was then about eighteen or nineteen years old, was, according to all accounts, the prettiest young creature ever seen. Fortunat, who was determined to prevent these digressions, “and Mademoiselle Hermine?” “I was coming to her. Although she was very beautiful and immensely rich, she had no suitors--for it was generally understood that she was to marry a marquis, whose father was a particular friend of the family.

The parents had arranged the matter between them years before, and nothing was wanting but the young lady’s consent; but Mademoiselle Hermine absolutely refused to hear the marquis’s name mentioned. “They did everything to persuade her to consent to this marriage; they employed prayers and threats alike, but they might as well have talked to a stone. When they asked her why she refused to marry the marquis, she replied, ‘Because’--and that was all.

It isn’t natural for a girl to reject a suitor who is young, handsome, rich, and a marquis besides. Raymond swore that he would watch his sister, and discover her secret.” “M. Raymond is the present Count de Chalusse, I suppose?” inquired M. Such was the state of matters when, one night, the gardener thought he heard a noise in the pavilion, at the end of the garden. This pavilion was very large. When the gardener was telling me this story, he declared again and again that he had fancied the noise he had heard was made by some of the servants trying to leave the house secretly, and for this reason he didn’t give the alarm. However, he hurried to the pavilion, but on seeing no light there, he went back to bed with an easy mind.” “And it was Mademoiselle Hermine eloping with a lover?” asked M. Madame Vantrasson seemed as disappointed as an actor who has been deprived of an opportunity of producing a grand effect. But Mademoiselle Hermine did not make her appearance.

The door was opened--the young lady was not in her room, and the bed had not even been disturbed. Of course, the next thought was of Mademoiselle Hermine’s brother, and he was sent for. But, he, too, was not in his room, and his bed had not been touched. They hastened to the pavilion, and discovered what? Raymond stretched upon the ground, stiff, cold, and motionless, weltering in his own blood. One of his rigid hands still grasped a sword. They lifted him up, carried him to the house, laid him upon his bed, and sent for a physician. He was lighting a cigar at his window when he thought he saw a woman’s form flit through the garden. A suspicion that it might be his sister flashed through his mind; so he hastened down, stole noiselessly into the pavilion, and there he found his sister and a young man who was absolutely unknown to him.

His adversary, supposing him dead, thereupon fled from the spot, taking Mademoiselle Hermine with him.” At this point in her narrative Madame Vantrasson evinced a desire to pause and draw a breath, and perhaps partake of some slight refreshment; but M. Perhaps they felt that it was their own hard-heartedness and obstinacy that had caused their daughter’s ruin--and remorse is hard to bear. They waned perceptibly from day to day, and during the following year they were borne to the cemetery within two months of each other.” From the spurious clerk’s demeanor it was easy to see that he had ceased thinking about his omnibus, and his hostess felt both reassured and flattered. “And Mademoiselle Hermine?” he inquired, eagerly. monsieur, no one ever knew where she went, or what became of her.” “Didn’t they try to find her?” “They searched for her everywhere, for I don’t know how long; all the ablest detectives in France and in foreign countries tried to find her, but not one of them succeeded in discovering the slightest trace of her whereabouts.

Raymond promised an enormous sum to the man who would find his sister’s betrayer. He wished to kill him, and he sought for him for years; but all in vain.” “And did they never receive any tidings of this unfortunate girl?” “I was told that they heard from her twice. She confessed that she was a wicked, ungrateful girl--that she had been mad; but she said that her punishment had come, and it was terrible. She added that every link was severed between herself and her friends, and she hoped they would forget her as completely as if she had never existed. She went so far as to say that her children should never know who their mother was, and that never in her life again would she utter the name which she had so disgraced.” It was the old, sad story of a ruined girl paying for a moment’s madness with her happiness and all her after life.

A terrible drama, no doubt; but one that is of such frequent occurrence that it seems as commonplace as life itself. Isidore Fortunat would have been surprised to see how greatly he was moved by such a trifle. And then, in a tone of assumed carelessness, he inquired: “Did they never discover what scoundrel carried Mademoiselle de Chalusse away?” “Never. Who he was, whence he came, whether he was young or old, how he became acquainted with Mademoiselle Hermine--these questions were never answered. To tell the truth, they never even discovered his name.” “What, not even his name?” “Not even his name.” Unable to master his emotion, M.

Fortunat had at least the presence of mind to rise and step back into the darker part of the shop. But his gesture of disappointment and the muttered oath that fell from his lips did not escape Madame Vantrasson. She was startled, and from that moment she looked upon the supposed clerk with evident distrust. It was not long before he again resumed his seat nearer the counter, still a trifle pale, perhaps, but apparently calm. Two questions more seemed indispensable to him, and yet either one of them would be sure to arouse suspicion. Nevertheless, he resolved to incur the risk of betraying himself. Did he not possess the information he had wished for, at least as much of it as it was in this woman’s power to impart? “I can confess now that I am slightly acquainted with the Count de Chalusse, and that I have frequently visited the house in the Rue de Courcelles, where he now resides.” “You!” exclaimed the woman, taking a hasty inventory of M. Each time I’ve been to visit M.

de Chalusse’s I’ve seen a young lady whom I took for his daughter there. I was wrong, no doubt, since he isn’t a married man--” He paused. Astonishment and anger seemed to be almost suffocating his hostess.

Isidore then and there. If she restrained this impulse, if she made an effort to control herself, it was only because she thought she held a better revenge in reserve. It’s two years since I set foot in the count’s house.” “I fancied this young lady might be the count’s niece Mademoiselle Hermine’s daughter.” Madame Vantrasson shook her head. “The count said that his sister was dead to him from the evening of her flight.” “Who CAN this young girl be, then?” “Bless me! What sort of a looking person is she?” “Very tall; a brunette.” “How old is she?” “Eighteen or nineteen.” The woman made a rapid calculation on her fingers. I must look into this.” “What did you say?” “Nothing; a little reflection I was making to myself. Do you know this young lady’s name?” “It’s Marguerite.” The woman’s face clouded. It was evident that this frightful creature, even if she knew nothing definite, had some idea, some vague suspicion of the truth. He was scarcely sober when he left the shop, but now he was fairly drunk; his heavy shamble had become a stagger. “Oh, you wretch, you brigand!” howled his wife; “you’ve been drinking again!” He succeeded in maintaining his equilibrium, and, gazing at her with the phlegmatic stare peculiar to intoxicated men, he replied: “Well, what of that!

Fortunat only imperfectly distinguished the words “thief,” “spy,” and “detective;” but he could not mistake the meaning of the looks which she alternately gave her husband and himself. “It’s a fortunate thing for you that my husband is in this condition,” her glances plainly implied, “otherwise there would be an explanation, and then we should see--” “I’ve had a lucky escape,” thought the spurious clerk. Fortunat began to draw up an acknowledgment according to the established formula. However, it was necessary to mention the name of the creditor of whom he had spoken, and not wishing to state his own, he used that of poor Victor Chupin, who was at that very moment shivering at the door, little suspecting what liberty was being taken with his cognomen.

When the document was finished, it became necessary to wake Vantrasson, so that he might sign it. He did so with very good grace, and his wife appended her signature beside her husband’s.

Fortunat gave them in exchange the note which had served as a pretext for his visit. But Fortunat did not hear this. His heart had been full of hope when he reached the Asnieres Road, but he went away gloomy and despondent; and quite unconscious of the darkness, the mud, and the rain, which was again falling, he silently plodded along in the middle of the highway. He entered the vehicle, certainly without knowing it; and as they rolled homeward, the thoughts that filled his brain to overflowing found vent in a sort of monologue, of which Chupin now and then caught a few words. Certainly I’ve lost money before through heirs whose existence I hadn’t even suspected; but by reinstating these same heirs in their rights, I’ve regained my lost money, and received a handsome reward in addition; but in this case all is darkness; there isn’t a single gleam of light--not the slightest clew.

To whom, then, will the count’s millions go?” It was only the sudden stoppage of the cab in front of his own door that recalled M. “The Marquis de Valorsay’s carriage,” muttered M. Fortunat had scarcely started off on his visit to the Vantrassons when the Marquis de Valorsay reached the Place de la Bourse. “You must be mistaken, my good woman.” “No, no; my master said you would, perhaps, wait for him.” “Very well; I will do so.” Faithful to the orders she had received, the servant conducted the visitor to the drawing-room, lit the tapers in the candelabra, and retired. “This is very strange!” growled the marquis. What will happen next?” However, he drew a newspaper from his pocket, threw himself into an arm-chair, and waited.

By his habits and tastes, the Marquis de Valorsay belonged to that section of the aristocracy which has coined the term “high life” in view of describing its own manners and customs. The matters that engrossed the marquis’s frivolous mind were club-life and first performances at the opera and the leading theatres, social duties and visits to the fashionable watering-places, racing and the shooting and hunting seasons, together with his mistress and his tailor. He considered that to ride in a steeple-chase was an act of prowess worthy of his ancestors; and when he galloped past the stand, clad as a jockey, in top-boots and a violet silk jacket, he believed he read admiration in every eye. This was his every-day life, which had been enlivened by a few salient episodes: two duels, an elopement with a married woman, a twenty-six hours’ seance at the gaming table, and a fall from his horse, while hunting, which nearly cost him his life. These acts of valor had raised him considerably in the estimation of his friends, and procured him a celebrity of which he was not a little proud. The newspaper reporters were constantly mentioning his name, and the sporting journals never failed to chronicle his departure from Paris or his arrival in the city. Unfortunately, such a life of busy idleness has its trials and its vicissitudes, and M. de Valorsay was a living proof of this. He was only thirty-three, but in spite of the care he expended upon his toilette, he looked at least forty. Wrinkles were beginning to show themselves; it required all the skill of his valet to conceal the bald spots on his cranium; and since his fall from his horse, he had been troubled by a slight stiffness in his right leg, which stiffness became perfect lameness in threatening weather.

Premature lassitude pervaded his entire person, and when he relaxed in vigilance even his eyes betrayed a distaste for everything--weariness, satiety as it were. All the same, however, he bore himself with an undeniable air of distinction, albeit the haughtiness of his manner indicated an exaggerated idea of his own importance. He was indeed in the habit of treating all those whom he considered his inferiors with supercilious sufficiency.

Fortunat’s mantel-shelf struck eleven at last and the marquis rose to his feet with a muttered oath. “This is too much!” he growled, angrily. There is no one like him for punctuality. The servant hesitated for an instant, thinking this visitor difficult to please, and inclined to make himself very much at home, still she obeyed. “I think I ought to go,” muttered the marquis. Left an orphan in his early childhood, placed in possession of an immense fortune at the age of twenty-three, M. de Valorsay had entered life like a famished man enters a dining-room. His name entitled him to a high position in the social world; and he installed himself at table without asking how much the banquet might cost him.

It cost him dear, as he discovered at the end of the first year, on noting that his disbursements had considerably exceeded his large income.

It was very evident that if he went on in this way, each twelvemonth would deepen an abyss where in the one hundred and sixty thousand francs a year, left him by his father, would finally be swallowed up.

But he had plenty of time to reflect upon this unpleasant possibility ere it could come to pass! And, besides, he found his present life so delightful, and he obtained so much gratification for his money, that he was unwilling to make any change. He borrowed timidly at first, but more boldly when he discovered what a mere trifle a mortgage is. Moreover, his wants increased in proportion to his vanity. Occupying a certain position in the opinion of his acquaintances, he did not wish to descend from the heights to which they had exalted him; and the very fact that he had been foolishly extravagant one year made it necessary for him to be guilty of similar folly during the succeeding twelvemonth. He failed to pay his creditors the interest that was due on his loans. They did not ask him for it; and perhaps he forgot that it was slowly but surely accumulating, and that at the end of a certain number of years the amount of his indebtedness would be doubled. He became absolutely ignorant of the condition of his affairs, and really arrived at the conclusion that his resources were inexhaustible.

He believed this until one day when on going to his lawyer for some money, that gentleman coldly said: “You requested me to obtain one hundred thousand francs for you, Monsieur le Marquis--but I have only been able to procure fifty thousand--here they are.

All your real estate is encumbered beyond its value. Your creditors will probably leave you in undisturbed possession for another year--it will be to their interest--but when it has elapsed they will take possession of their own, as they have a perfect right to do.” Then, with a meaning smile, the smile of a wily prime minister, he added: “If I were in your place, Monsieur le Marquis, I would profit by this year of grace. I have the honor to wish you good-morning.” What an awakening--after a glorious dream that had lasted for ten years.

For three days he remained immured in his own room, obstinately refusing to receive any one. “The marquis is ill,” was his valet’s answer to every visitor. de Valorsay felt that he must have time to regain his mental equilibrium--to look his situation calmly in the face. It was a frightful one, for his ruin was complete, absolute. He set his wits to work; but he found that he was incapable of plying any kind of avocation.

All the energy he had been endowed with by nature had been squandered--exhausted in pandering to his self-conceit. If he had been younger he might have turned soldier; but at his age he had not even this resource. Then it was that his notary’s smile recurred to his mind.

“His advice was decidedly good,” he muttered. “All is not yet lost; one way of escape still remains--marriage.” And why, indeed, shouldn’t he marry, and marry a rich wife too? No one knew anything about his misfortune; for a year at least, he would retain all the advantages that wealth bestows upon its possessor. His name alone was a great advantage. It would be very strange if he could not find some manufacturer’s or banker’s daughter who would be only too delighted to have a marquisial coronet emblazoned on her carriage panels.

Having arrived at this conclusion, M. de Valorsay began his search, and it was not long before he thought he had found what he was seeking. de Valorsay understood that it was necessary he should provide himself with an intelligent and devoted adviser. There must be some one to hold his creditors in check, to silence them, and obtain sundry concessions from them--in a word, some one to interest them in his success. With this object in view, M.

de Valorsay applied to his notary; but the latter utterly refused to mix himself up in any such affair, and declared that the marquis’s suggestion was almost an insult. Then touched, perhaps, by his client’s apparent despair, he said, “But I can mention a person who might be of service to you. Isidore Fortunat, No. If you succeed in interesting him in your marriage, it is an accomplished fact.” It was under these circumstances that the marquis became acquainted with M. de Valorsay was a man of no little penetration, and on his first visit he carefully weighed his new acquaintance. With such an adviser, it would be mere child’s play to conceal his financial embarrassments and deceive the most suspicious father-in-law. He frankly disclosed his pecuniary condition and his matrimonial hopes, and concluded by promising M.

How heartily, and with what confidence in his success, is shown by the fact that he had advanced forty thousand francs for his client’s use, out of his own private purse. After such a proof of confidence the marquis could hardly have been dissatisfied with his adviser; in point of fact, he was delighted with him, and all the more so, as this invaluable man always treated him with extreme deference, verging on servility. de Valorsay’s eyes this was a great consideration; for he was becoming more arrogant and more irascible in proportion as his right to be so diminished. Secretly disgusted with himself, and deeply humiliated by the shameful intrigue to which he had stooped, he took a secret satisfaction in crushing his accomplice with his imaginary superiority and lordly disdain. According as his humor was good or bad, he called him “my dear extortioner,” “Mons. The unvarying deference and submission which M. de Valorsay’s adviser displayed made his failure to keep the present appointment all the more remarkable. Such neglect of the commonest rules of courtesy was inconceivable on the part of so polite a man; and the marquis’s anger gradually changed to anxiety.

“At last--here he is!” he muttered, with a sigh of relief. Fortunat enter the room at once, but he was disappointed.

The agent had no desire to show himself in the garb which he had assumed for his excursion with Chupin; and so he had hastened to his room to don his wonted habiliments. de Valorsay were ignorant of the Count de Chalusse’s critical condition, was it advisable to tell him of it? Fortunat thought not, judging with reason that this would lead to a discussion and very possibly to a rupture, and he wished to avoid anything of the kind until he was quite certain of the count’s death. Meanwhile the marquis was thinking--he was a trifle late about it--that he had done wrong to wait in that drawing-room for three mortal hours. Fortunat construe this as an acknowledgment of the importance of his services and his client’s urgent need? Would he not become more exacting, more exorbitant in his demands? If the marquis could have made his escape unheard, he would, no doubt, have done so; but this was out of the question. So he resorted to a stratagem which seemed to him likely to save his compromised dignity. He stretched himself out in his arm-chair, closed his eyes, and pretended to doze. Fortunat at last entered the drawing-room he sprang up as if he were suddenly aroused from slumber, rubbed his eyes, and exclaimed: “Eh!

He noticed, on the floor, a torn and crumpled newspaper, which betrayed the impatience and anger his client had experienced during his long waiting. “Well,” resumed the marquis, “what time is it? This is a pretty time to keep an appointment fixed for ten o’clock. This is presuming on my good-nature, M. A pair of horses worth six hundred louis!” M. Fortunat listened to these reproaches with the deepest humility. “You must excuse me, Monsieur le Marquis,” said he. that is about the same as if it had been your own business that detained you!” And well pleased with this joke, he added, “Ah well!

How are affairs progressing?” “On my side as well as could be desired.” The marquis had resumed his seat in the chimney-corner, and was poking the fire with a haughty, but poorly assumed air of indifference. “I am listening,” he said carelessly. “In that case, Monsieur le Marquis, I will state the facts in a few words, without going into particulars. Thanks to an expedient devised by me, we shall obtain for twenty hours a release from all the mortgages that now encumber your estates. This certificate will declare that your estates are free from all encumbrances; you will show this statement to M. de Chalusse, and all his doubts--that is, if he has any--will vanish. The plan was very simple; the only difficulty was about raising the money, but I have succeeded in doing so. de Valorsay was so delighted that he could not refrain from clapping his hands. “Then the affair is virtually concluded,” he exclaimed.

“In less than a month Mademoiselle Marguerite will be the Marquise de Valorsay, and I shall have a hundred thousand francs a year again.” Then, noting how gravely M. Fortunat shook his head: “Ah! “Very well; now it is your turn to listen. The count does things in a princely fashion; he gives Mademoiselle Marguerite two millions.” “Two millions!” the other repeated like an echo. “Yes, my dear miser, neither more nor less. Upon my word, I think this very charming.

my fine fellow,” he thought, “you would sing a different song if you knew that by this time M. de Chalusse is probably dead, and that most likely Mademoiselle Marguerite has only her beautiful eyes left her, and will dim them in weeping for her vanished millions.” But this brilliant scion of the aristocracy had no suspicion of the real state of affairs, for he continued: “You will say, perhaps, it is strange, that I, Ange-Marie Robert Dalbou, Marquis de Valorsay, should marry a girl whose father and mother no one knows, and whose only name is Marguerite. In this respect it is true that the match is not exactly a brilliant one. “It is always best to doubt,” replied his adviser, philosophically.

The marquis shrugged his shoulders. “Yes.” “Then, tell me, if you please, what prevents this marriage from being a foregone conclusion?” “Mademoiselle Marguerite’s consent, Monsieur le Marquis.” It was as if a glass of ice-water had been thrown in M. But he was intensely irritated to hear his client foolishly chanting the paeons of victory, while he was compelled to conceal his grief at the loss of his forty thousand francs, deep in the recesses of his heart.

So, far from being touched by the marquis’s evident alarm, it pleased him to be able to turn the dagger in the wound he had just inflicted. “It comes entirely from something you, yourself, told me about a week ago.” “What did I tell you?” “That you suspected Mademoiselle Marguerite of a--how shall I express it?--of a secret preference for some other person.” The gloomiest despondency had now followed the marquis’s enthusiasm and exultation. “Ah!” “I was certain of it, thanks to the count’s house-keeper, Madame Leon, a miserable old woman whom I have hired to look after my interests.

She has been watching Mademoiselle Marguerite, and saw a letter written by her----” “Oh!” “Certainly nothing has passed that Mademoiselle Marguerite has any cause to blush for. The letter, which is now in my possession, contains unmistakable proofs of that. de Valorsay sprang up so violently that he overturned his chair. You are wrong--for the man who loves Mademoiselle Marguerite is now ruined. Yes, such is really the case. While we are sitting here, at this very moment, he is lost--irredeemably lost. Between him and the woman whom I wish to marry--whom I SHALL marry--I have dug so broad and deep an abyss that the strongest love cannot overleap it. It is better and worse than if I had killed him. Dead, he would have been mourned, perhaps; while now, the lowest and most degraded woman would turn from him in disgust, or, even if she loved him, she would not dare to confess it.” M. Fortunat seemed greatly disturbed.

“I thought you were only jesting.” The marquis lowered his head. His companion stood for a moment as if petrified, and then suddenly exclaimed: “What!

Had he caught a glimpse of his own face in the looking-glass, it would have frightened him. That word is in everybody’s mouth, nowadays. No doubt, you mean a heroic idiot who passed through life with a lofty mien, clad in all the virtues, as stoical as Job, and as resigned as a martyr--a sort of moral Don Quixote, preaching the austerest virtue, and practising it? No doubt, it is grand to be honest; but in my case it is so impossible, that I prefer to be dishonest--to commit an act of shameful infamy which will yield a hundred thousand francs a year. This man is in my way--I suppress him--so much the worse for him--he has no business to be in my way. If I could have met him openly, I would have dispatched him according to the accepted code of honor; but, then, I should have had to renounce all idea of marrying Mademoiselle Marguerite, so I was obliged to find some other way. The drowning man does not reject the plank, which is his only chance of salvation, because it chances to be dirty.” His gestures were even more forcible than his words; and when he concluded, he threw himself on to the sofa, holding his head tightly between his hands, as if he felt that it was bursting. Anger choked his utterance--not anger so much as something he would not confess, the quickening of his own conscience and the revolt of every honorable instinct; for, in spite of his sins of omission, and of commission, never, until this day, had he actually violated any clause of the code acknowledged by men of honor.

“You have been guilty of a most infamous act, Monsieur le Marquis,” said M. no moralizing, if you please.” “Only evil will come of it.” The marquis shrugged his shoulders, and in a tone of bitter scorn, retorted: “Come, Mons. Fortunat, if you wish to lose the forty thousand francs you advanced to me, it’s easy enough to do so. My rival will be saved, and will marry Mademoiselle Marguerite and her millions.” M. He could not tell the marquis: “My forty thousand francs are lost already. Mademoiselle Marguerite is no longer the possessor of millions, and you have committed a useless crime.” However, it was this conviction which imparted such an accent of eagerness to his words as he continued to plead the cause of virtue and of honesty. Would he have said as much if he had entertained any great hope of the success of the marquis’s matrimonial enterprise?

It is doubtful, still we must do M. Fortunat the justice to admit that he was really and sincerely horrified by what he had unhesitatingly styled an “infamous act.” The marquis listened to his agent for a few moments in silence, and then rose to his feet again. “All this is very true,” he interrupted; “but I am, nevertheless, anxious to learn the result of my little plot. For this reason, Monsieur Fortunat, give me at once the five hundred louis you promised me, and I will then bid you good-evening.” The agent had been preparing himself for this moment, and yet he trembled. “I am deeply grieved, monsieur,” he replied, with a doleful smile; “it was this matter that kept me out so much later than usual this evening. it was impossible for me to procure the money.” The marquis had hitherto been pale, but now his face flushed crimson. “This is a jest, I suppose,” said he. “Alas!--unfortunately--no.” There was a moment’s silence, which the marquis probably spent in reflecting upon the probable consequences of this disappointment, for it was in an almost threatening tone that he eventually exclaimed: “You know that I must have this money at once--that I must have it.” M. Fortunat would certainly have preferred to lose a good pound of flesh rather than the sum of money mentioned; but, on the other hand, he felt that it would not do for him to sever his connection with his client until the death of the Count de Chalusse was certain; and being anxious to save his money and to keep his client, his embarrassment was extreme. “It was the most unfortunate thing in the world,” he stammered; “I apprehended no difficulty whatever--” Then, suddenly clapping his hand to his forehead, he exclaimed: “But, Monsieur le Marquis, couldn’t you borrow this amount from one of your friends, the Duke de Champdoce or the Count de Commarin?--that would be a good idea.” M.

de Valorsay was anything but unsophisticated, and his natural shrewdness had been rendered much more acute by the difficulties with which he had recently been obliged to contend. Fortunat’s confusion had not escaped his keen glance; and this last suggestion aroused his suspicions at once. “What!” he said, slowly, and with an air of evident distrust. “YOU give me this advice, Master Twenty-per-cent. This is wonderful!

How long is it since your opinions have undergone such a change?” “My opinions?” “Yes. Didn’t you say to me during our first interview; ‘The thing that will save you, is that you have never in your whole life borrowed a louis from a friend.

An ordinary creditor only thinks of a large interest; and if that is paid him he holds his peace. A friend is never satisfied until everybody knows that he has generously obliged you. It is far better to apply to a usurer.’ I thought all that very sensible, and I quite agreed with you when you added: ‘So, Monsieur le Marquis, no borrowing of this kind until after your marriage--not on any pretext whatever. Your credit is still good; but it is being slowly undermined--and the indiscretion of a friend who chanced to say: “I think Valorsay is hard up,” might fire the train, and then you’d explode.’” M. He was not usually wanting in courage, but the events of the evening had shaken his confidence and his composure. The hope of gain and the fear of loss had deprived him of his wonted clearness of mind.

Feeling that he had just committed a terrible blunder, he racked his brain to find some way of repairing it, and finding none, his confusion increased. “Did you, or didn’t you, use that language?” insisted M. There is no rule without its exceptions. I have advanced you forty thousand francs in less than five months--it is outrageous. “Still more wise counsel,” remarked the ruined nobleman ironically. “While you are about it, why don’t you advise me to sell my horses and carriages, and establish myself in a garret in the Rue Amelot?

de Chalusse with boundless confidence!” “But without going to such extremes----” “Hold your tongue!” interrupted the marquis, violently. “Better than any one else you know that I cannot retrench, although the reality no longer exists. That is my only hope of salvation. I have gambled, given expensive suppers, indulged in dissipation of every kind, and I must continue to do so.

Why, ‘Valorsay is a ruined man!’ Then, farewell to my hopes of marrying an heiress. And so I am always gay and smiling; that is part of my role. What would my servants--the twenty spies that I pay--what would they think if they saw me thoughtful or disturbed? It is true I have many valuable articles in my house, but I cannot dispose of them. An actor doesn’t sell his costumes because he’s hungry--he goes without food--and when it’s time for the curtain to rise, he dons his satin and velvet garments, and, despite his empty stomach, he chants the praises of a bountiful table and rare old wine.

That is what I am doing--I, Robert Dalbou, Marquis de Valorsay!

Why, I envied him his lot. On that occasion my entire fortune consisted of a single louis, which I had won at baccarat the evening before. As I entered the enclosure, Isabelle, the flower-girl, handed me a rose for my button-hole. I gave her my louis--but I longed to strangle her!” He paused for a moment, and then, in a frenzy of passion, he advanced toward M. “And for eight months I have lived this horrible life!” he resumed. better poverty, prison, and shame! And now, when the prize is almost won, actuated either by treason or caprice, you try to make all my toil and all my suffering unavailing. I will rather crush you, you miserable scoundrel--crush you like a venomous reptile!” There was such a ring of fury in his voice that the crystals of the candelabra vibrated; and Madame Dodelin, in her kitchen, heard it, and shuddered. “In forty-eight hours I shall be certain of the count’s fate,” he thought; “he will be dead, or he will be in a fair way to recovery--so by promising to give this frenzied man what he desires on the day after to-morrow, I shall incur no risk.” Taking advantage of an opportunity which M.

de Valorsay furnished, on pausing to draw breath, he hastily exclaimed, “Really, Monsieur le Marquis, I cannot understand your anger.” “What! Before insulting me, permit me to explain----” “No explanation--five hundred louis!” “Have the kindness to allow me to finish. To-day I was unable to procure it, nor can I promise it to-morrow; but on the day after to-morrow, Saturday, I shall certainly have it ready for you.” The marquis seemed to be trying to read his agent’s very soul. If you don’t intend to help me out of my embarrassment, say so.” “Ah, Monsieur le Marquis, am I not as much interested in your success as you yourself can be? Have you not received abundant proofs of my devotion?” “Then I can rely upon you.” “Absolutely.” And seeing a lingering doubt in his client’s eyes, M. The marquis took his hat and started toward the door. What is she called? Madame d’Argeles, isn’t she called?

It’s at her place, I believe, that the reputation of Mademoiselle Marguerite’s favored lover is to be ruined.” The marquis turned angrily. “That is one of those things no well-bred gentleman will do himself. But in Paris people can be found to do any kind of dirty work, if you are willing to pay them for it.” “Then how will you know the result?” “Why, twenty minutes after the affair is over, M. He is there even now, perhaps.” And as this subject was anything but pleasant, he hastened away, exclaiming, “Get to bed, my dear extortioner.

And, above all, remember your promise.” “My respects, Monsieur le Marquis.” But when the door closed, M. It is in vain that the law has endeavored to shield private life from prying eyes.

The scribes who pander to Parisian curiosity surmount all obstacles and brave every danger. Thanks to the “High Life” reporters, every newspaper reader is aware that twice a week--Mondays and Thursdays--Madame Lia d’Argeles holds a reception at her charming mansion in the Rue de Berry. They seldom dance; but card-playing begins at midnight, and a dainty supper is served before the departure of the guests. It was on leaving one of these little entertainments that that unfortunate young man, Jules Chazel, a cashier in a large banking-house, committed suicide by blowing out his brains. The brilliant frequenters of Madame d’Argeles’s entertainments considered this act proof of exceeding bad taste and deplorable weakness on his part. “Why, he had lost hardly a thousand louis!” He had lost only that, it is true--a mere trifle as times go.

Only the money was not his; he had taken it from the safe which was confided to his keeping, expecting, probably, to double the amount in a single night. In the morning, when he found himself alone, without a penny, and the deficit staring him in the face, the voice of conscience cried, “You are a thief!” and he lost his reason. The event created a great sensation at the time, and the Petit Journal published a curious story concerning this unfortunate young man’s mother. It is true that Madame d’Argeles was in despair during forty-eight hours or so; for the police had begun a sort of investigation, and she feared this might frighten her visitors and empty her drawing-rooms. Not at all, however; on the contrary, she had good cause to congratulate herself upon the notoriety she gained through this suicide. For five days she was the talk of Paris, and Alfred d’Aunay even published her portrait in the Illustrated Chronicle.

Where had she acquired such manners, the manners of a thorough woman of the world, with her many accomplishments, as well as her remarkable skill as a musician? Everything connected with her was a subject of conjecture, even to the name inscribed upon her visiting cards--“Lia d’Argeles.” But no matter. Her house was always filled to over-flowing; and at the very moment when the Marquis de Valorsay and M. Monsieur Pascal Ferailleur!” Few of the players deigned to raise their heads. de Coralth was very young and remarkably good-looking, almost too good-looking, indeed; for his handsomeness was somewhat startling and unnatural. He had an exceedingly fair complexion, and large, melting black eyes, while a woman might have envied him his wavy brown hair and the exquisite delicacy of his skin. He dressed with great care and taste, and even coquettishly; his turn-down collar left his firm white throat uncovered, and his rose-tinted gloves fitted as perfectly as the skin upon his soft, delicate hands. He bowed familiarly on entering, and with a rather complacent smile on his lips, he approached Madame d’Argeles, who, half reclining in an easy chair near the fire-place, was conversing with two elderly gentlemen of grave and distinguished bearing. “How late you are, viscount,” she remarked carelessly.

I fancied I saw you in the Bois, in the Marquis de Valorsay’s dog-cart.” A slight flush suffused M. de Coralth’s cheeks, and to hide it, perhaps, he turned toward the visitor who had entered with him, and drew him toward Madame d’Argeles, saying, “Allow me, madame, to present to you one of my great friends, M.

Pascal Ferailleur, an advocate whose name will be known to fame some day.” “Your friends are always welcome at my house, my dear viscount,” replied Madame d’Argeles. And before Pascal had concluded his bow, she averted her head, and resumed her interrupted conversation. He was a young man of five or six-and-twenty, dark-complexioned and tall; each movement of his person was imbued with that natural grace which is the result of perfect harmony of the muscles, and of more than common vigor.

His features were irregular, but they gave evidence of energy, kindness of heart, and honesty of purpose. Deserted by his sponsor, who was shaking hands right and left, he seated himself on a sofa a little in the background; not because he was embarrassed, but because he felt that instinctive distrust of self which frequently seizes hold of a person on entering a crowd of strangers. He did his best to conceal his curiosity, but nevertheless he looked and listened with all his might. When Madame d’Argeles gave a ball, the rooms were thrown into one; but, as a general rule, one room was occupied by the card-players, and the other served as a refuge for those who wished to chat. The card-room, into which Pascal had been ushered, was an apartment of noble proportions, furnished in a style of tasteful magnificence. The table itself was adorned with a rich tapestry cover, but this was visible only at the corners, for it was covered, in turn, with a green baize cloth considerably the worse for wear. Certain well-known names which Pascal overheard surprised him greatly. these men here?” he said to himself; “and I--I regarded my visit as a sort of clandestine frolic.” There were only seven or eight ladies present, none of them being especially attractive. It surprised him to note that every one spoke in very low tones; there was something very like respect, even awe, in this subdued murmur.

And is not gaming a species of idolatry, symbolized by cards, and which has its images, its fetishes, its miracles, its fanatics, and its martyrs? Occasionally, above the accompaniment of whispers, rose the strange and incoherent exclamations of the players: “Here are twenty louis! The play is made! “What singular people!” And he turned his attention to the mistress of the house, as if he hoped to decipher the solution of the enigma on her face. But Madame Lia d’Argeles defied all analysis. de Coralth, having made his round, came and sat down on the sofa beside him. My philosopher is captivated.” “Not captivated, but interested, I confess.” Then, in the tone of good-humor which was habitual to him, he added: “As for being the sage you call me, that’s all nonsense. And to prove it, I’m going to risk my louis with the rest.” M. de Coralth seemed amazed, but a close observer might have detected a gleam of triumph in his eyes. The worst I can do is to lose what I have in my pocket--something over two hundred francs.” The viscount shook his head thoughtfully.

“It isn’t that which one has cause to fear. The devil always has a hand in this business, and the first time a man plays he’s sure to win.” “And is that a misfortune?” “Yes, because the recollection of these first winnings is sure to lure you back to the gaming-table again.

“My brain is not so easily turned, I hope,” said he. “I have the thought of my name, and the fortune I must make, as ballast for it.” “I beseech you not to play,” insisted the viscount. “Listen to me; you don’t know what this passion for play is; the strongest and the coldest natures succumb--don’t play.” He had raised his voice, as if he intended to be overheard by two guests who had just approached the sofa. “Can this really be Ferdinand who is trying to shake the allegiance of the votaries of our noble lady--the Queen of Spades?” M. de Coralth turned quickly round: “Yes, it is indeed I,” he answered. “I have purchased with my patrimony the right of saying: ‘Distrust yourself, and don’t do as I’ve done,’ to an inexperienced friend.” The wisest counsels, given in a certain fashion, never fail to produce an effect diametrically opposed to that which they seemingly aim at. de Coralth’s persistence, and the importance he attached to a mere trifle, could not fail to annoy the most patient man in the world, and in fact his patronizing tone really irritated Pascal. “You are free, my friend, to do as you please,” said he; “but I----” “Are you resolved?” interrupted the viscount.

Maybe they are right, but it is not conclusively proved. Each person takes the cards in his turn, risks what he chooses, and when his stakes are covered, deals. If he wins, he is free to follow up his vein of good-luck, or to pass the deal. Several players had large piles of gold before them, and the heavy artillery--that is to say, bank-notes--were beginning to put in appearance. “I stake a louis!” said he The smallness of the sum attracted instant attention, and two or three voices replied: “Taken!” He dealt, and won. “Two louis!” he said again.

This wager was also taken; he won, and his run of luck was so remarkable that, in a wonderfully short space of time, he won six hundred francs. “Pass the deal,” whispered Ferdinand, and Pascal followed this advice. “Not because I desire to keep my winnings,” he whispered in M. de Coralth’s ear, “but because I wish to have enough to play until the end of the evening without risking anything.” But such prudence was unnecessary so far as he was concerned. Monsieur is in luck.”--“Zounds!

And he is playing for the first time.”--“That accounts for it.

The blood mantled over his cheeks, and, conscious that he was flushing, he, as usually happens, flushed still more.

His good fortune embarrassed him, as was evident, and he played most recklessly. Still his good luck did not desert him; and do what he would he won--won continually. “Do you know this gentleman?” inquired one of the guests. He came with Coralth.” “He is an advocate, I understand.” And all these whispered doubts and suspicions, these questions fraught with an evil significance, these uncharitable replies, grew into a malevolent murmur, which resounded in Pascal’s ears and bewildered him.

He was really becoming most uncomfortable, when Madame d’Argeles approached the card-table and exclaimed: “This is the third time, gentlemen, that you have been told that supper is ready. What gentleman will offer me his arm?” There was an evident unwillingness to leave the table, but an old gentleman who had been losing heavily rose to his feet. “Yes, let us go to supper!” he exclaimed; “perhaps that will change the luck.” This was a decisive consideration. He succeeded, however, in distributing it in his pockets, and was about to join the other guests in the dining-room, when Madame d’Argeles abruptly barred his passage.

And yet her agitation was so evident that Pascal, in spite of his own uneasiness, noticed it, and was astonished by it. She at once took his arm, and led him to the embrasure of a window. “I am a stranger to you, monsieur,” she said, very hurriedly, and in very low tones, “and yet I must ask, and you must grant me, a great favor.” “Speak, madame.” She hesitated, as if at a loss for words, and then all of a sudden she said, eagerly: “You will leave this house at once, without warning any one, and while the other guests are at supper.” Pascal’s astonishment changed into stupor. Consider it only a caprice on my part--it is so; but I entreat you, don’t refuse me. Do me this favor, and I shall be eternally grateful.” There was such an agony of supplication in her voice and her attitude, that Pascal was touched.

A vague presentiment of some terrible, irreparable misfortune disturbed his own heart. Nevertheless, he sadly shook his head, and bitterly exclaimed: “You are, perhaps, not aware that I have just won over thirty thousand francs.” “Yes, I am aware of it. And this is only another, and still stronger reason why you should protect yourself against possible loss. It is well to pattern after Charlemagne in this house. The other night, the Count d’Antas quietly made his escape bareheaded.

He took a thousand louis away with him, and left his hat in exchange. The count is a brave man; and far from indulging in blame, every one applauded him the next day. Come, you have decided, I see--you will go; and to be still more safe, I will show you out through the servants’ hall, then no one can possibly see you.” Pascal had almost decided to yield to her entreaties; but this proposed retreat through the back-door was too revolting to his pride to be thought of for a moment. de Coralth, who in the meantime had stolen into the room on tiptoe, and had been listening to their conversation, concealed behind the folds of a heavy curtain. He now suddenly revealed his presence. “While I honor your scruples, I must say that I think madame is a hundred times right. Others might think what they pleased; you have the money, that is the main thing.” For the second time, the viscount’s intervention decided Pascal. But Madame d’Argeles laid her hand imploringly on his arm. “Go now, there is still time.” “Yes, go,” said the viscount, approvingly, “it would be a most excellent move. The conversation ceased entirely on his arrival there.

A secret instinct warned him that all the men around him were his enemies--though he knew not why--and that they were plotting against him. He also perceived that his slightest movements were watched and commented upon. However he was a brave man; his conscience did not reproach him in the least, and he was one of those persons who, rather than wait for danger, provoke it. He possessed a ready wit, and what is even better, tact; and for a quarter of an hour astonished those around him by his brilliant sallies. “Let us go back!” cried the old gentleman, who had insisted upon the suspension of the game; “we are wasting a deal of precious time here!” Pascal rose with the others, and in his haste to enter the adjoining room he jostled two men who were talking together near the door. “So it is understood,” said one of them. “Yes, yes, leave it to me; I will act as executioner.” This word sent all Pascal’s blood bounding to his heart. “Who is to be executed?” he thought?

But what does it all mean?” Meanwhile the players at the green table had changed places, and Pascal found himself seated not on Ferdinand’s right, but directly opposite him, and between two men about his own age--one of them being the person who had announced his intention of acting as executioner. All eyes were fixed upon the unfortunate advocate when it came his turn to deal. He staked two hundred louis, and lost them. There was a slight commotion round the table; and one of the players who had lost most heavily, remarked in an undertone: “Don’t look so hard at the gentleman--he won’t have any more luck.” As Pascal heard this ironical remark, uttered in a tone which made it as insulting as a blow, a gleam of light darted through his puzzled brain. He thought of rising and demanding an apology; but he was stunned, almost overcome by the horrors of his situation.

His ears tingled, and it seemed to him as if the beating of his heart were suspended. The attention of the entire party was concentrated on Pascal; and he, with despair in his heart, followed the movements of the cards, which were passing from hand to hand, and fast approaching him again. When they reached him the silence became breathless, menacing, even sinister. “My God!” thought Pascal, “my God, if I can only lose!” He was as pale as death; the perspiration trickled down from his hair upon his temples, and his hands trembled so much that he could scarcely hold the cards. the unfortunate fellow’s wish was not gratified; he won. Then in the midst of the wildest confusion, he exclaimed: “Here are eight thousand francs!” “Taken!” But as he began to deal the cards, his neighbor sprang up, seized him roughly by the hands and cried: “This time I’m sure of it--you are a thief!” With a bound, Pascal was on his feet.

While his peril had been vague and undetermined, his energy had been paralyzed. But it was restored to him intact when his danger declared itself in all its horror. He pushed away the man who had caught his hands, with such violence that he sent him reeling under a sofa; then he stepped back and surveyed the excited throng with an air of menace and defiance. Meanwhile, the executioner, as he had styled himself, had risen to his feet with his cravat untied, and his clothes in wild disorder.

“I saw you--and I am going to prove it.” So saying he turned to the mistress of the house, who had dropped into an arm-chair, and imperiously asked, “How many packs have we used?” “Five.” “Then there ought to be two hundred and sixty cards upon the table.” Thereupon he counted them slowly and with particular care, and he found no fewer than three hundred and seven. He knew that words would weigh as nothing against this material, tangible, incontrovertible proof. He did not deign to turn his head. He knew himself to be innocent, and yet he felt that he was sinking to the lowest depths of infamy--he beheld himself disgraced, branded, ruined. But another person came to his aid. With a boldness which no one would have expected on his part, M.

de Coralth placed himself in front of Pascal, and in a voice which betokened more indignation than sorrow, he exclaimed: “This is a terrible mistake, gentlemen. Pascal Ferailleur is my friend; and his past vouches for his present. Go to the Palais de Justice, and make inquiries respecting his character there. They will tell you how utterly impossible it is that this man can be guilty of the ignoble act he is accused of.” No one made any reply. In the opinion of all his listeners, Ferdinand was simply fulfilling a duty which it would have been difficult for him to escape. He was a portly man, who puffed like a porpoise when he talked, and whom his companions called the baron.

That your friend is not an honest man is no fault of yours. There is no outward sign to distinguish scoundrels.” Pascal had so far not opened his lips. After struggling for a moment in the hands of his captors, he now stood perfectly motionless, glancing furiously around him as if hoping to discover the coward who had prepared the trap into which he had fallen. For he felt certain that he was the victim of some atrocious conspiracy, though it was impossible for him to divine what motive had actuated his enemies. He raised his head; he fancied he could detect a ray of hope.

“Speak!” He tried to free himself; but those beside him would not relax their hold, so he desisted, and then, in a voice husky with emotion, he exclaimed: “I am innocent! Who the author of it is I do not know. But there is some one here who must know.” Angry exclamations and sneering laughs interrupted him. “Would you condemn me unheard?” he resumed, raising his voice. “Listen to me. About an hour ago, while you were at supper, Madame d’Argeles almost threw herself at my feet as she entreated me to leave this house.

Her agitation astonished me. Now I understand it.” The gentleman known as the baron turned toward Madame d’Argeles: “Is what this man says true?” She was greatly agitated, but she answered: “Yes.” “Why were you so anxious for him to go?” “I don’t know--a presentiment--it seemed to me that something was going to happen.” The least observant of the party could not fail to notice Madame d’Argeles’s hesitation and confusion; but even the shrewdest were deceived. They supposed that she had seen the act committed, and had tried to induce the culprit to make his escape, in order to avoid a scandal. Pascal saw he could expect no assistance from this source. de Coralth do his best to persuade you not to play.” So the unfortunate fellow’s last and only hope had vanished. Still he made a supreme effort, and addressing Madame d’Argeles: “Madame,” he said, in a voice trembling with anguish? “It is all over!” he muttered.

No one heard him; everybody was listening to the baron, who seemed to be very much put out. “We are wasting precious time with all this,” said he. “We should have made at least five rounds while this absurd scene has been going on.

What are you going to do with this fellow? I am in favor of sending for a commissary of police.” Such was not at all the opinion of the majority of the guests. Four or five of the ladies took flight at the bare suggestion and several men--the most aristocratic of the company--became angry at once.

a man’s courage should equal his vices. Look at me.” Celebrated for his income of eight hundred thousand francs a year, for his estates in Burgundy, for his passion for gaming, his horses, and his cook, the baron wielded a mighty influence. Still, on this occasion he did not carry the day, for it was decided that the “sharper” should be allowed to depart unmolested. “Make him at least return the money,” growled a loser; “compel him to disgorge.” “His winnings are there upon the table.” “Don’t believe it,” cried the baron. Search him by all means.” “That’s it--search him!” Crushed by this unexpected, undeserved and incomprehensible misfortune, Pascal had almost yielded to his fate.

But the shameful cry: “Search him!” kindled terrible wrath in his brain. He shook off his assailants as a lion shakes off the hounds that have attacked him, and, reaching the fireplace with a single bound, he snatched up a heavy bronze candelabrum and brandished it in the air, crying: “The first who approaches is a dead man!” He was ready to strike, there was no doubt about it; and such a weapon in the hands of a determined man, becomes positively terrible. The danger seemed so great and so certain that his enemies paused--each encouraging his neighbor with his glance; but no one was inclined to engage in this struggle, by which the victor would merely gain a few bank-notes. And, formidable in his indignation and audacity, he reached the door of the room unmolested, and disappeared. This superb outburst of outraged honor, this marvellous energy--succeeding, as it did, the most complete mental prostration--and these terrible threats, had proved so prompt and awe-inspiring that no one had thought of cutting off Pascal’s retreat. “Ah, well!” she exclaimed, in a tone of intense admiration, “that handsome fellow is level-headed!” “He naturally desired to save his plunder!” It was the same expression that M. This rich man, whose passions had dragged him into the vilest dens of Europe, was thoroughly acquainted with sharpers and scoundrels of every type, from those who ride in their carriages down to the bare-footed vagabond. He knew the thief who grovels at his victim’s feet, humbly confessing his crime, the desperate knave who swallows the notes he has stolen, the abject wretch who bares his back to receive the blows he deserves, and the rascal who boldly confronts his accusers and protests his innocence with the indignation of an honest man. But never, in any of these scoundrels, had the baron seen the proud, steadfast glance with which this man had awed his accusers. With this thought uppermost in his mind he drew the person who had seized Pascal’s hands at the card-table a little aside.

He was the only winner.” To this terrible argument--the same which had silenced Pascal--the baron made no reply. Indeed his intervention became necessary elsewhere, for the other guests were beginning to talk loudly and excitedly around the pile of gold and bank-notes which Pascal had left on the table. They had counted it, and found it to amount to the sum of thirty-six thousand three hundred and twenty francs; and it was the question of dividing it properly among the losers which was causing all this uproar. Among these guests, who belonged to the highest society--among these judges who had so summarily convicted an innocent man, and suggested the searching of a supposed sharper only a moment before--there were several who unblushingly misrepresented their losses. This was undeniable; for on adding the various amounts that were claimed together a grand total of ninety-one thousand francs was reached.

Had this man who had just fled taken the difference between the two sums away with him? No, this was impossible; the supposition could not be entertained for a moment. However, the discussion might have taken an unfortunate turn, had it not been for the baron. In all matters relating to cards, his word was law. He quietly said, “It is all right;” and they submitted. Nevertheless, he absolutely refused to take his share of the money; and after the division, rubbing his hands as if he were delighted to see this disagreeable affair concluded, he exclaimed: “It is only six o’clock; we have still time for a few rounds.” But the other guests, pale, disturbed, and secretly ashamed of themselves, were eager to depart, and in fact they were already hastening to the cloak-room. “At least play a game of ecarte,” cried the baron, “a simple game of ecarte, at twenty louis a point.” But no one listened, and he reluctantly prepared to follow his departing friends, who bowed to Madame d’Argeles on the landing, as they filed by, M. “Remain,” said she; “I want to speak with you.” “You will excuse me,” he began; “I----” But she again bade him “remain” in such an imperious tone that he dared not resist. He reascended the stairs, very much after the manner of a man who is being dragged into a dentist’s office, and followed Madame d’Argeles into a small boudoir at the end of the gambling-room. As soon as the door was closed and locked, the mistress of the house turned to her prisoner.

However, this affair will cost me dear myself. It has already embroiled me in a difficulty with that fool of a Rochecote, with whom I shall have to fight in less than a couple of hours.” “Where did you make his acquaintance?” “Whose--Rochecote’s?” Madame d’Argeles’s sempiternal smile had altogether disappeared. He managed my case very cleverly, and we kept up the acquaintance.” “What is his position?” M. He lives in a retired part of the city, near the Pantheon, with his mother, who is a widow, a very respectable woman, always dressed in black. When she opened the door for me, on the occasion of my first visit, I thought some old family portrait had stepped down from its frame to receive me. Pascal has the reputation of being a remarkable man, and people supposed he would rise very high in his profession.” “But now he is ruined; his career is finished.” “Certainly! You can be quite sure that by this evening all Paris will know what occurred here last night.” He paused, meeting Madame Argeles’s look of withering scorn with a cleverly assumed air of astonishment. You and I understand each other.” Confounded by his unblushing impudence, Madame d’Argeles remained speechless for a moment. Were you not afraid that I might speak and state what I had seen?” He shrugged his shoulders.

You must have forgotten that I know you, that your past life is no secret to me, that I know who you are, and what dishonored name you hide beneath your borrowed title! I could have told my guests that you are married--that you have abandoned your wife and child, leaving them to perish in want and misery--I could have told them where you obtain the thirty or forty thousand francs you spend each year. You must have forgotten that Rose told me everything, Monsieur--Paul!” She had struck the right place this time, and with such precision that M.

“Ah, take care!” he exclaimed; “take care!” But his rage speedily subsided, and with his usual indifferent manner, and in a bantering tone, he said: “Well, what of that?

I must have luxury and enjoyment, everything that is pleasant and beautiful--and to procure all this, I do my very best. It is true that I don’t derive my income from my estate in Brie; but I have plenty of money, and that is the essential thing. Besides, it is so difficult to earn a livelihood nowadays, and the love of luxury is so intense that no one knows at night what he may do--or, rather, what he won’t do--the next day. And last, but not least, the people who ought to be despised are so numerous that contempt is an impossibility.

A Parisian who happened to be so absurdly pretentious as to refuse to shake hands with such of his acquaintances as were not irreproachable characters, might walk for hours on the Boulevards without finding an occasion to take his hands out of his pockets.” M. de Coralth talked well enough, and yet, in point of fact, all this was sheer bravado on his part. He knew better than any one else, on what a frail and uncertain basis his brilliant existence was established. It shuts its eyes and refuses to look or listen. But this is all the more reason why it should be pitiless when a person’s guilt is positively established. Thus, although he assumed an air of insolent security, the “viscount” anxiously watched the effect of his words upon Madame d’Argeles. Fortunately for himself, he saw that she was abashed by his cynicism; and so he resumed: “Besides, as our friend, the baron, would say, we are wasting precious time in discussing improbable, and even impossible, suppositions. I was sufficiently well acquainted with your heart and your intelligence, my dear madame, to be sure that you would not speak a word to my disparagement.” “Indeed! What prevented me from doing so?” “I did; or perhaps I ought rather to say, your own good sense, which closed your mouth when Monsieur Pascal entreated you to speak in his defence. My mother, unfortunately, was an honest woman, who did not furnish me with the means of gratifying every whim.” Madame d’Argeles recoiled as if a serpent had suddenly crossed her path.

“You know as well as I do.” “I don’t understand you--explain yourself.” With the impatient gesture of a man who finds himself compelled to answer an idle question, and assuming an air of hypocritical commiseration, he replied: “Well, since you insist upon it, I know, in Paris--in the Rue de Helder, to be more exact--a nice young fellow, whose lot I have often envied. At school, he had three times as much money as his richest playfellow. When his studies were finished, a tutor was provided--with his pockets full of gold--to conduct this favored youth to Italy, Egypt, and Greece. He is now studying law; and four times a year, with unvarying punctuality, he receives a letter from London containing five thousand francs. This is all the more remarkable, as this young man has neither a father nor a mother. He is alone in the world with his income of twenty thousand francs. I have heard him say, jestingly, that some good fairy must be watching over him; but I know that he believes himself to be the illegitimate son of some great English nobleman.

Sometimes, when he has drunk a little too much, he talks of going in search of my lord, his father.” The effect M. “So, my dear madame,” he continued, “if I ever had any reason to fancy that you intended causing me any trouble, I should go to this charming youth and say: ‘My good fellow, you are strangely deceived. Your money doesn’t come from the treasure-box of an English peer, but from a small gambling den with which I am very well acquainted, having often had occasion to swell its revenues with my franc-pieces.’ And if he mourned his vanished dreams, I should tell him: ‘You are wrong; for, if the great nobleman is lost, the good fairy remains. She is none other than your mother, a very worthy person, whose only object in life is your comfort and advancement.’ And if he doubted my word, I should bring him to his mother’s house some baccarat night; and there would be a scene of recognition worthy of Fargueil’s genius.” Any man but M. “It is as I feared!” she moaned, in a scarcely audible voice. “What!” he exclaimed in a tone of intense astonishment; “did you really doubt it?

One April afternoon I came to invite you to a drive in the Bois. I was ushered into this very room where we are sitting now, and found you writing. I said I would wait until you finished your letter; but some one called you, and you hastily left the room. How it was that I happened to approach your writing-table I cannot explain; but I did approach it, and read your unfinished letter. I fear the poor boy is greatly annoyed by his creditors. When you send him this money, forward at the same time a letter of fatherly advice.

It is true, he ought to work and win an honorable position for himself; but think of the dangers and temptation that beset him, alone and friendless, in this corrupt city.’ There, my dear lady, your letter ended; but the name and address were given, and it was easy enough to understand it.

de Coralth took her hand and raised it to his lips. de Coralth might read her opinion of him in her eyes; but after a short pause she exclaimed beseechingly: “Now that I am your accomplice, let me entreat you to do all you possibly can to prevent last night’s affair from being noised abroad.” “Impossible.” “If not for M. Ferailleur’s sake, for the sake of his poor widowed mother.” “Pascal must be put out of the way!” “Why do you say that? “What!” she stammered; “it wasn’t on your own account that you did this?” “Why, no.” She sprang to her feet, and quivering with scorn and indignation, cried: “Ah! then the deed is even more infamous--even more cowardly!” But alarmed by the threatening gleam in M. “A truce to these disagreeable truths,” said he, coldly. “If we expressed our opinions of each other without reserve, in this world, we should soon come to hard words. I lost more than a hundred louis myself.

And, consulting his watch, he added, “But I am forgetting myself; I am forgetting that that idiot of a Rochecote is waiting for a sword-thrust. “It is quite certain that he is hastening to the house of M. I want to know where he is going. If through the length and breadth of Paris there is a really quiet, peaceful street, a refuge for the thoughtfully inclined, it is surely the broad Rue d’Ulm, which starts from the Place du Pantheon, and finishes abruptly at the Rue des Feuillantines. There is a wine-shop on the left-hand side, at the corner of the Rue de la Vieille-Estrapade; then a little toy-shop, then a washerwoman’s and then a book-binder’s establishment; while on the right-hand you will find the office of the Bulletin, with a locksmith’s, a fruiterer’s, and a baker’s--that is all. Here stands the Convent of the Sisters of the Cross, with the House of Our Lady of Adoration; while further on, near the Rue des Feuillantines, you find the Normal School, with the office of the General Omnibus Company hard by.

The only stir is round about the omnibus office; and if occasional bursts of laughter are heard they are sure to come from the Normal School.

And it is only on listening attentively that you can catch even a faint echo of the tumult of Paris. It was in this street--“out of the world,” as M. de Coralth expressed it--that Pascal Ferailleur resided with his mother. But this was a burden which Pascal’s profession imposed upon him; for he, of course, required a private office and a little waiting-room for his clients. With this exception, the mother and son led a straightened, simple life. Besides, she could do this without the least risk of encountering disrespect, so imposing and dignified were her manners and her person. A close observer would have detected traces of weeping about her wrinkled eyelids; and the twinge of her lips was expressive of cruel anguish, heroically endured. Still, she was not severe, nor even too sedate; and the few friends who visited her were often really astonished at her wit.

Besides, she was one of those women who have no history, and who find happiness in what others would call duty. This young man on marrying had sworn that he would make a fortune; not that he cared for money for himself, but he wished to provide his idol with every luxury. His love, enhancing his energy, no doubt hastened his success. Attached as a chemist to a large manufacturing establishment, his services soon became so invaluable to his employers that they gave him a considerable interest in the business. His name even obtained an honorable place among modern inventors; and we are indebted to him for the discovery of one of those brilliant colors that are extracted from common coal. He loved his wife as fondly as on the day of their marriage, and he had a son--Pascal.

It was a terrible blow for his poor wife, and the thought of her son alone reconciled her to life. misfortunes never come singly. One of her husband’s friends, who acted as administrator to the estate, took a contemptible advantage of her inexperience. Had she been alone in the world, she would not have grieved much over the catastrophe, but she was sadly affected by the thought that her son’s future was, perhaps, irrevocably blighted, and that, in any case, this disaster would condemn him to enter life through the cramped and gloomy portals of poverty.

However, Madame Ferailleur was of too courageous and too proud a nature not to meet this danger with virile energy. She determined to repair the harm as far as it was in her power to repair it, resolving that her son’s studies at the college of Louis-the-Great should not be interrupted, even if she had to labor with her own hands. She found employment as a day-servant and in sewing for large shops, until she at last obtained a situation as clerk in the establishment where her husband had been a partner.

To obtain this she was obliged to acquire a knowledge of bookkeeping, but she was amply repaid for her trouble; for the situation was worth eighteen hundred francs a year, besides food and lodging. Pascal was only twelve years old when his mother said to him: “I have ruined you, my son. God grant that in years to come you will not reproach me for my imprudence.” The child did not throw himself into her arms, but holding his head proudly erect, he answered: “I shall love you even more, dear mother, if that be possible. His remarks, which were at once comical and touching, were those of the head of a family, deeply impressed by a sense of his own responsibility. “You see,” he said to his companions, who were astonished at his sudden thirst for knowledge, “I can’t afford to wear out my breeches on the college forms, now that my poor mother has to pay for them with her work.” His good-humor was not in the least impaired by his resolve not to spend a single penny of his pocket money. With a tact unusual at his age, or indeed at any other, he bore his misfortunes simply and proudly, without any of the servile humility or sullen envy which so often accompanies poverty. For three years in succession the highest prizes at the competitions rewarded him for his efforts; but these successes, far from elating him unduly, seemed to afford him but little satisfaction. “This is only glory,” he thought; and his great ambition was to support himself. He was soon able to do so, thanks to the kindness of the head-master, who offered him his tuition gratis if he would assist in superintending some of the lower classes.

Thus one day when Madame Ferailleur presented herself as usual to make her quarterly payment, the steward replied: “You owe us nothing, madame; everything has been paid by your son.” She almost fainted; after bearing adversity so bravely, this happiness proved too much for her.

A long explanation was necessary to convince her of the truth, and then big tears, tears of joy this time, gushed from her eyes. In this way, Pascal Ferailleur paid all the expenses of his education until he had won his degree, arming himself so as to resist the trials that awaited him, and giving abundant proof of energy and ability. He wished to be a lawyer; and the law, he was forced to admit, is a profession which is almost beyond the reach of penniless young men. On the very day that Pascal inscribed his name as a student at the law school, he entered an advocate’s office as a clerk. His duties, which were extremely tiresome at first, had the two-fold advantage of familiarizing him with the forms of legal procedure, and of furnishing him with the means of prosecuting his studies.

After he had been in the office six months, his employer agreed to pay him eight hundred francs a year, which were increased to fifteen hundred at the end of the second twelvemonth.

In three years, when he had passed his final examination qualifying him to practise, his patron raised him to the position of head-clerk, with a salary of three thousand francs, which Pascal was moreover able to increase considerably by drawing up documents for busy attorneys, and assisting them in the preparation of their least important cases. It was certainly something wonderful to have achieved such a result in so short a time; but the most difficult part of his task had still to be accomplished. He felt that his employer, who was in the habit of relieving himself of his heaviest duties by intrusting them to him, would not be likely to forgive him for leaving. And on starting on his own account, he could ill afford to dispense with this lawyer’s good-will. The patronage that could scarcely fail to follow him from an office where he had served for four years was the most substantial basis of his calculations for the future.

Eventually he succeeded to his satisfaction, though not without some difficulty, and only by employing that supreme finesse which consists in absolute frankness. Before his office had been open a fortnight, he had seven or eight briefs waiting their turn upon his desk, and his first efforts were such as win the approving smile of old judges, and draw from them the prediction: “That young man will rise in his profession.” He had not desired to make any display of his knowledge or talent, but merely to win the cases confided to him; and, unlike many beginners, he evinced no inclination to shine at his clients’ expense. His first ten months of practice brought him about eight thousand francs, absorbed in part by the expense attaching to a suitable office. The second year his fees increased by about one-half, and, feeling that his position was now assured, he insisted that his mother should resign her clerkship. He proved to her what was indeed the truth--that by superintending his establishment, she would save more than she made in her present position.

Clients became so numerous that Pascal found it necessary to draw nearer the business centre, and his rent was consequently doubled; but the income he derived from his profession increased so rapidly that he soon had twelve thousand francs safely invested as a resource against any emergency. Ferdinand de Coralth’s affair, brought that young nobleman to his office. The honest worker felt interested in this dashing adventurer; he was almost dazzled by his brilliant vices, his wit, his hardihood, conceit, marvellous assurance, and careless impudence; and he studied this specimen of the Parisian flora with no little curiosity. de Coralth certainly did not confide the secret of his life and his resources to Pascal but the latter’s intelligence should have told him to distrust a man who treated the requirements of morality even more than cavalierly, and who had infinitely more wants than scruples. However, the young advocate seemed to have no suspicions; they exchanged visits occasionally, and it was Pascal himself who one day requested the viscount to take him to one of those “Reunions in High Life” which the newspapers describe in such glowing terms. Madame Ferailleur was playing a game of whist with a party of old friends, according to her custom every Thursday evening, when M. Pascal considered his friend’s invitation exceedingly well timed. He dressed himself with more than ordinary care, and, as usual before going out, he approached his mother to kiss her and wish her good-bye. “I am going to a soiree, my dear mother,” he replied; “and it is probable that I shall not return until very late. So don’t wait for me, I beg of you; promise me to go to bed at your usual hour.” “Have you the night-key?” “Yes.” “Very well, then; I will not wait for you.

And wrap yourself up well, for it is very cold.” Then raising her forehead to her son’s lips, she gayly added: “A pleasant evening to you, my boy!” Faithful to her promise, Madame Ferailleur retired at the usual hour; but she could not sleep.

She certainly had no cause for anxiety, and yet the thought that her son was not at home filled her heart with vague misgivings such as she had never previously felt under similar circumstances. de Coralth was the cause of her strange disquietude, for she utterly disliked the viscount. Her woman’s instinct warned her that there was something unwholesome about this young man’s peculiar handsomeness, and that it was not safe to trust to his professions of friendship. She fancied she had heard a terrible cry of distress in the deserted street. But the street was silent, and deciding that she had been mistaken, she went back to bed laughing at herself for her fears; and at last she fell asleep.

But judge of her terror in the morning when, on rising to let the servant in, she saw Pascal’s candle still standing on the buffet. She hastened to his room--he was not there.

This was the first time that Pascal had spent a night from home without warning his mother in advance; and such an act on the part of a man of his character was sufficient proof that something extraordinary had occurred. In an instant all the dangers that lurk in Paris after nightfall flashed through her mind. Her first impulse was to run to the Commissary of Police’s office or to the house of Pascal’s friend; but on the other hand, she dared not go out, for fear he might return in her absence. His clothes were torn and disordered; his cravat was missing, he wore no overcoat, and he was bareheaded. He looked very pale, and his teeth were chattering. His eyes stared vacantly, and his features had an almost idiotic expression.

He trembled from head to foot as the sound of her voice suddenly roused him from his stupor. “Nothing,” he stammered; “nothing at all.” And as his mother pressed him with questions, he pushed her gently aside and went on to his room.

“Poor child!” murmured Madame Ferailleur, at once grieved and reassured; “and he is always so temperate. Some one must have forced him to drink.” She was entirely wrong in her surmise, and yet Pascal’s sensations were exactly like those of an intoxicated man. He had found his way back mechanically, merely by force of habit--physical memory, as it might be called.

After that, he remembered nothing distinctly. On reaching the street he had been overcome by the fresh air, just as a carouser is overcome on emerging from a heated dining-room. Perhaps the champagne which he had drank had contributed to this cerebral disorder. At all events, even now, in his own room, seated in his own arm-chair, and surrounded by familiar objects, he did not succeed in regaining the possession of his faculties. He had barely strength enough to throw himself on to the bed, and in a moment he was sleeping with that heavy slumber which so often seizes hold of one on the occasion of a great crisis, and which has so frequently been observed among persons condemned to death, on the night preceding their execution. Four or five times his mother came to listen at the door. Once she entered, and seeing her son sleeping soundly, she could not repress a smile of satisfaction. how surprised and mortified he will be when he awakes!” Alas!

it was not a trifling mortification, but despair, which awaited the sleeper on his wakening; for the past, the present, and the future were presented simultaneously and visionlike to his imagination. Although he had scarcely regained the full use of his faculties, he was, to some extent, at least capable of reflection and deliberation, and he tried to look the situation bravely in the face. de Coralth, who, seated at his right, had prepared the “hands” with which he had won. This was evident. It seemed equally proven that Madame d’Argeles knew the real culprit--possibly she had detected him in the act, possibly he had taken her into his confidence. What could have prompted the viscount to commit such an atrocious act? It was an actual, unanswerable, and terrible fact that this infamous plot had been successful, and that Pascal was dishonored.

He was innocent, and yet he could furnish no proofs of his innocence. Do what he would, this atrocious, incomprehensive calumny would crush him. The bar was closed against him; his career was ended. And the terrible conviction that there was no escape from the abyss into which he had fallen made his reason totter--he felt that he was incapable of deciding on the best course, and that he must have a friend’s advice. Full of this idea, he hastily changed his clothes, and hurried from his room. His mother was watching for him--inclined to laugh at him a little; but a single glance warned her that her son was in terrible trouble, and that some dire misfortune had certainly befallen him. “Where are you going?” “To the Palais de Justice.” And such was really the case, for he hoped to meet his most intimate friend there. Contrary to his usual custom, he took the little staircase on the right, leading to the grand vestibule, where several lawyers were assembled, earnestly engaged in conversation. They were evidently astonished to see Pascal, and their conversation abruptly ceased on his approach. They assumed a grave look and turned away their heads in disgust.

The unfortunate man at once realized the truth, and pressed his hand to his forehead, with a despairing gesture, as he murmured: “Already!--already!” However, he passed on, and not seeing his friend, he hurried to the little conference hall, where he found five of his fellow-advocates.

Crushed by the overpowering evidence against him, he allowed himself to be searched, and without much demur consented to refund the fruit of his knavery, to the amount of two thousand louis. The strangest thing connected with this scandal is, that M. F----, who is an advocate by profession, has always enjoyed an enviable reputation for integrity; and, unfortunately, this prank cannot be attributed to a momentary fit of madness, for the fact that he had provided himself with these cards in advance proves the act to have been premeditated. One of the persons present was especially displeased. This was the Viscount de C----, who had introduced M. Extremely annoyed by this contretemps, he took umbrage at an offensive remark made by M. de R----, and it was rumored that these gentlemen would cross swords at daybreak this morning. de R---- received a slight wound in the side, but his condition is sufficiently satisfactory not to alarm his friends.” The paper slipped from Pascal’s hand.

His features were almost unrecognizable in his passion and despair. “It is an infamous lie!” he said, hoarsely. “I am innocent; I swear it upon my honor!” Dartelle averted his face, but not quickly enough to prevent Pascal from noticing the look of withering scorn in his eyes. Then, feeling that he was condemned, that his sentence was irrevocable, and that there was no longer any hope: “I know the only thing that remains for me to do!” he murmured. Dartelle turned, his eyes glistening with tears. He seized Pascal’s hands and pressed them with sorrowful tenderness, as if taking leave of a friend who is about to die. “Courage!” he whispered. “Yes,” he repeated, as he rushed along the Boulevard Saint-Michel, “that is the only thing left me to do.” When he reached home he entered his office, double-locked the door, and wrote two letters--one to his mother, the other to the president of the order of Advocates. Then, without an instant’s hesitation, and like a man who had fully decided upon his course, he took a revolver and a box of cartridges from a drawer in his desk. “Poor mother!” he murmured; “it will kill her--but my disgrace would kill her too.

Better shorten the agony.” He little fancied at that supreme moment that each of his gestures, each contraction of his features, were viewed by the mother whose name he faltered. Since her son had left her to go to the Palais de Justice, the poor woman had remained almost crazy with anxiety; and when she heard him return and lock himself in his office--a thing he had never done before--a fearful presentiment was aroused in her mind. Gliding into her son’s bedroom, she at once approached the door communicating with his office. The upper part of this portal was of glass; it was possible to see what was occurring in the adjoining room. When Madame Ferailleur perceived Pascal seat himself at his desk and begin to write, she felt a trifle reassured, and almost thought of going away.

He had forgotten this one, or neglected it, not thinking that anybody would approach his office through his bedroom.

But his mother perceived that this door opened toward her. what would you do?” He was so surprised that his weapon fell from his hand, and he sank back almost fainting in his arm-chair. The idea of denying his intention never once occurred to him; besides, he was unable to articulate a word. But on his desk there lay a letter addressed to his mother which would speak for him. I cannot survive dishonor; and I am dishonored.” “Dishonored!--you!” exclaimed the heartbroken mother.

what does this mean? I command you!” He complied with this at once supplicating and imperious behest, and related in a despairing voice the events which had wrought his woe.

He did not omit a single particular, but tried rather to exaggerate than palliate the horrors of his situation. Perhaps he found a strange satisfaction in proving to himself that there was no hope left; possibly he believed his mother would say: “Yes, you are right; and death is your only refuge!” As Madame Ferailleur listened, however, her eyes dilated with fear and horror, and she scarcely realized whether she were awake or in the midst of some frightful dream. For this was one of those unexpected catastrophes which are beyond the range of human foresight or even imagination, and which her mind could scarcely conceive or admit. But SHE did not doubt him, even though his friends had doubted him. When his story was ended, she exclaimed: “And you wished to kill yourself? Did you not think, senseless boy, that your death would give an appearance of truth to this vile calumny?” With a mother’s wonderful, sublime instinct, she had found the most powerful reason that could be urged to induce Pascal to live. This thought ought to have stayed your hand. An honest name is a sacred trust which no one has a right to abuse. Your father bequeathed it to you, pure and untarnished, and so you must preserve it.

If others try to cover it with opprobrium, you must live to defend it.” He lowered his head despondently, and in a tone of profound discouragement, he replied: “But what can I do? How can I escape from the web which has been woven around me with such fiendish cunning? But now the misfortune is irreparable. How can I unmask the traitor, and what proofs of his guilt can I cast in his face?” “All the same, you ought not to yield without a struggle,” interrupted Madame Ferailleur, sternly. “It is wrong to abandon a task because it is difficult; it must be accepted, and, even if one perish in the struggle, there is, at least, the satisfaction of feeling that one has not failed in duty.” “But, mother----” “I must not keep the truth from you, Pascal! Come, my son, rise and raise your head. I will fight with you.” Without speaking a word, Pascal caught hold of his mother’s hands and pressed them to his lips. His face was wet with tears. His overstrained nerves relaxed under the soothing influence of maternal tenderness and devotion. His mother’s noble words found an echo in his own heart, and he now looked upon suicide as an act of madness and cowardice.

Madame Ferailleur felt that the victory was assured, but this did not suffice; she wished to enlist Pascal in her plans. “It is evident,” she resumed, “that M. de Coralth is the author of this abominable plot. But what could have been his object? Has he confided to you, or have you discovered, any secret that might ruin him if it were divulged?” “No, mother.” “Then he must be the vile instrument of some even more despicable being. It seemed to him as if a ray of light at last illumined the darkness--a dim and uncertain ray, it is true, but still a gleam of light.

“This is one of those cases in which a mother should overstep reserve,” said she. “If you had a mistress, my son----” “I have none,” he answered, promptly. Then his own face flushed, and after an instant’s hesitation, he added: “But I entertain the most profound and reverent love for a young girl, the most beautiful and chaste being on earth--a girl who, in intelligence and heart, is worthy of you, my own mother.” Madame Ferailleur nodded her head gravely, as much as to say that she had expected to find a woman at the bottom of the mystery. “And who is this young girl?” she inquired. “What is her name?” “Marguerite.” “Marguerite who?” Pascal’s embarrassment increased. He acts as her guardian; and although she has never spoken to me on the subject, I fancy that the Count de Chalusse is her father.” “And does this girl love you, Pascal?” “I believe so, mother. She has promised me that she will have no other husband than myself.” “And the count?” “He doesn’t know--he doesn’t even suspect anything about it. But my position is so modest as yet.

The count is immensely rich, and he intends to give Marguerite an enormous fortune--two millions, I believe----” Madame Ferailleur interrupted him with a gesture. “Look no further,” she said; “you have found the explanation.” Pascal sprang to his feet with crimson cheeks, flaming eyes, and quivering lips. The count’s immense fortune may have tempted some miserable scoundrel. Who knows but some one may have been watching Marguerite, and have discovered that I am an obstacle?” “Something told me that my suspicions were correct,” said Madame Ferailleur.

After a little while, however, as I insisted, she said: ‘Ah, well, I fear the count is planning a marriage for me. And this young man, whenever I meet him, looks at me in such a peculiar manner.’” “What is his name?” asked Madame Ferailleur. “I don’t know--she didn’t mention it; and her words so disturbed me that I did not think of asking. This evening, if I don’t succeed in obtaining an interview, I will write to her. If your suspicions are correct, mother, our secret is in the hands of three persons, and so it is a secret no longer----” He paused suddenly to listen. The noise of a spirited altercation between the servant and some visitor, came from the ante-room. “I tell you that he IS at home,” said some one in a panting voice, “and I must see him and speak with him at once. It is such an urgent matter that I left a card-party just at the most critical moment to come here.” “I assure you, monsieur, that M. Nevertheless, he opened the door; and a man, with a face like a full moon, and who was puffing and panting like a locomotive, came forward with the assurance of a person who thinks he may do anything he chooses by reason of his wealth. I am Baron Trigault--I came to----” The words died away on his lips, and he became as embarrassed as if he had not possessed an income of eight hundred thousand francs a year.

The fact is he had just perceived Madame Ferailleur. He bowed to her, and then, with a significant glance at Pascal he said: “I should like to speak to you in private, monsieur, in reference to a matter--” Great as was Pascal’s astonishment, he showed none of it on his face. “You can speak in my mother’s presence,” he replied, coldly; “she knows everything.” The baron’s surprise found vent in a positive distortion of his features. Those stairs have put me in such a state!” In spite of his unwieldy appearance, this wealthy man was endowed with great natural shrewdness and an unusually active mind. And while he pretended to be engaged in recovering his breath he studied the room and its occupants. “I will not conceal from you, monsieur,” began the baron, “that I have been led here by certain compunctions of conscience.” And, misinterpreting a gesture which Pascal made, “I mean what I say,” he continued; “compunctions of conscience. Your departure this morning, after that deplorable scene, caused certain doubts and suspicions to arise in my mind; and I said to myself, ‘We have been too hasty; perhaps this young man may not be guilty.’” “Monsieur!” interrupted Pascal, in a threatening tone. “Excuse me, allow me to finish, if you please. Reflection, I must confess, only confirmed this impression, and increased my doubts. ‘The devil!’ I said to myself again; ‘if this young man is innocent, the culprit must be one of the habitues of Madame d’Argeles’s house--that is to say, a man with whom I play twice a week, and whom I shall play with again next Monday.’ And then I became uneasy, and here I am!” Was the absurd reason which the baron gave for his visit the true one?

“I came,” he continued, “thinking that a look at your home would teach me something; and now I have seen it, I am ready to take my oath that you are the victim of a vile conspiracy.” So saying he noisily blew his nose, but this did not prevent him from observing the quiet joy of Pascal and his mother. But although these words were calculated to make them feel intensely happy, they still looked at their visitor with distrust.

It is not natural for a person to interest himself in other people’s misfortunes, unless he has some special motive for doing so; and what could this singular man’s object be? However, he did not seem in the slightest degree disconcerted by the glacial reserve with which his advances were received. “It is clear that you are in some one’s way,” he resumed, “and that this some one has invented this method of ruining you. I would be willing to swear that it was written from notes furnished by your enemy. Moreover, the particulars are incorrect, and I am going to write a line of correction which I shall take to the office myself.” So saying he transported his unwieldy person to Pascal’s desk, and hastily wrote as follows: “MR.

It is only too true that extra cards were introduced into the pack, but that they were introduced by M. F---- is not proven, since he was NOT SEEN to do it. This man could not be an enemy. When the baron had finished his letter, and had read it aloud, Pascal, who was deeply moved, exclaimed: “I do not know how to express my gratitude to you, monsieur; but if you really wish to serve me, pray don’t send that note. It would cause you a great deal of trouble and annoyance, and I should none the less be obliged to relinquish the practice of my profession--besides, I am especially anxious to be forgotten for a time.” “So be it--I understand you; you hope to discover the traitor, and you do not wish to put him on his guard. But remember my words: if you ever need a helping hand, rap at my door; and when you hold the necessary proofs, I will furnish you with the means of rendering your justification even more startling than the affront.” He prepared to go, but before crossing the threshold, he turned and said: “In future I shall watch the fingers of the player who sits on my left hand. “Pascal,” she exclaimed, “that man knows something, and your enemies are his; I read it in his eyes.

He, too, distrusts M. de Coralth.” “I understood him, mother, and my mind is made up. I must disappear. From this moment Pascal Ferailleur no longer exists.” That same evening two large vans were standing outside Madame Ferailleur’s house. I still have several urgent visits to make.” Thus had Dr. Jodon spoken to Mademoiselle Marguerite; and yet, when he left the Hotel de Chalusse, after assuring himself that Casimir would have some straw spread over the street, the doctor quietly walked home. The visits he had spoken of merely existed in his imagination; but it was a part of his role to appear to be overrun with patients. To tell the truth, the only patient he had had to attend to that week was a superannuated porter, living in the Rue de la Pepiniere, and whom he visited twice a day, for want of something better to do. The remainder of his time was spent in waiting for patients who never came, and in cursing the profession of medicine, which was ruined, he declared, by excessive competition, combined with certain rules of decorum which hampered young practitioners beyond endurance. Jodon had devoted one-half of the time he spent in cursing and building castles in the air to study, he might have, perhaps, raised his little skill to the height of his immense ambition.

But neither work nor patience formed any part of his system. He was a man of the present age, and wished to rise speedily with as little trouble as possible. A certain amount of display and assurance, a little luck, and a good deal of advertising would, in his opinion, suffice to bring about this result. It was with this conviction, indeed, that he had taken up his abode in the Rue de Courcelles, situated in one of the most aristocratic quarters of Paris. But so far, events had shown his theory to be incorrect. In spite of the greatest economy, very cleverly concealed, he had seen the little capital which constituted his entire fortune dwindle away. He had originally possessed but twenty thousand francs, a sum which in no wise corresponded with his lofty pretensions.

He had paid his rent that very morning; and he could not close his eyes to the fact that the time was near at hand when he would be unable to pay it.

When he thought of this contingency, and it was a subject that filled his mind to the exclusion of all other matters, he felt the fires of wrath and hatred kindle in his soul. He utterly refused to regard himself as the cause of his own misfortunes; on the contrary, following the example of many other disappointed individuals, he railed at mankind and everything in general--at circumstances, envious acquaintances, and enemies, whom he certainly did not possess. At times he was capable of doing almost anything to gratify his lust for gold, for the privations which he had endured so long were like oil cast upon the flame of covetousness which was ever burning in his breast. Sometimes he thought of turning dentist, or of trying to find some capitalist who would join him in manufacturing one of those patent medicines which are warranted to yield their promoters a hundred thousand francs a year. On other occasions he dreamed of establishing a monster pharmacy, or of opening a private hospital.

However the time was fast approaching when he must decide upon his course; he could not possibly hold out much longer. His third year of practice in the Rue de Courcelles had not yielded him enough to pay his servant’s wages. Faithful to his system, or, rather, to his master’s system, he had sacrificed everything to show. The display of gilding in his apartments was such as to make a man of taste shut his eyes to escape the sight of it. An unsophisticated youth from the country would certainly have been dazzled; but it would not do to examine these things too closely. This plaster, playing the part of bronze, was in perfect keeping with the man, his system, and the present age. When the doctor reached home, his first question to his servant was as usual: “Has any one called?” “No one.” The doctor sighed, and passing through his superb waiting-room, he entered his consulting sanctum, and seated himself in the chimney corner beside an infinitesimal fire. The scene which he had just witnessed at the Count de Chalusse’s house recurred to his mind, and he turned it over and over again in his brain, striving to find some way by which he might derive an advantage from the mystery. He had been engrossed in these thoughts for some time, when his meditations were disturbed by a ring at the bell. Who could be calling at this hour?

The question was answered by his servant, who appeared and informed him that a lady, who was in a great hurry, was waiting in the reception-room. “Very well,” was his reply; “but it is best to let her wait a few moments.” For he had at least this merit: he never deviated from his system. Under no circumstances whatever would he have admitted a patient immediately; he wished him to wait so that he might have an opportunity of reflecting on the advantages of consulting a physician whose time was constantly occupied. She seated herself at the doctor’s invitation; and without waiting for him to ask any questions: “I ought to tell you at once, monsieur,” she began, “that I am the Count de Chalusse’s house-keeper.” In spite of his self-control, the doctor bounded from his chair. “Madame Leon?” he asked, in a tone of intense surprise. But it is only my Christian name. de Chalusse--a family friend--requested me to act as companion to a young girl in whom he was interested--Mademoiselle Marguerite. I accepted the position; and I thank God every day that I did so, for I feel a mother’s affection for this young girl, and she loves me as fondly as if she were my own daughter.” In support of her assertion, she drew a handkerchief from her pocket, and succeeded in forcing a few tears to her eyes.

de Chalusse was brought home, and I did not hear of his illness until after your departure.

Perhaps you might say that I ought to have waited until your next visit; but I had not sufficient patience to do so. One cannot submit without a struggle to the torture of suspense, when the future of a beloved daughter is at stake. “It is my painful duty to tell you, madame, that there is scarcely any hope, and that I expect a fatal termination within twenty-four hours, unless the patient should regain consciousness.” The housekeeper turned pale. “Then all is lost,” she faltered, “all is lost!” And unable to articulate another word she rose to her feet, bowed, and abruptly left the room. Before the grate, with his mouth half open, and his right arm extended in an interrupted gesture, the doctor stood speechless and disconcerted. And as he heard the noise he sprang forward as if to recall his visitor. “Ah!” he exclaimed, with an oath, “the miserable old woman was mocking me!” And urged on by a wild, irrational impulse, he caught up his hat and darted out in pursuit. Madame Leon was considerably in advance of him, and was walking very quickly; still, by quickening his pace, he might have overtaken her. However, he did not join her, for he scarcely knew what excuse to offer for such a strange proceeding; he contented himself by cautiously following her at a little distance.

It was in front of a tobacconist’s shop, where there was a post-office letter-box. She paused, as one always does before venturing upon a decisive act, from which there will be no return, whatever may be the consequences. An observer never remains twenty minutes before a letter-box without witnessing this pantomime so expressive of irresolution. “There is not the slightest doubt,” thought the doctor, “that letter had been prepared in advance, and whether it should be sent or not depended on the answer I gave.” We have already said that M. Jodon was not a wealthy man, and yet he would willingly have given a hundred-franc note to have known the contents of this letter, or even the name of the person to whom it was addressed. But his chase was almost ended. His curiosity was torturing him to such a degree that he had an idea of doing so; and it required an heroic effort of will to resist the temptation successfully. But a gleam of common sense warned him that this would be a terrible blunder. Once already during the evening his conduct had attracted attention; and he began to realize that there was a better way of winning confidence than by intruding almost forcibly into other people’s affairs. Accordingly he thoughtfully retraced his steps, feeling intensely disgusted with himself.

“If I had kept the old woman in suspense, instead of blurting out the truth, I might have learned the real object of her visit; for she had an object. But what was it?” The doctor spent the two hours that remained to him before making his second visit in trying to discover it. But, although nothing prevented him from exploring the boundless fields of improbable possibilities, he could think of nothing satisfactory. There was only one certain point, that Madame Leon and Mademoiselle Marguerite were equally interested in the question as to whether the count would regain consciousness or not. As to their interests in the matter, the doctor felt confident that they were not identical; he was persuaded that a secret enmity existed between them, and that the housekeeper had visited him without Mademoiselle Marguerite’s knowledge.

For he was not deceived by Madame Leon, or by her pretended devotion to Mademoiselle Marguerite. Her manner, her smooth words, her tone of pious resignation, and the allusion to the grand name she had the right to bear, were all calculated to impose upon one; but she had been too much disconcerted toward the last to remember her part. Jodon lacked the courage to return to his sumptuous rooms, and it was in a little cafe that he thus reflected upon the situation, while drinking some execrable beer brewed in Paris out of a glass manufactured in Bavaria. Having been obliged to wait himself, he wished, in revenge, to make the others wait, and it was not until the cafe closed that he again walked up the Rue de Courcelles. Madame Leon had left the gate ajar, and the doctor had no difficulty in making his way into the courtyard. And if the doctor had listened, he would have heard such words as “wages,” and “legacies,” and “remuneration for faithful service,” and “annuities” repeated over and over again.

Jodon did not listen. However, there was nobody to announce his presence; the door closed noiselessly behind him, the heavy carpet which covered the marble steps stifled the sound of his footsteps, and he ascended the first flight without seeing any one. There had been no change since his first visit.

The count was still lying motionless on his pillows; his face was swollen, his eyelids were closed, but he still breathed, as was shown by the regular movement of the covering over his chest. Madame Leon and Mademoiselle Marguerite were his only attendants. Pale but calm, and more imposing and more beautiful than ever, Mademoiselle Marguerite was kneeling beside the bed, eagerly watching for some sign of renewed life and intelligence on the count’s face. A little ashamed of his indiscretion, the doctor retreated seven or eight steps down the stairs, and then ascended them again, coughing slightly, so as to announce his approach. This time he was heard. for Mademoiselle Marguerite came to the door to meet him. “Alas!” He advanced toward the bed, but before he had time to examine his patient Mademoiselle Marguerite handed him a scrap of paper. “This is his prescription, and we have already administered a few drops of the potion.” M.

