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File No. 113
Emile Gaboriau




I

In the Paris evening papers of Tuesday, February 28, 1866, under the
head of _Local Items_, the following announcement appeared:


"A daring robbery, committed against one of our most eminent bankers,
M. Andre Fauvel, caused great excitement this morning throughout the
neighborhood of Rue de Provence.

"The thieves, who were as skilful as they were bold, succeeded in
making an entrance to the bank, in forcing the lock of a safe that has
heretofore been considered impregnable, and in possessing themselves
of the enormous sum of three hundred and fifty thousand francs in
bank-notes.

"The police, immediately informed of the robbery, displayed their
accustomed zeal, and their efforts have been crowned with success.
Already, it is said, P. B., a clerk in the bank, has been arrested,
and there is every reason to hope that his accomplices will be speedily
overtaken by the hand of justice."


For four days this robbery was the town talk of Paris.

Then public attention was absorbed by later and equally interesting
events: an acrobat broke his leg at the circus; an actress made her
debut at a small theatre: and the _item_ of the 28th was soon forgotten.

But for once the newspapers were--perhaps intentionally--wrong, or at
least inaccurate in their information.

The sum of three hundred and fifty thousand francs certainly had been
stolen from M. Andre Fauvel's bank, but not in the manner described.

A clerk had also been arrested on suspicion, but no decisive proof had
been found against him. This robbery of unusual importance remained, if
not inexplicable, at least unexplained.

The following are the facts as they were related with scrupulous
exactness at the preliminary examination.




II

The banking-house of Andre Fauvel, No. 87 Rue de Provence, is an
important establishment, and, owing to its large force of clerks,
presents very much the appearance of a government department.

On the ground-floor are the offices, with windows opening on the street,
fortified by strong iron bars sufficiently large and close together to
discourage all burglarious attempts.

A large glass door opens into a spacious vestibule where three or four
office-boys are always in waiting.

On the right are the rooms to which the public is admitted, and from
which a narrow passage leads to the principal cash-room.

The offices of the corresponding clerk, book-keeper, and general
accounts are on the left.

At the farther end is a small court on which open seven or eight little
wicket doors. These are kept closed, except on certain days when notes
are due; and then they are indispensable.

M. Fauvel's private office is on the first floor over the offices, and
leads into his elegant private apartments.

This private office communicates directly with the bank by means of
a narrow staircase, which opens into the room occupied by the head
cashier.

This room, which in the bank goes by the name of the "cash-office," is
proof against all attacks, no matter how skilfully planned; indeed, it
could almost withstand a regular siege, sheeted as it is like a monitor.

The doors, and the partition where the wicket door is cut, are covered
with thick sheets of iron; and a heavy grating protects the fireplace.

Fastened in the wall by enormous iron clamps is a safe, a formidable
and fantastic piece of furniture, calculated to fill with envy the poor
devil who easily carries his fortune in a pocket-book.

This safe, which is considered the masterpiece of the firm of Becquet,
is six feet in height and four and a half in width, made entirely of
wrought iron, with triple sides, and divided into isolated compartments
in case of fire.

The safe is opened by an odd little key, which is, however, the least
important part of the mechanism. Five movable steel buttons, upon which
are engraved all the letters of the alphabet, constitute the real power
of this ingenious safe.

Before inserting the key into the lock, the letters on the buttons must
be in the exact position in which they were placed when the safe was
locked.

In M. Fauvel's bank, as everywhere, the safe was always closed with a
word that was changed from time to time.

This word was known only to the head of the bank and the cashier, each
of whom had also a key to the safe.

In a fortress like this, a person could deposit more diamonds than the
Duke of Brunswick's, and sleep well assured of their safety.

But one danger seemed to threaten, that of forgetting the secret word
which was the "Open sesame" of the safe.

On the morning of the 28th of February, the bank-clerks were all busy
at their various desks, about half-past nine o'clock, when a middle-aged
man of dark complexion and military air, clad in deep mourning, appeared
in the office adjoining the "safe," and announced to the five or six
employees present his desire to see the cashier.

He was told that the cashier had not yet come, and his attention was
called to a placard in the entry, which stated that the "cash-room" was
opened at ten o'clock.

This reply seemed to disconcert and annoy the new-comer.

"I expected," he said, in a tone of cool impertinence, "to find someone
here ready to attend to my business. I explained the matter to M. Fauvel
yesterday. I am Count Louis de Clameran, an iron-manufacturer at Oloron,
and have come to draw three hundred thousand francs deposited in this
bank by my late brother, whose heir I am. It is surprising that no
direction was given about it."

Neither the title of the noble manufacturer, nor his explanations,
appeared to have the slightest effect upon the clerks.

"The cashier has not yet arrived," they repeated, "and we can do nothing
for you."

"Then conduct me to M. Fauvel."

There was a moment's hesitation; then a clerk named Cavaillon, who was
writing near a window, said:

"The chief is always out at this hour."

"Then I will call again," replied M. de Clameran.

And he walked out, as he had entered, without saying "Good-morning," or
even touching his hat.

"Not very polite, that customer," said little Cavaillon, "but he will
soon be settled, for here comes Prosper."

Prosper Bertomy, head cashier of Fauvel's banking-house, was a tall,
handsome man, of about thirty, with fair hair and large dark-blue eyes,
fastidiously neat, and dressed in the height of fashion.

He would have been very prepossessing but for a cold, reserved
English-like manner, and a certain air of self-sufficiency which spoiled
his naturally bright, open countenance.

"Ah, here you are!" cried Cavaillon, "someone has just been asking for
you."

"Who? An iron-manufacturer, was it not?"

"Exactly."

"Well, he will come back again. Knowing that I would get here late this
morning, I made all my arrangements yesterday."

Prosper had unlocked his office-door, and, as he finished speaking,
entered, and closed it behind him.

"Good!" exclaimed one of the clerks, "there is a man who never lets
anything disturb him. The chief has quarrelled with him twenty times for
always coming too late, and his remonstrances have no more effect upon
him than a breath of wind."

"And very right, too; he knows he can get anything he wants out of the
chief."

"Besides, how could he come any sooner? a man who sits up all night, and
leads a fast life, doesn't feel like going to work early in the morning.
Did you notice how very pale he looked when he came in?"

"He must have been playing heavily again. Couturier says he lost fifteen
thousand francs at a sitting last week."

"His work is none the worse done for all that," interrupted Cavaillon.
"If you were in his place--"

He stopped short. The cash-room door suddenly opened, and the cashier
appeared before them with tottering step, and a wild, haggard look on
his ashy face.

"Robbed!" he gasped out: "I have been robbed!"

Prosper's horrified expression, his hollow voice and trembling limbs,
betrayed such fearful suffering that the clerks jumped up from their
desks, and ran toward him. He almost dropped into their arms; he was
sick and faint, and fell into a chair.

His companions surrounded him, and begged him to explain himself.

"Robbed?" they said; "where, how, by whom?"

Gradually, Prosper recovered himself.

"All the money I had in the safe," he said, "has been stolen."

"All?"

"Yes, all; three packages, each containing one hundred notes of a
thousand francs, and one package of fifty thousand. The four packages
were wrapped in a sheet of paper, and tied together."

With the rapidity of lightning, the news of the robbery spread
throughout the banking-house, and the room was soon filled with curious
listeners.

"Tell us, Prosper," said young Cavaillon, "did you find the safe broken
open?"

"No; it is just as I left it."

"Well then, how, why----"

"Yesterday I put three hundred and fifty thousand francs in the safe;
and this morning they are gone."

All were silent except one old clerk, who did not seem to share the
general consternation.

"Don't distress yourself, M. Bertomy," he said: "perhaps the chief
disposed of the money."

The unhappy cashier started up with a look of relief; he eagerly caught
at the idea.

"Yes!" he exclaimed, "you are right: the chief must have taken it."

But, after thinking a few minutes, he said in a tone of deep
discouragement:

"No, that is impossible. During the five years that I have had charge of
the safe, M. Fauvel has never opened it except in my presence. Several
times he has needed money, and has either waited until I came, or sent
for me, rather than touch it in my absence."

"Well," said Cavaillon, "before despairing, let us ascertain."

But a messenger had already informed M. Fauvel of the disaster.

As Cavaillon was about to go in quest of him, he entered the room.

M. Andre Fauvel appeared to be a man of fifty, inclined to corpulency,
of medium height, with iron-gray hair; and, like all hard workers, he
had a slight stoop.

Never did he by a single action belie the kindly expression of his face.

He had a frank air, a lively, intelligent eye, and large, red lips.

Born in the neighborhood of Aix, he betrayed, when animated, a slight
Provencal accent that gave a peculiar flavor to his genial humor.

The news of the robbery had extremely agitated him, for his usually
florid face was now quite pale.

"What is this I hear? what has happened?" he said to the clerks, who
respectfully stood aside when he entered the room.

The sound of M. Fauvel's voice inspired the cashier with the factitious
energy of a great crisis. The dreaded and decisive moment had come; he
arose, and advanced toward his chief.

"Monsieur," he began, "having, as you know, a payment to make this
morning, I yesterday drew from the Bank of France three hundred and
fifty thousand francs."

"Why yesterday, monsieur?" interrupted the banker. "I think I have a
hundred times ordered you to wait until the day of the payment."

"I know it, monsieur, and I did wrong to disobey you. But the evil is
done. Yesterday evening I locked the money up: it has disappeared, and
yet the safe has not been broken open."

"You must be mad!" exclaimed M. Fauvel: "you are dreaming!"

These few words destroyed all hope; but the very horror of the situation
gave Prosper, not the coolness of a matured resolution, but that sort
of stupid, stolid indifference which often results from unexpected
catastrophes.

It was with apparent calmness that he replied:

"I am not mad; neither, unfortunately, am I dreaming: I am simply
telling the truth."

This tranquillity at such a moment appeared to exasperate M. Fauvel. He
seized Prosper by the arm, and shook him roughly.

"Speak!" he cried out. "Speak! who do you pretend to say opened the
safe? Answer me!"

"I cannot say."

"No one but you and I knew the secret word. No one but you and myself
had keys."

This was a formal accusation; at least, all the auditors present so
understood it.

Yet Prosper's strange calmness never left him for an instant. He quietly
released himself from M. Fauvel's grasp, and very slowly said:

"In other words, monsieur, I am the only person who could have taken
this money."

"Unhappy wretch!"

Prosper drew himself to his full height, and, looking M. Fauvel full in
the face, added:

"Or you!"

The banker made a threatening gesture; and there is no knowing what
would have happened if they had not been interrupted by loud and angry
voices at the entry-door.

A man insisted upon entering in spite of the protestations of the
errand-boys, and succeeded in forcing his way in. It was M. de Clameran.

The clerks stood looking on, bewildered and motionless. The silence was
profound, solemn.

It was easy to see that some terrible question, a question of life or
death, was being weighed by all these men.

The iron-founder did not appear to observe anything unusual. He
advanced, and without lifting his hat said, in the same impertinent
tone:

"It is after ten o'clock, gentlemen."

No one answered; and M. de Clameran was about to continue, when, turning
around, he for the first time saw the banker, and walking up to him
said:

"Well, monsieur, I congratulate myself upon finding you in at last. I
have been here once before this morning, and found the cash-room not
opened, the cashier not arrived, and you absent."

"You are mistaken, monsieur, I was in my office."

"At any rate, I was told you were out; that gentleman over there assured
me of the fact."

And the iron-founder pointed out Cavaillon.

"However, that is of little importance," he went on to say. "I return,
and this time not only the cash-room is closed, but I am refused
admittance to the banking-house, and find myself compelled to force my
way in. Be so good as to tell me whether I can have my money."

M. Fauvel's flushed face turned pale with anger as he listened to this
insolence; yet he controlled himself.

"I would be obliged to you, monsieur, for a short delay."

"I thought you told me--"

"Yes, yesterday. But this morning, this very instant, I find I have been
robbed of three hundred and fifty thousand francs."

M. de Clameran bowed ironically, and said:

"Shall I have to wait long?"

"Long enough for me to send to the bank."

Then turning his back on the iron-founder, M. Fauvel said to his
cashier:

"Write and send as quickly as possible to the bank an order for three
hundred thousand francs. Let the messenger take a carriage."

Prosper remained motionless.

"Do you hear me?" said the banker angrily.

The cashier trembled; he seemed as if trying to shake off a terrible
nightmare.

"It is useless to send," he said in a measured tone; "we owe this
gentleman three hundred thousand francs, and we have less than one
hundred thousand in the bank."

M. de Clameran evidently expected this answer, for he muttered:

"Naturally."

Although he pronounced this word, his voice, his manner, his face
clearly said:

"This comedy is well acted; but nevertheless it is a comedy, and I don't
intend to be duped by it."

Alas! After Prosper's answer, and the iron-founder's coarsely expressed
opinion, the clerks knew not what to think.

The fact was, that Paris had just been startled by several financial
crashes. The thirst for speculation caused the oldest and most reliable
houses to totter. Men of the most unimpeachable honor had to sacrifice
their pride, and go from door to door imploring aid.

Credit, that rare bird of security and peace, rested with none, but
stood with upraised wings, ready to fly off at the first rumor of
suspicion.

Therefore this idea of a comedy arranged beforehand between the banker
and his cashier might readily occur to the minds of people who, if not
suspicious, were at least aware of all the expedients resorted to
by speculators in order to gain time, which with them often meant
salvation.

M. Fauvel had had too much experience not to instantly divine the
impression produced by Prosper's answer; he read the most mortifying
doubt on the faces around him.

"Oh! don't be alarmed, monsieur," said he to M. de Clameran, "this house
has other resources. Be kind enough to await my return."

He left the room, went up the narrow steps leading to his study, and
in a few minutes returned, holding in his hand a letter and a bundle of
securities.

"Here, quick, Couturier!" he said to one of his clerks, "take my
carriage, which is waiting at the door, and go with monsieur to M. de
Rothschild's. Hand him this letter and these securities; in exchange,
you will receive three hundred thousand francs, which you will hand to
this gentleman."

The iron-founder was visibly disappointed; he seemed desirous of
apologizing for his impertinence.

"I assure you, monsieur, that I had no intention of giving offence. Our
relations, for some years, have been such that I hope--"

"Enough, monsieur," interrupted the banker, "I desire no apologies. In
business, friendship counts for nothing. I owe you money: I am not ready
to pay: you are pressing: you have a perfect right to demand what is
your own. Follow my clerk: he will pay you your money."

Then he turned to his clerks who stood curiously gazing on, and said:

"As for you, gentlemen, be kind enough to resume your desks."

In an instant the room was cleared of everyone except the clerks who
belonged there; and they sat at their desks with their noses almost
touching the paper before them, as if too absorbed in their work to
think of anything else.

Still excited by the events so rapidly succeeding each other, M.
Andre Fauvel walked up and down the room with quick, nervous steps,
occasionally uttering some low exclamation.

Prosper remained leaning against the door, with pale face and fixed
eyes, looking as if he had lost the faculty of thinking.

Finally the banker, after a long silence, stopped short before Prosper;
he had determined upon the line of conduct he would pursue.

"We must have an explanation," he said. "Let us go into your office."

The cashier mechanically obeyed without a word; and his chief followed
him, taking the precaution to close the door after him.

The cash-room bore no evidences of a successful burglary. Everything was
in perfect order; not even a paper was misplaced.

The safe was open, and on the top shelf lay several rouleaus of gold,
overlooked or disdained by the thieves.

M. Fauvel, without troubling himself to examine anything, took a seat,
and ordered his cashier to do the same. He had entirely recovered his
equanimity, and his countenance wore its usual kind expression.

"Now that we are alone, Prosper," he said, "have you nothing to tell
me?"

The cashier started, as if surprised at the question. "Nothing,
monsieur, that I have not already told you."

"What, nothing? Do you persist in asserting a fable so absurd and
ridiculous that no one can possibly believe it? It is folly! Confide in
me: it is your only chance of salvation. I am your employer, it is true;
but I am before and above all your friend, your best and truest friend.
I cannot forget that in this very room, fifteen years ago, you were
intrusted to me by your father; and ever since that day have I had cause
to congratulate myself on possessing so faithful and efficient a
clerk. Yes, it is fifteen years since you came to me. I was then just
commencing the foundation of my fortune. You have seen it gradually
grow, step by step, from almost nothing to its present height. As my
wealth increased, I endeavored to better your condition; you, who,
although so young, are the oldest of my clerks. At each inventory of my
fortune, I increased your salary."

Never had Prosper heard him express himself in so feeling and paternal a
manner. Prosper was silent with astonishment.

"Answer," pursued M. Fauvel: "have I not always been like a father to
you? From the first day, my house has been open to you; you were treated
as a member of my family; Madeleine and my sons looked upon you as a
brother. But you grew weary of this peaceful life. One day, a year ago,
you suddenly began to shun us; and since then----"

The memories of the past thus evoked by the banker seemed too much for
the unhappy cashier; he buried his face in his hands, and wept bitterly.

"A man can confide everything to his father without fear of being
harshly judged," resumed M. Fauvel. "A father not only pardons, he
forgets. Do I not know the terrible temptations that beset a young man
in a city like Paris? There are some inordinate desires before which the
firmest principles must give way, and which so pervert our moral sense
as to render us incapable of judging between right and wrong. Speak,
Prosper, Speak!"

"What do you wish me to say?"

"The truth. When an honorable man yields, in an hour of weakness, to
temptation, his first step toward atonement is confession. Say to me,
Yes, I have been tempted, dazzled: the sight of these piles of gold
turned my brain. I am young: I have passions."

"I?" murmured Prosper. "I?"

"Poor boy," said the banker, sadly; "do you think I am ignorant of the
life you have been leading since you left my roof a year ago? Can you
not understand that all your fellow-clerks are jealous of you? that they
do not forgive you for earning twelve thousand francs a year? Never have
you committed a piece of folly without my being immediately informed of
it by an anonymous letter. I could tell the exact number of nights
you have spent at the gaming-table, and the amount of money you have
squandered. Oh, envy has good eyes and a quick ear! I have great
contempt for these cowardly denunciations, but was forced not only to
heed them, but to make inquiries myself. It is only right that I should
know what sort of a life is led by the man to whom I intrust my fortune
and my honor."

Prosper seemed about to protest against this last speech.

"Yes, my honor," insisted M. Fauvel, in a voice that a sense of
humiliation rendered still more vibrating: "yes, my credit might have
been compromised to-day by this M. de Clameran. Do you know how much
I shall lose by paying him this money? And suppose I had not had the
securities which I have sacrificed? you did not know I possessed them."

The banker paused, as if hoping for a confession, which, however, did
not come.

"Come, Prosper, have courage, be frank. I will go upstairs. You will
look again in the safe: I am sure that in your agitation you did not
search thoroughly. This evening I will return; and I am confident that,
during the day, you will have found, if not the three hundred and fifty
thousand francs, at least the greater portion of it; and to-morrow
neither you nor I will remember anything about this false alarm."

M. Fauvel had risen, and was about to leave the room, when Prosper
arose, and seized him by the arm.

"Your generosity is useless, monsieur," he said, bitterly; "having
taken nothing, I can restore nothing. I have searched carefully; the
bank-notes have been stolen."

"But by whom, poor fool? By whom?"

"By all that is sacred, I swear that it was not by me."

The banker's face turned crimson. "Miserable wretch!" cried he, "do you
mean to say that I took the money?"

Prosper bowed his head, and did not answer.

"Ah! it is thus, then," said M. Fauvel, unable to contain himself any
longer. "And you dare--. Then, between you and me, M. Prosper Bertomy,
justice shall decide. God is my witness that I have done all I could to
save you. You will have yourself to thank for what follows. I have sent
for the commissary of police: he must be waiting in my study. Shall I
call him down?"

Prosper, with the fearful resignation of a man who abandons himself,
replied, in a stifled voice:

"Do as you will."

The banker was near the door, which he opened, and, after giving the
cashier a last searching look, said to an office-boy:

"Anselme, ask the commissary of police to step down."




III

If there is one man in the world whom no event can move or surprise, who
is always on his guard against deceptive appearances, and is capable
of admitting everything and explaining everything, it certainly is a
Parisian commissary of police.

While the judge, from his lofty place, applies the code to the facts
submitted to him, the commissary of police observes and watches all
the odious circumstances that the law cannot reach. He is perforce the
confidant of disgraceful details, domestic crimes, and tolerated vices.

If, when he entered upon his office, he had any illusions, before the
end of a year they were all dissipated.

If he does not absolutely despise the human race, it is because often,
side by side with abominations indulged in with impunity, he discovers
sublime generosities which remain unrewarded.

He sees impudent scoundrels filching public respect; and he consoles
himself by thinking of the modest, obscure heroes whom he has also
encountered.

So often have his previsions been deceived, that he has reached a state
of complete scepticism. He believes in nothing, neither in evil nor in
absolute good; not more in virtue than in vice.

His experience has forced him to come to the sad conclusion that not
men, but events, are worth considering.

The commissary sent for by M. Fauvel soon made his appearance.

It was with a calm air, if not one of perfect indifference, that he
entered the office.

He was followed by a short man dressed in a full suit of black, which
was slightly relieved by a crumpled collar.

The banker, scarcely bowing to him, said:

"Doubtless, monsieur, you have been apprised of the painful circumstance
which compels me to have recourse to your assistance?"

"It is about a robbery, I believe."

"Yes; an infamous and mysterious robbery committed in this office,
from the safe you see open there, of which my cashier" (he pointed to
Prosper) "alone possesses the key and the word."

This declaration seemed to arouse the unfortunate cashier from his dull
stupor.

"Excuse me, monsieur," he said to the commissary in a low tone. "My
chief also has the word and the key."

"Of course, that is understood."

The commissary at once drew his own conclusions.

Evidently these two men accused each other.

From their own statements, one or the other was guilty.

One was the head of an important bank: the other was a simple cashier.

One was the chief: the other was the clerk.

But the commissary of police was too well skilled in concealing his
impressions to betray his thoughts by any outward sign. Not a muscle of
his face moved.

But he became more grave, and alternately watched the cashier and M.
Fauvel, as if trying to draw some profitable conclusion from their
behavior.

Prosper was very pale and dejected. He had dropped into a seat, and his
arms hung inert on either side of the chair.

The banker, on the contrary, remained standing with flashing eyes and
crimson face, expressing himself with extraordinary violence.

"And the importance of the theft is immense," continued M. Fauvel; "they
have taken a fortune, three hundred and fifty thousand francs. This
robbery might have had the most disastrous consequences. In times
like these, the want of this sum might compromise the credit of the
wealthiest banking-house in Paris."

"I believe so, if notes fall due."

"Well, monsieur, I had this very day a heavy payment to make."

"Ah, really!"

There was no mistaking the commissary's tone; a suspicion, the first,
had evidently entered his mind.

The banker understood it; he started, and said, quickly:

"I met the demand, but at the cost of a disagreeable sacrifice. I ought
to add further that, if my orders had been obeyed, the three hundred and
fifty thousand francs would not have been in."

"How is that?"

"I never desire to have large sums of money in my house over-night. My
cashier had positive orders to wait always until the last moment before
drawing money from the Bank of France. I above all forbade him to leave
money in the safe over-night."

"You hear this?" said the commissary to Prosper.

"Yes, monsieur," replied the cashier, "M. Fauvel's statement is quite
correct."

After this explanation, the suspicions of the commissary, instead of
being strengthened, were dissipated.

"Well," he said, "a robbery has been perpetrated, but by whom? Did the
robber enter from without?"

The banker hesitated a moment.

"I think not," he said at last.

"And I am certain he did not," said Prosper.

The commissary expected and was prepared for those answers; but it did
not suit his purpose to follow them up immediately.

"However," said he, "we must make ourselves sure of it." Turning toward
his companion:

"M. Fanferlot," he said, "go and see if you cannot discover some traces
that may have escaped the attention of these gentlemen."

M. Fanferlot, nicknamed the Squirrel, was indebted to his prodigious
agility for this title, of which he was not a little proud. Slim and
insignificant in appearance he might, in spite of his iron muscles, be
taken for a bailiff's under-clerk, as he walked along buttoned up to the
chin in his thin black overcoat. He had one of those faces that impress
us disagreeably--an odiously turned-up nose, thin lips, and little,
restless black eyes.

Fanferlot, who had been on the police force for five years, burned to
distinguish himself, to make for himself a name. He was ambitious. Alas!
he was unsuccessful, lacking opportunity--or genius.

Already, before the commissary spoke to him, he had ferreted everywhere;
studied the doors, sounded the partitions, examined the wicket, and
stirred up the ashes in the fireplace.

"I cannot imagine," said he, "how a stranger could have effected an
entrance here."

He walked around the office.

"Is this door closed at night?" he inquired.

"It is always locked."

"And who keeps the key?"

"The office-boy, to whom I always give it in charge before leaving the
bank," said Prosper.

"This boy," said M. Fauvel, "sleeps in the outer room on a
sofa-bedstead, which he unfolds at night, and folds up in the morning."

"Is he here now?" inquired the commissary.

"Yes, monsieur," answered the banker.

He opened the door and called:

"Anselme!"

This boy was the favorite servant of M. Fauvel, and had lived with him
for ten years. He knew that he would not be suspected; but the idea of
being connected in any way with a robbery is terrible, and he entered
the room trembling like a leaf.

"Did you sleep in the next room last night?" asked the commissary.

"Yes, monsieur, as usual."

"At what hour did you go to bed?"

"About half-past ten; I had spent the evening at a cafe near by, with
monsieur's valet."

"Did you hear no noise during the night?"

"Not a sound; and still I sleep so lightly, that, if monsieur comes down
to the cash-room when I am asleep, I am instantly awakened by the sound
of his footsteps."

"Monsieur Fauvel often comes to the cash-room at night, does he?"

"No, monsieur; very seldom."

"Did he come last night?"

"No, monsieur, I am very certain he did not; for I was kept awake nearly
all night by the strong coffee I had drunk with the valet."

"That will do; you can retire," said the commissary.

When Anselme had left the room, Fanferlot resumed his search. He opened
the door of the private staircase.

"Where do these stairs lead to?" he asked.

"To my private office," replied M. Fauvel.

"Is not that the room whither I was conducted when I first came?"
inquired the commissary.

"The same."

"I would like to see it," said Fanferlot, "and examine the entrances to
it."

"Nothing is more easy," said M. Fauvel, eagerly; "follow me, gentlemen,
and you come too, Prosper."

M. Fauvel's private office consisted of two rooms; the waiting-room,
sumptuously furnished and beautifully decorated, and the study where he
transacted business. The furniture in this room was composed of a large
office-desk, several leather-covered chairs, and, on either side of the
fireplace, a secretary and a book-shelf.

These two rooms had only three doors; one opened on the private
stairway, another into the banker's bedroom, and the third into the main
vestibule. It was through this last door that the banker's clients and
visitors were admitted.

M. Fanferlot examined the study at a glance. He seemed puzzled, like
a man who had flattered himself with the hope of discovering some
indication, and had found nothing.

"Let us see the adjoining room," he said.

He passed into the waiting-room, followed by the banker and the
commissary of police.

Prosper remained alone in the study.

Despite the disordered state of his mind, he could not but perceive that
his situation was momentarily becoming more serious.

He had demanded and accepted the contest with his chief; the struggle
had commenced; and now it no longer depended upon his own will to arrest
the consequences of his action.

They were about to engage in a bitter conflict, utilizing all weapons,
until one of the two should succumb, the loss of honor being the cost of
defeat.

In the eyes of justice, who would be the innocent man?

Alas! the unfortunate cashier saw only too clearly that the chances
were terribly unequal, and was overwhelmed with the sense of his own
inferiority.

Never had he thought that his chief would carry out his threats; for,
in a contest of this nature, M. Fauvel would have as much to risk as his
cashier, and more to lose.

He was sitting near the fireplace, absorbed in the most gloomy
forebodings, when the banker's chamber-door suddenly opened, and a
beautiful girl appeared on the threshold.

She was tall and slender; a loose morning gown, confined at the waist
by a simple black ribbon, betrayed to advantage the graceful elegance of
her figure. Her black eyes were large and soft; her complexion had
the creamy pallor of a white camellia; and her beautiful dark hair,
carelessly held together by a tortoise-shell comb, fell in a profusion
of soft curls upon her exquisite neck. She was Madeleine, M. Fauvel's
niece, of whom he had spoken not long before.

Seeing Prosper in the study, where probably she expected to find her
uncle alone, she could not refrain from an exclamation of surprise.

"Ah!"

Prosper started up as if he had received an electric shock. His eyes,
a moment before so dull and heavy, now sparkled with joy as if he had
caught a glimpse of a messenger of hope.

"Madeleine," he gasped, "Madeleine!"

The young girl was blushing crimson. She seemed about to hastily
retreat, and stepped back; but, Prosper having advanced toward her, she
was overcome by a sentiment stronger than her will, and extended her
hand, which he seized and pressed with much agitation.

They stood thus face to face, but with averted looks, as if they dared
not let their eyes meet for fear of betraying their feelings; having
much to say, and not knowing how to begin, they stood silent.

Finally Madeleine murmured, in a scarcely audible voice:

"You, Prosper--you!"

These words broke the spell. The cashier dropped the white hand which he
held, and answered bitterly:

"Yes, this is Prosper, the companion of your childhood, suspected,
accused of the most disgraceful theft; Prosper, whom your uncle has
just delivered up to justice, and who, before the day is over, will be
arrested, and thrown into prison."

Madeleine, with a terrified gesture, cried in a tone of anguish:

"Good heavens! Prosper, what are you saying?"

"What, mademoiselle! do you not know what has happened? Have not your
aunt and cousins told you?"

"They have told me nothing. I have scarcely seen my cousins this
morning; and my aunt is so ill that I felt uneasy, and came to tell
uncle. But for Heaven's sake speak: tell me the cause of your distress."

Prosper hesitated. Perhaps it occurred to him to open his heart to
Madeleine, of revealing to her his most secret thoughts. A remembrance
of the past chilled his confidence. He sadly shook his head, and
replied:

"Thanks, mademoiselle, for this proof of interest, the last, doubtless,
that I shall ever receive from you; but allow me, by being silent, to
spare you distress, and myself the mortification of blushing before
you."

Madeleine interrupted him imperiously:

"I insist upon knowing."

"Alas, mademoiselle!" answered Prosper, "you will only too soon learn my
misfortune and disgrace; then, yes, then you will applaud yourself for
what you have done."

She became more urgent; instead of commanding, she entreated; but
Prosper was inflexible.

"Your uncle is in the adjoining room, mademoiselle, with the commissary
of police and a detective. They will soon return. I entreat you to
retire that they may not find you here."

As he spoke he gently pushed her through the door, and closed it upon
her.

It was time, for the next moment the commissary and Monsieur Fauvel
entered. They had visited the main entrance and waiting-room, and had
heard nothing of what had passed in the study.

But Fanferlot had heard for them.

This excellent bloodhound had not lost sight of the cashier. He said to
himself, "Now that my young gentleman believes himself to be alone,
his face will betray him. I shall detect a smile or a wink that will
enlighten me."

Leaving M. Fauvel and the commissary to pursue their investigations, he
posted himself to watch. He saw the door open, and Madeleine appear upon
the threshold; he lost not a single word or gesture of the rapid scene
which had passed.

It mattered little that every word of this scene was an enigma. M.
Fanferlot was skilful enough to complete the sentences he did not
understand.

As yet he only had a suspicion; but a mere suspicion is better than
nothing; it is a point to start from. So prompt was he in building a
plan upon the slightest incident that he thought he saw in the past of
these people, who were utter strangers to him, glimpses of a domestic
drama.

If the commissary of police is a sceptic, the detective has faith; he
believes in evil.

"I understand the case now," said he to himself. "This man loves the
young lady, who is really very pretty; and, as he is quite handsome,
I suppose his love is reciprocated. This love-affair vexes the banker,
who, not knowing how to get rid of the importunate lover by fair means,
has to resort to foul, and plans this imaginary robbery, which is very
ingenious."

Thus to M. Fanferlot's mind, the banker had simply robbed himself, and
the innocent cashier was the victim of an odious machination.

But this conviction was, at present, of little service to Prosper.

Fanferlot, the ambitious, who had determined to obtain renown in his
profession, decided to keep his conjectures to himself.

"I will let the others go their way, and I'll go mine," he said.
"When, by dint of close watching and patient investigation I shall have
collected proof sufficient to insure certain conviction, I will unmask
the scoundrel."

He was radiant. He had at last found the crime, so long looked for,
which would make him celebrated. Nothing was wanting, neither the odious
circumstances, nor the mystery, nor even the romantic and sentimental
element represented by Prosper and Madeleine.

Success seemed difficult, almost impossible; but Fanferlot, the
Squirrel, had great confidence in his own genius for investigation.

Meanwhile, the search upstairs completed, M. Fauvel and the commissary
returned to the room where Prosper was waiting for them.

The commissary, who had seemed so calm when he first came, now looked
grave and perplexed. The moment for taking a decisive part had come, yet
it was evident that he hesitated.

"You see, gentlemen," he began, "our search has only confirmed our first
suspicion."

M. Fauvel and Prosper bowed assentingly.

"And what do you think, M. Fanferlot?" continued the commissary.

Fanferlot did not answer.

Occupied in studying the safe-lock, he manifested signs of a lively
surprise. Evidently he had just made an important discovery.

M. Fauvel, Prosper, and the commissary rose, and surrounded him.

"Have you discovered any trace?" said the banker, eagerly.

Fanferlot turned around with a vexed air. He reproached himself for not
having concealed his impressions.

"Oh!" said he, carelessly, "I have discovered nothing of importance."

"But we should like to know," said Prosper.

"I have merely convinced myself that this safe has been recently opened
or shut, I know not which, with great violence and haste."

"Why so?" asked the commissary, becoming attentive.

"Look, monsieur, at this scratch near the lock."

The commissary stooped down, and carefully examined the safe; he saw
a light scratch several inches long that had removed the outer coat of
varnish.

"I see the scratch," said he, "but what does that prove?"

"Oh, nothing at all!" said Fanferlot. "I just now told you it was of no
importance."

Fanferlot said this, but it was not his real opinion.

This scratch, undeniably fresh, had for him a signification that escaped
the others. He said to himself, "This confirms my suspicions. If the
cashier had stolen millions, there was no occasion for his being in
a hurry; whereas the banker, creeping down in the dead of night with
cat-like footsteps, for fear of awakening the boy in the ante-room,
in order to rifle his own money-safe, had every reason to tremble, to
hurry, to hastily withdraw the key, which, slipping along the lock,
scratched off the varnish."

Resolved to unravel by himself the tangled thread of this mystery, the
detective determined to keep his conjectures to himself; for the same
reason he was silent as to the interview which he had overheard between
Madeleine and Prosper.

He hastened to withdraw attention from the scratch upon the lock.

"To conclude," he said, addressing the commissary, "I am convinced that
no one outside of the bank could have obtained access to this room. The
safe, moreover, is intact. No suspicious pressure has been used on the
movable buttons. I can assert that the lock has not been tampered with
by burglar's tools or false keys. Those who opened the safe knew the
word, and possessed the key."

This formal affirmation of a man whom he knew to be skilful ended the
hesitation of the commissary.

"That being the case," he replied, "I must request a few moments'
conversation with M. Fauvel."

"I am at your service," said the banker.

Prosper foresaw the result of this conversation. He quietly placed his
hat on the table, to show that he had no intention of attempting to
escape, and passed into the adjoining room.

Fanferlot also went out, but not before the commissary had made him a
sign, and received one in return.

This sign signified, "You are responsible for this man."

The detective needed no admonition to make him keep a strict watch. His
suspicions were too vague, his desire for success was too ardent, for
him to lose sight of Prosper an instant.

Closely following the cashier, he seated himself in a dark corner of the
room, and, pretending to be sleepy, he fixed himself in a comfortable
position for taking a nap, gaped until his jaw-bone seemed about to be
dislocated, then closed his eyes, and kept perfectly quiet.

Prosper took a seat at the desk of an absent clerk. The others were
burning to know the result of the investigation; their eyes shone with
curiosity, but they dared not ask a question.

Unable to refrain himself any longer, little Cavaillon, Prosper's
defender, ventured to say:

"Well, who stole the money?"

Prosper shrugged his shoulders.

"Nobody knows," he replied.

Was this conscious innocence or hardened recklessness? The clerks
observed with bewildered surprise that Prosper had resumed his usual
manner, that sort of icy haughtiness that kept people at a distance, and
made him so unpopular in the bank.

Save the death-like pallor of his face, and the dark circles around
his swollen eyes, he bore no traces of the pitiable agitation he had
exhibited a short time before.

Never would a stranger entering the room have supposed that this young
man idly lounging in a chair, and toying with a pencil, was resting
under an accusation of robbery, and was about to be arrested.

He soon stopped playing with the pencil, and drew toward him a sheet of
paper upon which he hastily wrote a few lines.

"Ah, ha!" thought Fanferlot the Squirrel, whose hearing and sight were
wonderfully good in spite of his profound sleep, "eh! eh! he makes his
little confidential communication on paper, I see; now we will discover
something positive."

His note written, Prosper folded it carefully into the smallest possible
size, and after furtively glancing toward the detective, who remained
motionless in his corner, threw it across the desk to little Cavaillon
with this one word:

"Gypsy!"

All this was so quickly and skilfully done that Fanferlot was
confounded, and began to feel a little uneasy.

"The devil take him!" said he to himself; "for a suffering innocent this
young dandy has more pluck and nerve than many of my oldest customers.
This, however, shows the result of education!"

Yes: innocent or guilty, Prosper must have been endowed with great
self-control and power of dissimulation to affect this presence of mind
at a time when his honor, his future happiness, all that he held dear in
life, were at stake. And he was only thirty years old.

Either from natural deference, or from the hope of gaining some ray of
light by a private conversation, the commissary determined to speak to
the banker before acting decisively.

"There is not a shadow of doubt, monsieur," he said, as soon as they
were alone, "this young man has robbed you. It would be a gross neglect
of duty if I did not secure his person. The law will decide whether he
shall be released, or sent to prison."

The declaration seemed to distress the banker.

He sank into a chair, and murmured:

"Poor Prosper!"

Seeing the astonished look of his listener, he added:

"Until to-day, monsieur, I have always had the most implicit faith in
his honesty, and would have unhesitatingly confided my fortune to his
keeping. Almost on my knees have I besought and implored him to confess
that in a moment of desperation he had taken the money, promising him
pardon and forgetfulness; but I could not move him. I have loved
him; and even now, in spite of the trouble and humiliation that he is
bringing upon me, I cannot bring myself to feel harshly toward him."

The commissary looked as if he did not understand.

"What do you mean by humiliation, monsieur?"

"What!" said M. Fauvel, excitedly; "is not justice the same for all?
Because I am the head of a bank, and he only a clerk, does it follow
that my word is more to be relied upon than his? Why could I not have
robbed myself? Such things have been done. They will ask me for facts;
and I shall be compelled to expose the exact situation of my house,
explain my affairs, disclose the secret and method of my operations."

"It is true, monsieur, that you will be called upon for some
explanation; but your well-known integrity--"

"Alas! He was honest, too. His integrity has never been doubted.
Who would have been suspected this morning if I had not been able to
instantly produce a hundred thousand crowns? Who would be suspected if I
could not prove that my assets exceed my liabilities by more than three
millions?"

To a strictly honorable man, the thought, the possibility of suspicion
tarnishing his fair name, is cruel suffering. The banker suffered, and
the commissary of police saw it, and felt for him.

"Be calm, monsieur," said he; "before the end of a week justice
will have collected sufficient proof to establish the guilt of this
unfortunate man, whom we may now recall."

Prosper entered with Fanferlot, whom they had much trouble to awaken,
and with the most stolid indifference listened to the announcement of
his arrest.

In response, he calmly said:

"I swear that I am innocent."

M. Fauvel, much more disturbed and excited than his cashier, made a last
attempt.

"It is not too late yet, poor boy," he said: "for Heaven's sake
reflect----"

Prosper did not appear to hear him. He drew from his pocket a small key,
which he laid on the table, and said:

"Here is the key of your safe, monsieur. I hope for my sake that you
will some day be convinced of my innocence; and I hope for your sake
that the conviction will not come too late."

Then, as everyone was silent, he resumed:

"Before leaving I hand over to you the books, papers, and accounts
necessary for my successor. I must at the same time inform you that,
without speaking of the stolen three hundred and fifty thousand francs,
I leave a deficit in cash."

"A deficit!" This ominous word from the lips of a cashier fell like a
bombshell upon the ears of Prosper's hearers.

His declaration was interpreted in divers ways.

"A deficit!" thought the commissary: "how, after this, can his guilt be
doubted? Before stealing this whole contents of the safe, he has kept
his hand in by occasional small thefts."

"A deficit!" said the detective to himself, "now, no doubt, the very
innocence of this poor devil gives his conduct an appearance of great
depravity; were he guilty, he would have replaced the first money by a
portion of the second."

The grave importance of Prosper's statement was considerably diminished
by the explanation he proceeded to make.

"There is a deficit of three thousand five hundred francs on my cash
account, which has been disposed of in the following manner: two
thousand taken by myself in advance on my salary; fifteen hundred
advanced to several of my fellow-clerks. This is the last day of the
month; to-morrow the salaries will be paid, consequently--"

The commissary interrupted him:

"Were you authorized to draw money whenever you wished to advance the
clerks' pay?"

"No; but I knew that M. Fauvel would not have refused me permission to
oblige my friends in the bank. What I did is done everywhere; I have
simply followed my predecessor's example."

The banker made a sign of assent.

"As regards that spent by myself," continued the cashier, "I had a sort
of right to it, all of my savings being deposited in this bank; about
fifteen thousand francs."

"That is true," said M. Fauvel; "M. Bertomy has at least that amount on
deposit."

This last question settled, the commissary's errand was over, and his
report might now be made. He announced his intention of leaving, and
ordered to cashier to prepare to follow him.

Usually, this moment when stern reality stares us in the face, when
our individuality is lost and we feel that we are being deprived of our
liberty, this moment is terrible.

At this fatal command, "Follow me," which brings before our eyes the
yawning prison gates, the most hardened sinner feels his courage fail,
and abjectly begs for mercy.

But Prosper lost none of that studied phlegm which the commissary of
police secretly pronounced consummate impudence.

Slowly, with as much careless ease as if going to breakfast with a
friend, he smoothed his hair, drew on his overcoat and gloves, and said,
politely:

"I am ready to accompany you, monsieur."

The commissary folded up his pocket-book, and bowed to M. Fauvel, saying
to Prosper:

"Come!"

They left the room, and with a distressed face, and eyes filled with
tears that he could not restrain, the banker stood watching their
retreating forms.

"Good Heaven!" he exclaimed: "gladly would I give twice that sum to
regain my old confidence in poor Prosper, and be able to keep him with
me!"

The quick-eared Fanferlot overheard these words, and prompted to
suspicion, and ever disposed to impute to others the deep astuteness
peculiar to himself, was convinced they had been uttered for his
benefit.

He had remained behind the others under pretext of looking for an
imaginary umbrella, and, as he reluctantly departed, said he would call
in again to see if it had been found.

It was Fanferlot's task to escort Prosper to prison; but, as they were
about starting, he asked the commissary to leave him at liberty to
pursue another course, a request which his superior granted.

Fanferlot had resolved to obtain possession of Prosper's note, which he
knew to be in Cavaillon's pocket.

To obtain this written proof, which must be an important one, appeared
the easiest thing in the world. He had simply to arrest Cavaillon,
frighten him, demand the letter, and, if necessary, take it by force.

But to what would this disturbance lead? To nothing unless it were an
incomplete and doubtful result.

Fanferlot was convinced that the note was intended, not for the young
clerk, but for a third person.

If exasperated, Cavaillon might refuse to divulge who this person was,
who after all might not bear the name "Gypsy" given by the cashier. And,
even if he did answer his questions, would he not lie?

After a mature reflection, Fanferlot decided that it would be
superfluous to ask for a secret when it could be surprised. To quietly
follow Cavaillon, and keep close watch on him until he caught him in the
very act of handing over the letter, was but play for the detective.

This method of proceeding, moreover, was much more in keeping with the
character of Fanferlot, who, being naturally soft and stealthy, deemed
it due to his profession to avoid all disturbance or anything resembling
evidence.

Fanferlot's plan was settled when he reached the vestibule.

He began talking with an office-boy, and, after a few apparently idle
questions, had discovered that the Fauvel bank had no outlet on the Rue
de la Victoire, and that consequently all the clerks were obliged to
pass in and out through the main entrance on the Rue de Provence.

From this moment the task he had undertaken no longer presented a shadow
of difficulty. He rapidly crossed the street, and took up his position
under a gateway.

His post of observation was admirably chosen; not only could he see
everyone who entered and came out of the bank, but also commanded a view
of all the windows, and by standing on tiptoe could look through the
grating, and see Cavaillon bending over his desk.

Fanferlot waited a long time, but did not wax impatient, for he had
often had to remain on watch entire days and nights at a time, with much
less important objects in view than the present one. Besides, his mind
was busily occupied in estimating the value of his discoveries, weighing
his chances, and, like Perrette with her pot of milk, building the
foundation of his fortune upon present success.

Finally, about one o'clock, he saw Cavaillon rise from his desk, change
his coat, and take down his hat.

"Very good!" he exclaimed, "my man is coming out; I must keep my eyes
open."

The next moment Cavaillon appeared at the door of the bank; but
before stepping on the pavement he looked up and down the street in an
undecided manner.

"Can he suspect anything?" thought Fanferlot.

No, the young clerk suspected nothing; only having a commission to
execute, and fearing his absence would be observed, he was debating with
himself which would be the shortest road for him to take.

He soon decided, entered the Faubourg Montmartre, and walked up the Rue
Notre Dame de Lorette so rapidly, utterly regardless of the grumbling
passers-by whom he elbowed out of his way, that Fanferlot found it
difficult to keep him in sight.

Reaching the Rue Chaptal, Cavaillon suddenly stopped, and entered the
house numbered 39.

He had scarcely taken three steps in the narrow corridor when he felt a
touch on his shoulder, and turning abruptly, found himself face to face
with Fanferlot.

He recognized him at once, and turning very pale he shrank back, and
looked around for means of escape.

But the detective, anticipating the attempt, barred the passageway.
Cavaillon saw that he was fairly caught.

"What do you want with me?" he asked in a voice tremulous with fright.

Fanferlot was distinguished among his confreres for his exquisite
suavity and unequalled urbanity. Even with his prisoners he was the
perfection of courtesy, and never was known to handcuff a man without
first obsequiously apologizing for being compelled to do so.

"You will be kind enough, my dear monsieur," he said, "to excuse the
great liberty I take; but I really am under the necessity of asking you
for a little information."

"Information! From me, monsieur?"

"From you, my dear monsieur; from M. Eugene Cavaillon."

"But I do not know you."

"Ah, yes; you remember seeing me this morning. It is only about a
trifling matter, and you will overwhelm me with obligations if you will
do me the honor to accept my arm, and step outside for a moment."

What could Cavaillon do? He took Fanferlot's arm, and went out with him.

The Rue Chaptal is not one of those noisy thoroughfares where
foot-passengers are in perpetual danger of being run over by numberless
vehicles dashing to and fro; there were but two or three shops, and from
the corner of Rue Fontaine occupied by an apothecary, to the entrance of
the Rue Leonie, extended a high, gloomy wall, broken here and there by a
small window which lighted the carpenters' shops behind.

It was one of those streets where you could talk at your ease, without
having to step from the sidewalk every moment. So Fanferlot and
Cavaillon were in no danger of being disturbed by passers-by.

"What I wished to say is, my dear monsieur," began the detective, "that
M. Prosper Bertomy threw you a note this morning."

Cavaillon vaguely foresaw that he was to be questioned about this note,
and instantly put himself on his guard.

"You are mistaken," he said, blushing to his ears.

"Excuse me, monsieur, for presuming to contradict you, but I am quite
certain of what I say."

"I assure you that Prosper never gave me anything."

"Pray, monsieur, do not persist in a denial; you will compel me to prove
that four clerks saw him throw you a note written in pencil and closely
folded."

Cavaillon saw the folly of further contradicting a man so well informed;
so he changed his tactics, and said:

"It is true Prosper gave me a note this morning; but it was intended for
me alone, and after reading it I tore it up, and threw the pieces in the
fire."

This might be the truth. Fanferlot feared so; but how could he assure
himself of the fact? He remembered that the most palpable tricks often
succeed the best, and trusting to his star, he said at hazard:

"Permit me to observe that this statement is not correct; the note was
intrusted to you to give to Gypsy."

A despairing gesture from Cavaillon apprised the detective that he was
not mistaken; he breathed again.

"I swear to you, monsieur," began the young man.

"Do not swear, monsieur," interrupted Fanferlot; "all the oaths in the
world would be useless. You not only preserved the note, but you came
to this house for the purpose of giving it to Gypsy, and it is in your
pocket now."

"No, monsieur, no!"

Fanferlot paid no attention to this denial, but continued in his
gentlest tone:

"And I am sure you will be kind enough to give it to me; believe me,
nothing but the most absolute necessity--"

"Never!" exclaimed Cavaillon; and, believing the moment favorable, he
suddenly attempted to jerk his arm from under Fanferlot's, and escape.

But his efforts were vain; the detective's strength was equal to his
suavity.

"Don't hurt yourself, young man," he said, "but take my advice, and
quietly give up the letter."

"I have not got it."

"Very well; see, you reduce me to painful extremities. If you persist
in being so obstinate, I shall call two policemen, who will take you by
each arm, and escort you to the commissary of police; and, once there, I
shall be under the painful necessity of searching your pockets, whether
you will or not."

Cavaillon was devoted to Prosper, and willing to make any sacrifice
in his behalf; but he clearly saw that it was worse than useless to
struggle any longer, as he would have no time to destroy the note. To
deliver it under force was no betrayal; but he cursed his powerlessness,
and almost wept with rage.

"I am in your power," he said, and then suddenly drew from his
pocket-book the unlucky note, and gave it to the detective.

Fanferlot trembled with pleasure as he unfolded the paper; yet, faithful
to his habits of fastidious politeness, before reading it, he bowed to
Cavaillon, and said:

"You will permit me, will you not, monsieur?" Then he read as follows:


"DEAR NINA--If you love me, follow my instructions instantly, without
a moment's hesitation, without asking any questions. On the receipt of
this note, take everything you have in the house, absolutely everything,
and establish yourself in furnished rooms at the other end of Paris. Do
not appear in public, but conceal yourself as much as possible. My life
may depend on your obedience.

"I am accused of an immense robbery, and am about to be arrested. Take
with you five hundred francs which you will find in the secretary.

"Leave your address with Cavaillon, who will explain what I have not
time to tell. Be hopeful, whatever happens. Good-by. PROSPER."


Had Cavaillon been less bewildered, he would have seen blank
disappointment depicted on the detective's face after the perusal of the
note.

Fanferlot had cherished the hope that he was about to possess a very
important document, which would clearly prove the guilt or innocence of
Prosper; whereas he had only seized a love-letter written by a man who
was evidently more anxious about the welfare of the woman he loved than
about his own.

Vainly did he puzzle over the letter, hoping to discover some hidden
meaning; twist the words as he would, they proved nothing for or against
the writer.

The two words "absolutely everything" were underscored, it is true; but
they could be interpreted in so many ways.

The detective, however, determined not to drop the matter here.

"This Mme. Nina Gypsy is doubtless a friend of M. Prosper Bertomy?"

"She is his particular friend."

"Ah, I understand; and she lives here at No. 39?"

"You know it well enough, as you saw me go in there."

"I suspected it to be the house, monsieur; now tell me whether the
apartments she occupies are rented in her name."

"No. Prosper rents them."

"Exactly; and on which floor, if you please?"

"On the first."

During this colloquy, Fanferlot had folded up the note, and slipped it
into his pocket.

"A thousand thanks, monsieur, for the information; and, in return, I
will relieve you of the trouble of executing your commission."

"Monsieur!"

"Yes: with your permission, I will myself take this note to Mme. Nina
Gypsy."

Cavaillon began to remonstrate; but Fanferlot cut him short by saying:

"I will also venture to give you a piece of advice. Return quietly to
your business, and have nothing more to do with this affair."

"But Prosper is a good friend of mine, and has saved me from ruin more
than once."

"Only the more reason for your keeping quiet. You cannot be of the
slightest assistance to him, and I can tell you that you may be of
great injury. As you are known to be his devoted friend, of course your
absence at this time will be remarked upon. Any steps that you take in
this matter will receive the worst interpretation."

"Prosper is innocent, I am sure."

Fanferlot was of the same opinion, but he had no idea of betraying his
private thoughts; and yet for the success of his investigations it was
necessary to impress the importance of prudence and discretion upon the
young man. He would have told him to keep silent concerning what had
passed between them, but he dared not.

"What you say may be true," he said. "I hope it is, for the sake of M.
Bertomy, and on your own account too; for, if he is guilty, you will
certainly be very much annoyed, and perhaps suspected of complicity, as
you are well known to be intimate with him."

Cavaillon was overcome.

"Now you had best take my advice, monsieur, and return to your business,
and--. Good-morning, monsieur."

The poor fellow obeyed. Slowly and with swelling heart he returned
to the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette. He asked himself how he could serve
Prosper, warn Mme. Gypsy, and, above all, have his revenge upon this
odious detective, who had just made him suffer cruel humiliation.

He had no sooner turned the corner of the street, than Fanferlot entered
No. 39, gave his name to the porter as Prosper Bertomy, went upstairs,
and knocked at the first door he came to.

It was opened by a youthful footman, dressed in the most fanciful
livery.

"Is Mme. Gypsy at home?"

The groom hesitated; seeing this, Fanferlot showed his note, and said:

"M. Prosper told me to hand this note to madame, and wait for an
answer."

"Walk in, and I will let madame know you are here."

The name of Prosper produced its effect. Fanferlot was ushered into
a little room furnished in blue and gold silk damask. Heavy curtains
darkened the windows, and hung in front of the doors. The floor was
covered with a blue velvet carpet.

"Our cashier was certainly well lodged," murmured the detective.

But he had no time to purse his inventory. One of the door-curtains was
pushed aside, and Mme. Nina Gypsy stood before him.

Mme. Gypsy was quite young, small, and graceful, with a brown or rather
gold-colored quadroon complexion, with the hands and feet of a child.

Long curling silk lashes softened the piercing brilliancy of her large
black eyes; her lips were full, and her teeth were very white.

She had not yet made her toilet, but wore a velvet dressing-wrapper,
which did not conceal the lace ruffles beneath. But she had already been
under the hands of a hairdresser.

Her hair was curled and frizzed high on her forehead, and confined by
narrow bands of red velvet; her back hair was rolled in an immense coil,
and held by a beautiful gold comb.

She was ravishing. Her beauty was so startling that the dazzled
detective was speechless with admiration.

"Well," he said to himself, as he remembered the noble, severe beauty of
Madeleine, whom he had seen a few hours previous, "our young gentleman
certainly has good taste--very good taste--two perfect beauties!"

While he thus reflected, perfectly bewildered, and wondering how
he could begin the conversation, Mme. Gypsy eyed him with the most
disdainful surprise; she was waiting for this shabby little man in a
threadbare coat and greasy hat to explain his presence in her dainty
parlor.

She had many creditors, and was recalling them, and wondering which one
had dared send this man to wipe his dusty boots on her velvet carpets.

After scrutinizing him from head to foot with undisguised contempt, she
said, haughtily:

"What do you want?"

Anyone but Fanferlot would have been offended at her insolent manner;
but he only noticed it to gain some notion of the young woman's
disposition.

"She is bad-tempered," he thought, "and is uneducated."

While he was speculating upon her merits, Mme. Nina impatiently tapped
her little foot, and waited for an answer; finally she said:

"Why don't you speak? What do you want here?"

"I am charged, my dear madame," he answered in his softest tone, "by M.
Bertomy, to give you this note."

"From Prosper! You know him, then?"

"I have that honor, madame; indeed, I may be so bold as to claim him as
a friend."

"Monsieur! _You_ a friend of Prosper!" exclaimed Mme. Gypsy in a
scornful tone, as if her pride were wounded.

Fanferlot did not condescend to notice this offensive exclamation. He
was ambitious, and contempt failed to irritate him.

"I said a friend of his, madame, and there are few people who would have
the courage to claim friendship for him now."

Mme. Gypsy was struck by the words and manner of Fanferlot.

"I never could guess riddles," she said, tartly: "will you be kind
enough to explain what you mean?"

The detective slowly drew Prosper's note from his pocket, and, with a
bow, presented it to Mme. Gypsy.

"Read, madame," he said.

She certainly anticipated no misfortune; although her sight was
excellent, she stopped to fasten a tiny gold eyeglass on her nose, then
carelessly opened the note.

At a glance she read its contents.

She turned very red, then very pale; she trembled as if with a nervous
chill; her limbs seemed to give way, and she tottered so that Fanferlot,
thinking she was about to fall, extended his arms to catch her.

Useless precaution! Mme. Gypsy was one of those women whose inert
listlessness conceals indomitable energy; fragile-looking creatures
whose powers of endurance and resistance are unlimited; cat-like in
their soft grace and delicacy, especially cat-like in their nerves and
muscles of steel.

The dizziness caused by the shock she had received quickly passed off.
She tottered, but did not fall, and stood up looking stronger than
ever; seizing the wrist of the detective, she held it as if her delicate
little hand were a vice, and cried out:

"Explain yourself! what does all this mean? Do you know anything about
the contents of this note?"

Although Fanferlot betrayed courage in daily contending with the most
dangerous rascals, he was positively terrified by Mme. Gypsy.

"Alas!" he murmured.

"Prosper is to be arrested, accused of being a thief?"

"Yes, madame, he is accused of taking three hundred and fifty thousand
francs from the bank-safe."

"It is false, infamous, absurd!" she cried. She had dropped Fanferlot's
hand; and her fury, like that of a spoiled child, found vent in violent
actions. She tore her web-like handkerchief, and the magnificent lace on
her gown, to shreds.

"Prosper steal!" she cried; "what a stupid idea! Why should he steal? Is
he not rich?"

"M. Bertomy is not rich, madame; he has nothing but his salary."

The answer seemed to confound Mme. Gypsy.

"But," she insisted, "I have always seen him have plenty of money; not
rich--then----"

She dared not finish; but her eye met Fanferlot's, and they understood
each other.

Mme. Nina's look meant:

"He committed this robbery in order to gratify my extravagant whims."

Fanferlot's glance answered:

"Very likely, madame."

A few minutes' reflection convinced Nina that her first impression
was the correct one. Doubt fled after hovering for an instant over her
agitated mind.

"No!" she cried, "I regret to say that Prosper would never have stolen
one cent for me. One can understand a man robbing a bank to obtain means
of bestowing pleasure and luxury upon the woman he loves; but Prosper
does not love me, he never has loved me."

"Oh, fair lady!" protested the gallant and insinuating Fanferlot, "you
surely cannot mean what you say."

Her beautiful eyes filled with tears, as she sadly shook her head, and
said:

"I mean exactly what I say. It is only too true. He is ready to gratify
my every wish, you may say; what does that prove? Nothing. I am too
well convinced that he does not love me. I know what love is. Once I was
beloved by an affectionate, true-hearted man; and my own sufferings of
the last year make me know how miserable I must have made him by my cold
return. Alas! we must suffer ourselves before we can feel for others.
No, I am nothing to Prosper; he would not care if--"

"But then, madame, why--"

"Ah, yes," interrupted Nina, "why? you will be very wise if you can
answer me. For a year have I vainly sought an answer to this question,
so sad to me. I, a woman, cannot answer it; and I defy you to do so. You
cannot discover the thoughts of a man so thoroughly master of himself
that never is a single thought passing in his mind to be detected upon
his countenance. I have watched him as only a woman can watch the man
upon whom her fate depends, but it has always been in vain. He is kind
and indulgent; but he does not betray himself, never will he commit
himself. Ignorant people call him weak, yielding: I tell you that
fair-haired man is a rod of iron painted like a reed!"

Carried away by the violence of her feelings, Mme. Nina betrayed her
inmost thoughts. She was without distrust, never suspecting that the
stranger listening to her was other than a friend of Prosper.

As for Fanferlot, he congratulated himself upon his success. No one but
a woman could have drawn him so excellent a portrait; in a moment of
excitement she had given him the most valuable information; he now
knew the nature of the man with whom he had to deal, which in an
investigation like that he was pursuing is the principal point.

"You know that M. Bertomy gambles," he ventured to say, "and gambling is
apt to lead a man--"

Mme. Gypsy shrugged her shoulders, and interrupted him:

"Yes, he plays," she said, "but he is not a gambler. I have seen him
lose and gain large sums without betraying the slightest agitation. He
plays as he drinks, as he sups, as he falls in love--without passion,
without enthusiasm, without pleasure. Sometimes he frightens me; he
seems to drag about a body without a soul. Ah, I am not happy! Never
have I been able to overcome his indifference, and indifference so
great, so reckless, that I often think it must be despair; nothing will
convince me that he has not some terrible secret, some great misfortune
weighing upon his mind, and making life a burden."

"Then he has never spoken to you of his past?"

"Why should he tell me? Did you not hear me? I tell you he does not love
me!"

Mme. Nina was overcome by thoughts of the past, and tears silently
coursed down her cheeks.

But her despair was only momentary. She started up, and, her eyes
sparkling with generous resolution, she cried out:

"But I love him, and I will save him! I will see his chief, the
miserable wretch who dares to accuse him. I will haunt the judges, and
I will prove that he is innocent. Come, monsieur, let us start, and I
promise you that before sunset he shall be free, or I shall be in prison
with him."

Mme. Gypsy's project was certainly laudable, and prompted by the noblest
sentiments; but unfortunately it was impracticable.

Moreover, it would be going counter to the plans of the detective.

Although he had resolved to reserve to himself all the difficulties
as well as the benefits of this inquiry, Fanferlot saw clearly that
he could not conceal the existence of Mme. Nina from the judge of
instruction. She would necessarily be brought into the case, and sought
for. But he did not wish her to take any steps of her own accord. He
proposed to have her appear when and how he judged proper, so that he
might gain for himself the merit of having discovered her.

His first step was to endeavor to calm the young woman's excitement. He
thought it easy to prove to her that the least interference in favor of
Prosper would be a piece of folly.

"What will you gain by acting thus, my dear madame?" he asked. "Nothing.
I can assure you that you have not the least chance of success. Remember
that you will seriously compromise yourself. Who knows if you will not
be suspected as M. Bertomy's accomplice?"

But this alarming perspective, which had frightened Cavaillon into
foolishly giving up a letter which he might so easily have retained,
only stimulated Gypsy's enthusiasm. Man calculates, while woman follows
the inspirations of her heart. Our most devoted friend, if a man,
hesitates and draws back: if a woman, rushes undauntedly forward,
regardless of the danger.

"What matters the risk?" she exclaimed. "I don't believe any danger
exists; but, if it does, so much the better: it will be all the more to
my credit. I am sure Prosper is innocent; but, if he should be guilty, I
wish to share the punishment which awaits him."

Mme. Gypsy's persistence was becoming alarming. She hastily drew around
her a cashmere shawl, and, putting on her hat, declared that she was
ready to walk from one end of Paris to the other, in search of the
judge.

"Come, monsieur," she said with feverish impatience. "Are you not coming
with me?"

Fanferlot was perplexed. Happily he always had several strings to his
bow.

Personal considerations having no hold upon this impulsive nature, he
resolved to appeal to her interest in Prosper.

"I am at your command, fair lady," he said; "let us go if you desire
it; only permit me, while there is yet time, to say that we are very
probably going to do great injury to M. Bertomy."

"In what way, if you please?"

"Because we are taking a step that he expressly forbade in his letter;
we are surprising him--giving him no warning."

Nina scornfully tossed her head, and replied:

"There are some people who must be saved without warning, and against
their will. I know Prosper: he is just the man to let himself be
murdered without a struggle, without speaking a word--to give himself up
through sheer recklessness and despair."

"Excuse me, madame," interrupted the detective: "M. Bertomy has by
no means the appearance of a man who has given up in despair. On the
contrary, I think he has already laid his plan of defence. By showing
yourself, when he advised you to remain in concealment, you will be very
likely to make vain his most careful precautions."

Mme. Gypsy was silently weighing the value of Fanferlot's objections.
Finally she said:

"I cannot remain here inactive, without attempting to contribute in
some way to his safety. Can you not understand that this floor burns my
feet?"

Evidently, if she was not absolutely convinced, her resolution was
shaken. Fanferlot saw that he was gaining ground, and this certainty,
making him more at ease, gave weight to his eloquence.

"You have it in your power, madame," he said, "to render a great service
to the man you love."

"In what way, monsieur, in what way?"

"Obey him, my child," said Fanferlot, in a paternal manner.

Mme. Gypsy evidently expected very different advice.

"Obey," she murmured, "obey!"

"It is your duty," said Fanferlot with grave dignity, "it is your sacred
duty."

She still hesitated; and he took from the table Prosper's note, which
she had laid there, then continued:

"What! M. Bertomy at the most trying moment, when he is about to be
arrested, stops to point out your line of conduct; and you would render
vain this wise precaution! What does he say to you? Let us read over
this note, which is like the testament of his liberty. He says, 'If you
love me, I entreat you, obey.' And you hesitate to obey. Then you do not
love him. Can you not understand, unhappy child, that M. Bertomy has his
reasons, terrible, imperious reasons, for your remaining in obscurity
for the present?"

Fanferlot understood these reasons the moment he put his foot in the
sumptuous apartment of the Rue Chaptal; and, if he did not expose them
now, it was because he kept them as a good general keeps his reserve,
for the purpose of deciding the victory.

Mme. Gypsy was intelligent enough to divine these reasons.

"Reasons for my hiding! Prosper wishes, then, to keep everyone in
ignorance of our intimacy."

She remained thoughtful for a moment; then a ray of light seemed to
cross her mind, and she cried:

"Oh, I understand now! Fool that I was for not seeing it before! My
presence here, where I have been for a year, would be an overwhelming
charge against him. An inventory of my possessions would be taken--of my
dresses, my laces, my jewels--and my luxury would be brought against him
as a crime. He would be asked to tell where he obtained so much money to
lavish all these elegancies on me."

The detective bowed, and said:

"That is true, madame."

"Then I must fly, monsieur, at once. Who knows that the police are not
already warned, and may appear at any moment?"

"Oh," said Fanferlot with easy assurance, "you have plenty of time; the
police are not so very prompt."

"No matter!"

And, leaving the detective alone in the parlor, Mme. Nina hastily
ran into her bedroom, and calling her maid, her cook, and her little
footman, ordered them to empty her bureau and chests of their contents,
and assisted them to stuff her best clothing and jewels into her trunks.

Suddenly she rushed back to Fanferlot and said:

"Everything will be ready to start in a few minutes, but where am I to
go?"

"Did not M. Bertomy say, my dear lady, to the other end of Paris? To a
hotel, or furnished apartments."

"But I don't know where to find any."

Fanferlot seemed to be reflecting; but he had great difficulty in
concealing his delight at a sudden idea that flashed upon him; his
little black eyes fairly danced with joy.

"I know of a hotel," he said at last, "but it might not suit you. It is
not elegantly furnished like this room."

"Would I be comfortable there?"

"Upon my recommendation you would be treated like a queen, and, above
all, concealed."

"Where is it?"

"On the other side of the river, Quai Saint Michel, the Archangel, kept
by Mme. Alexandre."

Mme. Nina was never long making up her mind.

"Here are pen and paper; write your recommendation."

He rapidly wrote, and handed her the letter.

"With these three lines, madame, you can make Mme. Alexandre do anything
you wish."

"Very good. Now, how am I to let Cavaillon know my address? It was he
who should have brought me Prosper's letter."

"He was unable to come, madame," interrupted the detective, "but I will
give him your address."

Mme. Gypsy was about to send for a carriage, but Fanferlot said he was
in a hurry, and would send her one. He seemed to be in luck that day;
for a cab was passing the door, and he hailed it.

"Wait here," he said to the driver, after telling him that he was a
detective, "for a little brunette who is coming down with some trunks.
If she tells you to drive her to Quai Saint Michel, crack your whip; if
she gives you any other address, get down from your seat, and arrange
your harness. I will keep in sight."

He stepped across the street, and stood in the door of a wine-store.
He had not long to wait. In a few minutes the loud cracking of a whip
apprised him that Mme. Nina had started for the Archangel.

"Aha," said he, gayly, "I told _her_, at any rate."




IV

At the same hour that Mme. Nina Gypsy was seeking refuge at the
Archangel, so highly recommended by Fanferlot the Squirrel, Prosper
Bertomy was being entered on the jailer's book at the police office.

Since the moment when he had resumed his habitual composure, he had not
faltered.

Vainly did the people around him watch for a suspicious expression, or
any sign of giving way under the danger of his situation.

His face was like marble.

One would have supposed him insensible to the horrors of his condition,
had not his heavy breathing, and the beads of perspiration standing on
his brow, betrayed the intense agony he was suffering.

At the police office, where he had to wait two hours while the
commissary went to receive orders from higher authorities, he entered
into conversation with the two bailiffs who had charge of him.

At twelve o'clock he said he was hungry, and sent to a restaurant near
by for his breakfast, which he ate with a good appetite; he also drank
nearly a bottle of wine.

While he was thus occupied, several clerks from the prefecture, who
have to transact business daily with the commissary of police, curiously
watched him. They all formed the same opinion, and admiringly said to
each other:

"Well, he is made of strong material, he is!"

"Yes, my dandy looks too lamb-like to be left to his own devices. He
ought to have a strong escort."

When he was told that a coach was waiting for him at the door, he at
once got up; but, before going out, he requested permission to light a
cigar, which was granted.

A flower-girl stood just by the door, with her stand filled with all
varieties of flowers. He stopped and bought a bunch of violets. The
girl, seeing that he was arrested, said, by way of thanks:

"Good luck to you, my poor gentleman!"

He appeared touched by this mark of interest, and replied:

"Thanks, my good woman, but 'tis a long time since I have had any."

It was magnificent weather, a bright spring morning. As the coach went
along Rue Montmartre, Prosper kept his head out of the window, at the
same time smilingly complaining at being imprisoned on such a lovely
day, when everything outside was so sunny and pleasant.

"It is singular," he said, "I never felt so great a desire to take a
walk."

One of the bailiffs, a large, jovial, red-faced man, received this
remark with a hearty burst of laughter, and said:

"I understand."

To the court clerk, while he was going through the formalities of the
commitment, Prosper replied with haughty brevity to the indispensable
questions asked him.

But when he was ordered to empty his pockets on the table, and they
began to search him, his eyes flashed with indignation, and a single
tear dropped upon his flushed cheek. In an instant he had recovered his
stony calmness, and stood up motionless, with his arms raised in the air
so that the rough creatures about him could more conveniently ransack
him from head to foot, to assure themselves that he had no suspicious
object hid under his clothes.

The search would have, perhaps, been carried to the most ignominious
lengths, but for the intervention of a middle-aged man of rather
distinguished appearance, who wore a white cravat and gold spectacles,
and was sitting quite at home by the fire.

He started with surprise, and seemed much agitated, when he saw Prosper
brought in by the bailiffs; he stepped forward, and seemed about to
speak to him, then suddenly changed his mind, and sat down again.

In spite of his own troubles, Prosper could not help seeing that this
man kept his eyes fastened upon him. Did he know him? Vainly did he try
to recollect having met him before.

This man, treated with all the deference due to a chief, was no less a
personage than M. Lecoq, a celebrated member of the detective corps.

When the men who were searching Prosper were about to take off his
boots, saying that a knife might be concealed in them. M. Lecoq waved
them aside with an air of authority, and said:

"You have done enough."

He was obeyed. All the formalities being ended, the unfortunate cashier
was taken to a narrow cell; the heavily barred door was swung to and
locked upon him; he breathed freely; at last he was alone.

Yes, he believed himself to be alone. He was ignorant that a prison is
made of glass, that the accused is like a miserable insect under the
microscope of an entomologist. He knew not that the walls have stretched
ears and watchful eyes.

He was so sure of being alone that he at once gave vent to his
suppressed feelings, and, dropping his mask of impassibility, burst
into a flood of tears. His long-restrained anger now flashed out like a
smouldering fire.

In a paroxysm of rage he uttered imprecations and curses. He dashed
himself against the prison-walls like a wild beast in a cage.

Prosper Bertomy was not the man he appeared to be.

This haughty, correct gentleman had ardent passions and a fiery
temperament.

One day, when he was about twenty-four years of age, he had become
suddenly fired by ambition. While all of his desires were repressed,
imprisoned in his low estate, like an athlete in a strait-jacket, seeing
around him all these rich people with whom money assumed the place of
the wand in the fairy-tale, he envied their lot.

He studied the beginnings of these financial princes, and found that at
the starting-point they possessed far less than himself.

How, then, had they succeeded? By force of energy, industry, and
assurance.

He determined to imitate and excel them.

From this day, with a force of will much less rare than we think, he
imposed silence upon his instincts. He reformed not his morals, but his
manners; and so strictly did he conform to the rules of decorum, that
he was regarded as a model of propriety by those who knew him, and had
faith in his character; and his capabilities and ambition inspired the
prophecy that he would be successful in attaining eminence and wealth.

And the end of all was this: imprisoned for robbery; that is, ruined!

For he did not attempt to deceive himself. He knew that, guilty or
innocent, a man once suspected is as ineffaceably branded as the
shoulder of a galley-slave.

Therefore what was the use of struggling? What benefit was a triumph
which could not wash out the stain?

When the jailer brought him his supper, he found him lying on his
pallet, with his face buried in the pillow, weeping bitterly.

Ah, he was not hungry now! Now that he was alone, he fed upon his own
bitter thoughts. He sank from a state of frenzy into one of stupefying
despair, and vainly did he endeavor to clear his confused mind, and
account for the dark cloud gathering about him; no loop-hole for escape
did he discover.

The night was long and terrible, and for the first time he had nothing
to count the hours by, as they slowly dragged on, but the measured tread
of the patrol who came to relieve the sentinels. He was wretched.

At dawn he dropped into a sleep, a heavy, oppressive sleep, which was
more wearisome than refreshing; from which he was startled by the rough
voice of the jailer.

"Come, monsieur," he said, "it is time for you to appear before the
judge of instruction."

He jumped up at once, and, without stopping to repair his disordered
toilet, said:

"Come on, quick!"

The constable remarked, as they walked along:

"You are very fortunate in having your case brought before an honest
man."

He was right.

Endowed with remarkable penetration, firm, unbiased, equally free from
false pity and excessive severity, M. Patrigent possessed in an eminent
degree all the qualities necessary for the delicate and difficult office
of judge of instruction.

Perhaps he was wanting in the feverish activity which is sometimes
necessary for coming to a quick and just decision; but he possessed
unwearying patience, which nothing could discourage. He would cheerfully
devote years to the examination of a case; he was even now engaged on a
case of Belgian bank-notes, of which he did not collect all the threads,
and solve the mystery, until after four years' investigation.

Thus it was always to his office that they brought the endless lawsuits,
half-finished inquests, and tangled cases.

This was the man before whom they were taking Prosper; and they were
taking him by a difficult road.

He was escorted along a corridor, through a room full of policemen, down
a narrow flight of steps, across a kind of cellar, and then up a steep
staircase which seemed to have no terminus.

Finally he reached a long narrow galley, upon which opened many doors,
bearing different numbers.

The custodian of the unhappy cashier stopped before one of these doors,
and said:

"Here we are; here your fate will be decided."

At this remark, uttered in a tone of deep commiseration, Prosper could
not refrain from shuddering.

It was only too true, that on the other side of this door was a man upon
whose decision his freedom depended.

Summoning all his courage, he turned the door-knob, and was about to
enter when the constable stopped him.

"Don't be in such haste," he said; "you must sit down here, and wait
till your turn comes; then you will be called."

The wretched man obeyed, and his keeper took a seat beside him.

Nothing is more terrible and lugubrious than this gallery of the judges
of instruction.

Stretching the whole length of the wall is a wooden bench blackened by
constant use. This bench has for the last ten years been daily occupied
by all the murderers, thieves, and suspicious characters of the
Department of the Seine.

Sooner or later, fatally, as filth rushes to a sewer, does crime
reach this gallery, this dreadful gallery with one door opening on the
galleys, the other on the scaffold. This place was vulgarly and pithily
denominated by a certain magistrate as the great public wash-house of
all the dirty linen in Paris.

When Prosper reached the gallery it was full of people. The bench was
almost entirely occupied. Beside him, so close as to touch his shoulder,
sat a man with a sinister countenance, dressed in rags.

Before each door, which belonged to a judge of instruction, stood groups
of witnesses talking in an undertone.

Policemen were constantly coming and going with prisoners. Sometimes,
above the noise of their heavy boots, tramping along the flagstones,
could be heard a woman's stifled sobs, and looking around you would
see some poor mother or wife with her face buried in her handkerchief,
weeping bitterly.

At short intervals a door would open and shut, and a bailiff call out a
name or number.

This stifling atmosphere, and the sight of so much misery, made the
cashier ill and faint; he was feeling as if another five minutes' stay
among these wretched creatures would make him deathly sick, when a
little old man dressed in black, wearing the insignia of his office, a
steel chain, cried out:

"Prosper Bertomy!"

The unhappy man arose, and, without knowing how, found himself in the
office of the judge of instruction.

For a moment he was blinded. He had come out of a dark room; and the one
in which he now found himself had a window directly opposite the door,
so that a flood of light fell suddenly upon him.

This office, like all those on the gallery, was of a very ordinary
appearance, small and dingy.

The wall was covered with cheap dark green paper, and on the floor was a
hideous brown carpet, very much worn.

Opposite the door was a large desk, filled with bundles of law-papers,
behind which was seated the judge, facing those who entered, so that his
face remained in the shade, while that of the prisoner or witness whom
he questioned was in a glare of light.

At the right, before a little table, sat a clerk writing, the
indispensable auxiliary of the judge.

But Prosper observed none of these details: his whole attention was
concentrated upon the arbiter of his fate, and as he closely examined
his face he was convinced that the jailer was right in calling him an
honorable man.

M. Patrigent's homely face, with its irregular outline and short red
whiskers, lit up by a pair of bright, intelligent eyes, and a kindly
expression, was calculated to impress one favorably at first sight.

"Take a seat," he said to Prosper.

This little attention was gratefully welcomed by the prisoner, for he
had expected to be treated with harsh contempt. He looked upon it as a
good sign, and his mind felt a slight relief.

M. Patrigent turned toward the clerk, and said:

"We will begin now, Sigault; pay attention."

"What is your name?" he then asked, looking at Prosper.

"Auguste Prosper Bertomy."

"How old are you?"

"I shall be thirty the 5th of next May."

"What is your profession?"

"I am--that is, I was--cashier in M. Andre Fauvel's bank."

The judge stopped to consult a little memorandum lying on his desk.
Prosper, who followed attentively his every movement, began to be
hopeful, saying to himself that never would a man so unprejudiced have
the cruelty to send him to prison again.

After finding what he looked for, M. Patrigent resumed the examination.

"Where do you live?"

"At No. 39, Rue Chaptal, for the last four years. Before that time I
lived at No. 7, Boulevard des Batignolles."

"Where were you born?"

"At Beaucaire in the Department of the Gard."

"Are your parents living?"

"My mother died two years ago; my father is still living."

"Does he live in Paris?"

"No, monsieur: he lives at Beaucaire with my sister, who married one of
the engineers of the Southern Canal."

It was in broken tones that Prosper answered these last questions.
There are moments in the life of a man when home memories encourage
and console him; there are also moments when he would be thankful to be
without a single tie, and bitterly regrets that he is not alone in the
world.

M. Patrigent observed the prisoner's emotion, when he spoke of his
parents.

"What is your father's calling?" he continued.

"He was formerly superintendent of the bridges and canals; then he
was employed on the Southern Canal, with my brother-in-law; now he has
retired from business."

There was a moment's silence. The judge had turned his chair around, so
that, although his head was apparently averted, he had a good view of
the workings of Prosper's face.

"Well," he said, abruptly, "you are accused of having robbed M. Fauvel
of three hundred and fifty thousand francs."

During the last twenty-four hours the wretched young man had had time to
familiarize himself with the terrible idea of this accusation; and yet,
uttered as it was in this formal, brief tone, it seemed to strike him
with a horror which rendered him incapable of opening his lips.

"What have you to answer?" asked the judge.

"That I am innocent, monsieur; I swear that I am innocent!"

"I hope you are," said M. Patrigent, "and you may count upon me to
assist you to the extent of my ability in proving your innocence. You
must have defence, some facts to state; have you not?"

"Ah, monsieur, what can I say, when I cannot understand this dreadful
business myself? I can only refer you to my past life."

The judge interrupted him:

"Let us be specific; the robbery was committed under circumstances that
prevent suspicion from falling upon anyone but M. Fauvel and yourself.
Do you suspect anyone else?"

"No, monsieur."

"You declare yourself to be innocent, therefore the guilty party must be
M. Fauvel."

Prosper remained silent.

"Have you," persisted the judge, "any cause for believing that M. Fauvel
robbed himself?"

The prisoner preserved a rigid silence.

"I see, monsieur," said the judge, "that you need time for reflection.
Listen to the reading of your examination, and after signing it you will
return to prison."

The unhappy man was overcome. The last ray of hope was gone. He heard
nothing of what Sigault read, and he signed the paper without looking at
it.

He tottered as he left the judge's office, so that the keeper was forced
to support him.

"I fear your case looks dark, monsieur," said the man, "but don't be
disheartened; keep up your courage."

Courage! Prosper had not a spark of it when he returned to his cell; but
his heart was filled with anger and resentment.

He had determined that he would defend himself before the judge, that
he would prove his innocence; and he had not had time to do so. He
reproached himself bitterly for having trusted to the judge's benevolent
face.

"What a farce," he angrily exclaimed, "to call that an examination!"

It was not really an examination, but a mere formality.

In summoning Prosper, M. Patrigent obeyed Article 93 of the Criminal
Code, which says, "Every suspected person under arrest must be examined
within twenty-four hours."

But it is not in twenty-four hours, especially in a case like this, with
no evidence or material proof, that a judge can collect the materials
for an examination.

To triumph over the obstinate defence of a prisoner who shuts himself up
in absolute denial as if in a fortress, valid proofs are needed. These
weapons M. Patrigent was busily preparing. If Prosper had remained a
little longer in the gallery, he would have seen the same bailiff who
had called him come out to the judge's office, and cry out:

"Number three."

The witness, who was awaiting his turn, and answered the call for number
three, was M. Fauvel.

The banker was no longer the same man. Yesterday he was kind and affable
in his manner: now, as he entered the judge's room, he seemed irritated.
Reflection, which usually brings calmness and a desire to pardon,
brought him anger and a thirst for vengeance.