Jodon, who was expecting this blow, bowed coldly. “I must add,” continued Mademoiselle Marguerite, “that the doctor approved of all that had been done; and I beg you will unite your skill with his in treating the case.” Unfortunately all the medical skill of the faculty would have availed nothing here. He was already leaving the room, when Madame Leon barred his passage. “Isn’t it true, doctor, that one attentive person would suffice to watch over the count?” she asked. The housekeeper turned toward Mademoiselle Marguerite. Listen to me; take a little rest.

Watching is not suitable work for one of your age----” “It is useless to insist,” interrupted the young girl, resolutely. “The devil!” he muttered, as he took his departure; “one might think that they distrusted each other!” Perhaps he was right; but at all events he had scarcely left the house before Madame Leon again urged her dear young lady to take a few hours’ rest. “What can you fear?” she insisted, in her wheedling voice. my dear young lady; my love for you compels me.” “Oh, enough!” interrupted Mademoiselle Marguerite; “enough, Leon!” Her tone was so determined that the housekeeper was compelled to yield; but not without a deep sigh, not without an imploring glance to Heaven, as if calling upon Providence to witness the purity of her motives and the usefulness of her praiseworthy efforts. This was unnecessary, for Dr. Mademoiselle Marguerite went toward them. “Annette”--this was the woman whom she liked best of all the servants “Casimir and a footman will spend the night in the little side salon. From the streets outside, not a sound reached this princely abode, which stood between a vast courtyard and a garden as large as a park. Enveloped in a soft, warm shawl, Madame Leon had again taken possession of her arm-chair, and while she pretended to be reading a prayer-book, she kept a close watch over her dear young lady, as if she were striving to discover her in-most thoughts. Mademoiselle Marguerite did not suspect this affectionate espionage.

But Mademoiselle Marguerite did not perceive this, absorbed as she was in thoughts which, by reason of their very profundity, had ceased to be sorrowful.

Perhaps she felt she was keeping a last vigil over her happiness, and that with the final breath of this dying man all her girlhood’s dreams and all her dearest hopes would take flight for evermore. Undoubtedly her thoughts flew to the man to whom she had promised her life--to Pascal, to the unfortunate fellow whose honor was being stolen from him at that very moment, in a fashionable gaming-house. The noise aroused Madame Leon from her slumbers. Casimir, who brought her a glass of Madeira and some biscuits. Mademoiselle Marguerite had meanwhile returned to her seat; but her thoughts gradually became confused, her eyelids grew heavy, and although she struggled, she at last fell asleep in her turn, with her head resting on the count’s bed.

The sick man had regained consciousness; his eyes were open and his right arm was moving. Mademoiselle Marguerite darted to the bell-rope and pulled it violently, and as a servant appeared in answer to the summons, she cried: “Run for the physician who lives near here--quick!--and tell him that the count is conscious.” In an instant, almost, the sick-room was full of servants, but the girl did not perceive it. de Chalusse, and taking his hand, she tenderly asked: “You hear me, do you not, monsieur? Do you understand me?” His lips moved; but only a hollow, rattling sound, which was absolutely unintelligible, came from his throat. Still, he understood her; as it was easy to see by his gestures--despairing and painful ones, for paralysis had not released its hold on its victim, and it was only with great difficulty that he could slightly move his right arm. But in vain, until the housekeeper suddenly exclaimed: “He wishes to write.” That was, indeed, what he desired. With the hand that was comparatively free, with the hoarse rattle that was his only voice, M. de Chalusse answered, “Yes, yes!” and his eyes even turned to Madame Leon with an expression of joy and gratitude.

They raised him on his pillows, and brought him a small writing-desk, with some paper, and a pen that had been dipped in ink. But like those around him, he had himself over-estimated his strength; if he could move his hand, he could not CONTROL its movements. It was only with the greatest difficulty that these words could be deciphered--“My entire fortune--give--friends--against----” This signified nothing. In despair, he dropped the pen, and his glance and his hand turned to that part of the room opposite his bed. “Monsieur means his escritoire, perhaps?” “Yes, yes,” the sick man hoarsely answered. “Perhaps the count wishes that it should be opened?” “Yes, yes!” was the reply again. “My God!” exclaimed Mademoiselle Marguerite, with a gesture of despair; “what have I done? It indicated utter discouragement, the most bitter suffering, the most horrible despair. His soul was writhing in a body from which life had fled. The consciousness of his own powerlessness caused him a paroxysm of frantic rage; his hands clinched, the veins in his throat swelled, his eyes almost started from their sockets, and in a harsh, shrill voice that had nothing human in it, he exclaimed: “Marguerite!--despoiled!--take care!--your mother!” And this was all--it was the supreme effort that broke the last link that bound the soul to earth.

“You see he wishes to make a will.” But at that moment the physician entered, pale and breathless. He walked straight to the bedside, glanced at the motionless form, and solemnly exclaimed: “The Count de Chalusse is dead!” There was a moment’s stupor--the stupor which always follows death, especially when death comes suddenly and unexpectedly. A feeling of mingled wonder, selfishness, and fear pervaded the group of servants. “Yes, it is over!” muttered the doctor; “it is all over!” And as he was familiar with these painful scenes, and had lost none of his self-possession, he furtively studied Mademoiselle Marguerite’s features and attitude. With dry, fixed eyes and contracted features, she stood rooted to her place, gazing at the lifeless form as if she were expecting some miracle--as if she still hoped to hear those rigid lips reveal the secret which he had tried in vain to disclose, and which he had carried with him to the grave. The physician was the only person who observed this.

The other occupants of the room were exchanging looks of distress.

They were at first inarticulate moans, but suddenly she sprang toward Mademoiselle Marguerite, and clasping her in her arms, she cried: “What a misfortune! My dearest child, what a loss!” Utterly incapable of uttering a word, the poor girl tried to free herself from this close embrace, but the housekeeper would not be repulsed, and continued: “Weep, my dear young lady, weep! Do not refuse to give vent to your sorrow.” She herself displayed so little self-control that the physician reprimanded her with considerable severity, whereat her emotion increased, and with her handkerchief pressed to her eyes, she sobbed: “Yes, doctor, yes; you are right; I ought to moderate my grief. But pray, doctor, remove my beloved Marguerite from this scene, which is too terrible for her young and tender heart. Persuade her to retire to her own room, so that she may ask God for strength to bear the misfortune which has befallen her.” The poor girl had certainly no intention of leaving the room, but before she could say so, M.

“I think,” he dryly observed, “that mademoiselle had better remain here.” “Eh?” said Madame Leon, looking up suddenly. “Do you pretend to prevent mademoiselle from doing as she chooses in her own house?” M.

Casimir gave vent to a contemptuous whistle, which, twenty-four hours earlier, would have been punished with a heavy blow from the man who was now lying there--dead. Is she a relative? No, she isn’t. Everybody knows that caution must be exercised in a dead man’s house, especially when that house is full of money, and when, instead of relatives, there are--persons who--who are there nobody knows how or why. In case any valuables were missed, who would be accused of taking them? Their trunks would be searched; and even if nothing were found, they would be sent to prison all the same. No, Lisette! No one will stir from this room until the arrival of the justice----” Madame Leon was bursting with rage.

“All right!” she interrupted; “I’m going to send for the count’s particular friend, General----” “I don’t care a fig for your general.” “Wretch!” It was Mademoiselle Marguerite who put an end to this indecent dispute. Casimir’s impudence brought a flush to her forehead, and stepping forward with haughty resolution, she exclaimed: “You forget that one never raises one’s voice in the chamber of death.” Her words were so true, and her manner so majestic, that M. Then, pointing to the door, she coldly added: “Go for the justice of the peace, and don’t set foot here again, except in his company.” He bowed, stammered an unintelligible apology, and left the room.

Bourigeau was just getting up, having slept all night, while his wife watched. Casimir; “make haste and finish dressing, and run for the justice of the peace--we must have him here at once. What a misfortune!” “You may well say so; and this is the second time such a thing has happened to me. ‘If I were a servant,’ he remarked, ‘before entering a man’s service, I’d make him insure his life for my benefit in one of those new-fangled companies, so that I might step into a handsome fortune if he took it into his head to die.’ But make haste, Bourigeau.” “That’s a famous idea, but scarcely practicable,” growled the concierge. “I don’t know whether it is or not. Bourigeau had not yet attained to the heights of such serene philosophy, and as he buttoned his overcoat, he groaned: “Ah! What a blessed nuisance!” As soon as he was dressed he started off on his mission; and M. “You understand what I mean--the funeral, you know.” “It isn’t certain that I shall have anything to do with it; but call again in three hours from now.” “All right, I’ll be here.” “And M. “He received what he called a ‘violent shock’ last evening, but he’s better this morning. If I go, however, I’ll show him the letter that caused the count’s illness; for the count threw it away, after tearing it into several pieces, and I found some of the bits which escaped his notice as well as mademoiselle’s.

“By Jove!” he exclaimed, “how fortunate a man must be to secure a valet like you!” His companion smiled complacently, but all of a sudden he remarked: “Make haste and go. I see Bourigeau in the distance, bringing the justice of the peace.” VII. The magistrate who was now approaching the Chalusse mansion in the concierge’s company, exemplified in a remarkable manner all the ideas that are awakened in one’s mind by the grand yet simple title of “Justice of the Peace.” He was the very person you would like to think of as the family magistrate; as the promoter of friendly feeling; as the guardian of the rights of the absent, the young, and the weak; as the just arbiter in unfortunate differences between those who are closely related; a sage of wide experience and boundless benevolence; a judge whose paternal justice dispenses with all pomp and display, and who is allowed by French statutes to hold his court by his own fireside, providing the doors stand open. His clothes were rather old-fashioned in cut, but by no means ridiculous.

The expression of his face was gentleness itself; but it would not have done to presume upon this gentleness, for his glance was keen and piercing--like the glance of all who are expert in diving into consciences, and discovering the secrets hidden there. Moreover, like all men who are accustomed to deliberate in public, his features were expressionless. He could see and hear everything, suspect and understand everything, without letting a muscle of his face move.

And yet the habitues of his audience-chamber, and his clerks, pretended that they could always detect the nature of his impressions. A ring which he wore upon one of his fingers served as a barometer for those who knew him. If a difficult case, or one that embarrassed his conscience, presented itself, his eyes fixed themselves obstinately upon this ring. If he were satisfied that everything was right, he looked up again, and began playing with the ring, slipping it up and down between the first and second joint of his finger; but if he were displeased, he abruptly turned the bezel inside. The proud valet bowed low as the magistrate approached, and with his heart in his mouth, and in an obsequious voice he said: “It was I who took the liberty of sending for you, monsieur.” “Ah!” said the magistrate, who already knew as much about the Hotel de Chalusse, and the events of the past twelve hours, as M. Casimir himself; for on his way to the house, he had turned Bourigeau inside out like a glove, by means of a dozen gentle questions. “If monsieur wishes I will explain,” resumed M. It is quite unnecessary. Usher us in.” This “us” astonished the valet; but before they reached the house it was explained to him. He discovered a man of flourishing and even jovial mien who was walking along in the magistrate’s shadow carrying a large black portfolio under his arm.

This was evidently the clerk. He seemed to be as pleased with his employment as he was with himself; and as he followed M. Casimir, he examined the adornments of the mansion, the mosaics in the vestibule, the statuary and the frescoed walls with an appraiser’s eye. Perhaps he was calculating how many years’ salary it would require to pay for the decorating of this one staircase. On the threshold of the death room the magistrate paused. On the marble hearth stood a chafing-dish full of embers from which rose spiral rings of smoke, filling the room with a pungent odor as a servant poured some vinegar and sugar on to the coals. As the magistrate appeared, every one rose up. Then, after bestowing prolonged scrutiny upon the room and its occupants, he respectfully removed his hat, and walked in. Casimir, “because--” “You are--suspicious,” interrupted the magistrate.

His clerk had already drawn a pen and some paper from his portfolio, and was engaged in reading the decision, rendered by the magistrate at the request of one Bourigeau, and in virtue of which, seals were about to be affixed to the deceased nobleman’s personal effects. Since the magistrate had entered the room, his eyes had not once wandered from Mademoiselle Marguerite, who was standing near the fireplace, looking pale but composed. At last he approached her, and in a tone of deep sympathy: “Are you Mademoiselle Marguerite?” he asked. She raised her clear eyes, rendered more beautiful than ever, by the tears that trembled on her lashes, and in a faltering voice, replied: “Yes, monsieur.” “Are you a relative? Have you any right to his property?” “No, monsieur.” “Excuse me, mademoiselle, but these questions are indispensable. I am alone in the world--utterly alone.” The magistrate glanced keenly round the room.

I understand,” said he, at last; “advantage has been taken of your isolation to treat you with disrespect, to insult you, perhaps.” Every head drooped, and M. Mademoiselle Marguerite looked at the magistrate in astonishment, for she was amazed by his penetration.

She was ignorant of his conversation with Bourigeau on the road, and did not know that through the concierge’s ridiculous statements and accusations, the magistrate had succeeded in discovering at least a portion of the truth. “I shall have the honor of asking for a few moments’ conversation with you presently, mademoiselle,” he said. “You know that the count--God rest his soul!--was an extremely cautious man. I am certain that there is a will somewhere.” The magistrate’s eyes were fixed on his ring.

You have a right to require this; so, if you wish----” But she made no reply. “Oh, yes!” insisted Madame Leon; “pray look, monsieur.” “But where should we be likely to find a will?” “Certainly in this room--in this escritoire, or in one of the deceased count’s cabinets.” The magistrate had learnt the story of the key from Bourigeau, but all the same he asked: “Where is the key to this escritoire?” “Alas! monsieur,” replied Mademoiselle Marguerite, “I broke it last night when M. Besides, I knew that his escritoire contained something over two millions in gold and bank-notes.” Two millions--there! Even the clerk was so startled that he let a blot fall upon his paper. The magistrate was evidently reflecting. Then, as if deciding on his course, he exclaimed: “Let a locksmith be sent for.” A servant went in search of one; and while they were waiting for his return, the magistrate sat down beside his clerk and talked to him in a low voice. At last the locksmith appeared, with his bag of tools hanging over his shoulder, and set to work at once.

He found his task a difficult one. His pick-locks would not catch, and he was talking of filing the bolt, when, by chance, he found the joint, and the door flew open.

de Chalusse rose and shook off his winding sheet, the consternation would not have been greater. An enormous fortune had disappeared. And each servant already saw himself arrested, imprisoned, and dragged before a law court. “Mademoiselle had the key. It is wrong to suspect the innocent!” Revolting as this exhibition was, it did not modify the magistrate’s calmness. He had witnessed too many such scenes in the course of his career, and, at least, a score of times he had been compelled to interpose between children who had come to blows over their inheritance before their father’s body was even cold. We shall have no difficulty in discovering the culprit,” the magistrate exclaimed, still more imperiously: “Another word, and you all leave the room.” They were silenced; but there was a mute eloquence about their looks and gestures which it was impossible to misunderstand. Every eye was fixed upon Mademoiselle Marguerite with an almost ferocious expression.

She knew it only too well; but, sublime in her energy, she stood, with her head proudly erect, facing the storm, and disdaining to answer these vile imputations. However she had a protector near by--the magistrate in person. “If this treasure has been diverted from the inheritance,” said he, “the thief will be discovered and punished. But I wish to have one point explained--who said that Mademoiselle Marguerite had the key of the escritoire?” “I did,” replied a footman. “I was in the dining-room yesterday morning when the count gave it to her.” “For what purpose did he give it to her?” “That she might obtain this vial--I recognized it at once. She brought it down to him.” “Did she return the key?” “Yes; she gave it to him when she handed him the vial, and I saw him put it in his pocket.” The magistrate pointed to the bottle which was standing on the shelf. “Further comment is unnecessary; for, if the money had then been missing, he could not have failed to discover the fact.” No one had any reply to make to this quiet defence, which was, at the same time, a complete vindication. “And, besides,” continued the magistrate, “who told you that this immense sum would be found here? Which one of you knew it?” And as nobody still ventured any remark, he added in an even more severe tone, and without seeming to notice Mademoiselle Marguerite’s look of gratitude, “It is by no means a proof of honesty to be so extremely suspicious.

Would it not have been easier to suppose that the deceased had placed the money somewhere else, and that it will yet be found?” The clerk had been even less disturbed than the magistrate. He also was blase, having witnessed too many of those frightful and shameless dramas which are enacted at a dead man’s bedside, to be surprised at anything. However, hearing his superior express the intention of continuing the search for the will, and the missing treasure, he abruptly abandoned his calculation, and exclaimed, “Then, I suppose, I can commence my report, monsieur?” “Yes,” replied the magistrate, “write as follows:” And in a monotonous voice he began to dictate the prescribed formula, an unnecessary proceeding, for the clerk was quite as familiar with it as the magistrate himself:--“On the 16th of October, 186-, at nine o’clock in the morning, in compliance with the request of the servants of the deceased Louis-Henri-Raymond de Durtal, Count de Chalusse, and in the interest of his presumptive heirs, and all others connected with him, and in accordance with the requirements of clauses 819 (Code Napoleon) and 909 (Code of Procedure), we, justice of the peace, accompanied by our clerk, visited the residence of the deceased aforesaid, in the Rue de Courcelles, where, having entered a bedroom opening on to the courtyard, and lighted by two windows looking toward the south, we found the body of the deceased aforesaid, lying on his bed, and covered with a sheet. In this room were----” He paused in his dictation, and addressing the clerk, “Take down the names of all present,” said he. In the first which he opened, the magistrate found ample proofs of the accuracy of the information which had been furnished him by Mademoiselle Marguerite. The drawer contained a memorandum which established the fact that the Credit Foncier had lent M. de Chalusse the sum of eight hundred and fifty thousand francs, which had been remitted to him on the Saturday preceding his death. Beside this document lay a second memorandum, signed by a stockbroker named Pell, setting forth that the latter had sold for the count securities of various descriptions to the amount of fourteen hundred and twenty-three thousand francs, which sum had been paid to the count on the preceding Tuesday, partly in bank-notes and partly in gold. In the drawer which was next opened, the magistrate only found a number of deeds, bonds, leases, and mortgages; but they proved that public rumor, far from exaggerating the figures of the count’s fortune, had diminished it, and this made it difficult to explain why he had contracted a loan. Finally, in a small casket, the magistrate found a packet of letters, yellow with age and bound together with a broad piece of blue velvet; as well as three or four withered bouquets, and a woman’s glove, which had been worn by a hand of marvellous smallness.

These were evidently the relics of some great passion of many years before; and the magistrate looked at them for a moment with a sigh. His own interest prevented him from noticing Mademoiselle Marguerite’s agitation.

However, the examination of the escritoire being over, and the clerk having completed his task of recording the names of all the servants, the magistrate said, in a loud voice, “I shall now proceed to affix the seals; but, before doing so, I shall take a portion of the money found in this desk, and set it apart for the expenses of the household, in accordance with the law. Who will take charge of this money?” “Oh, not I!” exclaimed Madame Leon. “You, and without loss of time.” Proud of his new importance, the valet hastily left the room, his self-complacency increased by the thought that he was to breakfast with M. Isidore Fortunat, and would afterward share a fat commission with Victor Chupin. However, the magistrate had already resumed his dictation: “And at this moment we have affixed bands of white tape, sealed at either end with red wax, bearing the impress of our seal as justice of the peace, to wit: In the aforesaid chamber of the deceased: First, A band of tape, covering the keyhole of the lock of the escritoire, which had been previously opened by a locksmith summoned by us, and closed again by the said locksmith----” And so the magistrate and his clerk went from one piece of furniture to another, duly specifying in the report each instance in which the seals were affixed. From the count’s bedroom they passed into his study, followed by Mademoiselle Marguerite, Madame Leon, and the servants.

de Chalusse would have been likely to deposit his valuables or a will, had been searched, and nothing, absolutely nothing, had been found. The magistrate had pursued his investigation with the feverish energy which the most self-possessed of men are apt to display under such circumstances, especially when influenced by the conviction that the object they are seeking is somewhere within their reach, perhaps under their very hand. And when he was obliged to abandon his search, his gesture indicated anger rather than discouragement; for apparent evidence had not shaken his conviction in the least. So he stood motionless, with his eyes riveted on his ring, as if waiting some miraculous inspiration from it. “This is frequently the case, and it would be quite in keeping with the character of this man, judging from what I know of him.” Madame Leon lifted her hands to heaven. such was, indeed, his nature,” she remarked, approvingly. “Never, no never, have I seen such a suspicious and distrustful person as he was. Not in reference to money--no, indeed--for he left that lying about everywhere; but about his papers. If he had a letter to write, he barricaded his door, as if he were about to commit some horrible crime. One word more, and involuntarily, without even knowing it, she would have confessed her besetting sin, which was listening at, and peering through, the keyholes of the doors that were closed against her.

Still, she deluded herself with the belief that this slight indiscretion of her overready tongue had escaped the magistrate’s notice.

He certainly did not seem to be conscious of it, for he was giving his attention entirely to Mademoiselle Marguerite, who seemed to have regained the cold reserve and melancholy resignation habitual to her. “You see, mademoiselle,” he remarked, “that I have done all that is in my power to do. Who knows what surprise may be in store for us in this immense house, of which we have only explored three rooms?” She shook her head gently and replied: “I can never be sufficiently grateful for your kindness, monsieur, and for the great service you rendered me in crushing that infamous accusation. As regards the rest, I have never expected anything--I do not expect anything now.” She believed what she said, and her tone of voice proved this so unmistakably that the magistrate was surprised and somewhat disturbed. Still, you must have certain reasons for speaking as you do; and as I am free for an hour, we are going to have a plain talk, as if we were father and daughter.” On hearing these words, the clerk rose with a cloud on his jovial face. He impatiently jingled his bunch of keys; for as the seals are successively affixed, each key is confided to the clerk, to remain in his hands until the seals are removed. “I understand,” said the magistrate. “Your stomach, which is more exacting in its demands than mine, is not satisfied with a cup of chocolate till dinner-time. You may now conclude the report, and request these parties to sign it.” Urged on by hunger, the clerk hastily mumbled over the remainder of the formula, called all the names that he had inserted in the report, and each of the servants advanced in turn, signed his or her name, or made a cross, and then retired. Madame Leon read in the judge’s face that she also was expected to withdraw; and she was reluctantly leaving the room, when Mademoiselle Marguerite detained her to ask: “Are you quite sure that nothing has come for me to-day?” “Nothing, mademoiselle; I went in person to inquire of the concierge.” “Did you post my letter last night?” “Oh!

my dear young lady, can you doubt it?” The young girl stifled a sigh, and then, with a gesture of dismissal, she remarked, “M. The justice of the peace and Mademoiselle Marguerite were at last alone in M. This room, which the count had preferred above all others, was a spacious, magnificent, but rather gloomy apartment, with lofty walls and dark, richly carved furniture. When the magistrate had installed himself in the count’s arm-chair, and the girl had taken a seat near him, they remained looking at each other in silence for a few moments. The magistrate was asking himself how he should begin. Having fathomed Mademoiselle Marguerite’s extreme sensitiveness and reserve, he said to himself that if he offended or alarmed her, she would refuse him her confidence, in which case he would be powerless to serve her as he wished to do. “Mademoiselle,” he said, at last, “I abstained from questioning you before the servants--and if I take the liberty of doing so now, it is not, believe me, out of any idle curiosity; moreover, you are not compelled to answer me. But you are young--and I am an old man; and it is my duty--even if my heart did not urge me to do so--to offer you the aid of my experience----” “Speak, monsieur,” interrupted Marguerite. Is this the truth?” “So far as I know--yes, monsieur.

Still, I have heard it said that a sister of his, Mademoiselle Hermine de Chalusse, abandoned her home twenty-five or thirty years ago, when she was about my age, and that she has never received her share of the enormous fortune left by her parents.” “And has this sister never given any sign of life?” “Never! Still, monsieur, I have promised you to be perfectly frank. That letter which the Count de Chalusse received yesterday, that letter which I regard as the cause of his death--well, I have a presentiment that it came from his sister.

It could only have been written by her or--by that other person whose letters--and souvenirs--you found in the escritoire.” “And--this other person--who can she be?” As the young girl made no reply, the magistrate did not insist, but continued: “And you, my child, who are you?” She made a gesture of sorrowful resignation, and then, in a voice faltering with emotion, she answered: “I do not know, monsieur. On certain days I have said to myself, ‘Yes, it must be so!’ and I have longed to throw my arms around his neck. But at other times I have exclaimed: ‘No, it isn’t possible!’ and I have almost hated him. Besides, he never said a word on the subject--never a decisive word, at least. When I saw him for the first time, six years ago, I judged by the manner in which he forbade me to call him ‘father,’ that he would never answer any question I might ask on the subject.” If there was a man in the world inaccessible to idle curiosity, it was certainly this magistrate, whose profession condemned him to listen every day to family grievances, neighborly quarrels, complaints, accusations, and slander. And yet as he listened to Mademoiselle Marguerite, he experienced that strange disquietude which seizes hold of a person when a puzzling problem is presented. “Allow me to believe that many decisive proofs may have escaped your notice on account of your inexperience,” he said.

But interrupting him with a gesture, she sadly remarked: “You are mistaken; I am not inexperienced.” He could not help smiling at what he considered her self-conceit. And if by experience you mean lack of confidence, a knowledge of good and evil, distrust of everything and everybody, mine, young girl though I be, will no doubt equal yours.” She paused, hesitated for a moment, and then continued: “But why should I wait for you to question me? It is neither sincere nor dignified on my part to do so. The person who claims counsel owes absolute frankness to his adviser. And believe me, my past life was full of bitter misery, although you find me here in this splendid house.

But I have nothing to conceal; and if I have cause to blush, it is for others, not for myself.” Perhaps she was impelled by an irresistible desire to relieve her overburdened heart, after long years of self-restraint; perhaps she no longer felt sure of herself, and desired some other advice than the dictates of her conscience, in presence of the calamity which had befallen her. At all events, too much engrossed in her own thoughts to heed the magistrate’s surprise, or hear the words he faltered, she rose from her seat, and, with her hands pressed tightly on her throbbing brow, she began to tell the story of her life. At noontime in summer the sun visited one little corner, where there was a stone bench; but in winter it never showed itself at all. We were some thirty children who assembled in this courtyard--children from five to eight years old, all clad alike in brown dresses, with a little blue handkerchief tied about our shoulders.

Among us moved the good sisters, silent and sad, with their hands crossed in their large sleeves, their faces as white as their snowy caps, and their long strings of beads, set off with numerous copper medals, clanking when they walked like prisoners’ chains. However, there was one sister, still young and very fair, whose manner was so gentle and so sad that even I, with my mere infantile intelligence, felt that she must have some terrible sorrow. Poor sister! She was called Sister Calliste. I do not know what has become of her, but often, when my heart fails me, I think of her, and even now I cannot mention her name without tears.” Mademoiselle Marguerite was indeed weeping--big tears which she made no attempt to conceal were coursing down her cheeks. I cannot say that we lacked anything; and I should be ungrateful if I did not say and feel that these good sisters were charity personified. their hearts had only a certain amount of tenderness to distribute between thirty poor little girls, and so each child’s portion was small; the caresses were the same for all, and I longed to be loved differently, to have kind words and caresses for myself alone. There was a recreation hour between all the exercises. Sometimes, in the afternoon, we were visited by elegantly-attired ladies, who were accompanied by their own children, radiant with health and happiness. The good sisters told us that these were ‘pious ladies,’ or ‘charitable ladies,’ whom we must love and respect, and whom we must never forget to mention in our prayers.

Sometimes the establishment was visited by priests and grave old gentlemen, whose sternness of manner alarmed us. They were always satisfied; and the lady superior led them through the building, and bowed to them, exclaiming: ‘We love them so much, the poor little dears! ‘And the gentlemen replied: ‘Yes, yes, my dear sister, they are very fortunate.’ And the gentlemen were right.

Poor laborers’ children are often obliged to endure privations which we knew nothing of; they are often obliged to make their supper off a piece of dry bread--but, then, the crust is given them by their mother, with a kiss.” The magistrate, who was extremely ill at ease, had not yet succeeded in finding a syllable to offer in reply. Indeed, Mademoiselle Marguerite had not given him an opportunity to speak, so rapidly had this long-repressed flood of recollections poured from her lips. When she spoke the word “mother,” the magistrate fancied she would show some sign of emotion. But he was mistaken. “Sister Calliste left the establishment, and all the surroundings chilled and repelled me.

It seemed to me that I was ascending on the clouds of incense to the celestial sphere which the sisters so often talked to us about, and where they said each little girl would find her mother.” Mademoiselle Marguerite hesitated for an instant, as if she were somewhat unwilling to give utterance to her thoughts; but at last, forcing herself to continue, she said: “Yes, I suffered exceedingly in that foundling asylum. Almost all my little companions were spiteful, unattractive in person, sallow, thin, and afflicted with all kinds of diseases, as if they were not unfortunate enough in being abandoned by their parents. And--to my shame, monsieur, I must confess it--these unfortunate little beings inspired me with unconquerable repugnance, with disgust bordering on aversion. I was only eight or nine years old; but I felt this antipathy in every fibre of my being. But sometimes, during playtime, when the good sisters’ backs were turned, the children attacked me, beat me, and scratched my face and tore my clothes. How many times I received only a dry crust for my supper, after being soundly scolded and called ‘little careless.’ But as I was quiet, studious, and industrious, a quicker learner than the majority of my companions, the sisters were fond of me. They said that I was a promising girl, and that they would have no difficulty in finding me a nice home with some of the rich and pious ladies who have a share in managing institutions of this kind. The only fault the sisters found with me was that I was sullen.

If I had naturally been a bad child, I scarcely know what would have been the result of this. However, this much is certain, although childhood generally leaves a train of pleasant recollections in a young girl’s life, mine was only fraught with torture and misery, desperate struggles, and humiliation.

I was unwilling to be confirmed because I did not wish to wear a certain dress, which a ‘benevolent lady’ had presented for the use of the asylum, and which had belonged to a little girl of my own age who had died of consumption. The thought of arraying myself in this dress to approach the holy table frightened and revolted me as much as if I had been sentenced to drape myself in a winding-sheet. Still he answered: ‘You must wear this dress, my child, for your pride must be broken. Go--I shall impose no other penance on you.’ I obeyed him, full of superstitious terror; for it seemed to me that this was a frightful omen which would bring me misfortune, my whole life through. And I was confirmed in the dead girl’s embroidered dress.” During the five-and-twenty years that he had held the position of justice of the peace, the magistrate had listened to many confessions, wrung from wretched souls by stern necessity, or sorrow, but never had his heart been moved as it now was, by this narrative, told with such uncomplaining anguish, and in a tone of such sincerity. It seemed to me that I was stifling in this atmosphere. I gasped for breath, and thought that anything would be preferable to this semblance of existence, which was not real life. Round the room were ranged the registers, in which our names were recorded and our appearances described, together with the boxes containing the articles found upon us, which were carefully preserved to assist in identifying us should occasion arise. I entered this office with a throbbing heart.

monsieur, it seemed to me that heaven had opened before me and I boldly replied: ‘Yes.’ The gentleman in the black skullcap immediately emerged from his place behind the grating to explain my obligations and duties to me at length, especially insisting upon the point, that I ought to be grateful--I, a miserable foundling, reared by public charity--for the generosity which this good gentleman and lady showed in offering to take charge of me and employ me in their workshop. I must confess that I could not clearly realize in what this great generosity which he so highly praised consisted, nor did I perceive any reason why I should be particularly grateful. ‘It is evident that the child will be glad to get away,’ she said to herself.

She made Madame Greloux promise to watch over me as she would have watched over her own daughter; never to leave me alone; to take me to church, and allow me an occasional Sunday afternoon, so that I might pay a visit to the asylum. The gentleman with the spectacles and the skullcap then reminded the bookbinder of the duties of an employer toward his apprentices, and turning to a bookcase behind him, he even took down a large volume from which he read extract after extract, which I listened to without understanding a word, though I was quite sure that the book was written in French. At last, when the man and his wife had said ‘Amen’ to everything, the gentleman with the spectacles drew up a document which we all signed in turn. They were harassed and wearied by their efforts to support their son in a style of living far above their position; but, despite their sacrifices, their son had no affection for them, and on this account I pitied them. However, not only was the husband gloomy and quick-tempered, but his wife also was subject to fits of passion, so that the apprentices often had a hard time of it. After beating us for nothing, she would exclaim, with quite as little reason, ‘Come and kiss me, and don’t pout any more. Here are four sous; go and buy yourself some cakes.’” The justice started in his arm-chair. Was it, indeed, Mademoiselle Marguerite who was speaking, the proud young girl with a queenlike bearing, whose voice rang out like crystal?

She did not even notice the magistrate’s astonishment. My patrons no doubt fathomed my desire, and naturally enough, perhaps unconsciously, they took advantage of my wish to please.

I had entered their home under certain conditions in view of learning a profession; they gradually made me their servant--it was praiseworthy economy on their part. What I had at first done of my own freewill and from a wish to please, at last became my daily task, which I was rigidly required to fulfil. Compelled to rise long before any one else in the house, I was expected to have everything in order by the time the others made their appearance with their eyes still heavy with sleep. It is true that my benefactors rewarded me after their fashion. And I followed them along the dusty highways in the hot sunshine, panting, perspiring, and tottering under the weight of a heavy basket of provisions, which were eaten on the grass or in the woods, and the remnants of which fell to me. Madame Greloux’s brother generally accompanied us; and his name would have lingered in my memory, even if it had not been a peculiar one. He was a soldier; intensely proud of his uniform; a great talker, and enchanted with himself. He evidently thought himself irresistible. It was from that man’s mouth that I heard the first coarse word at which my unsophisticated heart took offence. She had made a great many promises to the lady superior, but she fancied that the utterance of a few commonplace words of warning relieved her of all further obligations.

It was a blessing from God, this pride of mine, for it saved me from temptation, while so many fell around me. That is to say, when the day’s toil was over, and the work-shop closed, we were free--abandoned to our own instincts, and the most pernicious influences. The women employed in the bindery in nowise restrained themselves in our presence, and we heard them tell marvellous stories that dazzled many a poor girl. experience is quickly gained in these work-shops. If he was surprised at anything, it was that this beautiful young girl, who had been left alone and defenceless, had possessed sufficient strength of character to escape the horrible dangers that threatened her. However, it was not long before Mademoiselle Marguerite shook off the torpor which had stolen over her. I wished to become expert at my profession, for I had learned that skilled workers were always in demand, and could always command good wages. So when my household duties were over, I still found time to learn the business, and made such rapid progress that I astonished even my employer. I knew that I should soon be able to make five or six francs a day; and this prospect was pleasant enough to make me forget the present, well-nigh intolerable as it sometimes was. During the last winter that I spent with my employers, their orders were so numerous and pressing that they worked on Sundays as well as on week days, and it was with difficulty that I obtained an hour twice a month to pay a visit to the good sisters who had cared for me in my childhood.

I had never failed in this duty, and indeed it had now become my only pleasure. After living all my life on public charity, I was able to give in my turn; and this thought gratified my pride, and increased my importance in my own eyes. I was nearly fifteen, and my term of apprenticeship had almost expired, when one bright day in March, I saw one of the lay sisters of the asylum enter the work-room. Some one is waiting for you!’ ‘Who?--where?’--‘Make haste! my dear child, if you only knew----’ I hesitated; but Madame Greloux pushed me toward the door, exclaiming: ‘Be off, you little stupid!’ I followed the sister without thinking of changing my dress--without even removing the kitchen apron I wore. ‘You must get into the carriage,’ said the sister; ‘it was sent for you.’ I obeyed her, and before I had recovered from my astonishment we had reached the asylum, and I was ushered into the office where the contract which bound me as an apprentice had been signed. For some little time there had been a noise of footsteps and a subdued murmur of voices in the vestibule.

Annoyed by this interruption, although he perfectly understood its cause, the magistrate rose and hastily opened the door. He was not mistaken. His clerk had returned from lunch, and the time of waiting seemed extremely long to him. it’s you,” said the magistrate. It won’t be long before I join you.” And closing the door he resumed his seat again. Mademoiselle Marguerite was so absorbed in her narrative that she scarcely noticed this incident, and he had not seated himself before she resumed.

His manner, attire, and features could not fail to inspire a child like me with fear and respect. is this the young girl you were speaking of?’ The count’s tone betrayed such disagreeable surprise that the superior was dismayed. ‘It’s a shame to allow a child to leave home dressed in this fashion,’ she angrily exclaimed.

And she almost tore my huge apron off me, and then with her own hands began to arrange my hair as if to display me to better advantage. It’s impossible to place any confidence in their promises. I was certain of this by the glances they gave me, glances which, however, were full of kindness. The superior joined the group and began speaking with unusual vivacity, while standing in the recess of a window, I listened with all my might. I was only certain of one point: the Count de Chalusse wished something, and these gentlemen were specifying other things in exchange. That’s understood.’ But at last he began to grow impatient, and in a voice which impressed one with the idea that he was accustomed to command, he exclaimed, ‘I will do whatever you wish.

“I cannot describe the surprise and indignation that were raging in my soul. They were disposing of me as if they were sure in advance of my consent. One of them, a little old man with a vapid smile and twinkling eyes, tapped me on the cheek, and said: ‘So she is as good as she is pretty!’ I could have struck him; but all the others laughed approvingly, with the exception of M. de Chalusse, whose manner became more and more frigid, and whose lips wore a constrained smile, as if he had resolved to keep his temper despite all provocation. It seemed to me that he was suffering terribly, and I afterward learned that I had not been mistaken. “I was at last left alone with the superior, whom I longed to question, but she gave me no time to do so, for with extreme volubility she began to tell me of my surprising good fortune, which was an unanswerable and conclusive proof of the kindness and protection of Providence. He would certainly give me a dowry; and by and by, if I were grateful to him for his goodness, he would adopt me, a poor, fatherless and motherless girl, and I should bear the great name of Durtal de Chalusse, and inherit an immense fortune.’ In conclusion, she said that there was no limit to the count’s generosity, that he had consented to reimburse the asylum the money that had been spent on me, that he had offered to dower, I do not know how many poor girls, and that he had promised to build a chapel for the use of the establishment. This was all true, incredible as it might seem.

de Chalusse had called at the asylum, declared that he was old and childless, a bachelor without any near relatives, and that he wished to adopt a poor orphan. They had given him a list of all the children in the institution, and he had chosen me. ‘A mere chance--or rather a true miracle.’ It did, indeed, seem a miracle, but I was more surprised than elated. I longed to be alone, so as to deliberate and reflect, for I knew that I was free to accept or decline this dazzling offer.

“I timidly asked permission to return to my employers to inform them of what had happened and consult with them; but my request was refused. The superior told me that I must deliberate and decide alone; and that when once my decision was taken, there could be no change. So I remained at the asylum, and dined at the superior’s table; and during the night I occupied the room of a sister who was absent. What surprised me most of all was the deference with which I was treated. The sisters all seemed to consider me a person of great importance. “My indecision may seem absurd and hypocritical; but it was really sincere. Was it really chance which had decided him in his choice? More than this, the thought of yielding myself up to a stranger terrified me.

Forty-eight hours had been granted me to consider my decision, and till the very last instant I remained in doubt. The next morning I received a visit from my former employers, who, having been informed of the great change in my prospects, had come to bid me good-bye. Their eyes were moist with tears. They no longer said ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ to me; they no longer spoke roughly; but they said ‘you,’ and addressed me as ‘mademoiselle.’ Poor people! Madame Greloux, moreover, declared that she should never forgive herself for not having sharply reproved her brother for his abominable conduct. He was a good-for-nothing fellow, she said, as was proved by the fact that he had dared to raise his eyes to me. For the first time in my life, I felt that I was sincerely loved; and I was so deeply touched that if my decision had not been written and signed, I should certainly have returned to live with these worthy people. A sister came to tell me that the superior wished to see me.

This great nobleman thought of everything; and, although he had thirty servants to do his bidding, he never disdained to occupy himself with the pettiest details. All the good sisters clustered round me, and tried to beautify me with the same care and patience as they would have displayed in adorning the Virgin’s statue for a fete-day.

I allowed them to please themselves I could still feel Madame Greloux’s tears on my hand, and the scene seemed to me as lugubrious as the last toilette of a prisoner under sentence of death. If the sisters were worthy of belief, they had never seen such a wonderful transformation. Be diligent and dutiful, like our dear Marguerite, and God will reward you as He has rewarded her.’ And, meantime, miserable in my finery, I waited--waited for M. He scarcely deigned to look at me, and although I watched him with poignant anxiety, I could read neither blame nor approval on his face. ‘You see that your wishes have been scrupulously obeyed, Monsieur le Comte,’ said the superior. I felt now how close the ties were, that bound me to this hospitable roof, and to these unfortunate children, my companions in misery and loneliness.

All the sisters had assembled at the door of the asylum, and even the superior wept without making any attempt to hide her tears. Henceforth, an impassable gulf was to separate me from this asylum, whither I had been carried in my infancy half dead, and wrapped in swaddling clothes, from which every mark that could possibly lead to identification had been carefully cut away.

de Chalusse with the poignant anxiety a slave displays as he studies his new master.

A mask seemed to have fallen from the count’s face; his lips quivered, a tender light beamed in his eyes, and he drew me to him, exclaiming: ‘Oh, Marguerite! At last--at last!’ He sobbed--this old man, whom I had thought as cold and as insensible as marble; he crushed me in his close embrace, he almost smothered me with kisses. An inward voice whispered that this was but the renewal of a former tie--one which had somehow been mysteriously broken. However, as I remembered the superior’s assertion that it was a miracle in my favor--a wonderful interposition of Providence, I had courage enough to ask: ‘So it was not chance that guided you in your choice?’ “My question seemed to take him by surprise.

for years I have been laboring to bring about this chance!’ Instantly all the romantic stories I had heard in the asylum recurred to my mind. And Heaven knows there are plenty of these stories transmitted by the sisters from generation to generation, till they have become a sort of Golden Legend for poor foundlings. And thus influenced, I fixed my eyes on the face of the Count de Chalusse, striving to discover some resemblance in his features to my own. But he did not seem to notice my intent gaze, and following his train of thought, he muttered: ‘Chance! And yet the cleverest detectives in Paris, from old Tabaret to Fortunat, both masters in the art of following up a clue, had exhausted their resources in helping me in my despairing search.’ The agony of suspense I was enduring had become intolerable; and unable to restrain myself longer, I exclaimed, with a wildly throbbing heart: ‘Then, you are my father, Monsieur le Comte?’ He pressed his hand to my lips with such violence that he hurt me, and then, in a voice quivering with excitement, he replied: ‘Imprudent girl!

de Chalusse had displayed and could not control. And, in spite of my confusion and agitation, the inexplicable voice which we call presentiment whispered in my heart: ‘He has forbidden you to CALL him father, but he has not said that he is not your father.’ However, I had not time to reflect or to question M. ‘This is our carriage, dear Marguerite, he said. The whistle sounded; and the train started off.” Mademoiselle Marguerite was growing very tired. The magistrate was almost frightened. “Pray rest a little, mademoiselle,” he entreated, “there is no hurry.” But she shook her head and replied: “It is better to go on. This journey was at first as delightful as a glimpse into fairy-land.

It consisted of a central saloon--a perfect chef-d’oeuvre of taste and luxury--with two compartments at either end, furnished with comfortable sleeping accommodation. And all this, the count seemed never weary of repeating, was mine--mine alone. And each time the train stopped the servants came to ask if we wished for anything. You can imagine, perhaps, how marvellous all this seemed to a poor little apprentice, whose only ambition a week before was to earn five francs a day. At last the count made me retire to one of the compartments, where I soon fell asleep, abandoning my efforts to distinguish what was dreamlike in my situation from reality. I asked myself what was awaiting me at the end of this long journey. de Chalusse’s manner continued kind, and even affectionate; but he had regained his accustomed reserve and self-control, and I realized that it would be useless on my part to question him. de Chalusse said to me: ‘Here is Cannes--we are at our journey’s end.’ “In this town, which is one of the most charming that overlook the blue waters of the Mediterranean, the count owned a palace embowered among lovely orange-trees, only a few steps from the sea, and in full view of the myrtle and laurel groves which deck the isles of Sainte Marguerite.

For there I first met the only friend I have now left in this world. It was only by chance I learned that he lived in Paris, that his name was Pascal, and that he had come south as a companion to a sick friend.

“By a single word the count could have insured the happiness of my life and his own, but he did not speak it. He was the kindest and most indulgent of guardians, and I was often affected to tears by his tenderness. But, although my slightest wish was law, he did not grant me his confidence. He summoned his valet, and, in a tone that admitted no reply, he exclaimed, ‘I wish to leave Cannes at once--I must start in less than an hour--so procure some post-horses instantly.’ And in answer to my inquiring glance, he said: ‘It must be. Each moment increases the peril that threatens us.’ “I was very young, inexperienced, and totally ignorant of life; but my sufferings, my loneliness, and the prospect of being compelled to rely upon myself, had imparted to my mind that precocious maturity which is so often observed among the children of the poor. Knowing from the very first that there was some mystery connected with the count’s life, I had studied him with a child’s patient sagacity--a sagacity which is all the more dangerous, as it is unsuspected--and I had come to the conclusion that a constant dread rendered his life a burden. Could it be for himself that he trembled, this great nobleman, who was so powerful by reason of his exalted rank, his connections, and his wealth? It had not taken me long to discover that he was concealing me, or, at least, that he endeavored by all means in his power to prevent my presence in his house from being known beyond a very limited circle of friends. Our only attendant was the count’s valet--not Casimir, the man who insulted me a little while ago--but another man, an old and valued servant, who has since died, unfortunately, and who possessed his master’s entire confidence. The other servants were dismissed with a princely gratuity, and told to disperse two days after our departure.

We did not return to Paris, but journeyed toward the Italian frontier, and on arriving at Nice in the dead of night, we drove directly to the quay. He declared that he had found it very difficult to procure what he wished for, but that at last, by a prodigal outlay of money, he had succeeded in overcoming all obstacles. “Three days later we were in Genoa, registered under a false name in a second class hotel. A malefactor flying from justice could not have taken greater pains to mislead the detectives on his track. On one occasion I even heard him discussing with his valet the feasibility of clothing me in masculine attire. And it was only the difficulty of obtaining a suitable costume that prevented him from carrying this project into execution. I ought to mention, however, that the servant did not share his master’s anxiety, for three or four times I overheard him saying: ‘The count is too good to worry himself so much about such bad stock. It isn’t certain that she has even followed us. This is what I racked my brain to discover, but without success. I must confess, monsieur, that being of a practical nature, and not in the least degree romantic, I arrived at the conclusion that the peril chiefly existed in the count’s imagination, or that he greatly exaggerated it.

We had spent a couple of days there, when the count informed me that prudence required us to separate for a time--that our safety demanded this sacrifice. I was extremely ignorant, and he wished me to profit by our temporary separation to raise my knowledge to a level with my new social position. He had, accordingly, made arrangements for me to enter the convent of Sainte-Marthe, an educational establishment which is as celebrated in the department of the Rhone as the Convent des Oiseaux is in Paris. He added that it would not be prudent for him to visit me; and he made me solemnly promise that I would never mention his name to any of my schoolmates. I was to send any letters I might write to an address which he would give me, and he would sign his answers with a fictitious name. He also told me that the lady superior of Sainte-Marthe knew his secret, and that I could confide in her. He was so restless and so miserably unhappy on the day when he acquainted me with these plans, that I really believed him insane. A new pupil is always welcome, for her arrival relieves the monotony of convent-life. But it was not long before my companions wished to know my name; and I had none other than Marguerite to give them. They were astonished and wished to know who my parents were.

After that ‘the bastard’--for such was the name they gave me--was soon condemned to isolation. At the piano lesson, the girl who played after me pretended to wipe the keyboard carefully before commencing her exercises. I struggled bravely against this unjust ostracism; but all in vain. I was so unlike these other girls in character and disposition, and I had, moreover, been guilty of a great imprudence. And on two occasions I had proved to them that I had more money at my disposal than all the other pupils together. “I should surprise you, monsieur, if I told you what refined torture these daughters of noblemen invented to gratify their petty spite. I buried my sorrow deep in my heart, as I had done years before; and I firmly resolved never to show ought but a smiling, placid face, so as to prove to my enemies that they were powerless to disturb my peace of mind. One day I had a quarrel with my most determined enemy, a girl named Anais de Rochecote. Anais was furious, and wrote I don’t know what falsehoods to her mother. Once before, that very morning, the magistrate had witnessed a display of the virile energy with which misfortune and suffering had endowed this proud but naturally timid girl.

But he was none the less surprised at the sudden explosion of hatred which he now beheld; for it was hatred. The way in which Mademoiselle Marguerite’s voice had quivered as she pronounced the name of Anais de Rochecote proved, unmistakably, that hers was one of those haughty natures that never forget an insult. All signs of fatigue had now disappeared. “This atrocious humiliation happened scarcely a year ago, monsieur,” she resumed; “and there is but little left for me to tell you. The count’s first impulse was to wreak vengeance on my persecutors; for, in spite of his usual coolness, M. It was only with the greatest difficulty that I dissuaded him from challenging General de Rochecote, who was living at the time. de Chalusse offered to find another school, promising to take such precautions as would insure my peace of mind. He exclaimed, with an oath, that I was right--that he was weary of all this deception and concealment, and that he would make arrangements to have me near him. ‘Yes,’ he concluded, embracing me, ‘the die is cast, come what may!’ “However, these measures required a certain delay; and, in the meantime, he decided to install me in Paris, which is the only place where one can successfully hide from prying eyes. As I needed a chaperon, he went in quest of one, and found Madame Leon.” On hearing this name, the magistrate gave the young girl a searching look, as if he hoped to discover what estimate she had formed of the housekeeper’s character, as well as what degree of confidence she had granted her.

But Mademoiselle Marguerite’s face remained unaltered in expression.

Judge of my surprise when, on going down into the little garden on the second day after my arrival, I saw the young man whom I had met at Cannes, and whose face had lingered in my memory for more than two years as the type of all that was best and noblest in the human countenance. This much is certain, he recognized me as I had recognized him. He bowed, smiling somewhat, and I fled indoors again, indignant with myself for not being angry at his audacity. I soon learned that he lived near by, with his widowed mother; and twice a day, when he went to the Palais de Justice and returned, he passed my home.” Her cheeks were crimson now, her eyes were lowered, and she was evidently embarrassed. But suddenly, as if ashamed of her blushes, she proudly raised her head, and said, in a firmer voice: “Shall I tell you our simple story? Is it necessary? A few moments’ conversation now and then, the exchange of a few letters, the pressure of a hand through the garden gate, and that is all. Still, I have been guilty of a grave and irreparable fault: I have disobeyed the one rule of my life--frankness; and I am cruelly punished for doing so. I did not tell all this to M.

I said to myself every night, ‘It shall be done to-morrow; but when the morrow came I said, ‘I will give myself another day--just one more day.’ Indeed, my courage failed me when I thought of the count’s aristocratic prejudices; and besides, I knew how ambitious he was for my future. The day is not far off when I shall be able to offer you wealth and fame.

So I waited, with that secret anguish which still haunts those who have been unhappy even when their present is peaceful, and their future seems bright. ‘Everything is ready to receive you at the Hotel de Chalusse, Marguerite,’ said he, ‘come!’ He ceremoniously offered me his arm, and I accompanied him. de Chalusse would somewhat dispel the uncertainty of my position, and furnish me at least with some idea of the vague danger which threatened me. His efforts, so far as I could discover, had been confined to changing his servants. Our life in this grand house was the same as it had been at Cannes--even more secluded, if that were possible. But his affection showed itself in a strange manner. Sometimes his voice was so tender that my heart was touched. At others there was a look of hatred in his eyes which terrified me. Occasionally he was severe almost to brutality, and then the next moment he would implore me to forgive him, order the carriage, take me with him to his jewellers’, and insist upon me accepting some costly ornaments.

At times I wondered if his capricious affection and sternness were really intended for myself. It often seemed to me that I was only a shadow--the phantom of some absent person, in his eyes.

It is certain that he often requested me to dress myself or to arrange my hair in a certain fashion, to wear such and such a color, or to use a particular perfume which he gave me. I entreat you, remain just where you are!’ “I obeyed him, but the illusion had already vanished. A sob or an oath would come from his lips, and then in an angry voice he would bid me leave the room.” The magistrate did not raise his eyes from his talismanic ring; it might have been supposed that it had fascinated him. Still, his expression denoted profound commiseration, and he shook his head thoughtfully. The idea had occurred to him that this unfortunate young girl had been the victim, not precisely of a madman, but of one of those maniacs who have just enough reason left to invent the tortures they inflict upon those around them. Speaking more slowly than before, as if she were desirous of attracting increased attention on the magistrate’s part, Mademoiselle Marguerite now continued: “If I reminded M.

All my efforts to discover the truth were unavailing. Heaven only knows how anxiously I listened to his slightest word! My strange and compromising connection with him drove me nearly frantic. True, he had changed all his servants before my arrival here; but he had requested Madame Leon to remain with me, and who can tell what reports she may have circulated? there is the Count de Chalusse’s mistress!’ Oh! He said she could have had no heart; and that it was an unheard of, incomprehensible, and monstrous thing that a woman could enjoy luxury and wealth, undisturbed by remorse, knowing that her innocent and defenceless child was exposed all the while to the hardships and temptations of abject poverty. He afterward did his best to counteract this impression; but he did not succeed in convincing me that his previous assertion was untrue.” The magistrate looked searchingly at Mademoiselle Marguerite.

“Then those letters which we found just now in the escritoire are from your mother, mademoiselle?” he remarked. Now, she hesitated for a moment, and then quietly said: “Your opinion coincides with mine, monsieur.” Thereupon, as if she wished to avoid any further questioning on the subject, she hurriedly continued: “At last a new and even greater trouble came--a positive calamity, which made me forget the disgrace attached to my birth. This was such an unusual occurrence that I was struck speechless with astonishment.

‘It is extraordinary, I admit,’ he added, gayly; ‘but it is nevertheless true. de Fondege and the Marquis de Valorsay will dine here this evening. He was the count’s only intimate friend, and often visited us. But I had never before seen the Marquis de Valorsay, nor had I ever heard his name until M. I will only say that as soon as I saw him, the dislike I felt for him bordered on aversion. My false position rendered his close scrutiny actually painful to me, and his attentions and compliments pleased me no better. At dinner he addressed his conversation exclusively to me, and I particularly remember a certain picture he drew of a model household, which positively disgusted me. In his opinion, a husband ought to content himself with being his wife’s prime minister--the slave of her slightest caprice. He intended, if he married, to allow the Marquise de Valorsay perfect freedom, with an unlimited amount of money, the handsomest carriages, and the most magnificent diamonds in Paris--everything, indeed, that could gratify her vanity, and render her existence a fairylike dream. ‘With such ideas on her husband’s part the marchioness will be very difficult to please if she is not contented with her lot,’ he added, glancing covertly at me.

This exasperated me beyond endurance, and I dryly replied: ‘The mere thought of such a husband would drive me to the shelter of a convent.’ He seemed considerably disconcerted; and I noticed that the general, I mean M.

de Fondege, gave him a mischievous look. As I attempted to reply, he interrupted me to sound the praises of the Marquis de Valorsay, who not only came of an ancient family, and possessed immense, unencumbered estates, but was a talented, handsome man into the bargain; in short, one of those favored mortals whom all young girls sigh for. de Chalusse had selected the Marquis de Valorsay to be my husband, and thus the marquis had designedly explained his matrimonial programme for my benefit. I felt indignant that he should suppose me so wanting in delicacy of feeling and nobility of character as to be dazzled by the life of display and facile pleasure which he had depicted. I had disliked him at first, and now I despised him; for it was impossible to misunderstand the shameless proposal concealed beneath his half-jesting words. That is only a fair contract, one might say.

Perhaps so; but if he were willing to do this for a certain amount of money, what would he not do for a sum twice or thrice as large?

Such were my impressions, though I asked myself again and again if I were not mistaken.

Three days later the marquis came again. His visit was to the count, and they held a long conference in this study. Having occasion to enter the room, after the marquis’s departure, I noticed on the table a number of title deeds which he had probably brought for the count’s inspection. On the following week there was another conference, and this time a lawyer was present. Any further doubts I might have felt were dispelled by Madame Leon, who was always well informed--thanks to her habit of listening at the keyholes.

‘They are talking of marrying you to the Marquis de Valorsay--I heard them,’ she remarked to me. I am timid, but I am not weak; and I was determined to resist M. de Chalusse’s will in this matter, even if it became necessary for me to leave his house, and renounce all hopes of the wealth he had promised me. I did not wish to bind him by the advice which he would certainly have given me.

I had his troth, and that sufficed. de Chalusse should be so angered by my refusal to obey him as to drive me from his house? It will rather be so much the better; Pascal will protect me.’ “But resistance is only possible when you are attacked; and M. de Chalusse did not even allude to the subject--perhaps because affairs had not yet been satisfactorily arranged between the marquis and himself--possibly because he wished to deprive me of the power to oppose him by taking me unawares. It would have been great imprudence on my part to broach the subject myself, and so I waited calmly and resignedly, storing up all my energy for the decisive hour. I was resolved to wed solely in accordance with the dictates of my heart; but I wished, and HOPED, that M. He had become more communicative than usual on money matters, and took no pains to conceal the fact that he was engaged in raising the largest possible amount of ready cash.

He received frequent visits from his stockbroker, and sometimes when the latter had left him, he showed me rolls of bank-notes and packages of bonds, saying, as he did so: ‘You see that your future is assured, my dear Marguerite.’ “I am only doing the count justice when I say that my future was a subject of constant anxiety to him during the last few months of his life. Less than a fortnight after he had taken me from the asylum, he drew up a will, in which he adopted me and made me his sole legatee. But he afterward destroyed this document on the plea that it did not afford me sufficient security; and a dozen others shared the same fate. For his mind was constantly occupied with the subject, and he seemed to have a presentiment that his death would be a sudden one. I am forced to admit that he seemed less anxious to endow me with his fortune than to frustrate the hopes of some persons I did not know. When he burned his last will in my presence, he remarked: ‘This document is useless: they would contest it, and probably succeed in having it set aside.

I have thought of a better way; I have found an expedient which will provide for all emergencies.’ And as I ventured some timid objection--for it was repugnant to my sense of honor to act as an instrument of vengeance or injustice, or assist, even passively, in despoiling any person of his rightful inheritance--he harshly, almost brutally, replied: ‘Mind your own business!

I will disappoint the folks who are waiting for my property as they deserve to be disappointed. all his plans have failed.

The heirs whom he hated so bitterly, and whom I don’t even know, whose existence people have not even suspected, can now come, and they will find the wealth he was determined to deprive them of intact. I have been accused of theft before his body was even cold. He wished to make me rich, frightfully rich, and he has not left me enough to buy my bread--literally, not enough to buy bread. He raised me against my will to the highest social position--he placed that wonderful talisman, gold, in my hand; he showed me the world at my feet; and suddenly he allowed me to fall even to lower depths of misery than those in which he found me. And yet, I freely forgive you.” Mademoiselle Marguerite reflected for a moment, questioning her memory to ascertain if she had told everything--if she had forgotten any particulars of importance. And as it seemed to her that she had nothing more to add, she approached the magistrate, and, with impressive solemnity of tone and manner, exclaimed: “My life up to the present hour is now as well known to you as it is to myself. You know what even the friend, who is my only hope, does not know as yet. And now, when I tell him what I really am, will he think me unworthy of him?” The magistrate sprang to his feet, impelled by an irresistible force.

Two big tears, the first he had shed for years, trembled on his eyelashes, and coursed down his furrowed cheeks. But the magistrate’s words had reassured her. The magistrate and Mademoiselle Marguerite could hear stealthy footsteps in the hall, and a rustling near the door. The servants were prowling round about the study, wondering what was the reason of this prolonged conference. “I must see how the clerk is progressing with the inventory.” said the magistrate. He really wished to conceal his emotion and regain his composure, for he had been deeply affected by the young girl’s narrative. He also needed time for reflection, for the situation had become extremely complicated since Mademoiselle Marguerite had informed him of the existence of heirs--of those mysterious enemies who had poisoned the count’s peace. These persons would, of course, require to know what had become of the millions deposited in the escritoire, and who would be held accountable for the missing treasure?

Mademoiselle Marguerite, unquestionably. Such were the thoughts that flitted through the magistrate’s mind as he listened to his clerk’s report. Nor was this all; for having solicited Mademoiselle Marguerite’s confidence, he must now advise her. And this was a matter of some difficulty. “Let us now discuss the situation calmly,” he began. “Let us first of all consider the subject of the missing millions. What was the time when he left the house?” “About five o’clock.” “When was he brought back?” “At about half-past six.” “Where did the cabman pick him up?” “Near the church of Notre Dame de Lorette, so he told me.” “Do you know the driver’s number?” “Casimir asked him for it, I believe.” Had any one inquired the reason of this semi-official examination, the magistrate would have replied that Mademoiselle Marguerite’s interests alone influenced him in the course he was taking. This was quite true; and yet, without being altogether conscious of the fact, he was also impelled by another motive.

This affair interested, almost fascinated, him on account of its mysterious surroundings, and influenced by the desire for arriving at the truth which is inherent in every human heart, he was anxious to solve the riddle.

After a few moments’ thoughtful silence, he remarked: “So the point of departure in our investigation, if there is an investigation, will be this: M. de Chalusse left the house with two millions in his possession; and while he was absent, he either disposed of that enormous sum--or else it was stolen from him.” Mademoiselle Marguerite shuddered. “Yes, my child--anything is possible.

de Chalusse going?” “To the house of a gentleman who would, he thought, be able to furnish the address given in the letter he had torn up.” “What was this gentleman’s name?” “Fortunat.” The magistrate wrote the name down on his tablets, and then, resuming his examination, he said: “Now, in reference to this unfortunate letter which, in your opinion, was the cause of the count’s death, what did it say?” “I don’t know, monsieur. It is true that I helped the count in collecting the fragments, but I did not read what was written on them.” “That is of little account. The main thing is to ascertain who wrote the letter. You told me that it could only have come from the sister who disappeared thirty years ago, or else from your mother.” “That was, and still is, my opinion.” The magistrate toyed with his ring; and a smile of satisfaction stole over his face. My method is perfectly simple. I have only to compare the handwriting with that of the letters found in the escritoire.” Mademoiselle Marguerite sprang up, exclaiming: “What a happy idea!” But without seeming to notice the girl’s surprise, he added: “Where are the remnants of this letter which you and the count picked up in the garden?” “M. de Chalusse placed them in his pocket.” “They must be found. However, another servant and Madame Leon offered their services, and certainly displayed the most laudable zeal, but their search was fruitless; the fragments of the letter could not be found.

“How unfortunate!” muttered the magistrate, as he watched them turn the pockets of the count’s clothes inside out. That letter would probably have solved the mystery.” Compelled to submit to this disappointment, he returned to the study; but he was evidently discouraged. Although he did not consider the mystery insoluble, far from it, he realized that time and research would be required to arrive at a solution, and that the affair was quite beyond his province. Experience had wonderfully sharpened his penetration, and perhaps he might discover a hidden meaning which would throw light upon all this doubt and uncertainty. Accordingly, he asked Mademoiselle Marguerite for the paper upon which the count had endeavored to pen his last wishes; and in addition he requested her to write on a card the dying man’s last words in the order they had been uttered. But on combining the written and the spoken words the only result obtained was as follows:--“My entire fortune--give--friends--against--Marguerite--despoiled--your mother--take care.” These twelve incoherent words revealed the count’s absorbing and poignant anxiety concerning his fortune and Marguerite’s future, and also the fear and aversion with which Marguerite’s mother inspired him. But that was all; the sense was not precise enough for any practical purpose. It had evidently been wrung from the half-unconscious man by the horrible thought that Marguerite--his own daughter, unquestionably--would not have a penny of all the millions he had intended for her.

But there were two words which seemed absolutely incomprehensible to the magistrate, and which he vainly strove to connect with the others in an intelligible manner. For the thirtieth time the magistrate was repeating them in an undertone, when a rap came at the door, and almost immediately Madame Leon entered the room. “What is it?” inquired Mademoiselle Marguerite. Heaven rest his soul!” And then handing a newspaper to Mademoiselle Marguerite, she added, in an unctuous tone: “And some one left this paper for mademoiselle at the same time.” “This paper--for me?

You must be mistaken.” “Not at all. I was in the concierge’s lodge when the messenger brought it; and he said it was for Mademoiselle Marguerite, from one of her friends.” And with these words she made one of her very best courtesies, and withdrew. The girl had taken the newspaper, and now, with an air of astonishment and apprehension, she slowly unfolded it. The paper had evidently been sent in order that she might read this particular passage, and accordingly she began to peruse it. “There was a great sensation and a terrible scandal last evening at the residence of Madame d’A----, a well known star of the first magnitude----” It was the shameful article which described the events that had robbed Pascal of his honor. And to make assurance doubly sure, to prevent the least mistake concerning the printed initials, the coward who sent the paper had appended the names of the persons mixed up in the affair, at full length, in pencil. Her features expressed such terrible suffering that the magistrate sprang from his chair with a bound. there!” The magistrate understood everything at the first glance; and this man, who had witnessed so much misery--who had been the confidant of so many martyrs--was filled with consternation at thought of the misfortunes which destiny was heaping upon this defenceless girl. “The man you had chosen--the man whom you would have sacrificed everything for--is Pascal Ferailleur, is he not?” “Yes, it is he.” “He is an advocate?” “As I have already told you, monsieur.” “Does he live in the Rue d’Ulm?” “Yes.” The magistrate shook his head sadly. “It is the same,” said he.

He is a thief!” Mademoiselle Marguerite’s weakness vanished. She sprang from her chair, and indignantly faced the magistrate. “It is false!” she cried, vehemently; “and what that paper says is false as well!” Had her reason been affected by so many successive blows? “If she doesn’t weep, she is lost,” thought the magistrate. The newspapers are often hasty in their judgment; but an article like that is only published when proof of its truth is furnished by witnesses of unimpeachable veracity.” She shrugged her shoulders as if she were listening to some monstrous absurdities, and then thoughtfully muttered: “Ah! now Pascal’s silence is explained: now I understand why he has not yet replied to the letter I wrote him last night.” The magistrate persevered, however, and added: “So, after the article you have just read, no one can entertain the shadow of a doubt.” Mademoiselle Marguerite hastily interrupted him. I might commit a dishonorable act; I am only a poor, weak, ignorant girl, while he--he----You don’t know, then, that he was my conscience?

Before undertaking anything, before deciding upon anything, if ever I felt any doubt, I asked myself, ‘What would he do?’ And the mere thought of him is sufficient to banish any unworthy idea from my heart.” Her tone and manner betokened complete and unwavering confidence; and her faith imparted an almost sublime expression to her face. How was it possible to make Pascal even SEEM to be guilty of a dishonorable act? This is beyond my powers of comprehension. I am only certain of one thing--that he is innocent. Did you not this morning hear all our servants declaring that I was accountable for M. Perhaps, by this time, I should have been in prison.” “This is not a parallel case, my child.” “It IS a parallel case, monsieur. Suppose, for one moment, that I had been formally accused--what do you think Pascal would have replied if people had gone to him, and said, ‘Marguerite is a thief?’ He would have laughed them to scorn, and have exclaimed, ‘Impossible!”’ The magistrate’s mind was made up. In his opinion, Pascal Ferailleur was guilty.

“Perhaps you are right, my child,” he conceded, “still, this unfortunate affair must change all your arrangements.” “Rather, it modifies them.” Surprised by her calmness, he looked at her inquiringly. “An hour ago,” she added, “I had resolved to go to Pascal and claim his aid and protection as one claims an undeniable right or the fulfilment of a solemn promise; but now--” “Well?” eagerly asked the magistrate. And I shall say to him, ‘You are suffering, but no sorrow is intolerable when there are two to bear the burden; and so, here I am. Whatever your plans may be--whether you have decided to leave Europe or to remain in Paris to watch for your hour of vengeance, you will need a faithful, trusty companion--a confidant--and here I am!

Wife, friend, sister--I will be which ever you desire. I am yours--yours unconditionally.’” And as if in reply to a gesture of surprise which escaped the magistrate, she added: “He is unhappy--I am free--I love him!” The magistrate was struck dumb with astonishment.

He knew that she would surely do what she said; he had realized that she was one of those generous, heroic women who are capable of any sacrifice for the man they love--a woman who would never shrink from what she considered to be her duty, who was utterly incapable of weak hesitancy or selfish calculation. Ferailleur owes it to you, and, what is more, he owes it to himself, not to accept such a sacrifice.” Failing to understand his meaning, she looked at him inquiringly. “You will forgive me, I trust,” he continued, “if I warn you to prepare for a disappointment. Ferailleur is--disgraced.

Unless something little short of a miracle comes to help him, his career is ended. This is one of those charges--one of those slanders, if you prefer that term, which a man can never shake off. So how can you hope that he will consent to link your destiny to his?” She had not thought of this objection, and it seemed to her a terrible one. The only great and true misfortune that could strike me now would be to have him repel me. The brilliant career he dreamed of is ended, you say. Our enemies are triumphant--so be it: we should only tarnish our honor by stooping to contend against such villainy. But in some new land, in America, perhaps, we shall be able to find some quiet spot where we can begin a new and better career.” It was almost impossible to believe that it was Mademoiselle Marguerite, usually so haughtily reserved, who was now speaking with such passionate vehemence. And to whom was she talking in this fashion? They had led her to reveal her dearest and most sacred feelings and to display her real nature free from any kind of disguise. However, the magistrate concealed the emotion and sympathy which filled his heart and refused to admit that the girl’s hopes were likely to be realized.

“It is not a sacrifice, monsieur.” “No matter; but supposing he refused it, what should you do?” “What should I do?” she muttered. I might, perhaps, go upon the stage.” The magistrate sprang from his arm-chair. “You become an actress, YOU?” “Under such circumstances it would little matter what became of me!” “But you don’t suspect--you cannot imagine----” He was at a loss for words to explain the nature of his objections to such a career; and it was Mademoiselle Marguerite who found them for him.

“I suspect that theatrical life is an abominable life for a woman,” she said, gravely; “but I know that there are many noble and chaste women who have adopted the profession. That is enough for me. My pride is a sufficient protection. I might be slandered; but that is not an irremediable misfortune. I despise the world too much to be troubled by its opinion so long as I have the approval of my own conscience. And why should I not become a great artiste if I consecrated all the intelligence, passion, energy, and will I might possess, to my art?” Hearing a knock at the door she paused; and a moment later a footman entered with lights, for night was falling. He was closely followed by another servant, who said: “Mademoiselle, the Marquis de Valorsay is below, and wishes to know if mademoiselle will grant him the honor of an interview.” XII. de Valorsay’s name, Mademoiselle Marguerite and the magistrate exchanged glances full of wondering conjecture. The girl was undecided what course to pursue; but the magistrate put an end to her perplexity. “Ask the marquis to come up,” he said to the servant.

The footman left the room; and, as soon as he had disappeared, Mademoiselle Marguerite exclaimed: “What, monsieur! after all I have told you, you still wish me to receive him?” “It is absolutely necessary that you should do so. You must know what he wishes and what hope brings him here.

Calm yourself, and submit to necessity.” In a sort of bewilderment, the girl hastily arranged her disordered dress, and caught up her wavy hair which had fallen over her shoulders. In his eyes, I am still surrounded by the glamor of the millions which are mine no longer.” “Hush! here he comes!” The Marquis de Valorsay was indeed upon the threshold, and a moment later he entered the room.

He was clad with the exquisite taste of those intelligent gentlemen to whom the color of a pair of trousers is a momentous matter, and whose ambition is satisfied if they are regarded as a sovereign authority respecting the cut of a waistcoat. As a rule, his expression of face merely denoted supreme contentment with himself and indifference as to others, but now, strange to say, he looked grave and almost solemn. His right leg--the unfortunate limb which had been broken when he fell from his horse in Ireland--seemed stiff, and dragged a trifle more than usual, but this was probably solely due to the influence of the atmosphere. He bowed to Mademoiselle Marguerite with every mark of profound respect, and without seeming to notice the magistrate’s presence. “You will excuse me, I trust, mademoiselle,” said he, “in having insisted upon seeing you, so that I might express my deep sympathy. I have just heard of the terrible misfortune which has befallen you--the sudden death of your father.” She drew back as if she were terrified, and repeated: “My father!” The marquis did not evince the slightest surprise. de Chalusse kept this fact concealed from you; but he confided his secret to me.” “To you?” interrupted the magistrate, who was unable to restrain himself any longer.

The marquis turned haughtily to this old man dressed in black, and in the dry tone one uses in speaking to an indiscreet inferior, he replied: “To me, yes, monsieur; and he acquainted me not only by word of mouth, but in writing also, with the motives which influenced him, expressing his fixed intention, not only of recognizing Mademoiselle Marguerite as his daughter, but also of adopting her in order to insure her undisputed right to his fortune and his name.” “Ah!” said the magistrate as if suddenly enlightened; “ah!

ah!” But without noticing this exclamation which was, at least, remarkable in tone, M. de Valorsay again turned to Mademoiselle Marguerite, and continued: “Your ignorance on this subject, mademoiselle, convinces me that your servants have not deceived me in telling me that M. They have told me that the count made no provision for you, that he left no will, and that--excuse a liberty which is prompted only by the most respectful interest--and that, the result of this incomprehensible and culpable neglect is that you are ruined and almost without means. Can this be possible?” “It is the exact truth, monsieur,” replied Mademoiselle Marguerite. “I am reduced to the necessity of working for my daily bread.” She spoke these words with a sort of satisfaction, expecting that the marquis would betray his disappointed covetousness by some significant gesture or exclamation, and she was already prepared to rejoice at his confusion. Instead of evincing the slightest dismay or even regret, M. de Valorsay drew a long breath, as if a great burden had been lifted from his heart, and his eyes sparkled with apparent delight. “Then I may venture to speak,” he exclaimed, with unconcealed satisfaction, “I will speak, mademoiselle, if you will deign to allow me.” She looked at him with anxious curiosity, wondering what was to come.

“I will obey you, mademoiselle,” he said, bowing again. de Chalusse’s death is an irreparable misfortune for me as for yourself. He had allowed me, mademoiselle, to aspire to the honor of becoming a suitor for your hand. If he did not speak to you on the subject, it was only because he wished to leave you absolutely free, and impose upon me the difficult task of winning your consent. But between him and me everything had been arranged in principle, and he was to give a dowry of three millions of francs to Mademoiselle Marguerite de Chalusse, his daughter.” “I am no longer Mademoiselle de Chalusse, Monsieur le Marquis, and I am no longer the possessor of a fortune.” He felt the sharp sting of this retort, for the blood rose to his cheeks, still he did not lose his composure. “If you were still rich, mademoiselle,” he replied, in the reproachful tone of an honest man who feels that he is misunderstood, “I should, perhaps, have strength to keep the sentiments with which you have inspired me a secret in my own heart; but--” He rose, and with a gesture which was not devoid of grace, and in a full ringing voice he added: “But you are no longer the possessor of millions; and so I may tell you, Mademoiselle Marguerite, that I love you.

Will you be my wife?” The poor girl was obliged to exercise all her powers of self-control to restrain an exclamation of dismay. It was indeed more than dismay; she was absolutely terrified by the Marquis de Valorsay’s unexpected declaration, and she could only falter: “Monsieur! monsieur!” But with an air of winning frankness he continued: “Need I tell you who I am, mademoiselle? No; that is unnecessary. de Chalusse is the best recommendation I can offer you. The pure and stainless name I bear is one of the proudest in France; and though my fortune may have been somewhat impaired by youthful folly, it is still more than sufficient to maintain an establishment in keeping with my rank.” Mademoiselle Marguerite was still powerless to reply. She glanced entreatingly at the old magistrate, as if imploring his intervention, but he was so absorbed in contemplating his wonderful ring, that one might have imagined he was oblivious of all that was going on around him.

“I am aware that I have so far not been fortunate enough to please you, mademoiselle,” continued the marquis. I thoughtlessly spoke to you in the language which is usually addressed to young ladies of our rank of life--frivolous beauties, who are spoiled by vanity and luxury, and who look upon marriage only as a means of enfranchisement.” His words were disjointed as if emotion choked his utterance. At times, it seemed as if he could scarcely command his feelings; and then his voice became so faint and trembling that it was scarcely intelligible. However, by allowing him to continue, by listening to what he said, Mademoiselle Marguerite was encouraging him, even more--virtually binding herself. She understood that this was the case, and making a powerful effort, she interrupted him, saying: “I assure you, Monsieur le Marquis, that I am deeply touched--and grateful--but I am no longer free.” “Pray, mademoiselle, pray do not reply to-day.

Grant me a little time to overcome your prejudices.” She shook her head, and in a firmer voice, replied: “I have no prejudices; but for some time past already, my future has been decided, irrevocably decided.” He seemed thunderstruck, and his manner apparently indicated that the possibility of a repulse had never entered his mind. His eyes wandered restlessly from Mademoiselle Marguerite to the countenance of the old magistrate, who remained as impassive as a sphinx, and at last they lighted on a newspaper which was lying on the floor at the young girl’s feet. She made no answer, and understanding her silence, he was about to retire when the door suddenly opened and a servant announced: “Monsieur de Fondege.” Mademoiselle Marguerite touched the magistrate on the shoulder to attract his attention.

“This gentleman is M. de Chalusse’s friend whom I sent for this morning.” At the same moment a man who looked some sixty years of age entered the room. He was very tall, and as straight as the letter I, being arrayed in a long blue frock-coat, while his neck, which was as red and as wrinkled as that of a turkey-cock, was encased in a very high and stiff satin cravat. On seeing his ruddy face, his closely cropped hair, his little eyes twinkling under his bushy eyebrows, and his formidable mustaches a la Victor Emmanuel, you would have immediately exclaimed: “That man is an old soldier!” A great mistake! de Fondege had never been in the service, and it was only in mockery of his somewhat bellicose manners and appearance that some twenty years previously his friends had dubbed him “the General.” However, the appellation had clung to him. de Fondege” on his visiting cards. The nickname had had a decisive influence on his life. He swore the most tremendous oaths in a deep bass voice, and whenever he talked his arms revolved like the sails of a windmill.

He was not considered very shrewd, and he pretended to have an intense dislike for business matters. No one knew anything precise about his fortune, but he had a great many friends who invited him to dinner, and they all declared that he was in very comfortable circumstances. On entering the study this worthy man did not pay the slightest attention to the Marquis de Valorsay, although they were intimate friends. He walked straight up to Mademoiselle Marguerite, caught her in his long arms, and pressed her to his heart, brushing her face with his huge mustaches as he pretended to kiss her. Look at me!” So saying he stepped back, and it was really amusing to see the extraordinary effort he made to combine a soldier’s stoicism with a friend’s sorrow.

I acted as his second when he fought his first duel. But it is always so; the best soldiers always file by first at dress-parade.” The Marquis de Valorsay had beaten a retreat, the magistrate was hidden in a dark corner, and Mademoiselle Marguerite, who was accustomed to the General’s manner, remained silent, being well aware that there was no chance of putting in a word as long as he had possession of the floor. “He loved you devotedly, my dear, as his testamentary provisions must have shown you.” “His provisions?” “Yes, most certainly. you will be one of the greatest catches in Europe, and you will have plenty of suitors.” Mademoiselle Marguerite sadly shook her head. “You are mistaken, General; the count left no will, and has made no provision whatever for me.” M.

It isn’t possible.” “The count was stricken with apoplexy in a cab. Had she been less absorbed in her narrative she would have noticed that the General was not listening to her. One of them especially seemed to attract his attention, to exercise a sort of fascination over him as it were. He looked at it with hungry eyes, and whenever he touched it, his hand trembled, or involuntarily clinched. His face, moreover, had become livid; his eyes twitched nervously; he seemed to have a difficulty in breathing, and big drops of perspiration trickled down his forehead. If the magistrate were able to see the General’s face, he must certainly have been of opinion that a terrible conflict was raging in his mind. The struggle lasted indeed for fully five minutes, and then suddenly, certain that no one saw him, he caught up the letter in question and slipped it into his pocket. Poor Marguerite was now finishing her story: “You see, monsieur, that, far from being an heiress, as you suppose, I am homeless and penniless,” she said. The General had risen from his chair, and was striding up and down the room with every token of intense agitation. “It’s true,” he said apparently unconscious of his words.

“She’s ruined--lost--the misfortune is complete!” Then, suddenly pausing with folded arms in front of Mademoiselle Marguerite: “What are you going to do?” he asked. He turned on his heel and resumed his promenade, wildly gesticulating and indulging in a furious monologue which was certainly not very easy to follow. This horrible Paris would devour her at a single mouthful! It sha’n’t be!--the old veterans are here, firm as rocks!” Thereupon, approaching the poor girl again, he exclaimed in a coarse but seemingly feeling voice: “Mademoiselle Marguerite.” “General?” “You are acquainted with my son, Gustave Fondege, are you not?” “I think I have heard you speak of him to M. de Chalusse several times.” The General tugged furiously at his mustaches as was his wont whenever he was perplexed or embarrassed. “My son,” he resumed, “is twenty-seven. He’s a handsome fellow, sure to make his way in the world, for he’s not wanting in spirit. As I never attempt to hide the truth, I must confess that he’s a trifle dissipated; but his heart is all right, and a charming little wife would soon turn him from the error of his ways, and he’d become the pearl of husbands.” He paused, passed his forefinger three or four times between his collar and his neck, and then, in a half-strangled voice, he added: “Mademoiselle Marguerite, I have the honor to ask for your hand in marriage on behalf of Lieutenant Gustave de Fondege, my son.” There was a dangerous gleam of anger in Mademoiselle Marguerite’s eyes, as she coldly replied: “I am honored by your request, monsieur; but my future is already decided.” Some seconds elapsed before M. de Fondege could recover his powers of speech. “This is a piece of foolishness,” he faltered, at last with singular agitation.

I shall send Madame de Fondege to see you this evening. Come, answer me, what do you say to it?” His persistence irritated the poor girl beyond endurance, and to put an end to the painful scene, she at last asked: “Would you not like to look--for the last time--at M. As long as the General had been there, the magistrate had given no sign of life. But seated beyond the circle of light cast by the lamps, he had remained an attentive spectator of the scene, and now that he found himself once more alone with Mademoiselle Marguerite he came forward, and leaning against the mantelpiece and looking her full in the face he exclaimed: “Well, my child?” The girl trembled like a culprit awaiting sentence of death, and it was in a hollow voice that she replied: “I understood--” “What?” insisted the pitiless magistrate. She raised her beautiful eyes, in which angry tears were still glittering, and then answered in a voice which quivered with suppressed passion, “I have fathomed the infamy of those two men who have just left the house. They had questioned the servants, and had ascertained that two millions were missing. the servants’ suspicions were nothing in comparison with this. At least, they did not ask for a share of the booty as the price of their silence!” The magistrate shook his head as if this explanation scarcely satisfied him.

“There is something else, there is certainly something else,” he repeated. But the doors were still open, so he closed them carefully, and then returned to the girl he was so desirous of advising. “I wish to tell you,” he said, “that you have mistaken the motives which induced these gentlemen to ask for your hand in marriage.” “Do you believe, then, that you have fathomed them?” “I could almost swear that I had. Didn’t one of them, the marquis, behave with all the calmness and composure which are the result of reflection and calculation? The other, on the contrary, acted most precipitately, as if he had suddenly come to a determination, and formed a plan on the impulse of the moment.” Mademoiselle Marguerite reflected. Now I recollect the difference.” “And this is my explanation of it,” resumed the magistrate. “‘The Marquis de Valorsay,’ I said to myself, ‘must have proofs in his possession that Mademoiselle Marguerite is the count’s daughter--written and conclusive proofs, that is certain--probably a voluntary admission of the fact from the father. de Valorsay does not possess this acknowledgment?

de Chalusse’s daughter, I should obtain several millions.’ Whereupon he consulted his legal adviser who assured him that it would be the best course he could pursue; and so he came here. And some day or other he will come to you and say, ‘Whether we marry or not, let us divide.’” Mademoiselle Marguerite was amazed. The magistrate’s words seemed to dispel the mist which had hitherto hidden the truth from view. That is evident from the fact that on his arrival here he believed you to be the sole legatee. de Chalusse had taken certain precautions we are ignorant of, but which he is no doubt fully acquainted with. What you told him about your poverty amazed him, and he immediately evinced a desire to atone for the count’s neglect with as much eagerness as if he were the cause of this negligence himself. And, indeed, judging by the agitation he displayed when he was imploring you to become his son’s wife, one might almost imagine that the sight of your misery awakened a remorse which he was endeavoring to quiet.

Now, draw your own conclusions.” The wretched girl looked questioningly at the magistrate as if she hesitated to trust the thoughts which his words had awakened in her mind. “Then you think, monsieur,” she said, with evident reluctance, “you think, you suppose, that the General is acquainted with the whereabouts of the missing millions?” “Quite correct,” answered the magistrate, and then as if he feared that he had gone too far, he added: “but draw your own conclusions respecting the matter. Not that he had finished taking an inventory of the appurtenances of this immense house, but because he considered that he had done quite enough work for one day.

And yet his discontent was sensibly diminished when he calculated the amount he would receive for his pains. During the nine years he had held this office he had never made such an extensive inventory before. He seemed somewhat dazzled, and as he followed his superior out of the house, he remarked: “Do you know, monsieur, that as nearly as I can discover the deceased’s fortune must amount to more than twenty millions--an income of a million a year! I suspect she’s crying her eyes out.” But the clerk was mistaken. Mademoiselle Marguerite was then questioning M. Casimir respecting the arrangements which he had made for the funeral, and when this sad duty was concluded, she consented to take a little food standing in front of the sideboard in the dining-room. The cabman drove as fast as possible to the house where Pascal and his mother resided in the Rue d’Ulm; but on arriving there, the front door was found to be closed, and the light in the vestibule was extinguished. Marguerite was obliged to ring five or six times before the concierge made his appearance. “I wish to see Monsieur Ferailleur,” she quietly said.

The landlord doesn’t want any thieves in his house. He’s sold his rubbish and started for America, with his old witch of a mother.” So saying he closed the door again, and Marguerite was so overwhelmed by this last and unexpected misfortune, that she could hardly stagger back to the vehicle.

The treasury derives large sums from this source every year. And this is easily explained, for nowadays family ties are becoming less and less binding. The young man whom love of adventure lures to a far-off country, and the young girl who marries against her parents’ wishes, soon cease to exist for their relatives. Those who remain at home are afraid to ask whether they are prosperous or unfortunate, lest they should be called upon to assist the wanderers. Having become rich unaided, they find an egotistical satisfaction in spending their money alone in accordance with their own fancies. Now when a man of this class dies what happens?

The servants and people around him profit of his loneliness and isolation, and the justice of the peace is only summoned to affix the seals, after they have removed all the portable property. An inventory is taken, and after a few formalities, as no heirs present themselves, the court declares the inheritance to be in abeyance, and appoints a trustee. This trustee’s duties are very simple.

“If I only had a twentieth part of the money that is lost in this way, my fortune would be made,” exclaimed a shrewd man, some thirty years ago. For six months he secretly nursed the idea, studying it, examining it in all respects, weighing its advantages and disadvantages, and at last he decided that it was a good one. That same year, indeed, assisted by a little capital which he had obtained no one knew how, he created a new, strange, and untried profession to supply a new demand. As will be generally admitted, it is not a profession that can be successfully followed by a craven. It requires the exercise of unusual shrewdness, untiring activity, extraordinary energy and courage, as well as great tact and varied knowledge. The man who would follow it successfully must possess the boldness of a gambler, the sang-froid of a duelist, the keen perceptive powers and patience of a detective, and the resources and quick wit of the shrewdest attorney. It is easier to decry the profession than to exercise it.

When he learns that a man has died without any known heirs, his first care is to ascertain the amount of unclaimed property, to see if it will pay him to take up the case. If he finds that the inheritance is a valuable one, he begins operations without delay. It is easy to procure this information; but it is more difficult to discover the name of the place where the deceased was born, his profession, what countries he lived in, his tastes and mode of life--in a word, everything that constitutes a complete biography. However, when he has armed himself with the more indispensable facts, our agent opens the campaign with extreme prudence, for it would be ruinous to awake suspicion. It is curious to observe the incomparable address which the agent displays in his efforts to learn the particulars of the deceased’s life, by consulting his friends, his enemies, his debtors, and all who ever knew him, until at last some one is found who says: “Such and such a man--why, he came from our part of the country. I never knew HIM, but I am acquainted with one of his brothers--with one of his uncles--or with one of his nephews.” Very often years of constant research, a large outlay of money, and costly and skilful advertising in all the European journals, are necessary before this result is reached. And it is only when it has been attained that the agent can take time to breathe. But now the chances are greatly in his favor. The worst is over.

The portion of his task which depended on chance alone is concluded. The rest is a matter of skill, tact, and shrewdness.

The agent must confer with this heir, who has been discovered at the cost of so much time and trouble and induce him to bestow a portion of this prospective wealth on the person who is able to establish his claim. The negotiation is a very delicate and difficult one, requiring prodigious presence of mind, and an amount of duplicity which would make the most astute diplomatist turn pale with envy. The agent may then bid his hopes farewell. However, such a misfortune is of rare occurrence. On hearing of the unexpected good fortune that has befallen him, the heir is generally unsuspicious, and willingly promises to pay the amount demanded of him. A contract is drawn up and signed; and then, but only then, does the agent take his client into his confidence. He is dead, and you are his heir. Thank Providence, and make haste to claim your money.” As a rule, the heir loyally fulfils his obligation.

But sometimes it happens that, when he has obtained undisputed possession of the property, he declares that he has been swindled, and refuses to fulfil his part of the contract. It is true, however, that the judgment of the tribunals generally recalls the refractory client to a sense of gratitude and humility. Isidore Fortunat was a hunter of missing heirs. Undoubtedly he often engaged in other business which was a trifle less respectable; but heir-hunting was one of the best and most substantial sources of his income. So we can readily understand why he so quickly left off lamenting that forty thousand francs lent to the Marquis de Valorsay.

Changing his tactics, he said to himself that, even if he had lost this amount through M. de Chalusse’s sudden death, it was much less than he might obtain if he succeeded in discovering the unknown heirs to so many millions. de Chalusse when the latter was seeking Mademoiselle Marguerite, M. Fortunat had gained some valuable information respecting his client, and the additional particulars which he had obtained from Madame Vantrasson elated him to such an extent that more than once he exclaimed: “Ah, well! it is, perhaps, a blessing in disguise, after all.” Still, M. Isidore Fortunat slept but little after his stormy interview with the Marquis de Valorsay. A loss of forty thousand francs is not likely to impart a roseate hue to one’s dreams--and M. Fortunat prized his money as if it had been the very marrow of his bones. By way of consolation, he assured himself that he would not merely regain the sum, but triple it; and yet this encouragement did not entirely restore his peace of mind. So he twisted, and turned, and tossed on his bed as if it had been a hot gridiron, exhausting himself in surmises, and preparing his mind for the difficulties which he would be obliged to overcome.

His plan was a simple one, but its execution was fraught with difficulties. “I must discover M. de Chalusse’s sister, if she is still living--I must discover her children, if she is dead,” he said to himself. It was easy to SAY this; but how was he to do it? How could he hope to find this unfortunate girl, who had abandoned her home thirty years previously, to fly, no one knew where, or with whom? At what point on the social scale, and in what country, should he begin his investigations?

These daughters of noble houses, who desert the paternal roof in a moment of madness, generally die most miserably after a wretched life. The girl of the lower classes is armed against misfortune, and has been trained for the conflict. Isidore Fortunat, as he tossed restlessly to and fro. “As soon as morning comes I will set to work!” But just before daybreak he fell asleep; and at nine o’clock he was still slumbering so soundly that Madame Dodelin, his housekeeper, had considerable difficulty in waking him. “Your clerks have come,” she exclaimed, shaking him vigorously; “and two clients are waiting for you in the reception-room.” He sprang up, hastily dressed himself, and went into his office.

It cost him no little effort to receive his visitors that morning; but it would have been folly to neglect all his other business for the uncertain Chalusse affair. “My name is Leplaintre, and I am a coal merchant,” said he. “Pray be seated,” was his reply. If I am not mistaken I gave him some advice with reference to his third failure.” “Precisely; and it is because I find myself in the same fix as Bouscat that I have called on you. Business is very bad, and I have notes to a large amount overdue, so that--” “You will be obliged to go into bankruptcy.” “Alas! Fortunat already knew what his client desired, but it was against his principles to meet these propositions more than half way. “This is my case,” he replied, at last. Is it right that I should be compelled to starve?” “It is a bad outlook.” “It is, indeed, monsieur; and for this reason, I desire--if possible, if I can do so without danger--for I am an honest man, monsieur--I wish to retain a little property--secretly, of course, not for myself, by any means, but I have a young wife and----” M. “In short,” he interrupted, “you wish to conceal a part of your capital from your creditors?” On hearing this precise and formal statement of his honorable intentions, the coal-merchant trembled. His feelings of integrity would not have been alarmed by a periphrasis, but this plain speaking shocked him.

What I am doing is for their interest, you understand. But you must gather a little ready money together before going into bankruptcy.” “I can do that by secretly disposing of a part of my stock, so----” “In that case, you are saved. Sell it and put the money beyond your creditors’ reach.” The worthy merchant scratched his ear in evident perplexity. “I had thought of this plan; but it seemed to me--dishonorable--and--also very dangerous. How could I explain this decrease in my stock? If they suspected anything, they would accuse me of fraud, and perhaps throw me into prison; and then----” M.

Fortunat shrugged his shoulders. “When I give advice,” he roughly replied, “I furnish the means of following it without danger. Listen to me attentively. Let us suppose, for a moment, that some time ago you purchased, at a very high figure, a quantity of stocks and shares, which are to-day almost worthless, could not this unfortunate investment account for the absence of the sum which you wish to set aside? Your creditors would be obliged to value these securities, not at their present, but at their former value.” “Evidently; but, unfortunately, I do not possess any such securities.” “You can purchase them.” The coal-merchant opened his eyes in astonishment. Fortunat enlightened him by opening his safe, and displaying an enormous bundle of stocks and shares which had flooded the country a few years previously, and ruined a great many poor, ignorant fools which were hungering for wealth; among them were shares in the Tifila Mining Company, the Berchem Coal Mines, the Greenland Fisheries, the Mutual Trust and Loan Association, and so on. Fortunat, “that you had a drawer full of these securities----” But the other did not allow him to finish. There is enough to represent my capital a thousand times over.” And, in a paroxysm of delight, he added: “Give me enough of these shares to represent a capital of one hundred and twenty thousand francs; and give me some of each kind. Fortunat counted out a pile of these worthless securities as carefully as if he had been handling bank-notes; and his client at the same time drew out his pocketbook. “Three thousand francs.” The honest merchant bounded from his chair.

That trash is not worth a louis.” “I would not even give five francs for it,” rejoined M. Fortunat, coldly; “but it is true that I don’t desire to purchase these shares in my creditors’ interest. With you it is quite a different matter--this trash, as you very justly call it, will save you at least a hundred thousand francs. I ask only three per cent., which is certainly not dear.

He gave what he had promised--neither more nor less--in exchange for the bank-notes, and even gravely exclaimed: “See if the amount is correct.” His client pocketed the shares without counting them: but before leaving the room he made his estimable adviser promise to assist him at the decisive moment, and help him to prepare one of those clear financial statements which make creditors say: “This is an honest man who has been extremely unfortunate.” M. Fortunat was admirably fitted to render this little service; for he devoted such part of his time as was not spent in hunting for missing heirs to difficult liquidations, and he had indeed made bankruptcy a specialty in which he was without a rival. The business was a remunerative one, thanks to the expedient he had revealed to the coal-merchant--an expedient which is common enough nowadays, but of which he might almost be called the inventor.

It consisted in compelling the persons who asked for his advice to purchase worthless shares at whatever price he chose to set upon them, and they were forced to submit, under penalty of denunciation and exposure. The client who followed the coal-merchant proved to be a simple creature, who had called to ask for some advice respecting a slight difficulty between himself and his landlord. Fortunat speedily disposed of him, and then, opening the door leading into the outer office, he called: “Cashier!” A shabbily-dressed man, some thirty-five years of age, at once entered the private sanctum, carrying a money-bag in one hand and a ledger in the other. “How many debtors were visited yesterday?” inquired M. Isidore Fortunat’s grimace was expressive of satisfaction. Fortunat called over the names of his debtors, one by one, and the cashier answered each name by reading a memorandum written against it on the margin of a list he held.

This question can be easily answered. It was not because he was rigorous in his demands; he conquered by patience, gentleness, and politeness, but also by unwearying perseverance and tenacity. He never relaxed in his efforts. Every other day some one was sent to visit the debtor, to follow him, and harass him; he was surrounded by M. Fortunat’s agents; they pursued him to his office, shop, or cafe--everywhere, continually, incessantly--and always with the most perfect urbanity. At last even the most determined succumbed; to escape this frightful persecution, they, somehow or other, found the money to satisfy M. Besides Victor Chupin, he had five other agents whose business it was to visit these poor wretches. A list was assigned to each man every morning; and when evening came, he made his report to the cashier, who in turn reported to his employer. This branch of industry added considerably to the profits of M.

Fortunat’s other business, and was the third and last string to his bow. He paused each moment to listen eagerly for the slightest sound outside, for before receiving the coal-merchant he had told Victor Chupin to run to the Rue de Courcelles and ask M. He had done this more than an hour before; and Victor Chupin, who was usually so prompt, had not yet made his appearance.

Fortunat dismissed the cashier, and addressed his messenger: “Well?” he asked. “He is no longer living. They think he died without a will, and that the pretty young lady will be turned out of the house.” This information agreed so perfectly with M. Fortunat’s presentiments that he did not even wince, but calmly asked: “Will Casimir keep his appointment?” “He told me that he would endeavor to come, and I’d wager a hundred to one that he will be there; he would travel ten leagues to put something good into his stomach.” M. Fortunat knit his brows angrily.

You are insatiable.” The young man proudly lifted his head, and with an air of importance, replied: “I have so many responsibilities----” “Responsibilities!--you?” “Yes, indeed, m’sieur. And whenever a gamin, such as I was once, opened the door for ME, I should put a five-franc piece in his hand----” He was interrupted by Madame Dodelin, the worthy housekeeper, who rushed into the room without knocking, in a terrible state of excitement. “Monsieur!” she exclaimed, in the same tone as if she would have called “Fire!” “here is Monsieur de Valorsay.” M.

“Tell him that I’ve gone out--tell him--” But it was useless, for the marquis at that very moment entered the room, and the agent could only dismiss his housekeeper and Chupin. de Valorsay seemed to be very angry, and it looked as if he meant to give vent to his passion. Fortunat, he began: “So this is the way you betray your friends, Master Twenty-per-Cent! Why did you deceive me last night about the ten thousand francs you had promised me? You knew of the misfortune that had befallen M. de Valorsay was twisting and turning his cane in a most ominous manner. “I must confess, Monsieur le Marquis,” he at last replied, “that I had not the courage to tell you of the dreadful misfortune which had befallen us.” “How--US?” “Certainly. Do as I do--confess that the game is lost.” The marquis was listening with an air of suppressed wrath; his face was crimson, there was a dark frown on his brow, and his hands were clinched. The best proof that can be given of his coolness is that he was carefully studying M. Fortunat’s face, and trying to discover the agent’s real intentions under his meaningless words.

He had expected to find “his dear extortioner” exasperated by his loss, cursing and swearing, and demanding his money--but not at all. He found him more gentle and calm, colder and more reserved than ever; brimful of resignation indeed, and preaching submission to the inevitable. “What can this mean?” he thought, with an anxious heart. “What mischief is the scoundrel plotting now? Fortunat exclaimed: “I desert you, Monsieur le Marquis! Have you not resorted to every possible expedient to prolong your apparently brilliant existence until the present time? Are you not at such a point that you must marry Mademoiselle Marguerite in a month’s time, or perish? If I might be allowed to give you some advice, I should say, ‘The shipwreck is inevitable; think only of saving yourself.’ By tact and shrewdness, you might yet save something from your creditors. Compromise with them. From the debris of your fortune, I will undertake to guarantee you a competence which would satisfy many an ambitious man.” The marquis laughed sneeringly.

Fortunat realized that his client understood him; but what did it matter? But the marquis silenced him with a contemptuous gesture. “Let us stop this nonsense,” said he.

I have never made any attempt to deceive you, nor have I ever supposed that I had succeeded in doing so, and pray do me the honor to consider me as shrewd as yourself.” And still refusing to listen to the agent, he continued: “If I have come to you, it is only because the case is not so desperate as you suppose. In your opinion, and every one else’s, Mademoiselle Marguerite is ruined. But I know that she is still worth three millions, at the very least.” “Mademoiselle Marguerite?” “Yes, Monsieur Twenty-per-Cent. But she must marry me first; and this scornful maiden will not grant me her hand unless I can convince her of my love and disinterestedness.” “But your rival?” M. “He no longer exists.

Read this day’s Figaro, and you will be edified. If I can only conceal my financial embarrassment a little longer, she is mine. A friendless and homeless girl cannot defend herself long in Paris--especially when she has an adviser like Madame Leon.

I shall have her!--she is a necessity to me.

Now you can judge if it would be wise on your part to deprive me of your assistance.

Simply this--the means to sustain me two or three months longer--some thirty thousand francs. It would make, in all, seventy thousand francs that I should owe you, and I will promise to pay you two hundred and fifty thousand if I succeed--and I shall succeed! Such profit is worth some risk. Fortunat replied, “No.” The flush on the marquis’s face deepened, and his voice became a trifle harsher; but that was all. Fortunat had resolved to listen to nothing. He wished for no explanations, so distrustful was he of himself--so much did he fear that his adventurous nature would urge him to incur further risk. He was positively afraid of the Marquis de Valorsay’s eloquence; besides, he knew well enough that the person who consents to listen is at least half convinced. And even if I had the money, I should still say ‘Impossible.’ Every man has his system--his theory, you know. Mine is, never to run after my money.

I do not wish to temporize,” he continued. I will never give my good friends, who detest me, and whom I cordially hate in return, the delicious joy of seeing the Marquis de Valorsay fall step by step from the high position he has occupied. I would rather die, or even commit the greatest crime!” He suddenly checked himself, a trifle astonished, perhaps, by his own plain-speaking; and, for a moment, he and M. The marquis was the first to speak. “And so,” said he, in a tone which he strove to make persuasive, but which was threatening instead, “it is settled--your decision is final?” “Final.” “You will not even condescend to listen to my explanation?” “It would be a loss of time.” On receiving this cruel reply, M. de Valorsay struck the desk such a formidable blow with his clenched fist that several bundles of papers fell to the floor. His anger was not feigned now.

What is your object in betraying me?

It is my life that I am going to defend, and as truly as there is a God in heaven, I shall defend it well. A man who is determined to blow his brains out if he is defeated, is a terribly dangerous adversary. Fortunat’s face, still his mien was composed and dignified. Besides, you forget that I possess a copy of our agreement, signed by your own hand, and that I have only to show it to Mademoiselle Marguerite to give her a just opinion of your disinterestedness. Let us sever our connection now, monsieur, and each go his own way without reference to the other. If you should succeed you will repay me.” Victory perched upon the agent’s banner, and it was with a feeling of pride that he saw his noble client depart, white and speechless with rage. “What a rascal that marquis is,” he muttered. “I would certainly warn Mademoiselle Marguerite, poor girl, if I were not so much afraid of him.” XIV.

Casimir, the deceased Count de Chalusse’s valet, was neither better nor worse than most of his fellows. Old men tell us that there formerly existed a race of faithful servants, who considered themselves a part of the family that employed them, and who unhesitatingly embraced its interests and its ideas. At the same time their masters requited their devotion by efficacious protection and provision for the future. But such masters and such servants are nowadays only found in the old melodramas performed at the Ambigu, in “The Emigre,” for instance, or in “The Last of the Chateauvieux.” At present servants wander from one house to another, looking on their abode as a mere inn where they may find shelter till they are disposed for another journey. And families receive them as transient, and not unfrequently as dangerous, guests, whom it is always wise to treat with distrust. The key of the wine-cellar is not confided to these unreliable inmates; they are intrusted with the charge of little else than the children--a practice which is often productive of terrible results. He would have scorned to rob his master of a ten-sous piece; and yet he would not have hesitated in the least to defraud him of a hundred francs, if an opportunity had presented itself. Vain and rapacious in disposition, he consoled himself by refusing to obey any one save his employer, by envying him with his whole heart, and by cursing fate for not having made him the Count de Chalusse instead of the Count de Chalusse’s servant. As he received high wages, he served passably well; but he employed the best part of his energy in watching the count. He scented some great family secret in the household, and he felt angry and humiliated that this secret had not been intrusted to his discretion.

And if he had discovered nothing, it was because M. Casimir saw Mademoiselle Marguerite and the count searching in the garden for the fragments of a letter destroyed in a paroxysm of rage which he had personally witnessed, his natural curiosity was heightened to such a degree as to become unendurable. de Chalusse tell Mademoiselle Marguerite that the most important part of the letter was still lacking, and saw his master relinquish his fruitless search, the worthy valet vowed that he would be more skilful or more fortunate than his master; and after diligent effort, he actually succeeded in recovering five tiny scraps of paper, which had been blown into the shrubbery. The incoherent words which he had deciphered on these scraps of paper mixed strangely in his brain, and he grew more and more anxious to learn what connection there was between this letter and the count’s attack. This explains his extreme readiness to search the count’s clothes when Mademoiselle Marguerite told him to look for the key of the escritoire. And fortune favored him, for he not only found the key, but he also discovered the torn fragments of the letter, and having crumpled them up in the palm of his hand, he contrived to slip them into his pocket. Casimir had joined these scraps to the fragments he had found himself, he had read and re-read the epistle, but it told him nothing; or, at least, the information it conveyed was so vague and incomplete that it heightened his curiosity all the more. Once he almost decided to give the letter to Mademoiselle Marguerite, but he resisted this impulse, saying to himself: “Ah, no; I’m not such a fool! Casimir had no desire to be of service to this unhappy girl, who had always treated him with kindness.

The infamous slander which Mademoiselle Marguerite had overheard on her way home from church, “There goes the rich Count de Chalusse’s mistress,” was M. He had sworn to be avenged on this haughty creature; and no one can say what he might have attempted, if it had not been for the intervention of the magistrate. Casimir consoled himself by the thought that the magistrate had intrusted him with eight thousand francs and the charge of the establishment. First and foremost, it afforded him a magnificent opportunity to display his authority and act the master, and it also enabled him to carry out his compact with Victor Chupin, and repair to the rendezvous which M.

Isidore Fortunat had appointed. Leaving his comrades to watch the magistrate’s operations, he sent M. Bourigeau to report the count’s death at the district mayor’s office, and then lighting a cigar he walked out of the house, and strolled leisurely up the Rue de Courcelles. The place appointed for his meeting with M. Casimir had ascertained to his satisfaction several times before.

“No one.” He consulted his watch, and evinced considerable surprise. “I’m in advance; and as that is the case, give me a glass of absinthe and a newspaper.” He was obeyed with far more alacrity than his deceased master had ever required him to show, and he forthwith plunged into the report of the doings at the Bourse, with the eagerness of a man who has an all-sufficient reason for his anxiety in a drawer at home. Isidore Fortunat. In accordance with his wont, the agent was attired in a style of severe elegance--with gloves and boots fitting him to perfection--but an unusually winning smile played upon his lips. Fortunat, who was a very proud man, considered this connection somewhat beneath his dignity; but at first, circumstances, and afterward interest, had required him to overcome his repugnance. While the count was employing the agent he had frequently sent his valet to him with messages and letters. Casimir had talked on these occasions, and the agent had listened to him; hence this superficial friendship. Subsequently when the marriage contemplated by the Marquis de Valorsay was in course of preparation, M. Fortunat had profited of the opportunity to make the count’s servant his spy; and it had been easy to find a pretext for continuing the acquaintance, as M. It is needless to say that he exercised uncommon care in the composition of the menu on a day like this when his future course depended, perhaps, on a word more or less.

Casimir’s eye sparkled as he took his seat at the table opposite his entertainer. Not that it was more spacious or elegant than the others, but it was isolated, and this was a very great advantage; for every one knows how unsafe and perfidious are those so-called private rooms which are merely separated from each other by a thin partition, scarcely thicker than a sheet of paper. Fortunat had reason to congratulate himself on his foresight, for the breakfast began with a dish of shrimps, and M. Casimir had not finished his twelfth, washed down by a glass of chablis, before he declared that he could see no impropriety in confiding certain things to a friend. The events of the morning had completely turned his head; and gratified vanity and good cheer excited him to such a degree that he discoursed with unwonted volubility. With total disregard of prudence, he talked with inexcusable freedom of the Count de Chalusse, and M.

de Valorsay, and especially of his enemy, Mademoiselle Marguerite. “For it is she,” he exclaimed, rapping on the table with his knife--“it is she who has taken the missing millions! I would have taken my oath to that effect before the magistrate, and I would have proved it, too, if he hadn’t taken her part because she’s pretty--for she is devilishly pretty.” Even if M. Fortunat had wished to put in a word or two, he could have found no opportunity.

But his guest’s loquacity did not displease him; it gave him an opportunity for reflection. Strange thoughts arose in his mind, and connecting M. Casimir’s affirmations with the assurances of the Marquis de Valorsay, he was amazed at the coincidence. “Has this girl really stolen the money? and has the marquis discovered the fact through Madame Leon, and determined to profit by the theft? I must look into the matter.” A partridge and a bottle of Pomard followed the shrimps and chablis; and M. Casimir’s loquacity increased, and his voice rose higher and higher. At the first word respecting this missive, M. “Why the devil should this letter have had such an influence?” “I don’t know.

But it is certain--it had.” And, in support of his assertion, he told M. Casimir, draining his glass. He did not doubt but what this missive contained the solution of the mystery. “Were the scraps of this letter found?” he asked. “I have them in my pocket, and, what’s more, I have the whole of them!” This declaration made M. “Indeed--indeed!” said he; “it must be a strange production.” His companion pursed up his lips disdainfully. The only thing certain about it is that it was written by a woman.” “Ah!” “Yes, by a former mistress, undoubtedly. They’ve tried the game with me more than a dozen times, but I’m not so easily caught.” And bursting with vanity, he related three or four love affairs in which, according to his own account, he must have played a most ignoble part. After pouring out bumper after bumper for his guest, he perceived that he had gone too far, and that it would not be easy to check him. “And this letter?” he interrupted, at last.

“Well?” “You promised to let me read it.” “That’s true--that’s quite true; but it would be as well to have some mocha first, would it not? Casimir drew the letter, the scraps of which were fixed together, from his pocket, and unfolded it, saying: “Attention; I’m going to read.” This did not suit M. He would infinitely have preferred perusing it himself; but it is impossible to argue with an intoxicated man, and so M.

Casimir with a more and more indistinct enunciation read as follows: “‘Paris, October 14, 186--.’ So the lady lives in Paris, as usual. After this she puts neither ‘monsieur,’ nor ‘my friend,’ nor ‘dear count,’ nothing at all. Deserted, I was wandering about Paris, homeless and penniless, and my child was starving!’” M. “That’s like all the rest of them,” he exclaimed; “that is exactly like all the rest! We’ll have a hearty laugh over them!” “Let us finish this first.” “Of course.” And he resumed: “‘If I had been alone. He must not know the shame to which he owes his livelihood. And he is ignorant even of my existence.’” M. “This letter,” he thought, “can only be from Mademoiselle Hermine de Chalusse.” However, M. Casimir resumed his reading: “‘If I apply to you again, if from the depth of infamy into which I have fallen, I again call upon you for help, it is because I am at the end of my resources--because, before I die, I must see my son’s future assured. It is not a fortune that I ask for him, but sufficient to live upon, and I expect to receive it from you.’” Once more the valet paused in his perusal of the letter to remark: “There it is again sufficient to live upon, and I expect to receive it from you!--Excellent!

But listen to the rest! ‘It is absolutely necessary that I should see you as soon as possible. It is painful to me to add that if I do not hear from you, I am resolved to demand and OBTAIN--no matter what may be the consequences--the means which I have, so far, asked of you on my bended knees and with clasped hands.’” Having finished the letter, M. for fear of compromising themselves, as I’ve reason to know.” And so saying, he laughed the idiotic laugh of a man who has been drinking immoderately. “If I had time,” he resumed, “I should make some inquiries about this Madame Lucy Huntley--a feigned name, evidently. Are you ill?” To tell the truth, the agent did look as if he were indisposed. “I’m very well, only I just remembered that some one is waiting for me.” “Who?” “A client.” “Nonsense!” rejoined the valet; “make some excuse; let him go about his business. Fortunat complied, but he performed the task so awkwardly, or, rather, so skilfully, that he drew toward him, with his sleeve, the letter which was lying beside M. And in drawing back the arm he had extended to chink glasses with his guest, he caused the letter to fall on his knees.

Casimir, who had not observed this successful manoeuvre, was trying to light his cigar; and while vainly consuming a large quantity of matches in the attempt, he exclaimed: “What you just said, my friend, means that you would like to desert me. Fortunat rang for his bill. He had obtained more information than he expected; he had the letter in his pocket, and he had now only one desire, to rid himself of M. But this was no easy task. Fortunat was asking himself what strategy he could employ, when the waiter entered, and said: “There’s a very light-complexioned man here, who looks as if he were a huissier’s clerk. He wishes to speak with you, gentlemen.” “Ah! “He is a friend.

Fortunat had no idea, but he was none the less grateful for his coming, being determined to hand this troublesome Casimir over to his keeping. On entering the room Chupin realized the valet’s condition at the first glance, and his face clouded. Fortunat, but addressed Casimir in an extremely discontented tone. “Upon my word, I had forgotten--forgotten entirely, upon my word!” And the thought of his condition, and the responsibility he had accepted, coming upon him at the same time, he continued: “Good Heavens! It is all I can do to stand.

Fortunat had drawn his clerk a little on one side. I leave this fool in your charge, take care of him.” The sight of the ten-franc piece made Chupin’s face brighten a little. I served my apprenticeship as a ‘guardian angel’ when my grandmother kept the Poivriere.” “Above all, don’t let him return home in his present state.” “Have no fears, monsieur, I must talk business with him, and so I shall have him all right in a jiffy.” And as M. Fortunat made his escape, Chupin beckoned to the waiter, and said: “Fetch me some very strong coffee, a handful of salt, and a lemon. There’s nothing better for bringing a drunken man to his senses.” XV.

But after he had gone a couple of hundred paces, he paused, not so much to take breath, as to collect his scattered wits; and though the weather was cold, he seated himself on a bench to reflect. Never in all his changeful life had he known such intense anxiety and torturing suspense as he had just experienced in that little room in the restaurant. He had longed for positive information and he had obtained it; but it had upset all his plans and annihilated all his hopes. “For it was certainly the count’s sister who wrote the letter which I have in my pocket,” he murmured. “Not wishing to receive him at her own home, she prudently appointed a meeting at a hotel. But what about this name of Huntley? Is it really hers, or is it only assumed for the occasion? Is it the name of the man who enticed her from home, or is it the name given to the son from whom she has separated herself?” But after all what was the use of all these conjectures? There was but one certain and positive thing, and this was that the money he had counted upon had escaped him; and he experienced as acute a pang as if he had lost forty thousand francs a second time.

Perhaps, at that moment, he was sorry that he had severed his connection with the marquis. Still, he was not the man to despond, however desperate his plight might appear, without an attempt to better his situation. He knew how many surprising and sudden changes in fortune have been brought about by some apparently trivial action. “I must discover this sister,” he said to himself--“I must ascertain her position and her plans. If she has no one to advise her, I will offer my services; and who knows----” A cab was passing; M. Was it by chance or premeditation that this establishment had received the name of one of the gambling dens of Europe?

The Hotel de Homburg was one of those flash hostelries frequented by adventurers of distinction, who are attracted to Paris by the millions that are annually squandered there. Each person was called by the title which it pleased him to give on his arrival--Excellency or Prince, according to his fancy. Nor was there any difficulty whatever in immediately procuring all the accessories of a life of grandeur--all that is needful to dazzle the unsuspecting, to throw dust in people’s eyes, and to dupe one’s chance acquaintances. Bills were presented every evening, to those lodgers who did not pay in advance: and he who could not, or would not, settle the score, even if he were Excellency or Prince, was requested to depart at once, and his trunks were held as security. Fortunat entered the office of the hotel, a woman, with a crafty looking face, was holding a conference with an elderly gentleman, who had a black velvet skullcap on his head, and a magnifying glass in his hand.

“I wish to see Madame Lucy Huntley.” The woman did not reply at first, but raised her eyes to the ceiling, as if she were reading there the list of all the foreigners of distinction who honored the Hotel de Homburg by their presence at that moment. What kind of a person is she?” For many reasons M. But he was not in the least disconcerted, and he avoided the question without the slightest embarrassment, at the same time trying to quicken the woman’s faulty memory.

“The person I wished to see was here on Friday, between three and six in the afternoon; and she was waiting for a visitor with an anxiety which could not possibly have escaped your notice.” This detail quickened the memory of the man with the magnifying glass--none other than the woman’s husband and landlord of the hotel. the gentleman is speaking of the lady of No. 2--you remember--the same who insisted upon having the large private room.” “To be sure,” replied the wife; “where could my wits have been!” And turning to M. “The lady is no longer in the house; she only remained here for a few hours.” This reply did not surprise M. She arrived here about eleven o’clock in the morning, with only a large valise by way of luggage, and she left that same evening at eight o’clock.” “Alas!

But it was only this morning that I received her letter appointing a meeting here. The post can’t be depended on!” The husband and wife simultaneously shrugged their shoulders, and the expression of their faces unmistakably implied: “What can we do about it? It is no business of ours. Fortunat was not the man to be dismayed by such a trifle. “She was taken to the railway station, no doubt,” he insisted. “Really, I know nothing about it.” “You told me just now that she had a large valise, so she could not have left your hotel on foot. Isidore Fortunat’s appearance was incontestably respectable, but they were well aware that those strange men styled detectives are perfectly conversant with the art of dressing to perfection. So the hotelkeeper quickly decided on his course. “Your idea is an excellent one,” he said to M.

“This lady must certainly have taken a vehicle on leaving; and what is more, it must have been a vehicle belonging to the hotel. If you will follow me, we will make some inquiries on the subject.” And rising with a willingness that augured well for their success, he led the agent into the courtyard, where five or six vehicles were stationed, while the drivers lounged on a bench, chatting and smoking their pipes “Which of you was employed by a lady yesterday evening at about eight o’clock?” “What sort of a person was she?” “She was a handsome woman, between thirty and forty years’ old, very fair, rather stout, and dressed in black. He was thinking that this gentleman would certainly requite his salvation by a magnificent gratuity. “Tell me where you drove this lady?” “I took her to the Rue de Berry.” “To what number?” “Ah, I can’t tell. This is my vehicle.” The hunter of missing heirs at once climbed inside; but it was not until the carriage had left the courtyard that the landlord returned to his office. “That man must be a detective,” he remarked to his wife. The one essential thing was that he had obtained the information he wished for, and even a description of the lady, and he felt that he was now really on the track. Fortunat sprang nimbly on to the pavement, and handed five francs to the coachman, who went off growling and swearing, for he thought the reward a contemptibly small one, coming as it did from a man whose life had been saved, according to his own confession.

“This is the place; but I can’t present myself without knowing her name. I must make some inquiries.” There was a wine-shop some fifty paces distant, and thither M. He well remembered that this was the name the Marquis de Valorsay had mentioned when speaking of the vile conspiracy he had planned. It was at this woman’s house that the man whom Mademoiselle Marguerite loved had been disgraced! Still he managed to master his surprise, and in a light, frank tone he resumed: “What a pretty name!

And what does this lady do?” “What does she do? Fortunat seemed astonished. Is she pretty?” “That depends on taste. how white she is--as white as snow, monsieur--as white as snow! She has a fine figure as well, and a most distinguished bearing--pays cash, too, to the very last farthing.” There could no longer be any doubt.

Fortunat drained his glass, and threw fifty centimes on the counter. If any one had asked him what he proposed doing and saying if he succeeded in effecting an entrance, he might have replied with perfect sincerity, “I don’t know.” The fact is, he had but one aim, one settled purpose in his mind. He was obstinately, FURIOUSLY resolved to derive some benefit, small or great, from this mysterious affair.

As for the means of execution, he relied entirely on his audacity and sang-froid, convinced that they would not fail him when the decisive moment came. “First of all, I must see this lady,” he said to himself. It is on a matter of the greatest importance. Give her my card.” So saying, he held out a bit of pasteboard, on which, below his name, were inscribed the words: “Liquidations. Left to himself, he began an inventory of the apartment, as a general studies the ground on which he is about to give battle. But this detail did not attract M. Without precisely intimidating him, the luxurious appointments of the house aroused his astonishment. “Everything here is in princely style,” he muttered, “and this shows that all the lunatics are not at Charenton yet.

If Madame d’Argeles lacked bread in days gone by, she does so no longer--that’s evident.” Naturally enough this reflection led him to wonder why such a rich woman should become the Marquis de Valorsay’s accomplice, and lend a hand in so vile and cowardly a plot, which horrified even him--Fortunat. And he marvelled at the freak of fate which had connected the unfortunate man who had been sacrificed with the unacknowledged daughter, and the cast-off sister, of the Count de Chalusse. A vague presentiment, the mysterious voice of instinct, warned him, moreover, that his profit in the affair would depend upon the antagonism, or alliance, of Mademoiselle Marguerite and Madame d’Argeles. But his meditations were suddenly interrupted by the sound of a discussion in an adjoining room. I leave an interesting game, and lose precious time in coming to offer you my services, and you receive me like this! madame, this will teach me not to meddle with what doesn’t concern me, in future. You’ll learn some day, to your cost, the real nature of this villain of a Coralth whom you now defend so warmly.” This name of Coralth was also one of those which were engraven upon M. His attention was so absorbed by what he had just heard that he could not fix his mind upon the object of his mission; and he only abandoned his conjectures on hearing a rustling of skirts against the panels of the door leading into the hall. Her sad face wore an expression of melancholy resignation; and there were signs of recent tears in her swollen eyes, surrounded by bluish circles.

She glanced at her visitor, and, in anything but an encouraging tone exclaimed: “You desired to speak with me, I believe?” M. Fortunat bowed, almost disconcerted. He had expected to meet one of those stupid, ignorant young women, who make themselves conspicuous at the afternoon promenade in the Bois de Boulogne; and he found himself in the presence of an evidently cultivated and imperious woman, who, even in her degradation, retained all her pride of race, and awed him, despite all his coolness and assurance. “I do, indeed, madame, wish to confer with you respecting some important interests,” he answered. She sank on to a chair; and, without asking her visitor to take a seat: “Explain yourself,” she said, briefly.

Fortunat’s knowledge of the importance of the game in which he had already risked so much had already restored his presence of mind. “I have the unpleasant duty of informing you of a great misfortune, madame,” he began. “A person who is very dear to you, and who is nearly related to you, was a victim of a frightful accident yesterday evening and died this morning.” This gloomy preamble did not seem to produce the slightest effect on Madame d’Argeles. Fortunat assumed his most solemn manner as he replied: “Of your brother, madame--of the Count de Chalusse.” She sprang up, and a convulsive shudder shook her from head to foot. “Raymond is dead!” she faltered.

Struck with death at the very moment he was repairing to the appointment you had given him at the Hotel de Homburg.” This clever falsehood, which was not entirely one, would, so the agent thought, be of advantage to him, since it would prove he was acquainted with previous events. It was my letter that killed him!” and she wept as if her heart were breaking--this woman who had suffered and wept so much. It is needless to say that M.

Fortunat was moved with sympathy; he always evinced a respectful sympathy for the woes of others; but in the present instance, his emotion was greatly mitigated by the satisfaction he felt at having succeeded so quickly and so completely. This was indeed a victory, for it must be admitted that he had trembled lest she should deny all, and bid him leave the house. He still saw many difficulties between his pocket and the Count de Chalusse’s money; but he did not despair of conquering them after such a successful beginning. Come, monsieur!” But a terrible memory rooted her to the spot and with a despairing gesture, and in a voice quivering with anguish she exclaimed: “No, no--I cannot even do that.” M. Fortunat was not a little disturbed; and it was with a look of something very like consternation that he glanced at Madame d’Argeles, who had reseated herself and was now sobbing violently, with her face hidden on the arm of her chair. “Why this sudden terror now that her brother is dead? Is she unwilling to confess that she is a Chalusse? She must make up her mind to it, however, if she wishes to receive the count’s property--and she must make up her mind to it, for my sake, if not for her own.” He remained silent, until it seemed to him that Madame d’Argeles was calmer, then: “Excuse me, madame,” he began, “for breaking in upon your very natural grief, but duty requires me to remind you of your interests.” With the passive docility of those who are wretched, she wiped away her tears, and replied, gently: “I am listening, monsieur.” He had had time to prepare his discourse.

Fortunat saw so plainly that Madame d’Argeles did not understand a word of this sentimental exordium that he thought it necessary to add: “I tell you this, not so much to gain your consideration and good-will, as to explain to you how I became acquainted with these matters relating to your family--how I became aware of your existence, for instance, which no one else suspected.” He paused, hoping for some reply, a word, a sign, but not receiving this encouragement, he continued: “I must, first of all, call your attention to the peculiar situation of M. de Chalusse, and to the circumstances which immediately preceded and attended his departure from life. His death was so unexpected that he was unable to make any disposition of his property by will, or even to indicate his last wishes. This, madame, is fortunate for you. With this intention he had already begun to convert his estates into ready money, and had he lived six months longer you would not have received a penny.” With a gesture of indifference, which was difficult to explain after the vehemence and the threatening tone of her letter, Madame d’Argeles murmured: “Ah, well! de Chalusse had other, and more powerful reasons even than his hatred for wishing to deprive you of your share of his property. He had sworn that he would give a princely fortune to his beloved daughter.” For the first time, Madame d’Argeles’s features assumed an expression of surprise. “What, my brother had a child?” “Yes, madame, an illegitimate daughter, Mademoiselle Marguerite, a lovely and charming girl whom I had the pleasure of restoring to his care some years ago. She has been living with him for six months or so; and he was about to marry her, with an enormous dowry, to a nobleman bearing one of the proudest names in France, the Marquis de Valorsay.” The name shook Madame d’Argeles as if she had experienced the shock of an electric battery, and springing to her feet, with flashing eyes: “You say that my brother’s daughter was to marry M.

“It was decided--the marquis adored her.” “But she--she did not love him--confess that she did not love him.” M. The question took him completely by surprise; and feeling that his answer would have a very considerable influence upon what might follow, he hesitated. “Will you answer me?” insisted Madame d’Argeles, imperiously. If you do not overtake him, go to his club, to his house, to the houses of his friends, go to every place where there is any chance of finding him. Valorsay is unmasked; and now, may I be hung, if he ever marries Mademoiselle Marguerite.

Certainly, I do not owe much to the scoundrel, for he has defrauded me of forty thousand francs, but what will he say when he discovers what I’ve done? A man of his disposition, knowing that he is ruined, is capable of anything! Before night I shall warn the commissary of police in my district, and I shall not go out unarmed!” The servant went off, and Madame d’Argeles then turned to her visitor again. “Let us finish this business,” she said, curtly; “I am expecting some one.” M. de Chalusse having no other heir, I have come to acquaint you with your rights.” “Very good; continue, if you please.” “You have only to present yourself, and establish your identity, to be put in possession of your brother’s property.” Madame d’Argeles gave the agent a look of mingled irony and distrust; and after a moment’s reflection, she replied: “I am very grateful for your interest, monsieur; but if I have any rights, it is not my intention to urge them.” It seemed to M.

de Chalusse leaves perhaps twenty millions behind him.” “My course is decided on, monsieur; irrevocably decided on.” “Very well, madame; but it often happens that the court institutes inquiries for the heirs of large fortunes, and this may happen in your case.” “I should reply that I was not a member of the Chalusse family, and that would end it. I shall know how to keep it in future.” Anger succeeded astonishment in M. “Accept--in Heaven’s name--accept this inheritance; if not for yourself, for the sake of----” In his excitement, he was about to commit a terrible blunder. “For the sake of Mademoiselle Marguerite, madame; for the sake of this poor child, who is your niece. The count never having acknowledged her as his daughter, she will be left actually without bread, while her father’s millions go to enrich the state.” “That will suffice, monsieur; I will think of it. And now, enough!” The dismissal was so imperious that M. Fortunat bowed and went off, completely bewildered by this denouement. What lunacy!” But, although he was disappointed and angry, he did not by any means despair.

“Fortunately for me,” he thought, “this proud and haughty lady has a son somewhere in the world. Through her, with a little patience and Victor Chupin’s aid, I shall succeed in discovering this boy. He must be an intelligent youth--and we’ll see if he surrenders his millions as easily as his mamma does.” XVI. It is a terrible task to break suddenly with one’s past, without even having had time for preparation; to renounce the life one has so far lived, to return to the starting point, and begin existence anew; to abandon everything--the position one has gained, the work one has become familiar with, every fondly cherished hope, and friend, and habit; to forsake the known to plunge into the unknown, to leave the certain for the uncertain, and desert light for darkness; to cast one’s identity aside, assume a strange individuality, become a living lie, change name, position, face, and clothes--in one phrase, to cease to be one’s self, in order to become some one else. This is indeed, a terrible ordeal, and requires an amount of resolution and energy which few human beings possess. The boldest hesitate before such a sacrifice, and many a man has surrendered himself to justice rather than resort to this last extremity. And yet this was what Pascal Ferailleur had the courage to do, on the morrow of the shameful conspiracy that had deprived him of his good name.

When his mother’s exhortations and Baron Trigault’s encouraging words had restored his wonted clearness of perception, the only course he felt disposed to pursue was to disappear and fly from the storm of slander and contempt; and then, in a secure hiding-place, to watch for the time and opportunity of rehabilitation and revenge. We are undoubtedly watched; and so it is of the utmost importance that every one should imagine I have left Paris, and that you are going to join me.” “And when everything is sold, and my trunks are ready?” “Then, mother, you must send some one for a cab, and order the driver to take you to the Western Railway Station, where you will have the trunks removed from the cab and placed in the baggage-room, as if you did not intend to leave Paris till the next day.” “Very good, I will do so; even if any one is watching us, he won’t be likely to suspect this ruse. I will then take you to the rooms I shall have rented, and to-morrow we’ll send a messenger with the receipt the railway people will give you, to fetch our luggage for us.” Madame Ferailleur approved of this plan, deeming herself fortunate in this great calamity that despair had not destroyed her son’s energy and resources of mind. And seating himself at his desk, he wrote his beloved a concise and exact account of the events which had taken place. He told her of the course he intended to pursue; and promised her that she should know his new abode as soon as he knew it himself. In conclusion, he entreated her to grant him an interview, in which he could give her the full particulars of the affair and acquaint her with his hopes. He was worthy of Mademoiselle Marguerite; he knew that not a doubt would disturb the perfect faith she had in his honor. “Do you intend to trust this letter to the post?” she inquired. “Are you sure, perfectly sure, that it will reach Mademoiselle Marguerite, and not some one else who might use it against you?” Pascal shook his head. The danger is sufficiently great to justify such a course in the present instance.

So I shall pass down the Rue de Courcelles, ask to see Madame Leon, and give her this letter. Have no fear, my dear mother.” As he spoke, he began to pack all the legal documents which had been confided to him into a large box, which was to be carried to one of his former friends, who would distribute the papers among the people they belonged to. He next made a small bundle of the few important private papers and valuables he possessed; and then, ready for the sacrifice, he took a last survey of the pleasant home where success had smiled so favorably upon his efforts, where he had been so happy, and where he had cherished such bright dreams of the future. Overcome by a flood of recollections, the tears sprang to his eyes. He embraced his mother, and fled precipitately from the house. This was the second time within twenty years that a thunderbolt had fallen on her in the full sunlight of happiness. And yet now, as on the day following her husband’s death, she found in her heart the robust energy and heroic maternal constancy which enable one to rise above every misfortune. It seemed to her as if each object were a part of herself, and when the man turned and twisted a chair or a table she almost considered it a personal affront. The persons who do suffer are those of the middle classes, not the parvenus, but those who bid fair to become parvenus when misfortune overtook them. Their hearts bleed when inexorable necessity deprives them of all the little comforts with which they had gradually surrounded themselves, for there is not an object that does not recall a long ungratified desire, and the almost infantile joy of possession.

He knows that the owner is in need of money, and he profits by this knowledge. It is his business. “How much did this cost you?” he asks, as he inspects one piece of furniture after another. “So much.” “Well, you must have been terribly cheated.” You know very well that if there is a cheat in the world, it is this same man; but what can you say? It is true, however, that she was in haste, and that she was paid cash. Then, the esteem and sympathy of all who knew her was hers, and the admiring praise she received divested the sacrifice of much of its bitterness, and increased her courage two-fold. Now, she was flying secretly, and alone, under an assumed name, trembling at the thought of pursuit or recognition--flying as a criminal flies at thought of his crime, and fear of punishment. Though crushed by the sense of her irreparable loss, she had not rebelled against the hand that struck her; but now it was human wickedness that assailed her through her son, and her suffering was like that of the innocent man who perishes for want of power to prove his innocence. Her husband’s death had not caused her such bitter tears as her son’s dishonor.

She heard the insulting remarks made by some of her neighbors, who, like so many folks, found their chief delight in other people’s misfortunes. “She is going to meet her son; and with what he has stolen they will live like princes in America.” Rumor, which enlarges and misrepresents everything, had, indeed, absurdly exaggerated the affair at Madame d’Argeles’s house. Faithfully observing the directions which had been given her, the worthy woman had her trunks taken to the baggage-room, declaring that she should not leave Paris until the next day, whereupon she received a receipt from the man in charge of the room. Some Englishmen--those strange travellers, who are at the same time so foolishly prodigal and so ridiculously miserly--were making a great hue and cry over the four sous gratuity claimed by a poor commissionaire; but these were the only persons in sight. It was here that Pascal had promised to meet her; but, though she looked round on all sides, she did not perceive him. Still, this delay did not alarm her much; nor was it at all strange, since Pascal had scarcely known what he would have to do when he left the house. This man proved to be Pascal. But his hair had been closely cut, and he had shaved off his beard. And thus shorn, with his smooth face, and with a brown silk neckerchief in lieu of the white muslin tie he usually wore, he was so greatly changed that for an instant his own mother did not recognize him. “Well?” asked Madame Ferailleur, as she realized his identity.

We have secured such rooms as I wished for.” “Where?” “Ah!--a long way off, my poor mother--many a league from those we have known and loved--in a thinly populated part of the suburbs, on the Route de la Revolte, just outside the fortifications, and almost at the point where it intersects the Asnieres road. “What does it matter where or what our abode is?” she interrupted, with forced gayety. “I am confident that we shall not remain there long.” But it seemed as if her son did not share her hopes, for he remained silent and dejected; and as his mother observed him closely, she fancied by the expression of his eyes, that some new anxiety had been added to all his other troubles.

“What is the matter?” she inquired, unable to master her alarm--“what has happened?” “Ah! a great misfortune!” “My God! still another?” “I have been to the Rue de Courcelles; and I have spoken to Madame Leon.” “What did she say?” “The Count de Chalusse died this morning.” Madame Ferailleur drew a long breath, as if greatly relieved. She was certainly expecting to hear something very different, and she did not understand why this death should be a great misfortune to them personally. One point, however, she did realize, that it was imprudent, and even dangerous, to carry on this conversation in a hall where a hundred persons were passing and repassing every minute. So she took her son’s arm, and led him away, saying: “Come, let us go.” Pascal had kept the cab which he had been using during the afternoon; and having installed his mother inside, he got in himself, and gave his new address to the driver. Poor Pascal was in that state of mind in which it costs one actual suffering to talk; but he wished to mitigate his mother’s anxiety as much as possible; and moreover, he did not like her to suppose him wanting in endurance. So, with a powerful effort, he shook off the lethargy that was creeping over him, and in a voice loud enough to be heard above the noise of the carriage wheels, he began: “This is what I have done, mother, since I left you.

I remembered that some time ago, while I was appraising some property, I had seen three or four houses on the Route de la Revolte, admirably suited to our present wants.

Here is the receipt, drawn up in the name we shall henceforth bear.” So saying, he showed his mother a document in which the landlord declared that he had received from M. “My bargain concluded,” he resumed, “I returned into Paris, and entered the first furniture shop I saw. I meant to hire the necessary things to furnish our little home, but the dealer made all sorts of objections. He trembled for his furniture, he wanted a sum of money to be deposited as security, or the guarantee of three responsible business men. Seeing this, and knowing that I had no time to lose, I preferred to purchase such articles as were absolutely necessary. As I stipulated in writing that the dealer should forfeit three hundred francs in case he failed to fulfil his agreement, I can rely upon his punctuality; I confided the key of our lodgings to him, and he must now be there waiting for us.” So, before thinking of his love, and Mademoiselle Marguerite, Pascal had taken the necessary measures for the execution of his plan to regain his lost honor. I could defer no longer, and at the risk of obliging you to wait for me, I hastened to the Rue de Courcelles.” It was evident that Pascal felt extreme embarrassment in speaking of Mademoiselle Marguerite. There is an instinctive delicacy and dislike of publicity in all deep passion, and true and chaste love is ever averse to laying aside the veil with which it conceals itself from the inquisitive.

Madame Ferailleur understood this feeling; but she was a mother, and as such, jealous of her son’s tenderness, and anxious for particulars concerning this rival who had suddenly usurped her place in the heart where she had long reigned supreme. She was also a woman--that is to say, distrustful and suspicious in reference to all other women. “I gave the driver five francs on condition that he would hurry his horses,” he resumed, “and we were rattling along at a rapid rate, when, suddenly, near the Hotel de Chalusse, I noticed a change in the motion of the vehicle. I can scarcely describe my feelings on seeing this. Without waiting for the vehicle to stop, I sprang to the ground, and was obliged to exercise all my self-control to prevent myself from rushing into the concierge’s lodge, and wildly asking: ‘Who is dying here?’ But an unforeseen difficulty presented itself. There were no commissionaires at the street corners, and nothing would have induced me to confide the message to any of the lads in the neighboring wine-shops. Fortunately, my driver--the same who is driving us now--is an obliging fellow, and I intrusted him with the commission, while I stood guard over his horses. de Chalusse is dead,’ relieved my heart of a terrible weight. Still I gave her my letter, and she promised me a prompt reply from Marguerite. So, at half-past twelve to-night she will be at the little garden gate, and if I am promptly at hand, I shall have a reply from Marguerite.” Madame Ferailleur seemed to be expecting something more, and as Pascal remained silent, she remarked: “You spoke of a great misfortune.

In what does it consist? I do not perceive it.” With an almost threatening gesture, and in a gloomy voice, he answered: “The misfortune is this: if it had not been for this abominable conspiracy, which has dishonored me, Marguerite would have been my wife before a month had elapsed, for now she is free, absolutely free to obey the dictates of her own will and heart.” “Then why do you complain?” “Oh, mother! Would it be right for me to think of offering her a dishonored name? It seems to me that I should be guilty of a most contemptible act--of something even worse than a crime--if I dared speak to her of my love and our future before I have crushed the villains who have ruined me.” Regret, anger, and the consciousness of his present powerlessness drew from him tears which fell upon Madame Ferailleur’s heart like molten lead; but she succeeded in concealing her agony.

But in the meantime, what is to become of HER? Think, mother, she is alone in the world, without a single friend. It is enough to drive one mad!” “She loves you, you tell me. Now she will be freed from the persecutions of the suitor they intended to force upon her, whom she has spoken to you about--the Marquis de Valorsay, is it not?” This name sent Pascal’s blood to his brain.

And who suffers most at this moment, do you think?--you, strong in your innocence, or the marquis, who realizes that he has committed an infamous crime in vain?” The sudden stopping of the cab put an end to their conversation. “Come in, and you’ll see that I’ve strictly fulfilled the conditions of our contract.” His words proved true. He was paid the sum stipulated, and went away satisfied. “Now, my dear mother,” said Pascal, “allow me to do the honors of the poor abode I have selected.” He had taken only the ground floor of this humble dwelling. The furniture which Pascal had purchased was more than plain; but it was well suited to this humble abode. It’s wonderful how much four trunks can be made to hold.” When his mother set him such a noble example Pascal would have blushed to allow himself to be outdone. He very quietly explained the reasons which had influenced him in choosing these rooms, the principal one being that there was no concierge, and he was therefore assured absolute liberty in his movements, as well as entire immunity from indiscreet gossip.

“Certainly, my dear mother,” he added, “it is a lonely and unattractive neighborhood; but you will find all the necessaries of life near at hand. I inquired for some one to do the heavy work, and she mentioned a poor woman named Vantrasson, who lives in the neighborhood, and who is anxious to obtain employment. They were to inform her this evening, and you will see her to-morrow. You forget that the cab is waiting at the door.” It was true; he had forgotten it. He caught up his hat, hastily embraced his mother, and sprang into the vehicle. However, on arriving there, he declared that his animals and himself could endure no more, and after receiving the amount due to him, he departed. The gloomy silence was only disturbed at long intervals by the opening or shutting of a door, or by the distant tread of some belated pedestrian. Having at least twenty minutes to wait, Pascal sat down on the curbstone opposite the Hotel de Chalusse, and fixed his eyes upon the building as if he were striving to penetrate the massive walls, and see what was passing within. Only one window--that of the room where the dead man was lying--was lighted up, and he could vaguely distinguish the motionless form of a woman standing with her forehead pressed against the pane of glass.

A prey to the indescribable agony which seizes a man when he feels that his life is at stake--that his future is about to be irrevocably decided--Pascal counted the seconds as they passed by.

He forgot the tortures he had endured during the last twenty-four hours; Coralth, Valorsay, Madame d’Argeles, the baron, no longer existed for him. He forgot his loss of honor and position, and the disgrace attached to his name. His physical condition undoubtedly contributed to his mental weakness. He had taken no food that day, and he was faint from want of nourishment. There was a strange ringing in his ears, and a mist swam before his eyes. At last the bell at the Beaujon Hospital tolled the appointed hour, and roused him from his lethargy. He had been listening to that mysterious echo of our own desires which we so often mistake for a presentiment; and it had whispered in his heart: “Marguerite herself will come!” With the candor of wretchedness, he could not refrain from telling Madame Leon the hope he had entertained. could you suppose that Mademoiselle Marguerite would abandon her place by her dead father’s bedside to come to a rendezvous? you should think better of her than that, the dear child!” He sighed deeply, and in a scarcely audible voice, he asked: “Hasn’t she even sent me a reply?” “Yes, monsieur, she has; and although it is a great indiscretion on my part, I bring you the letter. Here it is.

What would become of me if the servants discovered my absence, and found that I had gone out alone----” She was hurrying away, but Pascal detained her. It was written in pencil; and the handwriting was irregular and indistinct. “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. She is now the betrothed of another, and honor commands her to forget your very name. 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. “Marguerite, where is she?” he demanded, in a hoarse, unnatural voice; “I must see her!” “Oh! 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.

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. 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. “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. 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. You have failed to see that this oath at the bedside of the dying count is only an excuse.” It was true; the thought had not occurred to Pascal. 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, “at No.--.” “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 clerk resided.

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. 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. 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.

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. 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. May we venture to offer you anything?” Although his clerk had more than once alluded to his responsibilities, M. 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. I’ve come to give you my instructions respecting a very important and very urgent matter.” 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. 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! 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. 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. 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. 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?

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. A father’s a father after all, and yours will undoubtedly reform by and 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. The count will have the best of funerals--the finest hearse out, with six horses, twenty-four mourning coaches--a grand display, in fact. “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. 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! 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.

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. “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. 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!

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’m to hunt down this poor woman--I’m to discover her secret so that you may extort money from her, am I? So, a very good evening to your establishment.” M. 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. “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? 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. 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. 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. Who ransacked Paris to find certain debtors who were concealing themselves?

Who discovered the Vantrassons for me? 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. You won’t always find me in such a good humor as I am this evening.” 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! 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. He had promised his assistance, but not without a mental reservation.

“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. 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. 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. 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 opposite. 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. 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. 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. “There she is!” XVIII. 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. “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.

“She’ll no doubt drive round the lakes in the Bois de Boulogne----” “Ah, she’s off!” interrupted M. 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. “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. “And no more talk--hurry on, or we shall miss the track.” 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. Pay the extra cab charges for passing beyond the limits of Paris!--never! 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. 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! 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. 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.

Her examination lasted but a moment, and seemed to be satisfactory. 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. He saw her raise her veil and follow her insulter with a look which it was impossible to misunderstand. 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.

For he was almost running in his efforts to keep pace with Madame d’Argeles’s insulter. 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 leisurely. 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 dear Wilkie?” “Yes--alive and in the flesh,” replied the young man. 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. 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 you there?” “Probably.” “Then good-by, until to-morrow.” “Until to-morrow.” Thereupon they shook hands, and each departed on his way. Chupin had not lost a word of this conversation.

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! “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.

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.

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. “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!

Fortunat promised me.” As well as he could judge through the windowpane, M. Wilkie was eating his dinner with an excellent appetite. 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 earned it. 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! 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. “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. 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? 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. This is certainly the first time I have ever heard the name. Can it be that I’m mistaken? Impossible!” 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. 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.

And then they’ll let the doors slam behind them for the express purpose of disturbing everybody. 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. I must know some one here--I’ll wait for the entr’acte.” 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 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.

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 mother. Fortunat’s emissary did not hear twenty words of it. 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. “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. 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. 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. de Coralth demurred to the idea, but the others over-ruled his objections, and dragged him away with them. this is a bad job!” growled Chupin. “Go, go, and never stop!” 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. “Go home,” said Reason; “it will be easy enough to find this Wilkie again.

48, in the Rue du Helder.” “Remain,” whispered Avarice; “and, since you have accomplished so much, finish your work. 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. On hearing this order, Chupin shook his clenched fist at the stars. “The wretches!” he muttered through his set teeth; “bad luck to them!

And they call this enjoying themselves.

And meanwhile, poor little Chupin must wear out his shoe-leather on the pavement. 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. 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. Wilkie and the Viscount de Coralth had behaved during the evening, a singular suspicion assailed him. Wilkie gradually lost his wits, 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.

de Coralth had some strange interest in wishing to gain ascendency over his friend. I shouldn’t at all be surprised if I found that he wanted to cook his bread in our oven. 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. “Good!” he said to himself; “this is the beginning of the end!” As he spoke, M.

With a natural impulse Chupin picked it up, and he was turning it over and over in his hands, when M. 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. You can’t be very thirsty.” 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 want?” “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. “Go on, then.” And raising the portiere he pushed Chupin into room No. de Coralth was smoking with his elbows propped upon the table. “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 champagne!” 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.

“A man doesn’t drink stale wine when he has the prospect of such an inheritance as is coming to me.” “Wilkie!” interrupted M.

His conjectures had proved correct.

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. 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. 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. The viscount seemed touched to the quick.

“This will teach you that the time of your compatriot, Lord Seymour, has passed by. 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!” 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. First, I demand an apology.” 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. 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. 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.

It isn’t my business to furnish amusement to parties who’ve drunk too much wine. And why should you despise me?

Every dog has his day. I have an idea that I shall have some coin when yours is all gone. 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. This irritated the viscount exceedingly. 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. de Coralth’s face had enlightened him; and he suddenly recollected when and under what circumstances he had known this so-called viscount. 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.

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.

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. 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. 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.

“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. “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. “Fine form and no mistake!” But Chupin did not even deign to turn his head. “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. 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. 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! how I hate him!” he hissed through his set teeth. 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. Because he had worked for this fellow without knowing him, receiving his orders through the miserable wretches who pandered to his vices. 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.

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.

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.

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. 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. 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.

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. 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. “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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Wilkie and his friends have made their escape?” he wondered. 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. 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 foot. 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. 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. Ah, if they knew how I hate them!” But he had not long to nurse his wrath. Wilkie and the viscount were left to walk down the boulevard alone. 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. The concierge, who was at the door busily engaged in polishing the bell-handle, bowed respectfully. “So there it is!” grumbled Chupin.

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. “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. 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.

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. 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 vengeance.

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. “Yes, monsieur.” “You have discovered Madame d’Argeles’s son?” “I have him.” “Ah! 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. 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.

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. 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. 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. 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.

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 inform monsieur.” 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. Wilkie was comfortably lodged; but his rooms were most pretentiously ornamented. After this inspection, M. “This young fellow has expensive tastes,” he thought.

“It will be very easy to manage him.” 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. 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. 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. He stood silent, motionless, utterly confounded, with his mouth wide open, and such an expression of consternation in his eyes that M. I have already arranged with a party to prosecute my claims; the agreement will be signed on the day after to-morrow.” “With whom?” “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. I have staked a thousand louis on ‘Pompier de Nanterre,’ my horse, and my friends have ventured ten times as much.

Fortunat as completely as if he had not existed, M. Is my carriage below? 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.

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. “This is the end of everything,” he groaned. These misfortunes happen to no one but me! To a man of his experience, only a glimmer of light was required to reveal the whole situation.

Coralth was the traitor who, in obedience to Valorsay’s orders, ruined the man who loved Mademoiselle Marguerite. 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.

Very well!--since this is the case, I shall espouse the cause of Mademoiselle Marguerite and of the unfortunate man they’ve ruined. I shall do my best, since you have forced me to do it--and gratis too!” 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. 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. 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. Others might scorn them; but what did they care for the world’s disdain so long as they had the approval of their consciences? 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. 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.

this is certainly a horrible catastrophe. You are young, fortunately, and Time is a great consoler. Ferailleur isn’t the only man on earth. 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.

She was one of those whose life is bound up in one love alone, and if that fails them--it is death! She distrusted her; she had no confidence whatever in her. The Marquis de Valorsay inspired her with unconquerable aversion, and she despised the so-called General de Fondege.

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. 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? 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?

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. 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. But we will discuss this matter to-morrow. 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. 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 woman.” 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. Not being what is called a credulous person, Mademoiselle Marguerite was unable to believe it. 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.

But it is quite a different thing to profit by other people’s rascality. Besides, there are no risks to be encountered. 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. 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. 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 previously. 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. 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.

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?

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.

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. 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? It was almost midnight when a slight noise, a sound of stealthy footsteps, made her turn. There was nothing extraordinary about such an occurrence, and yet a strange misgiving assailed her. 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.

“This is very strange!” thought Mademoiselle Marguerite. “Was I mistaken? She was very pale, and her dress was disordered. “What is the matter with you?” asked Mademoiselle Marguerite in astonishment. You must know very well that I’ve been in the garden!” “At this hour of the night?” “MON DIEU! “Well?” insisted Mademoiselle Marguerite, impatiently. “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?” “It’s certain.” But the worthy woman had already recovered her self-possession and her accustomed loquacity at the same time. 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.

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. 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. “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. “And I will know for certain before an hour has passed,” said Mademoiselle Marguerite to herself.

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. “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. And now no presentiment warned her that these footprints were his. 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.

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 me?” 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.

To-night, for the first time, she thought she could discover a mysterious connection between Pascal’s misfortunes and her own.

Who would have profited by the abominable crime which had dishonored her lover, had it not been for M.

Evidently the Marquis de Valorsay, for whom Pascal’s flight had left the field clear. “Mademoiselle,” said the housekeeper, in her honeyed voice; “dear mademoiselle, wake up at once!” “What is the matter? What is it?” “Ah! 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. 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 here.” She heard him, and summoning all her strength, she leaned over the bed, kissed M. 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. “It is incomprehensible,” exclaimed Madame Leon. “The General is usually punctuality personified. 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. 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.

It is our little heart that is suffering, is it not? And to prove it, in spite of her illness, she followed me--in fact, she is here!” XXI. Mademoiselle Marguerite sprang to her feet, quivering with indignation. 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 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. 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.

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. 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! 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. You will give me that sweet name of mother when I shall have deserved it.” 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.

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. 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. 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.

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. 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.

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. 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. What would she not have given to be alone at this moment--to have been able to abandon herself without constraint to her emotions! “For it is necessary to face the inevitable,” she pursued. 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.

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. 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? Young, beautiful, and attractive as you are, it is impossible for you to live unprotected. 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. “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.

Having once offered hospitality, she thought it would arouse suspicion if she insisted. 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.

Ferailleur is innocent. 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.

Pascal?” Mademoiselle Marguerite turned pale. 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. “She is extremely unwilling to see you go out into the world alone. This is what we must ascertain. If they don’t desire this, it is because they are perfectly sure that the missing money was not taken by you. Simply because they know where the missing millions are--and if they know----” “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. “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. 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. 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 others.” 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. 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. 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!

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. 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 Mademoiselle Marguerite. 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 caused her?” But Mademoiselle Marguerite had one more request to make. 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. And after once more thanking the magistrate, she returned to her room again. Madame de Fondege was awaiting her with feverish impatience. “I had so many explanations to give, madame.” “How you are tormented, my poor child!” “Oh, shamefully!” 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. 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. 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.

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. “I recognize her father in this! 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. 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! /

Plantat.The Mystery of Orcival By Emile Gaboriau I On Thursday, the 9th of July, 186-, Jean Bertaud and his son, well known at Orcival as living by poaching and marauding, rose at three o'clock in the morning, just at daybreak, to go fishing. Taking their tackle, they descended the charming pathway, shaded by acacias, which you see from the station at Evry, and which leads from the burg of Orcival to the Seine. They made their way to their boat, moored as usual some fifty yards above the wire bridge, across a field adjoining Valfeuillu, the imposing estate of the Count de Tremorel. Having reached the river-bank, they laid down their tackle, and Jean jumped into the boat to bail out the water in the bottom. While he was skilfully using the scoop, he perceived that one of the oar-pins of the old craft, worn by the oar, was on the point of breaking. "Philippe," cried he, to his son, who was occupied in unravelling a net, "bring me a bit of wood to make a new oar-pin." "All right," answered Philippe. There was no tree in the field. The young man bent his steps toward the park of Valfeuillu, a few rods distant; and, neglectful of Article 391 of the Penal Code, jumped across the wide ditch which surrounds M.

de Tremorel's domain. He thought he would cut off a branch of one of the old willows, which at this place touch the water with their drooping branches. He had scarcely drawn his knife from his pocket, while looking about him with the poacher's unquiet glance, when he uttered a low cry, "Father! Father!" "What's the matter?" responded the old marauder, without pausing from his work. "Father, come here!" continued Philippe.

"In Heaven's name, come here, quick!" Jean knew by the tone of his son's voice that something unusual had happened. He threw down his scoop, and, anxiety quickening him, in three leaps was in the park. He also stood still, horror-struck, before the spectacle which had terrified Philippe. On the bank of the river, among the stumps and flags, was stretched a woman's body. Her long, dishevelled locks lay among the water-shrubs; her dress--of gray silk--was soiled with mire and blood.

All the upper part of the body lay in shallow water, and her face had sunk in the mud. "A murder!" muttered Philippe, whose voice trembled.

"That's certain," responded Jean, in an indifferent tone. "But who can this woman be? Really one would say, the countess." "We'll see," said the young man.

He stepped toward the body; his father caught him by the arm. "What would you do, fool?" said he. "You ought never to touch the body of a murdered person without legal authority." "You think so?" "Certainly. There are penalties for it." "Then, come along and let's inform the Mayor." "Why? as if people hereabouts were not against us enough already! Who knows that they would not accuse us--" "But, father--" "If we go and inform Monsieur Courtois, he will ask us how and why we came to be in Monsieur de Tremorel's park to find this out. What is it to you, that the countess has been killed? Come, let's go away." But Philippe did not budge. Hanging his head, his chin resting upon his palm, he reflected. "We must make this known," said he, firmly.

"We are not savages; we will tell Monsieur Courtois that in passing along by the park in our boat, we perceived the body." Old Jean resisted at first; then, seeing that his son would, if need be, go without him, yielded. They re-crossed the ditch, and leaving their fishing-tackle in the field, directed their steps hastily toward the mayor's house. Orcival, situated a mile or more from Corbeil, on the right bank of the Seine, is one of the most charming villages in the environs of Paris, despite the infernal etymology of its name.

The gay and thoughtless Parisian, who, on Sunday, wanders about the fields, more destructive than the rook, has not yet discovered this smiling country. The distressing odor of the frying from coffee-gardens does not there stifle the perfume of the honeysuckles. The refrains of bargemen, the brazen voices of boat-horns, have never awakened echoes there. Lazily situated on the gentle slopes of a bank washed by the Seine, the houses of Orcival are white, and there are delicious shades, and a bell-tower which is the pride of the place. On all sides vast pleasure domains, kept up at great cost, surround it.

From the upper part, the weathercocks of twenty chateaux may be seen. On the right is the forest of Mauprevoir, and the pretty country-house of the Countess de la Breche; opposite, on the other side of the river, is Mousseaux and Petit-Bourg, the ancient domain of Aguado, now the property of a famous coach-maker; on the left, those beautiful copses belong to the Count de Tremorel, that large park is d'Etiolles, and in the distance beyond is Corbeil; that vast building, whose roofs are higher than the oaks, is the Darblay mill. The mayor of Orcival occupies a handsome, pleasant mansion, at the upper end of the village. Formerly a manufacturer of dry goods, M. Courtois entered business without a penny, and after thirty years of absorbing toil, he retired with four round millions of francs. Then he proposed to live tranquilly with his wife and children, passing the winter at Paris and the summer at his country-house.

But all of a sudden he was observed to be disturbed and agitated. Ambition stirred his heart.

He took vigorous measures to be forced to accept the mayoralty of Orcival. And he accepted it, quite in self-defence, as he will himself tell you. This office was at once his happiness and his despair; apparent despair, interior and real happiness. It quite befits him, with clouded brow, to rail at the cares of power; he appears yet better when, his waist encircled with the gold-laced scarf, he goes in triumph at the head of the municipal body. Everybody was sound asleep at the mayor's when the two Bertauds rapped the heavy knocker of the door. After a moment, a servant, half asleep, appeared at one of the ground-floor windows. "What's the matter, you rascals?" asked he, growling. Jean did not think it best to revenge an insult which his reputation in the village too well justified.

"We want to speak to Monsieur the Mayor," he answered. Go call him, Monsieur Baptiste; he won't blame you." "I'd like to see anybody blame me," snapped out Baptiste. It took ten minutes of talking and explaining to persuade the servant. Finally, the Bertauds were admitted to a little man, fat and red, very much annoyed at being dragged from his bed so early. It was M. They had decided that Philippe should speak. "Monsieur Mayor," he said, "we have come to announce to you a great misfortune.

A crime has been committed at Monsieur de Tremorel's." M. Courtois was a friend of the count's; he became whiter than his shirt at this sudden news. "My God!" stammered he, unable to control his emotion, "what do you say--a crime!" "Yes; we have just discovered a body; and as sure as you are here, I believe it to be that of the countess." The worthy man raised his arms heavenward, with a wandering air. "But where, when?" "Just now, at the foot of the park, as we were going to take up our nets." "It is horrible!" exclaimed the good M. Courtois; "what a calamity! So worthy a lady! But it is not possible--you must be mistaken; I should have been informed--" "We saw it distinctly, Monsieur Mayor." "Such a crime in my village! Well, you have done wisely to come here. I will dress at once, and will hasten off--no, wait." He reflected a moment, then called: "Baptiste!" The valet was not far off.

With ear and eye alternately pressed against the key-hole, he heard and looked with all his might. At the sound of his master's voice he had only to stretch out his hand and open the door. "Monsieur called me?" "Run to the justice of the peace," said the mayor. "There is not a moment to lose. A crime has been committed--perhaps a murder--you must go quickly. And you," addressing the poachers, "await me here while I slip on my coat." The justice of the peace at Orcival, M. Plantat--"Papa Plantat," as he was called--was formerly an attorney at Melun. At fifty, Mr. Plantat, whose career had been one of unbroken prosperity, lost in the same month, his wife, whom he adored, and his two sons, charming youths, one eighteen, the other twenty-two years old. These successive losses crushed a man whom thirty years of happiness left without defence against misfortune.

For a long time his reason was despaired of. Even the sight of a client, coming to trouble his grief, to recount stupid tales of self-interest, exasperated him. It was not surprising that he sold out his professional effects and good-will at half price. He wished to establish himself at his ease in his grief, with the certainty of not being disturbed in its indulgence. But the intensity of his mourning diminished, and the ills of idleness came. The justiceship of the peace at Orcival was vacant, and M. Plantat applied for and obtained it. Once installed in this office, he suffered less from ennui. This man, who saw his life drawing to an end, undertook to interest himself in the thousand diverse cases which came before him. He applied to these all the forces of a superior intelligence, the resources of a mind admirably fitted to separate the false from the true among the lies he was forced to hear.

He persisted, besides, in living alone, despite the urging of M. Courtois; pretending that society fatigued him, and that an unhappy man is a bore in company. Misfortune, which modifies characters, for good or bad, had made him, apparently, a great egotist.

He declared that he was only interested in the affairs of life as a critic tired of its active scenes. He loved to make a parade of his profound indifference for everything, swearing that a rain of fire descending upon Paris, would not even make him turn his head. "What's that to me?" was his invariable exclamation. Such was the man who, a quarter of an hour after Baptiste's departure, entered the mayor's house.

Plantat was tall, thin, and nervous. His physiognomy was not striking. His hair was short, his restless eyes seemed always to be seeking something, his very long nose was narrow and sharp. After his affliction, his mouth, formerly well shaped, became deformed; his lower lip had sunk, and gave him a deceptive look of simplicity. "They tell me," said he, at the threshold, "that Madame de Tremorel has been murdered." "These men here, at least, pretend so," answered the mayor, who had just reappeared. Courtois was no longer the same man. He had had time to make his toilet a little.

His face attempted to express a haughty coldness. He had been reproaching himself for having been wanting in dignity, in showing his grief before the Bertauds.

"Nothing ought to agitate a man in my position," said he to himself. And, being terribly agitated, he forced himself to be calm, cold, and impassible. Plantat was so naturally.

"This is a very sad event," said he, in a tone which he forced himself to make perfectly disinterested; "but after all, how does it concern us? We must, however, hurry and ascertain whether it is true. I have sent for the brigadier, and he will join us." "Let us go," said M.

Courtois; "I have my scarf in my pocket." They hastened off. Philippe and his father went first, the young man eager and impatient, the old one sombre and thoughtful. The mayor, at each step, made some exclamation. "I can't understand it," muttered he; "a murder in my commune! a commune where, in the memory of men, no crime has been committed!" And he directed a suspicious glance toward the two Bertauds. The road which led toward the chateau of M. de Tremorel was an unpleasant one, shut in by walls a dozen feet high. On one side is the park of the Marchioness de Lanascol; on the other the spacious garden of Saint Jouan. The going and coming had taken time; it was nearly eight o'clock when the mayor, the justice, and their guides stopped before the gate of M. The mayor rang.

The bell was very large; only a small gravelled court of five or six yards separated the gate from the house; nevertheless no one appeared.

The mayor rang more vigorously, then with all his strength; but in vain. Before the gate of Mme. de Lanascol's chateau, nearly opposite, a groom was standing, occupied in cleaning and polishing a bridle-bit. "It's of no use to ring, gentlemen," said this man; "there's nobody in the chateau." "How! nobody?" asked the mayor, surprised.

"I mean," said the groom, "that there is no one there but the master and mistress. The servants all went away last evening by the 8.40 train to Paris, to the wedding of the old cook, Madame Denis. They ought to return this morning by the first train.

I was invited myself--" "Great God!" interrupted M. Courtois, "then the count and countess remained alone last night?" "Entirely alone, Monsieur Mayor." "It is horrible!" M. Plantat seemed to grow impatient during this dialogue. "Come," said he, "we cannot stay forever at the gate. The gendarmes do not come; let us send for the locksmith." Philippe was about to hasten off, when, at the end of the road, singing and laughing were heard. Five persons, three women and two men, soon appeared. "Ah, there are the people of the chateau," cried the groom, whom this morning visit seemed to annoy, "they ought to have a key." The domestics, seeing the group about the gate, became silent and hastened their steps. One of them began to run ahead of the others; it was the count's valet de chambre. "These gentlemen perhaps wish to speak to Monsieur the Count?" asked he, having bowed to M.

Plantat. "We have rung five times, as hard as we could," said the mayor. "It is surprising," said the valet de chambre, "the count sleeps very lightly. Perhaps he has gone out." "Horror!" cried Philippe. "Both of them have been murdered!" These words shocked the servants, whose gayety announced a reasonable number of healths drunk to the happiness of the newly wedded pair. Courtois seemed to be studying the attitude of old Bertaud. "A murder!" muttered the valet de chambre.

"It was for money then; it must have been known--" "What?" asked the mayor.

"Monsieur the Count received a very large sum yesterday morning." "Large!

yes," added a chambermaid. "He had a large package of bank-bills.

Madame even said to Monsieur that she should not shut her eyes the whole night, with this immense sum in the house." There was a silence; each one looked at the others with a frightened air.

"At what hour did you leave the chateau last evening?" asked he of the servants. "At eight o'clock; we had dinner early." "You went away all together?" "Yes, sir." "You did not leave each other?" "Not a minute." "And you returned all together?" The servants exchanged a significant look. "All," responded a chambermaid--"that is to say, no. One left us on reaching the Lyons station at Paris; it was Guespin." "Yes, sir; he went away, saying that he would rejoin us at Wepler's, in the Batignolles, where the wedding took place." The mayor nudged the justice with his elbow, as if to attract his attention, and continued to question the chambermaid. "And this Guespin, as you call him--did you see him again?" "No, sir. I asked several times during the evening in vain, what had become of him; his absence seemed to me suspicious." Evidently the chambermaid tried to show superior perspicacity. A little more, and she would have talked of presentiments.

"Has this Guespin been long in the house?" "Since spring." "What were his duties?" "He was sent from Paris by the house of the 'Skilful Gardener,' to take care of the rare flowers in Madame's conservatory." "And did he know of this money?" The domestics again exchanged significant glances. "Yes," they answered in chorus, "we had talked a great deal about it among ourselves." The chambermaid added: "He even said to me, 'To think that Monsieur the Count has enough money in his cabinet to make all our fortunes.'" "What kind of a man is this?" This question absolutely extinguished the talkativeness of the servants. No one dared to speak, perceiving that the least word might serve as the basis of a terrible accusation. But the groom of the house opposite, who burned to mix himself up in the affair, had none of these scruples. "Guespin," answered he, "is a good fellow. Lord, what jolly things he knows! He knows everything you can imagine.

It appears he has been rich in times past, and if he wished--But dame! he loves to have his work all finished, and go off on sprees.

He's a crack billiard-player, I can tell you." Papa Plantat, while listening in an apparently absent-minded way to these depositions, or rather these scandals, carefully examined the wall and the gate. He now turned, and interrupting the groom: "Enough of this," said he, to the great scandal of M.

"Before pursuing this interrogatory, let us ascertain the crime, if crime there is; for it is not proved. Let whoever has the key, open the gate." The valet de chambre had the key; he opened the gate, and all entered the little court. The gendarmes had just arrived. The mayor told the brigadier to follow him, and placed two men at the gate, ordering them not to permit anyone to enter or go out, unless by his orders. Then the valet de chambre opened the door of the house. II If there had been no crime, at least something extraordinary had taken place at the chateau; the impassible justice might have been convinced of it, as soon as he had stepped into the vestibule. The glass door leading to the garden was wide open, and three of the panes were shattered into a thousand pieces. The carpeting of waxed canvas between the doors had been torn up, and on the white marble slabs large drops of blood were visible. At the foot of the staircase was a stain larger than the rest, and upon the lowest step a splash hideous to behold.

Unfitted for such spectacles, or for the mission he had now to perform, M. Courtois became faint. Luckily, he borrowed from the idea of his official importance, an energy foreign to his character. The more difficult the preliminary examination of this affair seemed, the more determined he was to carry it on with dignity. "Conduct us to the place where you saw the body," said he to Bertaud. But Papa Plantat intervened. "It would be wiser, I think," he objected, "and more methodical, to begin by going through the house." "Perhaps--yes--true, that's my own view," said the mayor, grasping at the other's counsel, as a drowning man clings to a plank. And he made all retire excepting the brigadier and the valet de chambre, the latter remaining to serve as guide.

"Gendarmes," cried he to the men guarding the gate, "see to it that no one goes out; prevent anybody from entering the house, and above all, let no one go into the garden." Then they ascended the staircase. Drops of blood were sprinkled all along the stairs.

There was also blood on the baluster, and M. Courtois perceived, with horror, that his hands were stained. When they had reached the first landing-stage, the mayor said to the valet de chambre: "Tell me, my friend, did your master and mistress occupy the same chamber?" "Yes, sir." "And where is their chamber?" "There, sir." As he spoke, the valet de chambre staggered back terrified, and pointed to a door, the upper panel of which betrayed the imprint of a bloody hand. Drops of perspiration overspread the poor mayor's forehead. He too was terrified, and could hardly keep on his feet. Alas, authority brings with it terrible obligations!

The brigadier, an old soldier of the Crimea, visibly moved, hesitated. Plantat alone, as tranquil as if he were in his garden, retained his coolness, and looked around upon the others. "We must decide," said he. There was nothing unusual in the apartment; it was a boudoir hung in blue satin, furnished with a couch and four arm-chairs, covered also with blue satin.

One of the chairs was overturned. They passed on to the bed-chamber. A frightful disorder appeared in this room. There was not an article of furniture, not an ornament, which did not betray that a terrible, enraged and merciless struggle had taken place between the assassins and their victims. In the middle of the chamber a small table was overturned, and all about it were scattered lumps of sugar, vermilion cups, and pieces of porcelain.

"Ah!" said the valet de chambre, "Monsieur and Madame were taking tea when the wretches came in!" The mantel ornaments had been thrown upon the floor; the clock, in falling, had stopped at twenty minutes past three. Near the clock were the lamps; the globes were in pieces, the oil had been spilled. The canopy of the bed had been torn down, and covered the bed. Someone must have clutched desperately at the draperies. All the furniture was overturned. The coverings of the chairs had been hacked by strokes of a knife, and in places the stuffing protruded. The secretary had been broken open; the writing-slide, dislocated, hung by its hinges; the drawers were open and empty, and everywhere, blood--blood upon the carpet, the furniture, the curtains--above all, upon the bed-curtains. "Poor wretches!" stammered the mayor. "They were murdered here." Every one for a moment was appalled. But meanwhile, the justice of the peace devoted himself to a minute scrutiny, taking notes upon his tablets, and looking into every corner.

When he had finished: "Come," said he, "let us go into the other rooms." Everywhere there was the same disorder. A band of furious maniacs, or criminals seized with a frenzy, had certainly passed the night in the house. The count's library, especially, had been turned topsy-turvy.

The assassins had not taken the trouble to force the locks; they had gone to work with a hatchet. Surely they were confident of not being overheard; for they must have struck tremendous blows to make the massive oaken bureau fly in pieces. Neither parlor nor smoking-room had been respected. Couches, chairs, canopies were cut and torn as if they had been lunged at with swords. Two spare chambers for guests were all in confusion. They then ascended to the second story. There, in the first room which they penetrated, they found, beside a trunk which had been assaulted, but which was not opened, a hatchet for splitting wood which the valet de chambre recognized as belonging to the house. "Do you understand now?" said the mayor to M. Plantat. "The assassins were in force, that's clear.

The murder accomplished, they scattered through the chateau, seeking everywhere the money they knew they would find here. One of them was engaged in breaking open this trunk, when the others, below, found the money; they called him; he hastened down, and thinking all further search useless, he left the hatchet here." "I see it," said the brigadier, "just as if I had been here." The ground-floor, which they next visited, had been respected. Only, after the crime had been committed, and the money secured, the murderers had felt the necessity of refreshing themselves. They found the remains of their supper in the dining-room. They had eaten up all the cold meats left in the cupboard. On the table, beside eight empty bottles of wine and liqueurs, were ranged five glasses. "There were five of them," said the mayor. Courtois had recovered his self-possession.

"Before going to view the bodies," said he, "I will send word to the procureur of Corbeil. In an hour, we will have a judge of instruction, who will finish our painful task." A gendarme was instructed to harness the count's buggy, and to hasten to the procureur. Then the mayor and the justice, followed by the brigadier, the valet de chambre, and the two Bertauds, took their way toward the river. The park of Valfeuillu was very wide from right to left. From the house to the Seine it was almost two hundred steps. Before the house was a grassy lawn, interspersed with flower-beds. Two paths led across the lawn to the river-bank. But the murderers had not followed the paths. Making a short cut, they had gone straight across the lawn.

Their traces were perfectly visible. The grass was trampled and stamped down as if a heavy load had been dragged over it.

In the midst of the lawn they perceived something red; M. Plantat went and picked it up. It was a slipper, which the valet de chambre recognized as the count's.

Farther on, they found a white silk handkerchief, which the valet declared he had often seen around the count's neck. This handkerchief was stained with blood. At last they arrived at the river-bank, under the willows from which Philippe had intended to cut off a branch; there they saw the body. The sand at this place was much indented by feet seeking a firm support. Everything indicated that here had been the supreme struggle. Courtois understood all the importance of these traces. "Let no one advance," said he, and, followed by the justice of the peace, he approached the corpse.

Although the face could not be distinguished, both recognized the countess. Both had seen her in this gray robe, adorned with blue trimmings. Now, how came she there?

The mayor thought that having succeeded in escaping from the hands of the murderers, she had fled wildly. They had pursued her, had caught up with her there, and she had fallen to rise no more. This version explained the traces of the struggle. It must have been the count's body that they had dragged across the lawn. Courtois talked excitedly, trying to impose his ideas on the justice. Plantat hardly listened; you might have thought him a hundred leagues from Valfeuillu; he only responded by monosyllables--yes, no, perhaps.