The inevitable questions which commence every examination had scarcely
been addressed to him before his impetuous temper gained the mastery,
and he burst forth in invectives against Prosper.

M. Patrigent was obliged to impose silence upon him, reminding him of
what was due to himself, no matter what wrongs he had suffered at the
hands of his clerk.

Although he had very slightly examined Prosper, the judge was now
scrupulously attentive and particular in having every question answered.
Prosper's examination had been a mere formality, the stating and proving
a fact. Now it related to collecting the attendant circumstances and
the most trifling particulars, so as to group them together, and reach a
just conclusion.

"Let us proceed in order," said the judge, "and pray confine yourself
to answering my questions. Did you ever suspect your cashier of being
dishonest?"

"Certainly not. Yet there were reasons which should have made me
hesitate to trust him with my funds."

"What reasons?"

"M. Bertomy played cards. I have known of his spending whole nights at
the gaming table, and losing immense sums of money. He was intimate with
an unprincipled set. Once he was mixed up with one of my clients, M. de
Clameran, in a scandalous gambling affair which took place at the house
of some disreputable woman, and wound up by being tried before the
police court."

For some minutes the banker continued to revile Prosper.

"You must confess, monsieur," interrupted the judge, "that you were very
imprudent, if not culpable, to have intrusted your safe to such a man."

"Ah, monsieur, Prosper was not always thus. Until the past year he was
a model of goodness. He lived in my house as one of my family; he spent
all of his evenings with us, and was the bosom friend of my eldest son
Lucien. One day, he suddenly left us, and never came to the house again.
Yet I had every reason to believe him attached to my niece Madeleine."

M. Patrigent had a peculiar manner of contracting his brows when he
thought he had discovered some new proof. He now did this, and said:

"Might not this admiration for the young lady have been the cause of M.
Bertomy's estrangement?"

"How so?" said the banker with surprise. "I was willing to bestow
Madeleine upon him, and, to be frank, was astonished that he did not ask
for her hand. My niece would be a good match for any man, and he should
have considered himself fortunate to obtain her. She is beautiful, and
her dowry will be half a million."

"Then you can see no motive for your cashier's conduct?"

"It is impossible for me to account for it. I have, however, always
supposed that Prosper was led astray by a young man whom he met at my
house about this time, M. Raoul de Lagors."

"Ah! and who is this young man?"

"A relative of my wife; a very attractive, intelligent young man,
somewhat wild, but rich enough to pay for his follies."

The judge wrote the name Lagors at the bottom of an already long list on
his memorandum.

"Now," he said, "we are coming to the point. You are sure that the theft
was not committed by anyone in your house?"

"Quite sure, monsieur."

"You always kept your key?"

"I generally carried it about on my person; and, whenever I left it at
home, I put it in the secretary drawer in my chamber."

"Where was it the evening of the robbery?"

"In my secretary."

"But then--"

"Excuse me for interrupting you," said M. Fauvel, "and to permit me to
tell you that, to a safe like mine, the key is of no importance. In the
first place, one is obliged to know the word upon which the five movable
buttons turn. With the word one can open it without the key; but without
the word--"

"And you never told this word to anyone?"

"To no one, monsieur, and sometimes I would have been puzzled to know
myself with what word the safe had been closed. Prosper would change it
when he chose, and, if he had not informed me of the change, would have
to come and open it for me."

"Had you forgotten it on the day of the theft?"

"No: the word had been changed the day before; and its peculiarity
struck me."

"What was it?"

"Gypsy, g, y, p, s, y," said the banker, spelling the name.

M. Patrigent wrote down this name.

"One more question, monsieur: were you at home the evening before the
robbery?"

"No; I dined and spent the evening with a friend; when I returned home,
about one o'clock, my wife had retired, and I went to bed immediately."

"And you were ignorant of the amount of money in the safe?"

"Absolutely. In conformity with my positive orders, I could only suppose
that a small sum had been left there over-night; I stated this fact to
the commissary in M. Bertomy's presence, and he acknowledged it to be
the case."

"Perfectly correct, monsieur: the commissary's report proves it." M.
Patrigent was for a time silent. To him everything depended upon this
one fact, that the banker was unaware of the three hundred and fifty
thousand francs being in the safe, and Prosper had disobeyed orders
by placing them there over-night; hence the conclusion was very easily
drawn.

Seeing that his examination was over, the banker thought that he would
relieve his mind of what was weighing upon it.

"I believe myself above suspicion, monsieur," he began, "and yet I can
never rest easy until Bertomy's guilt has been clearly proved. Calumny
prefers attacking a successful man: I may be calumniated: three hundred
and fifty thousand francs is a fortune capable of tempting even a
rich man. I would be obliged if you would have the condition of my
banking-house examined. This examination will prove that I could have
no interest in robbing my own safe. The prosperous condition of my
affairs--"

"That is sufficient, monsieur."

M. Patrigent was well informed of the high standing of the banker, and
knew almost as much of his affairs as did M. Fauvel himself.

He asked him to sign his testimony, and then escorted him to the door of
his office, a rare favor on his part.

When M. Fauvel had left the room, Sigault indulged in a remark.

"This seems to be a very cloudy case," he said; "if the cashier is
shrewd and firm, it will be difficult to convict him."

"Perhaps it will," said the judge, "but let us hear the other witnesses
before deciding."

The person who answered to the call for number four was Lucien, M.
Fauvel's eldest son.

He was a tall, handsome young man of twenty-two. To the judge's
questions he replied that he was very fond of Prosper, was once very
intimate with him, and had always regarded him as a strictly honorable
man, incapable of doing anything unbecoming a gentleman.

He declared that he could not imagine what fatal circumstances could
have induced Prosper to commit a theft. He knew he played cards, but not
to the extent that was reported. He had never known him to indulge in
expenses beyond his means.

In regard to his cousin Madeleine, he replied:

"I always thought that Prosper was in love with Madeleine, and, until
yesterday, I was certain he would marry her, knowing that my father
would not oppose their marriage. I have always attributed the
discontinuance of Prosper's visits to a quarrel with my cousin, but
supposed they would end by becoming reconciled."

This information, more than that of M. Fauvel, threw light upon
Prosper's past life, but did not apparently reveal any evidence which
could be used in the present state of affairs.

Lucien signed his deposition, and withdrew.

Cavaillon's turn for examination came next. The poor fellow was in a
pitiable state of mind when he appeared before the judge.

Having, as a great secret, confided to a friend his adventure with the
detective, and being jeered at for his cowardice in giving up the note,
he felt great remorse, and passed the night in reproaching himself for
having ruined Prosper.

He endeavored to repair, as well as he could, what he called his
treason.

He did not exactly accuse M. Fauvel, but he courageously declared that
he was the cashier's friend, and that he was as sure of his innocence as
he was of his own.

Unfortunately, besides his having no proofs to strengthen his
assertions, these were deprived of any value by his violent professions
of friendship for the accused.

After Cavaillon, six or eight clerks of the Fauvel bank successively
defiled in the judge's office; but their depositions were nearly all
insignificant.

One of them, however, stated a fact which the judge carefully noted.
He said he knew that Prosper had speculated on the Bourse through the
medium of M. Raoul de Lagors, and had gained immense sums.

Five o'clock struck before the list of witnesses summoned for the day
was exhausted. But the task of M. Patrigent was not yet finished. He
rang for his bailiff, who instantly appeared, and said to him:

"Go at once, and bring Fanferlot here."

It was some time before the detective answered the summons. Having met
a colleague on the gallery, he thought it his duty to treat him to a
drink; and the bailiff had found it necessary to bring him from the
little inn at the corner.

"How is it that you keep people waiting?" said the judge, when he
entered bowing and scraping. Fanferlot bowed more profoundly still.

Despite his smiling face, he was very uneasy. To prosecute the Bertomy
case alone, it required a double play that might be discovered at any
moment; to manage at once the cause of justice and his own ambition, he
ran great risks, the least of which was the losing of his place.

"I have a great deal to do," he said, to excuse himself, "and have not
wasted any time."

And he began to give a detailed account of his movements. He was
embarrassed, for he spoke with all sorts of restrictions, picking out
what was to be said, and avoiding what was to be left unsaid. Thus he
gave the history of Cavaillon's letter, which he handed to the judge;
but he did not breathe a word of Madeleine. On the other hand, he gave
biographical details, very minute indeed, of Prosper and Mme. Gypsy,
which he had collected from various quarters during the day.

As he progressed the conviction of M. Patrigent was strengthened.

"This young man is evidently guilty," he said. Fanferlot did not reply;
his opinion was different, but he was delighted that the judge was
on the wrong track, thinking that his own glory would thereby be the
greater when he discovered the real culprit. True, this grand discovery
was as far off as it had ever been; but Fanferlot was hopeful.

After hearing all he had to tell, the judge dismissed Fanferlot, telling
him to return the next day.

"Above all," he said, as Fanferlot left the room, "do not lose sight of
the girl Gypsy; she must know where the money is, and can put us on the
track."

Fanferlot smiled cunningly.

"You may rest easy about that, monsieur; the lady is in good hands."

Left to himself, although the evening was far advanced, M. Patrigent
continued to busy himself with the case, and to arrange that the rest of
the depositions should be made.

This case had actually taken possession of his mind; it was, at the same
time, puzzling and attractive. It seemed to be surrounded by a cloud of
mystery, and he determined to penetrate and dispel it.

The next morning he was in his office much earlier than usual. On this
day he examined Mme. Gypsy, recalled Cavaillon, and sent again for M.
Fauvel. For several days he displayed the same activity.

Of all the witnesses summoned, only two failed to appear.

One was the office-boy sent by Prosper to bring the money from the city
bank; he was ill from a fall.

The other was M. Raoul de Lagors.

But their absence did not prevent the file of papers relating to
Prosper's case from daily increasing; and on the ensuing Monday, five
days after the robbery, M. Patrigent thought he held in his hands enough
moral proof to crush the accused.




V

While his whole past was the object of the most minute investigations,
Prosper was in prison, in a secret cell.

The two first days had not appeared very long.

He had requested, and been granted, some sheets of paper, numbered,
which he was obliged to account for; and he wrote, with a sort of rage,
plans of defence and a narrative of justification.

The third day he began to be uneasy at not seeing anyone except the
condemned prisoners who were employed to serve those confined in secret
cells, and the jailer who brought him his food.

"Am I not to be examined again?" he would ask.

"Your turn is coming," the jailer invariably answered.

Time passed; and the wretched man, tortured by the sufferings of
solitary confinement which quickly breaks the spirit, sank into the
depths of despair.

"Am I to stay here forever?" he moaned.

No, he was not forgotten; for on Monday morning, at one o'clock, an hour
when the jailer never came, he heard the heavy bolt of his cell pushed
back.

He ran toward the door.

But the sight of a gray-headed man standing on the sill rooted him to
the spot.

"Father," he gasped, "father!"

"Your father, yes!"

Prosper's astonishment at seeing his father was instantly succeeded by a
feeling of great joy.

A father is one friend upon whom we can always rely. In the hour of
need, when all else fails, we remember this man upon whose knees we sat
when children, and who soothed our sorrows; and although he can in no
way assist us, his presence alone comforts and strengthens.

Without reflecting, Prosper, impelled by tender feeling, was about to
throw himself on his father's bosom.

M. Bertomy harshly repulsed him.

"Do not approach me!" he exclaimed.

He then advanced into the cell, and closed the door. The father and son
were alone together, Prosper heart-broken, crushed; M. Bertomy angry,
almost threatening.

Cast off by this last friend, by his father, the miserable young man
seemed to be stupefied with pain and disappointment.

"You too!" he bitterly cried. "You, you believe me guilty? Oh, father!"

"Spare yourself this shameful comedy," interrupted M. Bertomy: "I know
all."

"But I am innocent, father; I swear it by the sacred memory of my
mother."

"Unhappy wretch," cried M. Bertomy, "do not blaspheme!"

He seemed overcome by tender thoughts of the past, and in a weak, broken
voice, he added:

"Your mother is dead, Prosper, and little did I think that the day would
come when I could thank God for having taken her from me. Your crime
would have killed her, would have broken her heart!"

After a painful silence, Prosper said:

"You overwhelm me, father, and at the moment when I need all my courage;
when I am the victim of an odious plot."

"Victim!" cried M. Bertomy, "victim! Dare you utter your insinuations
against the honorable man who has taken care of you, loaded you with
benefits, and had insured you a brilliant future! It is enough for you
to have robbed him; do not calumniate him."

"For pity's sake, father, let me speak!"

"I suppose you would deny your benefactor's kindness. Yet you were at
one time so sure of his affection, that you wrote me to hold myself in
readiness to come to Paris and ask M. Fauvel for the hand of his niece.
Was that a lie too?"

"No," said Prosper in a choked voice, "no."

"That was a year ago; you then loved Mlle. Madeleine; at least you wrote
to me that you--"

"Father, I love her now, more than ever; I have never ceased to love
her."

M. Bertomy made a gesture of contemptuous pity.

"Indeed!" he cried, "and the thought of the pure, innocent girl whom you
loved did not prevent your entering upon a path of sin. You loved her:
how dared you, then, without blushing, approach her presence after
associating with the shameless creatures with whom you were so
intimate?"

"For Heaven's sake, let me explain by what fatality Madeleine--"

"Enough, monsieur, enough. I told you that I know everything. I saw M.
Fauvel yesterday; this morning I saw the judge, and 'tis to his kindness
that I am indebted for this interview. Do you know what mortification
I suffered before being allowed to see you? I was searched and made to
empty all of my pockets, on suspicion of bringing you arms!"

Prosper ceased to justify himself, but in a helpless, hopeless way,
dropped down upon a seat.

"I have seen your apartments, and at once recognized the proofs of your
crime. I saw silk curtains hanging before every window and door, and
the walls covered with pictures. In my father's house the walls were
whitewashed; and there was but one arm-chair in the whole house, and
that was my mother's. Our luxury was our honesty. You are the first
member of our family who has possessed Aubusson carpets; though, to be
sure, you are the first thief of our blood."

At this last insult Prosper's face flushed crimson, but he remained
silent and immovable.

"But luxury is necessary now," continued M. Bertomy, becoming more
excited and angry as he went on, "luxury must be had at any price. You
must have the insolent opulence and display of an upstart, without being
an upstart. You must support worthless women who wear satin slippers
lined with swan's-down, like those I saw in your rooms, and keep
servants in livery--and you steal! And bankers no longer trust their
safe-keys with anybody; and every day honest families are disgraced by
the discovery of some new piece of villainy."

M. Bertomy suddenly stopped. He saw that his son was not in a condition
to hear any more reproaches.

"But I will say no more," he said. "I came here not to reproach, but
to, if possible, save the honor of our name, to prevent it from being
published in the papers bearing the names of thieves and murderers.
Stand up and listen to me!"

At the imperious tone of his father, Prosper arose. So many successive
blows had reduced him to a state of torpor.

"First of all," began M. Bertomy, "how much have you remaining of the
stolen three hundred and fifty thousand francs?"

"Once more, father," replied the unfortunate man in a tone of hopeless
resignation, "once more I swear I am innocent."

"So I supposed you would say. Then our family will have to repair the
injury you have done M. Fauvel."

"What do you mean?"

"The day he heard of your crime, your brother-in-law brought me your
sister's dowry, seventy thousand francs. I succeeded in collecting a
hundred and forty thousand francs more. This makes two hundred and ten
thousand francs which I have brought with me to give to M. Fauvel."

This threat aroused Prosper from his torpor.

"You shall do nothing of the kind!" he cried with unrestrained
indignation.

"I will do so before the sun goes down this day. M. Fauvel will grant me
time to pay the rest. My pension is fifteen hundred francs. I can live
upon five hundred, and am strong enough to go to work again; and your
brother-in-law--"

M. Bertomy stopped short, frightened at the expression of his son's
face. His features were contracted with such furious rage that he was
scarcely recognizable, and his eyes glared like a maniac's.

"You dare not disgrace me thus!" he cried; "you have no right to do it.
You are free to disbelieve me yourself, but you have no right for taking
a step that would be a confession of guilt, and ruin me forever. Who
and what convinces you of my guilt? When cold justice hesitates, you,
my father, hesitate not, but, more pitiless than the law, condemn me
unheard!"

"I only do my duty."

"Which means that I stand on the edge of a precipice, and you push me
over. Do you call that your duty? What! between strangers who accuse me,
and myself who swear that I am innocent, you do not hesitate? Why? Is
it because I am your son? Our honor is at stake, it is true; but that is
only the more reason why you should sustain me, and assist me to defend
myself."

Prosper's earnest, truthful manner was enough to unsettle the firmest
convictions, and make doubt penetrate the most stubborn mind.

"Yet," said M. Bertomy in a hesitating tone, "everything seems to accuse
you."

"Ah, father, you do not know that I was suddenly banished from
Madeleine's presence; that I was compelled to avoid her. I became
desperate, and tried to forget my sorrow in dissipation. I sought
oblivion, and found shame and disgust. Oh, Madeleine, Madeleine!"

He was overcome with emotion; but in a few minutes he started up with
renewed violence in his voice and manner.

"Everything is against me!" he exclaimed, "but no matter. I will justify
myself or perish in the attempt. Human justice is liable to error;
although innocent, I may be convicted: so be it. I will undergo my
penalty; but people are not kept galley-slaves forever."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, father, that I am now another man. My life, henceforth, has an
object, vengeance! I am the victim of a vile plot. As long as I have a
drop of blood in my veins, I will seek its author. And I will certainly
find him; and then bitterly shall he expiate all of my cruel suffering.
The blow came from the house of Fauvel, and I will live to prove it."

"Take care: your anger makes you say things that you will repent
hereafter."

"Yes, I see, you are going to descant upon the probity of M. Andre
Fauvel. You will tell me that all the virtues have taken refuge in the
bosom of this patriarchal family. What do you know about it? Would this
be the first instance in which the most shameful secrets are concealed
beneath the fairest appearances? Why did Madeleine suddenly forbid me to
think of her? Why has she exiled me, when she suffers as much from our
separation as I myself, when she still loves me? For she does love me. I
am sure of it. I have proofs of it."

The jailer came to say that the time allotted to M. Bertomy had expired,
and that he must leave the cell.

A thousand conflicting emotions seemed to rend the old man's heart.

Suppose Prosper were telling the truth: how great would be his remorse,
if he had added to his already great weight of sorrow and trouble! And
who could prove that he was not sincere?

The voice of this son, of whom he had always been so proud, had aroused
all his paternal affection, so violently repressed. Ah, were he guilty,
and guilty of a worse crime, still he was his son, his only son!

His countenance lost its severity, and his eyes filled with tears.

He had resolved to leave, as he had entered, stern and angry: he had
not the cruel courage. His heart was breaking. He opened his arms, and
pressed Prosper to his heart.

"Oh, my son!" he murmured. "God grant you have spoken the truth!"

Prosper was triumphant: he had almost convinced his father of his
innocence. But he had not time to rejoice over this victory.

The cell-door again opened, and the jailer's gruff voice once more
called out:

"It is time for you to appear before the court."

He instantly obeyed the order.

But his step was no longer unsteady, as a few days previous: a complete
change had taken place within him. He walked with a firm step, head
erect, and the fire of resolution in his eye.

He knew the way now, and he walked a little ahead of the constable who
escorted him.

As he was passing through the room full of policemen, he met the man
with gold spectacles, who had watched him so intently the day he was
searched.

"Courage, M. Prosper Bertomy," he said: "if you are innocent, there are
those who will help you."

Prosper started with surprise, and was about to reply, when the man
disappeared.

"Who is that gentleman?" he asked of the policeman.

"Is it possible that you don't know him?" replied the policeman with
surprise. "Why, it is M. Lecoq, of the police service."

"You say his name is Lecoq?"

"You might as well say 'monsieur,'" said the offended policeman; "it
would not burn your mouth. M. Lecoq is a man who knows everything that
he wants to know, without its ever being told to him. If you had had
him, instead of that smooth-tongued imbecile Fanferlot, your case would
have been settled long ago. Nobody is allowed to waste time when he has
command. But he seems to be a friend of yours."

"I never saw him until the first day I came here."

"You can't swear to that, because no one can boast of knowing the
real face of M. Lecoq. It is one thing to-day, and another to-morrow;
sometimes he is a dark man, sometimes a fair one, sometimes quite young,
and then an octogenarian: why, not seldom he even deceives me. I begin
to talk to a stranger, paf! the first thing I know, it is M. Lecoq!
Anybody on the face of the earth might be he. If I were told that you
were he, I should say, 'It is very likely.' Ah! he can convert himself
into any shape and form he chooses. He is a wonderful man!"

The constable would have continued forever his praises of M. Lecoq, had
not the sight of the judge's door put an end to them.

This time, Prosper was not kept waiting on the wooden bench: the judge,
on the contrary, was waiting for him.

M. Patrigent, who was a profound observer of human nature, had contrived
the interview between M. Bertomy and his son.

He was sure that between the father, a man of such stubborn honor, and
the son, accused of theft, an affecting scene would take place, and this
scene would completely unman Prosper, and make him confess.

He determined to send for him as soon as the interview was over, while
all his nerves were vibrating with terrible emotions: he would tell the
truth, to relieve his troubled, despairing mind.

His surprise was great to see the cashier's bearing; resolute without
obstinacy, firm and assured without defiance.

"Well," he said, "have you reflected?"

"Not being guilty, monsieur, I had nothing to reflect upon."

"Ah, I see the prison has not been a good counsellor; you forget that
sincerity and repentance are the first things necessary to obtain the
indulgence of the law."

"I crave no indulgence, monsieur."

M. Patrigent looked vexed, and said:

"What would you say if I told you what had become of the three hundred
and fifty thousand francs?"

Prosper shook his head sadly.

"If it were known, monsieur, I would not be here, but at liberty."

This device had often been used by the judge, and generally succeeded;
but, with a man so thoroughly master of himself, there was small chance
of success. It had been used at a venture, and failed.

"Then you persist in accusing M. Fauvel?"

"Him, or someone else."

"Excuse me: no one else, since he alone knew the word. Had he any
interest in robbing himself?"

"I can think of none."

"Well, now I will tell you what interest you had in robbing him."

M. Patrigent spoke as a man who was convinced of the facts he was about
to state; but his assurance was all assumed.

He had relied upon crushing, at a blow, a despairing wretched man, and
was nonplussed by seeing him appear as determined upon resistance.

"Will you be good enough to tell me," he said, in a vexed tone, "how
much you have spent during the last year?"

Prosper did not find it necessary to stop to reflect and calculate.

"Yes, monsieur," he answered, unhesitatingly: "circumstances made it
necessary for me to preserve the greatest order in my wild career; I
spent about fifty thousand francs."

"Where did you obtain them?"

"In the first place, twelve thousand francs were left to me by my
mother. I received from M. Fauvel fourteen thousand francs, as my
salary, and share of the profits. By speculating in stocks, I gained
eight thousand francs. The rest I borrowed, and intend repaying out of
the fifteen thousand francs which I have deposited in M. Fauvel's bank."

The account was clear, exact, and could be easily proved; it must be a
true one.

"Who lent you the money?"

"M. Raoul de Lagors."

This witness had left Paris the day of the robbery, and could not be
found; so, for the time being, M. Patrigent was compelled to rely upon
Prosper's word.

"Well," he said, "I will not press this point; but tell me why, in spite
of the formal order of M. Fauvel, you drew the money from the Bank of
France the night before, instead of waiting till the morning of the
payment?"

"Because M. de Clameran had informed me that it would be agreeable,
necessary even, for him to have his money early in the morning. He will
testify to that fact, if you summon him; and I knew that I should reach
my office late."

"Then M. de Clameran is a friend of yours?"

"By no means. I have always felt repelled by him; but he is the intimate
friend of M. Lagors."

While Sigault was writing down these answers, M. Patrigent was racking
his brain to imagine what could have occurred between M. Bertomy and his
son, to cause this transformation in Prosper.

"One more thing," said the judge: "how did you spend the evening, the
night before the crime?"

"When I left my office, at five o'clock, I took the St.-Germain train,
and went to Vesinet, M. de Lagors's country seat, to carry him fifteen
hundred francs which he had asked for; and, finding him not at home, I
left it with his servant."

"Did he tell you that M. de Lagors was going away?"

"No, monsieur. I did not know that he had left Paris."

"Where did you go when you left Vesinet?"

"I returned to Paris, and dined at a restaurant with a friend."

"And then?"

Prosper hesitated.

"You are silent," said M. Patrigent; "then I shall tell you how you
employed your time. You returned to your rooms in the Rue Chaptal,
dressed yourself, and attended a _soiree_ given by one of those women
who style themselves dramatic artistes, and who are a disgrace to
the stage; who receive a hundred crowns a year, and yet keep their
carriages, at Mlle. Wilson's."

"You are right, monsieur."

"There is heavy playing at Wilson's?"

"Sometimes."

"You are in the habit of visiting places of this sort. Were you not
connected in some way with a scandalous adventure which took place at
the house of a woman named Crescenzi?"

"I was summoned to testify, having witnessed a theft."

"Gambling generally leads to stealing. And did you not play baccarat at
Wilson's, and lose eighteen hundred francs?"

"Excuse me, monsieur, only eleven hundred."

"Very well. In the morning you paid a note of a thousand francs."

"Yes, monsieur."

"Moreover, there remained in your desk five hundred francs, and you had
four hundred in your purse when you were arrested. So that altogether,
in twenty-four hours, four thousand five hundred francs--"

Prosper was not discountenanced, but stupefied.

Not being aware of the powerful means of investigation possessed by the
law, he wondered how in so short a time the judge could have obtained
such accurate information.

"Your statement is correct, monsieur," he said finally.

"Where did all this money come from? The evening before you had so
little that you were obliged to defer the payment of a small bill."

"The day to which you allude, I sold through an agent some bonds I had,
about three thousand francs; besides, I took from the safe two thousand
francs in advance on my salary."

The prisoner had given clear answers to all the questions put to him,
and M. Patrigent thought he would attack him on a new point.

"You say you have no wish to conceal any of your actions; then why did
you write this note to one of your companions?" Here he held up the
mysterious note.

This time the blow struck. Prosper's eyes dropped before the inquiring
look of the judge.

"I thought," he stammered, "I wished--"

"You wished to screen this woman?"

"Yes, monsieur; I did. I knew that a man in my condition, accused of
a robbery, has every fault, every weakness he has ever indulged in,
charged against him as a great crime."

"Which means that you knew that the presence of a woman at your house
would tell very much against you, and that justice would not excuse this
scandalous defiance of public morality. A man who respects himself so
little as to associate with a worthless woman, does not elevate her to
his standard, but he descends to her base level."

"Monsieur!"

"I suppose you know who the woman is, whom you permit to bear the honest
name borne by your mother?"

"Mme. Gypsy was a governess when I first knew her. She was born at
Oporto, and came to France with a Portuguese family."

"Her name is not Gypsy; she has never been a governess, and she is not a
Portuguese."

Prosper began to protest against this statement; but M. Patrigent
shrugged his shoulders, and began looking over a large file of papers on
his desk.

"Ah, here it is," he said, "listen: Palmyre Chocareille, born at Paris
in 1840, daughter of James Chocareille, undertaker's assistant, and of
Caroline Piedlent, his wife."

Prosper looked vexed and impatient; he did not know that the judge was
reading him this report to convince him that nothing can escape the
police.

"Palmyre Chocareille," he continued, "at twelve years of age was
apprenticed to a shoemaker, and remained with him until she was sixteen.
Traces of her for one year are lost. At the age of seventeen she is
hired as a servant by a grocer on the Rue St. Denis, named Dombas, and
remains there three months. She lives out during this same year,
1857, at eight different places. In 1858 she entered the store of a
fan-merchant in Choiseul Alley."

As he read, the judge watched Prosper's face to observe the effect of
these revelations.

"Toward the close of 1858 she was employed as a servant by Madame Munes,
and accompanied her to Lisbon. How long she remained in Lisbon, and
what she did while she remained there, is not reported. But in 1861 she
returned to Paris, and was sentenced to three months' imprisonment for
assault and battery. Ah, she returned from Portugal with the name of
Nina Gypsy."

"But I assure you, monsieur," Prosper began.

"Yes, I understand; this history is less romantic, doubtless, than the
one related to you; but then it has the merit of being true. We lose
sight of Palmyre Chocareille, called Gypsy, upon her release from
prison, but we meet her again six months later, having made the
acquaintance of a travelling agent named Caldas, who became infatuated
with her beauty, and furnished her a house near the Bastille. She
assumed his name for some time, then she deserted him to devote herself
to you. Did you ever hear of this Caldas?"

"Never, monsieur."

"This foolish man so deeply loved this creature that her desertion drove
him almost insane from grief. He was a very resolute man, and publicly
swore that he would kill his rival if he ever found him. The current
report afterward was, that he committed suicide. He certainly sold
the furniture of the House occupied by Chocareille, and suddenly
disappeared. All the efforts made to discover him proved fruitless."

The judge stopped a moment as if to give Prosper time for reflection,
and then slowly said:

"And this is the woman whom you made your companion, the woman for whom
you robbed the bank!"

Once more M. Patrigent was on the wrong track, owing to Fanferlot's
incomplete information.

He had hoped that Prosper would betray himself by uttering some
passionate retort when thus wounded to the quick; but he remained
impassible. Of all the judge said to him his mind dwelt upon only one
word--Caldas, the name of the poor travelling agent who had killed
himself.

"At any rate," insisted M. Patrigent, "you will confess that this girl
has caused your ruin."

"I cannot confess that, monsieur, for it is not true."

"Yet she is the occasion of your extravagance. Listen." The judge here
drew a bill from the file of papers. "During December you paid her
dressmaker, Van Klopen, for two walking dresses, nine hundred francs;
one evening dress, seven hundred francs; one domino, trimmed with lace,
four hundred francs."

"I spent this money cheerfully, but nevertheless I was not especially
attached to her."

M. Patrigent shrugged his shoulders.

"You cannot deny the evidence," said he. "I suppose you will also say
that it was not for this girl's sake you ceased spending your evenings
at M. Fauvel's?"

"I swear that she was not the cause of my ceasing to visit M. Fauvel's
family."

"Then why did you cease, suddenly, your attentions to a young lady whom
you confidently expected to marry, and whose hand you had written to
your father to demand for you?"

"I had reasons which I cannot reveal," answered Prosper with emotion.

The judge breathed freely; at last he had discovered a vulnerable point
in the prisoner's armor.

"Did Mlle. Madeleine banish you?"

Prosper was silent, and seemed agitated.

"Speak," said M. Patrigent; "I must tell you that this circumstance is
one of the most important in your case."

"Whatever the cost may be, on this subject I am compelled to keep
silence."

"Beware of what you do; justice will not be satisfied with scruples of
conscience."

M. Patrigent waited for an answer. None came.

"You persist in your obstinacy, do you? Well, we will go on to the next
question. You have, during the last year, spent fifty thousand francs.
Your resources are at an end, and your credit is exhausted; to continue
your mode of life was impossible. What did you intend to do?"

"I had no settled plan. I thought it might last as long as it would, and
then I----"

"And then you would draw from the safe!"

"Ah, monsieur, if I were guilty, I should not be here! I should never
have been such a fool as to return to the bank; I should have fled."

M. Patrigent could not restrain a smile of satisfaction, and exclaimed:

"Exactly the argument I expected you to use. You showed your shrewdness
precisely by staying to face the storm, instead of flying the country.
Several recent suits have taught dishonest cashiers that flight abroad
is dangerous. Railways travel fast, but telegrams travel faster. A
French thief can be arrested in London within forty-eight hours after
his description has been telegraphed. Even America is no longer a
refuge. You remained prudently and wisely, saying to yourself, 'I will
manage to avoid suspicion; and, even if I am found out, I shall be free
again after three or five years' seclusion, with a large fortune to
enjoy.' Many people would sacrifice five years of their lives for three
hundred and fifty thousand francs."

"But monsieur, had I calculated in the manner you describe, I should not
have been content with three hundred and fifty thousand francs; I should
have waited for an opportunity to steal half a million. I often have
that sum in charge."

"Oh! it is not always convenient to wait."

Prosper was buried in deep thought for some minutes.

"Monsieur," he finally said, "there is one detail I forgot to mention
before, and it may be of importance."

"Explain, if you please."

"The office messenger whom I sent to the Bank of France for the money
must have seen me tie up the bundle, and put it away in the safe. At any
rate, he knows that I left the bank before he did."

"Very well; the man shall be examined. Now you can return to your
cell; and once more I advise you to consider the consequences of your
persistent denial."

M. Patrigent thus abruptly dismissed Prosper because he wished to
immediately act upon this last piece of information.

"Sigault," said he as soon as Prosper had left the room, "is not this
Antonin the man who was excused from testifying because he sent a
doctor's certificate declaring him too ill to appear?"

"It is, monsieur."

"Where doe he live?"

"Fanferlot says he was so ill that he was taken to the hospital--the
Dubois Hospital."

"Very well. I am going to examine him to-day, this very hour. Take your
pen and paper, and send for a carriage."

It was some distance from the Palais de Justice to the Dubois Hospital;
but the cabman, urged by the promise of a large fee, made his sorry
jades fly as if they were blooded horses.

Would Antonin be able to answer any questions?

The physician in charge of the hospital said that, although the man
suffered horribly from a broken knee, his mind was perfectly clear.

"That being the case, monsieur," said the judge, "I wish to examine him,
and desire that no one be admitted while he makes his deposition."

"Oh! you will not be intruded upon, monsieur; his room contains four
beds, but they are just now unoccupied."

When Antonin saw the judge enter, followed by a little weazened man in
black, with a portfolio under his arm, he at once knew what he had come
for.

"Ah," he said, "monsieur comes to see me about M. Bertomy's case?"

"Precisely."

M. Patrigent remained standing by the sick-bed while Sigault arranged
his papers on a little table.

In answer to the usual questions, the messenger swore that he was named
Antonin Poche, was forty years old, born at Cadaujac (Gironde), and was
unmarried.

"Now," said the judge, "are you well enough to clearly answer any
questions I may put?"

"Certainly, monsieur."

"Did you, on the 27th of February, go to the Bank of France for the
three hundred and fifty thousand francs that were stolen?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"At what hour did you return with the money?"

"It must have been five o'clock when I got back."

"Do you remember what M. Bertomy did when you handed him the notes? Now,
do not be in a hurry; think before you answer."

"Let me see: first he counted the notes, and made them into four
packages; then he put them in the safe; and then--it seems to me--and
then he locked the safe; and, yes, I am not mistaken, he went out!"

He uttered these last words so quickly, that, forgetting his knee, he
half started up, but, with a cry of pain, sank back in bed.

"Are you sure of what you say?" asked the judge.

M. Patrigent's solemn tone seemed to frighten Antonin.

"Sure?" he replied with marked hesitation, "I would bet my head on it,
yet I am not sure!"

It was impossible for him to be more decided in his answers. He had been
frightened. He already imagined himself in difficulty, and for a trifle
would have retracted everything.

But the effect was already produced; and when they retired M. Patrigent
said to Sigault:

"This is a very important piece of evidence."




VI

The Archangel Hotel, Mme. Gypsy's asylum, was the most elegant building
on the Quai St. Michel.

A person who pays her fortnight's board in advance is treated with
consideration at this hotel.

Mme. Alexandre, who had been a handsome woman, was now stout, laced till
she could scarcely breathe, always over-dressed, and fond of wearing a
number of flashy gold chains around her fat neck.

She had bright eyes and white teeth; but, alas, a red nose. Of all her
weaknesses, and Heaven knows she had indulged in every variety, only one
remained; she loved a good dinner, washed down with plenty of good wine.

She also loved her husband; and, about the time M. Patrigent was leaving
the hospital, she began to be worried that her "little man" had not
returned to dinner. She was about to sit down without him, when the
hotel-boy cried out:

"Here is monsieur."

And Fanferlot appeared in person.

Three years before, Fanferlot had kept a little office of secret
intelligence; Mme. Alexandre was a trader without a license in perfumery
and toilet articles, and, finding it necessary to watch some of her
suspicious customers, engaged Fanferlot's services; this was the origin
of their acquaintance.

If they went through the marriage ceremony for the good of the mayoralty
and the church, it was because they imagined it would, like a baptism,
wash out the sins of the past.

Upon this momentous day, Fanferlot gave up his secret intelligence
office, and entered the police, where he had already been occasionally
employed, and Mme. Alexandre retired from trade.

Uniting their savings, they hired and furnished the "Archangel,"
which they were now carrying on prosperously well, esteemed by their
neighbors, who were ignorant of Fanferlot's connection with the police
force.

"Why, how late you are, my little man!" she exclaimed, as she dropped
her knife and fork, and rushed forward to embrace him.

He received her caresses with an air of abstraction.

"My back is broken," he said. "I have been the whole day playing
billiards with Evariste, M. Fauvel's valet, and allowed him to win as
often as he wished, a man who does not know what 'the pool' is! I became
acquainted with him yesterday, and now I am his best friend. If I wish
to enter M. Fauvel's service in Antonin's place, I can rely upon M.
Evariste's good word."

"What, you be an office messenger? you?"

"Of course I would. How else am I to get an opportunity of studying my
characters, if I am not on the spot to watch them all the time?"

"Then the valet gave you no news?"

"He gave me none that I could make use of, and yet I turned him inside
out, like a glove. This banker is a remarkable man; you don't often meet
with one of his sort nowadays. Evariste says he has not a single vice,
not even a little defect by which his valet could gain ten sous. He
neither smokes, drinks, nor plays; in fact, he is a saint. He is worth
millions, and lives as respectably and quietly as a grocer. He is
devoted to his wife, adores his children, is lavishly hospitable, and
seldom goes into society."

"Then his wife is young?"

"She must be about fifty."

Mme. Alexandre reflected a minute, then asked:

"Did you inquire about the other members of the family?"

"Certainly. The younger son is in the army. The elder son, Lucien, lives
with his parents, and is as proper as a young lady; so good, indeed,
that he is stupid."

"And what about the niece?"

"Evariste could tell me nothing about her."

Mme. Alexandre shrugged her fat shoulders.

"If you have discovered nothing, it is because there is nothing to be
discovered. Still, do you know what I would do, if I were you?"

"Tell me."

"I would consult with M. Lecoq."

Fanferlot jumped up as if he had been shot.

"Now, that's pretty advice! Do you want me to lose my place? M. Lecoq
does not suspect that I have anything to do with the case, except to
obey his orders."

"Nobody told you to let him know you were investigating it on your own
account. You can consult him with an air of indifference, as if you were
not at all interested; and, after you have got his opinion, you can take
advantage of it."

The detective weighed his wife's words, and then said:

"Perhaps you are right; yet M. Lecoq is so devilishly shrewd, that he
might see through me."

"Shrewd!" echoed Mme. Alexandre, "shrewd! All of you at the police
office say that so often, that he has gained his reputation by it: you
are just as sharp as he is."

"Well, we will see. I will think the matter over; but, in the meantime,
what does the girl say?"

The "girl" was Mme. Nina Gypsy.

In taking up her abode at the Archangel, the poor girl thought she
was following good advice; and, as Fanferlot had never appeared in her
presence since, she was still under the impression that she had obeyed
a friend of Prosper's. When she received her summons from M. Patrigent,
she admired the wonderful skill of the police in discovering her
hiding-place; for she had established herself at the hotel under a
false, or rather her true name, Palmyre Chocareille.

Artfully questioned by her inquisitive landlady, she had, without any
mistrust, confided her history to her.

Thus Fanferlot was able to impress the judge with the idea of his being
a skilful detective, when he pretended to have discovered all this
information from a variety of sources.

"She is still upstairs," answered Mme. Alexandre. "She suspects nothing;
but to keep her in her present ignorance becomes daily more difficult.
I don't know what the judge told her, but she came home quite beside
herself with anger. She wanted to go and make a fuss at M. Fauvel's;
then she wrote a letter which she told Jean to post for her; but I kept
it to show you."

"What!" interrupted Fanferlot, "you have a letter, and did not tell
me before? Perhaps it contains the clew to the mystery. Give it to me,
quick."

Obeying her husband, Mme. Alexandre opened a little cupboard, and took
out a letter which she handed to him.

"Here, take it," she said, "and be satisfied."

Considering that she used to be a chambermaid, Palmyre Chocareille,
since become Mme. Gypsy, wrote a good letter.

It bore the following address, written in a free, flowing hand:


FOR M. L. DE CLAMERAN,

Forge-Master, Hotel du Louvre.

To be handed to M. Raoul de Lagors.

(In great haste.)


"Oh, ho!" said Fanferlot, accompanying his exclamation with a little
whistle, as was his habit when he thought he had made a grand discovery.
"Oh, ho!"

"Do you intend to open it?" questioned Mme. Alexandre.

"A little bit," said Fanferlot, as he dexterously opened the envelope.

Mme. Alexandre leaned over her husband's shoulder, and they both read
the following letter:


"MONSIEUR RAOUL--Prosper is in prison, accused of a robbery which he
never committed. I wrote to you three days ago."


"What!" interrupted Fanferlot, "this silly girl wrote, and I never saw
the letter?"

"But, little man, she must have posted it herself, the day she went to
the Palais de Justice."

"Very likely," said Fanferlot propitiated. He continued reading:


"I wrote to you three days ago, and have no reply. Who will help Prosper
if his best friends desert him? If you don't answer this letter, I shall
consider myself released from a certain promise, and without scruple
will tell Prosper of the conversation I overheard between you and M. de
Clameran. But I can count on you, can I not? I shall expect you at the
Archangel day after to-morrow, between twelve and four.