And the worthy mayor gave himself great pains; he went and came, measured steps, minutely scrutinized the ground. There was not at this place more than a foot of water. A mud-bank, upon which grew some clumps of flags and some water-lilies, descended by a gentle decline from the bank to the middle of the river. The water was very clear, and there was no current; the slippery and slimy mire could be distinctly seen. Courtois had gone thus far in his investigations, when he was struck by a sudden idea. "Bertaud," said he, "come here." The old poacher obeyed. "You say that you saw the body from your boat?" "Yes, Monsieur Mayor." "Where is your boat?" "There, hauled up to that field." "Well, lead us to it." It was clear to all that this order had a great effect upon the man. He trembled and turned pale under his rough skin, tanned as it was by sun and storm. He was even seen to cast a menacing look toward his son.

"Let us go," said he at last. They were returning to the house when the valet proposed to pass over the ditch. "That will be the quickest way," said he, "I will go for a ladder which we will put across." He went off, and quickly reappeared with his improvised foot-bridge.

But at the moment he was adjusting it, the mayor cried out to him: "Stop!" The imprints left by the Bertauds on both sides of the ditch had just caught his eye. "What is this?" said he; "evidently someone has crossed here, and not long ago; for the traces of the steps are quite fresh." After an examination of some minutes he ordered that the ladder should be placed farther off. When they had reached the boat, he said to Jean, "Is this the boat with which you went to take up your nets this morning?" "Yes." "Then," resumed M. Courtois, "what implements did you use? your cast net is perfectly dry; this boat-hook and these oars have not been wet for twenty-four hours." The distress of the father and son became more and more evident. "Do you persist in what you say, Bertaud?" said the mayor. "Certainly." "And you, Philippe?" "Monsieur," stammered the young man, "we have told the truth." "Really!" said M.

Courtois, in an ironical tone. "Then you will explain to the proper authorities how it was that you could see anything from a boat which you had not entered. It will be proved to you, also, that the body is in a position where it is impossible to see it from the middle of the river. Then you will still have to tell what these foot-prints on the grass are, which go from your boat to the place where the ditch has been crossed several times and by several persons." The two Bertauds hung their heads. "Brigadier," ordered the mayor, "arrest these two men in the name of the law, and prevent all communication between them." Philippe seemed to be ill. As for old Jean, he contented himself with shrugging his shoulders and saying to his son: "Well, you would have it so, wouldn't you?" While the brigadier led the two poachers away, and shut them up separately, and under the guard of his men, the justice and the mayor returned to the park. "With all this," muttered M. Courtois, "no traces of the count." They proceeded to take up the body of the countess.

The mayor sent for two planks, which, with a thousand precautions, they placed on the ground, being able thus to move the countess without effacing the imprints necessary for the legal examination. Alas! it was indeed she who had been the beautiful, the charming Countess de Tremorel! Here were her smiling face, her lovely, speaking eyes, her fine, sensitive mouth. There remained nothing of her former self. The face was unrecognizable, so soiled and wounded was it. Her clothes were in tatters. Surely a furious frenzy had moved the monsters who had slain the poor lady!

She had received more than twenty knife-wounds, and must have been struck with a stick, or rather with a hammer; she had been dragged by her feet and by her hair! In her left hand she grasped a strip of common cloth, torn, doubtless, from the clothes of one of the assassins. The mayor, in viewing the spectacle, felt his legs fail him, and supported himself on the arm of the impassible Plantat. "Let us carry her to the house," said the justice, "and then we will search for the count." The valet and brigadier (who had now returned) called on the domestics for assistance. The women rushed into the garden. There was then a terrible concert of cries, lamentations, and imprecations. So noble a mistress! So good a lady!" M. and Mme.

de Tremorel, one could see, were adored by their people. The countess had just been laid upon the billiard-table, on the ground-floor, when the judge of instruction and a physician were announced. "At last!" sighed the worthy mayor; and in a lower tone he added, "the finest medals have their reverse." For the first time in his life, he seriously cursed his ambition, and regretted being the most important personage in Orcival. III The judge of instruction of the tribunal at Corbeil, was M. Antoine Domini, a remarkable man, since called to higher functions.

He was forty years of age, of a prepossessing person, and endowed with a very expressive, but too grave physiognomy. In him seemed typified the somewhat stiff solemnity of the magistracy. Penetrated with the dignity of his office, he sacrificed his life to it, rejecting the most simple distractions, and the most innocent pleasures. He lived alone, seldom showing himself abroad; rarely received his friends, not wishing, as he said, that the weaknesses of the man should derogate from the sacred character of the judge. This latter reason had deterred him from marrying, though he felt the need of a domestic sphere. Always and everywhere he was the magistrate--that is, the representative, even to fanaticism, of what he thought the most august institution on the earth.

Naturally gay, he would double-lock himself in when he wished to laugh.

He was witty; but if a bright sally escaped him, you may be sure he repented of it. Body and soul he gave to his vocation; and no one could bring more conscientiousness to the discharge of what he thought to be his duty. He was also inflexible. It was monstrous, in his eyes, to discuss an article of the code. The law spoke; it was enough; he shut his eyes, covered his ears, and obeyed. From the day when a legal investigation commenced, he did not sleep, and he employed every means to discover the truth. Yet he was not regarded as a good judge of instruction; to contend by tricks with a prisoner was repugnant to him; to lay a snare for a rogue he thought debasing; in short, he was obstinate--obstinate to foolishness, sometimes to absurdity; even to denying the existence of the sun at mid-day. The mayor and Papa Plantat hastened to meet M. He bowed to them gravely, as if he had not known them, and presenting to them a man of some sixty years who accompanied him: "Messieurs," said he, "this is Doctor Gendron." Papa Plantat shook hands with the doctor; the mayor smiled graciously at him, for Dr.

Gendron was well-known in those parts; he was even celebrated, despite the nearness of Paris. Loving his art and exercising it with a passionate energy, he yet owed his renown less to his science than his manners. People said: "He is an original;" they admired his affectation of independence, of scepticism, and rudeness. He made his visits from five to nine in the morning--all the worse for those for whom these hours were inconvenient. After nine o'clock the doctor was not to be had.

The doctor was working for himself, the doctor was in his laboratory, the doctor was inspecting his cellar. It was rumored that he sought for secrets of practical chemistry, to augment still more his twenty thousand livres of income. And he did not deny it; for in truth he was engaged on poisons, and was perfecting an invention by which could be discovered traces of all the alkaloids which up to that time had escaped analysis.

If his friends reproached him, even jokingly, on sending away sick people in the afternoon, he grew red with rage. "Parbleu!" he answered, "I find you superb!

I am a doctor four hours in the day. I am paid by hardly a quarter of my patients--that's three hours I give daily to humanity, which I despise. Let each of you do as much, and we shall see." The mayor conducted the new-comers into the drawing-room, where he installed himself to write down the results of his examination. "What a misfortune for my town, this crime!" said he to M. "What shame! Orcival has lost its reputation." "I know nothing of the affair," returned the judge. "The gendarme who went for me knew little about it." M. Courtois recounted at length what his investigation had discovered, not forgetting the minutest detail, dwelling especially on the excellent precautions which he had had the sagacity to take. He told how the conduct of the Bertauds had at first awakened his suspicions; how he had detected them, at least in a pointblank lie; how, finally, he had determined to arrest them.

He spoke standing, his head thrown back, with wordy emphasis. The pleasure of speaking partially rewarded him for his recent distress. "And now," he concluded, "I have just ordered the most exact search, so that doubtless we shall find the count's body. Five men, detailed by me, and all the people of the house, are searching the park. If their efforts are not crowned with success, I have here some fishermen who will drag the river." M. Domini held his tongue, only nodding his head from time to time, as a sign of approbation. He was studying, weighing the details told him, building up in his mind a plan of proceeding.

"You have acted wisely," said he, at last. "The misfortune is a great one, but I agree with you that we are on the track of the criminals. These poachers, or the gardener who has disappeared, have something, perhaps, to do with this abominable crime." Already, for some minutes, M.

Plantat had rather awkwardly concealed some signs of impatience. "The misfortune is," said he, "that if Guespin is guilty, he will not be such a fool as to show himself here." "Oh, we'll find him," returned M. "Before leaving Corbeil, I sent a despatch to the prefecture of police at Paris, to ask for a police agent, who will doubtless be here shortly." "While waiting," proposed the mayor, "perhaps you would like to see the scene of the crime?" M. Domini made a motion as if to rise; then sat down again. "In fact, no," said he; "we will see nothing till the agent arrives. But I must have some information concerning the Count and Countess de Tremorel." The worthy mayor again triumphed. "Oh, I can give it to you," answered he quickly, "better than anybody. Ever since their advent here, I may say, I have been one of their best friends.

Ah, sir, what charming people! excellent, and affable, and devoted--" And at the remembrance of all his friends' good qualities, M. Courtois choked in his utterance. "The Count de Tremorel," he resumed, "was a man of thirty-four years, handsome, witty to the tips of his nails. He had sometimes, however, periods of melancholy, during which he did not wish to see anybody; but he was ordinarily so affable, so polite, so obliging; he knew so well how to be noble without haughtiness, that everybody here esteemed and loved him." "And the countess?" asked the judge of instruction. "An angel, Monsieur, an angel on earth!

Poor lady! You will soon see her remains, and surely you would not guess that she has been the queen of the country, by reason of her beauty." "Were they rich?" "Yes; they must have had, together, more than a hundred thousand francs income--oh, yes, much more; for within five or six months the count, who had not the bucolic tastes of poor Sauvresy, sold some lands to buy consols." "Have they been married long?" M. Courtois scratched his head; it was his appeal to memory. "Faith," he answered, "it was in September of last year; just six months ago.

I married them myself. Poor Sauvresy had been dead a year." The judge of instruction looked up from his notes with a surprised air. "Who is this Sauvresy," he inquired, "of whom you speak?" Papa Plantat, who was furiously biting his nails in a corner, apparently a stranger to what was passing, rose abruptly. "Monsieur Sauvresy," said he, "was the first husband of Madame de Tremorel.

My friend Courtois has omitted this fact." "Oh!" said the mayor, in a wounded tone, "it seems to me that under present circumstances--" "Pardon me," interrupted the judge. "It is a detail such as may well become valuable, though apparently foreign to the case, and at the first view, insignificant." "Hum!" grunted Papa Plantat. "Insignificant--foreign to it!" His tone was so singular, his air so strange, that M. Domini was struck by it.

"Do you share," he asked, "the opinion of the mayor regarding the Tremorels?" Plantat shrugged his shoulders. "I haven't any opinions," he answered: "I live alone--see nobody; don't disturb myself about anything. But--" "It seems to me," said M. Courtois, "that nobody should be better acquainted with people who were my friends than I myself." "Then, you are telling the story clumsily," said M. Plantat, dryly. The judge of instruction pressed him to explain himself. Plantat, without more ado, to the great scandal of the mayor, who was thus put into the background, proceeded to dilate upon the main features of the count's and countess's biography. "The Countess de Tremorel, nee Bertha Lechaillu, was the daughter of a poor village school-master. At eighteen, her beauty was famous for three leagues around, but as she only had for dowry her great blue eyes and blond ringlets, but few serious lovers presented themselves.

Already Bertha, by advice of her family, had resigned herself to take a place as a governess--a sad position for so beautiful a maid--when the heir of one of the richest domains in the neighborhood happened to see her, and fell in love with her. "Clement Sauvresy was just thirty; he had no longer any family, and possessed nearly a hundred thousand livres income from lands absolutely free of incumbrance. Clearly, he had the best right in the world to choose a wife to his taste. He did not hesitate. He asked for Bertha's hand, won it, and, a month after, wedded her at mid-day, to the great scandal of the neighboring aristocracy, who went about saying: 'What folly! what good is there in being rich, if it is not to double one's fortune by a good marriage!' "Nearly a month before the marriage, Sauvresy set the laborers to work at Valfeuillu, and in no long time had spent, in repairs and furniture, a trifle of thirty thousand crowns. The newly married pair chose this beautiful spot in which to spend their honeymoon. They were so well-contented there that they established themselves permanently at Valfeuillu, to the great satisfaction of the neighborhood. "Bertha was one of those persons, it seemed, who are born especially to marry millionnaires. Without awkwardness or embarrassment, she passed easily from the humble school-room, where she had assisted her father, to the splendid drawing-room of Valfeuillu.

And when she did the honors of her chateau to all the neighboring aristocracy, it seemed as though she had never done anything else. She knew how to remain simple, approachable, modest, all the while that she took the tone of the highest society. She was beloved." "But it appears to me," interrupted the mayor, "that I said the same thing, and it was really not worth while--" A gesture from M. Domini closed his mouth, and M. Plantat continued: "Sauvresy was also liked, for he was one of those golden hearts which know not how to suspect evil. He was one of those men with a robust faith, with obstinate illusions, whom doubts never disturb.

He was one of those who thoroughly confide in the sincerity of their friends, in the love of their mistresses. This new domestic household ought to be happy; it was so. Bertha adored her husband--that frank man, who, before speaking to her a word of love, offered her his hand. Sauvresy professed for his wife a worship which few thought foolish. They lived in great style at Valfeuillu. They received a great deal.

When autumn came all the numerous spare chambers were filled. The turnouts were magnificent. "Sauvresy had been married two years, when one evening he brought from Paris one of his old and intimate friends, a college comrade of whom he had often spoken, Count Hector de Tremorel. The count intended to remain but a short time at Valfeuillu; but weeks passed and then months, and he still remained. It was not surprising. Hector had passed a very stormy youth, full of debauchery, of clubs, of gambling, and of amours. He had thrown to the winds of his caprices an immense fortune; the relatively calm life of Valfeuillu was a relief. At first people said to him, 'You will soon have enough of the country.' He smiled, but said nothing.

It was then thought, and rightly, perhaps, that having become poor, he cared little to display his ruin before those who had obscured his splendor. He absented himself rarely, and then only to go to Corbeil, almost always on foot. There he frequented the Belle Image hotel, the best in the town, and met, as if by chance, a young lady from Paris. They spent the afternoon together, and separated when the last train left." "Peste!" growled the mayor, "for a man who lives alone, who sees nobody, who would not for the world have anything to do with other people's business, it seems to me our dear Monsieur Plantat is pretty well informed." Evidently M. Courtois was jealous. How was it that he, the first personage in the place, had been absolutely ignorant of these meetings? His ill-humor was increasing, when Dr. Gendron answered: "Pah! all Corbeil prated about that at the time." M. Plantat made a movement with his lips as if to say, "I know other things besides." He went on, however, with his story.

"The visit of Count Hector made no change in the habits at the chateau. Monsieur and Madame Sauvresy had a brother; that was all. Sauvresy at this time made several journeys to Paris, where, as everybody knew, he was engaged in arranging his friend's affairs. "This charming existence lasted a year. Happiness seemed to be fixed forever beneath the delightful shades of Valfeuillu. But alas!

one evening on returning from the hunt, Sauvresy became so ill that he was forced to take to his bed. A doctor was called; inflammation of the chest had set in. Sauvresy was young, vigorous as an oak; his state did not at first cause anxiety. A fortnight afterward, in fact, he was up and about.

But he was imprudent and had a relapse. He again nearly recovered; a week afterward there was another relapse, and this time so serious, that a fatal end of his illness was foreseen. During this long sickness, the love of Bertha and the affection of Tremorel for Sauvresy were tenderly shown.

Never was an invalid tended with such solicitude--surrounded with so many proofs of the purest devotion. His wife and his friend were always at his couch, night and day.

He had hours of suffering, but never a second of weariness. He repeated to all who went to see him, that he had come to bless his illness. He said to himself, 'If I had not fallen ill, I should never have known how much I was beloved.'" "He said the same thing to me," interrupted the mayor, "more than a hundred times. He also said so to Madame Courtois, to Laurence, my eldest daughter--" "Naturally," continued M. Plantat. "But Sauvresy's distemper was one against which the science of the most skilful physicians and the most constant care contend in vain. "He said that he did not suffer much, but he faded perceptibly, and was no more than the shadow of his former self.

At last, one night, toward two or three o'clock, he died in the arms of his wife and his friend. Up to the last moment, he had preserved the full force of his faculties. Less than an hour before expiring, he wished everyone to be awakened, and that all the servants of the castle should be summoned. When they were all gathered about the bedside, he took his wife's hand, placed it in that of the Count de Tremorel, and made them swear to marry each other when he was no more. Bertha and Hector began to protest, but he insisted in such a manner as to compel assent, praying and adjuring them, and declaring that their refusal would embitter his last moments.

This idea of the marriage between his widow and his friend seems, besides, to have singularly possessed his thoughts toward the close of his life. In the preamble of his will, dictated the night before his death, to M. Bury, notary of Orcival, he says formally that their union is his dearest wish, certain as he is of their happiness, and knowing well that his memory will be piously kept." "Had Monsieur and Madame Sauvresy no children?" asked the judge of instruction. "No," answered the mayor.

Plantat continued: "The grief of the count and the young widow was intense. de Tremorel, especially, seemed absolutely desperate, and acted like a madman. The countess shut herself up, forbidding even those whom she loved best from entering her chamber--even Madame Courtois. When the count and Madame Bertha reappeared, they were scarcely to be recognized, so much had both changed. Monsieur Hector seemed to have grown twenty years older. Would they keep the oath made at the death-bed of Sauvresy, of which everyone was apprised? This was asked with all the more curiosity, because their profound sorrow for a man who well merited it, was admired." The judge of instruction stopped M. Plantat with a motion of his hand.

"Do you know," asked he, "whether the rendezvous at the Hotel Belle Image had ceased?" "I suppose so, sir; I think so." "I am almost sure of it," said Dr. "I have often heard it said--they know everything at Corbeil--that there was a heated explanation between M.

de Tremorel and the pretty Parisian lady. After this quarrel, they were no longer seen at the Belle Image." The old justice of the peace smiled. "Melun is not at the end of the world," said he, "and there are hotels at Melun. With a good horse, one is soon at Fontainebleau, at Versailles, even at Paris.

Madame de Tremorel might have been jealous; her husband had some first-rate trotters in his stables." Did M. Plantat give an absolutely disinterested opinion, or did he make an insinuation? The judge of instruction looked at him attentively, to reassure himself, but his visage expressed nothing but a profound serenity. He told the story as he would any other, no matter what. "Please go on, Monsieur," resumed M. "Alas!" said M.

Plantat, "nothing here below is eternal, not even grief.

I know it better than anybody. Soon, to the tears of the first days, to violent despair, there succeeded, in the count and Madame Bertha, a reasonable sadness, then a soft melancholy. And in one year after Sauvresy's death Monsieur de Tremorel espoused his widow." During this long narrative the mayor had several times exhibited marks of impatience. At the end, being able to hold in no longer, he exclaimed: "There, those are surely exact details; but I question whether they have advanced us a step in this grave matter which occupies us all--to find the murderers of the count and countess." M. Plantat, at these words, bent on the judge of instruction his clear and deep look, as if to search his conscience to the bottom. "These details were indispensable," returned M. Domini, "and they are very clear. Those rendezvous at the hotel struck me; one knows not to what extremities jealousy might lead a woman--" He stopped abruptly, seeking, no doubt, some connection between the pretty Parisian and the murderers; then resumed: "Now that I know the Tremorels as if I had lived with them intimately, let us proceed to the actual facts." The brilliant eye of M. Plantat immediately grew dim; he opened his lips as if to speak; but kept his peace. The doctor alone, who had not ceased to study the old justice of the peace, remarked the sudden change of his features.

"It only remains," said M. Courtois thought it due to his dignity to anticipate M. Plantat. "You ask how the new couple lived," said he hastily; "they lived in perfect concord; nobody knows better about it than I, who was most intimate with them.

The memory of poor Sauvresy was a bond of happiness between them; if they liked me so well, it was because I often talked of him. Never a cloud, never a cross word. Hector--I called him so, familiarly, this poor, dear count--gave his wife the tender attentions of a lover; those delicate cares, which I fear most married people soon dispense with." "And the countess?" asked M. Plantat, in a tone too marked not to be ironical. "Bertha?" replied the worthy mayor--"she permitted me to call her thus, paternally--I have cited her many and many a time as an example and model, to Madame Courtois. She was worthy of Hector and of Sauvresy, the two most worthy men I have ever met!" Then, perceiving that his enthusiasm somewhat surprised his hearers, he added, more softly: "I have my reasons for expressing myself thus; and I do not hesitate to do so before men whose profession and character will justify my discretion. Sauvresy, when living, did me a great service--when I was forced to take the mayoralty. As for Hector, I knew well that he had departed--from the dissipations of his youth, and thought I discerned that he was not indifferent to my eldest daughter, Laurence; and I dreamed of a marriage all the more proper, as, if the Count Hector had a great name, I would give to my daughter a dowry large enough to gild any escutcheon. Only events modified my projects." The mayor would have gone on singing the praises of the Tremorels, and his own family, if the judge of instruction had not interposed.

"Here I am fixed," he commenced, "now, it seems to me--" He was interrupted by a loud noise in the vestibule. It seemed like a struggle, and cries and shouts reached the drawing-room. "I know what it is," said the mayor, "only too well. They have just found the body of the Count de Tremorel." IV The mayor was mistaken. The drawing-room door opened suddenly, and a man of slender form, who was struggling furiously, and with an energy which would not have been suspected, appeared, held on one side by a gendarme, and on the other by a domestic. The struggle had already lasted long, and his clothes were in great disorder. His new coat was torn, his cravat floated in strips, the button of his collar had been wrenched off, and his open shirt left his breast bare. In the vestibule and court were heard the frantic cries of the servants and the curious crowd--of whom there were more than a hundred, whom the news of the crime had collected about the gate, and who burned to hear, and above all to see. This enraged crowd cried: "It is he!

Death to the assassin! See him!" And the wretch, inspired by an immense fright, continued to struggle. "Help!" shouted he hoarsely. "Leave me alone. I am innocent!" He had posted himself against the drawing-room door, and they could not force him forward. "Push him," ordered the mayor, "push him." It was easier to command than to execute. But it occurred to the doctor to open the second wing of the door; the support failed the wretch, and he fell, or rather rolled at the foot of the table at which the judge of instruction was seated. He was straightway on his feet again, and his eyes sought a chance to escape.

Seeing none--for the windows and doors were crowded with the lookers-on--he fell into a chair. The fellow appeared the image of terror, wrought up to paroxysm. On his livid face, black and blue, were visible the marks of the blows he had received in the struggle; his white lips trembled, and he moved his jaws as if he sought a little saliva for his burning tongue; his staring eyes were bloodshot, and expressed the wildest distress; his body was bent with convulsive spasms. So terrible was this spectacle, that the mayor thought it might be an example of great moral force. He turned toward the crowd, and pointing to Guespin, said in a tragic tone: "See what crime is!" The others exchanged surprised looks. Plantat, "why on earth has he returned?" It was with difficulty that the crowd was kept back; the brigadier was forced to call in the aid of his men. Then he returned and placed himself beside Guespin, thinking it not prudent to leave him alone with unarmed men. But the man was little to be feared. The reaction came; his over-excited energy became exhausted, his strained muscles flaccid, and his prostration resembled the agony of brain fever. Meanwhile the brigadier recounted what had happened.

"Some of the servants of the chateau and the neighboring houses were chatting near the gate, about the crime, and the disappearance of Guespin last night, when all of a sudden, someone perceived him at a distance, staggering, and singing boisterously, as if he were drunk." "Was he really drunk?" asked M. "Very," returned the brigadier. "Then we owe it to the wine that we have caught him, and thus all will be explained." "On perceiving this wretch," pursued the gendarme, who seemed not to have the shadow of a doubt of Guespin's guilt, "Francois, the count's valet de chambre, and Baptiste, the mayor's servant, who were there, hastened to meet him, and seized him. He was so tipsy that he thought they were fooling with him. When he saw my men, he was undeceived. Just then one of the women cried out, 'Brigand, it was you who have this night assassinated the count and the countess!' He immediately became paler than death, and remained motionless and dumb.

Then he began to struggle so violently that he nearly escaped. Ah! he's strong, the rogue, although he does not look like it." "And he said nothing?" said Plantat. "Not a word; his teeth were so tightly shut with rage that I'm sure he couldn't say 'bread.' But we've got him. I've searched him, and this is what I have found in his pockets: a handkerchief, a pruning-knife, two small keys, a scrap of paper covered with figures, and an address of the establishment of 'Vulcan's Forges.' But that's not all--" The brigadier took a step, and eyed his auditors mysteriously; he was preparing his effect. "That's not all.

While they were bringing him along in the court-yard, he tried to get rid of his wallet. Happily I had my eyes open, and saw the dodge. I picked up the wallet, which he had thrown among the flowers near the door; here it is. In it are a one-hundred-franc note, three napoleons, and seven francs in change.

Yesterday the rascal hadn't a sou--" "How do you know that?" asked M. "Dame! Monsieur Judge, he borrowed of the valet Francois (who told me of it) twenty-five francs, pretending that it was to pay his share of the wedding expenses." "Tell Francois to come here," said the judge of instruction. "Now, sir," he continued, when the valet presented himself, "do you know whether Guespin had any money yesterday?" "He had so little, Monsieur," answered Francois promptly, "that he asked me to lend him twenty-five francs during the day, saying that otherwise he could not go to the wedding, not having enough even to pay his railway fare." "But he might have some savings--a hundred-franc note, for instance, which he didn't like to change." Francois shook his head with an incredulous smile. "Guespin isn't the man to have savings," said he; "Women and cards exhaust all his wages. No longer ago than last week, the keeper of the Cafe du Commerce came here and made a row on account of what he owed him, and threatened to go to the count about it." Perceiving the effect of what he said, the valet, as if to correct himself, hastened to add: "I have no ill-will toward Guespin; before to-day I've always considered him a clever fellow, though he was too much of a practical joker; he was, perhaps, a little proud, considering his bringing up--" "You may go," said the judge, cutting the disquisition of M. Francois short; the valet retired. During this colloquy, Guespin had little by little come to himself. The judge of instruction, Plantat, and the mayor narrowly watched the play of his countenance, which he had not the coolness to compose, while the doctor held his pulse and counted its beating. "Remorse, and fear of punishment," muttered the mayor.

"Innocence, and the impossibility of proving it," responded Plantat in a low tone.

Domini heard both these exclamations, but did not appear to take notice of them. His opinion was not formed, and he did not wish that anyone should be able to foretell, by any word of his, what it would be. "Are you better, my friend?" asked Dr. The poor fellow made an affirmative sign. Then, having looked around with the anxious glance of a man who calculates a precipice over which he has fallen, he passed his hand across his eyes and stammered: "Something to drink!" A glass of water was brought, and he drank it at a draught, with an expression of intense satisfaction. "Are you now in a fit state to answer me?" asked the judge. Guespin staggered a little, then drew himself up. He continued erect before the judge, supporting himself against a table.

The nervous trembling of his hands diminished, the blood returned to his cheeks, and as he listened, he arranged the disorder of his clothes. "You know the events of this night, don't you?" commenced the judge; "the Count and Countess de Tremorel have been murdered. You went away yesterday with all the servants of the chateau; you left them at the Lyons station about nine o'clock; you have just returned, alone. Where have you passed the night?" Guespin hung his head and remained silent. "That is not all," continued M.

Domini; "yesterday you had no money, the fact is well known; one of your fellow-servants has just proved it.

To-day, one hundred and sixty-seven francs are found in your wallet.

Where did you get this money?" The unhappy creature's lip moved as if he wished to answer; a sudden thought seemed to check him, for he did not speak.

What is this card of a hardware establishment that has been found in your pocket?" Guespin made a sign of desperation, and stammered: "I am innocent." "I have not as yet accused you," said the judge of instruction, quickly. "You knew, perhaps, that the count received a considerable sum yesterday?" A bitter smile parted Guespin's lips as he answered: "I know well enough that everything is against me." There was a profound silence. The doctor, the mayor, and Plantat, seized with a keen curiosity, dared not move. Perhaps nothing in the world is more thrilling than one of these merciless duels between justice and a man suspected of a crime.

The questions may seem insignificant, the answers irrelevant; both questions and answers envelop terrible, hidden meanings. The smallest gesture, the most rapid movement of physiognomy may acquire deep significance, a fugitive light in the eye betray an advantage gained; an imperceptible change in the voice may be confession.

Domini was disheartening. "Let us see," said he after a pause: "where did you pass the night? And what does this address mean?" "Eh!" cried Guespin, with the rage of powerlessness, "I should tell you what you would not believe." The judge was about to ask another question, but Guespin cut him short. "No; you wouldn't believe me," he repeated, his eyes glistening with anger. I have a past, you know, of antecedents, as you would say. The past!

They throw that in my face, as if, the future depended on the past. Well, yes; it's true, I'm a debauchee, a gambler, a drunkard, an idler, but what of it? It's true I have been before the police court, and condemned for night poaching--what does that prove? I have wasted my life, but whom have I wronged if not myself? My past! Have I not sufficiently expiated it?" Guespin was self-possessed, and finding in himself sensations which awoke a sort of eloquence, he expressed himself with a savage energy well calculated to strike his hearers. "I have not always served others," he continued; "my father was in easy circumstances--almost rich. He had large gardens, near Saumur, and he passed for one of the best gardeners of that region.

I was educated, and when sixteen years old, began to study law. Four years later they thought me a talented youth. Unhappily for me, my father died. He left me a landed property worth a hundred thousand francs: I sold it out for sixty thousand and went to Paris. I was a fool then. I had the fever of pleasure-seeking, a thirst for all sorts of pastimes, perfect health, plenty of money. I found Paris a narrow limit for my vices; it seemed to me that the objects of my desires were wanting. I thought my sixty thousand francs would last forever." Guespin paused; a thousand memories of those times rushed into his thoughts and he muttered: "Those were good times." "My sixty thousand francs," he resumed, "held out eight years. Then I hadn't a sou, yet I longed to continue my way of living.

You understand, don't you? About this time, the police, one night, arrested me. I was 'detained' six months. You will find the records of the affair at the prefecture. Do you know what it will tell you? It will tell you that on leaving prison I fell into that shameful and abominable misery which exists in Paris. It will tell you that I have lived among the worst and lowest outcasts of Paris--and it is the truth." The worthy mayor was filled with consternation. "Good Heaven!" thought he, "what an audacious and cynical rascal! and to think that one is liable at any time to admit such servants into his house!" The judge held his tongue. He knew that Guespin was in such a state that, under the irresistible impulse of passion, he might betray his innermost thoughts.

"But there is one thing," continued the suspected man, "that the record will not tell you; that, disgusted with this abject life, I was tempted to suicide.

It will not tell you anything of my desperate attempts, my repentance, my relapses.

At last, I was able in part to reform. I got work; and after being in four situations, engaged myself here. I always spent my month's wages in advance, it's true--but what would you have?

And ask if anyone has ever had to complain of me." It is well known that among the most intelligent criminals, those who have had a certain degree of education, and enjoyed some good fortune, are the most redoubtable. According to this, Guespin was decidedly dangerous. So thought those who heard him. Meanwhile, exhausted by his excitement, he paused and wiped his face, covered with perspiration. Domini had not lost sight of his plan of attack. "All that is very well," said he, "we will return to your confession at the proper time and place.

But just now the question is, how you spent your night, and where you got this money." This persistency seemed to exasperate Guespin. "Eh!" cried he, "how do you want me to answer? As well keep silent. It is a fatality." "I warn you for your own sake," resumed the judge, "that if you persist in refusing to answer, the charges which weigh upon you are such that I will have you arrested as suspected of this murder." This menace seemed to have a remarkable effect on Guespin. Great tears filled his eyes, up to that time dry and flashing, and silently rolled down his cheeks. His energy was exhausted; he fell on his knees, crying: "Mercy! I beg you, Monsieur, not to arrest me; I swear I am innocent, I swear it!" "Speak, then." "You wish it," said Guespin, rising.

Then he suddenly changed his tone. "No, I will not speak, I cannot! One man alone could save me; it is the count; and he is dead. I am innocent; yet if the guilty are not found, I am lost.

Everything is against me. Now, do with me as you please; I will not say another word." Guespin's determination, confirmed by his look, did not surprise the judge. "You will reflect," said he, quietly, "only, when you have reflected, I shall not have the same confidence in what you say as I should have now.

Possibly," and the judge spoke slowly and with emphasis, "you have only had an indirect part in this crime; if so--" "Neither indirect nor direct," interrupted Guespin; and he added, violently, "what misery! To be innocent, and not able to defend myself." "Since it is so," resumed M. Domini, "you should not object to be placed before Mme. de Tremorel's body?" The accused did not seem affected by this menace.

He was conducted into the hall whither they had fetched the countess. There, he examined the body with a cold and calm eye. He said, simply: "She is happier than I; she is dead, she suffers no longer; and I, who am not guilty, am accused of her death." M. Domini made one more effort. "Come, Guespin; if in any way you know of this crime, I conjure you, tell me. If you know the murderers, name them. Try to merit some indulgence for your frankness and repentance." Guespin made a gesture as if resigned to persecution. "By all that is most sacred," he answered, "I am innocent.

Yet I see clearly that if the murderer is not found, I am lost." Little by little M. Domini's conviction was formed and confirmed. An inquest of this sort is not so difficult as may be imagined. The difficulty is to seize at the beginning; in the entangled skein, the main thread, which must lead to the truth through all the mazes, the ruses, silence, falsehoods of the guilty. Domini was certain that he held this precious thread. Having one of the assassins, he knew well that he would secure the others. Our prisons, where good soup is eaten, and good beds are provided, have tongues, as well as the dungeons of the medieval ages. The judge ordered the brigadier to arrest Guespin, and told him not to lose sight of him. He then sent for old Bertaud.

This worthy personage was not one of the people who worry themselves. He had had so many affairs with the men of law, that one inquisition the more disturbed him little.

"This man has a bad reputation in my commune," whispered the mayor to M.

Bertaud heard it, however, and smiled. Questioned by the judge of instruction, he recounted very clearly and exactly what had happened in the morning, his resistance, and his son's determination. He explained the reason for the falsehood they told; and here again the chapter of antecedents came up. "Look here; I'm better than my reputation, after all," said he. "There are many folks who can't say as much. You see many things when you go about at night--enough." He was urged to explain his allusions, but in vain. When he was asked where and how he had passed the night, he answered, that having left the cabaret at ten o'clock, he went to put down some traps in Mauprevoir wood; and had gone home and to bed about one o'clock. "By the bye," added he, "there ought to be some game in those traps by this time." "Can you bring a witness to prove that you went home at one?" asked the mayor, who bethought him of the count's clock, stopped at twenty minutes past three. "Don't know, I'm sure," carelessly responded the poacher, "it's quite likely that my son didn't wake up when I went to bed." He added, seeing the judge reflect: "I suspect that you are going to imprison me until the murderers are discovered. If it was winter, I wouldn't complain much; a fellow is well off in prison then, for it's warm there.

But just at the time for hunting, it's provoking. It will be a good lesson for that Philippe; it'll teach him what it costs to render a service to gentlefolks." "Enough!" interrupted M. "Do you know Guespin?" This name suddenly subdued the careless insolence of the marauder; his little gray eyes experienced a singular restlessness.

"Certainly," he answered in an embarrassed tone, "we have often made a party at cards, you understand, while sipping our 'gloria.'"* The man's inquietude struck the four who heard him. Plantat, especially, betrayed profound surprise.

The old vagabond was too shrewd not to perceive the effect which he produced. "Faith, so much the worse!" cried he: "I'll tell you everything. Every man for himself, isn't it? If Guespin has done the deed, it will not blacken him any more, nor make him any the worse off. I know him, simply because he used to sell me the grapes and strawberries from the count's conservatories; I suppose he stole them; we divided the money, and I left." Plantat could not refrain from an exclamation of satisfaction, as if to say, "Good luck! I knew it well enough!" When he said he would be sent to prison, Bertaud was not wrong. The judge ordered his arrest. It was now Philippe's turn.

The poor fellow was in a pitiable state; he was crying bitterly. "To accuse me of such a crime, me!" he kept repeating. On being questioned he told the pure and simple truth, excusing himself, however, for having dared to penetrate into the park. When he was asked at what hour his father reached home, he said he knew nothing about it; he had gone to bed about nine, and had not awoke until morning. He knew Guespin, from having seen him at his father's several times. He knew that the old man had some transactions with the gardener, but he was ignorant as to what they were. He had never spoken four times to Guespin.

The judge ordered Philippe to be set at liberty, not that he was wholly convinced of his innocence, but because if the crime had been committed by several persons, it was well to have one of them free; he could be watched, and he would betray the whereabouts of the rest. Meanwhile the count's body was nowhere to be found. The park had been rigidly searched, but in vain. The mayor suggested that he had been thrown into the river, which was also M. Domini's opinion; and some fishermen were sent to drag the Seine, commencing their search a little above the place where the countess was found. It was then nearly three o'clock. Plantat remarked that probably no one had eaten anything during the day. Would it not be wise to take something, he suggested, if the investigations were to be pursued till night?

This appeal to the trivial necessities of our frail humanity highly displeased the worthy mayor; but the rest readily assented to the suggestion, and M. Courtois, though not in the least hungry, followed the general example. Around the table which was yet wet with the wine spilt by the assassins, the judge, M. Plantat, the mayor, and the doctor sat down, and partook of an improvised collation.

V The staircase had been put under guard, but the vestibule had remained free. People were heard coming and going, tramping and coughing; then rising above this continuous noise, the oaths of the gendarmes trying to keep back the crowd. From time to time, a scared face passed by the dining-room door, which was ajar. These were curious folks who, more daring than the rest, wished to see the "men of justice" eating, and tried to hear a word or two, to report them, and so become important in the eyes of the others. But the "men of justice"--as they said at Orcival--took care to say nothing of moment while the doors were open, and while a servant was passing to and fro. Greatly moved by this frightful crime, disturbed by the mystery which surrounded it, they hid their impressions. Each, on his part, studied the probability of his suspicions, and kept his opinion to himself.

Domini, as he ate, put his notes in order, numbering the leaves, marking certain peculiarly significant answers of the suspected persons with a cross. He was, perhaps, the least tormented of the four companions at this funereal repast.

The crime did not seem to him one of those which keep judges of instruction sleepless through the night; he saw clearly the motive of it; and he had Bertaud and Guespin, two of the assassins, or at least accomplices, secure. Plantat and Dr. Gendron, seated next each other, were talking of the illness which carried off Sauvresy. The news of the double murder was soon noised about the neighborhood, and the crowd increased every minute. It filled the court, and became bolder and bolder; the gendarmes were overwhelmed. Then or never was the time for the mayor to show his authority. "I am going to make these people listen to reason," said he, "and make them retire." And at once, wiping his mouth, he threw his tumbled napkin on the table, and went out. It was time. The brigadier's injunctions were no longer heeded. Some curious people, more eager than the rest, had flanked the position and were forcing an entrance through the gate leading to the garden.

The mayor's presence did not perhaps intimidate the crowd much, but it redoubled the energy of the gendarmes; the vestibule was cleared, amid murmurings against the arm of the law. What a chance for a speech! Courtois was not wanting to the occasion. He believed that his eloquence, endowed with the virtues of a cold showerbath, would calm this unwonted effervescence of his constituency. He stepped forward upon the steps, his left hand resting in the opening of his vest, gesturing with his right in the proud and impassible attitude which the sculptor lends to great orators. It was thus that he posed before his council when, finding unexpected opposition, he undertook to impose his will upon them, and recall the recalcitrant members to their duty. His speech, in fragments, penetrated to the dining-room. According as he turned to the right or to the left, his voice was clear and distinct, or was lost in space.

He said: "Fellow-citizens, an atrocious crime, unheard of before in our commune, has shocked our peaceable and honest neighborhood. I understand and excuse your feverish emotion, your natural indignation. As well as you, my friends, more than you--I cherished and esteemed the noble Count de Tremorel, and his virtuous wife. We mourn them together--" "I assure you," said Dr. Plantat, "that the symptoms you describe are not uncommon after pleurisy. From the acute state, the inflammation passes to the chronic state, and becomes complicated with pneumonia." "But nothing," pursued the mayor, "can justify a curiosity, which by its importunate attempts to be satisfied, embarrasses the investigation, and is, at all events, a punishable interference with the cause of justice. Why this unwonted gathering? Why these rumors and noises? These premature conjectures?" "There were several consultations," said M. Plantat, "which did not have favorable results.

Sauvresy suffered altogether strange and unaccountable tortures. He complained of troubles so unwonted, so absurd, if you'll excuse the word, that he discouraged all the conjectures of the most experienced physicians." "Was it not R---, of Paris, who attended him?" "Exactly. He came daily, and often remained overnight. Many times I have seen him ascending the principal street of the village, with troubled countenance, as he went to give his prescription to the apothecary. Courtois, "to moderate your just anger; be calm; be dignified." "Surely," continued Dr. Gendron, "your apothecary is an intelligent man; but you have at Orcival a fellow who quite outdoes him, a fellow who knows how to make money; one Robelot--" "Robelot, the bone-setter?" "That's the man. I suspect him of giving consultations, and prescribing sub rosa.

In fact I educated him. Five or six years ago, he was my laboratory boy, and even now I employ him when I have a delicate operation on hand--" The doctor stopped, struck by the alteration in the impassible Plantat's features. "What is the matter, my friend?" he asked. "Are you ill?" The judge left his notes, to look at him. "Why," said he, "Monsieur Plantat is very pale--" But M. Plantat speedily resumed his habitual expression. "'Tis nothing," he answered, "really nothing.

With my abominable stomach, as soon as I change my hour of eating--" Having reached his peroration, M. Courtois raised his voice.

"Return," said he, "to your peaceable homes, your quiet avocations. Rest assured the law protects you. Already justice has begun its work; two of the criminals are in its power, and we are on the track of their accomplices." "Of all the servants of the chateau," remarked M. Plantat, "there remains not one who knew Sauvresy. The domestics have one by one been replaced." "No doubt," answered the doctor, "the sight of the old servants would be disagreeable to Monsieur de Tremorel." He was interrupted by the mayor, who re-entered, his eyes glowing, his face animated, wiping his forehead. "I have let the people know," said he, "the indecency of their curiosity. They have all gone away. They were anxious to get at Philippe Bertaud, the brigadier says; public opinion has a sharp scent." Hearing the door open, he turned, and found himself face to face with a man whose features were scarcely visible, so profoundly did he bow, his hat pressed against his breast.

"What do you wish?" sternly asked M. "By what right have you come in here?--Who are you?" The man drew himself up. "I am Monsieur Lecoq," he replied, with a gracious smile. "Monsieur Lecoq of the detective force, sent by the prefect of police in reply to a telegram, for this affair." This declaration clearly surprised all present, even the judge of instruction. In France, each profession has its special externals, as it were, insignia, which betray it at first view. Each profession has its conventional type, and when public opinion has adopted a type, it does not admit it possible that the type should be departed from. What is a doctor?

A grave man, all in black, with a white cravat. A gentleman with a capacious stomach, adorned with heavy gold seals, can only be a banker. Everybody knows that the artist is a merry liver, with a peaked hat, a velvet vest, and enormous ruffles. By virtue of this rule, the detective of the prefecture ought to have an eye full of mystery, something suspicious about him, a negligence of dress, and imitation jewelry. The most obtuse shopkeeper is sure that he can scent a detective at twenty paces a big man with mustaches, and a shining felt hat, his throat imprisoned by a collar of hair, dressed in a black, threadbare surtout, carefully buttoned up on account of the entire absence of linen.

But, according to this, M. Lecoq, as he entered the dining-room at Valfeuillu, had by no means the air of a detective. Lecoq can assume whatever air he pleases. His friends declare that he has a physiognomy peculiar to himself, which he resumes when he enters his own house, and which he retains by his own fireside, with his slippers on; but the fact is not well proved. What is certain, is that his mobile face lends itself to strange metamorphoses; that he moulds his features according to his will, as the sculptor moulds clay for modelling. He changes everything, even his look. "So," said the judge of instruction, "the prefect has sent you to me, in case certain investigations become necessary." "Yes, Monsieur, quite at your service." M. Lecoq had on this day assumed a handsome wig of lank hair, of that vague color called Paris blonde, parted on the side by a line pretentiously fanciful; whiskers of the same color puffed out with bad pomade, encircled a pallid face. His big eyes seemed congealed within their red border, an open smile rested on his thick lips, which, in parting, discovered a range of long yellow teeth.

His face, otherwise, expressed nothing in particular. It was a nearly equal mixture of timidity, self-sufficiency, and contentment.

It was quite impossible to concede the least intelligence to the possessor of such a phiz. One involuntarily looked for a goitre. The retail haberdashers, who, having cheated for thirty years in their threads and needles, retire with large incomes, should have such heads as this. His apparel was as dull as his person.

His coat resembled all coats, his trousers all trousers. A hair chain, the same color as his whiskers, was attached to a large silver watch, which bulged out his left waistcoat pocket. While speaking, he fumbled with a confection-box made of transparent horn, full of little square lozenges, and adorned by a portrait of a very homely, well-dressed woman--"the defunct," no doubt. As the conversation proceeded, according as he was satisfied or disturbed, M. Lecoq munched a lozenge, or directed glances toward the portrait which were quite a poem in themselves.

Having examined the man a long time, the judge of instruction shrugged his shoulders. "Well," said M.

Domini, finally, "now that you are here, we will explain to you what has occurred." "Oh, that's quite useless," responded Lecoq, with a satisfied air, "perfectly useless, sir." "Nevertheless, it is necessary that you should know--" "What? that which monsieur the judge knows?" interrupted the detective, "for that I already know. Let us agree there has been a murder, with theft as its motive; and start from that point. The countess's body has been found--not so that of the count.

What else? Bertaud, an acknowledged rogue, is arrested; he merits a little punishment, doubtless. Guespin came back drunk; ah, there are sad charges against this Guespin! His past is deplorable; it is not known where he passed the night, he refuses to answer, he brings no alibi--this is indeed grave!" M. Plantat gazed at the detective with visible pleasure. "Who has told you about these things?" asked M.

"Well--everybody has told me a little." "But where?" "Here: I've already been here two hours, and even heard the mayor's speech." And, satisfied with the effect he had produced, M. Lecoq munched a lozenge. "You were not aware, then," resumed the judge, "that I was waiting for you?" "Pardon me," said the detective; "I hope you will be kind enough to hear me. You see, it is indispensable to study the ground; one must look about, establish his batteries. I am anxious to catch the general rumor--public opinion, as they say, so as to distrust it." "All this," answered M. Domini, severely, "does not justify your delay." M. Lecoq glanced tenderly at the portrait. "Monsieur the judge," said he, "has only to inquire at the prefecture, and he will learn that I know my profession. The great thing requisite, in order to make an effective search, is to remain unknown.

The police are not popular.

Now, if they knew who I was, and why I was here, I might go out, but nobody would tell me anything; I might ask questions--they'd serve me a hundred lies; they would distrust me, and hold their tongues." "Quite true--quite true," murmured Plantat, coming to the support of the detective. Lecoq went on: "So that when I was told that I was going into the country, I put on my country face and clothes. I arrive here and everybody, on seeing me, says to himself, 'Here's a curious bumpkin, but not a bad fellow.' Then I slip about, listen, talk, make the rest talk! I ask this question and that, and am answered frankly; I inform myself, gather hints, no one troubles himself about me. These Orcival folks are positively charming; why, I've already made several friends, and am invited to dine this very evening." M. Domini did not like the police, and scarcely concealed it. He rather submitted to their co-operation than accepted it, solely because he could not do without them. Lecoq, he could not but approve of what he said; yet he looked at him with an eye by no means friendly. "Since you know so much about the matter," observed he, dryly, "we will proceed to examine the scene of the crime." "I am quite at Monsieur the judge's orders," returned the detective, laconically.

As everyone was getting up, he took the opportunity to offer M. Plantat his lozenge-box. "Monsieur perhaps uses them?" Plantat, unwilling to decline, appropriated a lozenge, and the detective's face became again serene. Public sympathy was necessary to him, as it is to all great comedians. Lecoq was the first to reach the staircase, and the spots of blood at once caught his eye. "Oh," cried he, at each spot he saw, "oh, oh, the wretches!" M.

Courtois was much moved to find so much sensibility in a detective. The latter, as he continued to ascend, went on: "The wretches! They don't often leave traces like this everywhere--or at least they wipe them out." On gaining the first landing, and the door of the boudoir which led into the chamber, he stopped, eagerly scanning, before he entered, the position of the rooms. Then he entered the boudoir, saying: "Come; I don't see my way clear yet." "But it seems to me," remarked the judge, "that we have already important materials to aid your task. It is clear that Guespin, if he is not an accomplice, at least knew something about the crime." M. Lecoq had recourse to the portrait in the lozenge-box. It was more than a glance, it was a confidence.

He evidently said something to the dear defunct, which he dared not say aloud. "I see that Guespin is seriously compromised," resumed he. "Why didn't he want to tell where he passed the night? But, then, public opinion is against him, and I naturally distrust that." The detective stood alone in the middle of the room, the rest, at his request, remained at the threshold, and looking keenly about him, searched for some explanation of the frightful disorder of the apartment.

"Fools!" cried he, in an irritated tone, "double brutes! Because they murder people so as to rob them, is no reason why they should break everything in the house. Sharp folks don't smash up furniture; they carry pretty picklocks, which work well and make no noise. one would say--" He stopped with his mouth wide open. Not so bungling, after all, perhaps." The witnesses of this scene remained motionless at the door, following, with an interest mingled with surprise, the detective's movements. Kneeling down, he passed his flat palm over the thick carpet, among the broken porcelain. "It's damp; very damp. The tea was not all drunk, it seems, when the cups were broken." "Some tea might have remained in the teapot," suggested Plantat.

"I know it," answered M. Lecoq, "just what I was going to say. So that this dampness cannot tell us the exact moment when the crime was committed." "But the clock does, and very exactly," interrupted the mayor. "The mayor," said M. Domini, "in his notes, well explains that the movements of the clock stopped when it fell." "But see here," said M. Plantat, "it was the odd hour marked by that clock that struck me. The hands point to twenty minutes past three; yet we know that the countess was fully dressed, when she was struck. Was she up taking tea at three in the morning? It's hardly probable." "I, too, was struck with that circumstance," returned M. Lecoq, "and that's why I said, 'not so stupid!' Well, let's see." He lifted the clock with great care, and replaced it on the mantel, being cautious to set it exactly upright.

The hands continued to point to twenty minutes past three. "Twenty past three!" muttered he, while slipping a little wedge under the stand.

"People don't take tea at that hour. Still less common is it that people are murdered at daylight." He opened the clock-case with some difficulty, and pushed the longer hand to the figure of half-past three. Lecoq, triumphantly. "That is the truth!" and drawing the lozenge-box from his pocket, he excitedly crushed a lozenge between his teeth. The simplicity of this discovery surprised the spectators; the idea of trying the clock in this way had occurred to no one. Courtois, especially, was bewildered. "There's a fellow," whispered he to the doctor, "who knows what he's about." "Ergo," resumed M. Lecoq (who knew Latin), "we have here, not brutes, as I thought at first, but rascals who looked beyond the end of their knife.

They intended to put us off the scent, by deceiving us as to the hour." "I don't see their object very clearly," said M. "Yet it is easy to see it," answered M.

"Was it not for their interest to make it appear that the crime was committed after the last train for Paris had left? Guespin, leaving his companions at the Lyons station at nine, might have reached here at ten, murdered the count and countess, seized the money which he knew to be in the count's possession, and returned to Paris by the last train." "These conjectures are very shrewd," interposed M. Plantat; "but how is it that Guespin did not rejoin his comrades in the Batignolles? For in that way, to a certain degree, he might have provided a kind of alibi." Dr. Gendron had been sitting on the only unbroken chair in the chamber, reflecting on Plantat's sudden embarrassment, when he had spoken of Robelot the bone-setter.

The remarks of the judge drew him from his revery; he got up, and said: "There is another point; putting forward the time was perhaps useful to Guespin, but it would greatly damage Bertaud, his accomplice." "But," answered M. Domini, "it might be that Bertaud was not consulted. As to Guespin, he had no doubt good reasons for not returning to the wedding.

His restlessness, after such a deed, would possibly have betrayed him." M. Lecoq had not thought fit to speak as yet. Like a doctor at a sick bedside, he wanted to be sure of his diagnosis. He had returned to the mantel, and again pushed forward the hands of the clock. It sounded, successively, half-past eleven, then twelve, then half-past twelve, then one.

As he moved the hands, he kept muttering: "Apprentices--chance brigands! You are malicious, parbleu, but you don't think of everything. You give a push to the hands, but don't remember to put the striking in harmony with them.

Then comes along a detective, an old rat who knows things, and the dodge is discovered." M. Domini and Plantat held their tongues. Lecoq walked up to them. "Monsieur the Judge," said he, "is perhaps now convinced that the deed was done at half-past ten." "Unless," interrupted M. Plantat, "the machinery of the clock has been out of order." "That often happens," added M. "The clock in my drawing-room is in such a state that I never know the time of day." M. "It is possible," said he, "that Monsieur Plantat is right. The probability is in favor of my theory; but probability, in such an affair, is not sufficient; we must have certainty. There happily remains a mode of testing the matter--the bed; I'll wager it is rumpled up." Then addressing the mayor, "I shall need a servant to lend me a hand." "I'll help you," said Plantat, "that will be a quicker way." They lifted the top of the bed and set it on the floor, at the same time raising the curtains. Lecoq, "was I right?" "True," said M.

Domini, surprised, "the bed is rumpled." "Yes; and yet no one has lain in it." "But--" objected M. "I am sure of what I say," interrupted the detective. "The sheets, it is true, have been thrown back, perhaps someone has rolled about in the bed; the pillows have been tumbled, the quilts and curtains ruffled, but this bed has not the appearance of having been slept in. It is, perhaps, more difficult to rumple up a bed than to put it in order again. To make it up, the coverings must be taken off, and the mattresses turned. To disarrange it, one must actually lie down in it, and warm it with the body. A bed is one of those terrible witnesses which never misguide, and against which no counter testimony can be given. Nobody has gone to bed in this--" "The countess," remarked Plantat, "was dressed; but the count might have gone to bed first." "No," answered M. Lecoq, "I'll prove to the contrary.

The proof is easy, indeed, and a child of ten, having heard it, wouldn't think of being deceived by this intentional disorder of the bedclothes." M. Lecoq's auditors drew up to him. He put the coverings back upon the middle of the bed, and went on: "Both of the pillows are much rumpled, are they not? But look under the bolster--it is all smooth, and you find none of those wrinkles which are made by the weight of the head and the moving about of the arms. That's not all; look at the bed from the middle to the foot. The sheets being laid carefully, the upper and under lie close together everywhere. Slip your hand underneath--there--you see there is a resistance to your hand which would not occur if the legs had been stretched in that place.

Now Monsieur de Tremorel was tall enough to extend the full length of the bed." This demonstration was so clear, its proof so palpable, that it could not be gainsaid. "Let us examine the second mattress. When a person purposely disarranges a bed, he does not think of the second mattress." He lifted up the upper mattress, and observed that the covering of the under one was perfectly even. "H'm, the second mattress," muttered M.

Lecoq, as if some memory crossed his mind. "It appears to be proved," observed the judge, "that Monsieur de Tremorel had not gone to bed." "Besides," added the doctor, "if he had been murdered in his bed, his clothes would be lying here somewhere." "Without considering," suggested M. Lecoq, "that some blood must have been found on the sheets. Decidedly, these criminals were not shrewd." "What seems to me surprising," M. Plantat observed to the judge, "is that anybody would succeed in killing, except in his sleep, a young man so vigorous as Count Hector." "And in a house full of weapons," added Dr. Gendron; "for the count's cabinet is full of guns, swords and hunting knives; it's a perfect arsenal." "Alas!" sighed M. Courtois, "we know of worse catastrophes. There is not a week that the papers don't--" He stopped, chagrined, for nobody was listening to him.

Plantat claimed the general attention, and continued: "The confusion in the house seems to you surprising; well now, I'm surprised that it is not worse than it is. I am, so to speak, an old man; I haven't the energy of a young man of thirty-five; yet it seems to me that if assassins should get into my house, when I was there, and up, it would go hard with them. I don't know what I would do; probably I should be killed; but surely I would give the alarm. I would defend myself, and cry out, and open the windows, and set the house afire." "Let us add," insisted the doctor, "that it is not easy to surprise a man who is awake. There is always an unexpected noise which puts one on his guard. Perhaps it is a creaking door, or a cracking stair. However cautious the murderer, he does not surprise his victim." "They may have used fire-arms;" struck in the worthy mayor, "that has been done.

You are quietly sitting in your chamber; it is summer, and your windows are open; you are chatting with your wife, and sipping a cup of tea; outside, the assassins are supplied with a short ladder; one ascends to a level with the window, sights you at his ease, presses the trigger, the bullet speeds--" "And," continued the doctor, "the whole neighborhood, aroused by it, hastens to the spot." "Permit me, pardon, permit me," said M. Courtois, testily, "that would be so in a populous town. Here, in the midst of a vast park, no. Think, doctor, of the isolation of this house. The nearest neighbor is a long way off, and between there are many large trees, intercepting the sound. I will fire a pistol in this room, and I'll wager that you will not hear the echo in the road." "In the daytime, perhaps, but not in the night." "Well," said M. Domini, who had been reflecting while M.

Courtois was talking, "if against all hope, Guespin does not decide to speak to-night, or to-morrow, the count's body will afford us a key to the mystery." During this discussion, M. Lecoq had continued his investigations, lifting the furniture, studying the fractures, examining the smallest pieces, as if they might betray the truth. Now and then, he took out an instrument-case, from which he produced a shank, which he introduced and turned in the locks. He found several keys on the carpet, and on a rack, a towel, which he carefully put one side, as if he deemed it important. He came and went from the bedroom to the count's cabinet, without losing a word that was said; noting in his memory, not so much the phrases uttered, as the diverse accents and intonations with which they were spoken. In an inquest such as that of the crime of Orcival, when several officials find themselves face to face, they hold a certain reserve toward each other. They know each other to have nearly equal experience, to be shrewd, clear-headed, equally interested in discovering the truth, not disposed to confide in appearances, difficult to surprise. Each one, likely enough, gives a different interpretation to the facts revealed; each may have a different theory of the deed; but a superficial observer would not note these differences. Each, while dissimulating his real thoughts, tries to penetrate those of his neighbor, and if they are opposed to his own, to convert him to his opinion.

The great importance of a single word justifies this caution. Men who hold the liberty and lives of others in their hands, a scratch of whose pen condemns to death, are apt to feel heavily the burden of their responsibility. It is an ineffable solace, to feel that this burden is shared by others. This is, why no one dares take the initiative, or express himself openly; but each awaits other opinions, to adopt or oppose them. They exchange fewer affirmations than suggestions. They proceed by insinuation; then they utter commonplaces, ridiculous suppositions, asides, provocative, as it were, of other explanations. In this instance, the judge of instruction and Plantat were far from being of the same opinion; they knew it before speaking a word. Domini, whose opinion rested on material and palpable facts, which appeared to him indisputable, was not disposed to provoke contradiction. Plantat, on the contrary, whose system seemed to rest on impressions, on a series of logical deductions, would not clearly express himself, without a positive and pressing invitation. His last speech, impressively uttered, had not been replied to; he judged that he had advanced far enough to sound the detective.

"Well, Monsieur Lecoq," asked he, "have you found any new traces?" M. Lecoq was at that moment curiously examining a large portrait of the Count Hector, which hung opposite the bed. Hearing M. Plantat's question, he turned. "I have found nothing decisive," answered he, "and I have found nothing to refute my conjectures. But--" He did not finish; perhaps he too, recoiled before his share of the responsibility. "What?" insisted M. "I was going to say," resumed M.

Lecoq, "that I am not yet satisfied. I have my lantern and a candle in it; I only need a match--" "Please preserve your decorum," interrupted the judge severely. Lecoq, in a tone too humble to be serious, "I still hesitate. If the doctor, now, would kindly proceed to examine the countess's body, he would do me a great service." "I was just going to ask the same favor, Doctor," said M. The doctor answering, "Willingly," directed his steps toward the door. Lecoq caught him by the arm. "If you please," said he, in a tone totally unlike that he had used up to this time, "I would like to call your attention to the wounds on the head, made by a blunt instrument, which I suppose to be a hammer. I have studied these wounds, and though I am no doctor, they seem to me suspicious." "And to me," M.

Plantat quickly added. "It seemed to me, that in the places struck, there was no emission of blood in the cutaneous vessels." "The nature of these wounds," continued M. Lecoq, "will be a valuable indication, which will fix my opinion." And, as he felt keenly the brusque manner of the judge, he added: "It is you, Doctor, who hold the match." M. Gendron was about to leave the room, when Baptiste, the mayor's servant--the man who wouldn't be scolded--appeared. He bowed and said: "I have come for Monsieur the Mayor." "For me? why?" asked M. "What's the matter? They don't give me a minute's rest! Answer that I am busy." "It's on account of madame," resumed the placid Baptiste; "she isn't at all well." The excellent mayor grew slightly pale.

"My wife!" cried he, alarmed. "What do you mean? Explain yourself." "The postman arrived just now," returned Baptiste with a most tranquil air, "and I carried the letters to madame, who was in the drawing-room. Hardly had I turned on my heels when I heard a shriek, and the noise of someone falling to the floor." Baptiste spoke slowly, taking artful pains to prolong his master's anguish. "Speak!

go on!" cried the mayor, exasperated. "Speak, won't you?" "I naturally opened the drawing-room door again.

What did I see? madame, at full length on the floor. I called for help; the chambermaid, cook, and others came hastening up, and we carried madame to her bed. Justine said that it was a letter from Mademoiselle Laurence which overcame my mistress--" At each word Baptiste hesitated, reflected; his eyes, giving the lie to his solemn face, betrayed the great satisfaction he felt in relating his master's misfortunes. His master was full of consternation. As it is with all of us, when we know not exactly what ill is about to befall us, he dared not ask any questions. He stood still, crushed; lamenting, instead of hastening home. Plantat profited by the pause to question the servant, with a look which Baptiste dared not disobey. "What, a letter from Mademoiselle Laurence? Isn't she here, then?" "No, sir: she went away a week ago, to pass a month with one of her aunts." "And how is madame?" "Better, sir; only she cries piteously." The unfortunate mayor had now somewhat recovered his presence of mind.

He seized Baptiste by the arm. "Come along," cried he, "come along!" They hastened off. "Poor man!" said the judge of instruction. "Perhaps his daughter is dead." M. Plantat shook his head.

"If it were only that!" muttered he.

He added, turning to M. Domini: "Do you recall the allusions of Bertaud, monsieur?" VII The judge of instruction, the doctor, and M. Plantat exchanged a significant look. What misfortune had befallen M. Courtois, this worthy, and despite his faults, excellent person? Decidedly, this was an ill-omened day! "If we are to speak of Bertaud's allusions," said M. Lecoq, "I have heard two very curious stories, though I have been here but a few hours.

It seems that this Mademoiselle Laurence--" M. Plantat abruptly interrupted the detective. "Calumnies! odious calumnies! The lower classes, to annoy the rich, do not hesitate to say all sorts of things against them. Is it not always so? The gentry, above all, those of a provincial town, live in glass houses. The lynx eyes of envy watch them steadily night and day, spy on them, surprise what they regard as their most secret actions to arm themselves against them. The bourgeois goes on, proud and content; his business prospers; he possesses the esteem and friendship of his own class; all this while, he is vilified by the lower classes, his name dragged in the dust, soiled by suppositions the most mischievous.

Envy, Monsieur, respects nothing, no one." "If Laurence has been slandered," observed Dr. Gendron, smiling, "she has a good advocate to defend her." The old justice of the peace (the man of bronze, as M. Courtois called him) blushed slightly, a little embarrassed. "There are causes," said he, quietly, "which defend themselves. Mademoiselle Courtois is one of those young girls who has a right to all respect. But there are evils which no laws can cure, and which revolt me.

Think of it, monsieurs, our reputations, the honor of our wives and daughters, are at the mercy of the first petty rascal who has imagination enough to invent a slander. It is not believed, perhaps; but it is repeated, and spreads. What can be done? How can we know what is secretly said against us; will we ever know it?" "Eh!" replied the doctor, "what matters it? There is only one voice, to my mind, worth listening to--that of conscience. As to what is called 'public opinion,' as it is the aggregate opinion of thousands of fools and rogues, I only despise it." This discussion might have been prolonged, if the judge of instruction had not pulled out his watch, and made an impatient gesture. "While we are talking, time is flying," said he.

"We must hasten to the work that still remains." It was then agreed that while the doctor proceeded to his autopsy, the judge should draw up his report of the case. Plantat was charged with watching Lecoq's investigations. As soon as the detective found himself alone with M. Plantat: "Well," he said, drawing a long breath, as if relieved of a heavy burden, "now we can get on." Plantat smiled; the detective munched a lozenge, and added: "It was very annoying to find the investigation already going on when I reached here. Those who were here before me have had time to get up a theory, and if I don't adopt it at once, there is the deuce to pay!" M. Domini's voice was heard in the entry, calling out to his clerk. "Now there's the judge of instruction," continued Lecoq, "who thinks this a very simple affair; while I, Lecoq, the equal at least of Gevrol, the favorite pupil of Papa Tabaret--I do not see it at all clearly yet." He stopped; and after apparently going over in his mind the result of his discoveries, went on: "No; I'm off the track, and have almost lost my way. I see something underneath all this--but what? what?" M.

Plantat's face remained placid, but his eyes shone. "Perhaps you are right," said he, carelessly; "perhaps there is something underneath." The detective looked at him; he didn't stir. His face seemed the most undisturbed in the world. There was a long silence, by which M. Lecoq profited to confide to the portrait of the defunct the reflections which burdened his brain.

"See here, my dear darling," said he, "this worthy person seems a shrewd old customer, and I must watch his actions and gestures carefully. He does not argue with the judge; he's got an idea that he doesn't dare to tell, and we must find it out. At the very first he guessed me out, despite these pretty blond locks. As long as he thought he could, by misleading me, make me follow M. Domini's tack, he followed and aided me showing me the way. Now that he sees me on the scent, he crosses his arms and retires.

He wants to leave me the honor of the discovery. He lives here--perhaps he is afraid of making enemies. He isn't a man to fear much of anything. What then? He has found something so amazing, that he dares not explain himself." A sudden reflection changed the course of M. "A thousand imps!" thought he.

Suppose this old fellow is not shrewd at all! Suppose he hasn't discovered anything, and only obeys the inspirations of chance! I've seen stranger things. I've known so many of these folks whose eyes seem so very mysterious, and announce such wonders; after all, I found nothing, and was cheated. But I intend to sound this old fellow well." And, assuming his most idiotic manner, he said aloud: "On reflection, Monsieur, little remains to be done. Two of the principals are in custody, and when they make up their minds to talk--they'll do it, sooner or later, if the judge is determined they shall--we shall know all." A bucket of ice-water falling on M. Plantat's head could not have surprised him more, or more disagreeably, than this speech. "What!" stammered he, with an air of frank amazement, "do you, a man of experience, who--" Delighted with the success of his ruse, Lecoq could not keep his countenance, and Plantat, who perceived that he had been caught in the snare, laughed heartily. Not a word, however, was exchanged between these two men, both subtle in the science of life, and equally cunning in its mysteries. They quite understood each other.

"My worthy old buck," said the detective to himself, "you've got something in your sack; only it's so big, so monstrous, that you won't exhibit it, not for a cannon-ball. You wish your hand forced, do you? Plantat.

"He knows that I've got an idea; he's trying to get at it--and I believe he will." M. Lecoq had restored his lozenge-box to his pocket, as he always did when he went seriously to work. His amour-propre was enlisted; he played a part--and he was a rare comedian. According to the mayor's account, the instrument with which all these things were broken has been found." "In the room in the second story," answered M. Plantat, "overlooking the garden, we found a hatchet on the floor, near a piece of furniture which had been assailed, but not broken open; I forbade anyone to touch it." "And you did well. Is it a heavy hatchet?" "It weighs about two pounds." "Good. Let's see it." They ascended to the room in question, and M. Lecoq, forgetting his part of a haberdasher, and regardless of his clothes, went down flat on his stomach, alternately scrutinizing the hatchet--which was a heavy, terrible weapon--and the slippery and well-waxed oaken floor. Plantat, "that the assassins brought this hatchet up here and assailed this cupboard, for the sole purpose of putting us off our scent, and to complicate the mystery.

This weapon, you see, was by no means necessary for breaking open the cupboard, which I could smash with my fist. They gave one blow--only one--and quietly put the hatchet down." The detective got up and brushed himself.

"I think you are mistaken," said he. "This hatchet wasn't put on the floor gently; it was thrown with a violence betraying either great terror or great anger. Look here; do you see these three marks, near each other, on the floor?

When the assassin threw the hatchet, it first fell on the edge--hence this sharp cut; then it fell over on one side; and the flat, or hammer end left this mark here, under my finger. Therefore, it was thrown with such violence that it turned over itself and that its edge a second time cut in the floor, where you see it now." "True," answered M. Plantat. The detective's conjectures doubtless refuted his own theory, for he added, with a perplexed air: "I don't understand anything about it." M. Lecoq went on: "Were the windows open this morning as they are now?" "Yes." "Ah! The wretches heard some noise or other in the garden, and they went and looked out. What did they see? I can't tell. But I do know that what they saw terrified them, that they threw down the hatchet furiously, and made off. Look at the position of these cuts--they are slanting of course--and you will see that the hatchet was thrown by a man who was standing, not by the cupboard, but close by the open window." Plantat in his turn knelt down, and looked long and carefully.

The detective was right. He got up confused, and after meditating a moment, said: "This perplexes me a little; however--" He stopped, motionless, in a revery, with one of his hands on his forehead.

"All might yet be explained," he muttered, mentally searching for a solution of the mystery, "and in that case the time indicated by the clock would be true." M. Lecoq did not think of questioning his companion.

He knew that he would not answer, for pride's sake.

"This matter of the hatchet puzzles me, too," said he. "I thought that these assassins had worked leisurely; but that can't be so. I see they were surprised and interrupted." Plantat was all ears. Lecoq, slowly, "we ought to divide these indications into two classes. There are the traces left on purpose to mislead us--the jumbled-up bed, for instance; then there are the real traces, undesigned, as are these hatchet cuts. But here I hesitate. Is the trace of the hatchet true or false, good or bad? I thought myself sure of the character of these assassins: but now--" He paused; the wrinkles on his face, the contraction of his mouth, betrayed his mental effort. "But now?" asked M.

Plantat. Lecoq, at this question, seemed like a man just roused from sleep. "I beg your pardon," said he. I've a bad habit of reflecting aloud.

That's why I almost always insist on working alone. My uncertainty, hesitation, the vacillation of my suspicions, lose me the credit of being an astute detective--of being an agent for whom there's no such thing as a mystery." Worthy M. Plantat gave the detective an indulgent smile. "I don't usually open my mouth," pursued M. Lecoq, "until my mind is satisfied; then I speak in a peremptory tone, and say--this is thus, or this is so. But to-day I am acting without too much restraint, in the company of a man who knows that a problem such as this seems to me to be, is not solved at the first attempt. So I permit my gropings to be seen without shame.

You cannot always reach the truth at a bound, but by a series of diverse calculations, by deductions and inductions. Well, just now my logic is at fault." "How so?" "Oh, it's very simple. I thought I understood the rascals, and knew them by heart; and yet I have only recognized imaginary adversaries. Are they fools, or are they mighty sly? That's what I ask myself.

The tricks played with the bed and clock had, I supposed, given me the measure and extent of their intelligence and invention. Making deductions from the known to the unknown, I arrived, by a series of very simple consequences, at the point of foreseeing all that they could have imagined, to throw us off the scent. My point of departure admitted, I had only, in order to reach the truth, to take the contrary of that which appearances indicated.

I said to myself: "A hatchet has been found in the second story; therefore the assassins carried it there, and designedly forgot it. "They left five glasses on the dining-room table; therefore they were more or less than five, but they were not five.

"There were the remains of a supper on the table; therefore they neither drank nor ate. "The countess's body was on the river-bank; therefore it was placed there deliberately. A piece of cloth was found in the victim's hand; therefore it was put there by the murderers themselves. "Madame de Tremorel's body is disfigured by many dagger-strokes, and horribly mutilated; therefore she was killed by a single blow--" "Bravo, yes, bravo," cried M. Plantat, visibly charmed. no, not bravo yet," returned M. "For here my thread is broken; I have reached a gap. If my deductions were sound, this hatchet would have been very carefully placed on the floor." "Once more, bravo," added the other, "for this does not at all affect our general theory.

It is clear, nay certain, that the assassins intended to act as you say. An unlooked-for event interrupted them." "Perhaps; perhaps that's true. But I see something else--" "What?" "Nothing--at least, for the moment. Before all, I must see the dining-room and the garden." They descended at once, and Plantat pointed out the glasses and bottles, which he had put one side. The detective took the glasses, one after another, held them level with his eye, toward the light, and scrutinized the moist places left on them. "No one has drank from these glasses," said he, firmly. "What, from neither one of them?" The detective fixed a penetrating look upon his companion, and in a measured tone, said: "From neither one." M. Plantat only answered by a movement of the lips, as if to say, "You are going too far." The other smiled, opened the door, and called: "Francois!" The valet hastened to obey the call. His face was suffused with tears; he actually bewailed the loss of his master.

"Hear what I've got to say, my lad," said M. Lecoq, with true detective-like familiarity. "And be sure and answer me exactly, frankly, and briefly." "I will, sir." "Was it customary here at the chateau, to bring up the wine before it was wanted?" "No, sir; before each meal, I myself went down to the cellar for it." "Then no full bottles were ever kept in the dining-room?" "Never." "But some of the wine might sometimes remain in draught?" "No; the count permitted me to carry the dessert wine to the servants' table." "And where were the empty bottles put?" "I put them in this corner cupboard, and when they amounted to a certain number, I carried them down cellar." "When did you last do so?" "Oh"--Francois reflected--"at least five or six days ago." "Good. Now, what liqueurs did the count drink?" "The count scarcely ever drank liqueurs. If, by chance, he took a notion to have a small glass of eau-de-vie, he got it from the liqueur closet, there, over the stove." "There were no decanters of rum or cognac in any of the cupboards?" "No." "Thanks; you may retire." As Francois was going out, M. Lecoq called him back. "While we are about it, look in the bottom of the closet, and see if you find the right number of empty bottles." The valet obeyed, and looked into the closet. "This time, show us your heels for good." As soon as Francois had shut the door, M. Lecoq turned to Plantat and asked: "What do you think now?" "You were perfectly right." The detective then smelt successively each glass and bottle. "Good again!

Another proof in aid of my guess." "What more?" "It was not wine that was at the bottom of these glasses. Among all the empty bottles put away in the bottom of that closet, there was one--here it is--which contained vinegar; and it was from this bottle that they turned what they thought to be wine into the glasses." Seizing a glass, he put it to M. Plantat's nose, adding: "See for yourself." There was no disputing it; the vinegar was good, its odor of the strongest; the villains, in their haste, had left behind them an incontestable proof of their intention to mislead the officers of justice. While they were capable of shrewd inventions, they did not have the art to perform them well. All their oversights could, however, be accounted for by their sudden haste, caused by the occurrence of an unlooked-for incident. "The floors of a house where a crime has just been committed," said a famous detective, "burn the feet." M. Lecoq seemed exasperated, like a true artist, before the gross, pretentious, and ridiculous work of some green and bungling scholar. "These are a parcel of vulgar ruffians, truly! able ones, certainly; but they don't know their trade yet, the wretches." M.

Lecoq, indignant, ate three or four lozenges at a mouthful. "Come, now," said Plantat, in a paternally severe tone. "Don't let's get angry. The people have failed in address, no doubt; but reflect that they could not, in their calculations, take account of the craft of a man like you." M. Lecoq, who had the vanity which all actors possess, was flattered by the compliment, and but poorly dissimulated an expression of pleasure. "We must be indulgent; come now," pursued Plantat. "Besides," he paused a moment to give more weight to what he was going to say, "besides, you haven't seen everything yet." No one could tell when M. Lecoq was playing a comedy. He did not always know, himself. This great artist, devoted to his art, practised the feigning of all the emotions of the human soul, just as he accustomed himself to wearing all sorts of costumes.

He was very indignant against the assassins, and gesticulated about in great excitement; but he never ceased to watch Plantat slyly, and the last words of the latter made him prick up his ears. "Let's see the rest, then," said he. As he followed his worthy comrade to the garden, he renewed his confidences to the dear defunct. We can't take this obstinate fellow by surprise, that's clear. He'll give us the word of the riddle when we have guessed it; not before. He is as strong as we, my darling; he only needs a little practice. But look you--if he has found something which has escaped us, he must have previous information, that we don't know of." Nothing had been disturbed in the garden.

"See here, Monsieur Lecoq," said the old justice of the peace, as he followed a winding pathway which led to the river. "It was here that one of the count's slippers was found; below there, a little to the right of these geraniums, his silk handkerchief was picked up." They reached the river-bank, and lifted, with great care, the planks which had been placed there to preserve the foot-prints. "We suppose," said M.

Plantat, "that the countess, in her flight, succeeded in getting to this spot; and that here they caught up with her and gave her a finishing blow." Was this really Plantat's opinion, or did he only report the morning's theory? "According to my calculations," he said, "the countess could not have fled, but was brought here already dead, or logic is not logic.

However, let us examine this spot carefully." He knelt down and studied the sand on the path, the stagnant water, and the reeds and water-plants. Then going along a little distance, he threw a stone, approaching again to see the effect produced on the mud. He next returned to the house, and came back again under the willows, crossing the lawn, where were still clearly visible traces of a heavy burden having been dragged over it. Without the least respect for his pantaloons, he crossed the lawn on all-fours, scrutinizing the smallest blades of grass, pulling away the thick tufts to see the earth better, and minutely observing the direction of the broken stems.

This done, he said: "My conclusions are confirmed. The countess was carried across here." "Are you sure of it?" asked Plantat. There was no mistaking the old man's hesitation this time; he was clearly undecided, and leaned on the other's judgment for guidance.

"There can be no error, possibly." The detective smiled, as he added: "Only, as two heads are better than one, I will ask you to listen to me, and then, you will tell me what you think." M. Lecoq had, in searching about, picked up a little flexible stick, and while he talked, he used it to point out this and that object, like the lecturer at the panorama. "No," said he, "Madame de Tremorel did not fly from her murderers. Had she been struck down here, she would have fallen violently; her weight, therefore, would have made the water spirt to some distance, as well as the mud; and we should certainly have found some splashes." "But don't you think that, since morning, the sun--" "The sun would have absorbed the water; but the stain of dry mud would have remained. I have found nothing of the sort anywhere. You might object, that the water and mud would have spirted right and left; but just look at the tufts of these flags, lilies, and stems of cane--you find a light dust on every one. Do you find the least trace of a drop of water? There was then no splash, therefore no violent fall; therefore the countess was not killed here; therefore her body was brought here, and carefully deposited where you found it." M. Plantat did not seem to be quite convinced yet. "But there are the traces of a struggle in the sand," said he.

His companion made a gesture of protest. "Monsieur deigns to have his joke; those marks would not deceive a school-boy." "It appears to me, however--" "There can be no mistake, Monsieur Plantat. Certain it is that the sand has been disturbed and thrown about.

But all these trails that lay bare the earth which was covered by the sand, were made by the same foot.

Perhaps you don't believe it. They were made, too, with the end of the foot; that you may see for yourself." "Yes, I perceive it." "Very well, then; when there has been a struggle on ground like this, there are always two distinct kinds of traces--those of the assailant and those of the victim. The assailant, throwing himself forward, necessarily supports himself on his toes, and imprints the fore part of his feet on the earth.

The victim, on the contrary, falling back, and trying to avoid the assault, props himself on his heels, and therefore buries the heels in the soil. If the adversaries are equally strong, the number of imprints of the toes and the heels will be nearly equal, according to the chances of the struggle. But what do we find here?" M. Plantat interrupted: "Enough; the most incredulous would now be convinced." After thinking a moment, he added: "No, there is no longer any possible doubt of it." M. Lecoq thought that his argument deserved a reward, and treated himself to two lozenges at a mouthful. "I haven't done yet," he resumed. "Granted, that the countess could not have been murdered here; let's add that she was not carried hither, but dragged along. There are only two ways of dragging a body; by the shoulders, and in this case the feet, scraping along the earth, leave two parallel trails; or by the legs--in which case the head, lying on the earth, leaves a single furrow, and that a wide one." Plantat nodded assent. "When I examined the lawn," pursued M.

Lecoq, "I found the parallel trails of the feet, but yet the grass was crushed over a rather wide space.

How was that? Because it was the body, not of a man, but of a woman, which was dragged across the lawn--of a woman full-dressed, with heavy petticoats; that, in short, of the countess, and not of the count." M. Lecoq paused, in expectation of a question, or a remark. But the old justice of the peace did not seem to be listening, and appeared to be plunged in the deepest meditation. Night was falling; a light fog hung like smoke over the Seine. "We must go in," said M. Plantat, abruptly, "and see how the doctor has got on with his autopsy." They slowly approached the house. The judge of instruction awaited them on the steps. He appeared to have a satisfied air.

"I am going to leave you in charge," said he to M. Plantat, "for if I am to see the procureur, I must go at once. When you sent for him this morning, he was absent." M. Plantat bowed. "I shall be much obliged if you will watch this affair to the end. The doctor will have finished in a few minutes, he says, and will report to-morrow morning. I count on your co-operation to put seals wherever they are necessary, and to select the guard over the chateau. I shall send an architect to draw up an exact plan of the house and garden. Well, sir," asked M. Domini, turning to the detective, "have you made any fresh discoveries?" "I have found some important facts; but I cannot speak decisively till I have seen everything by daylight.

If you will permit me, I will postpone making my report till to-morrow afternoon. I think I may say, however, that complicated as this affair is--" M. "I see nothing complicated in the affair at all; everything strikes me as very simple." "But," objected M. Lecoq, "I thought--" "I sincerely regret," continued the judge, "that you were so hastily called, when there was really no serious reason for it. The evidences against the arrested men are very conclusive." Plantat and Lecoq exchanged a long look, betraying their great surprise. "What!" exclaimed the former, "have, you discovered any new indications?" "More than indications, I believe," responded M. "Old Bertaud, whom I have again questioned, begins to be uneasy. He has quite lost his arrogant manner.

I succeeded in making him contradict himself several times, and he finished by confessing that he saw the assassins." "The assassins!" exclaimed M. Plantat. "Did he say assassins?" "He saw at least one of them.

He persists in declaring that he did not recognize him. That's where we are. But prison walls have salutary terrors. To-morrow after a sleepless night, the fellow will be more explicit, if I mistake not." "But Guespin," anxiously asked the old man, "have you questioned him?" "Oh, as for him, everything is clear." "Has he confessed?" asked M.

The judge half turned toward the detective, as if he were displeased that M. Lecoq should dare to question him. "Guespin has not confessed," he answered, "but his case is none the better for that. Our searchers have returned. They haven't yet found the count's body, and I think it has been carried down by the current. But they found at the end of the park, the count's other slipper, among the roses; and under the bridge, in the middle of the river, they discovered a thick vest which still bears the marks of blood." "And that vest is Guespin's?" "Exactly so. It was recognized by all the domestics, and Guespin himself did not hesitate to admit that it belonged to him.

But that is not all--" M. Domini stopped as if to take breath, but really to keep Plantat in suspense. As they differed in their theories, he thought Plantat betrayed a stupid opposition to him; and he was not sorry to have a chance for a little triumph. "That is not all," he went on; "this vest had, in the right pocket, a large rent, and a piece of it had been torn off. Do you know what became of that piece of Guespin's vest?" "Ah," muttered M. Plantat, "it was that which we found in the countess's hand." "You are right, Monsieur. And what think you of this proof, pray, of the prisoner's guilt?" M.

Plantat seemed amazed; his arms fell at his side. As for M. Lecoq, who, in presence of the judge, had resumed his haberdasher manner, he was so much surprised that he nearly strangled himself with a lozenge.

"A thousand devils!" exclaimed he.

"That's tough, that is!" He smiled sillily, and added in a low tone, meant only for Plantat's ear.

Though quite foreseen in our calculations. The countess held a piece of cloth tightly in her hand; therefore it was put there, intentionally, by the murderers." M. Domini did not hear this remark. He shook hands with M.

Plantat and made an appointment to meet him on the morrow, at the court-house. Then he went away with his clerk. Guespin and old Bertaud, handcuffed, had a few minutes before being led off to the prison of Corbeil, under the guard of the Orcival gendarmes. Gendron had just finished his sad task in the billiard-room. He had taken off his long coat, and pulled up his shirt-sleeves above his elbows.

His instruments lay on a table near him; he had covered the body with a long white sheet.

Night had come, and a large lamp, with a crystal globe, lighted up the gloomy scene. The doctor, leaning over a water-basin, was washing his hands, when the old justice of the peace and the detective entered. "Ah, it's you, Plantat," said the doctor in a suppressed tone; "where is Monsieur Domini?" "Gone." The doctor did not take the trouble to repress a vexed motion. "I must speak with him, though," said he, "it's absolutely necessary--and the sooner the better; for perhaps I am wrong--I may be mistaken--" M. Lecoq and M. Plantat approached him, having carefully closed the door.

The doctor was paler than the corpse which lay under the sheet. His usually calm features betrayed great distress. This change could not have been caused by the task in which he had been engaged. Of course it was a painful one; but M. Gendron was one of those experienced practitioners who have felt the pulse of every human misery, and whose disgust had become torpid by the most hideous spectacles. He must have discovered something extraordinary. "I am going to ask you what you asked me a while ago," said M. Plantat.

"Are you ill or suffering?" M. Gendron shook his head sorrowfully, and answered, slowly and emphatically: "I will answer you, as you did me; 'tis nothing, I am already better." Then these two, equally profound, turned away their heads, as if fearing to exchange their ideas; they doubted lest their looks should betray them. Lecoq advanced and spoke. "I believe I know the cause of the doctor's emotion. He has just discovered that Madame de Tremorel was killed by a single blow, and that the assassins afterward set themselves to disfiguring the body, when it was nearly cold." The doctor's eyes fastened on the detective, with a stupefied expression. "How could you divine that?" he asked.

"Oh, I didn't guess it alone; I ought to share the honor of the theory which has enabled us to foresee this fact, with Monsieur Plantat." "Oh," cried the doctor, striking his forehead, "now, I recollect your advice; in my worry, I must say, I had quite forgotten it. "Well," he added, "your foresight is confirmed. Perhaps not so much time as you suppose elapsed between the first blow and the rest; but I am convinced that the countess had ceased to live nearly three hours, when the last blows were struck." M. Gendron went to the billiard-table, and slowly raised the sheet, discovering the head and part of the bust. "Let us inform ourselves, Plantat," he said.

The old justice of the peace took the lamp, and passed to the other side of the table. His hand trembled so that the globe tingled. The vacillating light cast gloomy shadows upon the walls. The countess's face had been carefully bathed, the blood and mud effaced. The marks of the blows were thus more visible, but they still found upon that livid countenance, the traces of its beauty. Lecoq stood at the head of the table, leaning over to see more clearly. "The countess," said Dr. Gendron, "received eighteen blows from a dagger.

Of these, but one is mortal; it is this one, the direction of which is nearly vertical--a little below the shoulder, you see." He pointed out the wound, sustaining the body in his left arm. The eyes had preserved a frightful expression. It seemed as if the half-open mouth were about to cry "Help! Help!" Plantat, the man with a heart of stone, turned away his head, and the doctor, having mastered his first emotion, continued in a professionally apathetic tone: "The blade must have been an inch wide, and eight inches long. All the other wounds--those on the arms, breast, and shoulders, are comparatively slight. They must have been inflicted at least two hours after that which caused death." "Good," said M.

"Observe that I am not positive," returned the doctor quickly. "I merely state a probability.

The phenomena on which I base my own conviction are too fugitive, too capricious in their nature, to enable me to be absolutely certain." This seemed to disturb M. "But, from the moment when--" "What I can affirm," interrupted Dr. Gendron, "what I would affirm under oath, is, that all the wounds on the head, excepting one, were inflicted after death. No doubt of that whatever--none whatever. Here, above the eye, is the blow given while the countess was alive." "It seems to me, Doctor," observed M.

Lecoq, "that we may conclude from the proved fact that the countess, after death, was struck by a flat implement, that she had also ceased to live when she was mutilated by the knife." M. Gendron reflected a moment. "It is possible that you are right; as for me, I am persuaded of it. The physician consulted by the law, should only pronounce upon patent, demonstrated facts. If he has a doubt, even the slightest, he should hold his tongue. I will say more; if there is any uncertainty, my opinion is that the accused, and not the prosecution, should have the benefit of it." This was certainly not the detective's opinion, but he was cautious not to say so.

He had followed Dr. Gendron with anxious attention, and the contraction of his face showed the travail of his mind.

"It seems to me now possible," said he, "to determine how and where the countess was struck." The doctor had covered the body, and Plantat had replaced the lamp on the little table. Both asked M. Lecoq to explain himself. "The direction of the wound proves to me that the countess was in her chamber taking tea, seated, her body inclined a little forward, when she was murdered. The assassin came up behind her with his arm raised; he chose his position coolly, and struck her with terrific force. The violence of the blow was such that the victim fell forward, and in the fall, her forehead struck the end of the table; she thus gave herself the only fatal blow which we have discovered on the head." M. Gendron looked from one to the other of his companions, who exchanged significant glances.

Perhaps he suspected the game they were playing. "The crime must evidently have been committed as you say," said he. There was another embarrassing silence. Lecoq's obstinate muteness annoyed Plantat, who finally asked him: "Have you seen all you want to see?" "All for to-day; I shall need daylight for what remains. I am confident, indeed, that with the exception of one detail that worries me, I have the key to the mystery." "We must be here, then, early to-morrow morning." "I will be here at any hour you will name." "Your search finished, we will go together to Monsieur Domini, at Corbeil." "I am quite at your orders." There was another pause.

Plantat perceived that M. Lecoq guessed his thoughts; and did not understand the detective's capriciousness; a little while before, he had been very loquacious, but now held his tongue. Lecoq, on the other hand, was delighted to puzzle the old man a little, and formed the intention to astonish him the next morning, by giving him a report which should faithfully reflect all his ideas. Meanwhile he had taken out his lozenge-box, and was intrusting a hundred secrets to the portrait. "Well," said the doctor, "there remains nothing more to be done except to retire." "I was just going to ask permission to do so," said M. "I have been fasting ever since morning." M. Plantat now took a bold step. "Shall you return to Paris to-night, Monsieur Lecoq?" asked he, abruptly. "No; I came prepared to remain over-night; I've brought my night-gown, which I left, before coming up here, at the little roadside inn below.

I shall sup and sleep there." "You will be poorly off at the Faithful Grenadier," said the old justice of the peace. "You will do better to come and dine with me." "You are really too good, Monsieur--" "Besides, we have a good deal to say, and so you must remain the night with me; we will get your night-clothes as we pass along." M. Lecoq bowed, flattered and grateful for the invitation. "And I shall carry you off, too, Doctor," continued M. Plantat, "whether you will or not. Now, don't say no. If you insist on going to Corbeil to-night, we will carry you over after supper." The operation of fixing the seals was speedily concluded; narrow strips of parchment, held by large waxen seals, were affixed to all the doors, as well as to the bureau in which the articles gathered for the purposes of the investigation had been deposited.

IX Despite the haste they made, it was nearly ten o'clock when M. Plantat and his guests quitted the chateau of Valfeuillu. Instead of taking the high road, they cut across a pathway which ran along beside Mme. de Lanascol's park, and led diagonally to the wire bridge; this was the shortest way to the inn where M. Lecoq had left his slight baggage. As they went along, M.

Plantat grew anxious about his good friend, M. "What misfortune can have happened to him?" said he to Dr. "Thanks to the stupidity of that rascal of a servant, we learned nothing at all. This letter from Mademoiselle Laurence has caused the trouble, somehow." They had now reached the Faithful Grenadier. A big red-faced fellow was smoking a long pipe at the door, his back against the house. He was talking with a railway employee. It was the landlord. "Well, Monsieur Plantat," he cried, "what a horrible affair this is!

Come in, come in; there are several folks in the hall who saw the assassins. What a villain old Bertaud is!

And that Guespin; ah, I would willingly trudge to Corbeil to see them put up the scaffold!" "A little charity, Master Lenfant; you forget that both these men were among your best customers." Master Lenfant was confused by this reply; but his native impudence soon regained the mastery. "Fine customers, parbleu!" he answered, "this thief of a Guespin has got thirty francs of mine which I'll never see again." "Who knows?" said Plantat, ironically. "Besides, you are going to make more than that to-night, there's so much company at the Orcival festival." During this brief conversation, M. His office being no longer a secret, he was not now welcomed as when he was taken for a simple retired haberdasher.

Lenfant, a lady who had no need of her husband's aid to show penniless sots the door, scarcely deigned to answer him. When he asked how much he owed, she responded, with a contemptuous gesture, "Nothing." When he returned to the door, his night-gown in hand, M. Plantat said: "Let's hurry, for I want to get news of our poor mayor." The three hastened their steps, and the old justice of the peace, oppressed with sad presentiments, and trying to combat them, continued: "If anything had happened at the mayor's, I should certainly have been informed of it by this time. Perhaps Laurence has written that she is ill, or a little indisposed.

Madame Courtois, who is the best woman in the world, gets excited about nothing; she probably wanted to send her husband for Laurence at once. You'll see that it's some false alarm." No; some catastrophe had happened. A number of the village women were standing before the mayor's gate. Baptiste, in the midst of the group, was ranting and gesticulating. But at M. Plantat's approach, the women fled like a troop of frightened gulls. The old man's unexpected appearance annoyed the placid Baptiste not a little, for he was interrupted, by the sudden departure of his audience, in the midst of a superb oratorical flight. As he had a great fear of M. Plantat, however, he dissimulated his chagrin with his habitual smile.

"Ah, sir," cried he, when M.

Plantat was three steps off, "ah, what an affair! I was going for you--" "Does your master wish me?" "More than you can think. He ran so fast from Valfeuillu here, that I could scarcely keep up with him. He's not usually fast, you know; but you ought to have seen him this time, fat as he is!" M.

Plantat stamped impatiently. "Well, we got here at last," resumed the man, "and monsieur rushed into the drawing-room, where he found madame sobbing like a Magdalene.

He was so out of breath he could scarcely speak. His eyes stuck out of his head, and he stuttered like this--'What's-the-matter? What's the-matter?' Madame, who couldn't speak either, held out mademoiselle's letter, which she had in her hand." The three auditors were on coals of fire; the rogue perceived it, and spoke more and more slowly. "Then monsieur took the letter, went to the window, and at a glance read it through. He cried out hoarsely, thus: 'Oh!' then he went to beating the air with his hands, like a swimming dog; then he walked up and down and fell, pouf! like a bag, his face on the floor. That was all." "Is he dead?" cried all three in the same breath. "Oh, no; you shall see," responded Baptiste, with a placid smile. Lecoq was a patient man, but not so patient as you might think. Irritated by the manner of Baptiste's recital, he put down his bundle, seized the man's arm with his right hand, while with the left he whisked a light flexible cane, and said: "Look here, fellow, I want you to hurry up, you know." That was all he said; the servant was terribly afraid of this little blond man, with a strange voice, and a fist harder than a vice.

He went on very rapidly this time, his eye fixed on M. Lecoq's rattan. "Monsieur had an attack of vertigo. All the house was in confusion; everybody except I, lost their heads; it occurred to me to go for a doctor, and I started off for one--for Doctor Gendron, whom I knew to be at the chateau, or the doctor near by, or the apothecary--it mattered not who. By good luck, at the street corner, I came upon Robelot, the bone-setter--'Come, follow me,' said I. He did so; sent away those who were tending monsieur, and bled him in both arms. Shortly after, he breathed, then he opened his eyes, and then he spoke. Now he is quite restored, and is lying on one of the drawing-room lounges, crying with all his might. He told me he wanted to see Monsieur Plantat, and I--" "And--Mademoiselle Laurence?" asked M.

Plantat, with a trembling voice. Baptiste assumed a tragic pose. "Ah, gentlemen," said he, "don't ask me about her--'tis heartrending!" The doctor and M.

Plantat heard no more, but hurried in; M. Lecoq followed, having confided his night-gown to Baptiste, with, "Carry that to M. Plantat's--quick!" Misfortune, when it enters a house, seems to leave its fatal imprint on the very threshold. Perhaps it is not really so, but it is the feeling which those who are summoned to it experience. As the physician and the justice of the peace traversed the court-yard, this house, usually so gay and hospitable, presented a mournful aspect. Lights were seen coming and going in the upper story. Lucile, the mayor's youngest daughter, had had a nervous attack, and was being tended. A young girl, who served as Laurence's maid, was seated in the vestibule, on the lower stair, weeping bitterly. Several domestics were there also, frightened, motionless, not knowing what to do in all this fright.

The drawing-room door was wide open; the room was dimly lighted by two candles; Mme. Courtois lay rather than sat in a large arm-chair near the fireplace. Her husband was reclining on a lounge near the windows at the rear of the apartment. They had taken off his coat and had torn away his shirt-sleeves and flannel vest, when he was to be bled. There were strips of cotton wrapped about his naked arms. A small man, habited like a well-to-do Parisian artisan, stood near the door, with an embarrassed expression of countenance. It was Robelot, who had remained, lest any new exigency for his services should arise. The entrance of his friend startled M. Courtois from the sad stupor into which he had been plunged.

He got up and staggered into the arms of the worthy Plantat, saying, in a broken voice: "Ah, my friend, I am most miserable--most wretched!" The poor mayor was so changed as scarcely to be recognizable.

He was no longer the happy man of the world, with smiling face, firm look, the pride of which betrayed plainly his self-importance and prosperity. In a few hours he had grown twenty years older.

He was broken, overwhelmed; his thoughts wandered in a sea of bitterness. He could only repeat, vacantly, again and again: "Wretched! Plantat was the right sort of a friend for such a time. Courtois back to the sofa and sat down beside him, and taking his hand in his own, forced him to calm his grief. He recalled to him that his wife, the companion of his life, remained to him, to mourn the dear departed with him.

Had he not another daughter to cherish? But the poor man was in no state to listen to all this. "Ah, my friend," said he shuddering, "you do not know all! If she had died here, in the midst of us, comforted by our tender care, my despair would be great; but nothing compared with that which now tortures me. Plantat rose, as if terrified by what he was about to hear. "But who can tell," pursued the wretched man, "where or how she died? Oh, my Laurence, was there no one to hear your last agony and save you? What has become of you, so young and happy?" He rose, shaking with anguish and cried: "Let us go, Plantat, and look for her at the Morgue." Then he fell back again, muttering the lugubrious word, "the Morgue." The witnesses of this scene remained, mute, motionless, rigid, holding their breath. The stifled sobs and groans of Mme.

Courtois and the little maid alone broke the silence. "You know that I am your friend--your best friend," said M. Plantat, softly; "confide in me--tell me all." "Well," commenced M. Courtois, "know"--but his tears choked his utterance, and he could not go on. Holding out a crumpled letter, wet with tears, he stammered: "Here, read--it is her last letter." M. Plantat approached the table, and, not without difficulty, read: "DEARLY BELOVED PARENTS-- "Forgive, forgive, I beseech you, your unhappy daughter, the distress she is about to cause you. Alas! I have been very guilty, but the punishment is terrible!

In a day of wandering, I forgot all--the example and advice of my dear, sainted mother, my most sacred duty, and your tenderness. I could not, no, I could not resist him who wept before me in swearing for me an eternal love--and who has abandoned me.

Now, all is over; I am lost, lost. I cannot long conceal my dreadful sin. Oh, dear parents, do not curse me. I am your daughter--I cannot bear to face contempt, I will not survive my dishonor. "When this letter reaches you, I shall have ceased to live; I shall have quitted my aunt's, and shall have gone far away, where no one will find me. There I shall end my misery and despair. Adieu, then, oh, beloved parents, adieu!

I would that I could, for the last time, beg your forgiveness on my knees. My dear mother, my good father, have pity on a poor wanderer; pardon me, forgive me. Once more, adieu--I have courage--honor commands!

For you is the last prayer and supreme thought of your poor LAURENCE." Great tears rolled silently down the old man's cheeks as he deciphered this sad letter. A cold, mute, terrible anger shrivelled the muscles of his face. When he had finished, he said, in a hoarse voice: "Wretch!" M. Courtois heard this exclamation. "Ah, yes, wretch indeed," he cried, "this vile villain who has crept in in the dark, and stolen my dearest treasure, my darling child! Alas, she knew nothing of life. He whispered into her ear those fond words which make the hearts of all young girls throb; she had faith in him; and now he abandons her.

Oh, if I knew who he was--if I knew--" He suddenly interrupted himself. A ray of intelligence had just illumined the abyss of despair into which he had fallen.

"No," said he, "a young girl is not thus abandoned, when she has a dowry of a million, unless for some good reason. Love passes away; avarice remains. The infamous wretch was not free--he was married. It is he who has killed my child." The profound silence which succeeded proved to him that his conjecture was shared by those around him.

"I was blind, blind!" cried he. "For I received him at my house, and called him my friend. Oh, have I not a right to a terrible vengeance?" But the crime at Valfeuillu occurred to him; and it was with a tone of deep disappointment that he resumed: "And not to be able to revenge myself!

I could riot, then, kill him with my own hands, see him suffer for hours, hear him beg for mercy! He is dead. He has fallen under the blows of assassins, less vile than himself." The doctor and M. Plantat strove to comfort the unhappy man; but he went on, excited more and more by the sound of his own voice.

"Oh, Laurence, my beloved, why did you not confide in me? You feared my anger, as if a father would ever cease to love his child. Lost, degraded, fallen to the ranks of the vilest, I would still love thee. Alas! you knew not a father's heart. A father does not pardon; he forgets.

You might still have been happy, my lost love." He wept; a thousand memories of the time when Laurence was a child and played about his knees recurred to his mind; it seemed as though it were but yesterday.

"Oh, my daughter, was it that you feared the world--the wicked, hypocritical world? But we should have gone away. I should have left Orcival, resigned my office. We should have settled down far away, in the remotest corner of France, in Germany, in Italy.

With money all is possible. All? I have millions, and yet my daughter has killed herself." He concealed his face in his hands; his sobs choked him. "And not to know what has become of her!" he continued.

What death did she choose? You remember, Doctor, and you, Plantat, her beautiful curls about her pure forehead, her great, trembling eyes, her long curved lashes? Her smile--do you know, it was the sun's ray of my life. I so loved her voice, and her mouth so fresh, which gave me such warm, loving kisses. Dead! And not to know what has become of her sweet form--perhaps abandoned in the mire of some river. Do you recall the countess's body this morning? Oh, my child--that I might see her one hour--one minute--that I might give her cold lips one last kiss!" M. Lecoq strove in vain to prevent a warm tear which ran from his eyes, from falling.

Lecoq was a stoic on principle, and by profession. But the desolate words of the poor father overcame him. Forgetting that his emotion would be seen, he came out from the shadow where he had stood, and spoke to M. Courtois: "I, Monsieur Lecoq, of the detectives, give you my honor that I will find Mademoiselle Laurence's body." The poor mayor grasped desperately at this promise, as a drowning man to a straw. They say that to the police nothing is impossible--that they see and know everything. We will see what has become of my child." He went toward M.

Lecoq, and taking him by the hand: "Thank you," added he, "you are a good man. I received you ill a while ago, and judged you with foolish pride: forgive me. We will succeed--you will see, we will aid each other, we will put all the police on the scent, we will search through France, money will do it--I have it--I have millions--take them--" His energies were exhausted: he staggered and fell heavily on the lounge. "He must not remain here long," muttered the doctor in Plantat's ear, "he must get to bed. A brain fever, after such excitement, would not surprise me." The old justice of the peace at once approached Mme. Courtois, who still reclined in the arm-chair, apparently having seen or heard nothing of what had passed, and oblivious in her grief. "Madame!" said he, "Madame!" She shuddered and rose, with a wandering air.

"It is my fault," said she, "my miserable fault! A mother should read her daughter's heart as in a book. I did not suspect Laurence's secret; I am a most unhappy mother." The doctor also came to her.

"Madame," said he, in an imperious tone, "your husband must be persuaded to go to bed at once.

His condition is very serious, and a little sleep is absolutely necessary. I will have a potion prepared--" "Oh, my God!" cried the poor lady, wringing her hands, in the fear of a new misfortune, as bitter as the first; which, however, restored her to her presence of mind. She called the servants, who assisted the mayor to regain his chamber. Courtois also retired, followed by the doctor. Three persons only remained in the drawing-room--Plantat, Lecoq, and Robelot, who still stood near the door.

"Poor Laurence!" murmured Plantat.

"Poor girl!" "It seems to me that her father is most to be pitied," remarked M. "Such a blow, at his age, may be more than he can bear. Even should he recover, his life is broken." "I had a sort of presentiment," said the other, "that this misfortune would come. I had guessed Laurence's secret, but I guessed it too late." "And you did not try--" "What? In a delicate case like this, when the honor of a family depends on a word, one must be circumspect. What could I do? Put Courtois on his guard? Clearly not.

He would have refused to believe me. He is one of those men who will listen to nothing, and whom the brutal fact alone can undeceive." "You might have dealt with the Count de Tremorel." "The count would have denied all. He would have asked what right I had to interfere in his affairs." "But the girl?" M. Plantat sighed heavily. "Though I detest mixing up with what does not concern me, I did try one day to talk with her. With infinite precaution and delicacy, and without letting her see that I knew all, I tried to show her the abyss near which she was drawing." "And what did she reply?" "Nothing. She laughed and joked, as women who have a secret which they wish to conceal, do.

Besides, I could not get a quarter of an hour alone with her, and it was necessary to act, I knew--for I was her best friend--before committing this imprudence of speaking to her. Not a day passed that she did not come to my garden and cull my rarest flowers--and I would not, look you, give one of my flowers to the Pope himself.

She had instituted me her florist in ordinary.

For her sake I collected my briars of the Cape--" He was talking on so wide of his subject that M. Lecoq could not repress a roguish smile. The old man was about to proceed when he heard a noise in the hall, and looking up he observed Robelot for the first time. His face at once betrayed his great annoyance. "You were there, were you?" he said. "Yes, Monsieur, quite at your service." "You have been listening, eh?" "Oh, as to that, I was waiting to see if Madame Courtois had any commands for me." A sudden reflection occurred to M. Plantat; the expression of his eye changed. He winked at M. Lecoq to call his attention, and addressing the bone-setter in a milder tone, said: "Come here, Master Robelot." Lecoq had read the man at a glance.

Robelot was a small, insignificant-looking man, but really of herculean strength.

His hair, cut short behind, fell over his large, intelligent forehead. His eyes shone with the fire of covetousness, and expressed, when he forgot to guard them, a cynical boldness. A sly smile was always playing about his thin lips, beneath which there was no beard. A little way off, with his slight figure and his beardless face, he looked like a Paris gamin--one of those little wretches who are the essence of all corruption, whose imagination is more soiled than the gutters where they search for lost pennies. Robelot advanced several steps, smiling and bowing. "Perhaps," said he, "Monsieur has, by chance, need of me?" "None whatever, Master Robelot, I only wish to congratulate you on happening in so apropos, to bleed Monsieur Courtois. Your lancet has, doubtless, saved his life." "It's quite possible." "Monsieur Courtois is generous--he will amply recompense this great service." "Oh, I shall ask him nothing. Thank God, I want nobody's help. If I am paid my due, I am content." "I know that well enough; you are prosperous--you ought to be satisfied." M.

Plantat's tone was friendly, almost paternal. He was deeply interested, evidently, in Robelot's prosperity. "Satisfied!" resumed the bone-setter. "Not so much as you might think. Life is very dear for poor people." "But, haven't you just purchased an estate near d'Evry?" "Yes." "And a nice place, too, though a trifle damp.

Happily you have stone to fill it in with, on the land that you bought of the widow Frapesle." Robelot had never seen the old justice of the peace so talkative, so familiar; he seemed a little surprised. "Three wretched pieces of land!" said he. "Not so bad as you talk about. Then you've also bought something in the way of mines, at auction, haven't you?" "Just a bunch of nothing at all." "True, but it pays well. It isn't so bad, you see, to be a doctor without a diploma." Robelot had been several times prosecuted for illegal practicing; so he thought he ought to protest against this. "If I cure people," said he, "I'm not paid for it." "Then your trade in herbs isn't what has enriched you." The conversation was becoming a cross-examination.

The bone-setter was beginning to be restless. "Oh, I make something out of the herbs," he answered. "And as you are thrifty, you buy land." "I've also got some cattle and horses, which bring in something. I raise horses, cows, and sheep." "Also without diploma?" Robelot waxed disdainful. "A piece of parchment does not make science.

I don't fear the men of the schools. I study animals in the fields and the stable, without bragging. I haven't my equal for raising them, nor for knowing their diseases." M. Plantat's tone became more and more winning. "I know that you are a bright fellow, full of experience. Doctor Gendron, with whom you served, was praising your cleverness a moment ago." The bone-setter shuddered, not so imperceptibly as to escape Plantat, who continued: "Yes, the good doctor said he never had so intelligent an assistant. 'Robelot,' said he, 'has such an aptitude for chemistry, and so much taste for it besides, that he understands as well as I many of the most delicate operations.'" "Parbleu!

I did my best, for I was well paid, and I was always fond of learning." "And you were an apt scholar at Doctor Gendron's, Master Robelot; he makes some very curious studies. His work and experience on poisons are above all remarkable." Robelot's uneasiness became apparent; his look wavered. "Yes;" returned he, "I have seen some strange experiments." "Well, you see, you may think yourself lucky--for the doctor is going to have a splendid chance to study this sort of thing, and he will undoubtedly want you to assist him." But Robelot was too shrewd not to have already guessed that this cross-examination had a purpose. What was M. Plantat after? he asked himself, not without a vague terror.

And, going over in his mind the questions which had been asked, and the answers he had given, and to what these questions led, he trembled. He thought to escape further questioning by saying: "I am always at my old master's orders when he needs me." "He'll need you, be assured," said M. Plantat, who added, in a careless tone, which his rapid glance at Robelot belied, "The interest attaching to this case will be intense, and the task difficult. Monsieur Sauvresy's body is to be disinterred." Robelot was certainly prepared for something strange, and he was armed with all his audacity. But the name of Sauvresy fell upon his head like the stroke of a club, and he stammered, in a choked voice: "Sauvresy!" M. Plantat had already turned his head, and continued in an indifferent tone: "Yes, Sauvresy is to be exhumed. It is suspected that his death was not wholly a natural one.

You see, justice always has its suspicions." Robelot leaned against the wall so as not to fall. Plantat proceeded: "So Doctor Gendron has been applied to. He has, as you know, found reactive drugs which betray the presence of an alkaloid, whatever it may be, in the substances submitted to him for analysis. He has spoken to me of a certain sensitive paper--" Appealing to all his energy, Robelot forced himself to stand up and resume a calm countenance. "I know Doctor Gendron's process," said he, "but I don't see who could be capable of the suspicions of which you speak." "I think there are more than suspicions," resumed M. Plantat. "Madame de Tremorel, you know, has been murdered: her papers have, of course, been examined; letters have been found, with very damaging revelations, receipts, and so on." Robelot, apparently, was once more self-possessed; he forced himself to answer: "Bast! let us hope that justice is in the wrong." Then, such was this man's self-control, despite a nervous trembling which shook his whole body as the wind does the leaves, that he added, constraining his thin lips to form a smile: "Madame Courtois does not come down; I am waited for at home, and will drop in again to-morrow. Good-evening, gentlemen." He walked away, and soon the sand in the court was heard creaking with his steps.

As he went, he staggered like a drunken man. Plantat, and taking off his hat: "I surrender," said he, "and bow to you; you are great, like my master, the great Tabaret." The detective's amour-propre was clearly aroused; his professional zeal was inspired; he found himself before a great crime--one of those crimes which triple the sale of the Gazette of the Courts. Doubtless many of its details escaped him: he was ignorant of the starting-point; but he saw the way clearing before him. He had surprised Plantat's theory, and had followed the train of his thought step by step; thus he discovered the complications of the crime which seemed so simple to M. His subtle mind had connected together all the circumstances which had been disclosed to him during the day, and now he sincerely admired the old justice of the peace.

As he gazed at his beloved portrait, he thought, "Between the two of us--this old fox and I--we will unravel the whole web." He would not, however, show himself to be inferior to his companion. "Monsieur," said he, "while you were questioning this rogue, who will be very useful to us, I did not lose any time. I've been looking about, under the furniture and so on, and have found this slip of paper." "Let's see." "It is the envelope of the young lady's letter. Do you know where her aunt, whom she was visiting, lives?" "At Fontainebleau, I believe." "Ah; well, this envelope is stamped 'Paris,' Saint-Lazare branch post-office. I know this stamp proves nothing--" "It is, of course, an indication." "That is not all; I have read the letter itself--it was here on the table." M. Plantat frowned involuntarily.

"It was, perhaps, a liberty," resumed M. Lecoq, "but the end justifies the means. Well, you have read this letter; but have you studied it, examined the hand-writing, weighed the words, remarked the context of the sentences?" "Ah," cried Plantat, "I was not mistaken then--you had the same idea strike you that occurred to me!" And, in the energy of his excitement he seized the detective's hands and pressed them as if he were an old friend. They were about to resume talking when a step was heard on the staircase; and presently Dr. Gendron appeared. "Courtois is better," said he, "he is in a doze, and will recover." "We have nothing more, then, to keep us here," returned M. Plantat. Monsieur Lecoq must be half dead with hunger." As they went away, M.

Lecoq slipped Laurence's letter, with the envelope, into his pocket. Plantat's house was small and narrow; a philosopher's house. Three large rooms on the ground-floor, four chambers in the first story, an attic under the roof for the servants, composed all its apartments. Everywhere the carelessness of a man who has withdrawn from the world into himself, for years, ceasing to have the least interest in the objects which surround him, was apparent. The furniture was shabby, though it had been elegant; the mouldings had come off, the clocks had ceased to keep time, the chairs showed the stuffing of their cushions, the curtains, in places, were faded by the sun.

The library alone betrayed a daily care and attention. Long rows of books in calf and gilt were ranged on the carved oaken shelves, a movable table near the fireplace contained M. Plantat's favorite books, the discreet friends of his solitude. A spacious conservatory, fitted with every accessory and convenience, was his only luxury. In it flourished one hundred and thirty-seven varieties of briars.

Two servants, the widow Petit, cook and house-keeper, and Louis, gardener, inhabited the house. If they did not make it a noisy one, it was because Plantat, who talked little, detested also to hear others talk. Silence was there a despotic law. It was very hard for Mme. Petit, especially at first. She was very talkative, so talkative that when she found no one to chat with, she went to confession; to confess was to chat. She came near leaving the place twenty times; but the thought of an assured pension restrained her. Gradually she became accustomed to govern her tongue, and to this cloistral silence.

But she revenged herself outside for the privations of the household, and regained among the neighbors the time lost at home. She was very much wrought up on the day of the murder.

At eleven o'clock, after going out for news, she had prepared monsieur's dinner; but he did not appear. She waited one, two hours, five hours, keeping her water boiling for the eggs; no monsieur. She wanted to send Louis to look for him, but Louis being a poor talker and not curious, asked her to go herself. The house was besieged by the female neighbors, who, thinking that Mme. Petit ought to be well posted, came for news; no news to give. Toward five o'clock, giving up all thought of breakfast, she began to prepare for dinner. But when the village bell struck eight o'clock, monsieur had not made his appearance. At nine, the good woman was beside herself, and began to scold Louis, who had just come in from watering the garden, and, seated at the kitchen table, was soberly eating a plate of soup. "Ah, there's monsieur, at last." No, it was not monsieur, but a little boy, whom M.

Plantat had sent from Valfeuillu to apprise Mme. Petit that he would soon return, bringing with him two guests who would dine and sleep at the house. The worthy woman nearly fainted. It was the first time that M. Plantat had invited anyone to dinner for five years. There was some mystery at the bottom of it--so thought Mme. Petit, and her anger doubled with her curiosity. "To order a dinner at this hour," she grumbled. "Has he got common-sense, then?" But reflecting that time pressed, she continued: "Go along, Louis; this is not the moment for two feet to stay in one shoe. Hurry up, and wring three chickens' heads; see if there ain't some ripe grapes in the conservatory; bring on some preserves; fetch some wine from the cellar!" The dinner was well advanced when the bell rung again.

This time Baptiste appeared, in exceeding bad humor, bearing M. "See here," said he to the cook, "what the person, who is with your master, gave me to bring here." "What person?" "How do I know? He's a spy sent down from Paris about this Valfeuillu affair; not much good, probably--ill-bred--a brute--and a wretch." "But he's not alone with monsieur?" "No; Doctor Gendron is with them." Mme. Petit burned to get some news out of Baptiste; but Baptiste also burned to get back and know what was taking place at his master's--so off he went, without having left any news behind. An hour or more passed, and Mme. Petit had just angrily declared to Louis that she was going to throw the dinner out the window, when her master at last appeared, followed by his guests. They had not exchanged a word after they left the mayor's. Aside from the fatigues of the evening, they wished to reflect, and to resume their self-command.

Petit found it useless to question their faces--they told her nothing. But she did not agree with Baptiste about M. Lecoq: she thought him good-humored, and rather silly. Though the party was less silent at the dinner-table, all avoided, as if by tacit consent, any allusion to the events of the day. No one would ever have thought that they had just been witnesses of, almost actors in, the Valfeuillu drama, they were so calm, and talked so glibly of indifferent things.

From time to time, indeed, a question remained unanswered, or a reply came tardily; but nothing of the sensations and thoughts, which were concealed beneath the uttered commonplaces, appeared on the surface. Louis passed to and fro behind the diners, his white cloth on his arm, carving and passing the wine. Petit brought in the dishes, and came in thrice as often as was necessary, her ears wide open, leaving the door ajar as often as she dared. Poor woman! she had prepared an excellent dinner, and nobody paid any attention to it. Lecoq was fond of tit-bits; yet, when Louis placed on the table a dish of superb grapes--quite out of season--his mouth did not so much as expand into a smile. Gendron would have been puzzled to say what he had eaten. The dinner was nearly over, when M. Plantat began to be annoyed by the constraint which the presence of the servants put upon the party.

He called to the cook: "You will give us our coffee in the library, and may then retire, as well as Louis." "But these gentlemen do not know their rooms," insisted Mme. Petit, whose eavesdropping projects were checked by this order. "They will, perhaps, need something." "I will show them their rooms," said M. Plantat, dryly. "And if they need anything, I shall be here." They went into the library. Plantat brought out a box of cigars and passed them round: "It will be healthful to smoke a little before retiring." M. Lecoq lit an aromatic weed, and remarked: "You two may go to bed if you like; I am condemned, I see, to a sleepless night. But before I go to writing, I wish to ask you a few things, Monsieur Plantat." M.

Plantat bowed in token of assent. "We must resume our conversation," continued the detective, "and compare our inferences.

All our lights are not too much to throw a little daylight upon this affair, which is one of the darkest I have ever met with. The situation is dangerous, and time presses. On our acuteness depends the fate of several innocent persons, upon whom rest very serious charges. We have a theory: but Monsieur Domini also has one, and his, let us confess, is based upon material facts, while ours rests upon very disputable sensations and logic." "We have more than sensations," responded M.

Plantat. "I agree with you," said the doctor, "but we must prove it." "And I will prove it, parbleu," cried M. Lecoq, eagerly. "The affair is complicated and difficult--so much the better. If it were simple, I would go back to Paris instanter, and to-morrow I would send you one of my men. I leave easy riddles to infants. What I want is the inexplicable enigmas, so as to unravel it; a struggle, to show my strength; obstacles, to conquer them." M. Plantat and the doctor looked steadily at the speaker. He was as if transfigured.

It was the same yellow-haired and whiskered man, in a long overcoat: yet the voice, the physiognomy, the very features, had changed. His eyes shone with the fire of his enthusiasm, his voice was metallic and vibrating, his imperious gesture affirmed the audacity and energy of his resolution.

"If you think, my friends," pursued he, "that they don't manufacture detectives like me at so much a year, you are right. When I was twenty years old, I took service with an astronomer, as his calculator, after a long course of study. He gave me my breakfasts and seventy francs a month; by means of which I dressed well, and covered I know not how many square feet with figures daily." M. Lecoq puffed vigorously at his cigar a moment, casting a curious glance at M. Plantat. Then he resumed: "Well, you may imagine that I wasn't the happiest of men. I forgot to mention that I had two little vices: I loved the women, and I loved play. All are not perfect. My salary seemed too small, and while I added up my columns of figures, I was looking about for a way to make a rapid fortune. There is, indeed, but one means; to appropriate somebody else's money, shrewdly enough not to be found out.

I thought about it day and night. My mind was fertile in expedients, and I formed a hundred projects, each more practicable than the others. I should frighten you if I were to tell you half of what I imagined in those days. If many thieves of my calibre existed, you'd have to blot the word 'property' out of the dictionary. Precautions, as well as safes, would be useless. Happily for men of property, criminals are idiots." "What is he coming to?" thought the doctor. "One day, I became afraid of my own thoughts.

I had just been inventing a little arrangement by which a man could rob any banker whatever of 200,000 francs without any more danger or difficulty than I raise this cup. So I said to myself, 'Well, my boy, if this goes on a little longer, a moment will come when, from the idea, you will naturally proceed to the practice.' Having, however, been born an honest lad--a mere chance--and being determined to use the talents which nature had given me, eight days afterward I bid my astronomer good-morning, and went to the prefecture. My fear of being a burglar drove me into the police." "And you are satisfied with the exchange?" asked Dr. "I' faith, Doctor, my first regret is yet to come. I am happy, because I am free to exercise my peculiar faculties with usefulness to my race. Existence has an enormous attraction for me, because I have still a passion which overrides all others--curiosity." The detective smiled, and continued: "There are people who have a mania for the theatre. It is like my own mania. Only, I can't understand how people can take pleasure in the wretched display of fictions, which are to real life what a tallow dip is to the sun. It seems to me monstrous that people can be interested in sentiments which, though well represented, are fictitious. What!

can you laugh at the witticisms of a comedian, whom you know to be the struggling father of a family? Can you pity the sad fate of the poor actress who poisons herself, when you know that on going out you will meet her on the boulevards? It's pitiable!" "Let's shut up the theatres," suggested Dr. "I am more difficult to please than the public," returned M.

"I must have veritable comedies, or real dramas. My theatre is--society. My actors laugh honestly, or weep with genuine tears. A crime is committed--that is the prologue; I reach the scene, the first act begins. I seize at a glance the minutest shades of the scenery. Then I try to penetrate the motives, I group the characters, I link the episodes to the central fact, I bind in a bundle all the circumstances. The action soon reaches the crisis, the thread of my inductions conducts me to the guilty person; I divine him, arrest him, deliver him up.

Then comes the great scene; the accused struggles, tries tricks, splits straws; but the judge, armed with the arms I have forged for him, overwhelms the wretch; he does not confess, but he is confounded. And how many secondary personages, accomplices, friends, enemies, witnesses are grouped about the principal criminal! Some are terrible, frightful, gloomy--others grotesque. And you know not what the ludicrous in the horrible is. My last scene is the court of assize. The prosecutor speaks, but it is I who furnished his ideas; his phrases are embroideries set around the canvas of my report. The president submits his questions to the jury; what emotion! The fate of my drama is being decided.

The jury, perhaps, answers, 'Not guilty;' very well, my piece was bad, I am hissed. If 'Guilty,' on the contrary, the piece was good, I am applauded, and victorious. The next day I can go and see my hero, and slapping him on the shoulder, say to him, 'You have lost, old fellow, I am too much for you!'" Was M. Lecoq in earnest now, or was he playing a part? What was the object of this autobiography? Without appearing to notice the surprise of his companions, he lit a fresh cigar; then, whether designedly or not, instead of replacing the lamp with which he lit it on the table, he put it on one corner of the mantel. Plantat's face was in full view, while that of M. Lecoq remained in shadow. "I ought to confess," he continued, "without false modesty, that I have rarely been hissed. Like every man I have my Achilles heel.

I have conquered the demon of play, but I have not triumphed over my passion for woman." He sighed heavily, with the resigned gesture of a man who has chosen his path. "It's this way. There is a woman, before whom I am but an idiot. Yes, I the detective, the terror of thieves and murderers, who have divulged the combinations of all the sharpers of all the nations, who for ten years have swum amid vice and crime; who wash the dirty linen of all the corruptions, who have measured the depths of human infamy; I who know all, who have seen and heard all; I, Lecoq, am before her, more simple and credulous than an infant. She deceives me--I see it--and she proves that I have seen wrongly. She lies--I know it, I prove it to her--and I believe her.

It is because this is one of those passions," he added, in a low, mournful tone, "that age, far from extinguishing, only fans, and to which the consciousness of shame and powerlessness adds fire. One loves, and the certainty that he cannot be loved in return is one of those griefs which you must have felt to know its depth. In a moment of reason, one sees and judges himself; he says, no, it's impossible, she is almost a child, I almost an old man. He says this--but always, in the heart, more potent than reason, than will, than experience, a ray of hope remains, and he says to himself, 'who knows--perhaps!' He awaits, what--a miracle?

There are none, nowadays. No matter, he hopes on." M.

Lecoq stopped, as if his emotion prevented his going on. Plantat had continued to smoke mechanically, puffing the smoke out at regular intervals; but his face seemed troubled, his glance was unsteady, his hands trembled.

He got up, took the lamp from the mantel and replaced it on the table, and sat down again. The significance of this scene at last struck Dr. Lecoq, without departing widely from the truth, had just attempted one of the most daring experiments of his repertoire, and he judged it useless to go further. He knew now what he wished to know.

After a moment's silence, he shuddered as though awaking from a dream, and pulling out his watch, said: "Par le Dieu! How I chat on, while time flies!" "And Guespin is in prison," remarked the doctor. "We will have him out," answered the detective, "if, indeed, he is innocent; for this time I have mastered the mystery, my romance, if you wish, and without any gap.

There is, however, one fact of the utmost importance, that I by myself cannot explain." "What?" asked M. Plantat. "Is it possible that Monsieur de Tremorel had a very great interest in finding something--a deed, a letter, a paper of some sort--something of a small size, secreted in his own house?" "Yes--that is possible," returned the justice of the peace. "But I must know for certain." M.

Plantat reflected a moment. "Well then," he went on, "I am sure, perfectly sure, that if Madame de Tremorel had died suddenly, the count would have ransacked the house to find a certain paper, which he knew to be in his wife's possession, and which I myself have had in my hands." "Then," said M.

Lecoq, "there's the drama complete. On reaching Valfeuillu, I, like you, was struck with the frightful disorder of the rooms. Like you, I thought at first that this disorder was the result of design. I was wrong; a more careful scrutiny has convinced me of it. The assassin, it is true, threw everything into disorder, broke the furniture, hacked the chairs in order to make us think that some furious villains had been there.

But amid these acts of premeditated violence I have followed up the involuntary traces of an exact, minute, and I may say patient search. Everything seemed turned topsy-turvy by chance; articles were broken open with the hatchet, which might have been opened with the hands; drawers had been forced which were not shut, and the keys of which were in the locks. Was this folly? For really no corner or crevice where a letter might be hid has been neglected. The table and bureau-drawers had been thrown here and there, but the narrow spaces between the drawers had been examined--I saw proofs of it, for I found the imprints of fingers on the dust which lay in these spaces. The books had been thrown pell-mell upon the floor, but every one of them had been handled, and some of them with such violence that the bindings were torn off. We found the mantel-shelves in their places, but every one had been lifted up. The chairs were not hacked with a sword, for the mere purpose of ripping the cloth--the seats were thus examined.

My conviction of the certainty that there had been a most desperate search, at first roused my suspicions. I said to myself, 'The villains have been looking for the money which was concealed; therefore they did not belong to the household.'" "But," observed the doctor, "they might belong to the house, and yet not know the money was hidden; for Guespin--" "Permit me," interrupted M. Lecoq, "I will explain myself. On the other hand, I found indications that the assassin must have been closely connected with Madame de Tremorel--her lover, or her husband. These were the ideas that then struck me." "And now?" "Now," responded the detective, "with the certainty that something besides booty might have been the object of the search, I am not far from thinking that the guilty man is he whose body is being searched for--the Count Hector de Tremorel." M. Plantat and Dr. Gendron had divined the name; but neither had as yet dared to utter his suspicions.

They awaited this name of Tremorel; and yet, pronounced as it was in the middle of the night, in this great sombre room, by this at least strange personage, it made them shudder with an indescribable fright. Lecoq, "what I say; I believe it to be so. In my eyes, the count's guilt is only as yet extremely probable. Let us see if we three can reach the certainty of it. You see, gentlemen, the inquest of a crime is nothing more nor less than the solution of a problem. Given the crime, proved, patent, you commence by seeking out all the circumstances, whether serious or superficial; the details and the particulars. When these have been carefully gathered, you classify them, and put them in their order and date. You thus know the victim, the crime, and the circumstances; it remains to find the third term of the problem, that is, x, the unknown quantity--the guilty party. The task is a difficult one, but not so difficult as is imagined.

The object is to find a man whose guilt explains all the circumstances, all the details found--all, understand me.

Find such a man, and it is probable--and in nine cases out of ten, the probability becomes a reality--that you hold the perpetrator of the crime." So clear had been M. Lecoq's exposition, so logical his argument, that his hearers could not repress an admiring exclamation: "Very good! Very good!" "Let us then examine together if the assumed guilt of the Count de Tremorel explains all the circumstances of the crime at Valfeuillu." He was about to continue when Dr. Gendron, who sat near the window, rose abruptly. "There is someone in the garden," said he. All approached the window.

The weather was glorious, the night very clear, and a large open space lay before the library window; they looked out, but saw no one. "You are mistaken, Doctor," said Plantat, resuming his arm-chair. Lecoq continued: "Now let us suppose that, under the influence of certain events that we will examine presently, Monsieur de Tremorel had made up his mind to get rid of his wife.

The crime once resolved upon, it was clear that the count must have reflected, and sought out the means of committing it with impunity; he must have weighed the circumstances, and estimated the perils of his act. Let us admit, also, that the events which led him to this extremity were such that he feared to be disturbed, and that he also feared that a search would be made for certain things, even should his wife die a natural death." "That is true," said M. Plantat, nodding his head. "Monsieur de Tremorel, then, determined to kill his wife, brutally, with a knife, with the idea of so arranging everything, as to make it believed that he too had been assassinated; and he also decided to endeavor to thrust suspicion on an innocent person, or at least, an accomplice infinitely less guilty than he. "He made up his mind in advance, in adopting this course, to disappear, fly, conceal himself, change his personality; to suppress, in short, Count Hector de Tremorel, and make for himself, under another name, a new position and identity.

These hypotheses, easily admitted, suffice to explain the whole series of otherwise inconsistent circumstances. They explain to us in the first place, how it was that on the very night of the murder, there was a large fortune in ready money at Valfeuillu; and this seems to me decisive. Why, when a man receives sums like this, which he proposes to keep by him, he conceals the fact as carefully as possible. Monsieur de Tremorel had not this common prudence. He shows his bundles of bank-notes freely, handles them, parades them; the servants see them, almost touch them. He wants everybody to know and repeat that there is a large sum in the house, easy to take, carry off, and conceal. And what time of all times, does he choose for this display? Exactly the moment when he knows, and everyone in the neighborhood knows, that he is going to pass the night at the chateau, alone with Madame de Tremorel. "For he is aware that all his servants are invited, on the evening of July 8th to the wedding of the former cook.

So well aware of it is he, that he defrays the wedding expenses, and himself names the day. You will perhaps say that it was by chance that this money was sent to Valfeuillu on the very night of the crime. At the worst that might be admitted.

But believe me, there was no chance about it, and I will prove it.

We will go to-morrow to the count's banker, and will inquire whether the count did not ask him, by letter or verbally, to send him these funds precisely on July 8th. Well, if he says yes, if he shows us such a letter, or if he declares that the money was called for in person, you will confess, no doubt, that I have more than a probability in favor of my theory." Both his hearers bowed in token of assent.

"So far, then, there is no objection." "Not the least," said M. Plantat. "My conjectures have also the advantage of shedding light on Guespin's position. Honestly, his appearance is against him, and justifies his arrest. Was he an accomplice or entirely innocent? We certainly cannot yet decide. But it is a fact that he has fallen into an admirably well-laid trap.

The count, in selecting him for his victim, took all care that every doubt possible should weigh upon him. I would wager that Monsieur de Tremorel, who knew this fellow's history, thought that his antecedents would add probability to the suspicions against him, and would weigh with a terrible weight in the scales of justice. Perhaps, too, he said to himself that Guespin would be sure to prove his innocence in the end, and he only wished to gain time to elude the first search. It is impossible that we can be deceived. We know that the countess died of the first blow, as if thunderstruck. She did not struggle; therefore she could not have torn a piece of cloth off the assassin's vest. If you admit Guespin's guilt, you admit that he was idiot enough to put a piece of his vest in his victim's hand; you admit that he was such a fool as to go and throw this torn and bloody vest into the Seine, from a bridge, in a place where he might know search would be made--and all this, without taking the common precaution of attaching it to a stone to carry it to the bottom.

That would be absurd. "To me, then, this piece of cloth, this smeared vest, indicate at once Guespin's innocence and the count's guilt." "But," objected Dr. Gendron, "if Guespin is innocent, why don't he talk? Why don't he prove an alibi? How was it he had his purse full of money?" "Observe," resumed the detective, "that I don't say he is innocent; we are still among the probabilities. Can't you suppose that the count, perfidious enough to set a trap for his servant, was shrewd enough to deprive him of every means of proving an alibi?" "But you yourself deny the count's shrewdness." "I beg your pardon; please hear me. The count's plan was excellent, and shows a superior kind of perversity; the execution alone was defective. This is because the plan was conceived and perfected in safety, while when the crime had been committed, the murderer, distressed, frightened at his danger, lost his coolness and only half executed his project. But there are other suppositions. It might be asked whether, while Madame de Tremorel was being murdered, Guespin might not have been committing some other crime elsewhere." This conjecture seemed so improbable to the doctor that he could not avoid objecting to it.

"Don't forget," replied Lecoq, "that the field of conjectures has no bounds. Imagine whatever complication of events you may, I am ready to maintain that such a complication has occurred or will present itself. Lieuben, a German lunatic, bet that he would succeed in turning up a pack of cards in the order stated in the written agreement. He turned and turned ten hours per day for twenty years. He had repeated the operation 4,246,028 times, when he succeeded." M. Lecoq was about to proceed with another illustration, when M.

Plantat interrupted him by a gesture. "I admit your hypotheses; I think they are more than probable--they are true." M.

Lecoq, as he spoke, paced up and down between the window and the book-shelves, stopping at emphatic words, like a general who dictates to his aides the plan of the morrow's battle. To his auditors, he seemed a new man, with serious features, an eye bright with intelligence, his sentences clear and concise--the Lecoq, in short, which the magistrates who have employed his talents, would recognize. "Now," he resumed, "hear me. It is ten o'clock at night.

No noise without, the road deserted, the village lights extinguished, the chateau servants away at Paris. The count and countess are alone at Valfeuillu. "They have gone to their bedroom. "The countess has seated herself at the table where tea has been served. The count, as he talks with her, paces up and down the chamber. "Madame de Tremorel has no ill presentiment; her husband, the past few days, has been more amiable, more attentive than ever. She mistrusts nothing, and so the count can approach her from behind, without her thinking of turning her head. "When she hears him coming up softly, she imagines that he is going to surprise her with a kiss.

He, meanwhile, armed with a long dagger, stands beside his wife. He knows where to strike that the wound may be mortal. He chooses the place at a glance; takes aim; strikes a terrible blow--so terrible that the handle of the dagger imprints itself on both sides of the wound. The countess falls without a sound, bruising her forehead on the edge of the table, which is overturned. Is not the position of the terrible wound below the left shoulder thus explained--a wound almost vertical, its direction being from right to left?" The doctor made a motion of assent.

"And who, besides a woman's lover or her husband is admitted to her chamber, or can approach her when she is seated without her turning round?" "That's clear," muttered M. Plantat. "The countess is now dead," pursued M. "The assassin's first emotion is one of triumph. He is at last rid of her who was his wife, whom he hated enough to murder her, and to change his happy, splendid, envied existence for a frightful life, henceforth without country, friend, or refuge, proscribed by all nations, tracked by all the police, punishable by the laws of all the world! His second thought is of this letter or paper, this object of small size which he knows to be in his wife's keeping, which he has demanded a hundred times, which she would not give up to him, and which he must have." "Add," interrupted M. Plantat, "that this paper was one of the motives of the crime." "The count thinks he knows where it is. He imagines that he can put his hand on it at once.

He is mistaken. He looks into all the drawers and bureaus used by his wife--and finds nothing. He searches every corner, he lifts up the shelves, overturns everything in the chamber--nothing. An idea strikes him. Is this letter under the mantel-shelf? By a turn of the arm he lifts it--down the clock tumbles and stops.

It is not yet half-past ten." "Yes," murmured the doctor, "the clock betrays that." "The count finds nothing under the mantel-shelf except the dust, which has retained traces of his fingers. Then he begins to be anxious. Where can this paper be, for which he has risked his life? He grows angry. How search the locked drawers? The keys are on the carpet--I found them among the debris of the tea service--but he does not see them.

He must have some implement with which to break open everything. He goes downstairs for a hatchet. The drunkenness of blood and vengeance is dissipated on the staircase; his terrors begin.

All the dark corners are peopled, now, with those spectres which form the cortege of assassins; he is frightened, and hurries on. He soon goes up again, armed with a large hatchet--that found on the second story--and makes the pieces of wood fly about him. He goes about like a maniac, rips up the furniture at hazard; but he pursues a desperate search, the traces of which I have followed, among the debris. Nothing, always nothing! Everything in the room is topsy-turvy; he goes into his cabinet and continues the destruction; the hatchet rises and falls without rest. He breaks his own bureau, since he may find something concealed there of which he is ignorant.

This bureau belonged to the first husband--to Sauvresy.

He takes out all the books in the library, one by one, shakes them furiously, and throws them about the floor. The infernal paper is undiscoverable. His distress is now too great for him to pursue the search with the least method. His wandering reason no longer guides him.

He staggers, without calculation, from one thing to another, fumbling a dozen times in the same drawer, while he completely forgets others just by him.

Then he thinks that this paper may have been hid in the stuffing of a chair.

He seizes a sword, and to be certain, he slashes up the drawing-room chairs and sofas and those in the other rooms." M. Lecoq's voice, accent, gestures, gave a vivid character to his recital. The hearer might imagine that he saw the crime committed, and was present at the terrible scenes which he described. His companions held their breath, unwilling by a movement to distract his attention. "At this moment," pursued he, "the count's rage and terror were at their height. He had said to himself, when he planned the murder, that he would kill his wife, get possession of the letter, execute his plan quickly, and fly. And now all his projects were baffled! How much time was being lost, when each minute diminished the chances of escape! Then the probability of a thousand dangers which had not occurred to him, entered his mind. What if some friend should suddenly arrive, expecting his hospitality, as had occurred twenty times?

What if a passer-by on the road should notice a light flying from room to room? Might not one of the servants return? When he is in the drawing-room, he thinks he hears someone ring at the gate; such is his terror, that he lets his candle fall--for I have found the marks of it on the carpet. He hears strange noises, such as never before assailed his ears; he thinks he hears walking in the next room; the floor creaks. Is his wife really dead; will she not suddenly rise up, run to the window, and scream for help? Beset by these terrors, he returns to the bedroom, seizes his dagger, and again strikes the poor countess. But his hand is so unsteady that the wounds are light. You have observed, doctor, that all these wounds take the same direction.

They form right angles with the body, proving that the victim was lying down when they were inflicted.

Then, in the excess of his frenzy, he strikes the body with his feet, and his heels form the contusions discovered by the autopsy." M. Lecoq paused to take breath. He not only narrated the drama, he acted it, adding gesture to word; and each of his phrases made a scene, explained a fact, and dissipated a doubt. Like all true artists who wrap themselves up in the character they represent, the detective really felt something of the sensations which he interpreted, and his expressive face was terrible in its contortions. "That," he resumed, "is the first act of the drama. An irresistible prostration succeeds the count's furious passion. The various circumstances which I am describing to you are to be noticed in nearly all great crimes. The assassin is always seized, after the murder, with a horrible and singular hatred against his victim, and he often mutilates the body.

Then comes the period of a prostration so great, of torpor so irresistible, that murderers have been known literally to go to sleep in the blood, that they have been surprised sleeping, and that it was with great difficulty that they were awakened. The count, when he has frightfully disfigured the poor lady, falls into an arm-chair; indeed, the cloth of one of the chairs has retained some wrinkles, which shows that someone had sat in it. What are then the count's thoughts? He reflects on the long hours which have elapsed, upon the few hours which remain to him. He reflects that he has found nothing; that he will hardly have time, before day, to execute his plans for turning suspicion from him, and assure his safety, by creating an impression that he, too, has been murdered. And he must fly at once--fly, without that accursed paper.

He summons up his energies, rises, and do you know what he does? He seizes a pair of scissors and cuts off his long, carefully cultivated beard." "Ah!" interrupted M. Plantat, "that's why you examined the portrait so closely." M. Lecoq was too intent on following the thread of his deductions to note the interruption. "This is one of those vulgar details," pursued he, "whose very insignificance makes them terrible, when they are attended by certain circumstances. Now imagine the Count de Tremorel, pale, covered with his wife's blood, shaving himself before his glass; rubbing the soap over his face, in that room all topsy-turvy, while three steps off lies the still warm and palpitating body! It was an act of terrible courage, believe me, to look at himself in the glass after a murder--one of which few criminals are capable.

The count's hands, however, trembled so violently that he could scarcely hold his razor, and his face must have been cut several times." "What!" said Dr. Gendron, "do you imagine that the count spared the time to shave?" "I am positively sure of it, pos-i-tive-ly. A towel on which I have found one of those marks which a razor leaves when it is wiped--and one only--has put me on the track of this fact. I looked about, and found a box of razors, one of which had recently been used, for it was still moist; and I have carefully preserved both the towel and the box. And if these proofs are not enough, I will send to Paris for two of my men, who will find, somewhere in the house or the garden, both the count's beard and the cloth with which he wiped his razor. As to the fact which surprises you, Doctor, it seems to me very natural; more, it is the necessary result of the plan he adopted. Monsieur de Tremorel has always worn his full beard: he cuts it off, and his appearance is so entirely altered, that if he met anyone in his flight, he would not be recognized." The doctor was apparently convinced, for he cried: "It's clear--it's evident," "Once thus disguised, the count hastens to carry out the rest of his plan, to arrange everything to throw the law off the scent, and to make it appear that he, as well as his wife, has been murdered.

He hunts up Guespin's vest, tears it out at the pocket, and puts a piece of it in the countess's hand. Then taking the body in his arms, crosswise, he goes downstairs. The wounds bleed frightfully--hence the numerous stains discovered all along his path. Reaching the foot of the staircase he is obliged to put the countess down, in order to open the garden-door.

This explains the large stain in the vestibule.

The count, having opened the door, returns for the body and carries it in his arms as far as the edge of the lawn; there he stops carrying it, and drags it by the shoulders, walking backward, trying thus to create the impression that his own body has been dragged across there and thrown into the Seine. But the wretch forgot two things which betray him to us. He did not reflect that the countess's skirts, in being dragged along the grass, pressing it down and breaking it for a considerable space, spoiled his trick. Nor did he think that her elegant and well-curved feet, encased in small high-heeled boots, would mould themselves in the damp earth of the lawn, and thus leave against him a proof clearer than the day." M. Plantat rose abruptly. "Ah," said he, "you said nothing of this before." "Nor of several other things, either. But I was before ignorant of some facts which I now know; and as I had reason to suppose that you were better informed than I, I was not sorry to avenge myself for a caution which seemed to me mysterious." "Well, you are avenged," remarked the doctor, smiling.

"On the other side of the lawn," continued M.

Lecoq, "the count again took up the countess's body. But forgetting the effect of water when it spirts, or--who knows?--disliking to soil himself, instead of throwing her violently in the river, he put her down softly, with great precaution. That's not all. He wished it to appear that there had been a terrible struggle. What does he do? Stirs up the sand with the end of his foot. And he thinks that will deceive the police!" "Yes, yes," muttered Plantat, "exactly so--I saw it." "Having got rid of the body, the count returns to the house. Time presses, but he is still anxious to find the paper. He hastens to take the last measures to assure his safety.

He smears his slippers and handkerchief with blood. He throws his handkerchief and one of his slippers on the sward, and the other slipper into the river. His haste explains the incomplete execution of his manoeuvres. He hurries--and commits blunder after blunder. He does not reflect that his valet will explain about the empty bottles which he puts on the table. He thinks he is turning wine into the five glasses--it is vinegar, which will prove that no one has drunk out of them. He ascends, puts forward the hands of the clock, but forgets to put the hands and the striking bell in harmony.

He rumples up the bed, but he does it awkwardly--and it is impossible to reconcile these three facts, the bed crumpled, the clock showing twenty minutes past three, and the countess dressed as if it were mid-day.

He adds as much as he can to the disorder of the room. He smears a sheet with blood; also the bed-curtains and furniture. Then he marks the door with the imprint of a bloody hand, too distinct and precise not to be done designedly. Is there so far a circumstance or detail of the crime, which does not explain the count's guilt?" "There's the hatchet," answered M. Plantat, "found on the second story, the position of which seemed so strange to you." "I am coming to that. There is one point in this mysterious affair, which, thanks to you, is now clear. We know that Madame de Tremorel, known to her husband, possessed and concealed a paper or a letter, which he wanted, and which she obstinately refused to give up in spite of all his entreaties. You have told us that the anxiety--perhaps the necessity--to have this paper, was a powerful motive of the crime. We will not be rash then in supposing that the importance of this paper was immense--entirely beyond an ordinary affair. It must have been, somehow, very damaging to one or the other.

Here I am reduced to conjectures. It is certain that it was a menace--capable of being executed at any moment--suspended over the head of him or them concerned by it. Madame de Tremorel surely regarded this paper either as a security, or as a terrible arm which put her husband at her mercy. It was surely to deliver himself from this perpetual menace that the count killed his wife." The logic was so clear, the last words brought the evidence out so lucidly and forcibly, that his hearers were struck with admiration. Lecoq, "from the various elements which have served to form our conviction, we must conclude that the contents of this letter, if it can be found, will clear away our last doubts, will explain the crime, and will render the assassin's precautions wholly useless. The count, therefore, must do everything in the world, must attempt the impossible, not to leave this danger behind him. His preparations for flight ended, Hector, in spite of his deadly peril, of the speeding time, of the coming day, instead of flying recommences with more desperation than ever his useless search.

Again he goes through all the furniture, the books, the papers--in vain. Then he determines to search the second story, and armed with his hatchet, goes up to it. He has already attacked a bureau, when he hears a cry in the garden. He runs to the window--what does he see? Philippe and old Bertaud are standing on the river-bank under the willows, near the corpse. Can you imagine his immense terror?

Now, there's not a second to lose--he has already delayed too long. The danger is near, terrible. Daylight has come, the crime is discovered, they are coming, he sees himself lost beyond hope. He must fly, fly at once, at the peril of being seen, met, arrested.

He throws the hatchet down violently--it cuts the floor. He rushes down, slips the bank-notes in his pocket, seizes Guespin's torn and smeared vest, which he will throw into the river from the bridge, and saves himself by the garden. Forgetting all caution, confused, beside himself, covered with blood, he runs, clears the ditch, and it is he whom old Bertaud sees making for the forest of Mauprevoir, where he intends to arrange the disorder of his clothes. For the moment he is safe. But he leaves behind him this letter, which is, believe me, a formidable witness, which will enlighten justice and will betray his guilt and the perfidy of his projects. For he has not found it, but we will find it; it is necessary for us to have it to defeat Monsieur Domini, and to change our doubts into certainty." XI A long silence followed the detective's discourse. Perhaps his hearers were casting about for objections. At last Dr. Gendron spoke: "I don't see Guespin's part in all this." "Nor I, very clearly," answered M. "And here I ought to confess to you not only the strength, but the weakness also, of the theory I have adopted.

By this method, which consists of reconstructing the crime before discovering the criminal, I can be neither right nor wrong by halves. Either all my inferences are correct, or not one of them is. It's all, or nothing. If I am right, Guespin has not been mixed up with this crime, at least directly; for there isn't a single circumstance which suggests outside aid. If, on the other hand, I am wrong--" M. Lecoq paused. He seemed to have heard some unexpected noise in the garden. "But I am not wrong.

I have still another charge against the count, of which I haven't spoken, but which seems to be conclusive." "Oh," cried the doctor, "what now?" "Two certainties are better than one, and I always doubt. When I was left alone a moment with Francois, the valet, I asked him if he knew exactly the number of the count's shoes; he said yes, and took me to a closet where the shoes are kept. A pair of boots, with green Russia leather tops, which Francois was sure the count had put on the previous morning, was missing. I looked for them carefully everywhere, but could not find them. Again, the blue cravat with white stripes which the count wore on the 8th, had also disappeared." "There," cried M. Plantat, "that is indisputable proof that your supposition about the slippers and handkerchief was right." "I think that the facts are sufficiently established to enable us to go forward. Let's now consider the events which must have decided--" M.

Lecoq again stopped, and seemed to be listening. All of a sudden, without a word he jumped on the window-sill and from thence into the garden, with the bound of a cat which pounces on a mouse. The noise of a fall, a stifled cry, an oath, were heard, and then a stamping as if a struggle were going on. The doctor and M. Plantat hastened to the window. Day was breaking, the trees shivered in the fresh wind of the early morning,--objects were vaguely visible without distinct forms across the white mist which hangs, on summer nights, over the valley of the Seine.

In the middle of the lawn, at rapid intervals, they heard the blunt noise of a clinched fist striking a living body, and saw two men, or rather two phantoms, furiously swinging their arms. Presently the two shapes formed but one, then they separated, again to unite; one of the two fell, rose at once, and fell again. "I've got the rogue." The shadow of the detective, which was upright, bent over, and the conflict was recommenced. The shadow stretched on the ground defended itself with the dangerous strength of despair; his body formed a large brown spot in the middle of the lawn, and his legs, kicking furiously, convulsively stretched and contracted. Then there was a moment when the lookers-on could not make out which was the detective. They rose again and struggled; suddenly a cry of pain escaped, with a ferocious oath. "Ah, wretch!" And almost immediately a loud shout rent the air, and the detective's mocking tones were heard: "There he is! I've persuaded him to pay his respects to us--light me up a little." The doctor and his host hastened to the lamp; their zeal caused a delay, and at the moment that the doctor raised the lamp, the door was rudely pushed open. "I beg to present to you," said M.

Lecoq, "Master Robelot, bone-setter of Orcival, herborist by prudence, and poisoner by vocation." The stupefaction of the others was such that neither could speak. It was really the bone-setter, working his jaws nervously. His adversary had thrown him down by the famous knee-stroke which is the last resort of the worst prowlers about the Parisian barriers. But it was not so much Robelot's presence which surprised M. Plantat and his friend. Their stupor was caused by the detective's appearance; who, with his wrist of steel--as rigid as handcuffs--held the doctor's ex-assistant, and pushed him forward. The voice was certainly Lecoq's; there was his costume, his big-knotted cravat, his yellow-haired watch-chain--still it was no longer Lecoq. He was blond, with highly cultivated whiskers, when he jumped out the window; he returned, brown, with a smooth face. The man who had jumped out was a middle-aged person, with an expressive face which was in turn idiotic and intelligent; the man who returned by the door was a fine young fellow of thirty-five, with a beaming eye and a sensitive lip; a splendid head of curly black hair, brought out vividly the pallor of his complexion, and the firm outline of his head and face. A wound appeared on his neck, just below the chin.

Plantat, recovering his voice. "Himself," answered the detective, "and this time the true Lecoq." Turning to Robelot, he slapped him on the shoulder and added: "Go on, you." Robelot fell upon a sofa, but the detective continued to hold him fast. "Yes," he continued, "this rascal has robbed me of my blond locks.

Thanks to him and in spite of myself, you see me as I am, with the head the Creator gave me, and which is really my own." He gave a careless gesture, half angry, half good-humored. "I am the true Lecoq; and to tell the truth, only three persons besides yourselves really know him--two trusted friends, and one who is infinitely less so--she of whom I spoke a while ago." The eyes of the other two met as if to question each other, and M. Lecoq continued: "What can a fellow do? All is not rose color in my trade. We run such dangers, in protecting society, as should entitle us to the esteem, if not the affection of our fellow-men: Why, I am condemned to death, at this moment, by seven of the most dangerous criminals in France.

I have caught them, you see, and they have sworn--they are men of their word, too--that I should only die by their hands. Where are these wretches?

Four at Cayenne, one at Brest; I've had news of them. I've lost their track. Who knows whether one of them hasn't followed me here, and whether to-morrow, at the turning of some obscure road, I shall not get six inches of cold steel in my stomach?" He smiled sadly.

"And no reward," pursued he, "for the perils which we brave. If I should fall to-morrow, they would take up my body, carry it to my house, and that would be the end." The detective's tone had become bitter, the irritation of his voice betrayed his rancor. "My precautions happily are taken. While I am performing my duties, I suspect everything, and when I am on my guard I fear no one. But there are days when one is tired of being on his guard, and would like to be able to turn a street corner without looking for a dagger. On such days I again become myself; I take off my false beard, throw down my mask, and my real self emerges from the hundred disguises which I assume in turn. I have been a detective fifteen years, and no one at the prefecture knows either my true face or the color of my hair." Master Robelot, ill at ease on his lounge, attempted to move. "Ah, look out!" cried M. Lecoq, suddenly changing his tone.

"Now get up here, and tell us what you were about in the garden?" "But you are wounded!" exclaimed Plantat, observing stains of blood on M.

"Oh, that's nothing--only a scratch that this fellow gave me with a big cutlass he had." M. Plantat insisted on examining the wound, and was not satisfied until the doctor declared it to be a very slight one. "Come, Master Robelot," said the old man, "what were you doing here?" The bone-setter did not reply. "Take care," insisted M. Plantat, "your silence will confirm us in the idea that you came with the worst designs." But it was in vain that M.

Plantat wasted his persuasive eloquence. Robelot shut himself up in a ferocious and dogged silence. Gendron, hoping, not without reason, that he might have some influence over his former assistant, spoke: "Answer us; what did you come for?" Robelot made an effort; it was painful, with his broken jaw, to speak. "I came to rob; I confess it." "To rob--what?" "I don't know." "But you didn't scale a wall and risk the jail without a definite object?" "Well, then, I wanted--" He stopped. "What? Go on." "To get some rare flowers in the conservatory." "With your cutlass, hey?" said M. Robelot gave him a terrible look; the detective continued: "You needn't look at me that way--you don't scare me.

And don't talk like a fool, either. If you think we are duller than you, you are mistaken--I warn you of it." "I wanted the flower-pots," stammered the man. Lecoq, shrugging his shoulders, "don't repeat such nonsense. You, a man that buys large estates for cash, steal flower-pots! Tell that to somebody else. You've been turned over to-night, my boy, like an old glove. You've let out in spite of yourself a secret that tormented you furiously, and you came here to get it back again. You thought that perhaps Monsieur Plantat had not told it to anybody, and you wanted to prevent him from speaking again forever." Robelot made a sign of protesting.

"Shut up now," said M.

"And your cutlass?" While this conversation was going on, M. Plantat reflected. "Perhaps," he murmured, "I've spoken too soon." "Why so?" asked M. "I wanted a palpable proof for Monsieur Domini; we'll give him this rascal, and if he isn't satisfied, he's difficult to please." "But what shall we do with him?" "Shut him up somewhere in the house; if necessary, I'll tie him up." "Here's a dark closet." "Is it secure?" "There are thick walls on three sides of it, and the fourth is closed with a double door; no openings, no windows, nothing." "Just the place." M. Plantat opened the closet, a black-looking hole, damp, narrow, and full of old books and papers. "There," said M. Lecoq to his prisoner, "in here you'll be like a little king," and he pushed him into the closet. Robelot did not resist, but he asked for some water and a light.

They gave him a bottle of water and a glass. "As for a light," said M. Lecoq, "you may dispense with it. You'll be playing us some dirty trick." M. Plantat, having shut the closet-door, took the detective's hand. "Monsieur," said he, earnestly, "you have probably just saved my life at the peril of your own; I will not thank you. The day will come, I trust, when I may--" The detective interrupted him with a gesture. "You know how I constantly expose myself," said he, "once more or less does not matter much.

Besides, it does not always serve a man to save his life." He was pensive a moment, then added: "You will thank me after awhile, when I have gained other titles to your gratitude." M. Gendron also cordially shook the detective's hand, saying: "Permit me to express my admiration of you. I had no idea what the resources of such a man as you were. You got here this morning without information, without details, and by the mere scrutiny of the scene of the crime, by the sole force of reasoning, have found the criminal: more, you have proved to us that the criminal could be no other than he whom you have named." M. These praises evidently pleased him greatly. "Still," he answered, "I am not yet quite satisfied.

The guilt of the Count de Tremorel is of course abundantly clear to me.

But what motives urged him? How was he led to this terrible impulse to kill his wife, and make it appear that he, too, had been murdered?" "Might we not conclude," remarked the doctor, "that, disgusted with Madame de Tremorel, he has got rid of her to rejoin another woman, adored by him to madness?" M. Lecoq shook his head. "People don't kill their wives for the sole reason that they are tired of them and love others. They quit their wives, live with the new loves--that's all. That happens every day, and neither the law nor public opinion condemns such people with great severity." "But it was the wife who had the fortune." "That wasn't the case here. I have been posting myself up. de Tremorel had a hundred thousand crowns, the remains of a colossal fortune saved by his friend Sauvresy; and his wife by the marriage contract made over a half million to him.

A man can live in ease anywhere on eight hundred thousand francs. Besides, the count was master of all the funds of the estate. He could sell, buy, realize, borrow, deposit, and draw funds at will." The doctor had nothing to reply. Lecoq went on, speaking with a certain hesitation, while his eyes interrogated M. Plantat. "We must find the reasons of this murder, and the motives of the assassin's terrible resolution--in the past. Some crime so indissolubly linked the count and countess, that only the death of one of them could free the other. I suspected this crime the first thing this morning, and have seen it all the way through; and the man that we have just shut up in there--Robelot--who wanted to murder Monsieur Plantat, was either the agent or the accomplice of this crime." The doctor had not been present at the various episodes which, during the day at Valfeuillu and in the evening at the mayor's, had established a tacit understanding between Plantat and Lecoq. He needed all the shrewdness he possessed to fill up the gaps and understand the hidden meanings of the conversation to which he had been listening for two hours. Lecoq's last words shed a ray of light upon it all, and the doctor cried, "Sauvresy!" "Yes--Sauvresy," answered M.

"And the paper which the murderer hunted for so eagerly, for which he neglected his safety and risked his life, must contain the certain proof of the crime." M. Plantat, despite the most significant looks and the direct provocation to make an explanation, was silent. He seemed a hundred leagues off in his thoughts, and his eyes, wandering in space, seemed to follow forgotten episodes in the mists of the past. Lecoq, after a brief pause, decided to strike a bold blow. "What a past that must have been," exclaimed he, "which could drive a young, rich, happy man like Hector de Tremorel to plan in cool blood such a crime, to resign himself to disappear after it, to cease to exist, as it were to lose all at once his personality, his position, his honor and his name! What a past must be that which drives a young girl of twenty to suicide!" M. Plantat started up, pale, more moved than he had yet appeared.

"Ah," cried he, in an altered voice, "you don't believe what you say! Laurence never knew about it, never!" The doctor, who was narrowly watching the detective, thought he saw a faint smile light up his mobile features. The old justice of the peace went on, now calmly and with dignity, in a somewhat haughty tone: "You didn't need tricks or subterfuge, Monsieur Lecoq, to induce me to tell what I know.

I have evinced enough esteem and confidence in you to deprive you of the right to arm yourself against me with the sad secret which you have surprised." M. Lecoq, despite his cool-headedness, was disconcerted. Plantat, "your astonishing genius for penetrating dramas like this has led you to the truth. But you do not know all, and even now I would hold my tongue, had not the reasons which compelled me to be silent ceased to exist." He opened a secret drawer in an old oaken desk near the fireplace and took out a large paper package, which he laid on the table. "For four years," he resumed, "I have followed, day by day--I might say, hour by hour--the various phases of the dreadful drama which ended in blood last night at Valfeuillu. At first, the curiosity of an old retired attorney prompted me. Later, I hoped to save the life and honor of one very dear to me.

Why did I say nothing of my discoveries? That, my friends, is the secret of my conscience--it does not reproach me. Besides, I shut my eyes to the evidence even up to yesterday; I needed the brutal testimony of this deed!" Day had come. The frightened blackbirds flew whistling by. The pavement resounded with the wooden shoes of the workmen going fieldward. No noise troubled the sad stillness of the library, unless it were the rustling of the leaves which M. Plantat was turning over, or now and then a groan from Robelot. "Before commencing," said the old man, "I ought to consider your weariness; we have been up twenty-four hours--" But the others protested that they did not need repose.

The fever of curiosity had chased away their exhaustion. They were at last to know the key of the mystery. "Very well," said their host, "listen to me." XII The Count Hector de Tremorel, at twenty-six, was the model and ideal of the polished man of the world, proper to our age; a man useless alike to himself and to others, harmful even, seeming to have been placed on earth expressly to play at the expense of all. Young, noble, elegant, rich by millions, endowed with vigorous health, this last descendant of a great family squandered most foolishly and ignobly both his youth and his patrimony. He acquired by excesses of all kinds a wide and unenviable celebrity. People talked of his stables, his carriages, his servants, his furniture, his dogs, his favorite loves. His cast-off horses still took prizes, and a jade distinguished by his notice was eagerly sought by the young bloods of the town. Do not think, however, that he was naturally vicious; he had a warm heart, and even generous emotions at twenty. Six years of unhealthy pleasures had spoiled him to the marrow.

Foolishly vain, he was ready to do anything to maintain his notoriety. He had the bold and determined egotism of one who has never had to think of anyone but himself, and has never suffered. Intoxicated by the flatteries of the so-called friends who drew his money from him, he admired himself, mistaking his brutal cynicism for wit, and his lofty disdain of all morality and his idiotic scepticism, for character. He was also feeble; he had caprices, but never a will; feeble as a child, a woman, a girl.

His biography was to be found in the petty journals of the day, which retailed his sayings--or what he might have said; his least actions and gestures were reported. One night when he was supping at the Cafe de Paris, he threw all the plates out the window. It cost him twenty thousand francs. Bravo! One morning gossiping Paris learned with stupefaction that he had eloped to Italy with the wife of X---, the banker, a lady nineteen years married. He fought a duel, and killed his man. The week after, he was wounded in another. He was a hero! On one occasion he went to Baden, where he broke the bank.

Another time, after playing sixty hours, he managed to lose one hundred and twenty thousand francs--won by a Russian prince. He was one of those men whom success intoxicates, who long for applause, but who care not for what they are applauded. Count Hector was more than ravished by the noise he made in the world. It seemed to him the acme of honor and glory to have his name or initials constantly in the columns of the Parisian World.

He did not betray this, however, but said, with charming modesty, after each new adventure: "When will they stop talking about me?" On great occasions, he borrowed from Louis XIV the epigram: "After me the deluge." The deluge came in his lifetime. One April morning, his valet, a villainous fellow, drilled and dressed up by the count--woke him at nine o'clock with this speech: "Monsieur, a bailiff is downstairs in the ante-chamber, and has come to seize your furniture." Hector turned on his pillow, yawned, stretched, and replied: "Well, tell him to begin operations with the stables and carriage-house; and then come up and dress me." He did not seem disturbed, and the servant retired amazed at his master's coolness. The count had at least sense enough to know the state of his finances; and he had foreseen, nay, expected the bailiff's visit. Three years before, when he had been laid up for six weeks in consequence of a fall from his horse, he had measured the depth of the gulf toward which he was hastening. Then, he might yet have saved himself.

But he must have changed his whole course of life, reformed his household, learned that twenty-one franc pieces made a napoleon. After mature reflection he had said to himself that he would go on to the end. When the last hour came, he would fly to the other end of France, erase his name from his linen, and blow his brains out in some forest. This hour had now come. By contracting debts, signing bills, renewing obligations, paying interests and compound interests, giving commissions by always borrowing, and never paying, Hector had consumed the princely heritage--nearly four millions in lands--which he had received at his father's death. The winter just past had cost him fifty thousand crowns. He had tried eight days before to borrow a hundred thousand francs, and had failed. He had been refused, not because his property was not as much as he owed, but because it was known that property sold by a bankrupt does not bring its value. Thus it was that when the valet came in and said, "The bailiff is here," he seemed like a spectre commanding suicide. Hector took the announcement coolly and said, as he got up: "Well, here's an end of it." He was very calm, though a little confused.

A little confusion is excusable when a man passes from wealth to beggary. He thought he would make his last toilet with especial care. Parbleu! The French nobility goes into battle in court costume! He was ready in less than an hour. He put on his bejewelled watch-chain; then he put a pair of little pistols, of the finest quality, in his overcoat pocket; then he sent the valet away, and opening his desk, he counted up what funds he had left.

Ten thousand and some hundreds of francs remained. He might with this sum take a journey, prolong his life two or three months; but he repelled with disdain the thought of a miserable subterfuge, of a reprieve in disguise. He imagined that with this money he might make a great show of generosity, which would be talked of in the world; it would be chivalrous to breakfast with his inamorata and make her a present of this money at dessert. During the meal he would be full of nervous gayety, of cynical humor, and then he would announce his intention to kill himself. The girl would not fail to narrate the scene everywhere; she would repeat his last conversation, his last will and gift; all the cafes would buzz with it at night; the papers would be full of it. This idea strangely excited him, and comforted him at once. He was going out, when his eyes fell upon the mass of papers in his desk. Perhaps there was something there which might dim the positiveness of his resolution. He emptied all the drawers without looking or choosing, and put all the papers in the fire.

He looked with pride upon this conflagration; there were bills, love letters, business letters, bonds, patents of nobility, deeds of property. Was it not his brilliant past which flickered and consumed in the fireplace? The bailiff occurred to him, and he hastily descended. He was the most polite of bailiffs, a man of taste and wit, a friend of artists, himself a poet at times. He had already seized eight horses in the stables with all their harness and trappings, and five carriages with their equipage, in the carriage-house. "I'm going on slowly, Count," said he bowing. "Perhaps you wish to arrest the execution. The sum is large, to be sure, but a man in your position--" "Believe that you are here because it suits me," interrupted Hector, proudly, "this house doesn't suit me; I shall never enter it again. So, as you are master, go on." And wheeling round on his heel he went off.

The astonished bailiff proceeded with his work. He went from room to room, admiring and seizing. He seized cups gained at the races, collections of pipes and arms, and the library, containing many sporting-books, superbly bound. Meanwhile the Count de Tremorel, who was resolved more than ever on suicide, ascending the boulevards came to his inamorata's house, which was near the Madeleine. He had introduced her some six months before into the demi-monde as Jenny Fancy. Her real name was Pelagie Taponnet, and although the count did not know it, she was his valet's sister. She was pretty and lively, with delicate hands and a tiny foot, superb chestnut hair, white teeth, and great impertinent black eyes, which were languishing, caressing, or provoking, at will. She had passed suddenly from the most abject poverty to a state of extravagant luxury.

This brilliant change did not astonish her as much as you might think. Forty-eight hours after her removal to her new apartments, she had established order among the servants; she made them obey a glance or a gesture; and she made her dress-makers and milliners submit with good grace to her orders. Jenny soon began to languish, in her fine rooms, for new excitement; her gorgeous toilets no longer amused her. A woman's happiness is not complete unless seasoned by the jealousy of rivals. Jenny's rivals lived in the Faubourg du Temple, near the barrier; they could not envy her splendor, for they did not know her, and she was strictly forbidden to associate with and so dazzle them. As for Tremorel, Jenny submitted to him from necessity. She thought his friends the dreariest of beings.

Perhaps she perceived beneath their ironically polite manner, a contempt for her, and understood of how little consequence she was to these rich people, these high livers, gamblers, men of the world. Her pleasures comprised an evening with someone of her own class, card-playing, at which she won, and a midnight supper. She was wearied to death: A hundred times she was on the point of discarding Tremorel, abandoning all this luxury, money, servants, and resuming her old life. Many a time she packed up; her vanity always checked her at the last moment. Hector de Tremorel rang at her door at eleven on the morning in question. She did not expect him so early, and she was evidently surprised when he told her he had come to breakfast, and asked her to hasten the cook, as he was in a great hurry. She had never, she thought, seen him so amiable, so gay.

All through breakfast he sparkled, as he promised himself he would, with spirit and fun. At last, while they were sipping their coffee, Hector spoke: "All this, my dear, is only a preface, intended to prepare you for a piece of news which will surprise you. I am a ruined man." She looked at him with amazement, not seeming to comprehend him. "I said--ruined," said he, laughing bitterly, "as ruined as man can be." "Oh, you are making fun of me, joking--" "I never spoke so seriously in my life. It seems strange to you, doesn't it? Yet it's sober truth." Jenny's large eyes continued to interrogate him. "Why," he continued, with lofty carelessness, "life, you know, is like a bunch of grapes, which one either eats gradually, piece by piece, or squeezes into a glass to be tossed off at a gulp. I've chosen the latter way. My grape was four million francs; they are drunk up to the dregs.

I don't regret them, I've had a jolly life for my money. But now I can flatter myself that I am as much of a beggar as any beggar in France. Everything at my house is in the bailiff's hands--I am without a domicile, without a penny." He spoke with increasing animation as the multitude of diverse thoughts passed each other tumultuously in his brain. And he was not playing a part. He was speaking in all good faith. "But--then--" stammered Jenny. "What?

Are you free? Just so--" She hardly knew whether to rejoice or mourn. "Yes," he continued, "I give you back your liberty." Jenny made a gesture which Hector misunderstood. be quiet," he added quickly, "I sha'n't leave you thus; I would not desert you in a state of need. This furniture is yours, and I have provided for you besides.

Here in my pocket are five hundred napoleons; it is my all; I have brought it to give to you." He passed the money over to her on a plate, laughingly, imitating the restaurant waiters. She pushed it back with a shudder. "Oh, well," said he, "that's a good sign, my dear; very good, very good. I've always thought and said that you were a good girl--in fact, too good; you needed correcting." She did, indeed, have a good heart; for instead of taking Hector's bank-notes and turning him out of doors, she tried to comfort and console him.

Since he had confessed to her that he was penniless, she ceased to hate him, and even commenced to love him. Hector, homeless, was no longer the dreaded man who paid to be master, the millionnaire who, by a caprice, had raised her from the gutter. He was no longer the execrated tyrant. Ruined, he descended from his pedestal, he became a man like others, to be preferred to others, as a handsome and gallant youth.

Then Jenny mistook the last artifice of a discarded vanity for a generous impulse of the heart, and was deeply touched by this splendid last gift. "You are not as poor as you say," she said, "for you still have so large a sum." "But, dear child, I have several times given as much for diamonds which you envied." She reflected a moment, then as if an idea had struck her, exclaimed: "That's true enough; but I can spend, oh, a great deal less, and yet be just as happy. Once, before I knew you, when I was young (she was now nineteen), ten thousand francs seemed to me to be one of those fabulous sums which were talked about, but which few men ever saw in one pile, and fewer still held in their hands." She tried to slip the money into the count's pocket; but he prevented it. "Come, take it back, keep it--" "What shall I do with it?" "I don't know, but wouldn't this money bring in more? Couldn't you speculate on the Bourse, bet at the races, play at Baden, or something? I've heard of people that are now rich as kings, who commenced with nothing, and hadn't your talents either. Why don't you do as they did?" She spoke excitedly, as a woman does who is anxious to persuade. He looked at her, astonished to find her so sensitive, so disinterested. "You will, won't you?" she insisted, "now, won't you?" "You are a good girl," said he, charmed with her, "but you must take this money. I give it to you, don't be worried about anything." "But you--have you still any money?

What have you?" "I have yet--" He stopped, searched his pockets, and counted the money in his purse. "Faith, here's three hundred and forty francs--more than I need. I must give some napoleons to your servants before I go." "And what for Heaven's sake will become of you?" He sat back in his chair, negligently stroked his handsome beard, and said: "I am going to blow my brains out." "Oh!" Hector thought that she doubted what he said. He took his pistols out of his pockets, showed them to her, and went on: "You see these toys? Well, when I leave you, I shall go somewhere--no matter where--put the muzzle to my temple, thus, press the trigger--and all will be over!" She gazed at him, her eyes dilated with terror, pale, breathing hard and fast. But at the same time, she admired him. She marvelled at so much courage, at this calm, this careless railing tone.

What superb disdain of life! To exhaust his fortune and then kill himself, without a cry, a tear, or a regret, seemed to her an act of heroism unheard of, unexampled.

It seemed to her that a new, unknown, beautiful, radiant man stood before her. She loved him as she had never loved before!

It shall not be!" And rising suddenly, she rushed to him and seized him by the arm. Promise me, swear it to me. I love you--I couldn't bear you before. Oh, I did not know you, but now--come, we will be happy. You, who have lived with millions don't know how much ten thousand francs are--but I know. We can live a long time on that, and very well, too. Then, if we are obliged to sell the useless things--the horses, carriages, my diamonds, my green cashmere, we can have three or four times that sum. Thirty thousand francs--it's a fortune!

Think how many happy days--" The Count de Tremorel shook his head, smilingly. He was ravished; his vanity was flattered by the heat of the passion which beamed from the poor girl's eyes.