"NINA GYPSY"


The letter read, Fanferlot at once proceeded to copy it.

"Well!" said Mme. Alexandre, "what do you think?"

Fanferlot was delicately resealing the letter when the door of the hotel
office was abruptly opened, and the boy twice whispered, "Pst! Pst!"

Fanferlot rapidly disappeared into a dark closet. He had barely time to
close the door before Mme. Gypsy entered the room.

The poor girl was sadly changed. She was pale and hollow-cheeked, and
her eyes were red with weeping.

On seeing her, Mme. Alexandre could not conceal her surprise.

"Why, my child, you are not going out?"

"I am obliged to do so, madame; and I come to ask you to tell anyone
that may call during my absence to wait until I return."

"But where in the world are you going at this hour, sick as you are?"

For a moment Mme. Gypsy hesitated.

"Oh," she said, "you are so kind that I am tempted to confide in you;
read this note which a messenger just now brought to me."

"What!" cried Mme. Alexandre perfectly aghast: "a messenger enter my
house, and go up to your room!"

"Is there anything surprising in that?"

"Oh, oh, no! nothing surprising."

And in a tone loud enough to be heard in the closet she read the note:


"A friend of Prosper who can neither receive you, nor present himself
at your house, is very anxious to speak to you. Be in the stage-office
opposite the Saint Jacques tower, to-night at nine precisely, and the
writer will approach, and tell you what he has to say.

"I have appointed this public place for the rendezvous so as to relieve
your mind of all fear."


"And you are going to this rendezvous?"

"Certainly, madame."

"But it is imprudent, foolish; it is a snare to entrap you."

"It makes no difference," interrupted Gypsy. "I am so unfortunate
already that I have nothing more to dread. Any change would be a
relief."

And, without waiting to hear any more, she went out. The door had
scarcely closed upon Mme. Gypsy, before Fanferlot bounced out of the
closet.

The mild detective was white with rage, and swore violently.

"What is the meaning of this?" he cried. "Am I to stand by and have
people walking over the Archangel, as if it were a public street?"

Mme. Alexandre stood trembling, and dared not speak.

"Was ever such impudence heard of before!" he continued. "A messenger
comes into my house, and goes upstairs without being seen by anybody!
I will look into this. And the idea of you, Mme. Alexandre, you, a
sensible woman, being idiotic enough to persuade that little viper not
to keep the appointment!"

"But, my dear--"

"Had you not sense enough to know that I would follow her, and discover
what she is attempting to conceal? Come, make haste, and help me, so
that she won't recognize me."

In a few minutes Fanferlot was completely disguised by a thick beard, a
wig, and one of those long linen blouses worn by dishonest workmen, who
go about seeking labor, and, at the same time, hoping they may not find
any.

"Have you your handcuffs?" asked the solicitous Mme. Alexandre.

"Yes, yes: make haste and put that letter to M. de Clameran in the
post-office, and--and keep good watch."

And without waiting for his wife's reply, who cried out, "Good luck!"
Fanferlot darted into the street.

Mme. Gypsy had ten minutes' start of him; but he ran up the street he
knew she must have taken, and overtook her near the Change Bridge.

She was walking with the uncertain gait of a person who, impatient to
be at a rendezvous, has started too soon, and is obliged to occupy
the intervening time; she would walk very rapidly, then retrace her
footsteps, and proceed slowly.

On Chatelet Place she strolled up and down several times, read the
theatre-bills, and finally took a seat on a bench. One minute before a
quarter of nine, she entered the stage-office, and sat down.

A moment after, Fanferlot entered; but, as he feared that Mme. Gypsy
might recognize him in spite of his heavy beard, he took a seat at the
opposite end of the room, in a dark corner.

"Singular place for a conversation," he thought, as he watched the
young woman. "Who in the world could have made this appointment in a
stage-office? Judging from her evident curiosity and uneasiness, I could
swear she has not the faintest idea for whom she is waiting."

Meanwhile, the office was gradually filling with people. Every minute
a man would shriek out the destination of an omnibus which had just
arrived, and the bewildered passengers would rush in to get tickets, and
inquire when the omnibus would leave.

As each new-comer entered, Gypsy would tremble, and Fanferlot would say,
"This is he!"

Finally, as the Hotel-de-Ville clock was striking nine, a man entered,
and, without going to the ticket-window, walked directly up to Gypsy,
bowed, and took a seat beside her.

He was a medium-sized man, rather stout, with a crimson face, and
fiery-red whiskers. His dress was that of a well-to-do merchant, and
there was nothing in his manner or appearance to excite attention.

Fanferlot watched him eagerly.

"Well, my friend," he said to himself, "in future I shall recognize you,
no matter where we meet; and this very evening I will find out who you
are."

Despite his intent listening, he could not hear a word spoken by the
stranger or Gypsy. All he could do was to judge by their pantomime and
countenances, what the subject of their conversation might be.

When the stout man bowed and spoke to her, the girl looked so surprised
that it was evident she had never seen him before. When he sat down by
her, and said a few words, she jumped up with a frightened look, as
if seeking to escape. A single word and look made her resume her seat.
Then, as the stout man went on talking, Gypsy's attitude betrayed great
apprehension. She positively refused to do something; then suddenly she
seemed to consent, when he stated a good reason for her so doing. At
one moment she appeared ready to weep, and the next her pretty face was
illumined by a bright smile. Finally, she shook hands with him, as if
she was confirming a promise.

"What can all that mean?" said Fanferlot to himself, as he sat in his
dark corner, biting his nails. "What an idiot I am to have stationed
myself so far off!"

He was thinking how he could manage to approach nearer without arousing
their suspicions, when the fat man arose, offered his arm to Mme. Gypsy,
who accepted it without hesitation, and together they walked toward the
door.

They were so engrossed with each other, that Fanferlot thought he could,
without risk, follow them; and it was well he did; for the crowd was
dense outside, and he would soon have lost them.

Reaching the door, he saw the stout man and Gypsy cross the pavement,
approach a hackney-coach, and enter it.

"Very good," muttered Fanferlot, "I've got them now. There is no use of
hurrying any more."

While the coachman was gathering up his reins, Fanferlot prepared
his legs; and, when the coach started, he followed in a brisk trot,
determined upon following it to the end of the earth.

The cab went up the Boulevard Sebastopol. It went pretty fast; but it
was not for nothing that Fanferlot had won the name of "Squirrel." With
his elbows glued to his sides, and holding his breath, he ran on.

By the time he had reached the Boulevard St. Denis, he began to get
breathless, and stiff from a pain in his side. The cabman abruptly
turned into the Rue Faubourg St. Martin.

But Fanferlot, who, at eight years of age, had been familiar with every
street in Paris, was not to be baffled: he was a man of resources. He
seized the springs of the coach, raised himself up by the strength of
his wrists, and hung on behind, with his legs resting on the axle-tree
of the back wheels. He was not quite comfortable, but then, he no longer
ran the risk of being distanced.

"Now," he chuckled, behind his false beard, "you may drive as fast as
you please, M. Cabby."

The man whipped up his horses, and drove furiously along the hilly
street of the Faubourg St. Martin.

Finally the cab stopped in front of a wine-store, and the driver jumped
down from his seat, and went in.

The detective also left his uncomfortable post, and crouching in
a doorway, waited for Gypsy and her companion to get out, with the
intention of following closely upon their heels.

Five minutes passed, and still there were no signs of them.

"What can they be doing all this time?" grumbled the detective.

With great precautions, he approached the cab, and peeped in.

Oh, cruel deception! it was empty!

Fanferlot felt as if someone had thrown a bucket of ice-water over him;
he remained rooted to the spot with his mouth stretched, the picture of
blank bewilderment.

He soon recovered his wits sufficiently to burst forth in a volley of
oaths, loud enough to rattle all the window-panes in the neighborhood.

"Tricked!" he said, "fooled! Ah! but won't I make them pay for this!"

In a moment his quick mind had run over the gamut of possibilities,
probable and improbable.

"Evidently," he muttered, "this fellow and Gypsy entered one door, and
got out of the other; the trick is simple enough. If they resorted
to it, 'tis because they feared being watched. If they feared being
watched, they have uneasy consciences: therefore--"

He suddenly interrupted his monologue as the idea struck him that he had
better attempt to find out something from the driver.

Unfortunately, the driver was in a very surly mood, and not only refused
to answer, but shook his whip in so threatening a manner that Fanferlot
deemed it prudent to beat a retreat.

"Oh, Lord," he muttered, "perhaps he and the driver are one and the
same!"

But what could he do now, at this time of night? He could not imagine.
He walked dejectedly back to the quay, and it was half-past eleven when
he reached his own door.

"Has the little fool returned?" he inquired of Mme. Alexandre, the
instant she opened the door for him.

"No; but here are two large bundles which have come for her."

Fanferlot hastily opened the bundles.

They contained three calico dresses, some coarse shoes, and some linen
caps.

"Well," said the detective in a vexed tone, "now she is going to
disguise herself. Upon my word, I am getting puzzled! What can she be up
to?"

When Fanferlot was sulkily walking down the Faubourg St. Martin, he
had fully made up his mind that he would not tell his wife of his
discomfiture.

But once at home, confronted with a new fact of a nature to negative all
his conjectures, his vanity disappeared. He confessed everything--his
hopes so nearly realized, his strange mischance, and his suspicions.

They talked the matter over, and finally decided that they would not
go to bed until Mme. Gypsy, from whom Mme. Alexandre was determined to
obtain an explanation of what had happened, returned. At one o'clock the
worthy couple were about giving over all hope of her re-appearance, when
they heard the bell ring.

Fanferlot instantly slipped into the closet, and Mme. Alexandre remained
in the office to received Gypsy.

"Here you are at last, my dear child!" she cried. "Oh, I have been so
uneasy, so afraid lest some misfortune had happened!"

"Thanks for your kind interest, madame. Has a bundle been sent here for
me?"

Poor Gypsy's appearance had strikingly changed; she was very sad, but
not as before dejected. To her melancholy of the last few days, had
succeeded a firm and generous resolution, which was betrayed in her
sparkling eyes and resolute step.

"Yes, two bundles came for you; here they are. I suppose you saw M.
Bertomy's friend?"

"Yes, madame; and his advice has so changed my plans, that, I regret to
say, I must leave you to-morrow."

"Going away to-morrow! then something must have happened."

"Oh! nothing that would interest you, madame."

After lighting her candle at the gas-burner, Mme. Gypsy said
"Good-night" in a very significant way, and left the room.

"And what do you think of that, Mme. Alexandre?" questioned Fanferlot,
emerging from his hiding-place.

"It is incredible! This girl writes to M. de Clameran to meet her here,
and then does not wait for him."

"She evidently mistrusts us; she knows who I am."

"Then this friend of the cashier must have told her."

"Nobody knows who told her. I shall end by believing that I am among
a gang of thieves. They think I am on their track, and are trying to
escape me. I should not be at all surprised if this little rogue has the
money herself, and intends to run off with it to-morrow."

"That is not my opinion; but listen to me: you had better take my
advice, and consult M. Lecoq."

Fanferlot meditated awhile, then exclaimed.

"Very well; I will see him, just for your satisfaction; because I
know that, if I have discovered nothing, neither has he. But, if
he undertakes to be domineering, it won't do; for, if he shows his
insolence to me, _I_ will make him know his place!"

Notwithstanding this brave speech, the detective passed an uneasy night,
and at six o'clock the next morning he was up--it was necessary to rise
very early if he wished to catch M. Lecoq at home--and, refreshed by a
cup of strong coffee, he directed his steps toward the dwelling of the
celebrated detective.

Fanferlot the Squirrel certainly was not afraid of his patron, as he
called him; for he started out with his nose in the air, and his hat
cocked on one side.

But by the time he reached the Rue Montmartre, where M. Lecoq lived,
his courage had vanished; he pulled his hat over his eyes, and hung
his head, as if looking for relief among the paving-stones. He slowly
ascended the steps, pausing several times, and looking around as if he
would like to fly.

Finally he reached the third floor, and stood before a door decorated
with the arms of the famous detective--a cock, the symbol of
vigilance--and his heart failed him so that he had scarcely the courage
to ring the bell.

The door was opened by Janouille, M. Lecoq's old servant, who had very
much the manner and appearance of a grenadier. She was as faithful to
her master as a watch-dog, and always stood ready to attack anyone who
did not treat him with the august respect which she considered his due.

"Well, M. Fanferlot," she said, "you come in time for once in your life.
Your patron wants to see you."

Upon this announcement, Fanferlot was seized with a violent desire to
retreat. By what chance could Lecoq want anything of him?

While he thus hesitated, Janouille seized him by the arm, and pulled him
in, saying:

"Do you want to take root there? Come along, your patron is waiting for
you."

In the middle of a large room curiously furnished, half library and half
green-room, was seated at a desk the same person with gold spectacles,
who had said to Prosper at the police-office, "Have courage."

This was M. Lecoq in his official character.

Upon Fanferlot's entrance, as he advanced respectfully, bowing till
his backbone was a perfect curve, M. Lecoq laid down his pen, and said,
looking sharply at him:

"Ah, here you are, young man. Well, it seems that you haven't made much
progress in the Bertomy case."

"Why," murmured Fanferlot, "you know--"

"I know that you have muddled everything until you can't see your way
out; so that you are ready to give up."

"But, M. Lecoq, it was not I----"

M. Lecoq arose, and walked up and down the room: suddenly he confronted
Fanferlot, and said, in a tone of scornful irony:

"What would you think, Master Squirrel, of a man who abuses the
confidence of those who employ him, who reveals just enough to lead the
prosecution on the wrong scent, who sacrifices to his own foolish vanity
the cause of justice and the liberty of an unfortunate man?"

Fanferlot started back with a frightened look.

"I should say," he stammered, "I should say--"

"You would say this man ought to be punished, and dismissed from his
employment; and you are right. The less a profession is honored, the
more honorable should those be who belong to it. And yet you have been
false to yours. Ah! Master Fanferlot, we are ambitious, and we try to
make the police force serve our own views! We let Justice stray her way,
and we go ours. One must be a more cunning bloodhound than you are, my
friend, to be able to hunt without a huntsman. You are too self-reliant
by half."

"But, patron, I swear--"

"Silence! Do you pretend to say that you did your duty, and told all
to the judge of instruction? Whilst others were informing against the
cashier, you undertook to inform against the banker. You watched his
movements: you became intimate with his valet."

Was M. Lecoq really angry, or pretending to be? Fanferlot, who knew him
well, was puzzled to know whether all this indignation was real.

"If you were only skilful," he continued, "but no: you wish to be
master, and you are not fit to be a journeyman."

"You are right, patron," said Fanferlot, piteously, for he saw that
it was useless for him to deny anything. "But how could I go about an
affair like this, where there was not even a trace or sign to start
from?"

M. Lecoq shrugged his shoulders.

"You are an ass! Why, don't you know that on the very day you were sent
for with the commissary to verify the robbery, you held--I do not say
certainly, but very probably held--in your great stupid hands the means
of knowing which key had been used when the money was stolen?"

"How! What!"

"You want to know, do you? I will tell you. Do you remember the scratch
you discovered on the safe-door? You were so struck by it, that you
exclaimed directly you saw it. You carefully examined it, and were
convinced that it was a fresh scratch, only a few hours old. You
thought, and rightly too, that this scratch was made at the time of the
theft. Now, with what was it made? Evidently with a key. That being
the case, you should have asked for the keys both of the banker and the
cashier. One of them would have had some particles of the hard green
paint sticking to it."

Fanferlot listened with open mouth to this explanation. At the last
words, he violently slapped his forehead with his hand, and cried out:

"Imbecile! Imbecile!"

"You have rightly named yourself," said M. Lecoq. "Imbecile! This proof
stares you right in the face, and you don't see it! This scratch is the
sole and only clew to work the case upon, and you must go and lose the
traces of it. If I find the guilty party, it will be by means of this
scratch; and I am determined that I will find him."

At a distance the Squirrel very bravely abused and defied M. Lecoq; but,
in his presence, he yielded to the influence which this extraordinary
man exercised upon all who approached him.

This exact information, these minute details of all his secret
movements, and even thoughts, so upset his mind that he could not think
where and how M. Lecoq had obtained them. Finally he said, humbly:

"You must have been looking up this case, patron?"

"Probably I have; but I am not infallible, and may have overlooked some
important evidence. Take a seat, and tell me all you know."

M. Lecoq was not the man to be hoodwinked, so Fanferlot told the exact
truth, a rare thing for him to do. However as he reached the end of his
statement, a feeling of mortified vanity prevented his telling how he
had been fooled by Gypsy and the stout man.

Unfortunately for poor Fanferlot, M. Lecoq was always fully informed on
every subject in which he interested himself.

"It seems to me, Master Squirrel, that you have forgotten something. How
far did you follow the empty coach?"

Fanferlot blushed, and hung his head like a guilty school-boy.

"Oh, patron!" he cried, "and you know about that too! How could you
have----"

But a sudden idea flashed across his brain: he stopped short, bounded
off his chair, and cried:

"Oh! I know now: you were the large gentleman with red whiskers."

His surprise gave so singular an expression to his face that M. Lecoq
could not restrain a smile.

"Then it was you," continued the bewildered detective; "you were the
large gentleman at whom I stared, so as to impress his appearance upon
my mind, and I never recognized you! Patron, you would make a superb
actor, if you would go on the stage; but I was disguised, too--very well
disguised."

"Very poorly disguised; it is only just to you that I should let you
know what a failure it was, Fanferlot. Do you think that a heavy beard
and a blouse are a sufficient transformation? The eye is the thing to be
changed--the eye! The art lies in being able to change the eye. That is
the secret."

This theory of disguise explained why the lynx-eyed Lecoq never appeared
at the police-office without his gold spectacles.

"Then, patron," said Fanferlot, clinging to his idea, "you have been
more successful than Mme. Alexandre; you have made the little girl
confess? You know why she leaves the Archangel, why she does not wait
for M. de Clameran, and why she bought calico dresses?"

"She is following my advice."

"That being the case," said the detective dejectedly, "there is nothing
left for me to do, but to acknowledge myself an ass."

"No, Squirrel," said M. Lecoq, kindly, "you are not an ass. You
merely did wrong in undertaking a task beyond your capacity. Have you
progressed one step since you started this affair? No. That shows that,
although you are incomparable as a lieutenant, you do not possess the
qualities of a general. I am going to present you with an aphorism;
remember it, and let it be your guide in the future: _A man can shine in
the second rank, who would be totally eclipsed in the first_."

Never had Fanferlot seen his patron so talkative and good-natured.
Finding his deceit discovered, he had expected to be overwhelmed with
a storm of anger; whereas he had escaped with a little shower that had
cooled his brain. Lecoq's anger disappeared like one of those heavy
clouds which threaten in the horizon for a moment, and then are suddenly
swept away by a gust of wind.

But this unexpected affability made Fanferlot feel uneasy. He was afraid
that something might be concealed beneath it.

"Do you know who the thief is, patron?"

"I know no more than you do, Fanferlot; and you seem to have made up
your mind, whereas I am still undecided. You declare the cashier to be
innocent, and the banker guilty. I don't know whether you are right or
wrong. I started after you, and have only reached the preliminaries of
my search. I am certain of but one thing, and that is, that a scratch
was on the safe-door. That scratch is my starting-point."

As he spoke, M. Lecoq took from his desk and unrolled an immense sheet
of drawing-paper.

On this paper was photographed the door of M. Fauvel's safe. The
impression of every detail was perfect. There were the five movable
buttons with the engraved letters, and the narrow, projecting brass
lock: the scratch was indicated with great exactness.

"Now," said M. Lecoq, "here is our scratch. It runs from top to bottom,
starting from the hole of the lock, diagonally, and, observe, from left
to right; that is to say, it terminates on the side next to the private
staircase leading to the banker's apartments. Although very deep at the
key-hole, it ends off in a scarcely perceptible mark."

"Yes, patron, I see all that."

"Naturally you thought that this scratch was made by the person who took
the money. Let us see if you were right. I have here a little iron box,
painted with green varnish like M. Fauvel's safe; here it is. Take a
key, and try to scratch it."

"The deuce take it!" he said after several attempts, "this paint is
awfully hard to move!"

"Very hard, my friend, and yet that on the safe is still harder and
thicker. So you see the scratch you discovered could not have been made
by the trembling hand of a thief letting the key slip."

"Sapristi!" exclaimed Fanferlot, stupefied: "I never should have thought
of that. It certainly required great force to make the deep scratch on
the safe."

"Yes, but how was that force employed? I have been racking my brain
for three days, and only yesterday did I come to a conclusion. Let us
examine together, and see if our conjectures present enough chances of
probability to establish a starting-point."

M. Lecoq abandoned the photograph, and, walking to the door
communicating with his bedroom, took the key from the lock, and, holding
it in his hand, said:

"Come here, Fanferlot, and stand by my side: there; very well. Now
suppose that I want to open this door, and you don't want me to open
it; when you see me about to insert the key, what would be your first
impulse?"

"To put my hands on your arm, and draw it toward me so as to prevent
your introducing the key."

"Precisely so. Now let us try it; go on." Fanferlot obeyed; and the key
held by M. Lecoq, pulled aside from the lock, slipped along the door,
and traced upon it a diagonal scratch, from top to bottom, the exact
reproduction of the one in the photograph.

"Oh, oh, oh!" exclaimed Fanferlot in three different tones of
admiration, as he stood gazing in a revery at the door.

"Do you begin to understand now?" asked M. Lecoq.

"Understand, patron? Why, a child could understand it now. Ah, what a
man you are! I see the scene as if I had been present. Two persons were
present at the robbery; one wished to take the money, the other wished
to prevent its being taken. That is clear, that is certain."

Accustomed to triumphs of this sort, M. Lecoq was much amused at
Fanferlot's enthusiasm.

"There you go off, half-primed again," he said, good-humoredly: "you
regard as sure proof a circumstance which may be accidental, and at the
most only probable."

"No, patron, no! a man like you could not be mistaken: doubt no longer
exists."

"That being the case, what deductions would you draw from our
discovery?"

"In the first place, it proves that I am correct in thinking the cashier
innocent."

"How so?"

"Because, at perfect liberty to open the safe whenever he wished to
do so, it is not likely that he would have brought a witness when he
intended to commit the theft."

"Well reasoned, Fanferlot. But on this supposition the banker would be
equally innocent: reflect a little."

Fanferlot reflected, and all of his animation vanished.

"You are right," he said in a despairing tone. "What can be done now?"

"Look for the third rogue, or rather the real rogue, the one who opened
the safe, and stole the notes, and who is still at large, while others
are suspected."

"Impossible, patron--impossible! Don't you know that M. Fauvel and his
cashier had keys, and they only? And they always kept these keys in
their pockets."

"On the evening of the robbery the banker left his key in the
secretary."

"Yes; but the key alone was not sufficient to open the safe; the word
also must be known."

M. Lecoq shrugged his shoulders impatiently.

"What was the word?" he asked.

"Gypsy."

"Which is the name of the cashier's grisette. Now keep your eyes open.
The day you find a man sufficiently intimate with Prosper to be aware of
all the circumstances connected with this name, and at the same time on
a footing with the Fauvel family which would give him the privilege
of entering M. Fauvel's chamber, then, and not until then, will you
discover the guilty party. On that day the problem will be solved."

Self-sufficient and vain, like all famous men, M. Lecoq had never had a
pupil, and never wished to have one. He worked alone, because he hated
assistants, wishing to share neither the pleasures of success nor the
pain of defeat.

Thus Fanferlot, who knew his patron's character, was surprised to hear
him giving advice, who heretofore had only given orders.

He was so puzzled, that in spite of his pre-occupation he could not help
betraying his surprise.

"Patron," he ventured to say, "you seem to take a great interest in this
affair, you have so deeply studied it."

M. Lecoq started nervously, and replied, frowning:

"You are too curious, Master Squirrel; be careful that you do not go too
far. Do you understand?"

Fanferlot began to apologize.

"That will do," interrupted M. Lecoq. "If I choose to lend you a helping
hand, it is because it suits my fancy to do so. It pleases me to be the
head, and let you be the hand. Unassisted, with your preconceived ideas,
you never would have found the culprit; if we two together don't find
him, my name is not Lecoq."

"We shall certainly succeed if you interest yourself in the case."

"Yes, I am interested in it, and during the last four days I have
discovered many important facts. But listen to me. I have reasons for
not appearing in this affair. No matter what happens, I forbid your
mentioning my name. If we succeed, all the success must be attributed
to you. And, above all, don't try to find out what I choose to keep from
you. Be satisfied with what explanations I give you. Now, be careful."

These conditions seemed quite to suit Fanferlot.

"I will obey your instructions, and be discreet."

"I shall rely upon you. Now, to begin, you must carry this photograph
to the judge of instruction. I know M. Patrigent is much perplexed about
this case. Explain to him, as if it were your own discovery, what I have
just shown you; repeat for his benefit the scene we have acted, and I am
convinced that this evidence will determine him to release the cashier.
Prosper must be at liberty before I can commence my operations."

"Of course, patron, but must I let him know that I suspect anyone
besides the banker or cashier?"

"Certainly. Justice must not be kept in ignorance of your intention of
following up this affair. M. Patrigent will tell you to watch Prosper;
you will reply that you will not lose sight of him. I myself will answer
for his being in safe-keeping."

"Suppose he asks me about Gypsy?"

M. Lecoq hesitated for a moment.

"Tell him," he finally said, "that you persuaded her, in the interest
of Prosper, to live in a house where she can watch someone whom you
suspect."

Fanferlot was joyously picking up his hat to go, when M. Lecoq checked
him by waving his hand, and said:

"I have not finished. Do you know how to drive a carriage and manage
horses?"

"Why, patron, can you ask this of a man who used to be a rider in the
Bouthor Circus?"

"Very well. As soon as the judge dismisses you, return home immediately,
make yourself a wig and the complete dress of a valet; and, having
dressed yourself, take this letter to the Agency on Delorme Street."

"But, patron--"

"There must be no 'but,' my friend; the agent will send you to M.
de Clameran, who is looking for a valet, his man having left him
yesterday."

"Excuse me if I venture to suggest that you are making a mistake. This
Clameran is not the cashier's friend."

"Why do you always interrupt me?" said M. Lecoq imperiously. "Do what I
tell you, and don't disturb your mind about the rest. Clameran is not a
friend of Prosper's, I know; but he is the friend and protector of
Raoul de Lagors. Why so? Whence the intimacy of these two men of such
different ages? That is what I must find out. I must also find out who
this forge-master is who lives in Paris, and never goes to attend to
his furnaces. A jolly fellow, who takes it into his head to live at the
Hotel du Louvre, in the midst of a tumultuous, ever-changing crowd, is
a fellow difficult to watch. Through you I will have an eye upon him. He
has a carriage, you are to drive it; and you will soon be able to give
me an account of his manner of life, and of the sort of people with whom
he associates."

"You shall be obeyed, patron."

"Another thing. M. de Clameran is irritable and suspicious. You will be
presented to him under the name of Joseph Dubois. He will demand your
certificate of good character. Here are three, which state that you have
lived with the Marquis de Sairmeuse and the Count de Commarin, and that
you have just left the Baron de Wortschen, who went to Germany the other
day. Now keep your eyes open; be careful of your dress and manners.
Be polite, but not excessively so. And, above all things, don't be
obsequious; it might arouse suspicion."

"I understand, patron. Where shall I report to you?"

"I will call on you every day. Until I tell you differently, don't step
foot in this house; you might be followed. If anything important should
happen, send a note to your wife, and she will inform me. Go, and be
prudent."

The door closed on Fanferlot as M. Lecoq passed into his bedroom.

In the twinkling of an eye he had divested himself of the appearance of
a police officer. He took off his stiff cravat and gold spectacles, and
removed the close wig from his thick black hair. The official Lecoq had
disappeared, leaving in his place the genuine Lecoq whom nobody knew--a
handsome young man, with a bold, determined manner, and brilliant,
piercing eyes.

But he only remained himself for an instant. Seated before a
dressing-table covered with more cosmetics, paints, perfumes, false
hair, and other unmentionable shams, than are to be found on the
toilet-tables of our modern belles, he began to undo the work of nature,
and make himself a new face.

He worked slowly, handling his brushes with great care. But in an hour
he had accomplished one of his daily masterpieces. When he had finished,
he was no longer Lecoq: he was the large gentleman with red whiskers,
whom Fanferlot had failed to recognize.

"Well," he said, casting a last look in the mirror, "I have forgotten
nothing: I have left nothing to chance. All my plans are fixed; and I
shall make some progress to-day, provided the Squirrel does not waste
time."

But Fanferlot was too happy to waste a minute. He did not run, he flew,
toward the Palais de Justice.

At last he was now able to convince someone that he, Fanferlot, was a
man of wonderful perspicacity.

As to acknowledging that he was about to obtain a triumph with the ideas
of another man, he never thought of it. It is generally in perfect good
faith that the jackdaw struts in the peacock's feathers.

His hopes were not deceived. If the judge was not absolutely and
fully convinced, he admired the ingenuity and shrewdness of the whole
proceeding, and complimented the proud jackdaw upon his brilliancy.

"This decides me," he said, as he dismissed Fanferlot. "I will make out
a favorable report to-day; and it is highly probable that the accused
will be released to-morrow."

He began at once to write out one of these terrible decisions of "Not
proven," which restores liberty, but not honor, to the accused man;
which says that he is not guilty, but does not say he is innocent.

"Whereas there do not exist sufficient charges against the accused,
Prosper Bertomy, in pursuance of Article 128 of the Criminal Code,
we hereby declare that we find no grounds for prosecution against the
aforesaid prisoner at this present time; and we order that he shall be
released from the prison where he is confined, and set at liberty by the
jailer," etc.

"Well," he said to the clerk, "here is another one of those crimes
which justice cannot clear up. The mystery remains to be solved. This is
another file to be stowed away among the archives of the record-office."

And with his own hand he wrote on the cover of the bundle of papers
relating to Prosper's case, the number of the package, File No. 113.




VII

Prosper had been languishing in his private cell for nine days, when on
Thursday morning the jailer came to inform him of the judge's decision.
He was conducted before the officer who had searched him when he was
arrested; and the contents of his pocket, his watch, penknife, and
several little pieces of jewelry, were restored to him; then he was told
to sign a large sheet of paper, which he did.

He was next led across a dark passage, and almost pushed through a door,
which was abruptly shut upon him.

He found himself on the quay: he was alone; he was free.

Free! Justice had confessed her inability to convict him of the crime of
which he was accused.

Free! He could walk about, he could breathe the pure air; but every door
would be closed against him.

Only acquittal after due trial would restore him to his former position
among men.

A decision of "Not proven" had left him covered with suspicion.

The torments inflicted by public opinion are more fearful than those
suffered in a prison cell.

At the moment of his restoration to liberty, Prosper so cruelly suffered
from the horror of his situation, that he could not repress a cry of
rage and despair.

"I am innocent! God knows I am innocent!" he cried out. But of what use
was his anger?

Two strangers, who were passing, stopped to look at him, and said,
pityingly, "He is crazy."

The Seine was at his feet. A thought of suicide crossed his mind.

"No," he said, "no! I have not even the right to kill myself. No: I will
not die until I have vindicated my innocence!"

Often, day and night, had Prosper repeated these words, as he walked
his cell. With a heart filled with a bitter, determined thirst for
vengeance, which gives a man the force and patience to destroy or
wear out all obstacles in his way, he would say, "Oh! why am I not at
liberty? I am helpless, caged up; but let me once be free!"

Now he was free; and, for the first time, he saw the difficulties of the
task before him. For each crime, justice requires a criminal: he could
not establish his own innocence without producing the guilty man; how
find the thief so as to hand him over to the law?

Discouraged, but not despondent, he turned in the direction of his
apartments. He was beset by a thousand anxieties. What had taken place
during the nine days that he had been cut off from all intercourse with
his friends? No news of them had reached him. He had heard no more of
what was going on in the outside world, than if his secret cell had been
a grave.

He slowly walked along the streets, with his eyes cast down dreading to
meet some familiar face. He, who had always been so haughty, would now
be pointed at with the finger of scorn. He would be greeted with cold
looks and averted faces. Men would refuse to shake hands with him. He
would be shunned by honest people, who have no patience with a thief.

Still, if he could count on only one true friend! Yes: he was sure of
one. But what friend would believe him when his father, who should have
been the last to suspect him, had refused to believe him?

In the midst of his sufferings, when he felt almost overwhelmed by the
sense of his wretched, lonely condition, he thought of Gypsy.

He had never loved the poor girl: indeed, at times he almost hated her;
but now he felt a longing to see her. He wished to be with her, because
he knew that she loved him, and that nothing would make her believe him
guilty; because he knew that a woman remains true and firm in her faith,
and is always faithful in the hour of adversity, although she sometimes
fails in prosperity.

On entering the Rue Chaptal, Prosper saw his own door, but hesitated to
enter it.

He suffered from the timidity which an honest man always feels when he
knows he is viewed with suspicion.

He dreaded meeting anyone whom he knew; yet he could not remain in the
street. He entered.

When the porter saw him, he uttered an exclamation of glad surprise, and
said:

"Ah, here you are at last, monsieur. I told everyone you would come out
as white as snow; and, when I read in the papers that you were arrested
for robbery, I said, 'My third-floor lodger a thief! Never would I
believe such a thing, never!'"

The congratulations of this ignorant man were sincere, and offered from
pure kindness of heart; but they impressed Prosper painfully, and he cut
them short by abruptly asking:

"Madame of course has left: can you tell me where she has gone?"

"Dear me, no, monsieur. The day of your arrest, she sent for a hack, got
into it with her trunks, and disappeared; and no one has seen or heard
of her since."

This was another blow to the unhappy cashier.

"And where are my servants?"

"Gone, monsieur; your father paid and discharged them."

"I suppose you have my keys?"

"No, monsieur; when your father left here this morning at eight o'clock,
he told me that a friend of his would take charge of your rooms until
you should return. Of course you know who he is--a stout gentleman with
red whiskers."

Prosper was stupefied. What could be the meaning of one of his father's
friends being in his rooms? He did not, however, betray any surprise,
but quietly said:

"Yes: I know who it is."

He quickly ran up the stairs, and knocked at his door.

It was opened by his father's friend.

He had been accurately described by the porter. A fat man, with a red
face, sensual lips, brilliant eyes, and of rather coarse manners, stood
bowing to Prosper, who had never seen him before.

"Delighted to make your acquaintance, monsieur," said he to Prosper.

He seemed to be perfectly at home. On the table lay a book, which he had
taken from the bookcase; and he appeared ready to do the honors of the
house.

"I must say, monsieur," began Prosper.

"That you are surprised to find me here? So I suppose. Your father
intended introducing me to you; but he was compelled to return to
Beaucaire this morning; and let me add that he departed thoroughly
convinced, as I myself am, that you never took a cent from M. Fauvel."

At this unexpected good news, Prosper's face lit up with pleasure.

"Here is a letter from your father, which I hope will serve as an
introduction between us."

Prosper opened the letter; and as he read his eyes grew brighter, and a
slight color returned to his pale face.

When he had finished, he held out his hand to the large gentleman, and
said:

"My father, monsieur, tells me you are his best friend; he advises me to
have absolute confidence in you, and follow your counsel."

"Exactly. This morning your father said to me, 'Verduret'--that is my
name--'Verduret, my son is in great trouble, he must be helped out.' I
replied, 'I am ready,' and here I am to help you. Now the ice is broken,
is it not? Then let us go to work at once. What do you intend to do?"

This question revived Prosper's slumbering rage. His eyes flashed.

"What do I intend to do?" he said, angrily: "what should I do but seek
the villain who has ruined me?"

"So I supposed; but have you any hopes of success?"

"None; yet I shall succeed, because, when a man devotes his whole life
to the accomplishment of an object, he is certain to achieve it."

"Well said, M. Prosper; and, to be frank, I fully expected that this
would be your purpose. I have therefore already begun to think and
act for you. I have a plan. In the first place, you will sell this
furniture, and disappear from the neighborhood."

"Disappear!" cried Prosper, indignantly, "disappear! Why, monsieur?
Do you not see that such a step would be a confession of guilt, would
authorize the world to say that I am hiding so as to enjoy undisturbed
the stolen fortune?"

"Well, what then?" said the man with the red whiskers; "did you not say
just now the sacrifice of your life is made? The skilful swimmer thrown
into the river by malefactors is careful not to rise to the surface
immediately: on the contrary, he plunges beneath, and remains there as
long as his breath holds out. He comes up again at a great distance, and
lands out of sight; then, when he is supposed to be dead, lost forever
to the sight of man, he rises up and has his vengeance. You have an
enemy? Some petty imprudence will betray him. But, while he sees you
standing by on the watch, he will be on his guard."

It was with a sort of amazed submission that Prosper listened to this
man, who, though a friend of his father, was an utter stranger to
himself.

He submitted unconsciously to the ascendency of a nature so much more
energetic and forcible than his own. In his helpless condition he was
grateful for friendly assistance, and said:

"I will follow your advice, monsieur."

"I was sure you would, my dear friend. Let us reflect upon the course
you should pursue. And remember that you will need every cent of the
proceeds of the sale. Have you any ready money? no, but you must have
some. Knowing that you would need it at once, I brought an upholsterer
here; and he will give twelve thousand francs for everything excepting
the pictures."

The cashier could not refrain from shrugging his shoulders, which M.
Verduret observed.

"Well," said he, "it is rather hard, I admit, but it is a necessity. Now
listen: you are the invalid, and I am the doctor charged to cure you;
if I cut to the quick, you will have to endure it. It is the only way to
save you."

"Cut away then, monsieur," answered Prosper.

"Well, we will hurry, for time passes. You have a friend, M. de Lagors?"

"Raoul? Yes, monsieur, he is an intimate friend."

"Now tell me, who is this fellow?"

The term "fellow" seemed to offend Prosper.

"M. de Lagors, monsieur," he said, haughtily, "is M. Fauvel's nephew; he
is a wealthy young man, handsome, intelligent, cultivated, and the best
friend I have."

"Hum!" said M. Verduret, "I shall be delighted to make the acquaintance
of one adorned by so many charming qualities. I must let you know that I
wrote him a note in your name asking him to come here, and he sent word
that he would be here directly."

"What! do you suppose--"

"Oh, I suppose nothing! Only I must see this young man. Also, I have
arranged and will submit to you a little plan of conversation--"

A ring at the front door interrupted M. Verduret.

"Sacrebleu! adieu to my plan; here he is! Where can I hide so as to hear
and see?"

"There, in my bedroom; leave the door open and the curtain down."

A second ring was heard.

"Now remember, Prosper," said M. Verduret in a warning tone, "not
one word to this man about your plans, or about me. Pretend to be
discouraged, helpless, and undecided what to do."

And he disappeared behind the curtain, as Prosper ran to open the door.

Prosper's portrait of M. de Lagors had not been an exaggerated one.
So handsome a face and manly a figure could belong only to a noble
character.

Although Raoul said that he was twenty-four, he appeared to be not more
than twenty. He had a superb figure, well knit and supple; a beautiful
white brow, shaded by soft chestnut curly hair, soft blue eyes which
beamed with frankness.

His first impulse was to throw himself into Prosper's arms.

"My poor, dear friend!" he said, "my poor Prosper!"

But beneath these affectionate demonstrations there was a certain
constraint, which, if it escaped the cashier, was noticed by M.
Verduret.

"Your letter, my dear Prosper," said Raoul, "made me almost ill, I was
so frightened by it. I asked myself if you could have lost your mind.
Then I left everything, to fly to your assistance; and here I am."

Prosper did not seem to hear him; he was pre-occupied about the letter
which he had not written. What were its contents? Who was this stranger
whose assistance he had accepted?

"You must not feel discouraged," continued M. de Lagors: "you are young
enough to commence life anew. Your friends are still left to you. I have
come to say to you, Rely upon me; I am rich, half of my fortune is at
your disposal."

This generous offer, made at a moment like this with such frank
simplicity, deeply touched Prosper.

"Thanks, Raoul," he said with emotion, "thank you! But unfortunately all
the money in the world would be of no use now."

"Why so? What are you going to do? Do you propose to remain in Paris?"

"I know not, Raoul. I have made no plans yet. My mind is too confused
for me to think."

"I will tell you what to do," replied Raoul quickly, "you must start
afresh; until this mysterious robbery is explained you must keep away
from Paris. It will never do for you to remain here."

"And suppose it never should be explained?"

"Only the more reason for your remaining in oblivion. I have been
talking about you to Clameran. 'If I were in Prosper's place,' he said,
'I would turn everything into money, and embark for America; there I
would make a fortune, and return to crush with my millions those who
have suspected me.'"

This advice offended Prosper's pride, but he said nothing. He was
thinking of what the stranger had said to him.

"I will think it over," he finally forced himself to say. "I will see. I
would like to know what M. Fauvel says."

"My uncle? I suppose you know that I have declined the offer he made me
to enter his banking-house, and we have almost quarrelled. I have not
set foot in his house for over a month; but I hear of him occasionally."

"Through whom?"

"Through your friend Cavaillon. My uncle, they say, is more distressed
by this affair than you are. He does not attend to his business, and
wanders about as if he had lost every friend on earth."

"And Mme. Fauvel, and"--Prosper hesitated--"and Mlle. Madeleine, how are
they?"