How he was beloved! What a hero the world was about to lose! "For we will not stay here," Jenny went on, "we will go and conceal ourselves far from Paris, in a little cottage. Why, on the other side of Belleville you can get a place surrounded by gardens for a thousand francs a year. You would never leave me, for I should be jealous--oh, so jealous! We wouldn't have any servants, and you should see that I know how to keep house." Hector said nothing.

"While the money lasts," continued Jenny, "we'll laugh away the days. When it's all gone, if you are still decided, you will kill yourself--that is, we will kill ourselves together. But not with a pistol--No! We'll light a pan of charcoal, sleep in one another's arms, and that will be the end. They say one doesn't suffer that way at all." This idea drew Hector from his torpor, and awoke in him a recollection which ruffled all his vanity. Three or four days before, he had read in a paper the account of the suicide of a cook, who, in a fit of love and despair, had bravely suffocated himself in his garret. Before dying he had written a most touching letter to his faithless love. The idea of killing himself like a cook made him shudder.

He saw the possibility of the horrible comparison. And the Count de Tremorel had a wholesome fear of ridicule. To suffocate himself, at Belleville, with a grisette, how dreadful!

He almost rudely pushed Jenny's arms away, and repulsed her. "Enough of that sort of thing," said he, in his careless tone. "What you say, child, is all very pretty, but utterly absurd. A man of my name dies, and doesn't choke." And taking the bank-notes from his pocket, where Jenny had slipped them, he threw them on the table. "Now, good-by." He would have gone, but Jenny, red and with glistening eyes, barred the door with her body.

"You shall not go!" she cried, "I won't have you; you are mine--for I love you; if you take one step, I will scream." The count shrugged his shoulders. "But we must end all this!" "You sha'n't go!" "Well, then, I'll blow my brains out here." And taking out one of his pistols, he held it to his forehead, adding, "If you call out and don't let me pass, I shall fire." He meant the threat for earnest. But Jenny did not call out; she could not; she uttered a deep groan and fainted. "At last!" muttered Hector, replacing the pistol in his pocket. He went out, not taking time to lift her from the floor where she had fallen, and shut the door. Then he called the servants into the vestibule, gave them ten napoleons to divide among them, and hastened away. XIII The Count de Tremorel, having reached the street, ascended the boulevard. All of a sudden he bethought him of his friends.

The story of the execution must have already spread. "No; not that way," he muttered.

This was because, on the boulevard, he would certainly meet some of his very dear cronies, and he desired to escape their condolence and offers of service. He pictured to himself their sorry visages, concealing a hidden and delicious satisfaction. He had wounded so many vanities that he must look for terrible revenges. The friends of an insolently prosperous man are rejoiced in his downfall. Hector crossed the street, went along the Rue Duphot, and reached the quays. Where was he going? He did not know, and did not even ask himself. He walked at random, enjoying the physical content which follows a good meal, happy to find himself still in the land of the living, in the soft April sunlight. The weather was superb, and all Paris was out of doors. There was a holiday air about the town.

The flower-women at the corners of the bridges had their baskets full of odorous violets. The count bought a bouquet near the Pont Neuf and stuck it in his button-hole, and without waiting for his change, passed on. He reached the large square at the end of the Bourdon boulevard, which is always full of jugglers and curiosity shows; here the noise, the music, drew him from his torpor, and brought his thoughts back to his present situation.

"I must leave Paris," thought he. He crossed toward the Orleans station at a quicker pace. He entered the waiting-room, and asked what time the train left for Etampes. Why did he choose Etampes? A train had just gone, and there would not be another one for two hours. He was much annoyed at this, and as he could not wait there two hours, he wended his way, to kill time, toward the Jardin des Plantes. He had not been there for ten or twelve years--not since, when at school, his teachers had brought him there to look at the animals.

Nothing had changed. There were the groves and parterres, the lawns and lanes, the beasts and birds, as before. The principal avenue was nearly deserted. He took a seat opposite the mineralogical museum. He glanced back through the departed years, and did not find one day among those many days which had left him one of those gracious memories which delight and console. Millions had slipped through his prodigal hands, and he could not recall a single useful expenditure, a really generous one, amounting to twenty francs. He, who had had so many friends, searched his memory in vain for the name of a single friend whom he regretted to part from. The past seemed to him like a faithful mirror; he was surprised, startled at the folly of the pleasures, the inane delights, which had been the end and aim of his existence.

For what had he lived?

"Ah, what a fool I was!" he muttered, "what a fool!" After living for others, he was going to kill himself for others. His heart became softened. Who would think of him, eight days hence? Yes--Jenny, perhaps.

She would be consoled with a new lover in less than a week. The bell for closing the garden rang. Night had come, and a thick and damp mist had covered the city. The count, chilled to the bones, left his seat. "To the station again," muttered he. It was a horrible idea to him now--this of shooting himself in the silence and obscurity of the forest. Beggars or robbers would despoil him. And then? The police would come and take up this unknown body, and doubtless would carry it, to be identified, to the Morgue. "Never!" cried he, at this thought, "no, never!" How die, then?

He reflected, and it struck him that he would kill himself in some second-class hotel on the left bank of the Seine. "Yes, that's it," said he to himself. Leaving the garden with the last of the visitors, he wended his way toward the Latin Quarter. The carelessness which he had assumed in the morning gave way to a sad resignation. He was suffering; his head was heavy, and he was cold. "If I shouldn't die to-night," he thought, "I shall have a terrible cold in the morning." This mental sally did not make him smile, but it gave him the consciousness of being firm and determined. He went into the Rue Dauphine and looked about for a hotel. Then it occurred to him that it was not yet seven o'clock, and it might arouse suspicions if he asked for a room at that early hour. He reflected that he still had over one hundred francs, and resolved to dine.

It should be his last meal.

He went into a restaurant and ordered it. But he in vain tried to throw off the anxious sadness which filled him.

He drank, and consumed three bottles of wine without changing the current of his thoughts. The waiters were surprised to see him scarcely touch the dishes set before him, and growing more gloomy after each potation. His dinner cost ninety francs; he threw his last hundred-franc note on the table, and went out. As it was not yet late, he went into another restaurant where some students were drinking, and sat down at a table in the farther corner of the room.

He ordered coffee and rapidly drank three or four cups. He wished to excite himself, to screw up his courage to do what he had resolved upon; but he could not; the drink seemed only to make him more and more irresolute. A waiter, seeing him alone at the table, offered him a newspaper. He took it mechanically, opened it, and read: "Just as we are going to press, we learn that a well-known person has disappeared, after announcing his intention to commit suicide.

The statements made to us are so strange, that we defer details till to-morrow, not having time to send for fuller information now." These lines startled Hector.

They were his death sentence, not to be recalled, signed by the tyrant whose obsequious courtier he had always been--public opinion.

"They will never cease talking about me," he muttered angrily. Then he added, firmly, "Come, I must make an end of this." He soon reached the Hotel Luxembourg. He rapped at the door, and was speedily conducted to the best room in the house. He ordered a fire to be lighted. He also asked for sugar and water, and writing materials. At this moment he was as firm as in the morning.

"I must not hesitate," he muttered, "nor recoil from my fate." He sat down at the table near the fireplace, and wrote in a firm hand a declaration which he destined for the police. "No one must be accused of my death," he commenced; and he went on by asking that the hotel-keeper should be indemnified. The hour by the clock was five minutes before eleven; he placed his pistols on the mantel. "I will shoot myself at midnight," thought he. "I have yet an hour to live." The count threw himself in an arm-chair and buried his face in his hands. Why did he not kill himself at once? Why impose on himself this hour of waiting, of anguish and torture? He could not have told. He began again to think over the events of his life, reflecting on the headlong rapidity of the occurrences which had brought him to that wretched room.

How time had passed! It seemed but yesterday that he first began to borrow. It does little good, however, to a man who has fallen to the bottom of the abyss, to know the causes why he fell. The large hand of the clock had passed the half hour after eleven.

He thought of the newspaper item which he had just read.

Who furnished the information? Doubtless it was Jenny. She had come to her senses, tearfully hastened after him. When she failed to find him on the boulevard, she had probably gone to his house, then to his club, then to some of his friends. So that to-night, at this very moment, the world was discussing him.

"Have you heard the news?" "Ah, yes, poor Tremorel! What a romance! A good fellow, only--" He thought he heard this "only" greeted with laughter and innuendoes. Time passed on. The ringing vibration of the clock was at hand; the hour had come. The count got up, seized his pistols, and placed himself near the bed, so as not to fall on the floor. Hector was a man of courage; his reputation for bravery was high. He had fought at least ten duels; and his cool bearing on the ground had always been admiringly remarked.

One day he had killed a man, and that night he slept very soundly.

There are two kinds of courage. One, false courage, is that meant for the public eye, which needs the excitement of the struggle, the stimulus of rage, and the applause of lookers-on.

The other, true courage, despises public opinion, obeys conscience, not passion; success does not sway it, it does its work noiselessly. Two minutes after twelve--Hector still held the pistol against his forehead. "Am I going to be afraid?" he asked himself. He was afraid, but would not confess it to himself. He put his pistols back on the table and returned to his seat near the fire. All his limbs were trembling. "It'll pass off." He gave himself till one o'clock. If he did not, what would become of him? Must he make up his mind to work? Besides, could he appear in the world, when all Paris knew of his intention?

This thought goaded him to fury; he had a sudden courage, and grasped his pistols. But the sensation which the touch of the cold steel gave him, caused him to drop his arm and draw away shuddering. "I cannot," repeated he, in his anguish. "I cannot!" The idea of the physical pain of shooting himself filled him with horror. Why had he not a gentler death? Poison, or perhaps charcoal--like the little cook?

He did not fear the ludicrousness of this now; all that he feared was, that the courage to kill himself would fail him. He went on extending his time of grace from half-hour to half-hour. It was a horrible night, full of the agony of the last night of the criminal condemned to the scaffold. He wept with grief and rage and wrung his hands and prayed. Toward daylight he fell exhausted into an uneasy slumber, in his arm-chair.

He was awakened by three or four heavy raps on the door, which he hastily opened. It was the waiter, who had come to take his order for breakfast, and who started back with amazement on seeing Hector, so disordered was his clothing and so livid the pallor of his features. "I want nothing," said the count. "I'm going down." He had just enough money left to pay his bill, and six sous for the waiter. He quitted the hotel where he had suffered so much, without end or aim in view. He was more resolved than ever to die, only he yearned for several days of respite to nerve himself for the deed. But how could he live during these days? He had not so much as a centime left. An idea struck him--the pawnbrokers!

He knew that at the Monte-de-Piete* a certain amount would be advanced to him on his jewelry. But where find a branch office? He dared not ask, but hunted for one at hazard. He now held his head up, walked with a firmer step; he was seeking something, and had a purpose to accomplish. He at last saw the sign of the Monte-de-Piete on a house in the Rue Conde, and entered. The hall was small, damp, filthy, and full of people. But if the place was gloomy, the borrowers seemed to take their misfortunes good-humoredly. They were mostly students and women, talking gayly as they waited for their turns.

The Count de Tremorel advanced with his watch, chain, and a brilliant diamond that he had taken from his finger. He was seized with the timidity of misery, and did not know how to open his business. A young woman pitied his embarrassment.

"See," said she, "put your articles on this counter, before that window with green curtains." A moment after he heard a voice which seemed to proceed from the next room: "Twelve hundred francs for the watch and ring." This large amount produced such a sensation as to arrest all the conversation. All eyes were turned toward the millionnaire who was going to pocket such a fortune. The millionnaire made no response. The same woman who had spoken before nudged his arm. "That's for you," said she. "Answer whether you will take it or not." "I'll take it," cried Hector. He was filled with a joy which made him forget the night's torture. Twelve hundred francs! How many days it would last! Had he not heard there were clerks who hardly got that in a year?

Hector waited a long time, when one of the clerks, who was writing at a desk, called out: "Whose are the twelve hundred francs?" The count stepped forward. "Mine," said he. "Your name?" Hector hesitated. He would never give his name aloud in such a place as this. He gave the first name that occurred to him. "Durand." "Where are your papers?" "What papers?" "A passport, a receipt for lodgings, a license to hunt--" "I haven't any." "Go for them, or bring two well-known witnesses." "But--" "There is no 'but.' The next--" Hector was provoked by the clerk's abrupt manner. "Well, then," said he, "give me back the jewelry." The clerk looked at him jeeringly.

"Can't be done. No goods that are registered, can be returned without proof of rightful possession." So saying, he went on with his work. "One French shawl, thirty-five francs, whose is it?" Hector meanwhile went out of the establishment. He had never suffered so much, had never imagined that one could suffer so much. After this ray of hope, so abruptly put out, the clouds lowered over him thicker and more hopelessly. He was worse off than the shipwrecked sailor; the pawnbroker had taken his last resources.

All the romance with which he had invested the idea of his suicide now vanished, leaving bare the stern and ignoble reality. He must kill himself, not like the gay gamester who voluntarily leaves upon the roulette table the remains of his fortune, but like the Greek, who surprised and hunted, knows that every door will be shut upon him.

His death would not be voluntary; he could neither hesitate nor choose the fatal hour; he must kill himself because he had not the means of living one day longer. And life never before seemed to him so sweet a thing as now. He never felt so keenly the exuberance of his youth and strength. He suddenly discovered all about him a crowd of pleasures each more enviable than the others, which he had never tasted. He who flattered himself that he had squeezed life to press out its pleasures, had not really lived. He had had all that is to be bought or sold, nothing of what is given or achieved. He already not only regretted giving the ten thousand francs to Jenny, but the two hundred francs to the servants--nay the six sous given to the waiter at the restaurant, even the money he had spent on the bunch of violets.

The bouquet still hung in his buttonhole, faded and shrivelled. What good did it do him? While the sous which he had paid for it--! He did not think of his wasted millions, but could not drive away the thought of that wasted franc! True, he might, if he chose, find plenty of money still, and easily. He had only to return quietly to his house, to discharge the bailiffs, and to resume the possession of his remaining effects. But he would thus confront the world, and confess his terrors to have overcome him at the last moment; he would have to suffer glances more cruel than the pistol-ball.

The world must not be deceived; when a man announces that he is going to kill himself--he must kill himself. So Hector was going to die because he had said he would, because the newspapers had announced the fact. He confessed this to himself as he went along, and bitterly reproached himself. He remembered a pretty spot in Viroflay forest, where he had once fought a duel; he would commit the deed there. He hastened toward it. The weather was fine and he met many groups of young people going into the country for a good time.

Workmen were drinking and clinking their glasses under the trees along the river-bank. All seemed happy and contented, and their gayety seemed to insult Hector's wretchedness. He left the main road at the Sevres bridge, and descending the embankment reached the borders of the Seine. Kneeling down, he took up some water in the palm of his hand, and drank--an invincible lassitude crept over him. He sat, or rather fell, upon the sward. The fever of despair came, and death now seemed to him a refuge, which he could almost welcome with joy. Some feet above him the windows of a Sevres restaurant opened toward the river. He could be seen from there, as well as from the bridge; but he did not mind this, nor anything else. "As well here, as elsewhere," he said to himself. He had just drawn his pistol out, when he heard someone call: "Hector!

Hector!" He jumped up at a bound, concealed the pistol, and looked about. A man was running down the embankment toward him with outstretched arms. This was a man of his own age, rather stout, but well shaped, with a fine open face and, large black eyes in which one read frankness and good-nature; one of those men who are sympathetic at first sight, whom one loves on a week's acquaintance. It was his oldest friend, a college mate; they had once been very intimate, but the count not finding the other fast enough for him, had little by little dropped his intimacy, and had now lost sight of him for two years. "Sauvresy!" he exclaimed, stupefied. "Yes," said the young man, hot, and out of breath, "I've been watching you the last two minutes; what were you doing here?" "Why--nothing." "How! What they told me at your house this morning was true, then! I went there." "What did they say?" "That nobody knew what had become of you, and that you declared to Jenny when you left her the night before that you were going to blow your brains out. The papers have already announced your death, with details." This news seemed to have a great effect on the count. "You see, then," he answered tragically, "that I must kill myself!" "Why?

In order to save the papers from the inconvenience of correcting their error." "People will say that I shrunk--" "Oh, 'pon my word now! According to you, a man must make a fool of himself because it has been reported that he would do it. Absurd, old fellow.

What do you want to kill yourself for?" Hector reflected; he almost saw the possibility of living. "I am ruined," answered he, sadly. "And it's for this that--stop, my friend, let me tell you, you are an ass! It's a misfortune, but when a man is of your age he rebuilds his fortune. Besides, you aren't as ruined as you say, because I've got an income of a hundred thousand francs." "A hundred thousand francs--" "Well, my fortune is in land, which brings in about four per cent." Tremorel knew that his friend was rich, but not that he was as rich as this. He answered with a tinge of envy in his tone: "Well, I had more than that; but I had no breakfast this morning." "And you did not tell me! But true, you are in a pitiable state; come along, quick!" And he led him toward the restaurant. Tremorel reluctantly followed this friend, who had just saved his life.

He was conscious of having been surprised in a distressingly ridiculous situation. If a man who is resolved to blow his brains out is accosted, he presses the trigger, he doesn't conceal his pistol.

There was one alone, among all his friends, who loved him enough not to see the ludicrousness of his position; one alone generous enough not to torture him with raillery; it was Sauvresy.

But once seated before a well-filled table, Hector could not preserve his rigidity. He felt the joyous expansion of spirit which follows assured safety after terrible peril.

He was himself, young again, once more strong. He told Sauvresy everything; his vain boasting, his terror at the last moment, his agony at the hotel, his fury, remorse, and anguish at the pawnbroker's. "Ah!" said he. "You have saved me!

You are my friend, my only friend, my brother." They talked for more than two hours.

"Come," said Sauvresy at last, "let us arrange our plans. You want to disappear awhile; I see that. But to-night you must write four lines to the papers. To-morrow I propose to take your affairs in hand, that's a thing I know how to do. I don't know exactly how you stand; but I will agree to save something from the wreck. We've got money, you see; your creditors will be easy with us." "But where shall I go?" asked Hector, whom the mere idea of isolation terrified. "What? You'll come home with me, parbleu, to Valfeuillu. Don't you know that I am married? Ah, my friend, a happier man than I does not exist!

I've married--for love--the loveliest and best of women. You will be a brother to us. But come, my carriage is right here near the door." XIV M. Plantat stopped. His companions had not suffered a gesture or a word to interrupt him. Lecoq, as he listened, reflected.

He asked himself where M. Plantat could have got all these minute details. Who had written Tremorel's terrible biography? As he glanced at the papers from which Plantat read, he saw that they were not all in the same handwriting. The old justice of the peace pursued the story: Bertha Lechaillu, though by an unhoped-for piece of good fortune she had become Madame Sauvresy, did not love her husband. She was the daughter of a poor country school-master, whose highest ambition had been to be an assistant teacher in a Versailles school; yet she was not now satisfied. Absolute queen of one of the finest domains in the land, surrounded by every luxury, spending as she pleased, beloved, adored, she was not content. Her life, so well regulated, so constantly smooth, without annoyances and disturbance, seemed to her insipid.

There were always the same monotonous pleasures, always recurring each in its season. There were parties and receptions, horse rides, hunts, drives--and it was always thus! Alas, this was not the life she had dreamed of; she was born for more exciting pleasures. She yearned for unknown emotions and sensations, the unforeseen, abrupt transitions, passions, adventures. She had not liked Sauvresy from the first day she saw him, and her secret aversion to him increased in proportion as her influence over him grew more certain. She thought him common, vulgar, ridiculous. She thought the simplicity of his manners, silliness. She looked at him, and saw nothing in him to admire.

She did not listen to him when he spoke, having already decided in her wisdom that he could say nothing that was not tedious or commonplace. She was angry that he had not been a wild young man, the terror of his family. He had, however, done as other young men do. He had gone to Paris and tried the sort of life which his friend Tremorel led. He had enough of it in six months, and hastily returned to Valfeuillu, to rest after such laborious pleasures. The experience cost him a hundred thousand francs, but he said he did not regret purchasing it at this price. Bertha was wearied with the constancy and adoration of her husband. She had only to express a desire to be at once obeyed, and this blind submission to all her wishes appeared to her servile in a man. A man is born, she thought, to command, and not to obey; to be master, and not slave. She would have preferred a husband who would come in in the middle of the night, still warm from his orgy, having lost at play, and who would strike her if she upbraided him.

A tyrant, but a man. Some months after her marriage she suddenly took it into her head to have absurd freaks and extravagant caprices. She wished to prove him, and see how far his constant complacence would go.

It was intolerable to feel absolutely sure of her husband, to know that she so filled his heart that he had room for no other, to have nothing to fear, not even the caprice of an hour. Perhaps there was yet more than this in Bertha's aversion. She knew herself, and confessed to herself that had Sauvresy wished, she would have been his without being his wife.

She was so lonely at her father's, so wretched in her poverty, that she would have fled from her home, even for this. And she despised her husband because he had not despised her enough! People were always telling her that she was the happiest of women. Happy!

And there were days when she wept when she thought that she was married. Happy! There were times when she longed to fly, to seek adventure and pleasure, all that she yearned for, what she had not had and never would have. The fear of poverty--which she knew well--restrained her. This fear was caused in part by a wise precaution which her father, recently dead, had taken. Sauvresy wished to insert in the marriage-contract a settlement of five hundred thousand francs on his affianced. The worthy Lechailin had opposed this generous act.

"My daughter," he said, "brings you nothing. Settle forty thousand francs on her if you will, not a sou more; otherwise there shall be no marriage." As Sauvresy insisted, the old man added: "I hope that she will be a good and worthy wife; if so, your fortune will be hers. But if she is not, forty thousand francs will be none too little for her. Of course, if you are afraid that you will die first, you can make a will." Sauvresy was forced to yield. Perhaps the worthy school-master knew his daughter; if so he was the only one. Never did so consummate a hypocrisy minister to so profound a perversity, and a depravity so inconceivable in a young and seemingly innocent girl. If, at the bottom of her heart, she thought herself the most wretched of women, there was nothing of it apparent--it was a well-kept secret. She knew how to show to her husband, in place of the love she did not feel, the appearance of a passion at once burning and modest, betraying furtive glances and a flush as of pleasure, when he entered the room. All the world said: "Bertha is foolishly fond of her husband." Sauvresy was sure of it, and he was the first to say, not caring to conceal his joy: "My wife adores me." Such were man and wife at Valfeuillu when Sauvresy found Tremorel on the banks of the Seine with a pistol in his hand.

Sauvresy missed his dinner that evening for the first time since his marriage, though he had promised to be prompt, and the meal was kept waiting for him. Bertha might have been anxious about this delay; she was only indignant at what she called inconsiderateness. She was asking herself how she should punish her husband, when, at ten o'clock at night, the drawing-room door was abruptly thrown open, and Sauvresy stood smiling upon the threshold. "Bertha," said he, "I've brought you an apparition." She scarcely deigned to raise her head. Sauvresy continued: "An apparition whom you know, of whom I have often spoken to you, whom you will like because I love him, and because he is my oldest comrade, my best friend." And standing aside, he gently pushed Hector into the room.

"Madame Sauvresy, permit me to present to you Monsieur the Count de Tremorel." Bertha rose suddenly, blushing, confused, agitated by an indefinable emotion, as if she saw in reality an apparition. For the first time in her life she was abashed, and did not dare to raise her large, clear blue eyes.

"Monsieur," she stammered, "you are welcome." She knew Tremorel's name well. Sauvresy had often mentioned it, and she had seen it often in the papers, and had heard it in the drawing-rooms of all her friends.

He who bore it seemed to her, after what she had heard a great personage.

He was, according to his reputation, a hero of another age, a social Don Quixote, a terribly fast man of the world. He was one of those men whose lives astonish common people, whom the well-to-do citizen thinks faithless and lawless, whose extravagant passions overleap the narrow bounds of social prejudice; a man who tyrannizes over others, whom all fear, who fights on the slightest provocation, who scatters gold with a prodigal hand, whose iron health resists the most terrible excesses. She had often in her miserable reveries tried to imagine what kind of man this Count de Tremorel was. She awarded him with such qualities as she desired for her fancied hero, with whom she could fly from her husband in search of new adventures. And now, of a sudden, he appeared before her. "Give Hector your hand, dear," said Sauvresy. She held out her hand, which Tremorel lightly pressed, and his touch seemed to give her an electric shock. Sauvresy threw himself into an arm-chair.

"You see, Bertha," said he, "our friend Hector is exhausted with the life he has been leading. He has been advised to rest, and has come to seek it here, with us." "But, dear," responded Bertha, "aren't you afraid that the count will be bored a little here?" "Why?" "Valfeuillu is very quiet, and we are but dull country folks." Bertha talked for the sake of talking, to break a silence which embarrassed her, to make Tremorel speak, and hear his voice.

As she talked she observed him, and studied the impression she made on him. Her radiant beauty usually struck those who saw her for the first time with open admiration. He remained impassible.

She recognized the worn-out rake of title, the fast man who has tried, experienced, exhausted all things, in his coldness and superb indifference. And because he did not admire her she admired him the more. "What a difference," thought she, "between him and that vulgar Sauvresy, who is surprised at everything, whose face shows all that he thinks, whose eye betrays what he is going to say before he opens his mouth." Bertha was mistaken. Hector was not as cold and indifferent as she imagined. He was simply wearied, utterly exhausted. He could scarcely sit up after the terrible excitements of the last twenty-four hours.

He soon asked permission to retire. Sauvresy, when left alone with his wife, told her all that happened, and the events which resulted in Tremorel's coming to Valfeuillu; but like a true friend omitted everything that would cast ridicule upon his old comrade. "He's a big child," said he, "a foolish fellow, whose brain is weak but we'll take care of him and cure him." Bertha never listened to her husband so attentively before. She seemed to agree with him, but she really admired Tremorel. Like Jenny, she was struck with the heroism which could squander a fortune and then commit suicide. "Ah!" sighed she, "Sauvresy would not have done it!" No, Sauvresy was quite a different man from the Count de Tremorel. The next day he declared his intention to adjust his friend's affairs. Hector had slept well, having spent the night on an excellent bed, undisturbed by pressing anxieties; and he appeared in the morning sleek and well-dressed, the disorder and desperation of the previous evening having quite disappeared.

He had a nature not deeply impressible by events; twenty-four hours consoled him for the worst catastrophes, and he soon forgot the severest lessons of life. If Sauvresy had bid him begone, he would not have known where to go; yet he had already resumed the haughty carelessness of the millionnaire, accustomed to bend men and circumstances to his will. He was once more calm and cold, coolly joking, as if years had passed since that night at the hotel, and as if all the disasters to his fortune had been repaired. Bertha was amazed at this tranquillity after such great reverses, and thought this childish recklessness force of character. "Now," said Sauvresy, "as I've become your man of business, give me my instructions, and some valuable hints. What is, or was, the amount of your fortune?" "I haven't the least idea." Sauvresy provided himself with a pencil and a large sheet of paper, ready to set down the figures. He seemed a little surprised. "All right," said he, "we'll put x down as the unknown quantity of the assets: now for the liabilities." Hector made a superbly disdainful gesture. "Don't know, I'm sure, what they are." "What, can't you give a rough guess?" "Oh, perhaps. For instance, I owe between five and six hundred thousand francs to Clair & Co., five hundred thousand to Dervoy; about as much to Dubois, of Orleans--" "Well?" "I can't remember any more." "But you must have a memorandum of your loans somewhere?" "No." "You have at least kept your bonds, bills, and the sums of your various debts?" "None of them.

I burnt up all my papers yesterday." Sauvresy jumped up from his chair in astonishment; such a method of doing business seemed to him monstrous; he could not suppose that Hector was lying. Yet he was lying, and this affectation of ignorance was a conceit of the aristocratic man of the world. It was very noble, very distingue, to ruin one's self without knowing how! "But, my dear fellow," cried Sauvresy, "how can we clear up your affairs?" "Oh, don't clear them up at all; do as I do--let the creditors act as they please, they will know how to settle it all, rest assured; let them sell out my property." "Never! Then you would be ruined, indeed!" "Well, it's only a little more or a little less." "What splendid disinterestedness!" thought Bertha; "what coolness, what admirable contempt of money, what noble disdain of the petty details which annoy common people! Was Sauvresy capable of all this?" She could not at least accuse him of avarice, since for her he was as prodigal as a thief; he had never refused her anything; he anticipated her most extravagant fancies.

Still he had a strong appetite for gain, and despite his large fortune, he retained the hereditary respect for money. When he had business with one of his farmers, he would rise very early, mount his horse, though it were mid-winter, and go several leagues in the snow to get a hundred crowns. He would have ruined himself for her if she had willed it, this she was convinced of; but he would have ruined himself economically, in an orderly way. Sauvresy reflected. "You are right," said he to Hector, "your creditors ought to know your exact position. Who knows that they are not acting in concert? Their simultaneous refusal to lend you a hundred thousand makes me suspect it. I will go and see them." "Clair & Co., from whom I received my first loans, ought to be the best informed." "Well, I will see Clair & Co. But look here, do you know what you would do if you were reasonable?" "What?" "You would go to Paris with me, and both of us--" Hector turned very pale, and his eyes shone.

"Never!" he interrupted, violently, "never!" His "dear friends" still terrified him. What! Reappear on the theatre of his glory, now that he was fallen, ruined, ridiculous by his unsuccessful suicide? Sauvresy had held out his arms to him. Sauvresy was a noble fellow, and loved Hector sufficiently not to perceive the falseness of his position, and not to judge him a coward because he shrank from suicide. But the others!-- "Don't talk to me about Paris," said he in a calmer tone.

"I shall never set my foot in it again." "All right--so much the better; stay with us; I sha'n't complain of it, nor my wife either. Some fine day we'll find you a pretty heiress in the neighborhood. But," added Sauvresy, consulting his watch, "I must go if I don't want to lose the train." "I'll go to the station with you," said Tremorel. This was not solely from a friendly impulse. He wanted to ask Sauvresy to look after the articles left at the pawnbroker's in the Rue de Condo, and to call on Jenny. Bertha, from her window, followed with her eyes the two friends; who, with arms interlocked, ascended the road toward Orcival. "What a difference," thought she, "between these two men! My husband said he wished to be his friend's steward; truly he has the air of a steward. What a noble gait the count has, what youthful ease, what real distinction!

And yet I'm sure that my husband despises him, because he has ruined himself by dissipation. He affected--I saw it--an air of protection. But everything about the count betrays an innate or acquired superiority; even his name, Hector--how it sounds!" And she repeated "Hector" several times, as if it pleased her, adding, contemptuously, "My husband's name is Clement!" M. de Tremorel returned alone from the station, as gayly as a convalescent taking his first airing. As soon as Bertha saw him she left the window. She wished to remain alone, to reflect upon this event which had happened so suddenly, to analyze her sensations, listen to her presentiments, study her impressions and decide, if possible, upon her line of conduct. She only reappeared when the tea was set for her husband, who returned at eleven in the evening. Sauvresy was faint from hunger, thirst, and fatigue, but his face glowed with satisfaction.

"Victory!" exclaimed he, as he ate his soup. "We'll snatch you from the hands of the Philistines yet. Parbleu! The finest feathers of your plumage will remain, after all, and you will be able to save enough for a good cosey nest." Bertha glanced at her husband. "How is that?" said she. At the very first, I guessed the game of our friend's creditors. They reckoned on getting a sale of his effects; would have bought them in a lump dirt cheap, as it always happens, and then sold them in detail, dividing the profits of the operation." "And can you prevent that?" asked Tremorel, incredulously. "Certainly. Ah, I've completely checkmated these gentlemen. I've succeeded by chance--I had the good luck to get them all together this evening.

I said to them, you'll let us sell this property as we please, voluntarily, or I'll outbid you all, and spoil your cards. They looked at me in amazement. My notary, who was with me, remarked that I was Monsieur Sauvresy, worth two millions.

Our gentlemen opened their eyes very wide, and consented to grant my request." Hector, notwithstanding what he had said, knew enough about his affairs to see that this action would save him a fortune--a small one, as compared with what he had possessed, yet a fortune. The certainty of this delighted him, and moved by a momentary and sincere gratitude, he grasped both of Sauvresy's hands in his. "Ah, my friend," cried he, "you give me my honor, after saving my life! How can I ever repay you?" "By committing no imprudences or foolishnesses, except reasonable ones. Such as this," added Sauvresy, leaning toward Bertha and embracing her. "And there is nothing more to fear?" "Nothing! Why I could have borrowed the two millions in an hour, and they knew it. But that's not all. The search for you is suspended.

I went to your house, took the responsibility of sending away all your servants except your valet and a groom. If you agree, we'll send the horses to be sold to-morrow, and they'll fetch a good price; your own saddle-horse shall be brought here." These details annoyed Bertha. She thought her husband exaggerated his services, carrying them even to servility. "Really," thought she, "he was born to be a steward." "Do you know what else I did?" pursued Sauvresy. "Thinking that perhaps you were in want of a wardrobe, I had three or four trunks filled with your clothes, sent them out by rail, and one of the servants has just gone after them." Hector, too, began to find Sauvresy's services excessive, and thought he treated him too much like a child who could foresee nothing. The idea of having it said before a woman that he was in want of clothes irritated him. He forgot that he had found it a very simple thing in the morning to ask his friend for some linen. Just then a noise was heard in the vestibule. Doubtless the trunks had come. Bertha went out to give the necessary orders.

"Quick!" cried Sauvresy. "Now that we are alone, here are your trinkets. I had some trouble in getting them. They are suspicious at the pawnbroker's. I think they began to suspect that I was one of a band of thieves." "You didn't mention my name, did you?" "That would have been useless. My notary was with me, fortunately. One never knows how useful one's notary may be.

Don't you think society is unjust toward notaries?" Tremorel thought his friend talked very lightly about a serious matter, and this flippancy vexed him. "To finish up, I paid a visit to Miss Jenny. She has been abed since last evening, and her chambermaid told me she had not ceased sobbing bitterly ever since your departure." "Had she seen no one?" "Nobody at all.

She really thought you dead, and when I told her you were here with me, alive and well, I thought she would go mad for joy. Do you know, Hector, she's really pretty." "Yes--not bad." "And a very good little body, I imagine.

I would wager, my friend, that she don't care so much for your money as she does for yourself." Hector smiled superciliously. "In short, she was anxious to follow me, to see and speak to you. I had to swear with terrible oaths that she should see you to-morrow, before she would let me go; not at Paris, as you said you would never go there, but at Corbeil." "Ah, as for that--" "She will be at the station to-morrow at twelve. We will go down together, and I will take the train for Paris. You can get into the Corbeil train, and breakfast with Miss Jenny at the hotel of the Belle Image." Hector began to offer an objection. Sauvresy stopped him with a gesture. "Not a word," said he. "Here is my wife." XV On going to bed, that night, the count was less enchanted than ever with the devotion of his friend Sauvresy. There is not a diamond on which a spot cannot be found with a microscope. "Here he is," thought he, "abusing his privileges as the saver of my life.

Can't a man do you a service, without continually making you feel it? It seems as though because he prevented me from blowing my brains out, I had somehow become something that belongs to him!

He came very near upbraiding me for Jenny's extravagance. Where will he stop?" The next day at breakfast he feigned indisposition so as not to eat, and suggested to Sauvresy that he would lose the train. Bertha, as on the evening before, crouched at the window to see them go away. Her troubles during the past eight-and-forty hours had been so great that she hardly recognized herself. She scarcely dared to reflect or to descend to the depths of her heart.

What mysterious power did this man possess, to so violently affect her life?

She wished that he would go, never to return, while at the same time she avowed to herself that in going he would carry with him all her thoughts. She struggled under the charm, not knowing whether she ought to rejoice or grieve at the inexpressible emotions which agitated her, being irritated to submit to an influence stronger than her own will. She decided that to-day she would go down to the drawing-room. He would not fail--were it only for politeness--to go in there; and then, she thought, by seeing him nearer, talking with him, knowing him better, his influence over her would vanish. Doubtless he would return, and so she watched for him, ready to go down as soon as she saw him approaching. She waited with feverish shudderings, anxiously believing that this first tete-a-tete in her husband's absence would be decisive.

Time passed; it was more than two hours since he had gone out with Sauvresy, and he had not reappeared. At this moment, Hector was awaiting Jenny at the Corbeil station. The train arrived, and Jenny soon appeared.

Her grief, joy, emotion had not made her forget her toilet, and never had she been so rollickingly elegant and pretty. She wore a green dress with a train, a velvet mantle, and the jauntiest little hat in the world. As soon as she saw Hector standing near the door, she uttered a cry, pushed the people aside, and rushed into his arms, laughing and crying at the same time. She spoke quite loud, with wild gestures, so that everyone could hear what she said. "You didn't kill yourself, after all," said she. "Oh, how I have suffered; but what happiness I feel to-day!" Tremorel struggled with her as he could, trying to calm her enthusiastic exclamations, softly repelling her, charmed and irritated at once, and exasperated at all these eyes rudely fixed on him.

For none of the passengers had gone out. They were all there, staring and gazing. Hector and Jenny were surrounded by a circle of curious folks. "Come along," said Hector, his patience exhausted. He drew her out of the door, hoping to escape this prying curiosity; but he did not succeed. Some of the Corbeil people who were on the top of the omnibus begged the conductor to walk his horses, that this singular couple might not be lost to view, and the horses did not get into a trot until they had disappeared in the hotel. Sauvresy's foresight in recommending the place of meeting had thus been disconcerted by Jenny's sensational arrival. Questions were asked; the hostess was adroitly interrogated, and it was soon known that this person, who waited for eccentric young ladies at the Corbeil station, was an intimate friend of the owner of Valfeuillu. Neither Hector nor Jenny doubted that they formed the general topic of conversation. They breakfasted gayly in the best room at the Belle Image, during which Tremorel recounted a very pretty story about his restoration to life, in which he played a part, the heroism of which was well calculated to redouble the little lady's admiration.

Then Jenny in her turn unfolded her plans for the future, which were, to do her justice, most reasonable. She had resolved more than ever to remain faithful to Hector now that he was ruined, to give up her elegant rooms, sell her furniture, and undertake some honest trade. She had found one of her old friends, who was now an accomplished dressmaker, and who was anxious to obtain a partner who had some money, while she herself furnished the experience. They would purchase an establishment in the Breda quarter, and between them could scarcely fail to prosper. Jenny talked with a pretty, knowing, business-like air, which made Hector laugh.

These projects seemed very comic to him; yet he was touched by this unselfishness on the part of a young and pretty woman, who was willing to work in order to please him. But, unhappily, they were forced to part. Jenny had gone to Corbeil intending to stay a week; but the count told her this was absolutely impossible. She cried bitterly at first, then got angry, and finally consoled herself with a plan to return on the following Tuesday. "Good-by," said she, embracing Hector, "think of me." She smilingly added, "I ought to be jealous; for they say your friend's wife is perhaps the handsomest woman in France. I've forgotten to look at her." Hector told the truth. Although he did not betray it, he was still under the surprise of his chagrin at the failure of his attempt at suicide. He felt the dizziness which follows great moral crises as well as a heavy blow on the head, and which distracts the attention from exterior things.

But Jenny's words, "the handsomest woman in France," attracted his notice, and he could, that very evening, repair his forgetfulness. When he returned to Valfeuillu, his friend had not returned; Mme. Sauvresy was alone reading, in the brilliantly lighted drawing-room.

Hector seated himself opposite her, a little aside, and was thus able to observe her at his ease, while engaging her in conversation. His first impression was an unfavorable one. He found her beauty too sculptural and polished. He sought for imperfections, and finding none, was almost terrified by this lovely, motionless face, these clear, cold eyes. Little by little, however, he accustomed himself to pass the greater part of the afternoon with Bertha, while Sauvresy was away arranging his affairs--selling, negotiating, using his time in cutting down interests and discussing with agents and attorneys. He soon perceived that she listened to him with pleasure, and he judged from this that she was a decidedly superior woman, much better than her husband. He had no wit, but possessed an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes and adventures. He had seen so many things and known so many people that he was as interesting as a chronicle. He had a sort of frothy fervor, not wanting in brilliancy, and a polite cynicism which, at first, surprised one.

Had Bertha been unimpassioned, she might have judged him at his value; but she had lost her power of insight.

She heard him, plunged in a foolish ecstasy, as one hears a traveller who has returned from far and dangerous countries, who has visited peoples of whose language the hearer is ignorant, and lived in the midst of manners and customs incomprehensible to ourselves. Days, weeks, months passed on, and the Count de Tremorel did not find life at Valfeuillu as dull as he had thought. He insensibly slipped along the gentle slope of material well-being, which leads directly to brutishness. A physical and moral torpor had succeeded the fever of the first days, free from disagreeable sensations, though wanting in excitement. He ate and drank much, and slept twelve round hours. The rest of the time, when he did not talk with Bertha, he wandered in the park, lounged in a rocking-chair, or took a jaunt in the saddle.

He even went fishing under the willows at the foot of the garden; and grew fat. His best days were those which he spent at Corbeil with Jenny. He found in her something of his past, and she always quarrelled with him, which woke him up. Besides, she brought him the gossip of Paris and the small talk of the boulevards.

She came regularly every week, and her love for Hector, far from diminishing, seemed to grow with each interview. The poor girl's affairs were in a troubled condition. She had bought her establishment at too high a price, and her partner at the end of the first month decamped, carrying off three thousand francs. She knew nothing about the trade which she had undertaken, and she was robbed without mercy on all sides. She said nothing of these troubles to Hector, but she intended to ask him to come to her assistance. It was the least that he could do. At first, the visitors to Valfeuillu were somewhat astonished at the constant presence there of a young man of leisure; but they got accustomed to him. Hector assumed a melancholy expression of countenance, such as a man ought to have who had undergone unheard-of misfortunes, and whose life had failed of its promise.

He appeared inoffensive; people said: "The count has a charming simplicity." But sometimes, when alone, he had sudden and terrible relapses. "This life cannot last," thought he; and he was overcome with childish rage when he contrasted the past with the present. How could he shake off this dull existence, and rid himself of these stiffly good people who surrounded him, these friends of Sauvresy? Where should he take refuge? He was not tempted to return to Paris; what could he do there? His house had been sold to an old leather merchant; and he had no money except that which he borrowed of Sauvresy. Yet Sauvresy, to Hector's mind, was a most uncomfortable, wearisome, implacable friend; he did not understand half-way measures in desperate situations.

"Your boat is foundering," he said to Hector; "let us begin by throwing all that is superfluous into the sea.

Let us keep nothing of the past; that is dead; we will bury it, and nothing shall recall it. When your situation is relieved, we will see." The settlement of Hector's affairs was very laborious. Creditors sprung up at every step, on every side, and the list of them seemed never to be finished. Some had even come from foreign lands. Several of them had been already paid, but their receipts could not be found, and they were clamorous.

Others, whose demands had been refused as exorbitant, threatened to go to law, hoping to frighten Sauvresy into paying.

Sauvresy wearied his friend by his incessant activity. Every two or three days he went to Paris, and he attended the sales of the property in Burgundy and Orleans. The count at last detested and hated him; Sauvresy's happy, cheerful air annoyed him; jealousy stung him. One thought--that a wretched one--consoled him a little. "Sauvresy's happiness," said he to himself, "is owing to his imbecility. He thinks his wife dead in love with him, whereas she can't bear him." Bertha had, indeed, permitted Hector to perceive her aversion to her husband. She no longer studied the emotions of her heart; she loved Tremorel, and confessed it to herself.

In her eyes he realized the ideal of her dreams. At the same time she was exasperated to see in him no signs of love for her. Her beauty was not, then, irresistible, as she had often been told. He was gallant and courteous to her--nothing more. "If he loved me," thought she, "he would tell me so, for he is bold with women and fears no one." Then she began to hate the girl, her rival, whom Hector went to meet at Corbeil every week. Was she handsome? Hector had been very reticent about Jenny.

He evaded all questions about her, not sorry to let Bertha's imagination work on his mysterious visits. The day at last came when she could no longer resist the intensity of her curiosity. She put on the simplest of her toilets, in black, threw a thick veil over her head, and hastened to the Corbeil station at the hour that she thought the unknown girl would present herself there. She took a seat on a bench in the rear of the waiting-room. She had not long to wait. She soon perceived the count and a young girl coming along the avenue, which she could see from where she sat. They were arm in arm, and seemed to be in a very happy mood. They passed within a few steps of her, and as they walked very slowly, she was able to scrutinize Jenny at her ease. She saw that she was pretty, but that was all.

Having seen that which she wished, and become satisfied that Jenny was not to be feared (which showed her inexperience) Bertha directed her steps homeward. But she chose her time of departure awkwardly; for as she was passing along behind the cabs, which concealed her, Hector came out of the station. They crossed each other's paths at the gate, and their eyes met. His face expressed great surprise, yet he did not bow to her. "Yes, he recognized me," thought Bertha, as she returned home by the river-road; and surprised, almost terrified by her boldness, she asked herself whether she ought to rejoice or mourn over this meeting. What would be its result?

Hector cautiously followed her at a little distance. He was greatly astonished. His vanity, always on the watch, had already apprised him of what was passing in Bertha's heart, but, though modesty was no fault of his, he was far from guessing that she was so much enamoured of him as to take such a step. "She loves me!" he repeated to himself, as he went along. "She loves me!" He did not yet know what to do. Should he still appear the same in his conduct toward her, pretending not to have seen her? He ought to fly that very evening, without hesitation, without turning his head; to fly as if the house were about to tumble about his head. This was his first thought.

It was quickly stifled under the explosion of the base passions which fermented in him. Ah, Sauvresy had saved him when he was dying! Sauvresy, after saving him, had welcomed him, opened to him his heart, purse, house; at this very moment he was making untiring efforts to restore his fortunes. Men like Tremorel can only receive such services as outrages. Had not his sojourn at Valfeuillu been a continual suffering? Was not his self-conceit tortured from morning till night? He might count the days by their humiliations. What! Must he always submit to--if he was not grateful for--the superiority of a man whom he had always been wont to treat as his inferior?

"Besides," thought he, judging his friend by himself, "he only acts thus from pride and ostentation. What am I at his house, but a living witness of his generosity and devotion? He seems to live for me--it's Tremorel here and Tremorel there! He triumphs over my misfortunes, and makes his conduct a glory and title to the public admiration." He could not forgive his friend for being so rich, so happy, so highly respected, for having known how to regulate his life, while he had exhausted his own fortune at thirty.

And should he not seize so good an opportunity to avenge himself for the favors which overwhelmed him? "Have I run after his wife?" said he to himself, trying to impose silence on his conscience. "She comes to me of her own will, herself, without the least temptation from me.

I should be a fool if I repelled her." Conceit has irresistible arguments. Hector, when he entered the house, had made up his mind. Yet he had the excuse neither of passion nor of temptation; he did not love her, and his infamy was deliberate, coldly premeditated. Between her and him a chain more solid than mutual attraction was riveted; their common hatred of Sauvresy. His hand had held both from degradation. The first hours of their mutual understanding were spent in angry words, rather than the cooings of love.

They perceived too clearly the disgrace of their conduct not to try to reassure each other against their remorse. They tried to prove to each other that Sauvresy was ridiculous and odious; as if they were absolved by his deficiencies, if deficiencies he had. If indeed trustfulness is foolishness, Sauvresy was indeed a fool, because he could be deceived under his own eyes, in his own house, because he had perfect faith in his wife and his friend.

He suspected nothing, and every day he rejoiced that he had been able to keep Tremorel by him. He often repeated to his wife: "I am too happy." Bertha employed all her art to encourage these joyous illusions. She who had before been so capricious, so nervous, wilful, became little by little submissive to the degree of an angelic softness.

The future of her love depended on her husband, and she spared no pains to prevent the slightest suspicion from ruffling his calm confidence. Such was their prudence that no one in the house suspected their state. And yet Bertha was not happy.

Her love did not yield her the joys she had expected. She hoped to be transported to the clouds, and she remained on the earth, hampered by all the miserable ties of a life of lies and deceit. Perhaps she perceived that she was Hector's revenge on her husband, and that he only loved in her the dishonored wife of an envied friend. And to crown all, she was jealous. For several months she tried to persuade Tremorel to break with Jenny. He always had the same reply, which, though it might be prudent, was irritating. "Jenny is our security--you must think of that." The fact was, however, that he was trying to devise some means of getting rid of Jenny. It was a difficult matter. The poor girl, having fallen into comparative poverty, became more and more tenacious of Hector's affection. She often gave him trouble by telling him that he was no longer the same, that he was changed; she was sad, and wept, and had red eyes.

One evening, in a fit of anger, she menaced him with a singular threat. "You love another," she said. "I know it, for I have proofs of it. Take care!

If you ever leave me, my anger will fall on her head, and I will not have any mercy on her." The count foolishly attached no importance to these words; they only hastened the separation.

"If some day I shouldn't go when she was expecting me, she might come up to Valfeuillu, and make a wretched scandal." He armed himself with all his courage, which was assisted by Bertha's tears and entreaties, and started for Corbeil resolved to break off with Jenny. He took every precaution in declaring his intentions, giving the best reasons for his decision that he could think of. "We must be careful, you know, Jenny," said he, "and cease to meet for a while.

I am ruined, you know, and the only thing that can save me is marriage." Hector had prepared himself for an explosion of fury, piercing cries, hysterics, fainting-fits. To his great surprise, Jenny did not answer a word. She became as white as her collar, her ruddy lips blanched, her eyes stared. "So," said she, with her teeth tightly shut to contain herself, "so you are going to get married?" "Alas, I must," he answered with a hypocritical sigh. "You know that lately I have only been able to get money for you by borrowing from my friend; his purse will not be at my service forever." Jenny took Hector by the hand, and led him to the window. There, looking intently at him, as if her gaze could frighten the truth out of him, she said, slowly: "It is really true, is it, that you are going to leave me to get married?" Hector disengaged one of his hands, and placed it on his heart. "I swear it on my honor," said he. Standing erect before the mirror, she put on her hat, quietly disposing its ribbons as if nothing had occurred. When she was ready to go, she went up to Tremorel. "For the last time," said she, in a tone which she forced to be firm, and which belied her tearful, glistening eyes.

"For the last time, Hector, are we really to part?" "We must." Jenny made a gesture which Tremorel did not see; her face had a malicious expression; her lips parted to utter some sarcastic response; but she recovered herself almost immediately. "I am going, Hector," said she, after a moment's reflection; "If you are really leaving me to get married, you shall never hear of me again." "Why, Jenny, I hope I shall still remain your friend." "Well, only if you abandon me for another reason, remember what I tell you; you will be a dead man, and she, a lost woman." She opened the door; he tried to take her hand; she repulsed him. "Adieu!" Hector ran to the window to assure himself of her departure. She was ascending the avenue leading to the station. "Well, that's over," thought he, with a sigh of relief. "Jenny was a good girl." XVI The count told half a truth when he spoke to Jenny of his marriage. Sauvresy and he had discussed the subject, and if the matter was not as ripe as he had represented, there was at least some prospect of such an event. Sauvresy had proposed it in his anxiety to complete his work of restoring Hector to fortune and society. One evening, about a month before the events just narrated, he had led Hector into the library, saying: "Give me your ear for a quarter of an hour, and don't answer me hastily.

What I am going to propose to you deserves serious reflection." "Well, I can be serious when it is necessary." "Let's begin with your debts. Their payment is not yet completed, but enough has been done to enable us to foresee the end. It is certain that you will have, after all debts are paid, from three to four hundred thousand francs." Hector had never, in his wildest hopes, expected such success. "Why, I'm going to be rich," exclaimed he joyously. "No, not rich, but quite above want. There is, too, a mode in which you can regain your lost position." "A mode? what?" Sauvresy paused a moment, and looked steadily at his friend.

"You must marry," said he at last. This seemed to surprise Hector, but not disagreeably. "I, marry? It's easier to give that advice than to follow it." "Pardon me--you ought to know that I do not speak rashly. What would you say to a young girl of good family, pretty, well brought up, so charming that, excepting my own wife, I know of no one more attractive, and who would bring with her a dowry of a million?" "Ah, my friend, I should say that I adore her! And do you know such an angel?" "Yes, and you too, for the angel is Mademoiselle Laurence Courtois." Hector's radiant face overclouded at this name, and he made a discouraged gesture. "Never," said he. "That stiff and obstinate old merchant, Monsieur Courtois, would never consent to give his daughter to a man who has been fool enough to waste his fortune." Sauvresy shrugged his shoulders. "Now, there's what it is to have eyes, and not see. Know that this Courtois, whom you think so obstinate, is really the most romantic of men, and an ambitious old fellow to boot.

It would seem to him a grand good speculation to give his daughter to the Count Hector de Tremorel, cousin of the Duke of Samblemeuse, the relative of the Commarins, even though you hadn't a sou. What wouldn't he give to have the delicious pleasure of saying, Monsieur the Count, my son-in-law; or my daughter, Madame the Countess Hector! And you aren't ruined, you know, you are going to have an income of twenty thousand francs, and perhaps enough more to raise your capital to a million." Hector was silent. He had thought his life ended, and now, all of a sudden, a splendid perspective unrolled itself before him. He might then rid himself of the patronizing protection of his friend; he would be free, rich, would have a better wife, as he thought, than Bertha; his house would outshine Sauvresy's. The thought of Bertha crossed his mind, and it occurred to him that he might thus escape a lover who although beautiful and loving was proud and bold, and whose domineering temper began to be burdensome to him. "I may say," said he, seriously to his friend, "that I have always thought Monsieur Courtois an excellent and honorable man, and Mademoiselle Laurence seems to me so accomplished a young lady, that a man might be happy in marrying her even without a dowry." "So much the better, my dear Hector, so much the better. But you know, the first thing is to engage Laurence's affections; her father adores her, and would not, I am sure, give her to a man whom she herself had not chosen." "Don't disturb yourself," answered Hector, with a gesture of triumph, "she will love me." The next day he took occasion to encounter M.

The count employed all his practised seductions on Laurence, which were so brilliant and able that they were well fitted to surprise and dazzle a young girl. It was not long before the count was the hero of the mayor's household. Nothing formal had been said, nor any direct allusion or overture made; yet M. Courtois was sure that Hector would some day ask his daughter's hand, and that he should freely answer, "yes;" while he thought it certain that Laurence would not say "no." Bertha suspected nothing; she was now very much worried about Jenny, and saw nothing else. Sauvresy, after spending an evening with the count at the mayor's, during which Hector had not once quitted the whist-table, decided to speak to his wife of the proposed marriage, which he thought would give her an agreeable surprise. At his first words, she grew pale.

Her emotion was so great that, seeing she would betray herself, she hastily retired to her boudoir. Sauvresy, quietly seated in one of the bedroom arm-chairs, continued to expatiate on the advantages of such a marriage--raising his voice, so that Bertha might hear him in the neighboring room. "Do you know," said he, "that our friend has an income of sixty thousand crowns? We'll find an estate for him near by, and then we shall see him and his wife every day. They will be very pleasant society for us in the autumn months.

Hector is a fine fellow, and you've often told me how charming Laurence is." Bertha did not reply. This unexpected blow was so terrible that she could not think clearly, and her brain whirled. "You don't say anything," pursued Sauvresy. "Don't you approve of my project? I thought you'd be enchanted with it." She saw that if she were silent any longer, her husband would go in and find her sunk upon a chair, and would guess all.

She made an effort and said, in a strangled voice, without attaching any sense to her words: "Yes, yes; it is a capital idea." "How you say that! Do you see any objections?" She was trying to find some objection, but could not.

"I have a little fear of Laurence's future," said she at last. "Bah! Why?" "I only say what I've heard you say. You told me that Monsieur Tremorel has been a libertine, a gambler, a prodigal--" "All the more reason for trusting him. His past follies guarantee his future prudence. He has received a lesson which he will not forget. Besides, he will love his wife." "How do you know?" "Parbleu, he loves her already." "Who told you so?" "Himself." And Sauvresy began to laugh about Hector's passion, which he said was becoming quite pastoral. "Would you believe," said he, laughing, "that he thinks our worthy Courtois a man of wit?

Ah, what spectacles these lovers look through! He spends two or three hours every day with the mayor. What do you suppose he does there?" Bertha, by great effort, succeeded in dissembling her grief; she reappeared with a smiling face. She went and came, apparently calm, though suffering the bitterest anguish a woman can endure. And she could not run to Hector, and ask him if it were true! For Sauvresy must be deceiving her. No matter. She felt her hatred of him increasing to disgust; for she excused and pardoned her lover, and she blamed her husband alone. Whose idea was this marriage?

Who had awakened Hector's hopes, and encouraged them? He, always he. While he had been harmless, she had been able to pardon him for having married her; she had compelled herself to bear him, to feign a love quite foreign to her heart. But now he became hateful; should she submit to his interference in a matter which was life or death to her? She did not close her eyes all night; she had one of those horrible nights in which crimes are conceived. She did not find herself alone with Hector until after breakfast the next day, in the billiard-hall. "Is it true?" she asked. The expression of her face was so menacing that he quailed before it.

He stammered: "True--what?" "Your marriage." He was silent at first, asking himself whether he should tell the truth or equivocate. At last, irritated by Bertha's imperious tone, he replied: "Yes." She was thunderstruck at this response. Till then, she had a glimmer of hope. She thought that he would at least try to reassure her, to deceive her. There are times when a falsehood is the highest homage. But no--he avowed it.

She was speechless; words failed her. Tremorel began to tell her the motives which prompted his conduct. He could not live forever at Valfeuillu. What could he, with his habits and tastes, do with a few thousand crowns a year? He was thirty; he must, now or never, think of the future. Courtois would give his daughter a million, and at his death there would be a great deal more. Should he let this chance slip? He cared little for Laurence, it was the dowry he wanted.

He took no pains to conceal his meanness; he rather gloried in it, speaking of the marriage as simply a bargain, in which he gave his name and title in exchange for riches. Bertha stopped him with a look full of contempt. "Spare yourself," said she. "You love Laurence." He would have protested; he really disliked her. "Enough," resumed Bertha. "Another woman would have reproached you; I simply tell you that this marriage shall not be; I do not wish it. Believe me, give it up frankly, don't force me to act." She retired, shutting the door violently; Hector was furious. "How she treats me!" said he to himself. "Just as a queen would speak to a serf.

Ah, she don't want me to marry Laurence!" His coolness returned, and with it serious reflections.

If he insisted on marrying, would not Bertha carry out her threats? Evidently; for he knew well that she was one of those women who shrink from nothing, whom no consideration could arrest. He guessed what she would do, from what she had said in a quarrel with him about Jenny. She had told him, "I will confess everything to Sauvresy, and we will be the more bound together by shame than by all the ceremonies of the church." This was surely the mode she would adopt to break a marriage which was so hateful to her; and Tremorel trembled at the idea of Sauvresy knowing all. "What would he do," thought he, "if Bertha told him? He would kill me off-hand--that's what I would do in his place.

Suppose he didn't; I should have to fight a duel with him, and if I killed him, quit the country.

Whatever would happen, my marriage is irrevocably broken, and Bertha seems to be on my hands for all time." He saw no possible way out of the horrible situation in which he had put himself. "I must wait," thought he. And he waited, going secretly to the mayor's, for he really loved Laurence. He waited, devoured by anxiety, struggling between Sauvresy's urgency and Bertha's threats. How he detested this woman who held him, whose will weighed so heavily on him! Nothing could curb her ferocious obstinacy. She had one fixed idea. He had thought to conciliate her by dismissing Jenny.

It was a mistake. When he said to her: "Bertha, I shall never see Jenny again." She answered, ironically: "Mademoiselle Courtois will be very grateful to you!" That evening, while Sauvresy was crossing the court-yard, he saw a beggar at the gate, making signs to him.

"What do you want, my good man?" The beggar looked around to see that no one was listening. "I have brought you a note," said he, rapidly, and in a low tone. "I was told to give it, only to you, and to ask you to read it when you are alone." He mysteriously slipped a note, carefully sealed, into Sauvresy's hand. "It comes from pretty girl," added he, winking. Sauvresy, turning his back to the house, opened it and read: "SIR--You will do a great favor to a poor and unhappy girl, if you will come to-morrow to the Belle Image, at Corbeil, where you will be awaited all day. "Your humble servant, "JENNY F---." There was also a postscript. "Please, sir, don't say a word of this to the Count de Tremorel." "Ah ha," thought Sauvresy, "there's some trouble about Hector, that's bad for the marriage." "I was told, sir," said the beggar, "there would be an answer." "Say that I will come," answered Sauvresy, throwing him a franc piece. XVII The next day was cold and damp. A fog, so thick that one could not discern objects ten steps off, hung over the earth.

Sauvresy, after breakfast, took his gun and whistled to his dogs. "I'm going to take a turn in Mauprevoir wood," said he. "A queer idea," remarked Hector, "for you won't see the end of your gun-barrel in the woods." "No matter, if I see some pheasants." This was only a pretext, for Sauvresy, on leaving Valfeuillu, took the direct road to Corbeil, and half an hour later, faithful to his promise, he entered the Belle Image tavern. Jenny was waiting for him in the large room which had always been reserved for her since she became a regular customer of the house. Her eyes were red with recent tears; she was very pale, and her marble color showed that she had not slept. Her breakfast lay untouched on the table near the fireplace, where a bright fire was burning. When Sauvresy came in, she rose to meet him, and took him by the hand with a friendly motion. "Thank you for coming," said she. "Ah, you are very good." Jenny was only a girl, and Sauvresy detested girls; but her grief was so sincere and seemed so deep, that he was touched. "You are suffering, Madame?" asked he.

"Oh, yes, very much." Her tears choked her, and she concealed her face in her handkerchief. "I guessed right," thought Sauvresy. "Hector has deserted her. Now I must smooth the wound, and yet make future meetings between them impossible." He took the weeping Jenny's hand, and softly pulled away the handkerchief. "Have courage," said he.

She lifted her tearful eyes to him, and said: "You know, then?" "I know nothing, for, as you asked me, I have said nothing to Tremorel; but I can imagine what the trouble is." "He will not see me any more," murmured Jenny. "He has deserted me." Sauvresy summoned up all his eloquence. The moment to be persuasive and paternal had come. He drew a chair up to Jenny's, and sat down.

People are not always young, you know. A time comes when the voice of reason must be heard. Hector does not desert you, but he sees the necessity of assuring his future, and placing his life on a domestic foundation; he feels the need of a home." Jenny stopped crying.

Nature took the upper hand, and her tears were dried by the fire of anger which took possession of her.

She rose, overturning her chair, and walked restlessly up and down the room. "Do you believe that?" said she. "Do you believe that Hector troubles himself about his future? I see you don't know his character. He dream of a home, or a family?

He never has and never will think of anything but himself. If he had any heart, would he have gone to live with you as he has? He had two arms to gain his bread and mine.

I was ashamed to ask money of him, knowing that what he gave me came from you." "But he is my friend, my dear child." "Would you do as he has done?" Sauvresy did not know what to say; he was embarrassed by the logic of this daughter of the people, judging her lover rudely, but justly. "Ah, I know him, I do," continued Jenny, growing more excited as her mind reverted to the past.

"He has only deceived me once--the morning he came and told me he was going to kill himself. I was stupid enough to think him dead, and to cry about it.

Why, he's too much of a coward to hurt himself! That's our fate, you see, only to love the men we despise." Jenny talked loud, gesticulating, and every now and then thumping the table with her fist so that the bottles and glasses jingled. Sauvresy was somewhat fearful lest the hotel people should hear her; they knew him, and had seen him come in.

He began to be sorry that he had come, and tried to calm the girl. "But Hector is not deserting you," repeated he.

"He will assure you a good position." "Humph! I should laugh at such a thing! Have I any need of him? As long as I have ten fingers and good eyes, I shall not be at the mercy of any man. He made me change my name, and wanted to accustom me to luxury! And now there is neither a Miss Jenny, nor riches, but there is a Pelagie, who proposes to get her fifty sous a day, without much trouble." "No," said Sauvresy, "you will not need--" "What? But I like work; I am not a do-nothing. I will go back to my old life. I used to breakfast on a sou's worth of biscuit and a sou's worth of potatoes, and was well and happy. On Sundays, I dined at the Turk for thirty sous.

I laughed more then in one afternoon, than in all the years I have known Tremorel." She no longer cried, nor was she angry; she was laughing. She was thinking of her old breakfasts, and her feasts at the Turk. Sauvresy was stupefied. He had no idea of this Parisian nature, detestable and excellent, emotional to excess, nervous, full of transitions, which laughs and cries, caresses and strikes in the same minute, which a passing idea whirls a hundred leagues from the present moment. "So," said Jenny, more calmly, "I snap my fingers at Hector,"--she had just said exactly the contrary, and had forgotten it--"I don't care for him, but I will not let him leave me in this way. It sha'n't be said that he left me for another. I won't have it." Jenny was one of those women who do not reason, but who feel; with whom it is folly to argue, for their fixed idea is impregnable to the most victorious arguments. Sauvresy asked himself why she had asked him to come, and said to himself that the part he had intended to play would be a difficult one.

But he was patient. "I see, my child," he commenced, "that you haven't understood or even heard me. I told you that Hector was intending to marry." "He!" answered Jenny, with an ironical gesture. "He get married." She reflected a moment, and added: "If it were true, though--" "I tell you it is so." "No," cried Jenny, "no, that can't be possible. He loves another, I am sure of it, for I have proofs." Sauvresy smiled; this irritated her. "What does this letter mean," cried she warmly, "which I found in his pocket, six months ago? It isn't signed to be sure, but it must have come from a woman." "A letter?" "Yes, one that destroys all doubts. Perhaps you ask, why I did not speak to him about it? Ah, you see, I did not dare. I was afraid if I said anything, and it was true he loved another, I should lose him.

And so I resigned myself to humiliation, I concealed myself to weep, for I said to myself, he will come back to me. Poor fool!" "Well, but what will you do?" "Me? I don't know--anything. I didn't say anything about the letter, but I kept it; it is my weapon--I will make use of it. When I want to, I shall find out who she is, and then--" "You will compel Tremorel, who is kindly disposed toward you, to use violence." "He? What can he do to me?

Why, I will follow him like his shadow--I will cry out everywhere the name of this other. Will he have me put in St. Lazare prison? I will invent the most dreadful calumnies against him. They will not believe me at first; later, part of it will be believed.

I have nothing to fear--I have no parents, no friends, nobody on earth who cares for me. That's what it is to raise girls from the gutter. I have fallen so low that I defy him to push me lower. So, if you are his friend, sir, advise him to come back to me." Sauvresy was really alarmed; he saw clearly how real and earnest Jenny's menaces were. There are persecutions against which the law is powerless. But he dissimulated his alarm under the blandest air he could assume. "Hear me, my child," said he. "If I give you my word of honor to tell you the truth, you'll believe me, won't you?" She hesitated a moment, and said: "Yes, you are honorable; I will believe you." "Then, I swear to you that Tremorel hopes to marry a young girl who is immensely rich, whose dowry will secure his future." "He tells you so; he wants you to believe it." "Why should he?

Since he came to Valfeuillu, he could have had no other affair than this with you. He lives in my house, as if he were my brother, between my wife and myself, and I could tell you how he spends his time every hour of every day as well as what I do myself." Jenny opened her mouth to reply, but a sudden reflection froze the words on her lips. She remained silent and blushed violently, looking at Sauvresy with an indefinable expression. He did not observe this, being inspired by a restless though aimless curiosity. This proof, which Jenny talked about, worried him. "Suppose," said he, "you should show me this letter." She seemed to feel at these words an electric shock.

"To you?" she said, shuddering. "Never!" If, when one is sleeping, the thunder rolls and the storm bursts, it often happens that the sleep is not troubled; then suddenly, at a certain moment, the imperceptible flutter of a passing insect's wing awakens one. Jenny's shudder was like such a fluttering to Sauvresy. Now his confidence, his happiness, his repose, were gone forever. He rose with a flashing eye and trembling lips. "Give me the letter," said he, in an imperious tone. She tried to conceal her agitation, to smile, to turn the matter into a joke.

"Not to-day," said she. "Another time; you are too curious." But Sauvresy's anger was terrible; he became as purple as if he had had a stroke of apoplexy, and he repeated, in a choking voice: "The letter, I demand the letter." "Impossible," said Jenny. "Because," she added, struck with an idea, "I haven't got it here." "Where is it?" "At my room, in Paris." "Come, then, let us go there." She saw that she was caught; and she could find no more excuses, quick-witted as she was. She might, however, easily have followed Sauvresy, put his suspicions to sleep with her gayety, and when once in the Paris streets, might have eluded him and fled. But she did not think of that. It occurred to her that she might have time to reach the door, open it, and rush downstairs. She started to do so.

Sauvresy caught her at a bound, shut the door, and said, in a low, hoarse voice: "Wretched girl! Do you wish me to strike you?" He pushed her into a chair, returned to the door, double locked it, and put the keys in his pocket. "Now," said he, returning to the girl, "the letter." Jenny had never been so terrified in her life.

This man's rage made her tremble; she saw that he was beside himself, that she was completely at his mercy; yet she still resisted him. "You have hurt me very much," said she, crying, "but I have done you no harm." He grasped her hands in his, and bending over her, repeated: "For the last time, the letter; give it to me, or I will take it by force." It would have been folly to resist longer.

"Leave me alone," said she. "You shall have it." He released her, remaining, however, close by her side, while she searched in all her pockets. Her hair had been loosened in the struggle, her collar was torn, she was tired, her teeth chattered, but her eyes shone with a bold resolution. "Wait--here it is--no. It's odd--I am sure I've got it though--I had it a minute ago--" And, suddenly, with a rapid gesture, she put the letter, rolled into a ball, into her mouth, and tried to swallow it. But Sauvresy as quickly grasped her by the throat, and she was forced to disgorge it. He had the letter at last. His hands trembled so that he could scarcely open it.

It was, indeed, Bertha's writing.

Sauvresy tottered with a horrible sensation of dizziness; he could not see clearly; there was a red cloud before his eyes; his legs gave way under him, he staggered, and his hands stretched out for a support.

Jenny, somewhat recovered, hastened to give him help; but her touch made him shudder, and he repulsed her. What had happened he could not tell. Ah, he wished to read this letter and could not. He went to the table, turned out and drank two large glasses of water one after another. The cold draught restored him, his blood resumed its natural course, and he could see. The note was short, and this was what he read: "Don't go to-morrow to Petit-Bourg; or rather, return before breakfast. He has just told me that he must go to Melun, and that he should return late. A whole day!" "He"--that was himself. This other lover of Hector's was Bertha, his wife. For a moment he saw nothing but that; all thought was crushed within him.

His temples beat furiously, he heard a dreadful buzzing in his ears, it seemed to him as if the earth were about to swallow him up. He fell into a chair; from purple he became ashy white. Great tears trickled down his cheeks. Jenny understood the miserable meanness of her conduct when she saw this great grief, this silent despair, this man with a broken heart. Was she not the cause of all? She had guessed who the writer of the note was. She thought when she asked Sauvresy to come to her, that she could tell him all, and thus avenge herself at once upon Hector and her rival. Then, on seeing this man refusing to comprehend her hints, she had been full of pity for him. She had said to herself that he would be the one who would be most cruelly punished; and then she had recoiled--but too late--and he had snatched the secret from her.

She approached Sauvresy and tried to take his hands; he still repulsed her. "Let me alone," said he. "Pardon me, sir--I am a wretch, I am horrified at myself." He rose suddenly; he was gradually coming to himself. "What do you want?" "That letter--I guessed--" He burst into a loud, bitter, discordant laugh, and replied: "God forgive me! Why, my dear, did you dare to suspect my wife?" While Jenny was muttering confused excuses, he drew out his pocket-book and took from it all the money it contained--some seven or eight hundred francs--which he put on the table. "Take this, from Hector," said he, "he will not permit you to suffer for anything; but, believe me, you had best let him get married." Then he mechanically took up his gun, opened the door, and went out. His dogs leaped upon him to caress him; he kicked them off. Where was he going?

What was he going to do? XVIII A small, fine, chilly rain had succeeded the morning fog; but Sauvresy did not perceive it. He went across the fields with his head bare, wandering at hazard, without aim or discretion.

He talked aloud as he went, stopping ever and anon, then resuming his course. The peasants who met him--they all knew him--turned to look at him after having saluted him, asking themselves whether the master of Valfeuillu had not gone mad. Unhappily he was not mad.

Overwhelmed by an unheard-of, unlooked-for catastrophe, his brain had been for a moment paralyzed. But one by one he collected his scattered ideas and acquired the faculty of thinking and of suffering. Each one of his reflections increased his mortal anguish. Yes, Bertha and Hector had deceived, had dishonored him. She, beloved to idolatry; he, his best and oldest friend, a wretch that he had snatched from misery, who owed him everything.

And it was in his house, under his own roof, that this infamy had taken place. They had taken advantage of his noble trust, had made a dupe of him. The frightful discovery not only embittered the future, but also the past.

He longed to blot out of his life these years passed with Bertha, with whom, but the night before, he had recalled these "happiest years of his life." The memory of his former happiness filled his soul with disgust. But how had this been done? How was it he had seen nothing of it? And now things came into his mind which should have warned him had he not been blind. He recalled certain looks of Bertha, certain tones of voice, which were an avowal. At times, he tried to doubt. There are misfortunes so great that to be believed there must be more than evidence. Seating himself upon a prostrate tree in the midst of Mauprevoir forest, he studied the fatal letter for the tenth time within four hours. "It proves all," said he, "and it proves nothing." And he read once more. "Do not go to-morrow to Petit-Bourg--" Well, had he not again and again, in his idiotic confidence, said to Hector: "I shall be away to-morrow, stay here and keep Bertha company." This sentence, then, had no positive signification.

But why add: "Or rather, return before breakfast." This was what betrayed fear, that is, the fault. To go away and return again anon, was to be cautious, to avoid suspicion. Then, why "he," instead of, "Clement?" This word was striking. "He"--that is, the dear one, or else, the master that one hates. There is no medium--'tis the husband, or the lover. "He," is never an indifferent person.

A husband is lost when his wife, in speaking of him, says, "He." But when had Bertha written these few lines? Doubtless some evening after they had retired to their room. He had said to her, "I'm going to-morrow to Melun," and then she had hastily scratched off this note and given it, in a book, to Hector. Alas! the edifice of his happiness, which had seemed to him strong enough to defy every tempest of life, had crumbled, and he stood there lost in the midst of its debris. No more happiness, joys, hopes--nothing!

All his plans for the future rested on Bertha; her name was mingled in his every dream, she was at once the future and the dream. He had so loved her that she had become something of himself, that he could not imagine himself without her. Bertha lost to him, he saw no direction in life to take, he had no further reason for living.

He perceived this so vividly that the idea of suicide came to him. He had his gun, powder and balls; his death would be attributed to a hunting accident, and all would be over. They would doubtless go on in their infamous comedy--would seem to mourn for him, while really their hearts would bound with joy. No more husband, no more hypocrisies or terrors. His will giving his fortune to Bertha, they would be rich. They would sell everything, and would depart rejoicing to some distant clime. As to his memory, poor man, it would amuse them to think of him as the cheated and despised husband. I must kill myself, but first, I must avenge my dishonor!" But he tried in vain to imagine a punishment cruel or terrible enough. What chastisement could expiate the horrible tortures which he endured?

He said to himself that, in order to assure his vengeance, he must wait--and he swore that he would wait. He would feign the same stolid confidence, and resigned himself to see and hear everything. "My hypocrisy will equal theirs," thought he. Indeed a cautious duplicity was necessary. Bertha was most cunning, and at the first suspicion would fly with her lover. Hector had already--thanks to him--several hundred thousand francs. The idea that they might escape his vengeance gave him energy and a clear head. It was only then that he thought of the flight of time, the rain falling in torrents, and the state of his clothes. "Bah!" thought he, "I will make up some story to account for myself." He was only a league from Valfeuillu, but he was an hour and a half reaching home.

He was broken, exhausted; he felt chilled to the marrow of his bones. But when he entered the gate, he had succeeded in assuming his usual expression, and the gayety which so well hinted his perfect trustfulness. He had been waited for, but in spite of his resolutions, he could not sit at table between this man and woman, his two most cruel enemies. He said that he had taken cold, and would go to bed. Bertha insisted in vain that he should take at least a bowl of broth and a glass of claret. "Really," said he, "I don't feel well." When he had retired, Bertha said: "Did you notice, Hector?" "What?" "Something unusual has happened to him." "Very likely, after being all day in the rain." "No.

His eye had a look I never saw before." "He seemed to be very cheerful, as he always is." "Hector, my husband suspects!" "He? Ah, my poor good friend has too much confidence in us to think of being jealous." "You deceive yourself, Hector; he did not embrace me when he came in, and it is the first time since our marriage." Thus, at the very first, he had made a blunder. He knew it well; but it was beyond his power to embrace Bertha at that moment; and he was suffering more than he thought he should. When his wife and his friend ascended to his room, after dinner, they found him shivering under the sheets, red, his forehead burning, his throat dry, and his eyes shining with an unusual brilliancy. A fever soon came on, attended by delirium. A doctor was called, who at first said he would not answer for him. The next day he was worse. From this time both Hector and Bertha conceived for him the most tender devotion. Did they think they should thus in some sort expiate their crime? More likely they tried to impose on the people about them; everyone was anxious for Sauvresy.

They never deserted him for a moment, passing the night by turns near his bed. And it was painful to watch over him; a furious delirium never left him. Several times force had to be used to keep him on the bed; he tried to throw himself out of the window. The third day he had a strange fancy; he did not wish to stay in his chamber. He kept crying out: "Carry me away from here, carry me away from here." The doctor advised that he should be humored; so a bed was made up for him in a little room on the ground-floor, overlooking the garden. His wanderings did not betray anything of his suspicions; perhaps the firm will was able even to control the delirium. The fever finally yielded on the ninth day. His breathing became calmer, and he slept. When he awoke, reason had returned.

That was a frightful moment. He had, so to speak, to take up the burden of his misery. At first he thought it the memory of a horrid night-mare; but no.

He had not dreamed.

He recalled the Belle Image, Jenny, the forest, the letter. What had become of the letter? Then, having the vague impression of a serious illness, he asked himself if he had said anything to betray the source of his misery. This anxiety prevented his making the slightest movement, and he opened his eyes softly and cautiously. It was eleven at night, and all the servants had gone to bed. Hector and Bertha alone were keeping watch; he was reading a paper, she was crocheting. Sauvresy saw by their placid countenances that he had betrayed nothing. He moved slightly; Bertha at once arose and came to him.

"How are you, dear Clement?" asked she, kissing him fondly on the forehead. "I am no longer in pain." "You see the result of being careless." "How many days have I been sick?" "Eight days." "Why was I brought here?" "Because you wished it." Tremorel had approached the bedside.

"You refused to stay upstairs," said he, "you were ungovernable till we had you brought here." "But don't tire yourself," resumed Hector. "Go to sleep again, and you will be well by to-morrow. And good-night, for I am going to bed now, and shall return and wake your wife at four o'clock." He went out, and Bertha, having given Sauvresy something to drink, returned to her seat. "What a friend Tremorel is," murmured she. Sauvresy did not answer this terribly ironical exclamation. He shut his eyes, pretended to sleep, and thought of the letter. What had he done with it? He remembered that he had carefully folded it and put it in the right-hand pocket of his vest. He must have this letter.

It would balk his vengeance, should it fall into his wife's hands; and this might happen at any moment. It was a miracle that his valet had not put it on the mantel, as he was accustomed to do with the things which he found in his master's pockets. He was reflecting on some means of getting it, of the possibility of going up to his bedroom, where his vest ought to be, when Bertha got up softly. She came to the bed and whispered gently: "Clement, Clement!" He did not open his eyes, and she, persuaded that he was sleeping, though very lightly, stole out of the room, holding her breath as she went. "Oh, the wretch!" muttered Sauvresy, "she is going to him!" At the same time the necessity of recovering the letter occurred to him more vividly than ever. "I can get to my room," thought he, "without being seen, by the garden and back-stairs.

She thinks I'm asleep; I shall get back and abed before she returns." Then, without asking himself whether he were not too feeble, or what danger there might be in exposing himself to the cold, he got up, threw a gown around him, put on his slippers and went toward the door. "If anyone sees me, I will feign delirium," said he to himself.

The vestibule lamp was out and he found some difficulty in opening the door; finally, he descended into the garden. It was intensely cold, and snow had fallen. The front of the house was sombre. One window only was lighted--that of Tremorel's room; that was lighted brilliantly, by a lamp and a great blazing fire. The shadow of a man--of Hector--rested on the muslin curtains; the shape was distinct. He was near the window, and his forehead was pressed against the panes. Sauvresy instinctively stopped to look at his friend, who was so at home in his house, and who, in exchange for the most brotherly hospitality, had brought dishonor, despair and death.

Hector made a sudden movement, and turned around as if he was surprised by an unwonted noise. What was it? Sauvresy only knew too well.

Another shadow appeared on the curtain--that of Bertha. And he had forced himself to doubt till now! Now proofs had come without his seeking. What had brought her to that room, at that hour? She seemed to be talking excitedly. He thought he could hear that full, sonorous voice, now as clear as metal, now soft and caressing, which had made all the chords of passion vibrate in him. He once more saw those beautiful eyes which had reigned so despotically over his heart, and whose expressions he knew so well. But what was she doing? Doubtless she had gone to ask Hector something, which he refused her, and she was pleading with him; Sauvresy saw that she was supplicating, by her motions; he knew the gesture well. She lifted her clasped hands as high as her forehead, bent her head, half shut her eyes.

What languor had been in her voice when she used to say: "Say, dear Clement, you will, will you not?" And now she was using the same blandishments on another. Sauvresy was obliged to support himself against a tree. Hector was evidently refusing what she wished; then she shook her finger menacingly, and tossed her head angrily, as if she were saying: "You won't?

You shall see, then." And then she returned to her supplications. "Ah," thought Sauvresy, "he can resist her prayers; I never had such courage. He can preserve his coolness, his will, when she looks at him; I never said no to her; rather, I never waited for her to ask anything of me; I have passed my life in watching her lightest fancies, to gratify them. Perhaps that is what has ruined me!" Hector was obstinate, and Bertha was roused little by little; she must be angry. She recoiled, holding out her arms, her head thrown back; she was threatening him. At last he was conquered; he nodded, "Yes." Then she flung herself upon him, and the two shadows were confounded in a long embrace. Sauvresy could not repress an agonized cry, which was lost amid the noises of the night. He had asked for certainty; here it was. The truth, indisputable, evident, was clear to him.

He had to seek for nothing more, now, except for the means to punish surely and terribly. Bertha and Hector were talking amicably.

Sauvresy saw that she was about to go downstairs, and that he could not now go for the letter. He went in hurriedly, forgetting, in his fear of being discovered, to lock the garden door.

He did not perceive that he had been standing with naked feet in the snow, till he had returned to his bedroom again; he saw some flakes on his slippers, and they were damp; quickly he threw them under the bed, and jumped in between the clothes, and pretended to be asleep. It was time, for Bertha soon came in. She went to the bed, and thinking that he had not woke up, returned to her embroidery by the fire. Tremorel also soon reappeared; he had forgotten to take his paper, and had come back for it. He seemed uneasy. "Have you been out to-night, Madame?" asked he, in a low voice. "No." "Have all the servants gone to bed?" "I suppose so; but why do you ask?" "Since I have been upstairs, somebody has gone out into the garden, and come back again." Bertha looked at him with a troubled glance. "Are you sure of what you say?" "Certainly.

Snow is falling, and whoever went out brought some back on his shoes. This has melted in the vestibule--" Mme. Sauvresy seized the lamp, and interrupting Hector, said: "Come." Tremorel was right. Here and there on the vestibule pavement were little puddles. "Perhaps this water has been here some time," suggested Bertha. It was not there an hour ago, I could swear. Besides, see, here is a little snow that has not melted yet." "It must have been one of the servants." Hector went to the door and examined it. "I do not think so," said he. "A servant would have shut the bolts; here they are, drawn back. Yet I myself shut the door to-night, and distinctly recollect fastening the bolts." "It's very strange!" "And all the more so, look you, because the traces of the water do not go much beyond the drawing-room door." They remained silent, and exchanged anxious looks.

The same terrible thought occurred to them both. "If it were he?" But why should he have gone into the garden? It could not have been to spy on them.

"It couldn't have been Clement," said Bertha, at last. "He was asleep when I went back, and he is in a calm and deep slumber now." Sauvresy, stretched upon his bed, heard what his enemies were saying. "Suppose," thought he, "they should think of looking at my gown and slippers!" Happily this simple idea did not occur to them; after reassuring each other as well as they were able, they separated; but each heart carried an anxious doubt. Sauvresy on that night had a terrible crisis in his illness. Delirium, succeeding this ray of reason, renewed its possession of his brain. R--- pronounced him in more danger than ever; and sent a despatch to Paris, saying that he would be detained at Valfeuillu three or four days. The distemper redoubled in violence; very contradictory symptoms appeared. Each day brought some new phase of it, which confounded the foresight of the doctors. Every time that Sauvresy had a moment of reason, the scene at the window recurred to him, and drove him to madness again. On that terrible night when he had gone out into the snow, he had not been mistaken; Bertha was really begging something of Hector.

This was it: M. Courtois, the mayor, had invited Hector to accompany himself and his family on an excursion to Fontainebleau on the following day. Hector had cordially accepted the invitation. Bertha could not bear the idea of his spending the day in Laurence's company, and begged him not to go. She told him there were plenty of excuses to relieve him from his promise; for instance, he might urge that it would not be seemly for him to go when his friend lay dangerously ill. At first he positively refused to grant her prayer, but by her supplications and menaces she persuaded him, and she did not go downstairs until he had sworn that he would write to M.

Courtois that very evening declining the invitation. He kept his word, but he was disgusted by her tyrannical behavior. He was tired of forever sacrificing his wishes and his liberty, so that he could plan nothing, say or promise nothing without consulting this jealous woman, who would scarcely let him wander out of her sight. The chain became heavier and heavier to bear, and he began to see that sooner or later it must be wrenched apart. He had never loved either Bertha or Jenny, or anyone, probably; but he now loved the mayor's daughter. Her dowry of a million had at first dazzled him, but little by little he had been subdued by Laurence's charms of mind and person. He, the dissipated rake, was seduced by such grave and naive innocence, such frankness and beauty; he would have married Laurence had she been poor--as Sauvresy married Bertha. But he feared Bertha too much to brave her suddenly, and so he waited. The next day after the quarrel about Fontainebleau, he declared that he was indisposed, attributed it to the want of exercise, and took to the saddle for several hours every day afterward.

But he did not go far; only to the mayor's. Bertha at first did not perceive anything suspicious in Tremorel's rides; it reassured her to see him go off on his horse. After some days, however, she thought she saw in him a certain feeling of satisfaction concealed under the semblance of fatigue. She began to have doubts, and these increased every time he went out; all sorts of conjectures worried her while he was away. Probably to see Laurence, whom she feared and detested.

The suspicion soon became a certainty with her. One evening Hector appeared, carrying in his button-hole a flower which Laurence herself had put there, and which he had forgotten to take out. Bertha took it gently, examined it, smelt it, and, compelling herself to smile: "Why," said she, "what a pretty flower!" "So I thought," answered Hector, carelessly, "though I don't know what it is called." "Would it be bold to ask who gave it to you?" "Not at all. It's a present from our good Plantat." All Orcival knew that M.

Plantat, a monomaniac on flowers, never gave them away to anyone except Mme. Laurence. Hector's evasion was an unhappy one, and Bertha was not deceived. "You promised me, Hector," said she, "not to see Laurence any more, and to give up this marriage." He tried to reply. "Let me speak," she continued, "and explain yourself afterward. You have broken your word--you are deceiving my confidence! But I tell you, you shall not marry her!" Then, without awaiting his reply, she overwhelmed him with reproaches. Why had he come here at all? She was happy in her home before she knew him.

She did not love Sauvresy, it was true; but she esteemed him, and he was good to her. Ignorant of the happiness of true love, she did not desire it. But he had come, and she could not resist his fascination. And now, after having engaged her affection, he was going to desert her, to marry another!

Tremorel listened to her, perfectly amazed at her audacity. What! She dared to pretend that it was he who had abused her innocence, when, on the contrary, he had sometimes been astonished at her persistency! Such was the depth of her corruption, as it seemed to him, that he wondered whether he were her first or her twentieth lover. And she had so led him on, and had so forcibly made him feel the intensity of her will, that he had been fain still to submit to this despotism. But he had now determined to resist on the first opportunity; and he resisted.

"Well, yes," said he, frankly, "I did deceive you; I have no fortune--this marriage will give me one; I shall get married." He went on to say that he loved Laurence less than ever, but that he coveted her money more and more every day. "To prove this," he pursued, "if you will find me to-morrow a girl who has twelve hundred thousand francs instead of a million, I will marry her in preference to Mademoiselle Courtois." She had never suspected he had so much courage. She had so long moulded him like soft wax, and this unexpected conduct disconcerted her. She was indignant, but at the same time she felt that unhealthy satisfaction that some women feel, when they meet a master who subdues them; and she admired Tremorel more than ever before.

This time, he had taken a tone which conquered her; she despised him enough to think him quite capable of marrying for money. When he had done, she said: "It's really so, then; you only care for the million of dowry?" "I've sworn it to you a hundred times." "Truly now, don't you love Laurence?" "I have never loved her, and never shall." He thought that he would thus secure his peace until the wedding-day; once married, he cared not what would happen. What cared he for Sauvresy?

Life is only a succession of broken friendships. What is a friend, after all? One who can and ought to serve you. Ability consists in breaking with people, when they cease to be useful to you. Bertha reflected. "Hear me, Hector," said she at last. "I cannot calmly resign myself to the sacrifice which you demand. Let me have but a few days, to accustom myself to this dreadful blow.

You owe me as much--let Clement get well, first." He did not expect to see her so gentle and subdued; who would have looked for such concessions, so easily obtained? The idea of a snare did not occur to him. In his delight he betrayed how he rejoiced in his liberty, which ought to have undeceived Bertha; but she did not perceive it. He grasped her hand, and cried: "Ah, you are very good--you really love me." XIX The Count de Tremorel did not anticipate that the respite which Bertha begged would last long. Sauvresy had seemed better during the last week. He got up every day, and commenced to go about the house; he even received numerous visits from the neighbors; without apparent fatigue. But alas, the master of Valfeuillu was only the shadow of himself. His friends would never have recognized in that emaciated form and white face, and burning, haggard eye, the robust young man with red lips and beaming visage whom they remembered.

He had suffered so! He did not wish to die before avenging himself on the wretches who had filched his happiness and his life.

But what punishment should he inflict? This fixed idea burning in his brain, gave his look a fiery eagerness. Ordinarily, there are three modes in which a betrayed husband may avenge himself. He has the right, and it is almost a duty--to deliver the guilty ones up to the law, which is on his side.

He may adroitly watch them, surprise them and kill them. There is a law which does not absolve, but excuses him, in this. Lastly, he may affect a stolid indifference, laugh the first and loudest at his misfortune, drive his wife from his roof, and leave her to starve. But what poor, wretched methods of vengeance. Give up his wife to the law? Would not that be to offer his name, honor, and life to public ridicule? To put himself at the mercy of a lawyer, who would drag him through the mire. They do not defend the erring wife, they attack her husband.

And what satisfaction would he get? Bertha and Tremorel would be condemned to a year's imprisonment, perhaps eighteen months, possibly two years. He might go in, fire a revolver at them, and they would not have time to comprehend it, for their agony would be but for a moment; and then? Then, he must become a prisoner, submit to a trial, invoke the judge's mercy, and risk conviction. As to turning his wife out of doors, that was to hand her over quietly to Hector.

He imagined them leaving Valfeuillu, hand in hand, happy and smiling, and laughing in his face.

At this thought he had a fit of cold rage; his self-esteem adding the sharpest pains to the wounds in his heart. None of these vulgar methods could satisfy him. He longed for some revenge unheard-of, strange, monstrous, as his tortures were. Then he thought of all the horrible tales he had read, seeking one to his purpose; he had a right to be particular, and he was determined to wait until he was satisfied. There was only one thing that could balk his progress--Jenny's letter. What had become of it? Had he lost it in the woods? He had looked for it everywhere, and could not find it. He accustomed himself, however, to feign, finding a sort of fierce pleasure in the constraint.

He learned to assume a countenance which completely hid his thoughts. He submitted to his wife's caresses without an apparent shudder; and shook Hector by the hand as heartily as ever. In the evening, when they were gathered about the drawing-room table, he was the gayest of the three. He built a hundred air-castles, pictured a hundred pleasure-parties, when he was able to go abroad again.

Hector rejoiced at his returning health. "Clement is getting on finely," said he to Bertha, one evening. She understood only too well what he meant. "Always thinking of Laurence?" "Did you not permit me to hope?" "I asked you to wait, Hector, and you have done well not to be in a hurry. I know a young girl who would bring you, not one, but three millions as dowry." This was a painful surprise. He really had no thoughts for anyone but Laurence, and now a new obstacle presented itself. "And who is that?" She leaned over, and whispered tremblingly in his ear: "I am Clement's sole heiress; perhaps he'll die; I might be a widow to-morrow." Hector was petrified. "But Sauvresy, thank God! is getting well fast." Bertha fixed her large, clear eyes upon him, and with frightful calmness said: "What do you know about it?" Tremorel dared not ask what these strange words meant.

He was one of those men who shun explanations, and who, rather than put themselves on their guard in time, permit themselves to be drawn on by circumstances; soft and feeble beings, who deliberately bandage their eyes so as not to see the danger which threatens them, and who prefer the sloth of doubt, and acts of uncertainty to a definite and open position, which they have not the courage to face. Besides, Hector experienced a childish satisfaction in seeing Bertha's distress, though he feared and detested her. He conceived a great opinion of his own value and merit, when he saw the persistency and desperation with which she insisted on keeping her hold on him. "Poor woman!" thought he. "In her grief at losing me, and seeing me another's, she has begun to wish for her husband's death!" Such was the torpor of his moral sense that he did not see the vileness of Bertha's and his own thoughts. Meanwhile Sauvresy's state was not reassuring for Hector's hopes and plans. On the very day when he had this conversation with Bertha, her husband was forced to take to his bed again. This relapse took place after he had drank a glass of quinine and water, which he had been accustomed to take just before supper; only, this time, the symptoms changed entirely, as if one malady had yielded to another of a very different kind. He complained of a pricking in his skin, of vertigo, of convulsive twitches which contracted and twisted his limbs, especially his arms.

He cried out with excruciating neuralgic pains in the face. He was seized with a violent, persistent, tenacious craving for pepper, which nothing could assuage. He was sleepless, and morphine in large doses failed to bring him slumber; while he felt an intense chill within him, as if the body's temperature were gradually diminishing. Delirium had completely disappeared, and the sick man retained perfectly the clearness of his mind. Sauvresy bore up wonderfully under his pains, and seemed to take a new interest in the business of his estates.

He was constantly in consultation with bailiffs and agents, and shut himself up for days together with notaries and attorneys. Then, saying that he must have distractions, he received all his friends, and when no one called, he sent for some acquaintance to come and chat with him in order to forget his illness. He gave no hint of what he was doing and thinking, and Bertha was devoured by anxiety. She often watched for her husband's agent, when, after a conference of several hours, he came out of his room; and making herself as sweet and fascinating as possible, she used all her cunning to find out something which would enlighten her as to what he was about. But no one could, or at least would, satisfy her curiosity; all gave evasive replies, as if Sauvresy had cautioned them, or as if there were nothing to tell. No complaints were heard from Sauvresy. He talked constantly of Bertha and Hector; he wished all the world to know their devotion to him; he called them his "guardian angels," and blessed Heaven that had given him such a wife and such a friend. Sauvresy's illness now became so serious that Tremorel began to despair; he became alarmed; what position would his friend's death leave him in?

Bertha, having become a widow, would be implacable. He resolved to find out her inmost thoughts at the first opportunity; she anticipated him, and saved him the trouble of broaching the subject. One afternoon, when they were alone, M. Plantat being in attendance at the sick man's bedside, Bertha commenced. "I want some advice, Hector, and you alone can give it to me. How can I find out whether Clement, within the past day or two, has not changed his will in regard to me?" "His will?" "Yes, I've already told you that by a will of which I myself have a copy, Sauvresy has left me his whole fortune. I fear that he may perhaps revoke it." "What an idea!" "Ah, I have reasons for my apprehensions. What are all these agents and attorneys doing at Valfeuillu? A stroke of this man's pen may ruin me. Don't you see that he can deprive me of his millions, and reduce me to my dowry of fifty thousand francs?" "But he will not do it; he loves you--" "Are you sure of it?

I've told you, there are three millions; I must have this fortune--not for myself, but for you; I want it, I must have it! But how can I find out--how? how?" Hector was very indignant. It was to this end, then, that his delays had conducted him! She thought that she had a right now to dispose of him in spite of himself, and, as it were, to purchase him. And he could not, dared not, say anything! "We must be patient," said he, "and wait--" "Wait--for what? Till he's dead?" "Don't speak so." "Why not?" Bertha went up to him, and in a low voice, muttered: "He has only a week to live; and see here--" She drew a little vial from her pocket, and held it up to him.

"That is what convinces me that I am not mistaken." Hector became livid, and could not stifle a cry of horror. He comprehended all now--he saw how it was that Bertha had been so easily subdued, why she had refrained from speaking of Laurence, her strange words, her calm confidence. "Poison!" stammered he, confounded. "Yes, poison." "You have not used it?" She fixed a hard, stern look upon him--the look which had subdued his will, against which he had struggled in vain--and in a calm voice, emphasizing each word, answered: "I have used it." The count was, indeed, a dangerous man, unscrupulous, not recoiling from any wickedness when his passions were to be indulged, capable of everything; but this horrible crime awoke in him all that remained of honest energy. "Well," he cried, in disgust, "you will not use it again!" He hastened toward the door, shuddering; she stopped him. "Reflect before you act," said she, coldly. "I will betray the fact of your relations with me; who will then believe that you are not my accomplice?" He saw the force of this terrible menace, coming from Bertha. "Come," said she, ironically, "speak--betray me if you choose.

Whatever happens, for happiness or misery, we shall no longer be separated; our destinies will be the same." Hector fell heavily into a chair, more overwhelmed than if he had been struck with a hammer. He held his bursting forehead between his hands; he saw himself shut up in an infernal circle, without outlet. "I am lost!" he stammered, without knowing what he said, "I am lost!" He was to be pitied; his face was terribly haggard, great drops of perspiration stood at the roots of his hair, his eyes wandered as if he were insane. Bertha shook him rudely by the arm, for his cowardice exasperated her. "You are afraid," she said.

"You are trembling! You would not say so, if you loved me as I do you. Will you be lost because I am to be your wife, because we shall be free to love in the face of all the world? Then you have no idea of what I have endured? You don't know, then, that I am tired of suffering, fearing, feigning." "Such a crime!" She burst out with a laugh that made him shudder. "You ought to have said so," said she, with a look full of contempt, "the day you won me from Sauvresy--the day that you stole the wife of this friend who saved your life. Do you think that was a less horrid crime? You knew as well as I did how much my husband loved me, and that he would have preferred to die, rather than lose me thus." "But he knows nothing, suspects nothing of it." "You are mistaken; Sauvresy knows all." "Impossible!" "All, I tell you--and he has known all since that day when he came home so late from hunting. Don't you remember that I noticed his strange look, and said to you that my husband suspected something?

He had been spying on us. Well, do you want a more certain proof? Look at this letter, which I found, crumpled up and wet, in one of his vest pockets." She showed him the letter which Sauvresy had forcibly taken from Jenny, and he recognized it well. "It is a fatality," said he, overwhelmed. "But we can separate and break off with each other.

Bertha, I can go away." "It's too late. Believe me, Hector, we are to-day defending our lives.

Ah, you don't know Clement! You don't know what the fury of a man like him can be, when he sees that his confidence has been outrageously abused, and his trust vilely betrayed. If he has said nothing to me, and has not let us see any traces of his implacable anger, it is because he is meditating some frightful vengeance." This was only too probable, and Hector saw it clearly. "What shall we do?" he asked, in a hoarse voice; he was almost speechless. "Find out what change he has made in his will." "But how?" "I don't know yet. I came to ask your advice, and I find you more cowardly than a woman.

Let me act, then; don't do anything yourself; I will do all." He essayed an objection. "Enough," said she.

"He must not ruin us after all--I will see--I will think." Someone below called her.

She went down, leaving Hector overcome with despair. That evening, during which Bertha seemed happy and smiling, his face finally betrayed so distinctly the traces of his anguish, that Sauvresy tenderly asked him if he were not ill? "You exhaust yourself tending on me, my good Hector," said he. "How can I ever repay your devotion?" Tremorel had not the strength to reply. "And that man knows all," thought he. "What courage! What fate can he be reserving for us?" The scene which was passing before Hector's eyes made his flesh creep. Every time that Bertha gave her husband his medicine, she took a hair-pin from her tresses, and plunged it into the little vial which she had shown him, taking up thus some small, white grains, which she dissolved in the potions prescribed by the doctor.

It might be supposed that Tremorel, enslaved by his horrid position, and harassed by increasing terror, would renounce forever his proposed marriage with Laurence. He clung to that project more desperately than ever. Bertha's threats, the great obstacles now intervening, his anguish, crime, only augmented the violence of his love for her, and fed the flame of his ambition to secure her as his wife.

A small and flickering ray of hope which lighted the darkness of his despair, consoled and revived him, and made the present more easy to bear. He said to himself that Bertha could not be thinking of marrying him the day after her husband's death. Months, a whole year must pass, and thus he would gain time; then some day he would declare his will.

What would she have to say? Would she divulge the crime, and try to hold him as her accomplice? How could she prove that he, who loved and had married another woman, had any interest in Sauvresy's death? People don't kill their friends for the mere pleasure of it. Would she provoke the law to exhume her husband? She was now in a position, thought he, wherein she could, or would not exercise her reason. Later on, she would reflect, and then she would be arrested by the probability of those dangers, the certainty of which did not now terrify her.

He did not wish that she should ever be his wife at any price. He would have detested her had she possessed millions; he hated her now that she was poor, ruined, reduced to her own narrow means. And that she was so, there was no doubt, Sauvresy indeed knew all. He was content to wait; he knew that Laurence loved him enough to wait for him one, or three years, if necessary. He already had such absolute power over her, that she did not try to combat the thoughts of him, which gently forced themselves on her, penetrated to her soul, and filled her mind and heart. Hector said to himself that in the interest of his designs, perhaps it was well that Bertha was acting as she did. He forced himself to stifle his conscience in trying to prove that he was not guilty. Bertha. Who was executing it?

She alone. He could only be reproached with moral complicity in it, a complicity involuntary, forced upon him, imposed somehow by the care for his own life.

Sometimes, however, a bitter remorse seized him. He could have understood a sudden, violent, rapid murder; could have explained to himself a knife-stroke; but this slow death, given drop by drop, horribly sweetened by tenderness, veiled under kisses, appeared to him unspeakably hideous. He was mortally afraid of Bertha, as of a reptile, and when she embraced him he shuddered from head to foot. She was so calm, so engaging, so natural; her voice had the same soft and caressing tones, that he could not forget it. She plunged her hair-pin into the fatal vial without ceasing her conversation, and he did not surprise her in any shrinking or shuddering, nor even a trembling of the eyelids. She must have been made of brass.

Yet he thought that she was not cautious enough; and that she put herself in danger of discovery; and he told her of these fears, and how she made him tremble every moment. "Have confidence in me," she answered. "I want to succeed--I am prudent." "But you may be suspected." "By whom?" "Eh! Everyone--the servants, the doctor." "No danger. And suppose they did suspect?" "They would make examinations, Bertha; they would make a minute scrutiny." She gave a smile of the most perfect security. "They might examine and experiment as much as they pleased, they would find nothing. Do you think I am such a fool as to use arsenic?" "For Heaven's sake, hush!" "I have procured one of those poisons which are as yet unknown, and which defy all analysis; one of which many doctors--and learned ones, too--could not even tell the symptoms!" "But where did you get this--this--" He dared not say, "poison." "Who gave you that?" resumed he. "What matters it? I have taken care that he who gave it to me should run the same danger as myself, and he knows it. There's nothing to fear from that quarter.

I've paid him enough to smother all his regrets." An objection came to his lips; he wanted to say, "It's too slow;" but he had not the courage, though she read his thought in his eyes. "It is slow, because that suits me," said she. "Before all, I must know about the will--and that I am trying to find out." She occupied herself constantly about this will, and during the long hours that she passed at Sauvresy's bedside, she gradually, with the greatest craft and delicacy, led her husband's mind in the direction of his last testament, with such success that he himself mentioned the subject which so absorbed Bertha. He said that he did not comprehend why people did not always have their worldly affairs in order, and their wishes fully written down, in case of accident. What difference did it make whether one were ill or well?

At these words Bertha attempted to stop him. Such ideas, she said, pained her too much. She even shed real tears, which fell down her cheeks and made her more beautiful and irresistible than before; real tears which moistened her handkerchief. "You dear silly creature," said Sauvresy, "do you think that makes one die?" "No; but I do not wish it." "But, dear, have we been any the less happy because, on the day after our marriage, I made a will bequeathing you all my fortune? And, stop; you have a copy of it, haven't you? If you were kind, you would go and fetch it for me." She became very red, then very pale. Why did he ask for this copy? Did he want to tear it up? A sudden thought reassured her; people do not tear up a document which can be cancelled by a scratch of the pen on another sheet of paper.

Still, she hesitated a moment. "I don't know where it can be." "But I do. It is in the left-hand drawer of the glass cupboard; come, please me by getting it." While she was gone, Sauvresy said to Hector: "Poor girl! Poor dear Bertha! If I died, she never would survive me!" Tremorel thought of nothing to reply; his anxiety was intense and visible. "And this man," thought he, "suspects something! No; it is not possible." Bertha returned. "I have found it," said she. "Give it to me." He took the copy of his will, and read it with evident satisfaction, nodding his head at certain passages in which he referred to his love for his wife. When he had finished reading, he said: "Now give me a pen and some ink." Hector and Bertha reminded him that it would fatigue him to write; but he insisted.

The two guilty ones, seated at the foot of the bed and out of Sauvresy's sight, exchanged looks of alarm. What was he going to write? "Take this," said he to Tremorel, "and read aloud what I have just added." Hector complied with his friend's request, with trembling voice: "This day, being sound in mind, though much suffering, I declare that I do not wish to change a line of this will. Never have I loved my wife more--never have I so much desired to leave her the heiress of all I possess, should I die before her.

"CLEMENT SAUVRESY." Mistress of herself as Bertha was, she succeeded in concealing the unspeakable satisfaction with which she was filled. All her wishes were accomplished, and yet she was able to veil her delight under an apparent sadness. "Of what good is this?" said she, with a sigh. She said this, but half an hour afterward, when she was alone with Hector, she gave herself up to the extravagance of her delight. "Nothing more to fear," exclaimed she.

Now we shall have liberty, fortune, love, pleasure, life!

Why, Hector, we shall have at least three millions; you see, I've got this will myself, and I shall keep it. No more agents or notaries shall be admitted into this house henceforth. Now I must hasten!" The count certainly felt a satisfaction in knowing her to be rich, for he could much more easily get rid of a millionnaire widow than of a poor penniless woman. Sauvresy's conduct thus calmed many sharp anxieties. Her restless gayety, however, her confident security, seemed monstrous to Hector. He would have wished for more solemnity in the execution of the crime; he thought that he ought at least to calm Bertha's delirium. "You will think more than once of Sauvresy," said he, in a graver tone. She answered with a "prrr," and added vivaciously: "Of him? when and why?

Oh, his memory will not weigh on me very heavily. I trust that we shall be able to live still at Valfeuillu, for the place pleases me; but we must also have a house at Paris--or we will buy yours back again. What happiness, Hector!" The mere prospect of this anticipated felicity so shocked Hector, that his better self for the moment got the mastery; he essayed to move Bertha. "For the last time," said he, "I implore you to renounce this terrible, dangerous project. You see that you were mistaken--that Sauvresy suspects nothing, but loves you as well as ever." The expression of Bertha's face suddenly changed; she sat quite still, in a pensive revery.

"Don't let's talk any more of that," said she, at last. "Perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps he only had doubts--perhaps, although he has discovered something, he hopes to win me back by his goodness.

Doubtless she did not wish to alarm him. He was already much alarmed. The next day he went off to Melun without a word; being unable to bear the sight of this agony, and fearing to betray himself. But he left his address, and when she sent word that Sauvresy was always crying out for him, he hastily returned. Her letter was most imprudent and absurd, and made his hair stand on end. He had intended, on his arrival, to reproach her; but it was she who upbraided him. "Why this flight?" "I could not stay here--I suffered, trembled, felt as if I were dying." "What a coward you are!" He would have replied, but she put her finger on his mouth, and pointed with her other hand to the door of the next room. Three doctors have been in consultation there for the past hour, and I haven't been able to hear a word of what they said. Who knows what they are about? I shall not be easy till they go away." Bertha's fears were not without foundation.

When Sauvresy had his last relapse, and complained of a severe neuralgia in the face and an irresistible craving for pepper, Dr. R--- had uttered a significant exclamation.

It was nothing, perhaps--yet Bertha had heard it, and she thought she surprised a sudden suspicion on the doctor's part; and this now disturbed her, for she thought that it might be the subject of the consultation. The suspicion, however, if there had ever been any, quickly vanished. The symptoms entirely changed twelve hours later, and the next day the sick man felt pains quite the opposite of those which had previously distressed him. This very inconstancy of the distemper served to puzzle the doctor's conclusions. Sauvresy, in these latter days, had scarcely suffered at all, he said, and had slept well at night; but he had, at times, strange and often distressing sensations.

He was evidently failing hourly; he was dying--everyone perceived it. And now Dr. R--- asked for a consultation, the result of which had not been reached when Tremorel returned. The drawing-room door at last swung open, and the calm faces of the physicians reassured the poisoner. Their conclusions were that the case was hopeless; everything had been tried and exhausted; no human resources had been neglected; the only hope was in Sauvresy's strong constitution. Bertha, colder than marble, motionless, her eyes full of tears, seemed so full of grief on hearing this cruel decision, that all the doctors were touched. Oh, my God!" cried she, in agonizing tones. R--- hardly dared to attempt to comfort her; he answered her questions evasively. "We must never despair," said he, "when the invalid is of Sauvresy's age and constitution; nature often works miracles when least expected." The doctor, however, lost no time in taking Hector apart and begging him to prepare the poor, devoted, loving young lady for the terrible blow about to ensue.

"For you see," added he, "I don't think Monsieur Sauvresy can live more than two days!" Bertha, with her ear at the keyhole, had heard the doctor's prediction; and when Hector returned from conducting the physician to the door, he found her radiant. She rushed into his arms. Only one black point obscured our horizon, and it has cleared away.

It is for me to realize Doctor R--- 's prediction." They dined together, as usual, in the dining-room, while one of the chambermaids remained beside the sick-bed.

Bertha was full of spirits which she could scarcely control.

The certainty of success and safety, the assurance of reaching the end, made her imprudently gay. She spoke aloud, even in the presence of the servants, of her approaching liberty. During the evening she was more reckless than ever. If any of the servants should have a suspicion, or a shadow of one she might be discovered and lost. Hector constantly nudged her under the table and frowned at her, to keep her quiet; he felt his blood run cold at her conduct; all in vain. There are times when the armor of hypocrisy becomes so burdensome that one is forced, cost what it may, to throw it off if only for an instant. While Hector was smoking his cigar, Bertha was more freely pursuing her dream. She was thinking that she could spend the period of her mourning at Valfeuillu, and Hector, for the sake of appearances, would hire a pretty little house somewhere in the suburbs. The worst of it all was that she would be forced to seem to mourn for Sauvresy, as she had pretended to love him during his lifetime.

But at last a day would come when, without scandal, she might throw off her mourning clothes, and then they would get married. At Paris or Orcival? Hector's thoughts ran in the same channel. He, too, wished to see his friend under the ground to end his own terrors, and to submit to Bertha's terrible yoke. XX Time passed. Hector and Bertha repaired to Sauvresy's room; he was asleep. They noiselessly took chairs beside the fire, as usual, and the maid retired. In order that the sick man might not be disturbed by the light of the lamp, curtains had been hung so that, when lying down, he could not see the fireplace and mantel.

In order to see these, he must have raised himself on his pillow and leaned forward on his right arm. But now he was asleep, breathing painfully, feverish, and shuddering convulsively. Bertha and Hector did not speak; the solemn and sinister silence was only broken by the ticking of the clock, or by the leaves of the book which Hector was reading. Ten o'clock struck; soon after Sauvresy moved, turned over, and awoke.

Bertha was at his side in an instant; she saw that his eyes were open.

"Do you feel a little better, dear Clement?" she asked. "Neither better nor worse." "Do you want anything?" "I am thirsty." Hector, who had raised his eyes when his friend spoke, suddenly resumed his reading. Bertha, standing by the mantel, began to prepare with great care Dr. R--- 's last prescription; when it was ready, she took out the fatal little vial as usual, and thrust one of her hair-pins into it. She had not time to draw it out before she felt a light touch upon her shoulder. A shudder shook her from head to foot; she suddenly turned and uttered a loud scream, a cry of terror and horror.

"Oh!" The hand which had touched her was her husband's. While she was busied with the poison at the mantel, Sauvresy had softly raised himself; more softly still, he had pulled the curtain aside, and had stretched out his arm and touched her. His eyes glittered with hate and anger. Bertha's cry was answered by another dull cry, or rather groan; Tremorel had seen and comprehended all; he was overwhelmed. "All is discovered!" Their eyes spoke these three words to each other.

They saw them everywhere, written in letters of fire. There was a moment of stupor, of silence so profound that Hector heard his temples beat. Sauvresy had got back under the bed-clothes again. He laughed loudly, wildly, just as a skeleton might have laughed whose jaws and teeth rattled together. But Bertha was not one of those persons who are overcome by a single blow, terrible as it might be. She trembled like a leaf; her legs staggered; but her mind was already at work seeking a subterfuge.

What had Sauvresy seen--anything? What did he know? For even had he seen the vial, this might be explained. It could only have been by simple chance that he had touched her at the moment when she was using the poison. All these thoughts flashed across her mind in a moment, as rapid as lightning shooting between the clouds. And then she dared to approach the bed, and, with a frightfully constrained smile, to say: "How you frightened me then!" He looked at her a moment, which seemed to her an age--and simply replied: "I understand it." There was no longer any uncertainty.

Bertha saw only too well in her husband's eyes that he knew something. But what--how much?

She nerved herself to go on: "Are you still suffering?" "No." "Then why did you get up?" He raised himself upon his pillow, and with a sudden strength, he continued: "I got up to tell you that I have had enough of these tortures, that I have reached the limits of human energy, that I cannot endure one day longer the agony of seeing myself put to death slowly, drop by drop, by the hands of my wife and my best friend!" He stopped. Hector and Bertha were thunderstruck. "I wanted to tell you also, that I have had enough of your cruel caution, and that I suffer. Ah, don't you see that I suffer horribly? Hurry, cut short my agony! Kill me, and kill me at a blow--poisoners!" At the last word, the Count de Tremorel sprang up as if he had moved by a spring, his eyes haggard, his arms stretched out. Sauvresy, seeing this, quickly slipped his hand under the pillow, pulled out a revolver, and pointed the barrel at Hector, crying out: "Don't advance a step!" He thought that Tremorel, seeing that they were discovered, was going to rush upon him and strangle him; but he was mistaken. It seemed to Hector as though he were losing his mind. He fell down as heavily as if he were a log. Bertha was more self-possessed; she tried to resist the torpor of terror which she felt coming on.

"You are worse, my Clement," said she. "This is that dreadful fever which frightens me so. Delirium--" "Have I really been delirious?" interrupted he, with a surprised air. "Alas, yes, dear, that is what haunts you, and fills your poor sick head with horrid visions." He looked at her curiously.

He was really stupefied by this boldness, which constantly grew more bold. "What!

you think that we, who are so dear to you, your friends, I, your--" Her husband's implacable look forced her to stop, and the words expired on her lips. "Enough of these lies, Bertha," resumed Sauvresy, "they are useless. No, I have not been dreaming, nor have I been delirious. The poison is only too real, and I could tell you what it is without your taking it out of your pocket." She recoiled as if she had seen her husband's hand stretched out to snatch the blue vial. "I guessed it and recognized it at the very first; for you have chosen one of those poisons which, it is true, leave scarcely any trace of themselves, but the symptoms of which are not deceptive. Do you remember the day when I complained of a morbid taste for pepper?

The next day I was certain of it, and I was not the only one. Doctor R---, too, had a suspicion." Bertha tried to stammer something; her husband interrupted her. "People ought to try their poisons," pursued he, in an ironical tone, "before they use them. Didn't you understand yours, or what its effects were? Why, your poison gives intolerable neuralgia, sleeplessness, and you saw me without surprise, sleeping soundly all night long! I complained of a devouring fire within me, while your poison freezes the blood and the entrails, and yet you are not astonished. You see all the symptoms change and disappear, and that does not enlighten you.

You are fools, then. Now see what I had to do to divert Doctor R--- 's suspicions. I hid the real pains which your poison caused, and complained of imaginary, ridiculous ones. I described sensations just the opposite of those which I felt. You were lost, then--and I saved you." Bertha's malignant energy staggered beneath so many successive blows. She wondered whether she were not going mad; had she heard aright? Was it really true that her husband had perceived that he was being poisoned, and yet said nothing; nay, that he had even deceived the doctor? What was his purpose?

Sauvresy paused several minutes, and then went on: "I have held my tongue and so saved you, because the sacrifice of my life had already been made. Yes, I had been fatally wounded in the heart on the day that I learned that you were faithless to me." He spoke of his death without apparent emotion; but at the words, "You were faithless to me," his voice faltered and trembled. "I would not, could not believe it at first. I doubted the evidence of my senses, rather than doubt you. But I was forced to believe at last. I was no longer anything in my house but a laughing-stock. But I was in your way. You and your lover needed more room and liberty. You were tired of constraint and hypocrisy.

Then it was that, believing that my death would make you free and rich, you brought in poison to rid yourselves of me." Bertha had at least the heroism of crime. All was discovered; well, she threw down the mask. She tried to defend her accomplice, who lay unconscious in a chair. "It is I that have done it all," cried she. "He is innocent." Sauvresy turned pale with rage.

"Ah, really," said he, "my friend Hector is innocent! It wasn't he, then, who, to pay me up--not for his life, for he was too cowardly to kill himself; but for his honor, which he owes to me--took my wife from me? I hold out my hand to him when he is drowning, I welcome him like a brother, and in return, he desolates my hearth!... And you knew what you were doing, my friend Hector--for I told you a hundred times that my wife was my all here below, my present and my future, my dream and happiness and hope and very life! You knew that for me to lose her was to die. But if you had loved her--no, it was not that you loved her; you hated me. Envy devoured you, and you could not tell me to my face, 'You are too happy.' Then, like a coward, you dishonored me in the dark. Bertha was only the instrument of your rancor; and she weighs upon you to-day--you despise and fear her.

My friend, Hector, you have been in this house the vile lackey who thinks to avenge his baseness by spitting upon the meats which he puts on his master's table!" The count only responded by a shudder. The dying man's terrible words fell more cruelly on his conscience than blows upon his cheek. "See, Bertha," continued Sauvresy, "that's the man whom you have preferred to me, and for whom you have betrayed me. You never loved me--I see it now--your heart was never Mine. And I--I loved you so! From the day I first saw you, you were my only thought; as if your heart had beaten in place of Mine. Everything about you was dear and precious to me; I adored your whims, caprices, even your faults. There was nothing I would not do for a smile from you, so that you would say to me, Thank you, between two kisses. You don't know that for years after our marriage it was my delight to wake up first so as to gaze upon you as you lay asleep, to admire and touch your lovely hair, lying dishevelled across the pillow. Bertha!" He softened at the remembrance of these past joys, which would not come again.

He forgot their presence, the infamous treachery, the poison; that he was about to die, murdered by this beloved wife; and his eyes filled with tears, his voice choked. Bertha, more motionless and pallid than marble, listened to him breathlessly. "It is true, then," continued the sick man, "that these lovely eyes conceal a soul of filth! Ah, who would not have been deceived, as I was? Bertha, what did you dream of when you were sleeping in my arms? Tremorel came, and you thought you saw in him the ideal of your dreams. You admired the precocious wrinkles which betrayed an exhausted life, like the fatal seal which marks the fallen archangel's forehead. Your love, without thought of mine, rushed toward him, though he did not think of you. You went to evil as if it were your nature.

And yet I thought you more immaculate than the Alpine snows. You did not even have a struggle with yourself; you betrayed no confusion which would reveal your first fault to me. You brought me your forehead soiled with his kisses without blushing." Weariness overcame his energies; his voice became little by little feebler and less distinct. "You had your happiness in your hands, Bertha, and you carelessly destroyed it, as the child breaks the toy of whose value he is ignorant. What did you expect from this wretch for whom you had the frightful courage to kill me, with a kiss upon your lips, slowly, hour by hour? You thought you loved him, but disgust ought to have come at last. Look at him, and judge between us. See which is the--man--I, extended on this bed where I shall soon die, or he shivering there in a corner. You have the energy of crime, but he has only the baseness of it.

Ah, if my name was Hector de Tremorel, and a man had spoken as I have just done, that man should live no longer, even if he had ten revolvers like this I am holding to defend himself with!" Hector, thus taunted, tried to get up and reply; but his legs would not support him, and his throat only gave hoarse, unintelligible sounds. Bertha, as she looked at the two men, recognized her error with rage and indignation.

Her husband, at this moment, seemed to her sublime; his eyes gleamed, his face was radiant; while the other--the other! She felt sick with disgust when she but glanced toward him. Thus all these deceptive chimeras after which she had run, love, passion, poetry, were already hers; she had held them in her hands and she had not been able to perceive it.

But what was Sauvresy's purpose? He continued, painfully: "This then, is our situation; you have killed me, you are going to be free, yet you hate and despise each other--" He stopped, and seemed to be suffocating; he tried to raise himself on his pillow and to sit up in bed, but found himself too feeble. "Bertha," said he, "help me get up." She leaned over the bed, and taking her husband in her arms, succeeded in placing him as he wished. He appeared more at ease in his new position, and took two or three long breaths. "Now," he said, "I should like something to drink. The doctor lets me take a little old wine, if I have a fancy for it; give me some." She hastened to bring him a glass of wine, which he emptied and handed back to her.

"There wasn't any poison in it, was there?" he asked. This ghastly question and the smile which accompanied it, melted Bertha's callousness; remorse had already taken possession of her, as her disgust of Tremorel increased. "Poison?" she cried, eagerly, "never!" "You must give me some, though, presently, so as to help me to die." "You die, Clement? No; I want you to live, so that I may redeem the past. I am a wretch, and have committed a hideous crime--but you are good.

You will live; I don't ask to be your wife, but only your servant. I will love you, humiliate myself, serve you on my knees, so that some day, after ten, twenty years of expiation, you will forgive me!" Hector in his mortal terror and anguish, was scarcely able to distinguish what was taking place. But he saw a dim ray of hope in Bertha's gestures and accent, and especially in her last words; he thought that perhaps it was all going to end and be forgotten, and that Sauvresy would pardon them. Half-rising, he stammered: "Yes, forgive us, forgive us!" Sauvresy's eyes glittered, and his angry voice vibrated as if it came from a throat of metal. "Forgive!" cried he, "pardon! Did you have pity on me during all this year that you have been playing with my happiness, during this fortnight that you have been mixing poison in all my potions? Pardon? What, are you fools?

Why do you think I held my tongue, when I discovered your infamy, and let myself be poisoned, and threw the doctors off the scent? Do you really hope that I did this to prepare a scene of heartrending farewells, and to give you my benediction at the end? Ah, know me better!" Bertha was sobbing; she tried to take her husband's hand, but he rudely repulsed her. "Enough of these falsehoods," said he. I hate you! You don't seem to perceive that hate is all that is still living in me." Sauvresy's expression was at this moment ferocious. "It is almost two months since I learned the truth; it broke me up, soul and body. Ah, it cost me a good deal to keep quiet--it almost killed me. But one thought sustained me; I longed to avenge myself. My mind was always bent on that; I searched for a punishment as great as this crime; I found none, could find none.

Mark this--that the very day when I guessed about the poison I had a thrill of joy, for I had discovered my vengeance!" A constantly increasing terror possessed Bertha, and now stupefied her, as well as Tremorel. "Why do you wish for my death? To be free and marry each other? Very well; I wish that also. The Count de Tremorel will be Madame Sauvresy's second husband." "Never!" cried Bertha. "It shall be so; nevertheless because I wish it. Oh, my precautions have been well taken, and you can't escape me. Now hear me. When I became certain that I was being poisoned, I began to write a minute history of all three of us; I did more--I have kept a journal day by day and hour by hour, narrating all the particulars of my illness; then I kept some of the poison which you gave me--" Bertha made a gesture of denial.

Sauvresy proceeded: "Certainly, I kept it, and I will tell you how. Every time that Bertha gave me a suspicious potion, I kept a portion of it in my mouth, and carefully ejected it into a bottle which I kept hid under the bolster. Ah, you ask how I could have done all this without your suspecting it, or without being seen by any of the servants. Know that hate is stronger than love, be sure that I have left nothing to chance, nor have I forgotten anything." Hector and Bertha looked at Sauvresy with a dull, fixed gaze. They forced themselves to understand him, but could scarcely do so. "Let's finish," resumed the dying man, "my strength is waning. This very morning, the bottle containing the poison I have preserved, our biographies, and the narrative of my poisoning, have been put in the hands of a trustworthy and devoted person, whom, even if you knew him, you could not corrupt.

He does not know the contents of what has been confided to him. The day that you get married this friend will give them all up to you. If, however, you are not married in a year from to-day, he has instructions to put these papers and this bottle into the hands of the officers of the law." A double cry of horror and anguish told Sauvresy that he had well chosen his vengeance. "And reflect," added he, "that this package once delivered up to justice, means the galleys, if not the scaffold for both of you." Sauvresy had overtasked his strength. He fell panting upon the bed, his mouth open, his eyes filmy, and his features so distorted that he seemed to be on the point of death. But neither Bertha nor Tremorel thought of trying to relieve him. They remained opposite each other with dilated eyes, stupefied, as if their thoughts were bent upon the torments of that future which the implacable vengeance of the man whom they had outraged imposed upon them. They were indissolubly united, confounded in a common destiny; nothing could separate them but death. A chain stronger and harder than that of the galley-slave bound them together; a chain of infamies and crimes, of which the first link was a kiss, and the last a murder by poison. Now Sauvresy might die; his vengeance was on their heads, casting a cloud upon their sun.

Free in appearance, they would go through life crushed by the burden of the past, more slaves than the blacks in the American rice-fields. Separated by mutual hate and contempt, they saw themselves riveted together by the common terror of punishment, condemned to an eternal embrace. Bertha at this moment admired her husband. Now that he was so feeble that he breathed as painfully as an infant, she looked upon him as something superhuman. She had had no idea of such constancy and courage allied with so much dissimulation and genius. How cunningly he had found them out! How well he had known how to avenge himself! To be the master, he had only to will it. In a certain way she rejoiced in the strange atrocity of this scene; she felt something like a bitter pride in being one of the actors in it. At the same time she was transported with rage and sorrow in thinking that she had had this man in her power, that he had been at her feet.

She almost loved him. Of all men, it was he whom she would have chosen were she mistress of her destinies; and he was going to escape her. Tremorel, while these strange ideas crowded upon Bertha's mind, began to come to himself. The certainty that Laurence was now forever lost for him occurred to him, and his despair was without bounds. The silence continued a full quarter of an hour. Sauvresy at last subdued the spasm which had exhausted him, and spoke. "I have not said all yet," he commenced. His voice was as feeble as a murmur, and yet it seemed terrible to his hearers. "You shall see whether I have reckoned and foreseen well.

Perhaps, when I was dead, the idea of flying and going abroad would strike you. I shall not permit that. You must stay at Orcival--at Valfeuillu. A--friend--not he with the package--is charged, without knowing the reason for it, with the task of watching you. Mark well what I say--if either of you should disappear for eight days, on the ninth, the man who has the package would receive a letter which would cause him to resort at once to the police." Yes, he had foreseen all, and Tremorel, who had already thought of flight, was overwhelmed. "I have so arranged, besides, that the idea of flight shall not tempt you too much.

It is true I have left all my fortune to Bertha, but I only give her the use of it; the property itself will not be hers until the day after your marriage." Bertha made a gesture of repugnance which her husband misinterpreted. "You are thinking of the copy of my will which is in your possession. It is a useless one, and I only added to it some valueless words because I wanted to put your suspicions to sleep.

My true will is in the notary's hands, and bears a date two days later.

I can read you the rough draft of it." He took a sheet of paper from a portfolio which was concealed; like the revolver, under the bolster, and read: "Being stricken with a fatal malady, I here set down freely, and in the fulness of my faculties, my last wishes: "My dearest wish is that my well-beloved widow, Bertha, should espouse, as soon as the delay enjoined by law has expired, my dear friend, the Count Hector de Tremorel. Having appreciated the grandeur of soul and nobleness of sentiment which belong to my wife and friend, I know that they are worthy of each other, and that each will be happy in the other. I die the more peacefully, as I leave my Bertha to a protector whose--" It was impossible for Bertha to hear more. "For pity's sake," cried she, "enough." "Enough? Well, let it be so," responded Sauvresy. "I have read this paper to you to show you that while I have arranged everything to insure the execution of my will; I have also done all that can preserve to you the world's respect. Yes, I wish that you should be esteemed and honored, for it is you alone upon whom I rely for my vengeance. I have knit around you a net-work which you can never burst asunder. You triumph; my tombstone shall be, as you hoped, the altar of your nuptials, or else--the galleys." Tremorel's pride at last revolted against so many humiliations, so many whip-strokes lashing his face. "You have only forgotten one thing, Sauvresy; that a man can die." "Pardon me," replied the sick man, coldly.

"I have foreseen that also, and was just going to tell you so. Should one of you die suddenly before the marriage, the police will be called in." "You misunderstood me; I meant that a man can kill himself." "You kill yourself? Jenny, who disdains you almost as much as I do, has told me about your threats to kill yourself. See here; here is my revolver; shoot yourself, and I will forgive my wife!" Hector made a gesture of anger, but did not take the pistol.

"You see," said Sauvresy, "I knew it well. You are afraid." Turning to Bertha, he added, "This is your lover." Extraordinary situations like this are so unwonted and strange that the actors in them almost always remain composed and natural, as if stupefied. Bertha, Hector, and Sauvresy accepted, without taking note of it, the strange position in which they found themselves; and they talked naturally, as if of matters of every-day life, and not of terrible events. But the hours flew, and Sauvresy perceived his life to be ebbing from him. "There only remains one more act to play," said he. "Hector, go and call the servants, have those who have gone to bed aroused, I want to see them before dying." Tremorel hesitated. "Come, go along; or shall I ring, or fire a pistol to bring them here?" Hector went out; Bertha remained alone with her husband--alone! She had a hope that perhaps she might succeed in making him change his purpose, and that she might obtain his forgiveness. Never had she been so beautiful, so seductive, so irresistible. The keen emotions of the evening had brought her whole soul into her face, and her lovely eyes supplicated, her breast heaved, her mouth was held out as if for a kiss, and her new-born passion for Sauvresy burst out into delirium.

"Clement," she stammered, in a voice full of tenderness, "my husband, Clement!" He directed toward her a glance of hatred.

"What do you wish?" She did not know how to begin--she hesitated, trembled and sobbed. "Hector would not kill himself," said she, "but I--" "Well, what do you wish to say? Speak!" "It was I, a wretch, who have killed you. I will not survive you." An inexpressible anguish distorted Sauvresy's features. If so, his vengeance was vain; his own death would then appear only ridiculous and absurd.

And he knew that Bertha would not be wanting in courage at the critical moment. She waited, while he reflected. "You are free," said he, at last, "this would merely be a sacrifice to Hector. If you died, he would marry Laurence Courtois, and in a year would forget even our name." Bertha sprang to her feet; she pictured Hector to herself married and happy. A triumphant smile, like a sun's ray, brightened Sauvresy's pale face. He had touched the right chord.

He might sleep in peace as to his vengeance. Bertha would live. He knew how hateful to each other were these enemies whom he left linked together. The servants came in one by one; nearly all of them had been long in Sauvresy's service, and they loved him as a good master. They wept and groaned to see him lying there so pale and haggard, with the stamp of death already on his forehead. Sauvresy spoke to them in a feeble voice, which was occasionally interrupted by distressing hiccoughs. He thanked them, he said, for their attachment and fidelity, and wished to apprise them that he had left each of them a goodly sum in his will.

Then turning to Bertha and Hector, he resumed: "You have witnessed, my people, the care and solicitude with which my bedside has been surrounded by this incomparable friend and my adored Bertha. You have seen their devotion.

Alas, I know how keen their sorrow will be! But if they wish to soothe my last moments and give me a happy death, they will assent to the prayer which I earnestly make, to them, and will swear to espouse each other after I am gone. Oh, my beloved friends, this seems cruel to you now; but you know not how all human pain is dulled in me.

You are young, life has yet much happiness in store for you. I conjure you yield to a dying man's entreaties!" They approached the bed, and Sauvresy put Bertha's hand into Hector's. "Do you swear to obey me?" asked he. They shuddered to hold each other's hands, and seemed near fainting; but they answered, and were heard to murmur: "We swear it." The servants retired, grieved at this distressing scene, and Bertha muttered: "Oh, 'tis infamous, 'tis horrible!" "Infamous--yes," returned Sauvresy, "but not more so than your caresses, Bertha, or than your hand-pressures, Hector; not more horrible than your plans, than your hopes--" His voice sank into a rattle. Soon the agony commenced. Horrible convulsions distorted his limbs; twice or thrice he cried out: "I am cold; I am cold!" His body was indeed stiff, and nothing could warm it. Despair filled the house, for a death so sudden was not looked for. The domestics came and went, whispering to each other, "He is going, poor monsieur; poor madame!" Soon the convulsions ceased.

He lay extended on his back, breathing so feebly that twice they thought his breath had ceased forever. At last, a little before ten o'clock, his cheeks suddenly colored and he shuddered. He rose up in bed, his eye staring, his arm stretched out toward the window, and he cried: "There--behind the curtain--I see them--I see them!" A last convulsion stretched him again on his pillow. Clement Sauvresy was dead! XXI The old justice of the peace ceased reading his voluminous record. His hearers, the detective and the doctor remained silent under the influence of this distressing narrative. Plantat had read it impressively, throwing himself into the recital as if he had been personally an actor in the scenes described. Lecoq was the first to recover himself.

"A strange man, Sauvresy," said he. It was Sauvresy's extraordinary idea of vengeance which struck him in the story. He admired his "good playing" in a drama in which he knew he was going to yield up his life. "I don't know many people," pursued the detective, "capable of so fearful a firmness. To let himself be poisoned so slowly and gently by his wife! It makes a man shiver all over!" "He knew how to avenge himself," muttered the doctor.

"Yes," answered M. Plantat, "yes, Doctor; he knew how to avenge himself, and more terribly than he supposed, or than you can imagine." The detective rose from his seat. He had remained motionless, glued to his chair for more than three hours, and his legs were benumbed. "For my part," said he, "I can very well conceive what an infernal existence the murderers began to suffer the day after their victim's death. You have depicted them, Monsieur Plantat, with the hand of a master. I know them as well after your description as if I had studied them face to face for ten years." He spoke deliberately, and watched for the effect of what he said in M. Plantat's countenance.

"Where on earth did this old fellow get all these details?" he asked himself. "Did he write this narrative, and if not, who did?

How was it, if he had all this information, that he has said nothing?" M. Plantat appeared to be unconscious of the detective's searching look. "I know that Sauvresy's body was not cold," said he, "before his murderers began to threaten each other with death." "Unhappily for them," observed Dr. Gendron, "Sauvresy had foreseen the probability of his widow's using up the rest of the vial of poison." "Ah, he was shrewd," said M.

Lecoq, in a tone of conviction, "very shrewd." "Bertha could not pardon Hector," continued M. Plantat, "for refusing to take the revolver and blow his brains out; Sauvresy, you see, had foreseen that. Bertha thought that if her lover were dead, her husband would have forgotten all; and it is impossible to tell whether she was mistaken or not." "And nobody knew anything of this horrible struggle that was going on in the house?" "No one ever suspected anything." "It's marvellous!" "Say, Monsieur Lecoq, that is scarcely credible. Never was dissimulation so crafty, and above all, so wonderfully sustained. If you should question the first person you met in Orcival, he would tell you, as our worthy Courtois this morning told Monsieur Domini, that the count and countess were a model pair and adored each other. Why I, who knew--or suspected, I should say--what had passed, was deceived myself." Promptly as M. Plantat had corrected himself, his slip of the tongue did not escape M. "Was it really a slip, or not?" he asked himself. "These wretches have been terribly punished," pursued M. Plantat, "and it is impossible to pity them; all would have gone rightly if Sauvresy, intoxicated by his hatred, had not committed a blunder which was almost a crime." "A crime!" exclaimed the doctor.

Lecoq smiled and muttered in a low tone: "Laurence." But low as he had spoken, M.

Plantat heard him. "Yes, Monsieur Lecoq," said he severely. "Yes, Laurence. Sauvresy did a detestable thing when he thought of making this poor girl the accomplice, or I should say, the instrument of his wrath. He piteously threw her between these two wretches, without asking himself whether she would be broken. It was by using Laurence's name that he persuaded Bertha not to kill herself. Yet he knew of Tremorel's passion for her, he knew her love for him, and he knew that his friend was capable of anything. He, who had so well foreseen all that could serve his vengeance, did not deign to foresee that Laurence might be dishonored; and yet he left her disarmed before this most cowardly and infamous of men!" The detective reflected.

"There is one thing," said he, "that I can't explain. Why was it that these two, who execrated each other, and whom the implacable will of their victim chained together despite themselves, did not separate of one accord the day after their marriage, when they had fulfilled the condition which had established their crime?" The old justice of the peace shook his head. "I see," he answered, "that I have not yet made you understand Bertha's resolute character.

Hector would have been delighted with a separation; his wife could not consent to it. Ah, Sauvresy knew her well! She saw her life ruined, a horrible remorse lacerated her; she must have a victim upon whom to expiate her errors and crimes; this victim was Hector. Ravenous for her prey, she would not let him go for anything in the world." "I' faith," observed Dr. Gendron, "your Tremorel was a chicken-hearted wretch. What had he to fear when Sauvresy's manuscript was once destroyed?" "Who told you it had been destroyed?" interrupted M. Plantat. Lecoq at this stopped promenading up and down the room, and sat down opposite M.

Plantat. "The whole case lies there," said he. "Whether these proofs have or have not been destroyed." M.

Plantat did not choose to answer directly.

"Do you know," asked he, "to whom Sauvresy confided them for keeping?" "Ah," cried the detective, as if a sudden idea had enlightened him, "it was you." He added to himself, "Now, my good man, I begin to see where all your information comes from." "Yes, it was I," resumed M. Plantat. "On the day of the marriage of Madame Sauvresy and Count Hector, in conformity with the last wishes of my dying friend, I went to Valfeuillu and asked to see Monsieur and Madame de Tremorel. Although they were full of company, they received me at once in the little room on the ground-floor where Sauvresy was murdered. They were both very pale and terribly troubled. They evidently guessed the purpose of my visit, for they lost no time in admitting me to an interview.

After saluting them I addressed myself to Bertha, being enjoined to do so by the written instructions I had received; this was another instance of Sauvresy's foresight. 'Madame,' said I, 'I was charged by your late husband to hand to you, on the day of your second marriage, this package, which he confided to my care.' She took the package, in which the bottle and the manuscript were enclosed, with a smiling, even joyous air, thanked me warmly, and went out. The count's expression instantly changed; he appeared very restless and agitated; he seemed to be on coals. I saw well enough that he burned to rush after his wife, but dared not; I was going to retire; but he stopped me. 'Pardon me,' said he, abruptly, 'you will permit me, will you not? I will return immediately,' with which he ran out. When I saw him and his wife a few minutes afterward, they were both very red; their eyes had a strange expression and their voices trembled, as they accompanied me to the door.

They had certainly been having a violent altercation." "The rest may be conjectured," interrupted M. "She had gone to secrete the manuscript in some safe place; and when her new husband asked her to give it up to him, she replied, 'Look for it.'" "Sauvresy had enjoined on me to give it only into her hands." "Oh, he knew how to work his revenge. He had it given to his wife so that she might hold a terrible arm against Tremorel, all ready to crush him. If he revolted, she always had this instrument of torture at hand. Ah, the man was a miserable wretch, and she must have made him suffer terribly." "Yes," said Dr. Gendron, "up to the very day he killed her." The detective had resumed his promenade up and down the library. "The question as to the poison," said he, "remains. It is a simple one to resolve, because we've got the man who sold it to her in that closet." "Besides," returned the doctor, "I can tell something about the poison. This rascal of a Robelot stole it from my laboratory, and I know only too well what it is, even if the symptoms, so well described by our friend Plantat, had not indicated its name to me.

I was at work upon aconite when Sauvresy died; and he was poisoned with aconitine." "Ah, with aconitine," said M. "It's the first time that I ever met with that poison.

Is it a new thing?" "Not exactly. Medea is said to have extracted her deadliest poisons from aconite, and it was employed in Rome and Greece in criminal executions." "And I did not know of it! But I have very little time to study. Besides, this poison of Medea's was perhaps lost, as was that of the Borgias; so many of these things are!" "No, it was not lost, be assured. But we only know of it nowadays by Mathiole's experiments on felons sentenced to death, in the sixteenth century; by Hers, who isolated the active principle, the alkaloid, in 1833 and lastly by certain experiments made by Bouchardat, who pretends--" Unfortunately, when Dr. Gendron was set agoing on poisons, it was difficult to stop him; but M. Lecoq, on the other hand, never lost sight of the end he had in view. "Pardon me for interrupting you, Doctor," said he. "But would traces of aconitine be found in a body which had been two years buried?

For Monsieur Domini is going to order the exhumation of Sauvresy." "The tests of aconitine are not sufficiently well known to permit of the isolation of it in a body. Bouchardat tried ioduret of potassium, but his experiment was not successful." "The deuce!" said M. "That's annoying." The doctor smiled benignly. "Reassure yourself," said he. "No such process was in existence--so I invented one." "Ah," cried Plantat.

"Your sensitive paper!" "Precisely." "And could you find aconitine in Sauvresy's body?" "Undoubtedly." M. Lecoq was radiant, as if he were now certain of fulfilling what had seemed to him a very difficult task.

"Very well," said he. The history of the victims imparted to us by Monsieur Plantat gives us the key to all the events which have followed the unhappy Sauvresy's death. Thus, the hatred of this pair, who were in appearance so united, is explained; and it is also clear why Hector has ruined a charming young girl with a splendid dowry, instead of making her his wife.

There is nothing surprising in Tremorel's casting aside his name and personality to reappear under another guise; he killed his wife because he was constrained to do so by the logic of events. He could not fly while she was alive, and yet he could not continue to live at Valfeuillu. And above all, the paper for which he searched with such desperation, when every moment was an affair of life and death to him, was none other than Sauvresy's manuscript, his condemnation and the proof of his first crime." M. Lecoq talked eagerly, as if he had a personal animosity against the Count de Tremorel; such was his nature; and he always avowed laughingly that he could not help having a grudge against the criminals whom he pursued. There was an account to settle between him and them; hence the ardor of his pursuit. Perhaps it was a simple matter of instinct with him, like that which impels the hunting hound on the track of his game. "It is clear enough now," he went on, "that it was Mademoiselle Courtois who put an end to his hesitation and eternal delay. His passion for her, irritated by obstacles, goaded him to delirium.

On learning her condition, he lost his head and forgot all prudence and reason. He was wearied, too, of a punishment which began anew each morning; he saw himself lost, and his wife sacrificing herself for the malignant pleasure of sacrificing him. Terrified, he took the resolution to commit this murder." Many of the circumstances which had established M. Lecoq's conviction had escaped Dr.

"What!" cried he, stupefied. "Do you believe in Mademoiselle Laurence's complicity?" The detective earnestly protested by a gesture.

"No, Doctor, certainly not; heaven forbid that I should have such an idea. Mademoiselle Courtois was and is still ignorant of this crime. But she knew that Tremorel would abandon his wife for her. This flight had been discussed, planned, and agreed upon between them; they made an appointment to meet at a certain place, on a certain day." "But this letter," said the doctor. Plantat could scarcely conceal his emotion when Laurence was being talked about.

"This letter," cried he, "which has plunged her family into the deepest grief, and which will perhaps kill poor Courtois, is only one more scene of the infamous drama which the count has planned." "Oh," said the doctor, "is it possible?" "I am firmly of Monsieur Plantat's opinion," said the detective. "Last evening we had the same suspicion at the same moment at the mayor's. I read and re-read her letter, and could have sworn that it did not emanate from herself. The count gave her a rough draft from which she copied it. We mustn't deceive ourselves; this letter was meditated, pondered on, and composed at leisure. Those were not the expressions of an unhappy young girl of twenty who was going to kill herself to escape dishonor." "Perhaps you are right," remarked the doctor visibly moved. "But how can you imagine that Tremorel succeeded in persuading her to do this wretched act?" "How? See here, Doctor, I am not much experienced in such things, having seldom had occasion to study the characters of well-brought-up young girls; yet it seems to me very simple.

Mademoiselle Courtois saw the time coming when her disgrace would be public, and so prepared for it, and was even ready to die if necessary." M. Plantat shuddered; a conversation which he had had with Laurence occurred to him. She had asked him, he remembered, about certain poisonous plants which he was cultivating, and had been anxious to know how the poisonous juices could be extracted from them.

"Yes," said he, "she has thought of dying." "Well," resumed the detective, "the count took her in one of the moods when these sad thoughts haunted the poor girl, and was easily able to complete his work of ruin. She undoubtedly told him that she preferred death to shame, and he proved to her that, being in the condition in which she was, she had no right to kill herself. He said that he was very unhappy; and that not being free, he could not repair his fault; but he offered to sacrifice his life for her. What should she do to save both of them? Abandon her parents, make them believe that she had committed suicide, while he, on his side, would desert his house and his wife.

Doubtless she resisted for awhile; but she finally consented to everything; she fled, and copied and posted the infamous letter dictated by her lover." The doctor was convinced. "Yes," he muttered, "those are doubtless the means he employed." "But what an idiot he was," resumed M.

Lecoq, "not to perceive that the strange coincidence between his disappearance and Laurence's suicide would be remarked! He said to himself, 'Probably people will think that I, as well as my wife, have been murdered; and the law, having its victim in Guespin, will not look for any other.'" M. Plantat made a gesture of impotent rage. "Ah," cried he, "and we know not where the wretch has hid himself and Laurence." The detective took him by the arm and pressed it. "Reassure yourself," said he, coolly. "We'll find him, or my name's not Lecoq; and to be honest, I must say that our task does not seem to me a difficult one." Several timid knocks at the door interrupted the speaker. It was late, and the household was already awake and about. Petit in her anxiety and curiosity had put her ear to the key-hole at least ten times, but in vain. "What can they be up to in there?" said she to Louis.

"Here they've been shut up these twelve hours without eating or drinking. At all events I'll get breakfast." It was not Mme.

Petit, however, who dared to knock on the door; but Louis, the gardener, who came to tell his master of the ravages which had been made in his flower-pots and shrubs. At the same time he brought in certain singular articles which he had picked up on the sward, and which M. Lecoq recognized at once. "Heavens!" cried he, "I forgot myself. Here I go on quietly talking with my face exposed, as if it was not broad daylight; and people might come in at any moment!" And turning to Louis, who was very much surprised to see this dark young man whom he had certainly not admitted the night before, he added: "Give me those little toilet articles, my good fellow; they belong to me." Then, by a turn of his hand, he readjusted his physiognomy of last night, while the master of the house went out to give some orders, which M. Lecoq did so deftly, that when M.

Plantat returned, he could scarcely believe his eyes. They sat down to breakfast and ate their meal as silently as they had done the dinner of the evening before, losing no time about it.

They appreciated the value of the passing moments; M. Domini was waiting for them at Corbeil, and was doubtless getting impatient at their delay. Louis had just placed a sumptuous dish of fruit upon the table, when it occurred to M. Lecoq that Robelot was still shut up in the closet. "Probably the rascal needs something," said he.

Plantat wished to send his servant to him; but M. "He's a dangerous rogue," said he.

"I'll go myself." He went out, but almost instantly his voice was heard: "Messieurs! Messieurs, see here!" The doctor and M. Plantat hastened into the library. Across the threshold of the closet was stretched the body of the bone-setter. He had killed himself. XXII Robelot must have had rare presence of mind and courage to kill himself in that obscure closet, without making enough noise to arouse the attention of those in the library. He had wound a string tightly around his neck, and had used a piece of pencil as a twister, and so had strangled himself. He did not, however, betray the hideous look which the popular belief attributes to those who have died by strangulation. His face was pale, his eyes and mouth half open, and he had the appearance of one who has gradually and without much pain lost his consciousness by congestion of the brain.

"Perhaps he is not quite dead yet," said the doctor.

He quickly pulled out his case of instruments and knelt beside the motionless body. This incident seemed to annoy M. Lecoq very much; just as everything was, as he said, "running on wheels," his principal witness, whom he had caught at the peril of his life, had escaped him. Plantat, on the contrary, seemed tolerably well satisfied, as if the death of Robelot furthered projects which he was secretly nourishing, and fulfilled his secret hopes. Besides, it little mattered if the object was to oppose M.

Domini's theories and induce him to change his opinion. This corpse had more eloquence in it than the most explicit of confessions. The doctor, seeing the uselessness of his pains, got up. "It's all over," said he.

"The asphyxia was accomplished in a very few moments." The bone-setter's body was carefully laid on the floor in the library. "There is nothing more to be done," said M. Plantat, "but to carry him home; we will follow on so as to seal up his effects, which perhaps contain important papers. Run to the mairie," he added, turning to his servant, "and get a litter and two stout men." Dr. Gendron's presence being no longer necessary, he promised M. Plantat to rejoin him at Robelot's, and started off to inquire after M. Louis lost no time, and soon reappeared followed, not by two, but ten men. The body was placed on a litter and carried away. Robelot occupied a little house of three rooms, where he lived by himself; one of the rooms served as a shop, and was full of plants, dried herbs, grain, and other articles appertaining to his vocation as an herbist. He slept in the back room, which was better furnished than most country rooms.

His body was placed upon the bed. Among the men who had brought it was the "drummer of the town," who was at the same time the grave-digger.

This man, expert in everything pertaining to funerals, gave all the necessary instructions on the present occasion, himself taking part in the lugubrious task. Meanwhile M. Plantat examined the furniture, the keys of which had been taken from the deceased's pocket. The value of the property found in the possession of this man, who had, two years before, lived from day to day on what he could pick up, were an over-whelming proof against him in addition to the others already discovered. Plantat looked in vain for any new indications of which he was ignorant. He found deeds of the Morin property and of the Frapesle and Peyron lands; there were also two bonds, for one hundred and fifty and eight hundred and twenty francs, signed by two Orcival citizens in Robelot's favor. Plantat could scarcely conceal his disappointment. "Nothing of importance," whispered he in M.

Lecoq's ear. "How do you explain that?" "Perfectly," responded the detective. "He was a sly rogue, this Robelot, and he was cunning enough to conceal his sudden fortune and patient enough to appear to be years accumulating it.

You only find in his secretary effects which he thought he could avow without danger. How much is there in all?" Plantat rapidly added up the different sums, and said: "About fourteen thousand five hundred francs." "Madame Sauvresy gave him more than that," said the detective, positively. "If he had no more than this, he would not have been such a fool as to put it all into land. He must have a hoard of money concealed somewhere." "Of course he must. But where?" "Ah, let me look." He began to rummage about, peering into everything in the room, moving the furniture, sounding the floor with his heels, and rapping on the wall here and there. Finally he came to the fireplace, before which he stopped. "This is July," said he. "And yet there are cinders here in the fireplace." "People sometimes neglect to clean them out in the spring." "True; but are not these very clean and distinct?

I don't find any of the light dust and soot on them which ought to be there after they have lain several months." He went into the second room whither he had sent the men after they had completed their task, and said: "I wish one of you would get me a pickaxe." All the men rushed out; M. Lecoq returned to his companion. "Surely," muttered he, as if apart, "these cinders have been disturbed recently, and if they have been--" He knelt down, and pushing the cinders away, laid bare the stones of the fireplace. Then taking a thin piece of wood, he easily inserted it into the cracks between the stones. "See here, Monsieur Plantat," said he. "There is no cement between these stones, and they are movable; the treasure must be here." When the pickaxe was brought, he gave a single blow with it; the stones gaped apart, and betrayed a wide and deep hole between them. "Ah," cried he, with a triumphant air, "I knew it well enough." The hole was full of rouleaux of twenty-franc pieces; on counting them, M. Lecoq found that there were nineteen thousand five hundred francs.

The old justice's face betrayed an expression of profound grief. "That," thought he, "is the price of my poor Sauvresy's life." M. Lecoq found a small piece of paper, covered with figures, deposited with the gold; it seemed to be Robelot's accounts.

He had put on the left hand the sum of forty thousand francs; on the right hand, various sums were inscribed, the total of which was twenty-one thousand five hundred francs. It was only too clear; Mme. Sauvresy had paid Robelot forty thousand francs for the bottle of poison. There was nothing more to learn at his house. They locked the money up in the secretary, and affixed seals everywhere, leaving two men on guard. Lecoq was not quite satisfied yet.

What was the manuscript which Plantat had read? At first he had thought that it was simply a copy of the papers confided to him by Sauvresy; but it could not be that; Sauvresy couldn't have thus described the last agonizing scenes of his life. This mystery mightily worried the detective and dampened the joy he felt at having solved the crime at Valfeuillu. He made one more attempt to surprise Plantat into satisfying his curiosity. Taking him by the coat-lapel, he drew him into the embrasure of a window, and with his most innocent air, said: "I beg your pardon, are we going back to your house?" "Why should we? You know the doctor is going to meet us here." "I think we may need the papers you read to us, to convince Monsieur Domini." M. Plantat smiled sadly, and looking steadily at him, replied: "You are very sly, Monsieur Lecoq; but I too am sly enough to keep the last key of the mystery of which you hold all the others." "Believe me--" stammered M. "I believe," interrupted his companion, "that you would like very well to know the source of my information. Your memory is too good for you to forget that when I began last evening I told you that this narrative was for your ear alone, and that I had only one object in disclosing it--to aid our search.

Why should you wish the judge of instruction to see these notes, which are purely personal, and have no legal or authentic character?" He reflected a few moments, and added: "I have too much confidence in you, Monsieur Lecoq, and esteem you too much, not to have every trust that you will not divulge these strict confidences. What you will say will be of as much weight as anything I might divulge--especially now that you have Robelot's body to back your assertions, as well as the money found in his possession. If Monsieur Domini still hesitates to believe you, you know that the doctor promises to find the poison which killed Sauvresy." M. Plantat stopped and hesitated. "In short," he resumed, "I think you will be able to keep silence as to what you have heard from me." M. Lecoq took him by the hand, and pressing it significantly, said: "Count on me, Monsieur." At this moment Dr. Gendron appeared at the door. "Courtois is better," said he. "He weeps like a child; but he will come out of it." "Heaven be praised!" cried the old justice of the peace.

"Now, since you've come, let us hurry off to Corbeil; Monsieur Domini, who is waiting for us this morning, must be mad with impatience." XXIII M. Plantat, in speaking of M. Domini's impatience, did not exaggerate the truth. That personage was furious; he could not comprehend the reason of the prolonged absence of his three fellow-workers of the previous evening. He had installed himself early in the morning in his cabinet, at the court-house, enveloped in his judicial robe; and he counted the minutes as they passed. His reflections during the night, far from shaking, had only confirmed his opinion. As he receded from the period of the crime, he found it very simple and natural--indeed, the easiest thing in the world to account for. He was annoyed that the rest did not share his convictions, and he awaited their report in a state of irritation which his clerk only too well perceived. He had eaten his breakfast in his cabinet, so as to be sure and be beforehand with M. It was a useless precaution; for the hours passed on and no one arrived.

To kill time, he sent for Guespin and Bertaud and questioned them anew, but learned nothing more than he had extracted from them the night before. One of the prisoners swore by all things sacred that he knew nothing except what he had already told; the other preserved an obstinate and ferocious silence, confining himself to the remark: "I know that I am lost; do with me what you please." M. Domini was just going to send a mounted gendarme to Orcival to find out the cause of the delay, when those whom he awaited were announced. He quickly gave the order to admit them, and so keen was his curiosity, despite what he called his dignity, that he got up and went forward to meet them. "How late you are!" said he. "And yet we haven't lost a minute," replied M.

Plantat. "We haven't even been in bed." "There is news, then? Has the count's body been found?" "There is much news, Monsieur," said M. "But the count's body has not been found, and I dare even say that it will not be found--for the very simple fact that he has not been killed. The reason is that he was not one of the victims, as at first supposed, but the assassin." At this distinct declaration on M. Lecoq's part, the judge started in his seat. Lecoq never smiled in a magistrate's presence.

"I do not think so," said he, coolly; "I am persuaded that if Monsieur Domini will grant me his attention for half an hour I will have the honor of persuading him to share my opinion." M. Domini's slight shrug of the shoulders did not escape the detective, but he calmly continued: "More; I am sure that Monsieur Domini will not permit me to leave his cabinet without a warrant to arrest Count Hector de Tremorel, whom at present he thinks to be dead." "Possibly," said M. Lecoq then rapidly detailed the facts gathered by himself and M. Plantat from the beginning of the inquest. He narrated them not as if he had guessed or been told of them, but in their order of time and in such a manner that each new incident which, he mentioned followed naturally from the preceding one.

He had completely resumed his character of a retired haberdasher, with a little piping voice, and such obsequious expressions as, "I have the honor," and "If Monsieur the Judge will deign to permit me;" he resorted to the candy-box with the portrait, and, as the night before at Valfeuillu, chewed a lozenge when he came to the more striking points. Domini's surprise increased every minute as he proceeded; while at times, exclamations of astonishment passed his lips: "Is it possible?" "That is hard to believe!" M.

Lecoq finished his recital; he tranquilly munched a lozenge, and added: "What does Monsieur the Judge of Instruction think now?" M. Domini was fain to confess that he was almost satisfied. A man, however, never permits an opinion deliberately and carefully formed to be refuted by one whom he looks on as an inferior, without a secret chagrin. But in this case the evidence was too abundant, and too positive to be resisted. "I am convinced," said he, "that a crime was committed on Monsieur Sauvresy with the dearly paid assistance of this Robelot. To-morrow I shall give instructions to Doctor Gendron to proceed at once to an exhumation and autopsy of the late master of Valfeuillu." "And you may be sure that I shall find the poison," chimed in the doctor. "But does it necessarily follow that because Monsieur Tremorel poisoned his friend to marry his widow, he yesterday killed his wife and then fled? I don't think so." "Pardon me," objected Lecoq, gently. "It seems to me that Mademoiselle Courtois's supposed suicide proves at least something." "That needs clearing up. This coincidence can only be a matter of pure chance." "But I am sure that Monsieur Tremorel shaved himself--of that we have proof; then, we did not find the boots which, according to the valet, he put on the morning of the murder." "Softly, softly," interrupted the judge.

"I don't pretend that you are absolutely wrong; it must be as you say; only I give you my objections. Let us admit that Tremorel killed his wife, that he fled and is alive. Does that clear Guespin, and show that he took no part in the murder?" This was evidently the flaw in Lecoq's case; but being convinced of Hector's guilt, he had given little heed to the poor gardener, thinking that his innocence would appear of itself when the real criminal was arrested. He was about to reply, when footsteps and voices were heard in the corridor. "Stop," said M.

"Doubtless we shall now hear something important about Guespin." "Are you expecting some new witness?" asked M. Plantat. "No; I expect one of the Corbeil police to whom I have given an important mission." "Regarding Guespin?" "Yes. Very early this morning a young working-woman of the town, whom Guespin has been courting, brought me an excellent photograph of him. I gave this portrait to the agent with instructions to go to the Vulcan's Forges and ascertain if Guespin had been seen there, and whether he bought anything there night before last." M. Lecoq was inclined to be jealous; the judge's proceeding ruffled him, and he could not conceal an expressive grimace. "I am truly grieved," said he, dryly, "that Monsieur the Judge has so little confidence in me that he thinks it necessary to give me assistance." This sensitiveness aroused M. my dear man, you can't be everywhere at once. I think you very shrewd, but you were not here, and I was in a hurry." "A false step is often irreparable." "Make yourself easy; I've sent an intelligent man." At this moment the door opened, and the policeman referred to by the judge appeared on the threshold. He was a muscular man about forty years old, with a military pose, a heavy mustache, and thick brows, meeting over the nose.

He had a sly rather than a shrewd expression, so that his appearance alone seemed to awake all sorts of suspicions and put one instinctively on his guard. "Good news!" said he in a big voice: "I didn't make the journey to Paris for the King of Prussia; we are right on the track of this rogue of a Guespin." M. Domini encouraged him with an approving gesture. "See here, Goulard," said he, "let us go on in order if we can. You went then, according to my instructions, to the Vulcan's Forges?" "At once, Monsieur." "Precisely. Had they seen the prisoner there?" "Yes; on the evening of Wednesday, July 8th." "At what hour?" "About ten o'clock, a few minutes before they shut up; so that he was remarked, and the more distinctly observed." The judge moved his lips as if to make an objection, but was stopped by a gesture from M. "And who recognized the photograph?" "Three of the clerks.

Guespin's manner first attracted their attention. It was strange, so they said, and they thought he was drunk, or at least tipsy. Then their recollection was fixed by his talking very fast, saying that he was going to patronize them a great deal, and that if they would make a reduction in their prices he would procure for them the custom of an establishment whose confidence he possessed, the Gentil Jardinier, which bought a great many gardening tools." M. Domini interrupted the examination to consult some papers which lay before him on his desk. It was, he found, the Gentil Jardinier which had procured Guespin his place in Tremorel's household.

The judge remarked this aloud, and added: "The question of identity seems to be settled. Guespin was undoubtedly at the Vulcan's Forges on Wednesday night." "So much the better for him," M. The judge heard him, but though the remark seemed singular to him he did not notice it, and went on questioning the agent. "Well, did they tell you what Guespin went there to obtain?" "The clerks recollected it perfectly.

He first bought a hammer, a cold chisel, and a file." "I knew it," exclaimed the judge.

"And then?" "Then--" Here the man, ambitious to make a sensation among his hearers, rolled his eyes tragically, and in a dramatic tone, added: "Then he bought a dirk knife!" The judge felt that he was triumphing over M. "Well," said he to the detective in his most ironical tone, "what do you think of your friend now? What do you say to this honest and worthy young man, who, on the very night of the crime, leaves a wedding where he would have had a good time, to go and buy a hammer, a chisel, and a dirk--everything, in short, used in the murder and the mutilation of the body?" Dr. Gendron seemed a little disconcerted at this, but a sly smile overspread M.

Plantat's face. As for M. Lecoq, he had the air of one who is shocked by objections which he knows he ought to annihilate by a word, and yet who is fain to be resigned to waste time in useless talk, which he might put to great profit. "I think, Monsieur," said he, very humbly, "that the murderers at Valfeuillu did not use either a hammer or a chisel, or a file, and that they brought no instrument at all from outside--since they used a hammer." "And didn't they have a dirk besides?" asked the judge in a bantering tone, confident that he was on the right path.

"That is another question, I confess; but it is a difficult one to answer." He began to lose patience. He turned toward the Corbeil policeman, and abruptly asked him: "Is this all you know?" The big man with the thick eyebrows superciliously eyed this little Parisian who dared to question him thus. He hesitated so long that M. Lecoq, more rudely than before, repeated his question.

"Yes, that's all," said Goulard at last, "and I think it's sufficient; the judge thinks so too; and he is the only person who gives me orders, and whose approbation I wish for." M. Lecoq shrugged his shoulders, and proceeded: "Let's see; did you ask what was the shape of the dirk bought by Guespin? Was it long or short, wide or narrow?" "Faith, no. What was the use?" "Simply, my brave fellow, to compare this weapon with the victim's wounds, and to see whether its handle corresponds to that which left a distinct and visible imprint between the victim's shoulders." "I forgot it; but it is easily remedied." "An oversight may, of course, be pardoned; but you can at least tell us in what sort of money Guespin paid for his purchases?" The poor man seemed so embarrassed, humiliated, and vexed, that the judge hastened to his assistance. "The money is of little consequence, it seems to me," said he. "I beg you to excuse me I don't agree with you," returned M. "This matter may be a very grave one. What is the most serious evidence against Guespin?

Let us suppose for a moment that night before last, at ten o'clock, he changed a one-thousand-franc note in Paris.

Could the obtaining of that note have been the motive of the crime at Valfeuillu? No, for up to that hour the crime had not been committed. Where could it have come from? That is no concern of mine, at present. But if my theory is correct, justice will be forced to agree that the several hundred francs found in Guespin's possession can and must be the change for the note." "That is only a theory," urged M. Domini in an irritated tone.

"That is true; but one which may turn out a certainty. It remains for me to ask this man how Guespin carried away the articles which he bought? Did he simply slip them into his pocket, or did he have them done up in a bundle, and if so, how?" The detective spoke in a sharp, hard, freezing tone, with a bitter raillery in it, frightening his Corbeil colleague out of his assurance. "I don't know," stammered the latter. Lecoq raised his hands as if to call the heavens to witness: in his heart, he was charmed with this fine occasion to revenge himself for M. Domini's disdain.

He could not, dared not say anything to the judge; but he had the right to banter the agent and visit his wrath upon him. "Ah so, my lad," said he, "what did you go to Paris for? To show Guespin's picture and detail the crime to the people at Vulcan's Forges?

They ought to be very grateful to you; but Madame Petit, Monsieur Plantat's housekeeper, would have done as much." At this stroke the man began to get angry; he frowned, and in his bluffest tone, began: "Look here now, you--" "Ta, ta, ta," interrupted M. "Let me alone, and know who is talking to you. I am Monsieur Lecoq." The effect of the famous detective's name on his antagonist was magical. He naturally laid down his arms and surrendered, straightway becoming respectful and obsequious. It almost flattered him to be roughly handled by such a celebrity. He muttered, in an abashed and admiring tone: "What, is it possible? You, Monsieur Lecoq!" "Yes, it is I, young man; but console yourself; I bear no grudge against you.

You don't know your trade, but you have done me a service and you have brought us a convincing proof of Guespin's innocence." M.

Domini looked on at this scene with secret chagrin. His recruit went over to the enemy, yielding without a struggle to a confessed superiority.

Lecoq's presumption, in speaking of a prisoner's innocence whose guilt seemed to the judge indisputable, exasperated him. "And what is this tremendous proof, if you please?" asked he. "It is simple and striking," answered M.

Lecoq, putting on his most frivolous air as his conclusions narrowed the field of probabilities. "You doubtless recollect that when we were at Valfeuillu we found the hands of the clock in the bedroom stopped at twenty minutes past three. Distrusting foul play, I put the striking apparatus in motion--do you recall it? What happened? That convinced us that the crime was committed before that hour. But don't you see that if Guespin was at the Vulcan's Forges at ten he could not have got back to Valfeuillu before midnight?

Therefore it was not--he who did the deed." The detective, as he came to this conclusion, pulled out the inevitable box and helped himself to a lozenge, at the same time bestowing upon the judge a smile which said: "Get out of that, if you can." The judge's whole theory tumbled to pieces if M. Lecoq's deductions were right; but he could not admit that he had been so much deceived; he could not renounce an opinion formed by deliberate reflection. "I don't pretend that Guespin is the only criminal," said he. "He could only have been an accomplice; and that he was." "An accomplice? No, Judge, he was a victim. Ah, Tremorel is a great rascal! Don't you see now why he put forward the hands?

At first I didn't perceive the object of advancing the time five hours; now it is clear.

In order to implicate Guespin the crime must appear to have been committed after midnight, and--" He suddenly checked himself and stopped with open mouth and fixed eyes as a new idea crossed his mind. The judge, who was bending over his papers trying to find something to sustain his position, did not perceive this. "But then," said the latter, "how do you explain Guespin's refusal to speak and to give an account of where he spent the night?" M. Lecoq had now recovered from his emotion, and Dr. Gendron and M. Plantat, who were watching him with the deepest attention, saw a triumphant light in his eyes. Doubtless he had just found a solution of the problem which had been put to him. "I understand," replied he, "and can explain Guespin's obstinate silence. I should be perfectly amazed if he decided to speak just now." M. Domini misconstrued the meaning of this; he thought he saw in it a covert intention to banter him.

"He has had a night to reflect upon it," he answered.

"Is not twelve hours enough to mature a system of defence?" The detective shook his head doubtfully. "It is certain that he does not need it," said he. "Our prisoner doesn't trouble himself about a system of defence, that I'll swear to." "He keeps quiet, because he hasn't been able to get up a plausible story." "No, no; believe me, he isn't trying to get up one.

In my opinion, Guespin is a victim; that is, I suspect Tremorel of having set an infamous trap for him, into which he has fallen, and in which he sees himself so completely caught that he thinks it useless to struggle. The poor wretch is convinced that the more he resists the more surely he will tighten the web that is woven around him." "I think so, too," said M. Plantat. "The true criminal, Count Hector," resumed the detective, "lost his presence of mind at the last moment, and thus lost all the advantages which his previous caution had gained. Don't let us forget that he is an able man, perfidious enough to mature the most infamous stratagems, and unscrupulous enough to execute them. He knows that justice must have its victims, one for every crime; he does not forget that the police, as long as it has not the criminal, is always on the search with eye and ear open; and he has thrown us Guespin as a huntsman, closely pressed, throws his glove to the bear that is close upon him.

Perhaps he thought that the innocent man would not be in danger of his life; at all events he hoped to gain time by this ruse; while the bear is smelling and turning over the glove, the huntsman gains ground, escapes and reaches his place of refuge; that was what Tremorel proposed to do." The Corbeil policeman was now undoubtedly Lecoq's most enthusiastic listener. Goulard literally drank in his chief's words. He had never heard any of his colleagues express themselves with such fervor and authority; he had had no idea of such eloquence, and he stood erect, as if some of the admiration which he saw in all the faces were reflected back on him. He grew in his own esteem as he thought that he was a soldier in an army commanded by such generals.

He had no longer any opinion excepting that of his superior. It was not so easy to persuade, subjugate, and convince the judge.

"But," objected the latter, "you saw Guespin's countenance?" "Ah, what matters the countenance--what does that prove? Don't we know if you and I were arrested to-morrow on a terrible charge, what our bearing would be?" M. Domini gave a significant start; this hypothesis scarcely pleased him. "And yet you and I are familiar with the machinery of justice. When I arrested Lanscot, the poor servant in the Rue Marignan, his first words were: 'Come on, my account is good.' The morning that Papa Tabaret and I took the Viscount de Commarin as he was getting out of bed, on the accusation of having murdered the widow Lerouge, he cried: 'I am lost.' Yet neither of them were guilty; but both of them, the viscount and the valet, equal before the terror of a possible mistake of justice, and running over in their thoughts the charges which would be brought against them, had a moment of overwhelming discouragement." "But such discouragement does not last two days," said M. Lecoq did not answer this; he went on, growing more animated as he proceeded. "You and I have seen enough prisoners to know how deceitful appearances are, and how little they are to be trusted. It would be foolish to base a theory upon a prisoner's bearing.

He who talked about 'the cry of innocence' was an idiot, just as the man was who prated about the 'pale stupor' of guilt. Neither crime nor virtue have, unhappily, any especial countenance. The Simon girl, who was accused of having killed her father, absolutely refused to answer any questions for twenty-two days; on the twenty-third, the murderer was caught. As to the Sylvain affair--" M. Domini rapped lightly on his desk to check the detective. As a man, the judge held too obstinately to his opinions; as a magistrate he was equally obstinate, but was at the same time ready to make any sacrifice of his self-esteem if the voice of duty prompted it. Lecoq's arguments had not shaken his convictions, but they imposed on him the duty of informing himself at once, and to either conquer the detective or avow himself conquered. "You seem to be pleading," said he to M. "There is no need of that here. We are not counsel and judge; the same honorable intentions animate us both.

Each, in his sphere, is searching after the truth. You think you see it shining where I only discern clouds; and you may be mistaken as well as I." Then by an act of heroism, he condescended to add: "What do you think I ought to do?" The judge was at least rewarded for the effort he made by approving glances from M. Plantat and the doctor. Lecoq did not hasten to respond; he had many weighty reasons to advance; that, he saw, was not what was necessary. He ought to present the facts, there and at once, and produce one of those proofs which can be touched with the finger. His active mind searched eagerly for such a proof. "Ah," cried the detective. "Why can't I ask Guespin two or three questions?" The judge frowned; the suggestion seemed to him rather presumptuous. It is formally laid down that the questioning of the accused should be done in secret, and by the judge alone, aided by his clerk. On the other hand it is decided, that after he has once been interrogated he may be confronted with witnesses.

There are, besides, exceptions in favor of the members of the police force. Domini reflected whether there were any precedents to apply to the case. "I don't know," he answered at last, "to what point the law permits me to consent to what you ask.

However, as I am convinced the interests of truth outweigh all rules, I shall take it on myself to let you question Guespin." He rang; a bailiff appeared. "Has Guespin been carried back to prison?" "Not yet, Monsieur." "So much the better; have him brought in here." M. Lecoq was beside himself with joy; he had not hoped to achieve such a victory over one so determined as M. "He will speak now," said he, so full of confidence that his eyes shone, and he forgot the portrait of the dear defunct, "for I have three means of unloosening his tongue, one of which is sure to succeed. Do you know whether Tremorel saw Jenny after Sauvresy's death?" "Jenny?" asked M. Plantat, a little surprised. "Yes." "Certainly he did." "Several times?" "Pretty often.