"Oh," said Raoul lightly, "my aunt is as pious as ever; she has mass
said for the benefit of the sinner. As to my handsome, icy cousin, she
cannot bring herself down to common matters, because she is entirely
absorbed in preparing for the fancy ball to be given day after to-morrow
by MM. Jandidier. She has discovered, so one of her friends told me, a
wonderful dressmaker, a stranger who has suddenly appeared from no one
knows where, who is making a costume of Catherine de Medici's maid of
honor; and it is to be a marvel of beauty."

Excessive suffering brings with it a sort of dull insensibility and
stupor; and Prosper thought that there was nothing left to be inflicted
upon him, and had reached that state of impassibility from which he
never expected to be aroused, when this last remark of M. de Lagors made
him cry out with pain:

"Madeleine! Oh, Madeleine!"

M. de Lagors, pretending not to have heard him, rose from his chair, and
said:

"I must leave you now, my dear Prosper; on Saturday I will see these
ladies at the ball, and will bring you news of them. Now, do have
courage, and remember that, whatever happens, you have a friend in me."

Raoul shook Prosper's hand, closed the door after him, and hurried
up the street, leaving Prosper standing immovable and overcome by
disappointment.

He was aroused from his gloomy revery by hearing the red-whiskered man
say, in a bantering tone:

"So these are your friends."

"Yes," said Prosper with bitterness. "You heard him offer me half his
fortune?"

M. Verduret shrugged his shoulders with an air of compassion.

"That was very stingy on his part," he said, "why did he not offer the
whole? Offers cost nothing; although I have no doubt that this sweet
youth would cheerfully give ten thousand francs to put the ocean between
you and him."

"Monsieur! what reason?"

"Who knows? Perhaps for the same reason that he had not set foot in his
uncle's house for a month."

"But that is the truth, monsieur, I am sure of it."

"Naturally," said M. Verduret with a provoking smile. "But," he
continued with a serious air, "we have devoted enough time to this
Adonis. Now, be good enough to change your dress, and we will go and
call on M. Fauvel."

This proposal seemed to stir up all of Prosper's anger.

"Never!" he exclaimed with excitement, "no, never will I voluntarily set
eyes on that wretch!"

This resistance did not surprise M. Verduret.

"I can understand your feelings toward him," said he, "but at the same
time I hope you will change your mind. For the same reason that I wished
to see M. de Lagors, do I wish to see M. Fauvel; it is necessary, you
understand. Are you so very weak that you cannot put a constraint upon
yourself for five minutes? I shall introduce myself as one of your
relatives, and you need not open your lips."

"If it is positively necessary," said Prosper, "if--"

"It is necessary; so come on. You must have confidence, put on a brave
face. Hurry and fix yourself up a little; it is getting late, and I am
hungry. We will breakfast on our way there."

Prosper had hardly passed into his bedroom when the bell rang again.
M. Verduret opened the door. It was the porter, who handed him a thick
letter, and said:

"This letter was left this morning for M. Bertomy; I was so flustered
when he came that I forgot to hand it to him. It is a very odd-looking
letter; is it not, monsieur?"

It was indeed a most peculiar missive. The address was not written, but
formed of printed letters, carefully cut from a book, and pasted on the
envelope.

"Oh, ho! what is this?" cried M. Verduret; then turning toward the
porter he cried, "Wait."

He went into the next room, and closed the door behind him; there he
found Prosper, anxious to know what was going on.

"Here is a letter for you," said M. Verduret.

He at once tore open the envelope.

Some bank-notes dropped out; he counted them; there were ten.

Prosper's face turned purple.

"What does this mean?" he asked.

"We will read the letter and find out," replied M. Verduret.

The letter, like the address, was composed of printed words cut out and
pasted on a sheet of paper.

It was short but explicit:


"MY DEAR PROSPER--A friend, who knows the horror of your situation,
sends you this succor. There is one heart, be assured, that shares your
sufferings. Go away; leave France; you are young; the future is before
you. Go, and may this money bring you happiness!"


As M. Verduret read the note, Prosper's rage increased. He was angry and
perplexed, for he could not explain the rapidly succeeding events which
were so calculated to mystify his already confused brain.

"Everybody wishes me to go away," he cried; "then there must be a
conspiracy against me."

M. Verduret smiled with satisfaction.

"At last you begin to open your eyes, you begin to understand. Yes,
there are people who hate you because of the wrong they have done you;
there are people to whom your presence in Paris is a constant danger,
and who will not feel safe till they are rid of you."

"But who are these people, monsieur? Tell me, who dares send this
money?"

"If I knew, my dear Prosper, my task would be at an end, for then I
would know who committed the robbery. But we will continue our searches.
I have finally procured evidence which will sooner or later become
convincing proof. I have heretofore only made deductions more or less
probable; I now possess knowledge which proves that I was not mistaken.
I walked in darkness: now I have a light to guide me."

As Prosper listened to M. Verduret's reassuring words, he felt hope
arising in his breast.

"Now," said M. Verduret, "we must take advantage of this evidence,
gained by the imprudence of our enemies, without delay. We will begin
with the porter."

He opened the door and called out:

"I say, my good man, step here a moment."

The porter entered, looking very much surprised at the authority
exercised over his lodger by this stranger.

"Who gave you this letter?" said M. Verduret.

"A messenger, who said he was paid for bringing it."

"Do you know him?"

"I know him well; he is the errand-runner who keeps his cart at the
corner of the Rue Pigalle."

"Go and bring him here."

After the porter had gone, M. Verduret drew from his pocket his diary,
and compared a page of it with the notes which he had spread over the
table.

"These notes were not sent by the thief," he said, after an attentive
examination of them.

"Do you think so, monsieur?"

"I am certain of it; that is, unless the thief is endowed with
extraordinary penetration and forethought. One thing is certain: these
ten thousand francs are not part of the three hundred and fifty thousand
which were stolen from the safe."

"Yet," said Prosper, who could not account for this certainty on the
part of his protector, "yet----"

"There is no doubt about it: I have the numbers of all the stolen
notes."

"What! When even I did not have them?"

"But the bank did, fortunately. When we undertake an affair we must
anticipate everything, and forget nothing. It is a poor excuse for a
man to say, 'I did not think of it' when he commits some oversight. I
thought of the bank."

If, in the beginning, Prosper had felt some repugnance about confiding
in his father's friend, the feeling had now disappeared.

He understood that alone, scarcely master of himself, governed only
by the inspirations of inexperience, never would he have the patient
perspicacity of this singular man.

Verduret continued talking to himself, as if he had absolutely forgotten
Prosper's presence:

"Then, as this package did not come from the thief, it can only come
from the other person, who was near the safe at the time of the robbery,
but could not prevent it, and now feels remorse. The probability of
two persons assisting at the robbery, a probability suggested by the
scratch, is now converted into undeniable certainty. _Ergo_, I was
right."

Prosper listening attentively tried hard to comprehend this monologue,
which he dared not interrupt.

"Let us seek," went on the fat man, "this second person, whose
conscience pricks him, and yet who dares not reveal anything."

He read the letter over several times, scanning the sentences, and
weighing every word.

"Evidently this letter was composed by a woman," he finally said. "Never
would one man doing another man a service, and sending him money, use
the word 'succor.' A man would have said, 'loan money,' or some other
equivalent, but 'succor,' never. No one but a woman, ignorant of masculine
susceptibilities, would have naturally made use of this word to express
the idea it represents. As to the sentence, 'There is one heart,' and so
on, it could only have been written by a woman."

"You are mistaken, monsieur," said Prosper: "no woman is mixed up in
this affair."

M. Verduret paid no attention to this interruption, perhaps he did not
hear it; perhaps he did not care to argue the matter.

"Now, let us see if we can discover whence the printed words were taken
to compose this letter."

He approached the window, and began to study the pasted words with all
the scrupulous attention which an antiquarian would devote to an old,
half-effaced manuscript.

"Small type," he said, "very slender and clear; the paper is thin and
glossy. Consequently, these words have not been cut from a newspaper,
magazine, or even a novel. I have seen type like this, I recognize it at
once; Didot often uses it, so does Mme. de Tours."

He stopped with his mouth open, and eyes fixed, appealing laboriously to
his memory.

Suddenly he struck his forehead exultantly.

"Now I have it!" he cried; "now I have it! Why did I not see it at
once? These words have all been cut from a prayer-book. We will look, at
least, and then we shall be certain."

He moistened one of the words pasted on the paper with his tongue, and,
when it was sufficiently softened, he detached it with a pin. On the
other side of this word was printed a Latin word, _Deus_.

"Ah, ha," he said with a little laugh of satisfaction. "I knew it.
Father Taberet would be pleased to see this. But what has become of
the mutilated prayer-book? Can it have been burned? No, because a
heavy-bound book is not easily burned. It is thrown in some corner."

M. Verduret was interrupted by the porter, who returned with the
messenger from the Rue Pigalle.

"Ah, here you are," he said encouragingly. Then he showed the envelope
of the letter, and said:

"Do you remember bringing this letter here this morning?"

"Perfectly, monsieur. I took particular notice of the direction; we
don't often see anything like it."

"Who told you to bring it? a gentleman, or a lady?"

"Neither, monsieur; it was a porter."

This reply made the porter laugh very much, but not a muscle of M.
Verduret's face moved.

"A porter? Well, do you know this colleague of yours."

"I never even saw him before."

"How does he look?"

"He was neither tall nor short; he wore a green vest, and his medal."

"Your description is so vague that it would suit every porter in the
city; but did your colleague tell you who sent the letter?"

"No, monsieur. He only put ten sous in my hand, and said, 'Here, carry
this to No. 39, Rue Chaptal: a coachman on the boulevard handed it to
me.' Ten sous! I warrant you he made more than that by it."

This answer seemed to disconcert M. Verduret. So many precautions taken
in sending the letter disturbed him, and disarranged his plans.

"Do you think you would recognize the porter again?"

"Yes, monsieur, if I saw him."

"How much do you gain a day as a porter?"

"I can't tell exactly; but my corner is a good stand, and I am busy
doing errands nearly all day. I suppose I make from eight to ten
francs."

"Very well; I will give you ten francs a day if you will walk about the
streets, and look for the porter who brought this letter. Every evening,
at eight o'clock, come to the Archangel, on the Quai Saint Michel, give
me a report of your search, and receive your pay. Ask for M. Verduret.
If you find the man I will give you fifty francs. Do you accept?"

"I rather think I will, monsieur."

"Then don't lose a minute. Start off!"

Although ignorant of M. Verduret's plans, Prosper began to comprehend
the sense of his investigations. His fate depended upon their success,
and yet he almost forgot this fact in his admiration of this singular
man; for his energy, his bantering coolness when he wished to discover
anything, the surety of his deductions, the fertility of his expedients,
and the rapidity of his movements, were astonishing.

"Monsieur," said Prosper when the porter had left the room, "do you
still think you see a woman's hand in this affair?"

"More than ever; and a pious woman too, and a woman who has two
prayer-books, since she could cut up one to write to you."

"And you hope to find the mutilated book?"

"I do, thanks to the opportunity I have of making an immediate search;
which I will set about at once."

Saying this, he sat down, and rapidly scratched off a few lines on a
slip of paper, which he folded up, and put in his vest-pocket.

"Are you ready to go to M. Fauvel's? Yes? Come on, then; we have
certainly earned our breakfast to-day."




VIII

When Raoul de Lagors spoke of M. Fauvel's extraordinary dejection, he
had not exaggerated.

Since the fatal day when, upon his denunciation, his cashier had been
arrested, the banker, this active, energetic man of business, had been
a prey to the most gloomy melancholy, and absolutely refused to take any
interest in his affairs, seldom entering the banking-house.

He, who had always been so domestic, never came near his family except
at meals, when he would swallow a few mouthfuls, and hastily leave the
room.

Shut up in his study, he would deny himself to visitors. His anxious
countenance, his indifference to everybody and everything, his constant
reveries and fits of abstraction, betrayed the preoccupation of some
fixed idea, or the tyrannical empire of some hidden sorrow.

The day of Prosper's release, about three o'clock, M. Fauvel was, as
usual, seated in his study, with his elbows resting on the table, and
his face buried in his hands, when his office-boy rushed in, and with a
frightened look said:

"Monsieur, the former cashier, M. Bertomy, is here with one of his
relatives; he says he must see you on business."

The banker at these words started up as if he had been shot.

"Prosper!" he cried in a voice choked by anger, "what! does he dare--"

Then remembering that he ought to control himself before his servant, he
waited a few moments, and then said, in a tone of forced calmness:

"Ask them to walk in."

If M. Verduret had counted upon witnessing a strange and affecting
sight, he was not disappointed.

Nothing could be more terrible than the attitude of these two men as
they stood confronting each other. The banker's face was almost purple
with suppressed anger, and he looked as if about to be struck by
apoplexy. Prosper was as pale and motionless as a corpse.

Silent and immovable, they stood glaring at each other with mortal
hatred.

M. Verduret curiously watched these two enemies, with the indifference
and coolness of a philosopher, who, in the most violent outbursts of
human passion, merely sees subjects for meditation and study.

Finally, the silence becoming more and more threatening, he decided to
break it by speaking to the banker:

"I suppose you know, monsieur, that my young relative has just been
released from prison."

"Yes," replied M. Fauvel, making an effort to control himself, "yes, for
want of sufficient proof."

"Exactly so, monsieur, and this want of proof, as stated in the decision
of 'Not proven,' ruins the prospects of my relative, and compels him to
leave here at once for America."

M. Fauvel's features relaxed as if he had been relieved of some fearful
agony.

"Ah, he is going away," he said, "he is going abroad."

There was no mistaking the resentful, almost insulting intonation of the
words, "going away!"

M. Verduret took no notice of M. Fauvel's manner.

"It appears to me," he continued, in an easy tone, "that Prosper's
determination is a wise one. I merely wished him, before leaving Paris,
to come and pay his respects to his former chief."

The banker smiled bitterly.

"M. Bertomy might have spared us both this painful meeting. I have
nothing to say to him, and of course he can have nothing to tell me."

This was a formal dismissal; and M. Verduret, understanding it thus,
bowed to M. Fauvel, and left the room, accompanied by Prosper, who had
not opened his lips.

They had reached the street before Prosper recovered the use of his
tongue.

"I hope you are satisfied, monsieur," he said, in a gloomy tone; "you
exacted this painful step, and I could only acquiesce. Have I gained
anything by adding this humiliation to the others which I have
suffered?"

"You have not, but I have," replied M. Verduret. "I could find no way of
gaining access to M. Fauvel, save through you; and now I have found out
what I wanted to know. I am convinced that M. Fauvel had nothing to do
with the robbery."

"Oh, monsieur!" objected Prosper, "innocence can be feigned."

"Certainly, but not to this extent. And this is not all. I wished to
find out if M. Fauvel would be accessible to certain suspicions. I am
now confident that he is."

Prosper and his companion had stopped to talk more at their ease, near
the corner of the Rue Lafitte, in the middle of a large space which had
lately been cleared by pulling down an old house.

M. Verduret seemed to be anxious, and was constantly looking around as
if he expected someone.

He soon uttered an exclamation of satisfaction.

At the other end of the vacant space, he saw Cavaillon, who was
bareheaded and running.

He was so excited that he did not even stop to shake hands with Prosper,
but darted up to M. Verduret, and said:

"They have gone, monsieur!"

"How long since?"

"They went about a quarter of an hour ago."

"The deuce they did! Then we have not an instant to lose."

He handed Cavaillon the note he had written some hours before at
Prosper's house.

"Here, send him this, and then return at once to your desk; you might be
missed. It was very imprudent in you to come out without your hat."

Cavaillon ran off as quickly as he had come. Prosper was stupefied.

"What!" he exclaimed. "You know Cavaillon?"

"So it seems," answered M. Verduret with a smile, "but we have no time
to talk; come on, hurry!"

"Where are we going now?"

"You will soon know; walk fast!"

And he set the example by striding rapidly toward the Rue Lafayette. As
they went along he continued talking more to himself than to Prosper.

"Ah," said he, "it is not by putting both feet in one shoe, that one
wins a race. The track once found, we should never rest an instant.
When the savage discovers the footprints of an enemy, he follows it
persistently, knowing that falling rain or a gust of wind may efface
the footprints at any moment. It is the same with us: the most trifling
incident may destroy the traces we are following up."

M. Verduret suddenly stopped before a door bearing the number 81.

"We are going in here," he said to Prosper; "come."

They went up the steps, and stopped on the second floor, before a door
over which was a large sign, "Fashionable Dressmaker."

A handsome bell-rope hung on the wall, but M. Verduret did not touch it.
He tapped with the ends of his fingers in a peculiar way, and the door
instantly opened as if someone had been watching for his signal on the
other side.

The door was opened by a neatly dressed woman of about forty. She
quietly ushered M. Verduret and Prosper into a neat dining-room with
several doors opening into it.

This woman bowed humbly to M. Verduret, as if he were some superior
being.

He scarcely noticed her salutation, but questioned her with a look. His
look said:

"Well?"

She bowed affirmatively:

"Yes."

"In there?" asked M. Verduret in a low tone, pointing to one of the
doors.

"No," said the woman in the same tone, "over there, in the little
parlor."

M. Verduret opened the door pointed out, and pushed Prosper into the
little parlor, whispering, as he did so:

"Go in, and keep your presence of mind."

But his injunction was useless. The instant he cast his eyes around
the room into which he had so unceremoniously been pushed without any
warning, Prosper exclaimed, in a startled voice:

"Madeleine!"

It was indeed M. Fauvel's niece, looking more beautiful than ever. Hers
was that calm, dignified beauty which imposes admiration and respect.

Standing in the middle of the room, near a table covered with silks and
satins, she was arranging a skirt of red velvet embroidered in gold;
probably the dress she was to wear as maid of honor to Catherine de
Medicis.

At sight of Prosper, all the blood rushed to her face, and her beautiful
eyes half closed, as if she were about to faint; she clung to the table
to prevent herself from falling.

Prosper well knew that Madeleine was not one of those cold-hearted women
whom nothing could disturb, and who feel sensations, but never a true
sentiment.

Of a tender, dreamy nature, she betrayed in the minute details of her
life the most exquisite delicacy. But she was also proud, and incapable
of in any way violating her conscience. When duty spoke, she obeyed.

She recovered from her momentary weakness, and the soft expression of
her eyes changed to one of haughty resentment. In an offended tone she
said:

"What has emboldened you, monsieur, to be watching my movements? Who
gave you permission to follow me, to enter this house?"

Prosper was certainly innocent. He would have given worlds to explain
what had just happened, but he was powerless, and could only remain
silent.

"You promised me upon your honor, monsieur," continued Madeleine, "that
you would never again seek my presence. Is this the way you keep your
word?"

"I did promise, mademoiselle, but----"

He stopped.

"Oh, speak!"

"So many things have happened since that terrible day, that I think I am
excusable in forgetting, for one hour, an oath torn from me in a moment
of blind weakness. It is to chance, at least to another will than my
own, that I am indebted for the happiness of once more finding myself
near you. Alas! the instant I saw you my heart bounded with joy. I did
not think, no I could not think, that you would prove more pitiless than
strangers have been, that you would cast me off when I am so miserable
and heart-broken."

Had not Prosper been so agitated he could have read in the eyes of
Madeleine--those beautiful eyes which had so long been the arbiters of
his destiny--the signs of a great inward struggle.

It was, however, in a firm voice that she replied:

"You know me well enough, Prosper, to be sure than no blow can strike
you without reaching me at the same time. You suffer, I suffer with you:
I pity you as a sister would pity a beloved brother."

"A sister!" said Prosper, bitterly. "Yes, that was the word you used the
day you banished me from your presence. A sister! Then why during three
years did you delude me with vain hopes? Was I a brother to you the day
we went to Notre Dame de Fourvieres, that day when, at the foot of the
altar, we swore to love each other for ever and ever, and you fastened
around my neck a holy relic and said, 'Wear this always for my sake,
never part from it, and it will bring you good fortune'?"

Madeleine attempted to interrupt him by a supplicating gesture: he would
not heed it, but continued with increased bitterness:

"One month after that happy day--a year ago--you gave me back my
promise, told me to consider myself free from any engagement, and never
to come near you again. If I could have discovered in what way I had
offended you--But no, you refused to explain. You drove me away, and to
obey you I told everyone that I had left you of my own accord. You told
me that an invincible obstacle had arisen between us, and I believed
you, fool that I was! The obstacle was your own heart, Madeleine. I
have always worn the medal; but it has not brought me happiness or good
fortune."

As white and motionless as a statue, Madeleine stood with bowed head
before this storm of passionate reproach.

"I told you to forget me," she murmured.

"Forget!" exclaimed Prosper, excitedly, "forget! Can I forget! Is it in
my power to stop, by an effort of will, the circulation of my blood? Ah,
you have never loved! To forget, as to stop the beatings of the heart,
there is but one means--death!"

This word, uttered with the fixed determination of a desperate, reckless
man, caused Madeleine to shudder.

"Miserable man!" she exclaimed.

"Yes, miserable man, and a thousand times more miserable than you can
imagine! You can never understand the tortures I have suffered, when for
a year I would awake every morning, and say to myself, 'It is all over,
she has ceased to love me!' This great sorrow stared me in the face
day and night in spite of all my efforts to dispel it. And you speak of
forgetfulness! I sought it at the bottom of poisoned cups, but found it
not. I tried to extinguish this memory of the past, that tears my heart
to shreds like a devouring flame; in vain. When the body succumbed, the
pitiless heart kept watch. With this corroding torture making life a
burden, do you wonder that I should seek rest which can only be obtained
by suicide?"

"I forbid you to utter that word."

"You forget, Madeleine, that you have no right to forbid me, unless you
love me. Love would make you all powerful, and me obedient."

With an imperious gesture Madeleine interrupted him as if she wished to
speak, and perhaps to explain all, to exculpate herself.

But a sudden thought stopped her; she clasped her hands despairingly,
and cried:

"My God! this suffering is beyond endurance!"

Prosper seemed to misconstrue her words.

"Your pity comes too late," he said. "There is no happiness in store for
one like myself, who has had a glimpse of divine felicity, had the
cup of bliss held to his lips, and then dashed to the ground. There
is nothing left to attach me to life. You have destroyed my holiest
beliefs; I came forth from prison disgraced by my enemies; what is to
become of me? Vainly do I question the future; for me there is no hope
of happiness. I look around me to see nothing but abandonment, ignominy,
and despair!"

"Prosper, my brother, my friend, if you only knew--"

"I know but one thing, Madeleine, and that is, that you no longer love
me, and that I love you more madly than ever. Oh, Madeleine, God only
knows how I love you!"

He was silent. He hoped for an answer. None came.

But suddenly the silence was broken by a stifled sob.

It was Madeleine's maid, who, seated in a corner, was weeping bitterly.

Madeleine had forgotten her presence.

Prosper had been so surprised at finding Madeleine when he entered
the room, that he kept his eyes fastened upon her face, and never once
looked about him to see if anyone else were present.

He turned in surprise and looked at the weeping woman.

He was not mistaken: this neatly dressed waiting-maid was Nina Gypsy.

Prosper was so startled that he became perfectly dumb. He stood there
with ashy lips, and a chilly sensation creeping through his veins.

The horror of the situation terrified him. He was there, between the two
women who had ruled his fate; between Madeleine, the proud heiress
who spurned his love, and Nina Gypsy, the poor girl whose devotion to
himself he had so disdainfully rejected.

And she had heard all; poor Gypsy had witnessed the passionate avowal
of her lover, had heard him swear that he could never love any woman but
Madeleine, that if his love were not reciprocated he would kill himself,
as he had nothing else to live for.

Prosper could judge of her sufferings by his own. For she was wounded
not only in the present, but in the past. What must be her humiliation
and danger on hearing the miserable part which Prosper, in his
disappointed love, had imposed upon her?

He was astonished that Gypsy--violence itself--remained silently
weeping, instead of rising and bitterly denouncing him.

Meanwhile Madeleine had succeeded in recovering her usual calmness.

Slowly and almost unconsciously she had put on her bonnet and shawl,
which were lying on the sofa.

Then she approached Prosper, and said:

"Why did you come here? We both have need of all the courage we can
command. You are unhappy, Prosper; I am more than unhappy, I am most
wretched. You have a right to complain: I have not the right to shed a
tear. While my heart is slowly breaking, I must wear a smiling face. You
can seek consolation in the bosom of a friend: I can have no confidant
but God."

Prosper tried to murmur a reply, but his pale lips refused to
articulate; he was stifling.

"I wish to tell you," continued Madeleine, "that I have forgotten
nothing. But oh! let not this knowledge give you any hope; the future
is blank for us, but if you love me you will live. You will not, I know,
add to my already heavy burden of sorrow, the agony of mourning your
death. For my sake, live; live the life of a good man, and perhaps the
day will come when I can justify myself in your eyes. And now, oh, my
brother, oh, my only friend, adieu! adieu!"

She pressed a kiss upon his brow, and rushed from the room, followed by
Nina Gypsy.

Prosper was alone. He seemed to be awaking from a troubled dream. He
tried to think over what had just happened, and asked himself if he were
losing his mind, or whether he had really spoken to Madeleine and seen
Gypsy?

He was obliged to attribute all this to the mysterious power of the
strange man whom he had seen for the first time that very morning.

How did he gain this wonderful power of controlling events to suit his
own purposes?

He seemed to have anticipated everything, to know everything. He was
acquainted with Cavaillon, he knew all Madeleine's movements; he had
made even Gypsy become humble and submissive.

Thinking all this, Prosper had reached such a degree of exasperation,
that when M. Verduret entered the little parlor, he strode toward him
white with rage, and in a harsh, threatening voice, said to him:

"Who are you?"

The stout man did not show any surprise at this burst of anger, but
quietly answered:

"A friend of your father's; did you not know it?"

"That is no answer, monsieur; I have been surprised into being
influenced by a stranger, and now----"

"Do you want my biography, what I have been, what I am, and what I may
be? What difference does it make to you? I told you that I would save
you; the main point is that I am saving you."

"Still I have the right to ask by what means you are saving me."

"What good will it do you to know what my plans are?"

"In order to decide whether I will accept or reject them?"

"But suppose I guarantee success?"

"That is not sufficient, monsieur. I do not choose to be any longer
deprived of my own free will, to be exposed without warning to trials
like those I have undergone to-day. A man of my age must know what he is
doing."

"A man of your age, Prosper, when he is blind, takes a guide, and does
not undertake to point out the way to his leader."

The half-bantering, half-commiserating tone of M. Verduret was not
calculated to calm Prosper's irritation.

"That being the case, monsieur," he cried, "I will thank you for your
past services, and decline them for the future, as I have no need of
them. If I attempted to defend my honor and my life, it was because
I hoped that Madeleine would be restored to me. I have been convinced
to-day that all is at an end between us; I retire from the struggle, and
care not what becomes of me now."

Prosper was so decided, that M. Verduret seemed alarmed.

"You must be mad," he finally said.

"No, unfortunately I am not. Madeleine has ceased to love me, and of
what importance is anything else?"

His heart-broken tone aroused M. Verduret's sympathy, and he said, in a
kind, soothing tone:

"Then you suspect nothing? You did not fathom the meaning of what she
said?"

"You were listening," cried Prosper fiercely.

"I certainly was."

"Monsieur!"

"Yes. It was a presumptuous thing to do, perhaps; but the end justified
the means in this instance. I am glad I did listen, because it has
enabled me to say to you, Take courage, Prosper: Mlle. Madeleine loves
you; she has never ceased to love you."

Like a dying man who eagerly listens to deceitful promises of recovery,
although he feels himself sinking into the grave, did Prosper feel his
sad heart cheered by M. Verduret's assertion.

"Oh," he murmured, suddenly calmed, "if only I could hope!"

"Rely upon me, I am not mistaken. Ah, I could see the torture endured by
this generous girl, while she struggled between her love, and what she
believed to be her duty. Were you not convinced of her love when she
bade you farewell?"

"She loves me, she is free, and yet she shuns me."

"No, she is not free! In breaking off her engagement with you, she
was governed by some powerful, irrepressible event. She is sacrificing
herself--for whom? We shall soon know; and the secret of her
self-sacrifice will discover to us the secret of her plot against you."

As M. Verduret spoke, Prosper felt all his resolutions of revolt slowly
melting away, and their place taken by confidence and hope.

"If what you say were true!" he mournfully said.

"Foolish young man! Why do you persist in obstinately shutting your eyes
to the proof I place before you? Can you not see that Mlle. Madeleine
knows who the thief is? Yes, you need not look so shocked; she knows the
thief, but no human power can tear it from her. She sacrifices you, but
then she almost has the right, since she first sacrificed herself."

Prosper was almost convinced; and it nearly broke his heart to leave
this little parlor where he had seen Madeleine.

"Alas!" he said, pressing M. Verduret's hand, "you must think me a
ridiculous fool! but you don't know how I suffer."

The man with the red whiskers sadly shook his head, and his voice
sounded very unsteady as he replied, in a low tone:

"What you suffer, I have suffered. Like you, I loved, not a pure, noble
girl, yet a girl fair to look upon. For three years I was at her feet,
a slave to her every whim; when, one day she suddenly deserted me who
adored her, to throw herself in the arms of a man who despised her.
Then, like you, I wished to die. Neither threats nor entreaties could
induce her to return to me. Passion never reasons, and she loved my
rival."

"And did you know this rival?"

"I knew him."

"And you did not seek revenge?"

"No," replied M. Verduret with a singular expression, "no: fate took
charge of my vengeance."

For a minute Prosper was silent; then he said:

"I have finally decided, monsieur. My honor is a sacred trust for which
I must account to my family. I am ready to follow you to the end of the
world; dispose of me as you judge proper."

That same day Prosper, faithful to his promise, sold his furniture, and
wrote a letter to his friends announcing his intended departure to San
Francisco.

In the evening he and M. Verduret installed themselves in the
"Archangel."

Mme. Alexandre gave Prosper her prettiest room, but it was very ugly
compared with the coquettish little parlor on the Rue Chaptal. His state
of mind did not permit him, however, to notice the difference between
his former and present quarters. He lay on an old sofa, meditating upon
the events of the day, and feeling a bitter satisfaction in his isolated
condition.

About eleven o'clock he thought he would raise the window, and let the
cool air fan his burning brow; as he did so a piece of paper was blown
from among the folds of the window-curtain, and lay at his feet on the
floor.

Prosper mechanically picked it up, and looked at it.

It was covered with writing, the handwriting of Nina Gypsy; he could not
be mistaken about that.

It was the fragment of a torn letter; and, if the half sentences did not
convey any clear meaning, they were sufficient to lead the mind into all
sorts of conjectures.

The fragment read as follows:

"of M. Raoul, I have been very im . . . plotted against him, of whom
never . . . warn Prosper, and then . . . best friend. he . . . hand of
Mlle. Ma . . ."

Prosper never closed his eyes during that night.




IX

Not far from the Palais Royal, in the Rue St. Honore, is the sign of "La
Bonne Foi," a small establishment, half cafe and half shop, extensively
patronized by the people of the neighborhood.

It was in the smoking-room of this modest cafe that Prosper, the day
after his release, awaited M. Verduret, who had promised to meet him at
four o'clock.

The clock struck four; M. Verduret, who was punctuality itself,
appeared. He was more red-faced and self-satisfied, if possible, than
the day before.

As soon as the servant had left the room to obey his orders, he said to
Prosper:

"Well, are our commissions executed?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"Have you seen the costumer?"

"I gave him your letter, and everything you ordered will be sent to the
Archangel to-morrow."

"Very good; you have not lost time, neither have I. I have good news for
you."

The "Bonne Foi" is almost deserted at four o'clock. The hour for coffee
is passed, and the hour for absinthe has not yet come. M. Verduret and
Prosper could talk at their ease without fear of being overheard by
gossiping neighbors.

M. Verduret drew forth his memorandum-book, the precious diary which,
like the enchanted book in the fairy-tale, had an answer for every
question.

"While awaiting our emissaries whom I appointed to meet here, let us
devote a little time to M. de Lagors."

At this name Prosper did not protest, as he had done the night previous.
Like those imperceptible insects which, having once penetrated the root
of a tree, devour it in a single night, suspicion, when it invades our
mind, soon develops itself, and destroys our firmest beliefs.

The visit of Lagors, and Gypsy's torn letter, had filled Prosper with
suspicions which had grown stronger and more settled as time passed.

"Do you know, my dear friend," said M. Verduret, "what part of France
this devoted friend of yours comes from?"

"He was born at St. Remy, which is also Mme. Fauvel's native town."

"Are you certain of that?"

"Oh, perfectly so, monsieur! He has not only often told me so, but I
have heard him tell M. Fauvel; and he would talk to Mme. Fauvel by the
hour about his mother, who was cousin to Mme. Fauvel, and dearly beloved
by her."

"Then you think there is no possible mistake or falsehood about this
part of his story?"

"None in the least, monsieur."

"Well, things are assuming a queer look."

And he began to whistle between his teeth; which, with M. Verduret, was
a sign of intense inward satisfaction.

"What seems so, monsieur?" inquired Prosper.

"What has just happened; what I have been tracing. Parbleu!" he
exclaimed, imitating the manner of a showman at a fair, "here is
a lovely town, called St. Remy, six thousand inhabitants; charming
boulevards on the site of the old fortifications; handsome hotel;
numerous fountains; large charcoal market, silk factories, famous
hospital, and so on."

Prosper was on thorns.

"Please be so good, monsieur, as to explain what you----"

"It also contains," continued M. Verduret, "a Roman triumphal arch,
which is of unparalleled beauty, and a Greek mausoleum; but no Lagors.
St. Remy is the native town of Nostradamus, but not of your friend."

"Yet I have proofs."

"Naturally. But proofs can be fabricated; relatives can be improvised.
Your evidence is open to suspicion. My proofs are undeniable, perfectly
authenticated. While you were pining in prison, I was preparing my
batteries and collecting munition to open fire. I wrote to St. Remy, and
received answers to my questions."

"Will you let me know what they were?"

"Have patience," said M. Verduret as he turned over the leaves of
his memoranda. "Ah, here is number one. Bow respectfully to it, 'tis
official."

He then read:


"'LAGORS.--Very old family, originally from Maillane, settled at St.
Remy about a century ago.'"


"I told you so," cried Prosper.

"Pray allow me to finish," said M. Verduret.

"'The last of the Lagors (Jules-Rene-Henri) bearing without warrant
the title of count, married in 1829 Mlle. Rosalie-Clarisse Fontanet,
of Tarascon; died December 1848, leaving no male heir, but left two
daughters. The registers make no mention of any person in the district
bearing the name of Lagors.'

"Now what do you think of this information?" queried the fat man with a
triumphant smile.

Prosper looked amazed.

"But why did M. Fauvel treat Raoul as his nephew?"

"Ah, you mean as his wife's nephew! Let us examine note number two: it
is not official, but it throws a valuable light upon the twenty thousand
livres income of your friend."

"'_Jules-Rene-Henri_ de Lagors, last of his name, died at St. Remy on
the 29th of December, 1848, in a state of great poverty. He at one time
was possessed of a moderate fortune, but invested it in a silk-worm
nursery, and lost it all.

"'He had no son, but left two daughters, one of whom is a teacher at
Aix, and the other married a retail merchant at Orgon. His widow, who
lives at Montagnette, is supported entirely by one of her relatives, the
wife of a rich banker in Paris. No person of the name of Lagors lives in
the district of Arles.'

"That is all," said M. Verduret; "don't you think it enough?"

"Really, monsieur, I don't know whether I am awake or dreaming."

"You will be awake after a while. Now I wish to remark one thing. Some
people may assert that the widow Lagors had a child born after her
husband's death. This objection has been destroyed by the age of your
friend. Raoul is twenty-four, and M. de Lagors has not been dead twenty
years."

"But," said Prosper thoughtfully, "who can Raoul be?"

"I don't know. The fact is, I am more perplexed to find out who he is,
than to know whom he is not. There is one man who could give us all the
information we seek, but he will take good care to keep his mouth shut."

"You mean M. de Clameran?"

"Him, and no one else."

"I have always felt the most inexplicable aversion toward him. Ah, if we
could only get his account in addition to what you already have!"

"I have been furnished with a few notes concerning the Clameran family
by your father, who knew them well; they are brief, but I expect more."

"What did my father tell you?"

"Nothing favorable, you may be sure. I will read you the synopsis of
this information:

"'Louis de Clameran was born at the Chateau de Clameran, near Tarascon.
He had an elder brother named Gaston, who, in consequence of an affray
in which he had the misfortune to kill one man and badly wound another,
was compelled to fly the country in 1842. Gaston was an honest, noble
youth, universally beloved. Louis, on the contrary, was a wicked,
despicable fellow, detested by all who knew him.

"'Upon the death of his father, Louis came to Paris, and in less than
two years had squandered not only his own patrimony, but also the share
of his exiled brother.

"'Ruined and harassed by debt, Louis entered the army, but behaved so
disgracefully that he was dismissed.

"'After leaving the army we lose sight of him; all we can discover is,
that he went to England, and thence to a German gambling resort, where
he became notorious for his scandalous conduct.

"'In 1865 we find him again at Paris. He was in great poverty, and his
associates were among the most depraved classes.

"'But he suddenly heard of the return of his brother Gaston to Paris.
Gaston had made a fortune in Mexico; but being still a young man,
and accustomed to a very active life, he purchased, near Orloron, an
iron-mill, intending to spend the remainder of his life in working at
it. Six months ago he died in the arms of his brother Louis. His death
provided our De Clameran an immense fortune, and the title of marquis.'"


"Then," said Prosper, "from all this I judge that M. de Clameran was
very poor when I met him for the first time at M. Fauvel's?"

"Evidently."

"And about that time Lagors arrived from the country?"

"Precisely."

"And about a month after his appearance Madeleine suddenly banished me?"

"Well," exclaimed M. Verduret, "I am glad you are beginning to
understand the state of affairs."

He was interrupted by the entrance of a stranger.

The new-comer was a dandified-looking coachman, with elegant black
whiskers, shining boots with fancy tops; buff breeches, and a yellow
waistcoat with red and black stripes.

After cautiously looking around the room, he walked straight up to the
table where M. Verduret sat.

"What is the news, Master Joseph Dubois?" said the stout man eagerly.

"Ah, patron, don't speak of it!" answered the servant: "things are
getting warm."

Prosper concentrated all his attention upon this superb domestic. He
thought he recognized his face. He had certainly somewhere seen that
retreating forehead and those little restless black eyes, but where and
when he could not remember.

Meanwhile, Master Joseph had taken a seat at a table adjoining the
one occupied by M. Verduret and Prosper; and, having called for some
absinthe, was preparing it by holding the water aloft and slowly
dropping it in the glass.

"Speak!" said M. Verduret.

"In the first place, patron, I must say that the position of valet and
coachman to M. de Clameran is not a bed of roses."

"Go on: come to the point. You can complain to-morrow."

"Very good. Yesterday my master walked out at two o'clock. I, of course,
followed him. Do you know where he went? The thing was as good as a
farce. He went to the Archangel to keep the appointment made by 'Nina
Gypsy.'"

"Well, make haste. They told him she was gone. Then?"

"Then? Ah! he was not at all pleased, I can tell you. He hurried back to
the hotel where the other, M. de Lagors, awaited him. And, upon my soul,
I have never heard so much swearing in my life! M. Raoul asked him
what had happened to put him in such a bad humor. 'Nothing,' replied my
master, 'except that little devil has run off, and no one knows where
she is; she has slipped through our fingers.' Then they both appeared
to be vexed and uneasy. Lagors asked if she knew anything serious. 'She
knows nothing but what I told you,' replied Clameran; 'but this nothing,
falling in the ear of a man with any suspicions, will be more than
enough to work on.'"

M. Verduret smiled like a man who had his reasons for appreciating at
their just value De Clameran's fears.

"Well, your master is not without sense, after all; don't you think he
showed it by saying that?"

"Yes, patron. Then Lagors exclaimed, 'If it is as serious as that,
we must get rid of this little serpent!' But my master shrugged his
shoulders, and laughing loudly said, 'You talk like an idiot; when one
is annoyed by a woman of this sort, one must take measures to get rid of
her administratively.' This idea seemed to amuse them both very much."

"I can understand their being entertained by it," said M. Verduret; "it
is an excellent idea; but the misfortune is, it is too late to carry it
out. The nothing which made Clameran uneasy has already fallen into a
knowing ear."

With breathless curiosity, Prosper listened to this report, every word
of which seemed to throw light upon past events. Now, he thought, he
understood the fragment of Gypsy's letter. He saw that this Raoul, in
whom he had confided so deeply, was nothing more than a scoundrel. A
thousand little circumstances, unnoticed at the time, now recurred to
his mind, and made him wonder how he could have been so blind so long.

Master Joseph Dubois continued his report:

"Yesterday, after dinner, my master decked himself out like a
bridegroom. I shaved him, curled his hair, and perfumed him with special
care, after which I drove him to the Rue de Provence to call on Mme.
Fauvel."

"What!" exclaimed Prosper, "after the insulting language he used the day
of the robbery, did he dare to visit the house?"

"Yes, monsieur, he not only dared this, but he also stayed there until
midnight, to my great discomfort; for I got as wet as a rat, waiting for
him."

"How did he look when he came out?" asked M. Verduret.

"Well, he certainly looked less pleased than when he went in. After
putting away my carriage, and rubbing down my horses, I went to see if
he wanted anything; I found the door locked, and he swore at me like a
trooper, through the key-hole."

And, to assist the digestion of this insult, Master Joseph here gulped
down a glass of absinthe.

"Is that all?" questioned M. Verduret.

"All that occurred yesterday, patron; but this morning my master rose
late, still in a horrible bad humor. At noon Raoul arrived, also in
a rage. They at once began to dispute, and such a row! why, the most
abandoned housebreakers and pickpockets would have blushed to hear such
Billingsgate. At one time my master seized the other by the throat and
shook him like a reed. But Raoul was too quick for him; he saved himself
from strangulation by drawing out a sharp-pointed knife, the sight of
which made my master drop him in a hurry, I can tell you."

"But what did they say?"

"Ah, there is the rub, patron," said Joseph in a piteous tone; "the
scamps spoke English, so I could not understand them. But I am sure they
were disputing about money."

"How do you know that?"

"Because I learned at the Exposition that the word 'argent' means money
in every language in Europe; and this word they constantly used in their
conversation."

M. Verduret sat with knit brows, talking in an undertone to himself; and
Prosper, who was watching him, wondered if he was trying to understand
and construct the dispute by mere force of reflection.

"When they had done fighting," continued Joseph, "the rascals began to
talk in French again; but they only spoke of a fancy ball which is to
be given by some banker. When Raoul was leaving, my master said, 'Since
this thing is inevitable, and it must take place to-day, you had better
remain at home, at Vesinet, this evening.' Raoul replied, 'Of course.'"

Night was approaching, and the smoking-room was gradually filling
with men who called for absinthe or bitters, and youths who perched
themselves up on high stools, and smoked their pipes.

"It is time to go," said M. Verduret; "your master will want you,
Joseph; besides, here is someone come for me. I will see you to-morrow."

The new-comer was no other than Cavaillon, more troubled and frightened
than ever. He looked uneasily around the room, as if he expected the
whole police force to appear, and carry him off to prison.

He did not sit down at M. Verduret's table, but stealthily gave his hand
to Prosper, and, after assuring himself that no one was observing them,
handed M. Verduret a package, saying:

"She found this in a cupboard."

It was a handsomely bound prayer-book. M. Verduret rapidly turned over
the leaves, and soon found the pages from which the words pasted on
Prosper's letter had been cut.

"I had moral proofs," he said, handing the book to Prosper, "but here is
material proof sufficient in itself to save you."

When Prosper looked at the book he turned pale as a ghost. He recognized
this prayer-book instantly. He had given it to Madeleine in exchange for
the medal.

He opened it, and on the fly-leaf Madeleine had written, "Souvenir of
Notre Dame de Fourvieres, 17 January, 1866."

"This book belongs to Madeleine," he cried.

M. Verduret did not reply, but walked toward a young man dressed like a
brewer, who had just entered the room.

He glanced at the note which this person handed to him, and hastened
back to the table, and said, in an agitated tone:

"I think we have got them now!"

Throwing a five-franc piece on the table, and without saying a word to
Cavaillon, he seized Prosper's arm, and hurried from the room.

"What a fatality!" he said, as he hastened along the street: "we may
miss them. We shall certainly reach the St. Lazare station too late for
the St. Germain train."

"For Heaven's sake, where are you going?" asked Prosper.

"Never mind, we can talk after we start. Hurry!"

Reaching Palais Royal Place, M. Verduret stopped before one of the hacks
belonging to the railway station, and examined the horses at a glance.

"How much for driving us to Vesinet?" he asked of the driver.

"I don't know the road very well that way."

The name of Vesinet was enough for Prosper.

"Well," said the driver, "at this time of night, in such dreadful
weather, it ought to be--twenty-five francs."

"And how much more for driving very rapidly?"

"Bless my soul! Why, monsieur, I leave that to your generosity; but if
you put it at thirty-five francs--"

"You shall have a hundred," interrupted M. Verduret, "if you overtake a
carriage which has half an hour's start of us."

"Tonnerre de Brest!" cried the delighted driver; "jump in quick: we are
losing time!"

And, whipping up his lean horses, he galloped them down the Rue de
Valois at lightning speed.




X

Leaving the little station of Vesinet, we come upon two roads. One, to
the left, macadamized and kept in perfect repair, leads to the village,
of which there are glimpses here and there through the trees. The other,
newly laid out, and just covered with gravel, leads through the woods.

Along the latter, which before the lapse of five years will be a busy
street, are built a few houses, hideous in design, and at some distance
apart; rural summer retreats of city merchants, but unoccupied during
the winter.

It was at the junction of these two roads that Prosper stopped the hack.

The driver had gained his hundred francs. The horses were completely
worn out, but they had accomplished all that was expected of them; M.
Verduret could distinguish the lamps of a hack similar to the one he
occupied, about fifty yards ahead of him.

M. Verduret jumped out, and, handing the driver a bank-note, said:

"Here is what I promised you. Go to the first tavern you find on the
right-hand side of the road as you enter the village. If we do not meet
you there in an hour, you are at liberty to return to Paris."

The driver was overwhelming in his thanks; but neither Prosper nor his
friend heard them. They had already started up the new road.

The weather, which had been inclement when they set out, was now
fearful. The rain fell in torrents, and a furious wind howled dismally
through the dense woods.

The intense darkness was rendered more dreary by the occasional
glimmer of the lamps at the distant station, which seemed about to be
extinguished by every new gust of wind.

M. Verduret and Prosper had been running along the muddy road for about
five minutes, when suddenly the latter stopped and said:

"This is Raoul's house."

Before the gate of an isolated house stood the hack which M. Verduret
had followed. Reclining on his seat, wrapped in a thick cloak, was the
driver, who, in spite of the pouring rain, was already asleep, evidently
waiting for the person whom he had brought to this house a few minutes
ago.

M. Verduret pulled his cloak, and said, in a low voice:

"Wake up, my good man."

The driver started, and, mechanically gathering his reins, yawned out:

"I am ready: come on!"

But when, by the light of the carriage-lamps, he saw two men in this
lonely spot, he imagined that they wanted his purse, and perhaps his
life.

"I am engaged!" he cried out, as he cracked his whip in the air; "I am
waiting here for someone."

"I know that, you fool," replied M. Verduret, "and only wish to ask you
a question, which you can gain five francs by answering. Did you not
bring a middle-aged lady here?"

This question, this promise of five francs, instead of reassuring the
coachman, increased his alarm.

"I have already told you I am waiting for someone," he said, "and, if
you don't go away and leave me alone, I will call for help."

M. Verduret drew back quickly.

"Come away," he whispered to Prosper, "the cur will do as he says; and,
alarm once given, farewell to our projects. We must find some other
entrance than by this gate."

They then went along the wall surrounding the garden, in search of a
place where it was possible to climb up.

This was difficult to discover, the wall being twelve feet high, and the
night very dark. Fortunately, M. Verduret was very agile; and, having
decided upon the spot to be scaled, he drew back a few feet, and making
a sudden spring, seized one of the projecting stones above him, and,
drawing himself up by aid of his hands and feet, soon found himself on
top of the wall.

It was now Prosper's turn to climb up; but, though much younger than
his companion, he had not his agility and strength, and would never have
succeeded if M. Verduret had not pulled him up, and then helped him down
on the other side.

Once in the garden, M. Verduret looked about him to study the situation.

The house occupied by M. de Lagors was built in the middle of an immense
garden. It was narrow, two stories high, and with garrets.

Only one window, in the second story, was lighted.

"As you have often been here," said M. Verduret, "you must know all
about the arrangement of the house: what room is that where we see the
light?"

"That is Raoul's bed-chamber."

"Very good. What rooms are on the first floor?"

"The kitchen, pantry, billiard-room, and dining-room."

"And on the floor above?"

"Two drawing-rooms separated by folding doors, and a library."

"Where do the servants sleep?"

"Raoul has none at present. He is waited on by a man and his wife, who
live at Vesinet; they come in the morning, and leave after dinner."

M. Verduret rubbed his hands gleefully.

"That suits our plans exactly," he said; "there is nothing to prevent
our hearing what Raoul has to say to this person who has come from Paris
at ten o'clock at night, to see him. Let us go in."

Prosper seemed averse to this, and said:

"It is a serious thing for us to do, monsieur."

"Bless my soul! what else did we come here for? Did you think it was
a pleasure-trip, merely to enjoy this lovely weather?" he said in a
bantering tone.

"But we might be discovered."

"Suppose we are? If the least noise betrays our presence, you have only
to advance boldly as a friend come to visit a friend, and, finding the
door open walked in."

But unfortunately the heavy oak door was locked. M. Verduret shook it in
vain.

"How foolish!" he said with vexation, "I ought to have brought my
instruments with me. A common lock which could be opened with a nail,
and I have not even a piece of wire!"

Thinking it useless to attempt the door, he tried successively every
window on the ground-floor. Alas! each blind was securely fastened on
the inside.

M. Verduret was provoked. He prowled around the house like a fox around
a hen-coop, seeking an entrance, but finding none. Despairingly he came
back to the spot in front of the house, whence he had the best view of
the lighted window.

"If I could only look in," he cried. "Just to think that in there," and
he pointed to the window, "is the solution of the mystery; and we are
cut off from it by thirty or forty feet of cursed blank wall!"

Prosper was more surprised than ever at his companion's strange
behavior. He seemed perfectly at home in this garden; he ran about
without any precaution; so that one would have supposed him accustomed
to such expeditions, especially when he spoke of picking the lock of
an occupied house, as if he were talking of opening a snuff-box. He
was utterly indifferent to the rain and sleet driven in his face by the
gusts of wind as he splashed about in the mud trying to find some way of
entrance.

"I must get a peep into that window," he said, "and I will, cost what it
may!"

Prosper seemed to suddenly remember something.

"There is a ladder here," he cried.

"Why did you not tell me that before? Where is it?"

"At the end of the garden, under the trees."

They ran to the spot, and in a few minutes had the ladder standing
against the wall.

But to their chagrin they found the ladder six feet too short. Six long
feet of wall between the top of the ladder and the lighted window was a
very discouraging sight to Prosper; he exclaimed:

"We cannot reach it."

"We _can_ reach it," cried M. Verduret triumphantly.

And he quickly placed himself a yard off from the house, and, seizing
the ladder, cautiously raised it and rested the bottom round on his
shoulders, at the same time holding the two uprights firmly and steadily
with his hands. The obstacle was overcome.

"Now mount," he said to his companion.

Prosper did not hesitate. The enthusiasm of difficulties so skilfully
conquered, and the hope of triumph, gave him a strength and agility
which he had never imagined he possessed. He made a sudden spring, and,
seizing the lower rounds, quickly climbed up the ladder, which swayed
and trembled beneath his weight.

But he had scarcely looked in the lighted window when he uttered a cry
which was drowned in the roaring tempest, and dropped like a log down on
the wet grass, exclaiming:

"The villain! the villain!"

With wonderful promptness and vigor M. Verduret laid the ladder on the
ground, and ran toward Prosper, fearing that he was dead or dangerously
injured.

"What did you see? Are you hurt?" he whispered.

But Prosper had already risen. Although he had had a violent fall, he
was unhurt; he was in a state when mind governs matter so absolutely
that the body is insensible to pain.

"I saw," he answered in a hoarse voice, "I saw Madeleine--do you
understand, Madeleine--in that room, alone with Raoul!"

M. Verduret was confounded. Was it possible that he, the infallible
expert, had been mistaken in his deductions?

He well knew that M. de Lagors's visitor was a woman; but his own
conjectures, and the note which Mme. Gypsy had sent to him at the
tavern, had fully assured him that this woman was Mme. Fauvel.

"You must be mistaken," he said to Prosper.

"No, monsieur, no. Never could I mistake another for Madeleine. Ah! you
who heard what she said to me yesterday, answer me: was I to expect such
infamous treason as this? You said to me then, 'She loves you, she loves
you!' Now do you think she loves me? speak!"

M. Verduret did not answer. He had first been stupefied by his mistake,
and was now racking his brain to discover the cause of it, which was
soon discerned by his penetrating mind.

"This is the secret discovered by Nina," continued Prosper. "Madeleine,
this pure and noble Madeleine, whom I believed to be as immaculate as
an angel, is in love with this thief, who has even stolen the name he
bears; and I, trusting fool that I was, made this scoundrel my best
friend. I confided to him all my hopes and fears; and he was her lover!
Of course they amused themselves by ridiculing my silly devotion and
blind confidence!"

He stopped, overcome by his violent emotions. Wounded vanity is the
worst of miseries. The certainty of having been so shamefully deceived
and betrayed made Prosper almost insane with rage.

"This is the last humiliation I shall submit to," he fiercely cried. "It
shall not be said that I was coward enough to stand by and let an insult
like this go unpunished."

He started toward the house; but M. Verduret seized his arm and said:

"What are you going to do?"

"Have my revenge! I will break down the door; what do I care for the
noise and scandal, now that I have nothing to lose? I shall not attempt
to creep into the house like a thief, but as a master, as one who has a
right to enter; as a man who, having received an insult which can only
be washed out with blood, comes to demand satisfaction."

"You will do nothing of the sort, Prosper."

"Who will prevent me?"

"I will."

"You? do not hope that you will be able to deter me. I will appear
before them, put them to the blush, kill them both, then put an end
to my own wretched existence. That is what I intend to do, and nothing
shall stop me!"

If M. Verduret had not held Prosper with a vice-like grip, he would have
escaped, and carried out his threat.

"If you make any noise, Prosper, or raise an alarm, all your hopes are
ruined."

"I have no hopes now."

"Raoul, put on his guard, will escape us, and you will remain dishonored
forever."

"What difference is it to me?"

"It makes a great difference to me. I have sworn to prove your
innocence. A man of your age can easily find a wife, but can never
restore lustre to a tarnished name. Let nothing interfere with the
establishing of your innocence."

Genuine passion is uninfluenced by surrounding circumstances. M.
Verduret and Prosper stood foot-deep in mud, wet to the skin, the rain
pouring down on their heads, and yet seemed in no hurry to end their
dispute.

"I will be avenged," repeated Prosper with the persistency of a fixed
idea, "I will avenge myself."

"Well, avenge yourself like a man, and not like a child!" said M.
Verduret angrily.

"Monsieur!"

"Yes, I repeat it, like a child. What will you do after you get into
the house? Have you any arms? No. You rush upon Raoul, and a struggle
ensues; while you two are fighting, Madeleine jumps in her carriage, and
drives off. What then? Which is the stronger, you or Raoul?"

Overcome by the sense of his powerlessness, Prosper was silent.

"And arms would be of no use," continued M. Verduret: "it is fortunate
you have none with you, for it would be very foolish to shoot a man whom
you can send to the galleys."

"What must I do?"

"Wait. Vengeance is a delicious fruit, that must ripen in order that we
may fully enjoy it."

Prosper was unsettled in his resolution; M. Verduret seeing this brought
forth his last and strongest argument.

"How do we know," he said, "that Mlle. Madeleine is here on her own
account? Did we not come to the conclusion that she was sacrificing
herself for the benefit of someone else? That superior will which
compelled her to banish you may have constrained this step to-night."

That which coincides with our secret wishes is always eagerly welcomed.
This supposition, apparently improbable, struck Prosper as possibly
true.

"That might be the case," he murmured, "who knows?"

"I would soon know," said M. Verduret, "if I could see them together in
that room."

"Will you promise me, monsieur, to tell me the exact truth, all that you
see and hear, no matter how painful it may be for me?"

"I swear it, upon my word of honor."

Then, with a strength of which a few minutes before he would not have
believed himself possessed, Prosper raised the ladder, placed the last
round on his shoulders, and said to M. Verduret:

"Mount!"

M. Verduret rapidly ascended the ladder without even shaking it, and had
his head on a level with the window.

Prosper had seen but too well. There was Madeleine at this hour of the
night, alone with Raoul de Lagors in his room!

M. Verduret observed that she still wore her shawl and bonnet.

She was standing in the middle of the room, talking with great
animation. Her look and gestures betrayed indignant scorn. There was an
expression of ill-disguised loathing upon her beautiful face.

Raoul was seated by the fire, stirring up the coals with a pair of
tongs. Every now and then, he would shrug his shoulders, like a man
resigned to everything he heard, and had no answer, except, "I cannot
help it. I can do nothing for you."

M. Verdure would willingly have given the diamond ring on his finger to
be able to hear what was said; but the roaring wind completely drowned
their voices.

"They are evidently quarrelling," he thought; "but it is not a lovers'
quarrel."

Madeleine continued talking; and it was by closely watching the face
of Lagors, clearly revealed by the lamp on the mantel, that M. Verduret
hoped to discover the meaning of the scene before him.

At one moment Lagors would start and tremble in spite of his apparent
indifference; the next, he would strike at the fire with the tongs, as
if giving vent to his rage at some reproach uttered by Madeleine.

Finally Madeleine changed her threats into entreaties, and, clasping her
hands, almost fell at his knees.

He turned away his head, and refused to answer save in monosyllables.

Several times she turned to leave the room, but each time returned, as
if asking a favor, and unable to make up her mind to leave the house
till she had obtained it.

At last she seemed to have uttered something decisive; for Raoul quickly
rose and opened a desk near the fireplace, from which he took a bundle
of papers, and handed them to her.

"Well," thought M. Verduret, "this looks bad. Can it be a compromising
correspondence which the fair one wants to secure?"

Madeleine took the papers, but was apparently still dissatisfied. She
again entreated him to give her something else. Raoul refused; and then
she threw the papers on the table.

The papers seemed to puzzle M. Verduret very much, as he gazed at them
through the window.

"I am not blind," he said, "and I certainly am not mistaken; those
papers, red, green, and yellow, are pawnbroker's tickets!"

Madeleine turned over the papers as if looking for some particular ones.
She selected three, which she put in her pocket, disdainfully pushing
the others aside.

She was evidently preparing to take her departure, for she said a few
words to Raoul, who took up the lamp as if to escort her downstairs.

There was nothing more for M. Verduret to see. He carefully descended
the ladder, muttering to himself. "Pawnbroker's tickets! What infamous
mystery lies at the bottom of all this?"

The first thing he did was to remove the ladder.

Raoul might take it into his head to look around the garden, when he
came to the door with Madeleine, and if he did so the ladder could
scarcely fail to attract his attention.

M. Verduret and Prosper hastily laid it on the ground, regardless of
the shrubs and vines they destroyed in doing so, and then concealed
themselves among the trees, whence they could watch at once the front
door and the outer gate.

Madeleine and Raoul appeared in the doorway. Raoul set the lamp on the
bottom step, and offered his hand to the girl; but she refused it with
haughty contempt, which somewhat soothed Prosper's lacerated heart.

This scornful behavior did not, however, seem to surprise or hurt
Raoul. He simply answered by an ironical gesture which implied, "As you
please!"

He followed her to the gate, which he opened and closed after her; then
he hurried back to the house, while Madeleine's carriage drove rapidly
away.

"Now, monsieur," said Prosper, "you must tell me what you saw. You
promised me the truth no matter how bitter it might be. Speak; I can
bear it, be it what it may!"

"You will only have joy to bear, my friend. Within a month you will
bitterly regret your suspicions of to-night. You will blush to think
that you ever imagined Mlle. Madeleine to be intimate with a man like
Lagors."

"But, monsieur, appearances----"

"It is precisely against appearances that we must be on our guard.
Always distrust them. A suspicion, false or just, is always based on
something. But we must not stay here forever; and, as Raoul has fastened
the gate, we shall have to climb back again."

"But there is the ladder."

"Let it stay where it is; as we cannot efface our footprints, he will
think thieves have been trying to get into the house."

They scaled the wall, and had not walked fifty steps when they heard the
noise of a gate being unlocked. The stood aside and waited; a man soon
passed on his way to the station.

"That is Raoul," said M. Verduret, "and Joseph will report to us that
he has gone to tell Clameran what has just taken place. If they are only
kind enough to speak French!"

He walked along quietly for some time, trying to connect the broken
chain of his deductions.

"How in the deuce," he abruptly asked, "did this Lagors, who is devoted
to gay society, come to choose a lonely country house to live in?"

"I suppose it was because M. Fauvel's villa is only fifteen minutes'
ride from here, on the Seine."

"That accounts for his staying here in the summer; but in winter?"

"Oh, in winter he has a room at the Hotel du Louvre, and all the year
round keeps an apartment in Paris."

This did not enlighten M. Verduret much; he hurried his pace.

"I hope our driver has not gone. We cannot take the train which is about
to start, because Raoul would see us at the station."

Although it was more than an hour since M. Verduret and Prosper left the
hack at the branch road, they found it waiting for them in front of the
tavern.

The driver could not resist the desire to change his five-franc piece;
he had ordered dinner, and, finding his wine very good, was calling for
more, when he looked up and saw his employers.

"Well, you are in a strange state!" he exclaimed.

Prosper replied that they had gone to see a friend, and, losing their
way, had fallen into a pit; as if there were pits in Vesinet forest.

"Ah, that is the way you got covered with mud, is it?" exclaimed the
driver, who, though apparently contented with this explanation, strongly
suspected that his two customers had been engaged in some nefarious
transaction.

This opinion seemed to be entertained by everyone present, for they
looked at Prosper's muddy clothes and then at each other in a knowing
way.

But M. Verduret stopped all comment by saying:

"Come on."

"All right, monsieur: get in while I settle my bill; I will be there in
a minute."

The drive back was silent and seemed interminably long. Prosper at
first tried to draw his strange companion into conversation, but, as he
received nothing but monosyllables in reply, held his peace for the rest
of the journey. He was again beginning to feel irritated at the absolute
empire exercised over him by this man.

Physical discomfort was added to his other troubles. He was stiff and
numb; every bone in him ached with the cold.

Although mental endurance may be unlimited, bodily strength must in the
end give way. A violent effort is always followed by reaction.

Lying back in a corner of the carriage, with his feet upon the front
seat, M. Verduret seemed to be enjoying a nap; yet he was never more
wide awake.

He was in a perplexed state of mind. This expedition, which, he had
been confident, would resolve all his doubts, had only added mystery to
mystery. His chain of evidence, which he thought so strongly linked, was
completely broken.

For him the facts remained the same, but circumstances had changed. He
could not imagine what common motive, what moral or material complicity,
what influences, could have existed to make the four actors in his
drama, Mme. Fauvel, Madeleine, Raoul, and Clameran, seem to have the
same object in view.

He was seeking in his fertile mind, that encyclopaedia of craft and
subtlety, for some combination which would throw light on the problem
before him.

The midnight bells were ringing when they reached the Archangel, and for
the first time M. Verduret remembered that he had not dined.

Fortunately Mme. Alexandre was still up, and in the twinkling of an eye
had improvised a tempting supper. It was more than attention, more than
respect, that she showed her guest. Prosper observed that she gazed
admiringly at M. Verduret all the while he was eating his supper.

"You will not see me to-morrow," said M. Verduret to Prosper, when
he had risen to leave the room; "but I will be here about this time
to-morrow night. Perhaps I shall discover what I am seeking at MM.
Jandidier's ball."

Prosper was dumb with astonishment. What! would M. Verduret think of
appearing at a ball given by the wealthiest and most fashionable bankers
in Paris? This accounted for his sending to the costumer.

"Then you are invited to this ball?"

The expressive eyes of M. Verduret danced with amusement.

"Not yet," he said, "but I shall be."

Oh, the inconsistency of the human mind! Prosper was tormented by the
most serious preoccupations. He looked sadly around his chamber, and, as
he thought of M. Verduret's projected pleasure at the ball, exclaimed:

"Ah, how fortunate he is! To-morrow he will have the privilege of seeing
Madeleine."




XI

The Rue St. Lazare was adorned by the palatial residences of the
Jandidier brothers, two celebrated financiers, who, if deprived of the
prestige of immense wealth, would still be looked up to as remarkable
men. Why cannot the same be said of all men?

These two mansions, which were thought marvels at the time they were
built, were entirely distinct from each other, but so planned that they
could be turned into one immense house when so desired.

When MM. Jandidier gave parties, they always had the movable partitions
taken away, and thus obtained the most superb salon in Paris.

Princely magnificence, lavish hospitality, and an elegant, graceful
manner of receiving their guests, made these entertainments eagerly
sought after by the fashionable circles of the capital.

On Saturday, the Rue St. Lazare was blocked up by a file of carriages,
whose fair occupants were impatiently awaiting their turn to drive up
to the door, through which they could catch the tantalizing strains of a
waltz.

It was a fancy ball; and nearly all of the costumes were superb, though
some were more original than elegant.

Among the latter was a clown. Everything was in perfect keeping: the
insolent eye, coarse lips, high cheek-bones, and a beard so red that it
seemed to emit flames in the reflection of the dazzling lights.

He wore top-boots, a dilapidated hat on the back of his head, and a
shirt-ruffle trimmed with torn lace.

He carried in his left hand a canvas banner, upon which were painted
six or eight pictures, coarsely designed like those found in strolling
fairs. In his right he waved a little switch, with which he would every
now and then strike his banner, like a quack retailing his wares.

Quite a crowd surrounded this clown, hoping to hear some witty speeches
and puns; but he kept near the door, and remained silent.

About half-past ten he quitted his post.

M. and Mme. Fauvel, followed by their niece Madeleine, had just entered.

A compact group immediately formed near the door.

During the last ten days, the affair of the Rue de Provence had been the
universal topic of conversation; and friends and enemies were alike
glad to seize this opportunity of approaching the banker, some to tender
their sympathy, and others to offer equivocal condolence, which of all
things is the most exasperating and insulting.

Belonging to the battalion of grave, elderly men, M. Fauvel had not
assumed a fancy costume, but merely threw over his shoulders a short
silk domino.

On his arm leaned Mme. Fauvel, _nee_ Valentine de la Verberie, bowing
and gracefully greeting her numerous friends.

She had once been remarkably beautiful; and to-night the effect of the
soft wax-lights, and her very becoming dress, half restored her
youthful freshness and comeliness. No one would have supposed her to be
forty-eight years old.

She wore a dress of the later years of Louis the Fourteenth's reign,
magnificent and severe, of embroidered satin and black velvet, without
the adornment of a single jewel.

She looked so graceful and elegant in this court dress and powdered
hair, that some ill-natured gossips said it was a pity to see a real
La Verberie, so well fitted to adorn a queen's drawing-room, as all her
ancestors had done before her, thrown away upon a man whom she had only
married for his money.

But Madeleine was the object of universal admiration, so dazzlingly
beautiful and queen-like did she appear in her costume of maid of honor,
which seemed to have been especially invented to set forth her beautiful
figure.

Her loveliness expanded in the perfumed atmosphere and soft light of
the ball-room. Never had her hair looked so black, her complexion so
exquisite, or her large eyes so brilliant.

Having greeted the hosts, Madeleine took her aunt's arm, while M. Fauvel
wandered through the rooms in search of the card-table, the usual refuge
of bored men, when they are enticed to the ball-room by their womankind.

The ball was now at its height.

Two orchestras, led by Strauss and one of his lieutenants, filled the
two mansions with intoxicating music. The motley crowd whirled in the
waltz until they presented a curious confusion of velvets, satins,
laces, and diamonds. Almost every head and bosom sparkled with jewels;
the palest cheeks were rosy; heavy eyes shone like stars; and the
glistening shoulders of fair women were like drifted snow in an April
sun.

Forgotten by the crowd, the clown had taken refuge in the embrasure of
a window, and seemed to be meditating upon the gay scene before him; at
the same time, he kept his eye upon a couple not far off.

It was Madeleine, dancing with a splendidly dressed doge. The doge was
the Marquis de Clameran.

He appeared to be radiant, rejuvenated, and well satisfied with the
impression he was making upon his partner; at the end of a quadrille
he leaned over her, and whispered compliments with the most unbounded
admiration; and she seemed to listen, if not with pleasure, at least
without repugnance. She now and then smiled, and coquettishly shrugged
her shoulders.

"Evidently," muttered the clown, "this noble scoundrel is paying court
to the banker's niece; so I was right yesterday. But how can Mlle.
Madeleine resign herself to so graciously receive his insipid flattery?
Fortunately, Prosper is not here now."

He was interrupted by an elderly man wrapped in a Venetian mantle, who
said to him:

"You remember, M. Verduret,"--this name was uttered half seriously, half
banteringly--"what you promised me?"

The clown bowed with great respect, but not the slightest shade of
humility.

"I remember," he replied.

"But do not be imprudent, I beg you."

"M. the Count need not be uneasy; he has my promise."

"Very good. I know the value of it."

The count walked off; but during this short colloquy the quadrille had
ended, and M. de Clameran and Madeleine were lost to sight.

"I shall find them near Mme. Fauvel," said the clown.

And he at once started in search of the banker's wife.

Incommoded by the stifling heat of the room, Mme. Fauvel had sought
a little fresh air in the grand picture-gallery, which, thanks to the
talisman called gold, was now transformed into a fairy-like garden,
filled with orange-trees, japonicas, laurel, and many rare exotics.

The clown saw her seated near a grove, not far from the door of the
card-room. Upon her right was Madeleine, and near her stood Raoul de
Lagors, dressed in a costume of Henri III.

"I must confess," muttered the clown from his post of observation, "that
the young scamp is a very handsome man."

Madeleine appeared very sad. She had plucked a japonica from a tree near
by, and was mechanically pulling it to pieces as she sat with her eyes
downcast.

Raoul and Mme. Fauvel were engaged in earnest conversation. Their faces
were composed, but the gestures of one and the trembling of the other
betrayed a serious discussion.

In the card-room sat the doge, M. de Clameran, so placed as to have
full view of Mme. Fauvel and Madeleine, although himself concealed by an
angle of the room.

"It is the continuation of yesterday's scene," thought the clown. "If
I could only get behind the oleander-tree, I might hear what they are
saying."

He pushed his way through the crowd, and, just as he had reached the
desired spot, Madeleine arose, and, taking the arm of a bejewelled
Persian, walked away.

At the same moment Raoul went into the card-room, and whispered a few
words to De Clameran.

"There they go," muttered the clown. "The two scoundrels certainly hold
these poor women in their power; and they are determined to make them
suffer before releasing them. What can be the secret of their power?"

His attention was attracted by a commotion in the picture-gallery; it
was caused by the announcement of a wonderful minuet to be danced in the
ball-room; the arrival of the Countess de Commarin as Aurora; and the
presence of the Princess Korasoff, with her superb emeralds, which were
reported to be the finest in the world.

In an instant the gallery became almost deserted. Only a few
forlorn-looking people remained; mostly sulky husbands, and some
melancholy youths looking awkward and unhappy in their gay fancy
dresses.

The clown thought it a favorable opportunity for carrying out his
project.

He abruptly left his corner, flourishing his switch, and beating his
banner, and, crossing the gallery, seated himself in a chair between
Mme. Fauvel and the door. As soon as the people had collected in a
circle around him, he commenced to cough in an affected manner, like a
stump orator about to make a speech.

Then he struck a comical attitude, standing up with his body twisted
sideways, and his hat on one ear, and with great buffoonery and
volubility made the following remarks:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this very morning I obtained a license from the
authorities of this town. And what for? Why gentlemen, for the purpose
of exhibiting to you a spectacle which has already won the admiration of
the four quarters of the globe, and several universities besides. Inside
of this booth, ladies, is about to commence the representation of a most
remarkable drama, acted for the first time at Pekin, and translated into
several languages by our most celebrated authors. Gentlemen, you can
take your seats; the lamps are lighted, and the actors are changing
their dress."

Here he stopped speaking, and imitated to perfection the feats which
mountebanks play upon horns and kettle-drums.

"Now, ladies and gentlemen," he resumed, "you wish to know what I am
doing outside, if the piece is to be performed under the tent. The fact
is, gentlemen, that I wish to give you a foretaste of the agitations,
sensations, emotions, palpitations, and other entertainments which
you may enjoy by paying the small sum of ten sous. You see this superb
picture? It represents eight of the most thrilling scenes in the drama.
Ah, I see you begin to shudder already; and yet this is nothing compared
to the play itself. This splendid picture gives you no more idea of the
acting than a drop of water gives an idea of the sea, or a spark of fire
of the sun. My picture, gentlemen, is merely to give you a foretaste of
what is in the tent; as the steam oozing from a restaurant gives you a
taste, or rather a smell, of what is within."

"Do you know this clown?" asked an enormous Turk of a melancholy Punch.

"No, but he can imitate a trumpet splendidly."

"Oh, very well indeed! But what is he driving at?"

The clown was endeavoring to attract the attention of Mme. Fauvel, who,
since Raoul and Madeleine had left her, sat by herself in a mournful
revery.

He succeeded in his object.

The showman's shrill voice brought the banker's wife back to a sense
of reality; she started, and looked quickly about her, as if suddenly
awakened from a troubled dream.

"Now, ladies, we are in China. The first picture on my canvas, here,
in the left corner"--here he touched the top daub--"represents the
celebrated Mandarin Li-Fo, in the bosom of his family. This pretty woman
leaning over him is his wife; and these children playing on the carpet
are the bonds of love between this happy pair. Do you not inhale the
odor of sanctity and happiness emanating from this speaking picture,
gentlemen?

"Mme. Li-Fo is the most virtuous of women, adoring her husband and
idolizing her children. Being virtuous she is happy; for the wise
Confucius says, 'The ways of virtue are more pleasant than the ways of
vice.'"

Mme. Fauvel had left her seat, and approached nearer to the clown.

"Do you see anything on the banner like what he is describing?" asked
the melancholy Punch of his neighbor.

"No, not a thing. Do you?"

The fact is, that the daubs of paint on the canvas represented one thing
as well as another, and the clown could call them whatever he pleased.

"Picture No. 2!" he cried, after a flourish of music. "This old lady,
seated before a mirror tearing out her hair--especially the gray
ones--you have seen before; do you recognize her? No, you do not. She is
the fair mandarine of the first picture. I see the tears in your eyes,
ladies and gentlemen. Ah! you have cause to weep; for she is no longer
virtuous, and her happiness has departed with her virtue. Alas, it is
a sad tale! One fatal day she met, on the streets of Pekin, a young
ruffian, fiendish, but beautiful as an angel, and she loved him--the
unfortunate woman loved him!"

The last words were uttered in the most tragic tone as he raised his
clasped hands to heaven.

During this tirade he had whirled around, so that he found himself
facing the banker's wife, whose countenance he closely watched while he
was speaking.

"You are surprised, gentlemen," he continued; "I am not. The great
Bilboquet has proved to us that the heart never grows old, and that the
most vigorous wall-flowers flourish on old ruins. This unhappy woman is
nearly fifty years old--fifty years old, and in love with a youth! Hence
this heart-rending scene which should serve as a warning to us all."

"Really!" grumbled a cook dressed in white satin, who had passed the
evening in carrying around bills of fare, which no one read, "I thought
he was going to amuse us."

"But," continued the clown, "you must go inside of the booth to
witness the effects of the mandarine's folly. At times a ray of reason
penetrates her diseased brain, and then the sight of her anguish would
soften a heart of stone. Enter, and for the small sum of ten sous you
shall hear sobs such as the Odeon never echoed in its halcyon days. The
unhappy woman has waked up to the absurdity and inanity of her blind
passion; she confesses to herself that she is madly pursuing a phantom.
She knows but too well that he, in the vigor and beauty of youth, cannot
love a faded old woman like herself, who vainly makes pitiable efforts
to retain the last remains of her once entrancing beauty. She feels
that the sweet words he once whispered in her charmed ear were deceitful
falsehoods. She knows that the day is near when she will be left alone,
with nothing save his mantle in her hand."

As the clown addressed this voluble description to the crowd before him,
he narrowly watched the countenance of the banker's wife.

But nothing he had said seemed to affect her. She leaned back in her
arm-chair perfectly calm, and occasionally smiled at the tragic manner
of the showman.

"Good heavens!" muttered the clown uneasily, "can I be on the wrong
track?"

He saw that his circle of listeners was increased by the presence of the
doge, M. de Clameran.

"The third picture," he said, after a roll of drums, "depicts the
old mandarine after she has dismissed that most annoying of
guests--remorse--from her bosom. She promises herself that interest
shall supply the place of love in chaining the too seductive youth to
her side. It is with this object that she invests him with false honors
and dignity, and introduces him to the chief mandarins of the capital
of the Celestial Empire; then, since so handsome a youth must cut a fine
figure in society, and as a fine figure cannot be cut without money,
the lady must needs to sacrifice all of her possessions for his sake.
Necklaces, rings, bracelets, diamonds, and pearls, all are surrendered.
The monster carries all these jewels to the pawnbrokers on Tien-Tsi
Street, and then has the cruelty to refuse her the tickets, so that she
may have a chance of redeeming her treasures."

The clown thought that at last he had hit the mark. Mme. Fauvel began to
betray signs of agitation.

Once she made an attempt to rise from her chair; but it seemed as if her
strength failed her, and she sank back, forced to listen to the end.

"Finally, ladies and gentlemen," continued the clown, "the richly stored
jewel-cases became empty. The day came when the mandarine had nothing
more to give. It was then that the young scoundrel conceived the project
of carrying off the jasper button belonging to the Mandarin Li-Fo--a
splendid jewel of incalculable value, which, being the badge of his
dignity, was kept in a granite chest, and guarded by three soldiers
night and day. Ah! the mandarine resisted a long time! She knew the
innocent soldiers would be accused and crucified, as is the custom in
Pekin; and this thought restrained her. But her lover besought her so
tenderly, that she finally yielded to his entreaties; and--the jasper
button was stolen. The fourth picture represents the guilty couple
stealthily creeping down the private stairway: see their frightened
look--see--"

He abruptly stopped. Three or four of his auditors rushed to the
assistance of Mme. Fauvel, who seemed about to faint; and at the same
time he felt his arm roughly seized by someone behind him.

He turned around and faced De Clameran and Lagors, both of whom were
pale with anger.

"What do you want, gentlemen?" he inquired politely.

"To speak to you," they both answered.

"I am at your service."

And he followed them to the end of the picture-gallery, near a window
opening on a balcony.

Here they were unobserved except by the man in the Venetian cloak, whom
the clown had so respectfully addressed as "M. the Count."

The minuet having ended, the orchestras were resting, and the crowd
began to rapidly fill the gallery.

The sudden faintness of Mme. Fauvel had passed off unnoticed save by a
few, who attributed it to the heat of the room. M. Fauvel had been sent
for; but when he came hurrying in, and found his wife composedly
talking to Madeleine, his alarm was dissipated, and he returned to the
card-tables.

Not having as much control over his temper as Raoul, M. de Clameran
angrily said:

"In the first place, monsieur, I would like to know who you are."

The clown determined to answer as if he thought the question were a
jest, replied in the bantering tone of a buffoon:

"You want my passport, do you, my lord doge? I left it in the hands of
the city authorities; it contains my name, age, profession, domicile,
and every detail--"

With an angry gesture, M. de Clameran interrupted him.

"You have just committed a gross insult!"

"I, my lord doge?"

"Yes, you! What do you mean by telling this abominable story in this
house?"

"Abominable! You may call it abominable; but I, who composed it, have a
different opinion of it."

"Enough, monsieur; you will at least have the courage to acknowledge
that your performance was a vile insinuation against Mme. Fauvel?"

The clown stood with his head thrown back, and mouth wide open, as if
astounded at what he heard.

But anyone who knew him would have seen his bright black eyes sparkling
with malicious satisfaction.

"Bless my heart!" he cried, as if speaking to himself. "This is the
strangest thing I ever heard of! How can my drama of the Mandarine Li-Fo
have any reference to Mme. Fauvel, whom I don't know from Adam or Eve?
I can't think how the resemblance--unless--but no, that is
impossible."

"Do you pretend," said M. de Clameran, "to be ignorant of M. Fauvel's
misfortune?"

The clown looked very innocent, and asked:

"What misfortune?"

"The robbery of which M. Fauvel was the victim. It has been in
everyone's mouth, and you must have heard of it."

"Ah, yes, yes; I remember. His cashier ran off with three hundred and
fifty thousand francs. Pardieu! It is a thing that almost daily happens.
But, as to discovering any connection between this robbery and my play,
that is another matter."

M. de Clameran made no reply. A nudge from Lagors had calmed him as if
by enchantment.

He looked quietly at the clown, and seemed to regret having uttered the
significant words forced from him by angry excitement.

"Very well," he finally said in his usual haughty tone; "I must have
been mistaken. I accept your explanation."

But the clown, hitherto so humble and silly-looking, seemed to take
offence at the word, and, assuming a defiant attitude, said:

"I have not made, nor do I intend making, any explanation."

"Monsieur," began De Clameran.

"Allow me to finish, if you please. If, unintentionally, I have offended
the wife of a man whom I highly esteem, it is his business to seek
redress, and not yours. Perhaps you will tell me he is too old to demand
satisfaction: if so, let him send one of his sons. I saw one of them in
the ball-room to-night; let him come. You asked me who I am; in return I
ask you who are you--you who undertake to act as Mme. Fauvel's champion?
Are you her relative, friend, or ally? What right have you to insult
her by pretending to discover an allusion to her in a play invented for
amusement?"

There was nothing to be said in reply to this. M. de Clameran sought a
means of escape.

"I am a friend of M. Fauvel," he said, "and this title gives me the
right to be as jealous of his reputation as if it were my own. If this
is not a sufficient reason for my interference, I must inform you that
his family will shortly be mine: I regard myself as his nephew."

"Ah!"

"Next week, monsieur, my marriage with Madeleine will be publicly
announced."

This news was so unexpected, so startling that for a moment the clown
was dumb; and now his surprise was genuine.

But he soon recovered himself, and, bowing with deference, said, with
covert irony:

"Permit me to offer my congratulations, monsieur. Besides being the
belle to-night, Mlle. Madeleine is worth, I hear, half a million."

Raoul de Lagors had anxiously been watching the people near them, to see
if they overheard this conversation.