After the scene at the Belle Image the poor girl plunged into terrible dissipation. Whether she was smitten with remorse, or understood that it was her conduct which had killed Sauvresy, or suspected the crime, I don't know. She began, however, to drink furiously, falling lower and lower every week--" "And the count really consented to see her again?" "He was forced to do so; she tormented him, and he was afraid of her. When she had spent all her money she sent to him for more, and he gave it. Once he refused; and that very evening she went to him the worse for wine, and he had the greatest difficulty in the world to send her away again. In short, she knew what his relations with Madame Sauvresy had been, and she threatened him; it was a regular black-mailing operation. He told me all about the trouble she gave him, and added that he would not be able to get rid of her without shutting her up, which he could not bring himself to do." "How long ago was their last interview?" "Why," answered the doctor, "not three weeks ago, when I had a consultation at Melun, I saw the count and this demoiselle at a hotel window; when he saw me he suddenly drew back." "Then," said the detective, "there is no longer any doubt--" He stopped. Guespin came in between two gendarmes. The unhappy gardener had aged twenty years in twenty-four hours. His eyes were haggard, his dry lips were bordered with foam.

"Let us see," said the judge. "Have you changed your mind about speaking?" The prisoner did not answer. "Have you decided to tell us about yourself?" Guespin's rage made him tremble from head to foot, and his eyes became fiery. "Speak!" said he hoarsely.

"Why should I?" He added with the gesture of a desperate man who abandons himself, renounces all struggling and all hope: "What have I done to you, my God, that you torture me this way? What do you want me to say? That I did this crime--is that what you want? Well, then--yes--it was I. Now you are satisfied. Now cut my head off, and do it quick--for I don't want to suffer any longer." A mournful silence welcomed Guespin's declaration.

What, he confessed it! Domini had at least the good taste not to exult; he kept still, and yet this avowal surprised him beyond all expression. Lecoq alone, although surprised, was not absolutely put out of countenance. He approached Guespin and tapping him on the shoulder, said in a paternal tone: "Come, comrade, what you are telling us is absurd. Do you think the judge has any secret grudge against you? Do you suppose I am interested to have you guillotined? Not at all.

A crime has been committed, and we are trying to find the assassin. If you are innocent, help us to find the man who isn't: What were you doing from Wednesday evening till Thursday morning?" But Guespin persisted in his ferocious and stupid obstinacy. "I've said what I have to say," said he. Lecoq changed his tone to one of severity, stepping back to watch the effect he was about to produce upon Guespin. "You haven't any right to hold your tongue. And even if you do, you fool, the police know everything.

Your master sent you on an errand, didn't he, on Wednesday night; what did he give you? A one-thousand-franc note?" The prisoner looked at M. Lecoq in speechless amazement. "No," he stammered. "It was a five-hundred-franc note." The detective, like all great artists in a critical scene, was really moved. His surprising genius for investigation had just inspired him with a bold stroke, which, if it succeeded, would assure him the victory.

"Now," said he, "tell me the woman's name." "I don't know." "You are only a fool then.

She is short, isn't she, quite pretty, brown and pale, with very large eyes?" "You know her, then?" said Guespin, in a voice trembling with emotion. "Yes, comrade, and if you want to know her name, to put in your prayers, she is called--Jenny." Men who are really able in some specialty, whatever it may be, never uselessly abuse their superiority; their satisfaction at seeing it recognized is sufficient reward. Lecoq softly enjoyed his triumph, while his hearers wondered at his perspicacity. A rapid chain of reasoning had shown him not only Tremorel's thoughts, but also the means he had employed to accomplish his purpose. Guespin's astonishment soon changed to anger. He asked himself how this man could have been informed of things which he had every reason to believe were secret. Lecoq continued: "Since I have told you the woman's name, tell me now, how and why the count gave you a five-hundred-franc note." "It was just as I was going out. The count had no change, and did not want to send me to Orcival for it.

I was to bring back the rest." "And why didn't you rejoin your companions at the wedding in the Batignolles?" No answer. "What was the errand which you were to do for the count?" Guespin hesitated.

His eyes wandered from one to another of those present, and he seemed to discover an ironical expression on all the faces. It occurred to him that they were making sport of him, and had set a snare into which he had fallen.

A great despair took possession of him. "Ah," cried he, addressing M. Lecoq, "you have deceived me. You have been lying so as to find out the truth. I have been such a fool as to answer you, and you are going to turn it all against me." "What? Are you going to talk nonsense again?" "No, but I see just how it is, and you won't catch me again!

Now I'd rather die than say a word." The detective tried to reassure him; but he added: "Besides, I'm as sly as you; I've told you nothing but lies." This sudden whim surprised no one. Some prisoners intrench themselves behind a system of defence, and nothing can divert them from it; others vary with each new question, denying what they have just affirmed, and constantly inventing some new absurdity which anon they reject again.

Lecoq tried in vain to draw Guespin from his silence; M.

Domini made the same attempt, and also failed; to all questions he only answered, "I don't know." At last the detective waxed impatient. "See here," said he to Guespin, "I took you for a young man of sense, and you are only an ass. Do you imagine that we don't know anything? Listen: On the night of Madame Denis's wedding, you were getting ready to go off with your comrades, and had just borrowed twenty francs from the valet, when the count called you. He made you promise absolute secrecy (a promise which, to do you justice, you kept); he told you to leave the other servants at the station and go to Vulcan's Forges, where you were to buy for him a hammer, a file, a chisel, and a dirk; these you were to carry to a certain woman. Then he gave you this famous five-hundred-franc note, telling you to bring him back the change when you returned next day.

Isn't that so?" An affirmative response glistened in the prisoner's eyes; still, he answered, "I don't recollect it." "Now," pursued M. Lecoq, "I'm going to tell you what happened afterwards. You drank something and got tipsy, and in short spent a part of the change of the note. That explains your fright when you were seized yesterday morning, before anybody said a word to you.

You thought you were being arrested for spending that money.

Then, when you learned that the count had been murdered during the night, recollecting that on the evening before you had bought all kinds of instruments of theft and murder, and that you didn't know either the address or the name of the woman to whom you gave up the package, convinced that if you explained the source of the money found in your pocket, you would not be believed--then, instead of thinking of the means to prove your innocence, you became afraid, and thought you would save yourself by holding your tongue." The prisoner's countenance visibly changed; his nerves relaxed; his tight lips fell apart; his mind opened itself to hope. "Do with me as you like," said he. What should we do with such a fool as you?" cried M.

Lecoq angrily. "I begin to think you are a rascal too. A decent fellow would see that we wanted to get him out of a scrape, and he'd tell us the truth. You are prolonging your imprisonment by your own will. You'd better learn that the greatest shrewdness consists in telling the truth. A last time, will you answer?" Guespin shook his head; no. "Go back to prison, then; since it pleases you," concluded the detective. He looked at the judge for his approval, and added: "Gendarmes, remove the prisoner." The judge's last doubt was dissipated like the mist before the sun. He was, to tell the truth, a little uneasy at having treated the detective so rudely; and he tried to repair it as much as he could. "You are an able man, Monsieur Lecoq," said he.

"Without speaking of your clearsightedness, which is so prompt as to seem almost like second sight, your examination just now was a master-piece of its kind.

Receive my congratulations, to say nothing of the reward which I propose to recommend in your favor to your chiefs." The detective at these compliments cast down his eyes with the abashed air of a virgin. He looked tenderly at the dear defunct's portrait, and doubtless said to it: "At last, darling, we have defeated him--this austere judge who so heartily detests the force of which we are the brightest ornament, makes his apologies; he recognizes and applauds our services." He answered aloud: "I can only accept half of your eulogies, Monsieur; permit me to offer the other half to my friend Monsieur Plantat." M. Plantat tried to protest. "Oh," said he, "only for some bits of information! You would have ferreted out the truth without me all the same." The judge arose and graciously, but not without effort, extended his hand to M. "You have spared me," said the judge, "a great remorse.

Guespin's innocence would surely sooner or later have been recognized; but the idea of having imprisoned an innocent man and harassed him with my interrogatories, would have disturbed my sleep and tormented my conscience for a long time." "God knows this poor Guespin is not an interesting youth," returned the detective. "I should be disposed to press him hard were I not certain that he's half a fool." M.

Domini gave a start. "I shall discharge him this very day," said he, "this very hour." "It will be an act of charity," said M. Lecoq; "but confound his obstinacy; it was so easy for him to simplify my task. I might be able, by the aid of chance, to collect the principal facts--the errand, and a woman being mixed up in the affair; but as I'm no magician, I couldn't guess all the details. How is Jenny mixed up in this affair? Is she an accomplice, or has she only been made to play an ignorant part in it? Where did she meet Guespin and whither did she lead him? It is clear that she made the poor fellow tipsy so as to prevent his going to the Batignolles. Tremorel must have told her some false story--but what?" "I don't think Tremorel troubled his head about so small a matter," said M.

Plantat. "He gave Guespin and Jenny some task, without explaining it at all." M. Lecoq reflected a moment. "Perhaps you are right. But Jenny must have had special orders to prevent Guespin from putting in an alibi." "But," said M.

Domini, "Jenny will explain it all to us." "That is what I rely on; and I hope that within forty-eight hours I shall have found her and brought her safely to Corbeil." He rose at these words, took his cane and hat, and turning to the judge, said: "Before retiring--" "Yes, I know," interrupted M. Domini, "you want a warrant to arrest Hector de Tremorel." "I do, as you are now of my opinion that he is still alive." "I am sure of it." M. Domini opened his portfolio and wrote off a warrant as follows: "By the law: "We, judge of instruction of the first tribunal, etc., considering articles 91 and 94 of the code of criminal instruction, command and ordain to all the agents of the police to arrest, in conformity with the law, one Hector de Tremorel, etc." When he had finished, he said: "Here it is, and may you succeed in speedily finding this great criminal." "Oh, he'll find him," cried the Corbeil policeman. "I hope so, at least. As to how I shall go to work, I don't know yet. I will arrange my plan of battle to-night." The detective then took leave of M. Domini and retired, followed by M. Plantat. The doctor remained with the judge to make arrangements for Sauvresy's exhumation.

Lecoq was just leaving the court-house when he felt himself pulled by the arm. He turned and found that it was Goulard who came to beg his favor and to ask him to take him along, persuaded that after having served under so great a captain he must inevitably become a famous man himself.

Lecoq had some difficulty in getting rid of him; but he at length found himself alone in the street with the old justice of the peace. "It is late," said the latter.

"Would it be agreeable to you to partake of another modest dinner with me, and accept my cordial hospitality?" "I am chagrined to be obliged to refuse you," replied M. "But I ought to be in Paris this evening." "But I--in fact, I--was very anxious to talk to you--about--" "About Mademoiselle Laurence?" "Yes; I have a plan, and if you would help me--" M. Lecoq affectionately pressed his friend's hand. "I have only known you a few hours," said he, "and yet I am as devoted to you as I would be to an old friend. All that is humanly possible for me to do to serve you, I shall certainly do." "But where shall I see you? They expect me to-day at Orcival." "Very well; to-morrow morning at nine, at my rooms.

No--Rue Montmartre." "A thousand thanks; I shall be there." When they had reached the Belle Image they separated.

XXIV Nine o'clock had just struck in the belfry of the church of St. Eustache, when M. Plantat reached Rue Montmartre, and entered the house bearing the number which M. Lecoq had given him. "Monsieur Lecoq?" said he to an old woman who was engaged in getting breakfast for three large cats which were mewing around her. The woman scanned him with a surprised and suspicious air. Plantat, when he was dressed up, had much more the appearance of a fine old gentleman than of a country attorney; and though the detective received many visits from all sorts of people, it was rarely that the denizens of the Faubourg Saint Germaine rung his bell. "Monsieur Lecoq's apartments," answered the old woman, "are on the third story, the door facing the stairs." The justice of the peace slowly ascended the narrow, ill-lighted staircase, which in its dark corners was almost dangerous. He was thinking of the strange step he was about to take.

An idea had occurred to him, but he did not know whether it were practicable, and at all events he needed the aid and advice of the detective.

He was forced to disclose his most secret thoughts, as it were, to confess himself; and his heart beat fast. The door opposite the staircase on the third story was not like other doors; it was of plain oak, thick, without mouldings, and fastened with iron bars. It would have looked like a prison door had not its sombreness been lightened by a heavily colored engraving of a cock crowing, with the legend "Always Vigilant." Had the detective put his coat of arms up there? Was it not more likely that one of his men had done it? After examining the door more than a minute, and hesitating like a youth before his beloved's gate, he rang the bell. A creaking of locks responded, and through the narrow bars of the peephole he saw the hairy face of an old crone. "What do you want?" said the woman, in a deep, bass voice.

"Monsieur Lecoq." "What do you want of him?" "He made an appointment with me for this morning." "Your name and business?" "Monsieur Plantat, justice of the peace at Orcival." "All right. Wait." The peephole was closed and the old man waited. "Everybody can't get in here, it seems." Hardly had this reflection passed through his mind when the door opened with a noise as of chains and locks. He entered, and the old crone, after leading him through a dining-room whose sole furniture was a table and six chairs, introduced him to a large room, half toilet-room and half working-room, lighted by two windows looking on the court, and guarded by strong, close bars.

"If you will take the trouble to sit," said the servant, "Monsieur Lecoq will soon be here; he is giving orders to one of his men." But M. Plantat did not take a seat; he preferred to examine the curious apartment in which he found himself. The whole of one side of the wall was taken up with a long rack, where hung the strangest and most incongruous suits of clothes. There were costumes belonging to all grades of society; and on some wooden pegs above, wigs of all colors were hanging; while boots and shoes of various styles were ranged on the floor. A toilet-table, covered with powders, essences, and paints, stood between the fireplace and the window. On the other side of the room was a bookcase full of scientific works, especially of physic and chemistry. The most singular piece of furniture in the apartment, however, was a large ball, shaped like a lozenge, in black velvet, suspended beside the looking-glass. A quantity of pins were stuck in this ball, so as to form the letters composing these two names: HECTOR-JENNY. These names glittering on the black background attracted the old man's attention at once.

This must have been M. The ball was meant to recall to him perpetually the people of whom he was in pursuit. Many names, doubtless, had in turn glittered on that velvet, for it was much frayed and perforated. An unfinished letter lay open upon the bureau. Plantat leaned over to read it; but he took his trouble for nothing, for it was written in cipher. He had no sooner finished his inspection of the room than the noise of a door opening made him turn round. He saw before him a man of his own age, of respectable mien, and polite manners, a little bald, with gold spectacles and a light-colored flannel dressing-gown. Plantat bowed, saying: "I am waiting here for Monsieur Lecoq." The man in gold spectacles burst out laughing, and clapped his hands with glee. "What, dear sir," said he, "don't you know me? Look at me well--it is I--Monsieur Lecoq!" And to convince him, he took off his spectacles.

Those might, indeed, be Lecoq's eyes, and that his voice; M. Plantat was confounded. "I never should have recognized you," said he. "It's true, I have changed a little--but what would you have?

It's my trade." And pushing a chair toward his visitor, he pursued: "I have to beg a thousand pardons for the formalities you've had to endure to get in here; it's a dire necessity, but one I can't help. I have told you of the dangers to which I am exposed; they pursue me to my very door. Why, last week a railway porter brought a package here addressed to me. Janouille--that's my old woman--suspected nothing, though she has a sharp nose, and told him to come in.

He held out the package, I went up to take it, when pif! paf! The package was a revolver wrapped up in oilcloth, and the porter was a convict escaped from Cayenne, caught by me last year. Ah, I put him through for this though!" He told this adventure carelessly, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. "But let's not starve ourselves to death," he continued, ringing the bell. The old hag appeared, and he ordered her to bring on breakfast forthwith, and above all, some good wine. "You are observing my Janouille," remarked he, seeing that M. Plantat looked curiously at the servant. "She's a pearl, my dear friend, who watches over me as if I were her child, and would go through the fire for me.

I had a good deal of trouble the other day to prevent her strangling the false railway porter. I picked her out of three or four thousand convicts. She had been convicted of infanticide and arson.

I would bet a hundred to one that, during the three years that she has been in my service, she has not even thought of robbing me of so much as a centime." But M. Plantat only listened to him with one ear; he was trying to find an excuse for cutting Janouille's story short, and to lead the conversation to the events of the day before. "I have, perhaps, incommoded you a little this morning, Monsieur Lecoq?" "Me? then you did not see my motto--'always vigilant?' Why, I've been out ten times this morning; besides marking out work for three of my men. Ah, we have little time to ourselves, I can tell you. I went to the Vulcan's Forges to see what news I could get of that poor devil of a Guespin." "And what did you hear?" "That I had guessed right. He changed a five-hundred-franc note there last Wednesday evening at a quarter before ten." "That is to say, he is saved?" "Well, you may say so. He will be, as soon as we have found Miss Jenny." The old justice of the peace could not avoid showing his uneasiness.

"That will, perhaps, be long and difficult?" "Bast! She is on my black ball there--we shall have her, accidents excepted, before night." "You really think so?" "I should say I was sure, to anybody but you. Reflect that this girl has been connected with the Count de Tremorel, a man of the world, a prince of the mode.

When a girl falls to the gutter, after having, as they say, dazzled all Paris for six months with her luxury, she does not disappear entirely, like a stone in the mud. When she has lost all her friends there are still her creditors, who follow and watch her, awaiting the day when fortune will smile on her once more.

She doesn't trouble herself about them, she thinks they've forgotten her; a mistake!

I know a milliner whose head is a perfect dictionary of the fashionable world; she has often done me a good turn. We will go and see her if you say so, after breakfast, and in two hours she will give us Jenny's address. Ah, if I were only as sure of pinching Tremorel!" M. Plantat gave a sigh of relief. The conversation at last took the turn he wished. "You are thinking of him, then?" asked he. "Am I?" shouted M. Lecoq, who started from his seat at the question. "Now just look at my black ball there. I haven't thought of anybody else, mark you, since yesterday; I haven't had a wink of sleep all night for thinking of him.

I must have him, and I will!" "I don't doubt it; but when?" "Ah, there it is! Perhaps to-morrow, perhaps in a month; it depends on the correctness of my calculations and the exactness of my plan." "What, is your plan made?" "And decided on." M. Plantat became attention itself. "I start from the principle that it is impossible for a man, accompanied by a woman, to hide from the police. In this case, the woman is young, pretty, and in a noticeable condition; three impossibilities more. Admit this, and we'll study Hector's character. He isn't a man of superior shrewdness, for we have found out all his dodges. He isn't a fool, because his dodges deceived people who are by no means fools. He is then a medium sort of a man, and his education, reading, relations, and daily conversation have procured him a number of acquaintances whom he will try to use. We know the weakness of his character; soft, feeble, vacillating, only acting in the last extremity.

We have seen him shrinking from decisive steps, trying always to delay matters. He is given to being deceived by illusions, and to taking his desires for accomplished events. In short, he is a coward. And what is his situation? He has killed his wife, he hopes he has created a belief in his own death, he has eloped with a young girl, and he has got nearly or quite a million of francs in his pocket.

Now, this position admitted, as well as the man's character and mind, can we by an effort of thought, reasoning from his known actions, discover what he has done in such and such a case? I think so, and I hope I shall prove it to you." M. Lecoq rose and promenaded, as his habit was, up and down the room. "Now let's see," he continued, "how I ought to proceed in order to discover the probable conduct of a man whose antecedents, traits, and mind are known to me.

To begin with, I throw off my own individuality and try to assume his. I cease to be a detective and become this man, whatever he is. In this case, for instance, I know very well what I should do if I were Tremorel. I should take such measures as would throw all the detectives in the universe off the scent. How would a man reason who was base enough to rob his friend of his wife, and then see her poison her husband before his very eyes?

We already know that Tremorel hesitated a good while before deciding to commit this crime. The logic of events, which fools call fatality, urged him on. It is certain that he looked upon the murder in every point of view, studied its results, and tried to find means to escape from justice. All his acts were determined on long beforehand, and neither immediate necessity nor unforeseen circumstances disturbed his mind. The moment he had decided on the crime, he said to himself: 'Grant that Bertha has been murdered; thanks to my precautions, they think that I have been killed too; Laurence, with whom I elope, writes a letter in which she announces her suicide; I have money, what must I do?' The problem, it seems to me, is fairly put in this way." "Perfectly so," approved M. Plantat.

"Naturally, Tremorel would choose from among all the methods of flight of which he had ever heard, or which he could imagine, that which seemed to him the surest and most prompt. Did he meditate leaving the country? That is more than probable. Only, as he was not quite out of his senses, he saw that it was most difficult, in a foreign country, to put justice off the track.

If a man flies from France to escape punishment, he acts absurdly. Fancy a man and woman wandering about a country of whose language they are ignorant; they attract attention at once, are observed, talked about, followed. They do not make a purchase which is not remarked; they cannot make any movement without exciting curiosity. The further they go the greater their danger. If they choose to cross the ocean and go to free America, they must go aboard a vessel; and the moment they do that they may be considered as good as lost. You might bet twenty to one they would find, on landing on the other side, a detective on the pier armed with a warrant to arrest them. I would engage to find a Frenchman in eight days, even in London, unless he spoke pure enough English to pass for a citizen of the United Kingdom. He recollected a thousand futile attempts, a hundred surprising adventures, narrated by the papers; and it is certain that he gave up the idea of going abroad." "It's clear," cried M. Plantat, "perfectly plain and precise. We must look for the fugitives in France." "Yes," replied M.

"Now let's find out where and how people can hide themselves in France. In Bordeaux, one of our largest cities, people stare at a man who is not a Bordelais. The shopkeepers on the quays say to their neighbors: 'Eh! do you know that man?' There are two cities, however, where a man may pass unnoticed--Marseilles and Lyons; but both of these are distant, and to reach them a long journey must be risked--and nothing is so dangerous as the railway since the telegraph was established. One can fly quickly, it's true; but on entering a railway carriage a man shuts himself in, and until he gets out of it he remains under the thumb of the police. Tremorel knows all this as well as we do. We will put all the large towns, including Lyons and Marseilles, out of the question." "In short, it's impossible to hide in the provinces." "Excuse me--there is one means; that is, simply to buy a modest little place at a distance from towns and railways, and to go and reside on it under a false name. But this excellent project is quite above Tremorel's capacity, and requires preparatory steps which he could not risk, watched as he was by his wife.

The field of investigation is thus much narrowed. Putting aside foreign parts, the provinces, the cities, the country, Paris remains. It is in Paris that we must look for Tremorel." M. Lecoq spoke with the certainty and positiveness of a mathematical professor; the old justice of the peace listened, as do the professor's scholars. But he was already accustomed to the detective's surprising clearness, and was no longer astonished. During the four-and-twenty hours that he had been witnessing M.

Lecoq's calculations and gropings, he had seized the process and almost appropriated it to himself. He found this method of reasoning very simple, and could now explain to himself certain exploits of the police which had hitherto seemed to him miraculous.

Lecoq's "narrow field" of observation appeared still immense. "Paris is a large place," observed the old justice. "Perhaps so; but it is mine. All Paris is under the eye of the police, just as an ant is under that of the naturalist with his microscope. How is it, you may ask, that Paris still holds so many professional rogues? Ah, that is because we are hampered by legal forms. The law compels us to use only polite weapons against those to whom all weapons are serviceable.

The courts tie our hands. The rogues are clever, but be sure that our cleverness is much greater than theirs." "But," interrupted M. Plantat, "Tremorel is now outside the law; we have the warrant." "What matters it? Does the warrant give me the right to search any house in which I may have reason to suppose he is hiding himself?

You must know that in France the police have to contend not only with the rogues, but also with the honest people." M. Lecoq always waxed warm on this subject; he felt a strong resentment against the injustice practised on his profession. Fortunately, at the moment when he was most excited, the black ball suddenly caught his eye. "The devil!" exclaimed he, "I was forgetting Hector." M.

Plantat, though listening patiently to his companion's indignant utterances, could not help thinking of the murderer. "You said that we must look for Tremorel in Paris," he remarked. "And I said truly," responded M. Lecoq in a calmer tone. "I have come to the conclusion that here, perhaps within two streets of us, perhaps in the next house, the fugitives are hid.

But let's go on with our calculation of probabilities. Hector knows Paris too well to hope to conceal himself even for a week in a hotel or lodging-house; he knows these are too sharply watched by the police. He had plenty of time before him, and so arranged to hire apartments in some convenient house." "He came to Paris three or four times some weeks ago." "Then there's no longer any doubt about it. He hired some apartments under a false name, paid in advance, and to-day he is comfortably ensconced in his new residence." M. Plantat seemed to feel extremely distressed at this. "I know it only too well, Monsieur Lecoq," said he, sadly. Must we wait till some accident reveals him to us? Can you search one by one all the houses in Paris?" The detective's nose wriggled under his gold spectacles, and the justice of the peace, who observed it, and took it for a good sign, felt all his hopes reviving in him. "I've cudgelled my brain in vain--" he began.

"Pardon me," interrupted M. "Having hired apartments, Tremorel naturally set about furnishing them." "Evidently." "Of course he would furnish them sumptuously, both because he is fond of luxury and has plenty of money, and because he couldn't carry a young girl from a luxurious home to a garret. I'd wager that they have as fine a drawing-room as that at Valfeuillu." "Alas! How can that help us?" "Peste! It helps us much, my dear friend, as you shall see. Hector, as he wished for a good deal of expensive furniture, did not have recourse to a broker; nor had he time to go to the Faubourg St. Antoine. Therefore, he simply went to an upholsterer." "Some fashionable upholsterer--" "No, he would have risked being recognized. It is clear that he assumed a false name, the same in which he had hired his rooms. He chose some shrewd and humble upholsterer, ordered his goods, made sure that they would be delivered on a certain day, and paid for them." M.

Plantat could not repress a joyful exclamation; he began to see M. "This merchant," pursued the latter, "must have retained his rich customer in his memory, this customer who did not beat him down, and paid cash. If he saw him again, he would recognize him." "What an idea!" cried M. Plantat, delighted. "Let's get photographs and portraits of Tremorel as quick as we can--let's send a man to Orcival for them." M. Lecoq smiled shrewdly and proceeded: "Keep yourself easy; I have done what was necessary. I slipped three of the count's cartes-de-visite in my pocket yesterday during the inquest.

This morning I took down, out of the directory, the names of all the upholsterers in Paris, and made three lists of them. At this moment three of my men, each with a list and a photograph, are going from upholsterer to upholsterer showing them the picture and asking them if they recognize it as the portrait of one of their customers. If one of them answers 'yes,' we've got our man." "And we will get him!" cried the old man, pale with emotion. It is possible that Hector was prudent enough not to go to the upholsterer's himself. In this case we are beaten in that direction. But no, he was not so sly as that--" M.

Janouille, for the third time, opened the door, and said, in a deep bass voice: "Breakfast is ready." Janouille was a remarkable cook; M.

Plantat had ample experience of the fact when he began upon her dishes. But he was not hungry, and could not force himself to eat; he could not think of anything but a plan which he had to propose to his host, and he had that oppressive feeling which is experienced when one is about to do something which has been decided on with hesitation and regret. The detective, who, like all men of great activity, was a great eater, vainly essayed to entertain his guest, and filled his glass with the choicest Chateau Margaux; the old man sat silent and sad, and only responded by monosyllables. He tried to speak out and to struggle against the hesitation he felt.

He did not think, when he came, that he should have this reluctance; he had said to himself that he would go in and explain himself. Did he fear to be ridiculed? His passion was above the fear of sarcasm or irony. And what did he risk? Had not M. Lecoq already divined the secret thoughts he dared not impart to him, and read his heart from the first? He was reflecting thus when the door-bell rang. Janouille went to the door, and speedily returned with the announcement that Goulard begged to speak with M.

Lecoq, and asked if she should admit him. "Certainly." The chains clanked and the locks scraped, and presently Goulard made his appearance. He had donned his best clothes, with spotless linen, and a very high collar.

He was respectful, and stood as stiffly as a well-drilled grenadier before his sergeant. "What the deuce brought you here?" said M. "And who dared to give you my address?" "Monsieur," said Goulard, visibly intimidated by his reception, "please excuse me; I was sent by Doctor Gendron with this letter for Monsieur Plantat." "Oh," cried M. Plantat, "I asked the doctor, last evening, to let me know the result of the autopsy, and not knowing where I should put up, took the liberty of giving your address." M. Lecoq took the letter and handed it to his guest. "Read it, read it," said the latter.

"There is nothing in it to conceal." "All right; but come into the other room. Janouille, give this man some breakfast. Make yourself at home, Goulard, and empty a bottle to my health." When the door of the other room was closed, M. Lecoq broke the seal of the letter, and read: "MY DEAR PLANTAT: "You asked me for a word, so I scratch off a line or two which I shall send to our sorcerer's--" "Oh, ho," cried M. "Monsieur Gendron is too good, too flattering, really!" No matter, the compliment touched his heart.

He resumed the letter: "At three this morning we exhumed poor Sauvresy's body. I certainly deplore the frightful circumstances of this worthy man's death as much as anyone; but on the other hand, I cannot help rejoicing at this excellent opportunity to test the efficacy of my sensitive paper--" "Confound these men of science," cried the indignant Plantat. "They are all alike!" "Why so?

I can very well comprehend the doctor's involuntary sensations. Am I not ravished when I encounter a fine crime?" And without waiting for his guest's reply, he continued reading the letter: "The experiments promised to be all the more conclusive as aconitine is one of those drugs which conceal themselves most obstinately from analysis. I proceed thus: After heating the suspected substances in twice their weight of alcohol, I drop the liquid gently into a vase with edges a little elevated, at the bottom of which is a piece of paper on which I have placed my tests. If my paper retains its color, there is no poison; if it changes, the poison is there. In this case my paper was of a light yellow color, and if we were not mistaken, it ought either to become covered with brown spots, or completely brown. I explained this experiment beforehand to the judge of instruction and the experts who were assisting me.

Ah, my friend, what a success I had! When the first drops of alcohol fell, the paper at once became a dark brown; your suspicions are thus proved to be quite correct. The substances which I submitted to the test were liberally saturated with aconitine. I never obtained more decisive results in my laboratory.

I expect that my conclusions will be disputed in court; but I have means of verifying them, so that I shall surely confound all the chemists who oppose me. I think, my dear friend, that you will not be indifferent to the satisfaction I feel--" M. Plantat lost patience. "This is unheard-of!" cried he.

Would you say, now, that this poison which he found in Sauvresy's body was stolen from his own laboratory? Why, that body is nothing more to him than 'suspected matter!' And he already imagines himself discussing the merits of his sensitive paper in court!" "He has reason to look for antagonists in court." "And meanwhile he makes his experiments, and analyzes with the coolest blood in the world; he continues his abominable cooking, boiling and filtering, and preparing his arguments--!" M. Lecoq did not share in his friend's indignation; he was not sorry at the prospect of a bitter struggle in court, and he imagined a great scientific duel, like that between Orfila and Raspail, the provincial and Parisian chemists. "If Tremorel has the face to deny his part in Sauvresy's murder," said he, "we shall have a superb trial of it." This word "trial" put an end to M. Plantat's long hesitation. "We mustn't have any trial," cried he. The old man's violence, from one who was usually so calm and self-possessed, seemed to amaze M. "Ah ha," thought he, "I'm going to know all." He added aloud: "What, no trial?" M.

Plantat had turned whiter than a sheet; he was trembling, and his voice was hoarse, as if broken by sobs. "I would give my fortune," resumed he "to avoid a trial--every centime of it, though it doesn't amount to much. But how can we secure this wretch Tremorel from a conviction? What subterfuge shall we invent? You alone, my friend, can advise me in the frightful extremity to which you see me reduced, and aid me to accomplish what I wish. If there is any way in the world, you will find it and save me--" "But, my--" "Pardon--hear me, and you will comprehend me. I am going to be frank with you, as I would be with myself; and you will see the reason of my hesitation, my silence, in short, of all my conduct since the discovery of the crime." "I am listening." "It's a sad history, Lecoq. I had reached an age at which a man's career is, as they say, finished, when I suddenly lost my wife and my two sons, my whole joy, my whole hope in this world.

I found myself alone in life, more lost than the shipwrecked man in the midst of the sea, without a plank to sustain me. I was a soulless body, when chance brought me to settle down at Orcival. There I saw Laurence; she was just fifteen, and never lived there a creature who united in herself so much intelligence, grace, innocence, and beauty.

Courtois became my friend, and soon Laurence was like a daughter to me. I doubtless loved her then, but I did not confess it to myself, for I did not read my heart clearly. She was so young, and I had gray hairs!

I persuaded myself that my love for her was like that of a father, and it was as a father that she cherished me. Ah, I passed many a delicious hour listening to her gentle prattle and her innocent confidences; I was happy when I saw her skipping about in my garden, picking the roses I had reared for her, and laying waste my parterres; and I said to myself that existence is a precious gift from God.

My dream then was to follow her through life. I fancied her wedded to some good man who made her happy, while I remained the friend of the wife, after having been the confidant of the maiden.

I took good care of my fortune, which is considerable, because I thought of her children, and wished to hoard up treasures for them. Poor, poor Laurence!" M. Lecoq fidgeted in his chair, rubbed his face with his handkerchief, and seemed ill at ease. He was really much more touched than he wished to appear. "One day," pursued the old man, "my friend Courtois spoke to me of her marriage with Tremorel; then I measured the depth of my love. I felt terrible agonies which it is impossible to describe; it was like a long-smothered fire which suddenly breaks forth and devours everything. To be old, and to love a child! I thought I was going crazy; I tried to reason, to upbraid myself, but it was of no avail. What can reason or irony do against passion? I kept silent and suffered.

To crown all, Laurence selected me as her confidant--what torture! She came to me to talk of Hector; she admired in him all that seemed to her superior to other men, so that none could be compared with him. She was enchanted with his bold horseback riding, and thought everything he said sublime." "Did you know what a wretch Tremorel was?" "Alas, I did not yet know it. What was this man who lived at Valfeuillu to me? But from the day that I learned that he was going to deprive me of my most precious treasure, I began to study him. I should have been somewhat consoled if I had found him worthy of her; so I dogged him, as you, Monsieur Lecoq, cling to the criminal whom you are pursuing. I went often to Paris to learn what I could of his past life; I became a detective, and went about questioning everybody who had known him, and the more I heard of him the more I despised him. It was thus that I found out his interviews with Jenny and his relations with Bertha." "Why didn't you divulge them?" "Honor commanded silence. Had I a right to dishonor my friend and ruin his happiness and life, because of this ridiculous, hopeless love?

I kept my own counsel after speaking to Courtois about Jenny, at which he only laughed.

When I hinted something against Hector to Laurence, she almost ceased coming to see me." "Ah! I shouldn't have had either your patience or your generosity." "Because you are not as old as I, Monsieur Lecoq. Oh, I cruelly hated this Tremorel!

I said to myself, when I saw three women of such different characters smitten with him, 'what is there in him to be so loved?'" "Yes," answered M. Lecoq, responding to a secret thought, "women often err; they don't judge men as we do." "Many a time," resumed the justice of the peace, "I thought of provoking him to fight with me, that I might kill him; but then Laurence would not have looked at me any more. However, I should perhaps have spoken at last, had not Sauvresy fallen ill and died. I knew that he had made his wife and Tremorel swear to marry each other; I knew that a terrible reason forced them to keep their oath; and I thought Laurence saved. Alas, on the contrary she was lost!

One evening, as I was passing the mayor's house, I saw a man getting over the wall into the garden; it was Tremorel. I was beside myself with rage, and swore that I would wait and murder him. I did wait, but he did not come out that night." M. Plantat hid his face in his hands; his heart bled at the recollection of that night of anguish, the whole of which he had passed in waiting for a man in order to kill him. Lecoq trembled with indignation. "This Tremorel," cried he, "is the most abominable of scoundrels. There is no excuse for his infamies and crimes. And yet you want to save him from trial, the galleys, the scaffold which await him." The old man paused a moment before replying. Words seemed powerless to betray his sensations; he wanted to express all that he felt in a single sentence.

"What matters Tremorel to me?" said he at last. "Do you think I care about him? I don't care whether he lives or dies, whether he succeeds in flying or ends his life some morning in the Place Roquette." "Then why have you such a horror of a trial?" "Because--" "Are you a friend to his family, and anxious to preserve the great name which he has covered with mud and devoted to infamy?" "No, but I am anxious for Laurence, my friend; the thought of her never leaves me." "But she is not his accomplice; she is totally ignorant--there's no doubt of it--that he has killed his wife." "Yes," resumed M. Plantat, "Laurence is innocent; she is only the victim of an odious villain. It is none the less true, though, that she would be more cruelly punished than he. If Tremorel is brought before the court, she will have to appear too, as a witness if not as a prisoner. And who knows that her truth will not be suspected? She will be asked whether she really had no knowledge of the project to murder Bertha, and whether she did not encourage it. Bertha was her rival; it is natural to suppose that she hated her.

If I were the judge I should not hesitate to include Laurence in the indictment." "With our aid she will prove victoriously that she was ignorant of all, and has been outrageously deceived." "May be; but will she be any the less dishonored and forever lost? Must she not, in that case, appear in public, answer the judge's questions, and narrate the story of her shame and misfortunes?

Must not she say where, when, and how she fell, and repeat the villain's words to her? Can you imagine that of her own free will she compelled herself to announce her suicide at the risk of killing her parents with grief? Then she must explain what menaces forced her to do this, which surely was not her own idea. And worse than all, she will be compelled to confess her love for Tremorel." "No," answered the detective. "Let us not exaggerate anything.

You know as well as I do that justice is most considerate with the innocent victims of affairs of this sort." "Consideration? Could justice protect her, even if it would, from the publicity in which trials are conducted? You might touch the magistrates' hearts; but there are fifty journalists who, since this crime, have been cutting their pens and getting their paper ready. Do you think that, to please us, they would suppress the scandalous proceedings which I am anxious to avoid, and which the noble name of the murderer would make a great sensation? Does not this case unite every feature which gives success to judicial dramas?

Oh, there's nothing wanting, neither unworthy passion, nor poison, nor vengeance, nor murder. Laurence represents in it the romantic and sentimental element; she--my darling girl--will become a heroine of the assizes; it is she who will attract the readers of the Police Gazette; the reporters will tell when she blushes and when she weeps; they will rival each other in describing her toilet and bearing. Then there will be the photographers besieging her, and if she refuses to sit, portraits of some hussy of the street will be sold as hers. She will yearn to hide herself--but where? Can a few locks and bars shelter her from eager curiosity? She will become famous. What shame and misery! If she is to be saved, Monsieur Lecoq, her name must not be spoken. I ask of you, is it possible?

Answer me." The old man was very violent, yet his speech was simple, devoid of the pompous phrases of passion. Anger lit up his eyes with a strange fire; he seemed young again--he loved, and defended his beloved. Lecoq was silent; his companion insisted. "Answer me." "Who knows?" "Why seek to mislead me?

Haven't I as well as you had experience in these things? If Tremorel is brought to trial, all is over with Laurence! And I love her! Yes, I dare to confess it to you, and let you see the depth of my grief, I love her now as I have never loved her. She is dishonored, an object of contempt, perhaps still adores this wretch--what matters it? I love her a thousand times more than before her fall, for then I loved her without hope, while now--" He stopped, shocked at what he was going to say. Lecoq's steady gaze, and he blushed for this shameful yet human hope that he had betrayed.

"You know all, now," resumed he, in a calmer tone; "consent to aid me, won't you? Ah, if you only would, I should not think I had repaid you were I to give you half my fortune--and I am rich--" M. Lecoq stopped him with a haughty gesture. "Enough, Monsieur Plantat," said he, in a bitter tone, "I can do a service to a person whom I esteem, love and pity with all my soul; but I cannot sell such a service." "Believe that I did not wish--" "Yes, yes, you wished to pay me. There are professions, I know, in which manhood and integrity seem to count for nothing. What reason have you for judging me so mean as to sell my favors? You are like the rest, who can't fancy what a man in my position is.

If I wanted to be rich--richer than you--I could be so in a fortnight. Don't you see that I hold in my hands the honor and lives of fifty people? Do you think I tell all I know? I have here," added he, tapping his forehead, "twenty secrets that I could sell to-morrow, if I would, for a plump hundred thousand apiece." He was indignant, but beneath his anger a certain sad resignation might be perceived. He had often to reject such offers. "If you go and resist this prejudice established for ages, and say that a detective is honest and cannot be otherwise, that he is tenfold more honest than any merchant or notary, because he has tenfold the temptations, without the benefits of his honesty; if you say this, they'll laugh in your face. I could get together to-morrow, with impunity, without any risk, at least a million.

I have a conscience, it's true; but a little consideration for these things would not be unpleasant. When it would be so easy for me to divulge what I know of those who have been obliged to trust me, or things which I have surprised, there is perhaps a merit in holding my tongue. And still, the first man who should come along to-morrow--a defaulting banker, a ruined merchant, a notary who has gambled on 'change--would feel himself compromised by walking up the boulevard with me! A policeman--fie! But old Tabaret used to say to me, that the contempt of such people was only one form of fear." M. Plantat was dismayed. How could he, a man of delicacy, prudence and finesse, have committed such an awkward mistake?

He had just cruelly wounded this man, who was so well disposed toward him, and he had everything to fear from his resentment. "Far be it from me, dear friend," he commenced, "to intend the offence you imagine. You have misunderstood an insignificant phrase, which I let escape carelessly, and had no meaning at all." M. Lecoq grew calmer. "Perhaps so. You will forgive my being so susceptible, as I am more exposed to insults than most people. Let's leave the subject, which is a painful one, and return to Tremorel." M.

Plantat was just thinking whether he should dare to broach his projects again, and he was singularly touched by M. Lecoq's delicately resuming the subject of them. "I have only to await your decision," said the justice of the peace. "I will not conceal from you," resumed M. Lecoq, "that you are asking a very difficult thing, and one which is contrary to my duty, which commands me to search for Tremorel, to arrest him, and deliver him up to justice. You ask me to protect him from the law--" "In the name of an innocent creature whom you will thereby save." "Once in my life I sacrificed my duty. I could not resist the tears of a poor old mother, who clung to my knees and implored pardon for her son. To-day I am going to exceed my right, and to risk an attempt for which my conscience will perhaps reproach me. I yield to your entreaty." "Oh, my dear Lecoq, how grateful I am!" cried M.

Plantat, transported with joy.

But the detective remained grave, almost sad, and reflected.

"Don't let us encourage a hope which may be disappointed," he resumed.

"I have but one means of keeping a criminal like Tremorel out of the courts; will it succeed?" "Yes, yes. Lecoq could not help smiling at the old man's faith. "I am certainly a clever detective," said he. "But I am only a man after all, and I can't answer for the actions of another man. All depends upon Hector. If it were another criminal, I should say I was sure. I am doubtful about him, I frankly confess. We ought, above all, to count upon the firmness of Mademoiselle Courtois; can we, think you?" "She is firmness itself." "Then there's hope. But can we really suppress this affair?

What will happen when Sauvresy's narrative is found? It must be concealed somewhere in Valfeuillu, and Tremorel, at least, did not find it." "It will not be found," said M. Plantat, quickly. "You think so?" "I am sure of it." M. Lecoq gazed intently at his companion, and simply said: "Ah!" But this is what he thought: "At last I am going to find out where the manuscript which we heard read the other night, and which is in two handwritings, came from." After a moment's hesitation, M. Plantat went on: "I have put my life in your hands, Monsieur Lecoq; I can, of course, confide my honor to you.

I know that, happen what may--" "I shall keep my mouth shut, on my honor." "Very well. The day that I caught Tremorel at the mayor's, I wished to verify the suspicions I had, and so I broke the seal of Sauvresy's package of papers." "And you did not use them?" "I was dismayed at my abuse of confidence. Besides, had I the right to deprive poor Sauvresy, who was dying in order to avenge himself, of his vengeance?" "But you gave the papers to Madame de Tremorel?" "True; but Bertha had a vague presentiment of the fate that was in store for her. About a fortnight before her death she came and confided to me her husband's manuscript, which she had taken care to complete. I broke the seals and read it, to see if he had died a violent death." "Why, then, didn't you tell me? Why did you let me hunt, hesitate, grope about--" "I love Laurence, Monsieur Lecoq, and to deliver up Tremorel was to open an abyss between her and me." The detective bowed. "The deuce," thought he, "the old justice is shrewd--as shrewd as I am.

Well, I like him, and I'm going to give him a surprise." M. Plantat yearned to question his host and to know what the sole means of which he spoke were, which might be successful in preventing a trial and saving Laurence, but he did not dare to do so. He held a pencil in his hand and mechanically drew fantastic figures on a large sheet of white paper which lay before him. He suddenly came out of his revery. He had just solved a last difficulty; his plan was now entire and complete. He glanced at the clock. "Two o'clock," cried he, "and I have an appointment between three and four with Madame Charman about Jenny." "I am at your disposal," returned his guest. "All right.

When Jenny is disposed of we must look after Tremorel; so let's take our measures to finish it up to-day." "What! do you hope to do everything to-day--" "Certainly. Rapidity is above all necessary in our profession. It often takes a month to regain an hour lost. We've a chance now of catching Hector by surprise; to-morrow it will be too late. Either we shall have him within four-and-twenty hours or we must change our batteries. Each of my three men has a carriage and a good horse; they may be able to finish with the upholsterers within an hour from now.

If I calculate aright, we shall have the address in an hour, or at most in two hours, and then we will act." Lecoq, as he spoke, took a sheet of paper surmounted by his arms out of his portfolio, and rapidly wrote several lines. "See here," said he, "what I've written to one of my lieutenants." "MONSIEUR JOB--"Get together six or eight of our men at once and take them to the wine merchant's at the corner of the Rue des Martyrs and the Rue Lamartine; await my orders there." "Why there and not here?" "Because we must avoid needless excursions.

At the place I have designated we are only two steps from Madame Charman's and near Tremorel's retreat; for the wretch has hired his rooms in the quarter of Notre Dame de Lorette." M. Plantat gave an exclamation of surprise. "What makes you think that?" The detective smiled, as if the question seemed foolish to him. "Don't you recollect that the envelope of the letter addressed by Mademoiselle Courtois to her family to announce her suicide bore the Paris postmark, and that of the branch office of Rue St. Lazare? Now listen to this: On leaving her aunt's house, Laurence must have gone directly to Tremorel's apartments, the address of which he had given her, and where he had promised to meet her on Thursday morning.

She wrote the letter, then, in his apartments. Can we admit that she had the presence of mind to post the letter in another quarter than that in which she was?

It is at least probable that she was ignorant of the terrible reasons which Tremorel had to fear a search and pursuit.

Had Hector foresight enough to suggest this trick to her? No, for if he wasn't a fool he would have told her to post the letter somewhere outside of Paris. It is therefore scarcely possible that it was posted anywhere else than at the nearest branch office." These suppositions were so simple that M. Plantat wondered he had not thought of them before. But men do not see clearly in affairs in which they are deeply interested; passion dims the eyes, as heat in a room dims a pair of spectacles. He had lost, with his coolness, a part of his clearsightedness.

His anxiety was very great; for he thought M. Lecoq had a singular mode of keeping his promise. "It seems to me," he could not help remarking, "that if you wish to keep Hector from trial, the men you have summoned together will be more embarrassing than useful." M. Lecoq thought that his guest's tone and look betrayed a certain doubt, and was irritated by it. "Do you distrust me, Monsieur Plantat?" The old man tried to protest. "Believe me--" "You have my word," resumed M. Lecoq, "and if you knew me better you would know that I always keep it when I have given it. I have told you that I would do my best to save Mademoiselle Laurence; but remember that I have promised you my assistance, not absolute success.

Let me, then, take such measures as I think best." So saying, he rang for Janouille. "Here's a letter," said he when she appeared, "which must be sent to Job at once." "I will carry it." "By no means. You will be pleased to remain here and wait for the men that I sent out this morning. As they come in, send them to the wine merchant's at the corner of the Rue des Martyrs; you know it--opposite the church. They'll find a numerous company there." As he gave his orders, he took off his gown, assumed a long black coat, and carefully adjusted his wig. "Will Monsieur be back this evening?" asked Janouille. "I don't know." "And if anybody comes from over yonder?" "Over yonder" with a detective, always means "the house"--otherwise the prefecture of police.

"Say that I am out on the Corbeil affair." M. Lecoq was soon ready.

He had the air, physiognomy, and manners of a highly respectable chief clerk of fifty. Gold spectacles, an umbrella, everything about him exhaled an odor of the ledger. "Now," said he to M. Plantat. "Let's hurry away." Goulard, who had made a hearty breakfast, was waiting for his hero in the dining-room. "Ah ha, old fellow," said M. "So you've had a few words with my wine. How do you find it?" "Delicious, my chief; perfect--that is to say, a true nectar." "It's cheered you up, I hope." "Oh, yes, my chief." "Then you may follow us a few steps and mount guard at the door of the house where you see us go in. I shall probably have to confide a pretty little girl to your care whom you will carry to Monsieur Domini.

And open your eyes; for she's a sly creature, and very apt to inveigle you on the way and slip through your fingers." They went out, and Janouille stoutly barricaded herself behind them. XXV Whosoever needs a loan of money, or a complete suit of clothes in the top of the fashion, a pair of ladies' boots, or an Indian cashmere; a porcelain table service or a good picture; whosoever desires diamonds, curtains, laces, a house in the country, or a provision of wood for winter fires--may procure all these, and many other things besides, at Mme. Charman's. Charman lives at 136, Rue Notre Dame de Lorette, on the first story above the ground-floor. Her customers must give madame some guarantee of their credit; a woman, if she be young and pretty, may be accommodated at madame's at the reasonable rate of two hundred per cent interest. Madame has, at these rates, considerable custom, and yet has not made a large fortune. She must necessarily risk a great deal, and bears heavy losses as well as receives large profits. Then she is, as she is pleased to say, too honest; and true enough, she is honest--she would rather sell her dress off her back than let her signature go to protest. Madame is a blonde, slight, gentle, and not wanting in a certain distinction of manner; she invariably wears, whether it be summer or winter, a black silk dress. They say she has a husband, but no one has ever seen him, which does not prevent his reputation for good conduct from being above suspicion.

However, honorable as may be Mme. Charman's profession, she has more than once had business with M. Lecoq; she has need of him and fears him as she does fire. She, therefore, welcomed the detective and his companion--whom she took for one of his colleagues--somewhat as the supernumerary of a theatre would greet his manager if the latter chanced to pay him a visit in his humble lodgings. She was expecting them.

When they rang, she advanced to meet them in the ante-chamber, and greeted M. Lecoq graciously and smilingly. She conducted them into her drawing-room, invited them to sit in her best arm-chairs, and pressed some refreshments upon them.

"I see, dear Madame," began M. Lecoq, "that you have received my little note." "Yes, Monsieur Lecoq, early this morning; I was not up." "Very good.

And have you been so kind as to do the service I asked?" "How can you ask me, when you know that I would go through the fire for you? I set about it at once, getting up expressly for the purpose." "Then you've got the address of Pelagie Taponnet, called Jenny?" "Yes, I have," returned Mme. Charman, with an obsequious bow. "If I were the kind of woman to magnify my services, I would tell you what trouble it cost me to find this address, and how I ran all over Paris and spent ten francs in cab hire." "Well, let's come to the point." "The truth is, I had the pleasure of seeing Miss Jenny day before yesterday." "You are joking!" "Not the least in the world. And let me tell you that she is a very courageous and honest girl." "Really!" "She is, indeed. Why, she has owed me four hundred and eighty francs for two years. I hardly thought the debt worth much, as you may imagine. But Jenny came to me day before yesterday all out of breath and told me that she had inherited some money, and had brought me what she owed me.

And she was not joking, either; for her purse was full of bank notes, and she paid me the whole of my bill. She's a good girl!" added Mme. Charman, as if profoundly convinced of the truth of her encomium. Lecoq exchanged a significant glance with the old justice; the same idea struck them both at the same moment. These bank-notes could only be the payment for some important service rendered by Jenny to Tremorel. Lecoq, however, wished for more precise information. "What was Jenny's condition before this windfall?" asked he. "Ah, Monsieur Lecoq, she was in a dreadful condition. Since the count deserted her she has been constantly falling lower and lower.

She sold all she had piece by piece. At last, she mixed with the worst kind of people, drank absinthe, they say, and had nothing to put to her back. When she got any money she spent it on a parcel of hussies instead of buying clothes." "And where is she living?" "Right by, in a house in the Rue Vintimille." "If that is so," replied M. Lecoq, severely, "I am astonished that she is not here." "It's not my fault, dear Monsieur Lecoq; I know where the nest is, but not where the bird is. She was away this morning when I sent for her." "The deuce! But then--it's very annoying; I must hunt her up at once." "You needn't disturb yourself.

Jenny ought to return before four o'clock, and one of my girls is waiting for her with orders to bring her here as soon as she comes in, without even letting her go up to her room." "We'll wait for her then." M. Lecoq and his friend waited about a quarter of an hour, when Mme. Charman suddenly got up. "I hear my girl's step on the stairs," said she. "Listen to me," answered M. Lecoq, "if it is she, manage to make Jenny think that it was you who sent for her; we will seem to have come in by the merest chance." Mme. Charman responded by a gesture of assent. She was going towards the door when the detective detained her by the arm.

When you see me fairly engaged in conversation with her, please be so good as to go and overlook your work-people in the shops. What I have to say will not interest you in the least." "I understand." "But no trickery, you know. I know where the closet of your bedroom is, well enough to be sure that everything that is said here may be overheard in it." Mme. Charman's emissary opened the door; there was a loud rustling of silks along the corridor; and Jenny appeared in all her glory. She was no longer the fresh and pretty minx whom Hector had known--the provoking large-eyed Parisian demoiselle, with haughty head and petulant grace. A single year had withered her, as a too hot summer does the roses, and had destroyed her fragile beauty beyond recall. She was not twenty, and still it was hard to discern that she had been charming, and was yet young.

For she had grown old like vice; her worn features and hollow cheeks betrayed the dissipations of her life; her eyes had lost their long, languishing lids; her mouth had a pitiful expression of stupefaction; and absinthe had broken the clear tone of her voice. She was richly dressed in a new robe, with a great deal of lace and a jaunty hat; yet she had a wretched expression; she was all besmeared with rouge and paint. When she came in she seemed very angry. "What an idea!" she cried, without taking the trouble to bow to anyone; "what sense is there in sending for me to come here in this way, almost by force, and by a very impudent young woman?" Mme. Charman hastened to meet her old customer, embraced her in spite of herself, and pressed her to her heart. "Why, don't be so angry, dear--I thought you would be delighted and overwhelm me with thanks." "I?

What for?" "Because, my dear girl, I had a surprise in store for you.

Ah, I'm not ungrateful; you came here yesterday and settled your account with me, and to-day I mean to reward you for it. Come, cheer up; you're going to have a splendid chance, because just at this moment I happen to have a piece of exquisite velvet--" "A pretty thing to bring me here for!" "All silk, my dear, at thirty francs the yard. Ha, 'tis wonderfully cheap, the best--" "Eh! What care I for your 'chance?' Velvet in July--are you making fun of me?" "Let me show it to you, now." "Never! I am expected to dinner at Asnieres, and so--" She was about to go away despite Mme. Charman's attempts to detain her, when M. Lecoq thought it was time to interfere. "Why, am I mistaken?" cried he, as if amazed; "is it really Miss Jenny whom I have the honor of seeing?" She scanned him with a half-angry, half-surprised air, and said: "Yes, it is I; what of it?" "What!

Are you so forgetful? Don't you recognize me?" "No, not at all." "Yet I was one of your admirers once, my dear, and used to breakfast with you when you lived near the Madeleine; in the count's time, you know." He took off his spectacles as if to wipe them, but really to launch a furious look at Mme. Charman, who, not daring to resist, beat a hasty retreat. "I knew Tremorel well in other days," resumed the detective. "And--by the bye, have you heard any news of him lately?" "I saw him about a week ago." "Stop, though--haven't you heard of that horrible affair?" "No. What was it?" "Really, now, haven't you heard? Don't you read the papers? It was a dreadful thing, and has been the talk of all Paris for the past forty-eight hours." "Tell me about it, quick!" "You know that he married the widow of one of his friends. He was thought to be very happy at home; not at all; he has murdered his wife with a knife." Jenny grew pale under her paint.

"Is it possible?" stammered she.

She seemed much affected, but not very greatly surprised, which M. Lecoq did not fail to remark. "It is so possible," he resumed, "that he is at this moment in prison, will soon be tried, and without a doubt will be convicted." M. Plantat narrowly observed Jenny; he looked for an explosion of despair, screams, tears, at least a light nervous attack; he was mistaken. Sometimes she felt the weight of her degradation, and she accused Hector of her present ignominy. She heartily hated him, though she smiled when she saw him, got as much money out of him as she could, and cursed him behind his back. Instead of bursting into tears, she therefore laughed aloud. "Well done for Tremorel," said she.

"Why did he leave me? Good for her too." "Why so?" "What did she deceive her husband for? It was she who took Hector from me--she, a rich, married woman!

But I've always said Hector was a poor wretch." "Frankly, that's my notion too. When a man acts as Tremorel has toward you, he's a villain." "It's so, isn't it?" "Parbleu! But I'm not surprised at his conduct. For his wife's murder is the least of his crimes; why, he tried to put it off upon somebody else!" "That doesn't surprise me." "He accused a poor devil as innocent as you or I, who might have been condemned to death if he hadn't been able to tell where he was on Wednesday night." M. Lecoq said this lightly, with intended deliberation, so as to watch the impression he produced on Jenny.

"Do you know who the man was?" asked she in a tremulous voice. "The papers said it was a poor lad who was his gardener." "A little man, wasn't he, thin, very dark, with black hair?" "Just so." "And whose name was--wait now--was--Guespin." "Ah ha, you know him then?" Jenny hesitated. She was trembling very much, and evidently regretted that she had gone so far. "Bah!" said she at last. "I don't see why I shouldn't tell what I know. I'm an honest girl, if Tremorel is a rogue; and I don't want them to condemn a poor wretch who is innocent." "You know something about it, then?" "Well, I know nearly all about it--that's honest, ain't it? About a week ago Hector wrote to me to meet him at Melun; I went, found him, and we breakfasted together. Then he told me that he was very much annoyed about his cook's marriage; for one of his servants was deeply in love with her, and might go and raise a rumpus at the wedding." "Ah, he spoke to you about the wedding, then?" "Wait a minute. Hector seemed very much embarrassed, not knowing how to avoid the disturbance he feared. Then I advised him to send the servant off out of the way on the wedding-day.

He thought a moment, and said that my advice was good. He added that he had found a means of doing this; on the evening of the marriage he would send the man on an errand for me, telling him that the affair was to be concealed from the countess. I was to dress up--as a chambermaid, and wait for the man at the cafe in the Place du Chatelet, between half-past nine and ten that evening; I was to sit at the table nearest the entrance on the right, with a bouquet in my hand, so that he should recognize me. He would come in and give me a package; then I was to ask him to take something, and so get him tipsy if possible, and then walk about Paris with him till morning." Jenny expressed herself with difficulty, hesitating, choosing her words, and trying to remember exactly what Tremorel said. "And you," interrupted M. Lecoq, "did you believe all this story about a jealous servant?" "Not quite; but I fancied that he had some intrigue on foot, and I wasn't sorry to help him deceive a woman whom I detested, and who had wronged me." "So you did as he told you?" "Exactly, from beginning to end; everything happened just as Hector had foreseen. The man came along at just ten o'clock, took me for a maid, and gave me the package. I naturally offered him a glass of beer; he took it and proposed another, which I also accepted.

He is a very nice fellow, this gardener, and I passed a very pleasant evening with him. He knew lots of queer things, and--" "Never mind that. What did you do then?" "After the beer we had some wine, then some beer again, then some punch, then some more wine--the gardener had his pockets full of money. He was very tipsy by eleven and invited me to go and have a dance with him at the Batignolles. I refused, and asked him to escort me back to my mistress at the upper end of the Champs Elysees. We went out of the cafe and walked up the Rue de Rivoli, stopping every now and then for more wine and beer. By two o'clock the fellow was so far gone that he fell like a lump on a bench near the Arc de Triomphe, where he went to sleep; and there I left him." "Well, where did you go?" "Home." "What has become of the package?" "Oh, I intended to throw it into the Seine, as Hector wished, but I forgot it; you see, I had drunk almost as much as the gardener--so I carried it back home with me, and it is in my room now." "Have you opened it?" "Well--what do you think?" "What did it contain?" "A hammer, two other tools and a large knife." Guespin's innocence was now evident, and the detective's foresight was realized.

"Guespin's all right," said M. Plantat. Lecoq interrupted him; he knew now all he wished.

Jenny could tell him nothing more, so he suddenly changed his tone from a wheedling one to abrupt severity. "My fine young woman," said he, "you have saved an innocent man, but you must repeat what you have just said to the judge of instruction at Corbeil. And as you might lose yourself on the way, I'll give you a guide." He went to the window and opened it; perceiving Goulard on the sidewalk, he cried out to him: "Goulard, come up here." He turned to the astonished Jenny, who was so frightened that she dared not either question him or get angry, and said: "Tell me how much Tremorel paid you for the service you rendered him." "Ten thousand francs; but it is my due, I swear to you; for he promised it to me long ago, and owed it to me." "Very good; it can't be taken away from you." He added, pointing out Goulard who entered just then: "Go with this man to your room, take the package which Guespin brought you, and set out at once for Corbeil. Above all, no tricks, Miss--or beware of me!" Mme. Charman came in just in time to see Jenny leave the room with Goulard. "Lord, what's the matter?" she asked M. "Nothing, my dear Madame, nothing that concerns you in the least. And so, thank you and good-evening; we are in a great hurry." XXVI When M. Lecoq was in a hurry he walked fast. He almost ran down the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette, so that Plantat had great difficulty in keeping up with him; and as he went along he pursued his train of reflection, half aloud, so that his companion caught here and there a snatch of it.

"All goes well," he muttered, "and we shall succeed. It's seldom that a campaign which commences so well ends badly. If Job is at the wine merchant's, and if one of my men has succeeded in his search, the crime of Valfeuillu is solved, and in a week people will have forgotten it." He stopped short on reaching the foot of the street opposite the church.

"I must ask you to pardon me," said he to the old justice, "for hurrying you on so and making you one of my trade; but your assistance might have been very useful at Madame Charman's, and will be indispensable when we get fairly on Tremorel's track." They went across the square and into the wine shop at the corner of the Rue des Martyrs. Its keeper was standing behind his counter turning wine out of a large jug into some litres, and did not seem much astonished at seeing his new visitors. Lecoq was quite at home (as he was everywhere), and spoke to the man with an air of easy familiarity. "Aren't there six or eight men waiting for somebody here?" he asked. "Yes, they came about an hour ago." "Are they in the big back room?" "Just so, Monsieur," responded the wine merchant, obsequiously. He didn't exactly know who was talking to him, but he suspected him to be some superior officer from the prefecture; and he was not surprised to see that this distinguished personage knew the ins and outs of his house. He opened the door of the room referred to without hesitation.

Ten men in various guises were drinking there and playing cards. Lecoq's entrance with M. Plantat, they respectfully got up and took off their hats. "Good for you, Job," said M. Lecoq to him who seemed to be their chief, "you are prompt, and it pleases me. Your ten men will be quite enough, for I shall have the three besides whom I sent out this morning." M.

Job bowed, happy at having pleased a master who was not very prodigal in his praises. "I want you to wait here a while longer," resumed M. Lecoq, "for my orders will depend on a report which I am expecting." He turned to the men whom he had sent out among the upholsterers: "Which of you was successful?" "I, Monsieur," replied a big white-faced fellow, with insignificant mustaches. "What, you again, Palot?

really, my lad, you are lucky. Step into this side room--first, though, order a bottle of wine, and ask the proprietor to see to it that we are not disturbed." These orders were soon executed, and M.

Plantat being duly ensconced with them in the little room, the detective turned the key. "Speak up now," said he to Palot, "and be brief." "I showed the photograph to at least a dozen upholsterers without any result; but at last a merchant in the Faubourg St. Germain, named Rech, recognized it." "Tell me just what he said, if you can." "He told me that it was the portrait of one of his customers. A month ago this customer came to him to buy a complete set of furniture--drawing-room, dining-room, bed-room, and the rest--for a little house which he had just rented. He did not beat him down at all, and only made one condition to the purchase, and that was, that everything should be ready and in place, and the curtains and carpets put in, within three weeks from that time; that is a week ago last Monday." "And what was the sum-total of the purchase?" "Eighteen thousand francs, half paid down in advance, and half on the day of delivery." "And who carried the last half of the money to the upholsterer?" "A servant." "What name did this customer give?" "He called himself Monsieur James Wilson; but Monsieur Rech said he did not seem like an English-man." "Where does he live?" "The furniture was carried to a small house, No. Lazare, near the Havre station." M. Lecoq's face, which had up to that moment worn an anxious expression, beamed with joy. He felt the natural pride of a captain who has succeeded in his plans for the enemy's destruction. He tapped the old justice of the peace familiarly on the shoulder, and pronounced a single word: "Nipped!" Palot shook his head. "It isn't certain," said he.

"Why?" "You may imagine, Monsieur Lecoq, that when I got the address, having some time on my hands, I went to reconnoitre the house." "Well?" "The tenant's name is really Wilson, but it's not the man of the photograph, I'm certain." M. Plantat gave a groan of disappointment, but M. Lecoq was not so easily discouraged. "How did you find out?" "I pumped one of the servants." "Confound you!" cried M. Plantat. "Perhaps you roused suspicions." "Oh, no," answered M. "I'll answer for him. Palot is a pupil of mine.

Explain yourself, Palot." "Recognizing the house--an elegant affair it is, too--I said to myself: 'I' faith, here's the cage; let's see if the bird is in it.' I luckily happened to have a napoleon in my pocket; and I slipped it without hesitation into the drain which led from the house to the street-gutter." "Then you rang?" "Exactly. The porter--there is a porter--opened the door, and with my most vexed air I told him how, in pulling out my handkerchief, I had dropped a twenty-franc piece in the drain, and begged him to lend me something to try to get it out. He lent me a poker and took another himself, and we got the money out with no difficulty; I began to jump about as if I were delighted, and begged him to let me treat him to a glass of wine." "Not bad." "Oh, Monsieur Lecoq, it is one of your tricks, you know. My porter accepted my invitation, and we soon got to be the best friends in the world over some wine in a shop just across the street from the house. We were having a jolly talk together when, all of a sudden, I leaned over as if I had just espied something on the floor, and picked up--the photograph, which I had dropped and soiled a little with my foot. 'What,' cried I, 'a portrait?' My new friend took it, looked at it, and didn't seem to recognize it.

Then, to be certain, I said, 'He's a very good-looking fellow, ain't he now? Your master must be some such a man.' But he said no, that the photograph was of a man who was bearded, while his master was as clean-faced as an abbe. 'Besides,' he added, 'my master is an American; he gives us our orders in French, but Madame and he always talk English together.'" M. Lecoq's eye glistened as Palot proceeded. "Tremorel speaks English, doesn't he?" asked he of M. Plantat.

"Quite well; and Laurence too." "If that is so, we are on the right track, for we know that Tremorel shaved his beard off on the night of the murder. We can go on--" Palot meanwhile seemed a little uneasy at not receiving the praise he expected. "My lad," said M. Lecoq, turning to him, "I think you have done admirably, and a good reward shall prove it to you. Being ignorant of what we know, your conclusions were perfectly right. But let's go to the house at once; have you got a plan of the ground-floor?" "Yes, and also of the first floor above. The porter was not dumb, and so he gave me a good deal of information about his master and mistress, though he has only been there two days. The lady is dreadfully melancholy, and cries all the time." "We know it; the plan--" "Below, there is a large and high paved arch for the carriages to pass through; on the other side is a good-sized courtyard, at the end of which are the stable and carriage-house.

The porter's lodge is on the left of the arch; on the right a glass door opens on a staircase with six steps, which conducts to a vestibule into which the drawing-room, dining-room, and two other little rooms open. The chambers are on the first floor, a study, a--" "Enough," M. Lecoq said, "my plan is made." And rising abruptly, he opened the door, and followed by M. Plantat and Palot, went into the large room. All the men rose at his approach as before. "Monsieur Job," said the detective, "listen attentively to what I have to say.

As soon as I am gone, pay up what you owe here, and then, as I must have you all within reach, go and install yourselves in the first wine-shop on the right as you go up the Rue d'Amsterdam. Take your dinner there, for you will have time--but soberly, you understand." He took two napoleons out of his pocket and placed them on the table, adding: "That's for the dinner." M. Lecoq and the old justice went into the street, followed closely by Palot. The detective was anxious above all to see for himself the house inhabited by Tremorel. He saw at a glance that the interior must be as Palot had described. "That's it, undoubtedly," said he to M.

Plantat; "we've got the game in our hands. Our chances at this moment are ninety to ten." "What are you going to do?" asked the justice, whose emotion increased as the decisive moment approached. "Nothing, just yet, I must wait for night before I act. As it is two hours yet before dark, let's imitate my men; I know a restaurant just by here where you can dine capitally; we'll patronize it." And without awaiting a reply, he led M. Plantat to a restaurant in the Passage du Havre. But at the moment he was about to open the door, he stopped and made a signal. Palot immediately appeared.

"I give you two hours to get yourself up so that the porter won't recognize you, and to have some dinner. You are an upholsterer's apprentice. Now clear out; I shall wait for you here." M.

Lecoq was right when he said that a capital dinner was to be had in the Passage du Havre; unfortunately M. Plantat was not in a state to appreciate it. As in the morning, he found it difficult to swallow anything, he was so anxious and depressed.

He longed to know the detective's plans; but M. Lecoq remained impenetrable, answering all inquiries with: "Let me act, and trust me." M. Plantat's confidence was indeed very great; but the more he reflected, the more perilous and difficult seemed the attempt to save Tremorel from a trial. The most poignant doubts troubled and tortured his mind. His own life was at stake; for he had sworn to himself that he would not survive the ruin of Laurence in being forced to confess in full court her dishonor and her love for Hector. Lecoq tried hard to make his companion eat something, to take at least some soup and a glass of old Bordeaux; but he soon saw the uselessness of his efforts and went on with his dinner as if he were alone. He was very thoughtful, but any uncertainty of the result of his plans never entered his head.

He drank much and often, and soon emptied his bottle of Leoville. Night having now come on the waiters began to light the chandeliers, and the two friends found themselves almost alone. "Isn't it time to begin?" asked the old justice, timidly. "We have still nearly an hour," replied M. Lecoq, consulting his watch; "but I shall make my preparations now." He called a waiter, and ordered a cup of coffee and writing materials. "You see," said he, while they were waiting to be served, "we must try to get at Laurence without Tremorel's knowing it. We must have a ten minutes' talk with her alone, and in the house. That is a condition absolutely necessary to our success." M. Plantat had evidently been expecting some immediate and decisive action, for M.

Lecoq's remark filled him with alarm. "If that's so," said he mournfully, "it's all over with our project." "How so?" "Because Tremorel will not leave Laurence by herself for a moment." "Then I'll try to entice him out." "And you, you who are usually so clear-sighted, really think that he will let himself be taken in by a trick! You don't consider his situation at this moment. He must be a prey to boundless terrors. We know that Sauvresy's declaration will not be found, but he does not; he thinks that perhaps it has been found, that suspicions have been aroused, and that he is already being searched for and pursued by the police." "I've considered all that," responded M. Lecoq with a triumphant smile, "and many other things besides. Well, it isn't easy to decoy Tremorel out of the house. I've been cudgelling my brain about it a good deal, and have found a way at last. The idea occurred to me just as we were coming in here. The Count de Tremorel, in an hour from now, will be in the Faubourg St.

Germain. It's true it will cost me a forgery, but you will forgive me under the circumstances. Besides, he who seeks the end must use the means." He took up a pen, and as he smoked his cigar, rapidly wrote the following: "MONSIEUR WILSON: "Four of the thousand-franc notes which you paid me are counterfeits; I have just found it out by sending them to my banker's. If you are not here to explain the matter before ten o'clock, I shall be obliged to put in a complaint this evening before the procureur. "RECH." "Now," said M. Lecoq, passing the letter to his companion.

"Do you comprehend?" The old justice read it at a glance and could not repress a joyful exclamation, which caused the waiters to turn around and stare at him. "Yes," said he, "this letter will catch him; it'll frighten him out of all his other terrors.

He will say to himself that he might have slipped some counterfeit notes among those paid to the upholsterer, that a complaint against him will provoke an inquiry, and that he will have to prove that he is really Monsieur Wilson or he is lost." "So you think he'll come out?" "I'm sure of it, unless he has become a fool." "I tell you we shall succeed then, for this is the only serious obstacle--" He suddenly interrupted himself. The restaurant door opened ajar, and a man passed his head in and withdrew it immediately. "That's my man," said M. Lecoq, calling the waiter to pay for the dinner, "he is waiting for us in the passage; let us go." A young man dressed like a journeyman upholsterer was standing in the passage looking in at the shop-windows. He had long brown locks, and his mustache and eyebrows were coal-black. Plantat certainly did not recognize him as Palot, but M. Lecoq did, and even seemed dissatisfied with his get-up.

"Bad," growled he, "pitiable. Do you think it is enough, in order to disguise yourself, to change the color of your beard? Look in that glass, and tell me if the expression of your face is not just what it was before? Aren't your eye and smile the same? Then your cap is too much on one side, it is not natural; and your hand is put in your pocket awkwardly." "I'll try to do better another time, Monsieur Lecoq," Palot modestly replied.

"I hope so; but I guess your porter won't recognize you to-night, and that is all we want." "And now what must I do?" "I'll give you your orders; and be very careful not to blunder. First, hire a carriage, with a good horse; then go to the wine-shop for one of our men, who will accompany you to Monsieur Wilson's house. When you get there ring, enter alone and give the porter this letter, saying that it is of the utmost importance. This done, put yourself with your companion in ambuscade before the house. If Monsieur Wilson goes out--and he will go out or I am not Lecoq--send your comrade to me at once.

As for you, you will follow Monsieur Wilson and not lose sight of him. He will take a carriage, and you will follow him with yours, getting up on the hackman's seat and keeping a lookout from there. Have your eyes open, for he is a rascal who may feel inclined to jump out of his cab and leave you in pursuit of an empty vehicle." "Yes, and the moment I am informed--" "Silence, please, when I am speaking. He will probably go to the upholsterer's in the Rue des Saints-Peres, but I may be mistaken. He may order himself to be carried to one of the railway stations, and may take the first train which leaves. In this case, you must get into the same railway carriage that he does, and follow him everywhere he goes; and be sure and send me a despatch as soon as you can." "Very well, Monsieur Lecoq; only if I have to take a train--" "What, haven't you any money?" "Well--no, my chief." "Then take this five-hundred-franc note; that's more than is necessary to make the tour of the world.

Do you comprehend everything?" "I beg your pardon--what shall I do if Monsieur Wilson simply returns to his house?" "In that case I will finish with him. If he returns, you will come back with him, and the moment his cab stops before the house give two loud whistles, you know. Then wait for me in the street, taking care to retain your cab, which you will lend to Monsieur Plantat if he needs it." "All right," said Palot, who hastened off without more ado. Plantat and the detective, left alone, began to walk up and down the gallery; both were grave and silent, as men are at a decisive moment; there is no chatting about a gaming-table. Lecoq suddenly started; he had just seen his agent at the end of the gallery.

His impatience was so great that he ran toward him, saying: "Well?" "Monsieur, the game has flown, and Palot after him!" "On foot or in a cab?" "In a cab." "Enough.

Return to your comrades, and tell them to hold themselves ready." Everything was going as Lecoq wished, and he grasped the old justice's hand, when he was struck by the alteration in his features.

"What, are you ill?" asked he, anxiously. "No, but I am fifty-five years old, Monsieur Lecoq, and at that age there are emotions which kill one. Look, I am trembling at the moment when I see my wishes being realized, and I feel as if a disappointment would be the death of me.

I'm afraid, yes, I'm afraid. Ah, why can't I dispense with following you?" "But your presence is indispensable; without your help I can do nothing:" "What could I do?" "Save Laurence, Monsieur Plantat." This name restored a part of his courage. "If that is so--" said he. He began to walk firmly toward the street, but M. "Not yet," said the detective, "not yet; the battle now depends on the precision of our movements. A single fault miserably upsets all my combinations, and then I shall be forced to arrest and deliver up the criminal. We must have a ten minutes' interview with Mademoiselle Laurence, but not much more, and it is absolutely necessary that this interview should be suddenly interrupted by Tremorel's return. Let's make our calculations. It will take the rascal half an hour to go to the Rue des Saints-Peres, where he will find nobody; as long to get back; let us throw in fifteen minutes as a margin; in all, an hour and a quarter.

There are forty minutes left us." M. Plantat did not reply, but his companion said that he could not stay so long on his feet after the fatigues of the day, agitated as he was, and having eaten nothing since the evening before. He led him into a neighboring cafe, and forced him to eat a biscuit and drink a glass of wine. Then seeing that conversation would be annoying to the unhappy old man, he took up an evening paper and soon seemed to be absorbed in the latest news from Germany. The old justice, his head leaning on the back of his chair and his eyes wandering over the ceiling, passed in mental review the events of the past four years. It seemed to him but yesterday that Laurence, still a child, ran up his garden-path and picked his roses and honeysuckles. How pretty she was, and how divine were her great eyes!

Then, as it seemed, between dusk and dawn, as a rose blooms on a June night, the pretty child had become a sweet and radiant young girl. She was timid and reserved with all but him--was he not her old friend, the confidant of all her little griefs and her innocent hopes? How frank and pure she was then; what a heavenly ignorance of evil! Lecoq laid down his paper. "Let us go," said he. Plantat followed him with a firmer step, and they soon reached M. Wilson's house, accompanied by Job and his men.

"You men," said M.

Lecoq, "wait till I call before you go in; I will leave the door ajar." He rang; the door swung open; and M. Plantat and the detective went in under the arch. The porter was on the threshold of his lodge. "Monsieur Wilson?" asked M. "He is out." "I will speak to Madame, then." "She is also out." "Very well. Only, as I must positively speak with Madame Wilson, I'm going upstairs." The porter seemed about to resist him by force; but, as Lecoq now called in his men, he thought better of it and kept quiet. Lecoq posted six of his men in the court, in such a position that they could be easily seen from the windows on the first floor, and instructed the others to place themselves on the opposite sidewalk, telling them to look ostentatiously at the house.

These measures taken, he returned to the porter. "Attend to me, my man. When your master, who has gone out, comes in again, beware that you don't tell him that we are upstairs; a single word would get you into terribly hot water--" "I am blind," he answered, "and deaf." "How many servants are there in the house?" "Three; but they have all gone out." The detective then took M. Plantat by the arm, and holding him firmly: "You see, my dear friend," said he, "the game is ours. Come along--and in Laurence's name, have courage!" XXVII All M. Lecoq's anticipations were realized. Laurence was not dead, and her letter to her parents was an odious trick. It was really she who lived in the house as Mme.

How had the lovely young girl, so much beloved by the old justice, come to such a dreadful extremity? The logic of life, alas, fatally enchains all our determinations to each other. Often an indifferent action, little wrongful in itself, is the beginning of an atrocious crime. Each of our new resolutions depends upon those which have preceded it, and is their logical sequence just as the sum-total is the product of the added figures. Woe to him who, being seized with a dizziness at the brink of the abyss, does not fly as fast as possible, without turning his head; for soon, yielding to an irresistible attraction, he approaches, braves the danger, slips, and is lost. Whatever thereafter he does or attempts he will roll down the faster, until he reaches the very bottom of the gulf.

Tremorel had by no means the implacable character of an assassin; he was only feeble and cowardly; yet he had committed abominable crimes. All his guilt came from the first feeling of envy with which he regarded Sauvresy, and which he had not taken the pains to subdue. Laurence, when, on the day that she became enamoured of Tremorel, she permitted him to press her hand, and kept it from her mother, was lost. The hand-pressure led to the pretence of suicide in order to fly with her lover. It might also lead to infanticide. Poor Laurence, when she was left alone by Hector's departure to the Faubourg St. Germain, on receiving M. Lecoq's letter, began to reflect upon the events of the past year. How unlooked-for and rapidly succeeding they had been! It seemed to her that she had been whirled along in a tempest, without a second to think or act freely.

She asked herself if she were not a prey to some hideous nightmare, and if she should not presently awake in her pretty maidenly chamber at Orcival. Was it really she who was there in a strange house, dead to everyone, leaving behind a withered memory, reduced to live under a false name, without family or friends henceforth, or anyone in the world to help her feebleness, at the mercy of a fugitive like herself, who was free to break to-morrow the bonds of caprice which to-day bound him to her?

Was it she, too, who was about to become a mother, and found herself suffering from the excessive misery of blushing for that maternity which is the pride of pure young wives? A thousand memories of her past life flocked through her brain and cruelly revived her despair. Her heart sank as she thought of her old friendships, of her mother, her sister, the pride of her innocence, and the pure joys of the home fireside.

As she half reclined on a divan in Hector's library, she wept freely. She bewailed her life, broken at twenty, her lost youth, her vanished, once radiant hopes, the world's esteem, and her own self-respect, which she should never recover. Of a sudden the door was abruptly opened. Laurence thought it was Hector returned, and she hastily rose, passing her handkerchief across her face to try to conceal her tears. A man whom she did not know stood upon the threshold, respectfully bowing. She was afraid, for Tremorel had said to her many times within the past two days, "We are pursued; let us hide well;" and though it seemed to her that she had nothing to fear, she trembled without knowing why. "Who are you?" she asked, haughtily, "and who has admitted you here? What do you want?" M.

Lecoq left nothing to chance or inspiration; he foresaw everything, and regulated affairs in real life as he would the scenes in a theatre. He expected this very natural indignation and these questions, and was prepared for them. The only reply he made was to step one side, thus revealing M. Plantat behind him. Laurence was so much overcome on recognizing her old friend, that, in spite of her resolution, she came near falling. "You!" she stammered; "you!" The old justice was, if possible, more agitated than Laurence. Was that really his Laurence there before him? Grief had done its work so well that she seemed old. "Why add another grief to my life? Ah, I told Hector that the letter he dictated to me would not be believed.

There are misfortunes for which death is the only refuge." M. Plantat was about to reply, but Lecoq was determined to take the lead in the interview. "It is not you, Madame, that we seek," said he, "but Monsieur de Tremorel." "Hector! And why, if you please? Lecoq hesitated before shocking the poor girl, who had been but too credulous in trusting to a scoundrel's oaths of fidelity. But he thought that the cruel truth is less harrowing than the suspense of intimations.

"Monsieur de Tremorel," he answered, "has committed a great crime." "He!

You lie, sir." The detective sorrowfully shook his head. "Unhappily I have told you the truth. Monsieur de Tremorel murdered his wife on Wednesday night. I am a detective and I have a warrant to arrest him." He thought this terrible charge would overwhelm Laurence; he was mistaken. She was thunderstruck, but she stood firm.

The crime horrified her, but it did not seem to her entirely improbable, knowing as she did the hatred with which Hector was inspired by Bertha. "Well, perhaps he did," cried she, sublime in her energy and despair; "I am his accomplice, then--arrest me." This cry, which seemed to proceed from the most senseless passion, amazed the old justice, but did not surprise M. "No, Madame," he resumed, "you are not this man's accomplice. Besides, the murder of his wife is the least of his crimes. Do you know why he did not marry you? Because in concert with Bertha, he poisoned Monsieur Sauvresy, who saved his life and was his best friend. We have the proof of it." This was more than poor Laurence could bear; she staggered and fell upon a sofa. But she did not doubt the truth of what M. Lecoq said.

This terrible revelation tore away the veil which, till then, had hidden the past from her. The poisoning of Sauvresy explained all Hector's conduct, his position, his fears, his promises, his lies, his hate, his recklessness, his marriage, his flight. Still she tried not to defend him, but to share the odium of his crimes.

"I knew it," she stammered, in a voice broken by sobs, "I knew it all." The old justice was in despair. This mournful exclamation restored to Laurence all her energy; she made an effort and rose, her eyes glittering with indignation: "I love him!" cried she. Ah, I can explain my conduct to you, my old friend, for you are worthy of hearing it. Yes, I did love him, it is true--loved him to the forgetfulness of duty, to self-abandonment.

But one day he showed himself to me as he was; I judged him, and my love did not survive my contempt.

I was ignorant of Sauvresy's horrible death. Hector confessed to me that his life and honor were in Bertha's hands--and that she loved him. I left him free to abandon me, to marry, thus sacrificing more than my life to what I thought was his happiness; yet I was not deceived. When I fled with him I once more sacrificed myself, when I saw that it was impossible to conceal my shame. I wanted to die. I lived, and wrote an infamous letter to my mother, and yielded to Hector's prayers, because he pleaded with me in the name of my--of our child!" M. Lecoq, impatient at the loss of time, tried to say something; but Laurence would not listen to him.

"But what matter?" she continued.

"I loved him, followed him, and am his! Constancy at all hazards is the only excuse for a fault like mine. I cannot be innocent when Hector has committed a crime; I desire to suffer half the punishment." She spoke with such remarkable animation that the detective despaired of calming her, when two whistles in the street struck his ear. Tremorel was returning and there was not a moment to be lost. He suddenly seized Laurence by the arm. "You will tell all this to the judges, Madame," said he, sternly. "My orders are only for M. Here is the warrant to arrest him." He took out the warrant and laid it upon the table. Laurence, by the force of her will, had become almost calm. "You will let me speak five minutes with the Count de Tremorel, will you not?" she asked.

Lecoq was delighted; he had looked for this request, and expected it. "But abandon all hope, Madame, of saving the prisoner; the house is watched; if you look in the court and in the street you will see my men in ambuscade. Besides, I am going to stay here in the next room." The count was heard ascending the stairs.

"There's Hector!" cried Laurence, "quick, quick! conceal yourselves!" She added, as they were retiring, in a low tone, but not so low as to prevent the detective from hearing her: "Be sure, we will not try to escape." She let the door-curtain drop; it was time. He was paler than death, and his eyes had a fearful, wandering expression. "We are lost!" said he, "they are pursuing us. See, this letter which I received just now is not from the man whose signature it professes to bear; he told me so himself. Come, let us go, let us leave this house--" Laurence overwhelmed him with a look full of hate and contempt, and said: "It is too late." Her countenance and voice were so strange that Tremorel, despite his distress, was struck by it, and asked: "What is the matter?" "Everything is known; it is known that you killed your wife." "It's false!" She shrugged her shoulders. "Well, then, it is true," he added, "for I loved you so--" "Really!

And it was for love of me that you poisoned Sauvresy?" He saw that he was discovered, that he had been caught in a trap, that they had come, in his absence, and told Laurence all. He did not attempt to deny anything. "What shall I do?" cried he, "what shall I do?" Laurence drew him to her, and muttered in a shuddering voice: "Save the name of Tremorel; there are pistols here." He recoiled, as if he had seen death itself. "No," said he. "I can yet fly and conceal myself; I will go alone, and you can rejoin me afterward." "I have alre