"We have had enough of this gossip," he said, in a disdainful tone;
"I will only say one thing more, master clown, and that is, that your
tongue is too long."

"Perhaps it is, my pretty youth, perhaps it is; but my arm is still
longer."

De Clameran here interrupted them by saying:

"It is impossible for one to seek an explanation from a man who conceals
his identity under the guise of a fool."

"You are at liberty, my lord doge, to ask the master of the house who I
am--if you dare."

"You are," cried Clameran, "you are--"

A warning look from Raoul checked the forge-master from using an epithet
which would have led to an affray, or at least a scandalous scene.

The clown stood by with a sardonic smile, and, after a moment's silence,
stared M. de Clameran steadily in the face, and in measured tones said:

"I was the best friend, monsieur, that your brother Gaston ever had. I
was his adviser, and the confidant of his last wishes."

These few words fell like a clap of thunder upon De Clameran.

He turned deadly pale, and stared back with his hands stretched out
before him, as if shrinking from a phantom.

He tried to answer, to protest against this assertion, but the words
froze on his lips. His fright was pitiable.

"Come, let us go," said Lagors, who was perfectly cool.

And he dragged Clameran away, half supporting him, for he staggered like
a drunken man, and clung to every object he passed, to prevent falling.

"Oh," exclaimed the clown, in three different tones, "oh, oh!"

He himself was almost as much astonished as the forge-master, and
remained rooted to the spot, watching the latter as he slowly left the
room.

It was with no decided object in view that he had ventured to use the
last mysteriously threatening words, but he had been inspired to do
so by his wonderful instinct, which with him was like the scent of a
blood-hound.

"What can this mean?" he murmured. "Why was he so frightened? What
terrible memory have I awakened in his base soul? I need not boast of my
penetration, or the subtlety of my plans. There is a great master, who,
without any effort, in an instant destroys all my chimeras; he is called
'Chance.'"

His mind had wandered far from the present scene, when he was brought
back to his situation by someone touching him on the shoulder. It was
the man in the Venetian cloak.

"Are you very satisfied, M. Verduret?" he inquired.

"Yes, and no, M. the Count. No, because I have not completely achieved
the object I had in view when I asked you for an invitation here
to-night; yes, because these two rascals behaved in a manner which
dispels all doubt."

"And yet you complain--"

"I do not complain, M. the Count: on the contrary, I bless Chance, or
rather Providence, which has just revealed to me the existence of a
secret that I did not before even suspect."

Five or six people approached the count, and he went off with them after
giving the clown a friendly nod.

The latter instantly threw aside his banner, and started in pursuit of
Mme. Fauvel. He found her sitting on a sofa in the large salon, engaged
in an animated conversation with Madeleine.

"Of course they are talking over the scene; but what has become of
Lagors and De Clameran?"

He soon saw them wandering among the groups scattered about the room,
and eagerly asking questions.

"I will bet my head these honorable gentlemen are trying to find out
who I am. Keep it up, my friends, ask everybody in the room; I wish you
success!"

They soon gave it up, but were so preoccupied, and anxious to be alone
in order to reflect and deliberate, that, without waiting for supper,
they took leave of Mme. Fauvel and her niece, saying they were going
home.

The clown saw them go up to the dressing-room for their cloaks, and in a
few minutes leave the house.

"I have nothing more to do here," he murmured; "I might as well go too."

He completely covered his dress with a domino, and started for home,
thinking the cold frosty air would cool his confused brain.

He lit a cigar, and, walking up the Rue St. Lazare, crossed the Rue
Notre Dame de Lorette, and struck into the Faubourg Montmartre.

A man suddenly started out from some place of concealment, and rushed
upon him with a dagger.

Fortunately the clown had a cat-like instinct, which enabled him
to protect himself against immediate danger, and detect any which
threatened.

He saw, or rather divined, the man crouching in the dark shadow of a
house, and had the presence of mind to strike an attitude which enabled
him to ward off the assassin by spreading out his arms before him.

This movement certainly saved his life; for he received in his arm a
furious stab, which would have instantly killed him had it penetrated
his breast.

Anger, more than pain, made him cry out:

"Ah, you villain!"

And recoiling a few feet, he put himself on the defensive.

But the precaution was useless.

Seeing his blow miss, the assassin did not return to the attack, but
made rapidly off.

"That was certainly Lagors," said the clown, "and Clameran must be
somewhere near. While I walked around one side of the church, they must
have gone the other and lain in wait for me."

His wound began to pain him; he stood under a gas-lamp to examine it.

It did not appear to be dangerous, but the arm was cut through to the
bone.

He tore his handkerchief into four bands, and tied his arm up with the
dexterity of a surgeon.

"I must be on the track of some great crime, since these fellows are
resolved upon murder. When such cunning rogues are only in danger of the
police court, they do not gratuitously risk the chance of being tried
for murder."

He thought by enduring a great deal of pain he might still use his arm;
so he started in pursuit of his enemy, taking care to keep in the middle
of the road, and avoid all dark corners.

Although he saw no one, he was convinced that he was being pursued.

He was not mistaken. When he reached the Boulevard Montmartre, he
crossed the street, and, as he did so, distinguished two shadows which
he recognized. They crossed the same street a little higher up.

"I have to deal with desperate men," he muttered. "They do not even take
pains to conceal their pursuit of me. They seem to be accustomed to this
kind of adventure, and the carriage trick which fooled Fanferlot would
never succeed with them. Besides, my light hat is a perfect beacon to
lead them on in the night." He continued his way up the boulevard, and,
without turning his head, was sure that his enemies were thirty feet
behind him.

"I must get rid of them somehow," he said to himself. "I can neither
return home nor to the Archangel with these devils at my heels. They are
following me to find out where I live, and who I am. If they discover
that the clown is M. Verduret, and that M. Verduret is M. Lecoq, my
plans will be ruined. They will escape abroad with the money, and I
shall be left to console myself with a wounded arm. A pleasant ending to
all my exertions!"

The idea of Raoul and Clameran escaping him so exasperated him that for
an instant he thought of having them arrested at once.

This was easy; for he had only to rush upon them, scream for help,
and they would all three be arrested, carried to the watch-house, and
consigned to the commissary of police.

The police often resort to this ingenious and simple means of arresting
a malefactor for whom they are on the lookout, and whom they cannot
seize without a warrant.

The next day there is a general explanation, and the parties, if
innocent, are dismissed.

The clown had sufficient proof to sustain him in the arrest of Lagors.
He could show the letter and the mutilated prayer-book, he could reveal
the existence of the pawnbroker's tickets in the house at Vesinet, he
could display his wounded arm. He could force Raoul to confess how
and why he had assumed the name of Lagors, and what his motive was in
passing himself off for a relative of M. Fauvel.

On the other hand, in acting thus hastily, he was insuring the safety of
the principal plotter, De Clameran. What proofs had he against him? Not
one. He had strong suspicions, but no well-grounded charge to produce
against him.

On reflection the clown decided that he would act alone, as he had thus
far done, and that alone and unaided he would discover the truth of all
his suspicions.

Having reached this decision, the first step to be taken was to put his
followers on the wrong scent.

He walked rapidly up the Rue Sebastopol, and, reaching the square of
the Arts et Metiers, he abruptly stopped, and asked some insignificant
questions of two constables who were standing talking together.

The manoeuvre had the result he expected; Raoul and Clameran stood
perfectly still about twenty steps off, not daring to advance.

Twenty steps! That was as much start as the clown wanted. While talking
with the constables, he had pulled the bell of the door before which
they were standing, and its hollow sound apprised him that the door was
open. He bowed, and entered the house.

A minute later the constables had passed on, and Lagors and Clameran in
their turn rang the bell. When the concierge appeared, they asked who it
was that had just gone in disguised as a clown.

They were told that no such person had entered, and that none of
the lodgers had gone out disguised that night. "However," added the
concierge, "I am not very sure, for this house has a back door which
opens on the Rue St. Denis."

"We are tricked," interrupted Lagors, "and will never know who the clown
is."

"Unless we learn it too soon for our own good," said Clameran musingly.

While Lagors and Clameran were anxiously trying to devise some means of
discovering the clown's identity, Verduret hurried up the back street,
and reached the Archangel as the clock struck three.

Prosper, who was watching from his window, saw him in the distance, and
ran down to open the door for him.

"What have you learned?" he said; "what did you find out? Did you see
Madeleine? Were Raoul and Clameran at the ball?"

But M. Verduret was not in the habit of discussing private affairs where
he might be overheard.

"First of all, let us go into your room, and get some water to wash this
cut, which burns like fire."

"Heavens! Are you wounded?"

"Yes, it is a little souvenir of your friend Raoul. Ah, I will soon
teach him the danger of chopping up a man's arm!"

Prosper was surprised at the look of merciless rage on his friend's
face, as he calmly washed and dressed his arm.

"Now, Prosper, we will talk as much as you please. Our enemies are on
the alert, and we must crush them instantly, or not at all. I have made
a mistake. I have been on the wrong track; it is an accident liable
to happen to any man, no matter how intelligent he may be. I took the
effect for the cause. The day I was convinced that culpable relations
existed between Raoul and Mme. Fauvel, I thought I held the end of
the thread that must lead us to the truth. I should have been more
mistrustful; this solution was too simple, too natural."

"Do you suppose Mme. Fauvel to be innocent?"

"Certainly not. But her guilt is not such as I first supposed. I
imagined that, infatuated with a seductive young adventurer, Mme. Fauvel
had first bestowed upon him the name of one of her relatives, and then
introduced him as her nephew. This was an adroit stratagem to gain him
admission to her husband's house.

"She began by giving him all the money she could could dispose of; later
she let him take her jewels to the pawnbrokers; when she had nothing
more to give, she allowed him to steal the money from her husband's
safe. That is what I first thought."

"And in this way everything was explained?"

"No, this did not explain everything, as I well knew at the time, and
should, consequently, have studied my characters more thoroughly. How
is Clameran's position to be accounted for, if my first idea was the
correct one?"

"Clameran is Lagors's accomplice of course."

"Ah, there is the mistake! I for a long time believed Lagors to be the
principal person, when, in fact, he is not. Yesterday, in a dispute
between them, the forge-master said to his dear friend, 'And, above all
things, my friend, I would advise you not to resist me, for if you do I
will crush you to atoms.' That explains all. The elegant Lagors is not
the lover of Mme. Fauvel, but the tool of Clameran. Besides, did our
first suppositions account for the resigned obedience of Madeleine? It
is Clameran, and not Lagors, whom Madeleine obeys."

Prosper began to remonstrate.

M. Verduret shrugged his shoulders. To convince Prosper he had only to
utter one word: to tell him that three hours ago Clameran had announced
his intended marriage with Madeleine; but he did not.

"Clameran," he continued, "Clameran alone has Mme. Fauvel in his power.
Now, the question is, what is the secret of this terrible influence he
has gained over her? I have positive proof that they have not met
since their early youth until fifteen months ago; and, as Mme. Fauvel's
reputation has always been above the reach of slander, we must seek in
the past for the cause of her resigned obedience to his will."

"We can never discover it," said Prosper mournfully.

"We can discover it as soon as we know Clameran's past life. Ah,
to-night he turned as white as a sheet when I mentioned his brother
Gaston's name. And then I remembered that Gaston died suddenly, while
his brother Louis was making a visit."

"Do you think he was murdered?"

"I think the men who tried to assassinate me would do anything. The
robbery, my friend, has now become a secondary detail. It is quite
easily explained, and, if that were all to be accounted for, I would say
to you, My task is done, let us go ask the judge of instruction for a
warrant of arrest."

Prosper started up with sparkling eyes.

"Ah, you know--is it possible?"

"Yes, I know who gave the key, and I know who told the secret word."

"The key might have been M. Fauvel's. But the word----"

"The word you were foolish enough to give. You have forgotten, I
suppose. But fortunately Gypsy remembered. You know that, two days
before the robbery, you took Lagors and two other friends to sup with
Mme. Gypsy? Nina was sad, and reproached you for not being more devoted
to her."

"Yes, I remember that."

"But do you remember what you replied to her?"

"No, I do not," said Prosper after thinking a moment.

"Well, I will tell you: 'Nina, you are unjust in reproaching me with
not thinking constantly of you; for at this very moment your dear name
guards M. Fauvel's safe.'"

The truth suddenly burst upon Prosper like a thunderclap. He wrung his
hands despairingly, and cried:

"Yes, oh, yes! I remember now."

"Then you can easily understand the rest. One of the scoundrels went to
Mme. Fauvel, and compelled her to give up her husband's key; then, at
a venture, placed the movable buttons on the name of Gypsy, opened the
safe, and took the three hundred and fifty thousand francs. And Mme.
Fauvel must have been terribly frightened before she yielded. The day
after the robbery the poor woman was near dying; and it was she who at
the greatest risk sent you the ten thousand francs."

"But which was the thief, Raoul or Clameran? What enables them to thus
tyrannize over Mme. Fauvel? And how does Madeleine come to be mixed up
in the affair?"

"These questions, my dear Prosper, I cannot yet answer; therefore I
postpone seeing the judge. I only ask you to wait ten days; and, if I
cannot in that time discover the solution of this mystery, I will return
and go with you to report to M. Patrigent all that we know."

"Are you going to leave the city?"

"In an hour I shall be on the road to Beaucaire. It was from that
neighborhood that Clameran came, as well as Mme. Fauvel, who was a Mlle.
de la Verberie before marriage."

"Yes, I knew both families."

"I must go there to study them. Neither Raoul nor Clameran can escape
during my absence. The police are watching them. But you, Prosper, must
be prudent. Promise me to remain a prisoner here during my trip."

All that M. Verduret asked, Prosper willingly promised. But he did not
wish to be left in complete ignorance of his projects for the future, or
of his motives in the past.

"Will you not tell me, monsieur, who you are, and what reasons you had
for coming to my rescue?"

The extraordinary man smiled sadly, and said:

"I tell, in the presence of Nina, on the day before your marriage with
Madeleine."

Once left to his own reflections, Prosper began to appreciate the
powerful assistance rendered by his friend.

Recalling the field of investigation gone over by his mysterious
protector, he was amazed at its extent.

How many facts had been discovered in a week, and with what precision,
although he had pretended to be on the wrong track! Verduret had grouped
his evidence, and reached a result which Prosper felt he never could
have hoped to attain by his own exertions.

He was conscious that he possessed neither Verduret's penetration nor
his subtlety. He did not possess this art of compelling obedience,
of creating friends at every step, and the science of making men and
circumstances unite in the attainment of a common result.

He began to regret the absence of his friend, who had risen up in the
hour of adversity. He missed the sometimes rough but always kindly
voice, which had encouraged and consoled him.

He felt wofully lost and helpless, not daring to act or think for
himself, more timid than a child when deserted by his nurse.

He had the good sense to follow the recommendations of his mentor. He
remained shut up in the Archangel, not even appearing at the windows.

Twice he had news of M. Verduret. The first time he received a letter in
which this friend said he had seen his father, and had had a long talk
with him. Afterward, Dubois, M. de Clameran's valet, came to tell him
that his "patron" reported everything as progressing finely.

On the ninth day of his voluntary seclusion, Prosper began to feel
restless, and at ten o'clock at night set forth to take a walk, thinking
the fresh air would relieve the headache which had kept him awake the
previous night.

Mme. Alexandre, who seemed to have some knowledge of M. Verduret's
affairs, begged Prosper to remain at home.

"What can I risk by taking a walk at this time, in a quiet part of
the city?" he asked. "I can certainly stroll as far as the Jardin des
Plantes without meeting anyone."

Unfortunately he did not strictly follow this programme; for, having
reached the Orleans railway station, he went into a cafe near by, and
called for a glass of ale.

As he sat sipping his glass, he picked up a daily paper, _The Sun_, and
under the head of "Fashionable Gossip," signed Jacques Durand, read the
following:


"We understand that the niece of one of our most prominent bankers,
M. Andre Fauvel, will shortly be married to M. le Marquis Louis de
Clameran. The engagement has been announced."


This news, coming upon him so unexpectedly, proved to Prosper the
justness of M. Verduret's calculations.

Alas! why did not this certainty inspire him with absolute faith? why
did it not give him courage to wait, the strength of mind to refrain
from acting on his own responsibility?

Frenzied by distress of mind, he already saw Madeleine indissolubly
united to this villain, and, thinking that M. Verduret would perhaps
arrive too late to be of use, determined at all risks to throw an
obstacle in the way of the marriage.

He called for pen and paper, and forgetting that no situation can excuse
the mean cowardice of an anonymous letter, wrote in a disguised hand the
following lines to M. Fauvel:


"DEAR SIR--You consigned your cashier to prison; you acted prudently,
since you were convinced of his dishonesty and faithlessness.

"But, even if he stole three hundred and fifty thousand francs from
your safe, does it follow that he also stole Mme. Fauvel's diamonds, and
pawned them at the Mont-de-Piete, where they now are?

"Warned as you are, if I were you, I would not be the subject of public
scandal. I would watch my wife, and would be distrustful of handsome
cousins.

"Moreover, I would, before signing the marriage contract of Mlle.
Madeleine, inquire at the Prefecture of Police, and obtain some
information concerning the noble Marquis de Clameran.

"A FRIEND."


Prosper hastened off to post his letter. Fearing that it would not reach
M. Fauvel in time, he walked up to the Rue Cardinal Lemoine, and put it
in the main letter-box, so as to be certain of its speedy delivery.

Until now he had not doubted the propriety of his action.

But now when too late, when he heard the sound of his letter falling
into the box, a thousand scruples filled his mind. Was it not wrong to
act thus hurriedly? Would not this letter interfere with M. Verduret's
plans? Upon reaching the hotel, his doubts were changed into bitter
regrets.

Joseph Dubois was waiting for him; he had received a despatch from his
patron, saying that his business was finished, and that he would return
the next evening at nine o'clock.

Prosper was wretched. He would have given all he had to recover the
anonymous letter.

And he had cause for regret.

At that very hour M. Verduret was taking his seat in the cars at
Tarascon, meditating upon the most advantageous plan to be adopted in
pursuance of his discoveries.

For he had discovered everything, and now must bring matters to a
crisis.

Adding to what he already knew, the story of an old nurse of Mlle. de
la Verberie, the affidavit of an old servant who had always lived in the
Clameran family, and the depositions of the Vesinet husband and wife who
attended M. Lagors at his country house, the latter having been sent to
him by Dubois (Fanferlot), with a good deal of information obtained from
the prefecture of police, he had worked up a complete case, and could
now act upon a chain of evidence without a missing link.

As he had predicted, he had been compelled to search into the distant
past for the first causes of the crime of which Prosper had been the
victim.

The following is the drama, as he wrote it out for the benefit of the
judge of instruction, knowing that it would contain grounds for an
indictment against the malefactors.




XII

THE DRAMA

About two leagues from Tarascon, on the left bank of the Rhone, not
far from the wonderful gardens of M. Audibert, stood the chateau of
Clameran, a weather-stained, neglected, but massive structure.

Here lived, in 1841, the old Marquis de Clameran and his two sons,
Gaston and Louis.

The marquis was an eccentric old man. He belonged to the race of nobles,
now almost extinct, whose watches stopped in 1789, and who kept time
with the past century.

More attached to his illusions than to his life, the old marquis
insisted upon considering all the stirring events which had happened
since the first revolution as a series of deplorable practical jokes.

Emigrating with the Count d'Artois, he did not return to France until
1815, with the allies.

He should have been thankful to Heaven for the recovery of a portion of
his immense family estates; a comparatively small portion, to be sure,
but full enough to support him comfortably: he said, however, that he
did not think the few paltry acres were worth thanking God for.

At first, he tried every means to obtain an appointment at court; but
seeing all his efforts fail, he resolved to retire to his chateau, which
he did, after cursing and pitying his king, whom he had worshipped.

He soon became accustomed to the free and indolent life of a country
gentleman.

Possessing fifteen thousand francs a year, he spent twenty-five or
thirty thousand, borrowing from every source, saying that a genuine
restoration would soon take place, and that then he would regain
possession of all his properties.

Following his example, his younger son lived extravagantly. Louis was
always in pursuit of adventure, and idled away his time in drinking and
gambling. The elder son, Gaston, anxious to participate in the stirring
events of the time, prepared himself for action by quietly working,
studying, and reading certain papers and pamphlets surreptitiously
received, the very mention of which was considered a hanging matter by
his father.

Altogether the old marquis was the happiest of mortals, living well,
drinking high, hunting much, tolerated by the peasants, and execrated
by the gentlemen of the neighborhood, who regarded him with contempt and
raillery.

Time never hung heavy on his hands, except in mid-summer, when the
valley of the Rhone was intensely hot; and even then he had infallible
means of amusement, always new, though ever the same.

He detested, above all, his neighbor the Countess de la Verberie.

The Countess de la Verberie, the "bete noire" of the marquis, as he
ungallantly termed her, was a tall, dry woman, angular in appearance and
character, cold and arrogant toward her equals, and domineering over her
inferiors.

Like her noble neighbor, she too had emigrated; and her husband was
afterward killed at Lutzen, but unfortunately not in the French ranks.

In 1815, the countess came back to France. But while the Marquis de
Clameran returned to comparative ease, she could obtain nothing from
royal munificence, but the small estate and chateau of La Verberie.

It is true that the chateau of La Verberie would have contented most
people; but the countess never ceased to complain of her unmerited
poverty, as she called it.

The pretty chateau was more modest in appearance than the manor of the
Clamerans; but it was equally comfortable, and much better regulated by
its proud mistress.

It was built in the middle of a beautiful park, one of the wonders of
that part of the country. It reached from the Beaucaire road to the
river-bank, a marvel of beauty, with its superb old oaks, yoke-elms, and
lovely groves, its meadow, and clear stream of water winding in among
the trees.

The countess had but one child--a lovely girl of eighteen, named
Valentine; fair, slender, and graceful, with large, soft eyes, beautiful
enough to make the stone saints of the village church thrill in their
niches, when she knelt piously at their feet.

The renown of her great beauty, carried on the rapid waters of the
Rhone, was spread far and wide.

Often the bargemen and the robust wagoners, driving their powerful
horses along the road, would stop to gaze with admiration upon Valentine
seated under some grand old tree on the banks of the river, absorbed in
her book.

At a distance her white dress and flowing tresses made her seem a
mysterious spirit from another world, these honest people said; they
thought it a good omen when they caught a glimpse of her as they passed
up the river. All along between Arles and Valence she was spoken of as
the "lovely fairy" of La Verberie.

If M. de Clameran detested the countess, Mme. de la Verberie execrated
the marquis. If he nicknamed her "the witch," she never called him
anything but "the old gander."

And yet they should have agreed, for at heart they cherished the same
opinions, with different ways of viewing them.

He considered himself a philosopher, scoffed at everything, and had an
excellent digestion. She nursed her rancor, and grew yellow and thin
from rage and envy.

Nevertheless, they might have spent many pleasant evenings together,
for, after all, they were neighbors. From Clameran could be seen
Valentine's greyhound running about the park of La Verberie; from La
Verberie glimpses were had of the lights in the dining-room windows of
Clameran.

And, as regularly as these lights appeared, every evening, the countess
would say, in a spiteful tone:

"Ah, now their orgies are about to commence!"

The two chateaux were only separated by the fast-flowing Rhone, which at
this spot was rather narrow.

But between the two families existed a hatred deeper and more difficult
to avert than the course of the Rhone.

What was the cause of this hatred?

The countess, no less than the marquis, would have found it difficult to
tell.

It was said that under the reign of Henri IV. or Louis XIII. a La
Verberie betrayed the affections of a fair daughter of the Clamerans.

This misdeed led to a duel and bloodshed.

This groundwork of facts had been highly embellished by fiction; handed
down from generation to generation, it had now become a long tragic
history of robbery, murder, and rapine, which precluded any intercourse
between the two families.

The usual result followed, as it always does in real life, and often in
romances, which, however exaggerated they may be, generally preserve a
reflection of the truth which inspires them.

Gaston met Valentine at an entertainment; he fell in love with her at
first sight.

Valentine saw Gaston, and from that moment his image filled her heart.

But so many obstacles separated them!

For over a year they both religiously guarded their secret, buried like
a treasure in the inmost recesses of their hearts.

And this year of charming, dangerous reveries decided their fate. To
the sweetness of the first impression succeeded a more tender sentiment;
then came love, each having endowed the other with superhuman qualities
and ideal perfections.

Deep, sincere passion can only expand in solitude; in the impure air of
a city it fades and dies, like the hardy plants which lose their color
and perfume when transplanted to hot-houses.

Gaston and Valentine had only seen each other once, but seeing was to
love; and, as the time passed, their love grew stronger, until at last
the fatality which had presided over their first meeting brought them
once more together.

They both happened to be spending the day with the old Duchess
d'Arlange, who had returned to the neighborhood to sell her property.

They spoke to each other, and like old friends, surprised to find that
they both entertained the same thoughts and echoed the same memories.

Again they were separated for months. But soon, as if by accident, they
happened to be at a certain hour on the banks of the Rhone, and would
sit and gaze across at each other.

Finally, one mild May evening, when Mme. de la Verberie had gone to
Beaucaire, Gaston ventured into the park, and appeared before Valentine.

She was not surprised or indignant. Genuine innocence displays none
of the startled modesty assumed by conventional innocence. It never
occurred to Valentine that she ought to bid Gaston to leave her.

She leaned upon his arm, and strolled up and down the grand old avenue
of oaks. They did not say they loved each other, they felt it; but they
did say that their love was hopeless. They well knew that the inveterate
family feud could never be overcome, and that it would be folly to
attempt it. They swore never, never to forget each other, and tearfully
resolved never to meet again; never, not even once more!

Alas! Valentine was not without excuse. With a timid, loving heart, her
expansive affection was repressed and chilled by a harsh mother. Never
had there been one of those long private talks between the Countess
de la Verberie and Valentine which enabled a good mother to read her
daughter's heart like an open book.

Mme. de la Verberie saw nothing but her daughter's beauty. She was wont
to rub her hands, and say:

"Next winter I will borrow enough money to take the child to Paris, and
I am much mistaken if her beauty does not win her a rich husband who
will release me from poverty."

She called this loving her daughter!

The second meeting was not the last. Gaston dared not trust to a
boatman, so he was obliged to walk a league in order to cross the
bridge. Then he thought it would be shorter to swim the river; but he
could not swim well, and to cross the Rhone where it ran so rapidly was
rash for the most skilful swimmers.

One evening, however, Valentine was startled by seeing him rise out of
the water at her feet.

She made him promise never to attempt this exploit again. He repeated
the feat and the promise the next evening and every successive evening.

As Valentine always imagined he was being drowned in the furious
current, they agreed upon a signal. At the moment of starting, Gaston
would put a light in his window at Clameran, and in fifteen minutes he
would be at his idol's feet.

What were the projects and hopes of the lovers? Alas! they projected
nothing, they hoped for nothing.

Blindly, thoughtlessly, almost fearlessly, they abandoned themselves to
the dangerous happiness of a daily rendezvous; regardless of the storm
that must erelong burst over their devoted heads, they revelled in their
present bliss.

Is not every sincere passion thus? Passion subsists upon itself and in
itself; and the very things which ought to extinguish it, absence
and obstacles, only make it burn more fiercely. It is exclusive and
undisturbed; reflects neither of the past nor of the future; excepting
the present, it sees and cares for nothing.

Moreover, Valentine and Gaston believed everyone ignorant of their
secret.

They had always been so cautious! they had kept such strict watch! They
had flattered themselves that their conduct had been a masterpiece of
dissimulation and prudence.

Valentine had fixed upon the hour when she was certain her mother would
not miss her. Gaston had never confided to anyone, not even to his
brother Louis. They never breathed each other's name. They denied
themselves a last sweet word, a last kiss, when they felt it would be
more safe.

Poor blind lovers! As if anything could be concealed from the idle
curiosity of country gossips; from the slanderous and ever-watchful
enemies who are incessantly on the lookout for some new bit of
tittle-tattle, good or bad, which they improve upon, and eagerly spread
far and near.

They believed their secret well kept, whereas it had long since
been made public; the story of their love, the particulars of their
rendezvous, were topics of conversation throughout the neighborhood.

Sometimes, at dusk, they would see a bark gliding along the water, near
the shore, and would say to each other:

"It is a belated fisherman, returning home."

They were mistaken. The boat contained malicious spies, who delighted
in having discovered them, and hastened to report, with a thousand false
additions, the result of their expedition.

One dreary November evening, Gaston was awakened to the true state of
affairs. The Rhone was so swollen by heavy rains that an inundation was
daily expected. To attempt to swim across this impetuous torrent, would
be tempting God. Therefore Gaston went to Tarascon, intending to cross
the bridge there, and walk along the bank to the usual place of meeting
at La Verberie. Valentine expected him at eleven o'clock.

Whenever Gaston went to Tarascon, he dined with a relative living there;
but on this occasion a strange fatality led him to accompany a friend to
the hotel of the "Three Emperors."

After dinner, they went not the Cafe Simon, their usual resort, but to
the little cafe in the market-place, where the fairs were held.

The small dining-hall was filled with young men. Gaston and his friend
called for a bottle of beer, and began to play billiards.

After they had been playing a short time, Gaston's attention was
attracted by peals of laughter from a party at the other end of the
room.

From this moment, preoccupied by this continued laughter, of which he
was evidently the subject, he knocked the balls carelessly in every
direction. His conduct surprised his friend, who said to him:

"What is the matter? You are missing the simplest shots."

"It is nothing."

The game went on a while longer, when Gaston suddenly turned as white as
a sheet, and, throwing down his cue, strode toward the table which was
occupied by five young men, playing dominoes and drinking wine.

He addressed the eldest of the group, a handsome man of twenty-six, with
fierce-looking eyes, and a heavy black mustache, named Jules Lazet.

"Repeat, if you dare," he said, in a voice trembling with passion, "the
remark you just now made!"

"I certainly will repeat it," said Lazet, calmly. "I said, and I say
it again, that a nobleman's daughter is no better than a mechanic's
daughter; that virtue does not always accompany a titled name."

"You mentioned a particular name!"

Lazet rose from his chair as if he knew his answer would exasperate
Gaston, and that from words they would come to blows.

"I did," he said, with an insolent smile: "I mentioned the name of the
pretty little fairy of La Verberie."

All the coffee-drinkers, and even two travelling agents who were dining
in the cafe, rose and surrounded the two young men.

The provoking looks, the murmurs, or rather shouts, which welcomed him
as he walked up to Lazet, proved to Gaston that he was surrounded by
enemies.

The wickedness and evil tongue of the old marquis were bearing their
fruit. Rancor ferments quickly and fiercely among the people of
Provence.

Gaston de Clameran was not a man to yield, even if his foes were a
hundred, instead of fifteen or twenty.

"No one but a coward," he said, in a clear, ringing voice, which the
pervading silence rendered almost startling, "no one but a contemptible
coward would be infamous enough to calumniate a young girl who has
neither father nor brother to defend her honor."

"If she has no father or brother," sneered Lazet, "she has her lovers,
and that suffices."

The insulting words, "her lovers," enraged Gaston beyond control; he
slapped Lazet violently in the face.

Everyone in the cafe simultaneously uttered a cry of terror. Lazet's
violence of character, his herculean strength and undaunted courage,
were well known. He sprang across the table between them, and seized
Gaston by the throat. Then arose a scene of excitement and confusion.
Clameran's friend, attempting to assist him, was knocked down with
billiard-cues, and kicked under a table.

Equally strong and agile, Gaston and Lazet struggled for some minutes
without either gaining an advantage.

Lazet, as loyal as he was courageous, would not accept assistance from
his friends. He continually called out:

"Keep away; let me fight it out alone!"

But the others were too excited to remain inactive spectators of the
scene.

"A quilt!" cried one of them, "a quilt to make the marquis jump!"

Five or six young men now rushed upon Gaston, and separated him from
Lazet. Some tried to throw him down, others to trip him up.

He defended himself with the energy of despair, exhibiting in his
furious struggles a strength of which he himself had not been conscious.
He struck right and left as he showered fierce epithets upon his
adversaries for being twelve against one.

He was endeavoring to get around the billiard-table so as to be near the
door, and had almost succeeded, when an exultant cry arose:

"Here is the quilt! the quilt!" they cried.

"Put him in the quilt, the pretty fairy's lover!"

Gaston heard these cries. He saw himself overcome, and suffering an
ignoble outrage at the hands of these enraged men.

By a dexterous movement he extricated himself from the grasp of the
three who were holding him, and felled a fourth to the ground.

His arms were free; but all his enemies returned to the charge.

Then he seemed to lose his head, and, seizing a knife which lay on the
table where the travelling agents had been dining, he plunged it into
the breast of the first man who rushed upon him.

This unfortunate man was Jules Lazet. He dropped to the ground.

There was a second of silent stupor.

Then four or five of the young men rushed forward to raise Lazet. The
landlady ran about wringing her hands, and screaming with fright. Some
of the assailants rushed into the street shouting, "Murder! Murder!"

The others once more turned upon Gaston with cries of "Vengeance! kill
him!"

He saw that he was lost. His enemies had seized the first objects they
could lay their hands upon, and he received several wounds. He jumped
upon the billiard-table, and, making a rapid spring, dashed through the
large glass window of the cafe. He was fearfully cut by the broken glass
and splinters, but he was free.

Gaston had escaped, but he was not yet saved. Astonished and
disconcerted at his desperate feat, the crowd for a moment were
stupefied; but, recovering their presence of mind, they started in
pursuit of him.

The weather was bad, the ground wet and muddy, and heavy black clouds
were rolling westward; but the night was not dark.

Gaston ran on from tree to tree, making frequent turnings, every moment
on the point of being seized and surrounded, and asking himself what
course he should take.

Finally he determined, if possible, to regain Clameran.

With incredible rapidity he darted diagonally across the fair-ground, in
the direction of the levee which protected the valley of Tarascon from
inundations.

Unfortunately, upon reaching this levee, planted with magnificent trees
which made it one of the most charming walks of Provence, Gaston forgot
that the entrance was closed by a gate with three steps, such as are
always placed before walks intended for foot-passengers, and rushed
against it with such violence that he was thrown back and badly bruised.

He quickly sprang up; but his pursuers were upon him.

This time he could expect no mercy. The infuriated men at his heels
yelled that fearful cry which in the evil days of lawless bloodshed had
often echoed in that valley: "In the Rhone with him! In the Rhone with
the marquis!"

His reason had abandoned him; he no longer knew what he did. His
forehead was cut, and the blood trickled from the wound into his eyes,
and blinded him.

He must escape, or die in the attempt.

He had tightly clasped the bloody knife with which he had stabbed Lazet.
He struck his nearest foe; the man fell to the ground with a heavy
groan.

A second blow gained him a moment's respite, which gave him time to open
the gate and rush along the levee.

Two men were kneeling over their wounded companion, and five others
resumed the pursuit.

But Gaston flew fast, for the horror of his situation tripled his
energy; excitement deadened the pain of his wounds; with elbows held
tight to his sides, and holding his breath, he went along at such a
speed that he soon distanced his pursuers; the noise of their feet
became gradually more indistinct, and finally ceased.

Gaston ran on for a mile, across fields and over hedges; fences and
ditches were leaped without effort and when he knew he was safe from
capture he sank down at the foot of a tree to rest.

This terrible scene had taken place with inconceivable rapidity. Only
forty minutes had elapsed since Gaston and his friend entered the cafe.

But during this short time how much had happened! These forty minutes
had given more cause for sorrow and remorse than the whole of his
previous life put together.

Entering this tavern with head erect and a happy heart, enjoying present
existence, and looking forward to a yet better future, he left it
ruined; for he was a murderer! Henceforth he would be under a ban--an
outcast!

He had killed a man, and still convulsively held the murderous
instrument; he cast it from him with horror.

He tried to account for the dreadful circumstances which had just taken
place; as if it were of any importance to a man lying at the bottom of
an abyss to know which stone had slipped, and precipitated him from the
summit.

Still, if he alone had been ruined! But Valentine was dragged down with
him: she was disgraced yet more than himself; her reputation was gone.
And it was his want of self-command which had cast to the winds this
honor, confided to his keeping, and which he held far dearer than his
own.

But he could not remain here bewailing his misfortune. The police must
soon be on his track. They would certainly go to the chateau of Clameran
to seek him; and before leaving home, perhaps forever, he wished to say
good-by to his father, and once more press Valentine to his heart.

He started to walk, but with great pain, for the reaction had come, and
his nerves and muscles, so violently strained, had now begun to relax;
the intense heat caused by his struggling and fast running was replaced
by a cold perspiration, aching limbs, and chattering teeth. His hip and
shoulder pained him almost beyond endurance. The cut on his forehead had
stopped bleeding, but the coagulated blood around his eyes blinded him.

After a painful walk he reached his door at ten o'clock.

The old valet who admitted him started back terrified.

"Good heavens, monsieur! what is the matter?"

"Silence!" said Gaston in the brief, compressed tone always inspired by
imminent danger, "silence! where is my father?"

"M. the Marquis is in his room with M. Louis. He has had a sudden
attack of the gout, and cannot put his foot to the ground; but you,
monsieur----"

Gaston did not stop to listen further. He hurried to his father's room.

The old marquis, who was playing backgammon with Louis, dropped his
dice-box with a cry of horror, when he looked up and saw his eldest son
standing before him covered with blood.

"What is the matter? what have you been doing, Gaston?"

"I have come to embrace you for the last time, father, and to ask for
assistance to escape abroad."

"Do you wish to fly the country?"

"I must fly, father, and instantly; I am pursued, the police may be here
at any moment. I have killed two men."

The marquis was so shocked that he forgot the gout, and attempted to
rise; a violent twinge made him drop back in his chair.

"Where? When?" he gasped.

"At Tarascon, in a cafe, an hour ago; fifteen men attacked me, and I
seized a knife to defend myself."

"The old tricks of '93," said the marquis. "Did they insult you, Gaston?
What was the cause of the attack?"

"They insulted in my presence the name of a noble young girl."

"And you punished the rascals? Jarnibleu! You did well. Who ever heard
of a gentleman allowing insolent puppies to speak disrespectfully of a
lady of quality in his presence? But who was the lady you defended?"

"Mlle. Valentine de la Verberie."

"What!" cried the marquis, "what! the daughter of that old witch! Those
accursed de la Verberies have always brought misfortune upon us."

He certainly abominated the countess; but his respect for her noble
blood was greater than his resentment toward her individually, and he
added:

"Nevertheless, Gaston, you did your duty."

Meanwhile, the curiosity of St. Jean, the marquis's old valet, made him
venture to open the door, and ask:

"Did M. the Marquis ring?"

"No, you rascal," answered M. de Clameran: "you know very well I did
not. But, now you are here, be useful. Quickly bring some clothes for
M. Gaston, some fresh linen, and some warm water: hasten and dress his
wounds."

These orders were promptly executed, and Gaston found he was not so
badly hurt as he had thought. With the exception of a deep stab in his
left shoulder, his wounds were not serious.

After receiving all the attentions which his condition required, Gaston
felt like a new man, ready to brave any peril. His eyes sparkled with
renewed energy and excitement.

The marquis made a sign to the servants to leave the room.

"Do you still think you ought to leave France?" he asked Gaston.

"Yes, father."

"My brother ought not to hesitate," interposed Louis: "he will be
arrested here, thrown into prison, vilified in court, and--who knows?"

"We all know well enough that he will be convicted," grumbled the old
marquis. "These are the benefits of the immortal revolution, as it is
called. Ah, in my day we three would have taken our swords, jumped on
our horses, and, dashing into Tarascon, would soon have--. But those
good old days are passed. To-day we have to run away."

"There is no time to lose," observed Louis.

"True," said the marquis, "but to fly, to go abroad, one must have
money; and I have none by me to give him."

"Father!"

"No, I have none. Ah, what a prodigal old fool I have been! If I only
had a hundred louis!"

Then he told Louis to open the secretary, and hand him the money-box.

The box contained only nine hundred and twenty francs in gold.

"Nine hundred and twenty francs," cried the marquis: "it will never
do for the eldest son of our house to fly the country with this paltry
sum."

He sat lost in reflection. Suddenly his brow cleared, and he told Louis
to open a secret drawer in the secretary, and bring him a small casket.

Then the marquis took from his neck a black ribbon, to which was
suspended the key of the casket.

His sons observed with what deep emotion he unlocked it, and slowly
took out a necklace, a large cross, several rings, and other pieces of
jewelry.

His countenance assumed a solemn expression.

"Gaston, my dear son," he said, "at a time like this your life may
depend upon bought assistance; money is power."

"I am young, father, and have courage."

"Listen to me. The jewels belonged to the marquise, your sainted mother,
a noble, holy woman, who is now in heaven watching over us. These
jewels have never left me. During my days of misery and want, when I was
compelled to earn a livelihood by teaching music in London, I piously
treasured them. I never thought of selling them; and to mortgage them,
in the hour of direst need, would have seemed to be a sacrilege. But now
you must take them, my son, and sell them for twenty thousand livres."

"No, father no; I cannot take them!"

"You must, Gaston. If your mother were on earth, she would tell you
to take them, as I do now. I command you to take and use them. The
salvation, the honor, of the heir of the house of Clameran, must not be
imperilled for want of a little gold."

With tearful eyes, Gaston sank on his knees, and, carrying his father's
hand to his lips, said:

"Thanks, father, thanks! In my heedless, ungrateful presumption I have
hitherto misjudged you. I did not know your noble character. Forgive me.
I accept; yes, I accept these jewels worn by my dear mother; but I take
them as a sacred deposit, confided to my honor, and for which I will
some day account to you."

In their emotion, the marquis and Gaston forgot the threatened danger.
But Louis was not touched by the affecting scene.

"Time presses," he said: "you had better hasten."

"He is right," cried the marquis: "go, Gaston, go, my son; and God
protect the heir of the Clamerans!"

Gaston slowly got up and said, with an embarrassed air:

"Before leaving you, my father, I must fulfil a sacred duty. I have
not told you everything. I love Valentine, the young girl whose honor I
defended this evening."

"Oh!" cried the marquis, thunderstruck, "oh, oh!"

"And I entreat you, father, to ask Mme. de la Verberie for the hand of
her daughter. Valentine will gladly join me abroad, and share my exile."

Gaston stopped, frightened at the effect of his words. The old marquis
had become crimson, or rather purple, as if struck by apoplexy.

"Preposterous!" he gasped. "Impossible! Perfect folly!"

"I love her, father, and have promised her never to marry another."

"Then always remain a bachelor."

"I shall marry her!" cried Gaston, excitedly. "I shall marry her because
I have sworn I would, and I will not be so base as to desert her."

"Nonsense!"

"I tell you, Mlle. de la Verberie must and shall be my wife. It is too
late for me to draw back. Even if I no longer loved her, I would still
marry her, because she has given herself to me; because, can't you
understand--what was said at the cafe to-night was true: I have but one
way of repairing the wrong I have done Valentine--by marrying her."

Gaston's confession, forced from him by circumstances, produced a
very different impression from that which he had expected. The enraged
marquis instantly became cool, and his mind seemed relieved of an
immense weight. A wicked joy sparkled in his eyes, as he replied:

"Ah, ha! she yielded to your entreaties, did she? Jarnibleu! I am
delighted. I congratulate you, Gaston: they say she is a pretty little
fool."

"Monsieur," interrupted Gaston, indignantly; "I have told you that I
love her, and have promised to marry her. You seem to forget."

"Ta, ta ta!" cried the marquis, "your scruples are absurd. You know full
well that her great-grandfather led our great-grandmother astray. Now we
are quits! I am delighted at the retaliation, for the old witch's sake."

"I swear by the memory of my mother, that Valentine shall be my wife!"

"Do you dare assume that tone toward me?" cried the exasperated marquis.
"Never, understand me clearly; never will I give my consent. You know
how dear to me is the honor of our house. Well, I would rather see you
tried for murder, and even chained to the galleys, than married to this
worthless jade!"

This last word was too much for Gaston.

"Then your wish shall be gratified, monsieur. I will remain here, and be
arrested. I care not what becomes of me! What is life to me without the
hope of Valentine? Take back these jewels: they are useless now."

A terrible scene would have taken place between the father and son, had
they not been interrupted by a domestic who rushed into the room, and
excitedly cried:

"The gendarmes! here are the gendarmes!"

At this news the old marquis started up, and seemed to forget his gout,
which had yielded to more violent emotions.

"Gendarmes!" he cried, "in my house at Clameran! They shall pay dear for
their insolence! You will help me, will you not, my men?"

"Yes, yes," answered the servants. "Down with the gendarmes! down with
them!"

Fortunately Louis, during all this excitement, preserved his presence of
mind.

"To resist would be folly," he said. "Even if we repulsed the gendarmes
to-night, they would return to-morrow with reinforcements."

"Louis is right," said the marquis, bitterly. "Might is right, as they
said in '93. The gendarmes are all powerful. Do they not even have the
impertinence to come up to me while I am hunting, and ask to see my
shooting-license?--I, a Clameran, show a license!"

"Where are they?" asked Louis of the servants.

"At the outer gate," answered La Verdure, one of the grooms. "Does not
monsieur hear the noise they are making with their sabres?"

"Then Gaston must escape over the garden wall."

"It is guarded, monsieur," said La Verdure, "and the little gate in
the park besides. There seems to be a regiment of them. They are even
stationed along the park walls."

This was only too true. The rumor of Lazet's death had spread like
wildfire throughout the town of Tarascon, and everybody was in a state
of excitement. Not only mounted gendarmes, but a platoon of hussars from
the garrison, had been sent in pursuit of the murderer.

At least twenty young men of Tarascon were volunteer guides to the armed
force.

"Then," said the marquis, "we are surrounded?"

"Not a single chance for escape," groaned St. Jean.

"We shall see about that, Jarnibleu!" cried the marquis. "Ah, we are not
the strongest, but we can be the most adroit. Attention! Louis, my son,
you and La Verdure go down to the stable, and mount the fastest horses;
then as quietly as possible station yourselves, you, Louis, at the park
gate, and you, La Verdure, at the outer gate. Upon the signal I shall
give you by firing a pistol, let every door be instantly opened, while
Louis and Verdure dash through the gates, and make the gendarmes pursue
them."

"I will make them fly," said La Verdure.

"Listen. During this time, Gaston, aided by St. Jean, will scale the
park wall, and hasten along the river to the cabin of Pilorel, the
fisherman. He is an old sailor of the republic, and devoted to our
house. He will take Gaston in his boat; and, when they are once on the
Rhone, there is nothing to be feared save the wrath of God. Now go, all
of you: fly!"

Left alone with his son, the old man slipped the jewelry into a silk
purse, and, handing them once more to Gaston, said, as he stretched out
his arms toward him:

"Come here, my son, and let me embrace you, and bestow my blessing."

Gaston hesitated.

"Come," insisted the old man in broken tones, "I must embrace you for
the last time: I may never see you again. Save yourself, save your name,
Gaston, and then--you know how I love you, my son: take back the jewels.
Come."

For an instant the father and son clung to each other, overpowered by
emotion.

But the continued noise at the gates now reaches their ears.

"We must part!" said M. de Clameran, "go!" And, taking from his desk
a little pair of pistols, he handed them to his son, and added, with
averted eyes, "You must not be captured alive, Gaston!"

Gaston did not immediately descend to the park.

He yearned to see Valentine, and give her one last kiss before leaving
France, and determined to persuade Pilorel to stop the boat as they went
by the park of La Verberie.

He hastened to his room, placed the signal in the window so that
Valentine might know he was coming, and waited for an answering light.

"Come, M. Gaston," entreated old St. Jean, who could not understand the
strange conduct. "For God's sake make haste! your life is at stake!"

At last he came running down the stairs, and had just reached the
vestibule when a pistol-shot, the signal given by the marquis, was
heard.

The loud swinging open of the large gate, the rattling of the sabres
of the gendarmes, the furious galloping of many horses, and a chorus of
loud shouts and angry oaths, were next heard.

Leaning against the window, his brow beaded with cold perspiration, the
Marquis de Clameran breathlessly awaited the issue of this expedient,
upon which depended the life of his eldest son.

His measures were excellent, and deserved success. As he had ordered,
Louis and La Verdure dashed out through the gate, one to the right, the
other to the left, each one pursued by a dozen mounted men. Their horses
flew like arrows, and kept far ahead of the pursuers.

Gaston would have been saved, but for the interference of fate; but was
it fate, or was it malice?

Suddenly Louis's horse stumbled, and fell to the ground with his rider.
The gendarmes rode up, and at once recognized the second son of M. de
Clameran.

"This is not the assassin!" they cried. "Let us hurry back, else he will
escape!"

They returned just in time to see, by the uncertain light of the moon
peeping from behind a cloud, Gaston climbing the garden wall.

"There is our man!" exclaimed the corporal. "Keep your eyes open, and
gallop after him!"

They spurred their horses, and hastened to the spot where Gaston had
jumped from the wall.

On a wooded piece of ground, even if it be hilly, an agile man, if he
preserves his presence of mind, can escape a number of horsemen. The
ground on this side of the park was favorable to Gaston. He found
himself in an immense madder-field; and, as is well known, as this
valuable root must remain in the ground three years, the furrows are
necessarily ploughed very deep. Horses cannot even walk over its uneven
surface; indeed, they can scarcely stand steadily upon it.

This circumstance brought the gendarmes to a dead halt.

Four rash hussars ventured in the field, but they and their beasts were
soon rolling between hillocks.

Jumping from ridge to ridge, Gaston soon reached a large field, freshly
ploughed, and planted with young chestnuts.

As his chances of escape increased, the excitement grew more intense.
The pursuers urged each other on, and called out to head him off, every
time they saw Gaston run from one clump of trees to another.

Being familiar with the country, young De Clameran was confident of
eluding his pursuers. He knew that the next field was a thistle-field,
and was separated from the chestnut by a long, deep ditch.

He resolved to jump into this ditch, run along the bottom, and climb out
at the farther end, while they were looking for him among the trees.

But he had forgotten the swelling of the river. Upon reaching the ditch,
he found it full of water.

Discouraged but not disconcerted, he was about to jump across, when
three horsemen appeared on the opposite side.

They were gendarmes who had ridden around the madder-field and
chestnut-trees, knowing they could easily catch him on the level ground
of the thistle-field.

At the sight of these three men, Gaston stood perplexed.

He should certainly be captured if he attempted to run through the
field, at the end of which he could see the cabin of Pilorel the
ferryman.

To retrace his steps would be surrendering to the hussars.

At a little distance on his right was a forest, but he was separated
from it by a road upon which he heard the sound of approaching horses.
He would certainly be caught there.

Foes in front of him, foes behind him, foes on the right of him! What
was on his left?

On his left was the surging, foaming river.

What hope was left? The circle of which he was the centre was fast
narrowing.

Must he, then, fall back upon suicide? Here in an open field, tracked by
police like a wild beast, must he blow his brains out? What a death for
a De Clameran!

No! He would seize the one chance of salvation left him: a forlorn,
desperate, perilous chance, but still a chance--the river.

Holding a pistol in either hand, he ran and leaped upon the edge of a
little promontory, projecting three yards into the Rhone.

This cape of refuge was formed by the immense trunk of a fallen tree.

The tree swayed and cracked fearfully under Gaston's weight, as he stood
on the extreme end, and looked around upon his pursuers; there were
fifteen of them, some on the right, some on the left, all uttering cries
of joy.

"Do you surrender?" called out the corporal.

Gaston did not answer; he was weighing his chances. He was above the
park of La Verberie; would he be able to swim there, granting that he
was not swept away and drowned the instant he plunged into the angry
torrent before him?

He pictured Valentine, at this very moment, watching, waiting, and
praying for him on the other shore.

"For the last time I command you to surrender!" cried the corporal.

The unfortunate man did not hear; he was deafened by the waters which
were roaring and rushing around him.

In a supreme moment like this, with his foot upon the threshold of
another world, a man sees his past life rise before him, and seldom does
he find cause for self-approval.

Although death stared him in the face, Gaston calmly considered which
would be the best spot to plunge into, and commended his soul to God.

"He will stand there until we go after him," said a gendarme: "so we
might as well advance."

Gaston had finished his prayer.

He flung his pistols in the direction of the gendarmes: he was ready.

He made the sign of the cross, then, with outstretched arms, dashed head
foremost into the Rhone.

The violence of his spring detached the few remaining roots of the old
tree; it oscillated a moment, whirled over, and then drifted away.

The spectators uttered a cry of horror and pity; anger seemed to have
deserted them in their turn.

"That is an end of him," muttered one of the gendarmes. "It is useless
for one to fight against the Rhone; his body will be picked up at Arles
to-morrow."

The hussars seemed really remorseful at the tragic fate of the brave,
handsome young man, whom a moment before they had pursued with so much
bitter zeal. They admired his spirited resistance, his courage, and
especially his resignation, his resolution to die.

True French soldiers, their sympathies were now all upon the side of the
vanquished, and every man of them would have done all in his power to
assist in saving the drowning man, and aiding his escape.

"An ugly piece of work!" grumbled the old quartermaster who had command
of the hussars.

"Bast!" exclaimed the philosophic corporal, "the Rhone is no worse than
the court of assizes: the result would be the same. Right about, men;
march! The thing that troubles me is the idea of that poor old man
waiting to hear his son's fate. I would not be the one to tell him what
has happened. March!"




XIII

Valentine knew, that fatal evening, that Gaston would have to walk to
Tarascon, to cross the bridge over the Rhone which connected Tarascon
with Beaucaire, and did not expect to see him until eleven o'clock, the
hour which they had fixed upon the previous evening.

But, happening to look up at the windows of Clameran, she saw lights
hurrying to and fro in an unusual manner, even in rooms that she knew to
be unoccupied.

A presentiment of impending misfortune chilled her blood, and stopped
the beatings of her heart.

A secret and imperious voice within told her that something
extraordinary was going on at the chateau of Clameran.

What was it? She could not imagine; but she knew, she felt, that some
dreadful misfortune had happened.

With her eyes fastened upon the dark mass of stone looming in the
distance, she watched the going and coming of the lights, as if their
movements would give her a clew to what was taking place within those
walls.

She raised her window, and tried to listen, fancying she could hear an
unusual sound, even at such a distance. Alas! she heard nothing but the
rushing roar of the angry river.

Her anxiety grew more insufferable every moment; and she felt as if she
would faint were this torturing suspense to last much longer, when the
well-known, beloved signal appeared suddenly in Gaston's window, and
told her that her lover was about to swim across the Rhone.

She could scarcely believe her eyes; she must be under the influence of
a dream; her amazement prevented her answering the signal, until it had
been repeated three times.

Then, more dead than alive, with trembling limbs she hastened along the
park to the river-bank.

Never had she seen the Rhone so furious. Since Gaston was risking his
life in order to see her, she could no longer doubt that something
fearful had occurred at Clameran.

She fell on her knees, and with clasped hands, and her wild eyes fixed
upon the dark waters, besought the pitiless waves to yield up her dear
Gaston.

Every dark object which she could distinguish floating in the middle of
the torrent assumed the shape of a human form.

At one time, she thought she heard, above the roaring of the water, the
terrible, agonized cry of a drowning man.

She watched and prayed, but her lover came not.

Still she waited.

While the gendarmes and hussars slowly and silently returned to the
chateau of Clameran, Gaston experienced one of those miracles which
would seem incredible were they not confirmed by the most convincing
proof.

When he first plunged into the river, he rolled over five or six times,
and was then drawn toward the bottom. In a swollen river the current is
unequal, being much stronger in some places than in others; hence the
great danger.

Gaston knew it, and guarded against it. Instead of wasting his strength
in vain struggles, he held his breath, and kept still. About twenty-five
yards from the spot where he had plunged in, he made a violent spring
which brought him to the surface.

Rapidly drifting by him was the old tree.

For an instant, he was entangled in the mass of weeds and debris which
clung to its roots, and followed in its wake; an eddy set him free. The
tree and its clinging weeds swept on. It was the last familiar friend,
gone.

Gaston dared not attempt to reach the opposite shore. He would have to
land where the waves dashed him.

With great presence of mind he put forth all his strength and dexterity
to slowly take an oblique course, knowing well that there was no hope
for him if the current took him crosswise.

This fearful current is as capricious as a woman, which accounts for
the strange effects of inundations; sometimes it rushes to the right,
sometimes to the left, sparing one shore and ravaging the other.

Gaston was familiar with every turn of the river; he knew that just
below Clameran was an abrupt turning, and relied upon the eddy formed
thereby, to sweep him in the direction of La Verberie.

His hopes were not deceived. An oblique current suddenly swept him
toward the right shore, and, if he had not been on his guard, would have
sunk him.

But the eddy did not reach as far as Gaston supposed, and he was still
some distance from the shore, when, with the rapidity of lightning, he
was swept by the park of La Verberie.

As he floated by, he caught a glimpse of a white shadow among the trees;
Valentine still waited for him.

He was gradually approaching the bank, as he reached the end of La
Verberie, and attempted to land.

Feeling a foothold, he stood up twice, and each time was thrown down by
the violence of the waves. He escaped being swept away by seizing some
willow branches, and, clinging to them, raised himself, and climbed up
the steep bank.

He was safe at last.

Without taking time to breathe, he darted in the direction of the park.

He came just in time. Overcome by the intensity of her emotions,
Valentine had fainted, and lay apparently lifeless on the damp
river-bank.

Gaston's entreaties and kisses aroused her from her stupor.

"Gaston!" she cried, in a tone that revealed all the love she felt for
him. "Is it indeed you? Then God heard my prayers, and had pity on us."

"No, Valentine," he murmured. "God has had no pity."

The sad tones of Gaston's voice convinced her that her presentiment of
evil was true.

"What new misfortune strikes us now?" she cried. "Why have you thus
risked your life--a life far dearer to me than my own? What has
happened?"

"This is what has happened, Valentine: our love-affair is the jest of
the country around; our secret is a secret no longer."

She shrank back, and, burying her face in her hands, moaned piteously.

"This," said Gaston, forgetting everything but his present misery, "this
is the result of the blind enmity of our families. Our noble and pure
love, which ought to be a glory in the eyes of God and man, has to be
concealed, and, when discovered, becomes a reproach as though it were
some evil deed."

"Then all is known--all is discovered!" murmured Valentine. "Oh, Gaston,
Gaston!"

While struggling for his life against furious men and angry elements,
Gaston had preserved his self-possession; but the heart-broken tone of
his beloved Valentine overcame him. He swung his arms above his head,
and exclaimed:

"Yes, they know it; and oh, why could I not crush the villains for
daring to utter your adored name? Ah, why did I only kill two of the
scoundrels!"

"Have you killed someone, Gaston?"

Valentine's tone of horror gave Gaston a ray of reason.

"Yes," he replied with bitterness, "I have killed two men. It was for
that that I have crossed the Rhone. I could not have my father's name
disgraced by being tried and convicted for murder. I have been tracked
like a wild beast by mounted police. I have escaped them, and now I am
flying my country."

Valentine struggled to preserve her composure under this last unexpected
blow.

"Where do you hope to find an asylum?" she asked.

"I know not. Where I am to go, what will become of me, God only knows!
I only know that I am going to some strange land, to assume a false name
and a disguise. I shall seek some lawless country which offers a refuge
to murderers."

Gaston waited for an answer to this speech. None came, and he resumed
with vehemence:

"And before disappearing, Valentine, I wished to see you, because now,
when I am abandoned by everyone else, I have relied upon you, and had
faith in your love. A tie unites us, my darling, stronger and more
indissoluble than all earthly ties--the tie of love. I love you more
than life itself, my Valentine; before God you are my wife; I am
yours and you are mine, for ever and ever! Would you let me fly alone,
Valentine? To the pain and toil of exile, to the sharp regrets of a
ruined life, would you, could you, add the torture of separation?"

"Gaston, I implore you--"

"Ah, I knew it," he interrupted, mistaking the sense of her exclamation;
"I knew you would not let me go off alone. I knew your sympathetic heart
would long to share the burden of my miseries. This moment effaces the
wretched suffering I have endured. Let us go! Having our happiness to
defend, having you to protect, I fear nothing; I can brave all, conquer
all. Come, my Valentine, we will escape, or die together! This is the
long-dreamed-of happiness! The glorious future of love and liberty open
before us!"

He had worked himself into a state of delirious excitement. He seized
Valentine around the waist, and tried to draw her toward the gate.

As Gaston's exaltation increased, Valentine became composed and almost
stolid in her forced calmness.

Gently, but with a quiet firmness, she withdrew herself from his
embrace, and said sadly, but resolutely:

"What you wish is impossible, Gaston!"

This cold, inexplicable resistance confounded her lover.

"Impossible? Why, Valentine----"

"You know me well enough, Gaston, to be convinced that sharing the
greatest hardships with you would to me be the height of happiness. But
above the tones of your voice to which I fain would yield, above the
voice of my own heart which urges me to follow the one being upon whom
all its affections are centred, there is another voice--a powerful,
imperious voice--which bids me to stay: the voice of duty."

"What! Would you think of remaining here after the horrible affair of
to-night, after the scandal that will be spread to-morrow?"

"What do you mean? That I am lost, dishonored? Am I any more so to-day
than I was yesterday? Do you think that the jeers and scoffs of
the world could make me suffer more than do the pangs of my guilty
conscience? I have long since passed judgment upon myself, Gaston; and,
although the sound of your voice and the touch of your hand would make
me forget all save the bliss of your love, no sooner were you away than
I would weep tears of shame and remorse."

Gaston listened immovable, stupefied. He seemed to see a new Valentine
standing before him, an entirely different woman from the one whose
tender soul he thought he knew so well.

"Your mother, what will she say?" he asked.

"It is my duty to her that keeps me here. Do you wish me to prove an
unnatural daughter, and desert a poor, lonely, friendless old woman, who
has nothing but me to cling to? Could I abandon her to follow a lover?"

"But our enemies will inform her of everything, Valentine, and think how
she will make you suffer!"

"No matter. The dictates of conscience must be obeyed. Ah, why can I
not, at the price of my life, spare her the agony of hearing that her
only daughter, her Valentine, has disgraced her name? She may be hard,
cruel, pitiless toward me; but have I not deserved it? Oh, my only
friend, we have been revelling in a dream too beautiful to last! I have
long dreaded this awakening. Like two weak, credulous fools we imagined
that happiness could exist beyond the pale of duty. Sooner or later
stolen joys must be dearly paid for. After the sweet comes the bitter;
we must bow our heads, and drink the cup to the dregs."

This cold reasoning, this sad resignation, was more than the fiery
nature of Gaston could bear.

"You shall not talk thus!" he cried. "Can you not feel that the bare
idea of your suffering humiliation drives me mad?"

"Alas! I see nothing but disgrace, the most fearful disgrace, staring me
in the face."

"What do you mean, Valentine?"

"I have not told you, Gaston, I am----"

Here she stopped, hesitated, and then added:

"Nothing! I am a fool."

Had Gaston been less excited, he would have suspected some new
misfortune beneath this reticence of Valentine; but his mind was too
full of one idea--that of possessing her.

"All hope is not lost," he continued. "My father is kind-hearted, and
was touched by my love and despair. I am sure that my letters, added to
the intercession of my brother Louis, will induce him to ask Mme. de la
Verberie for your hand."

This proposition seemed to frighten Valentine.

"Heaven forbid that the marquis should take this rash step!"

"Why, Valentine?"

"Because my mother would reject his offer; because, I must confess it
now, she has sworn I shall marry none but a rich man; and your father is
not rich, Gaston, so you will have very little."

"Good heavens!" cried Gaston, with disgust, "is it to such an unnatural
mother that you sacrifice me?"

"She is my mother; that is sufficient. I have not the right to judge
her. My duty is to remain with her, and remain I shall."

Valentine's manner showed such determined resolution, that Gaston saw
that further prayers would be in vain.

"Alas!" he cried, as he wrung his hands with despair, "you do not love
me; you have never loved me!"

"Gaston, Gaston! you do not think what you say! Have you no mercy?"

"If you loved me," he cried, "you could never, at this moment of
separation, have the cruel courage to coldly reason and calculate. Ah,
far different is my love for you. Without you the world is void; to lose
you is to die. What have I to live for? Let the Rhone take back this
worthless life, so miraculously saved; it is now a burden to me!"

And he rushed toward the river, determined to bury his sorrow beneath
its waves; Valentine seized his arm, and held him back.

"Is this the way to show your love for me?" she asked.

Gaston was absolutely discouraged.

"What is the use of living?" he said, dejectedly. "What is left to me
now?"

"God is left to us, Gaston; and in his hands lies our future."

As a shipwrecked man seizes a rotten plank in his desperation, so
Gaston eagerly caught at the word "future," as a beacon in the gloomy
darkness surrounding him.

"Your commands shall be obeyed," he cried with enthusiasm. "Away with
weakness! Yes, I will live, and struggle, and triumph. Mme. de la
Verberie wants gold; well, she shall have it; in three years I will be
rich, or I shall be dead."

With clasped hands Valentine thanked Heaven for this sudden
determination, which was more than she had dared hope for.

"But," said Gaston, "before going away I wish to confide to you a sacred
deposit."

He drew from his pocket the purse of jewels, and, handing them to
Valentine, added:

"These jewels belonged to my poor mother; you, my angel, are alone
worthy of wearing them. I thought of you when I accepted them from my
father. I felt that you, as my affianced wife, were the proper person to
have them."

Valentine refused to accept them.

"Take them, my darling, as a pledge of my return. If I do not come back
within three years, you may know that I am dead, and then you must keep
them as a souvenir of him who so much loved you."

She burst into tears, and took the purse.

"And now," said Gaston, "I have a last request to make. Everybody
believes me dead, but I cannot let my poor old father labor under this
impression. Swear to me that you will go yourself to-morrow morning, and
tell him that I am still alive."

"I will tell him, myself," she said.

Gaston felt that he must now tear himself away before his courage failed
him; each moment he was more loath to leave the only being who bound
him to this world; he enveloped Valentine in a last fond embrace, and
started up.

"What is your plan of escape?" she asked.

"I shall go to Marseilles, and hide in a friend's house until I can
procure a passage to America."

"You must have assistance; I will secure you a guide in whom I have
unbounded confidence; old Menoul, the ferryman, who lives near us. He
owns the boat which he plies on the Rhone."

The lovers passed through the little park gate, of which Gaston had the
key, and soon reached the boatman's cabin.

He was asleep in an easy-chair by the fire. When Valentine stood before
him with Gaston, the old man jumped up, and kept rubbing his eyes,
thinking it must be a dream.

"Pere Menoul," said Valentine, "M. Gaston is compelled to fly the
country; he wants to be rowed out to sea, so that he can secretly
embark. Can you take him in your boat as far as the mouth of the Rhone?"

"It is impossible," said the old man, shaking his head; "I would not
dare venture on the river in its present state."

"But, Pere Menoul, it would be of immense service to me; would you not
venture for my sake?"

"For your sake? certainly I would, Mlle. Valentine: I will do anything
to gratify you. I am ready to start."

He looked at Gaston, and, seeing his clothes wet and covered with mud,
said to him:

"Allow me to offer you my dead son's clothes, monsieur; they will serve
as a disguise: come this way."

In a few minutes Pere Menoul returned with Gaston, whom no one would
have recognized in his sailor dress.

Valentine went with them to the place where the boat was moored. While
the old man was unfastening it, the disconsolate lovers tearfully
embraced each other for the last time.

"In three years, my own Valentine; promise to wait three years for me!
If alive, I will then see you."

"Adieu, mademoiselle," interrupted the boatman; "and you, monsieur, hold
fast, and keep steady."

Then with a vigorous stroke of the boat-hook he sent the bark into the
middle of the stream.

Three days later, thanks to the assistance of Pere Menoul, Gaston was
concealed on the three-masted American vessel, Tom Jones, which was to
start the next day for Valparaiso.




XIV

Cold and white as a marble statue, Valentine stood on the bank of the
river, watching the frail bark which was carrying her lover away. It
flew along the Rhone like a bird in a tempest, and after a few seconds
appeared like a black speck in the midst of the heavy fog which floated
over the water, then was lost to view.

Now that Gaston was gone, Valentine had no motive for concealing her
despair; she wrung her hands and sobbed as if her heart would break. All
her forced calmness, her bravery and hopefulness, were gone. She felt
crushed and lost, as if the sharp pain in her heart was the forerunner
of the torture in store for her; as if that swiftly gliding bark had
carried off the better part of herself.

While Gaston treasured in the bottom of his heart a ray of hope, she
felt there was nothing to look forward to but shame and sorrow.

The horrible facts which stared her in the face convinced her that
happiness in this life was over; the future was worse than blank. She
wept and shuddered at the prospect.

She slowly retraced her footsteps through the friendly little gate which
had so often admitted poor Gaston; and, as she closed it behind her,
she seemed to be placing an impassable barrier between herself and
happiness.

Before entering, Valentine walked around the chateau, and looked up at
the windows of her mother's chamber.

They were brilliantly lighted, as usual at this hour, for Mme. de la
Verberie passed half the night in reading, and slept till late in the
day.

Enjoying the comforts of life, which are little costly in the country,
the selfish countess disturbed herself very little about her daughter.

Fearing no danger in their isolation, she left her at perfect liberty;
and day and night Valentine might go and come, take long walks, and sit
under trees for hours at a time, without restriction.

But on this night Valentine feared being seen. She would be called upon
to explain the torn, muddy condition of her dress, and what answer could
she give?

Fortunately she could reach her room without meeting anyone.

She needed solitude in order to collect her thoughts, and to pray for
strength to bear the heavy burden of her sorrows, and to withstand the
angry storm about to burst over her head.

Seated before her little work-table, she emptied the purse of jewels,
and mechanically examined them.

It would be a sweet, sad comfort to wear the simplest of the rings, she
thought, as she slipped the sparkling gem on her finger; but her mother
would ask her where it came from. What answer could she give? Alas,
none.

She kissed the purse, in memory of Gaston, and then concealed the sacred
deposit in her bureau.

When she thought of going to Clameran, to inform the old marquis of the
miraculous preservation of his son's life, her heart sank.

Blinded by his passion, Gaston did not think, when he requested this
service, of the obstacles and dangers to be braved in its performance.

But Valentine saw them only too clearly; yet it did not occur to her for
an instant to break her promise by sending another, or by delaying to go
herself.

At sunrise she dressed herself.

When the bell was ringing for early mass, she thought it a good time to
start on her errand.

The servants were all up, and one of them named Mihonne, who always
waited on Valentine, was scrubbing the vestibule.

"If mother asks for me," said Valentine to the girl, "tell her I have
gone to early mass."

She often went to church at this hour, so there was nothing to be feared
thus far; Mihonne looked at her sadly, but said nothing.

Valentine knew that she would have difficulty in returning to breakfast.
She would have to walk a league before reaching the bridge, and it was
another league thence to Clameran; in all she must walk four leagues.

She set forth at a rapid pace. The consciousness of performing an
extraordinary action, the feverish anxiety of peril incurred, increased
her haste. She forgot that she had worn herself out weeping all night;
that this fictitious strength could not last.

In spite of her efforts, it was after eight o'clock when she reached the
long avenue leading to the main entrance of the chateau of Clameran.

She had only proceeded a few steps, when she saw old St. Jean coming
down the path.

She stopped and waited for him; he hastened his steps at sight of her,
as if having something to tell her.

He was very much excited, and his eyes were swollen with weeping.

To Valentine's surprise, he did not take off his hat to bow, and when he
came up to her, he said, rudely:

"Are you going up to the chateau, mademoiselle?"

"Yes."

"If you are going after M. Gaston," said the servant, with an
insolent sneer, "you are taking useless trouble. M. the Count is dead,
mademoiselle; he sacrificed himself for the sake of a worthless woman."

Valentine turned white at this insult, but took no notice of it.
St. Jean, who expected to see her overcome by the dreadful news, was
bewildered at her composure.

"I am going to the chateau," she said, quietly, "to speak to the
marquis."

St. Jean stifled a sob, and said:

"Then it is not worth while to go any farther."

"Why?"

"Because the Marquis of Clameran died at five o'clock this morning."

Valentine leaned against a tree to prevent herself from falling.

"Dead!" she gasped.

"Yes," said St. Jean, fiercely; "yes, dead!"

A faithful servant of the old regime, St. Jean shared all the passions,
weaknesses, friendships, and enmities of his master. He had a horror of
the La Verberies. And now he saw in Valentine the woman who had caused
the death of the marquis whom he had served for forty years, and of
Gaston whom he worshipped.

"I will tell you how he died," said the bitter old man. "Yesterday
evening, when those hounds came and told the marquis that his eldest
son was dead, he who was as hardy as an oak, and could face any danger,
instantly gave way, and dropped as if struck by lightning. I was there.
He wildly beat the air with his hands, and fell without opening his
lips; not one word did he utter. We put him to bed, and M. Louis
galloped into Tarascon for a doctor. But the blow had struck too deeply.
When Dr. Raget arrived he said there was no hope.

"At daybreak, the marquis recovered consciousness enough to ask for M.
Louis, with whom he remained alone for some minutes. The last words he
uttered were, 'Father and son the same day; there will be rejoicing at
La Verberie.'"

Valentine might have soothed the sorrow of the faithful servant, by
telling him Gaston still lived; but she feared it would be indiscreet,
and, unfortunately, said nothing.

"Can I see M. Louis?" she asked after a long silence.

This question seemed to arouse all the anger slumbering in the breast of
poor St. Jean.

"You! You would dare take such a step, Mlle. de la Verberie? What! would
you presume to appear before him after what has happened? I will never
allow it! And you had best, moreover, take my advice, and return home at
once. I will not answer for the tongues of the servants here, when they
see you."

And, without waiting for an answer, he hurried away.

What could Valentine do? Humiliated and miserable, she could only
wearily drag her aching limbs back the way she had so rapidly come early
that morning. On the road, she met many people coming from the town,
where they had heard of the events of the previous night; and the poor
girl was obliged to keep her eyes fastened to the ground in order
to escape the insulting looks and mocking salutations with which the
gossips passed her.

When Valentine reached La Verberie, she found Mihonne waiting for her.

"Ah, mademoiselle," she said, "make haste, and go in the house. Madame
had a visitor this morning, and ever since she left has been crying
out for you. Hurry; and take care what you say to her, for she is in a
violent passion."

Much has been said in favor of the patriarchal manners of our ancestors.

Their manners may have been patriarchal years and years ago; but our
mothers and wives nowadays certainly have not such ready hands and quick
tongues, and are sometimes, at least, elegant in manner, and choice in
their language.

Mme. de La Verberie had preserved the manners of the good old times,
when grand ladies swore like troopers, and impressed their remarks by
slaps in the face.

When Valentine appeared, she was overwhelmed with coarse epithets and
violent abuse.

The countess had been informed of everything, with many gross additions
added by public scandal. An old dowager, her most intimate friend, had
hurried over early in the morning, to offer her this poisoned dish of
gossip, seasoned with her own pretended condolences.

In this sad affair, Mme. de la Verberie mourned less over her daughter's
loss of reputation, than over the ruin of her own projects--projects
of going to Paris, making a grand marriage for Valentine, and living in
luxury the rest of her days.

A young girl so compromised would not find it easy to get a husband.
It would now be necessary to keep her two years longer in the country,
before introducing her into Parisian society. The world must have time
to forget this scandal.

"You worthless wretch!" cried the countess with fury; "is it thus you
respect the noble traditions of our family? Heretofore it has never been
considered necessary to watch the La Verberies; they could take care of
their honor: but you must take advantage of your liberty to cover our
name with disgrace!"

With a sinking heart, Valentine had foreseen this tirade. She felt
that it was only a just punishment for her conduct. Knowing that the
indignation of her mother was just, she meekly hung her head like a
repentant sinner at the bar of justice.

But this submissive silence only exasperated the angry countess.

"Why do you not answer me?" she screamed with flashing eyes and a
threatening gesture. "Speak! you----"

"What can I say, mother?"

"Say, miserable girl? Say that they lied when they accused a La Verberie
of disgracing her name! Speak: defend yourself!"

Valentine mournfully shook her head, but said nothing.

"It is true, then?" shrieked the countess, beside herself with rage;
"what they said is true?"

"Forgive me, mother: have mercy! I am so miserable!" moaned the poor
girl.

"Forgive! have mercy! Do you dare to tell me I have not been deceived by
this gossip to-day? Do you have the insolence to stand there and glory
in your shame? Whose blood flows in your veins? You seem to be ignorant
that some faults should be persistently denied, no matter how glaring
the evidence against them. And you are my daughter! Can you not
understand that an ignominious confession like this should never be
forced from a woman by any human power? But no, you have lovers, and
unblushingly avow it. Why not run over the town and tell everybody?
Boast of it, glory in it: it would be something new!"

"Alas! you are pitiless, mother!"

"Did you ever have any pity on me, my dutiful daughter? Did it ever
occur to you that your disgrace would kill me? No: I suppose you
and your lover have often laughed at my blind confidence; for I had
confidence in you: I had perfect faith in you. I believed you to be
as innocent as when you lay in your cradle. And it has come to this:
drunken men make a jest of your name in a billiard-room, then fight
about you, and kill each other. I intrusted to you the honor of
our name, and what did you do with it? You handed it over to the
first-comer!"

This was too much for Valentine. The words, "first-comer," wounded
her pride more than all the other abuse heaped upon her. She tried to
protest against this unmerited insult.

"Ah, I have made a mistake in supposing this to be the first one," said
the countess. "Among your many lovers, you choose the heir of our worst
enemy, the son of those detested Clamerans. Among all, you select a
coward who publicly boasted of your favors; a wretch who tried to avenge
himself for the heroism of our ancestors by ruining you and me--an old
woman and a child!"

"No, mother, you do him wrong. He loved me, and hopes for your consent."

"Wants to marry you, does he? Never, never shall that come to pass! I
would rather see you lower than you are, in the gutter, laid in your
coffin, than see you the wife of that man!"

Thus the hatred of the countess was expressed very much in the terms
which the old marquis had used to his son.

"Besides," she added, with a ferocity of which only a bad woman is
capable, "your lover is drowned, and the old marquis is dead. God is
just; we are avenged."

The words of St. Jean, "There will be rejoicing at La Verberie," rung
in Valentine's ears, as she saw the countess's eyes sparkle with wicked
joy.

This was too much for the unfortunate girl.

For half an hour she had been exerting all of her strength to bear this
cruel violence from her mother; but her physical endurance was not equal
to the task. She turned pale, and with half-closed eyes tried to seize a
table, as she felt herself falling; but her head fell against a bracket,
and with bleeding forehead she dropped at her mother's feet.

The cold-hearted countess felt no revival of maternal love, as she
looked at her daughter's lifeless form. Her vanity was wounded, but
no other emotion disturbed her. Hers was a heart so full of anger and
hatred that there was no room for any nobler sentiment.

She rang the bell; and the affrighted servants, who were trembling in
the passage at the loud and angry tones of that voice, of which they all
stood in terror, came running in.

"Carry mademoiselle to her room," she ordered: "lock her up, and bring
me the key."

The countess intended keeping Valentine a close prisoner for a long
time.

She well knew the mischievous, gossiping propensities of country people,
who, from mere idleness, indulge in limitless scandal. A poor fallen
girl must either leave the country, or drink to the very dregs the
chalice of premeditated humiliations, heaped up and offered her by her
neighbors. Each clown delights in casting a stone at her.

The plans of the countess were destined to be disconcerted.

The servants came to tell her that Valentine was restored to
consciousness, but seemed to be very ill.

She replied that she would not listen to such absurdities, that it was
all affectation; but Mihonne insisted upon her going up and judging for
herself. She unwillingly went to her daughter's room, and saw that her
life was in danger.

The countess betrayed no apprehension, but sent to Tarascon for Dr.
Raget, who was the oracle of the neighborhood; he was with the Marquis
of Clameran when he died.

Dr. Raget was one of those men who leave a blessed memory, which lives
long after they have left this world.

Intelligent, noble-hearted, and wealthy, he devoted his life to his art;
going from the mansions of the rich to the hovels of the poor, without
ever accepting remuneration for his services.

At all hours of the night and day, his gray horse and old buggy might
be seen, with a basket of wine and soup under the seat, for his poorer
patients.

He was a little, bald-headed man of fifty, with a quick, bright eye, and
pleasant face.

The servant fortunately found him at home; and he was soon standing
at Valentine's bed-side, with a grave, perplexed look upon his usually
cheerful face.

Endowed with profound perspicacity, quickened by practice, he studied
Valentine and her mother alternately; and the penetrating gaze which
he fastened on the old countess so disconcerted her that she felt her
wrinkled face turning very red.

"This child is very ill," he abruptly said.

Mme. de la Verberie made no reply.

"I desire," continued the doctor, "to remain alone with her for a few
minutes."

The countess dared not resist the authority of a man of Dr. Raget's
character, and retired to the next room, apparently calm, but in reality
disturbed by the most gloomy forebodings.

At the end of half an hour--it seemed a century--the doctor entered the
room where she was waiting. He, who had witnessed so much suffering
and misery all his life, was agitated and nervous after talking with
Valentine.

"Well," said the countess, "what is the matter?"

"Summon all your courage, madame," he answered sadly, "and be prepared
to grant indulgence and pardon to your suffering child. Mlle. Valentine
will soon become a mother."

"The worthless creature! I feared as much."

The doctor was shocked at this dreadful expression of the countess's
eye. He laid his hand on her arm, and gave her a penetrating look,
beneath which she instantly quailed.

The doctor's suspicions were correct.

A dreadful idea had flashed across Mme. de la Verberie's mind--the idea
of destroying this child which would be a living proof of Valentine's
sin.

Feeling that her evil intention was divined, the proud woman's eyes fell
beneath the doctor's obstinate gaze.

"I do not understand you, Dr. Raget," she murmured.

"But I understand you, madame; and I simply tell you that a crime does
not obliterate a fault."

"Doctor!"

"I merely say what I think, madame. If I am mistaken in my impression,
so much the better for you. At present, the condition of your daughter
is serious, but not dangerous. Excitement and distress of mind have
unstrung her nerves, and she now has a high fever; but I hope by great
care and good nursing that she will soon recover."

The countess saw that the good doctor's suspicions were not dissipated;
so she thought she would try affectionate anxiety, and said:

"At least, doctor, you can assure me that the dear child's life is not
in danger?"

"No, madame," answered Dr. Raget with cutting irony, "your maternal
tenderness need not be alarmed. All the poor child needs is rest of
mind, which you alone can give her. A few kind words from you will do
her more good than all of my prescriptions. But remember, madame,
that the least shock or nervous excitement will produce the most fatal
consequences."

"I am aware of that," said the hypocritical countess, "and shall be very
careful. I must confess that I was unable to control my anger upon first
hearing your announcement."

"But now that the first shock is over, madame, being a mother and a
Christian, you will do your duty. My duty is to save your daughter and
her child. I will call to-morrow."

Mme. de la Verberie had no idea of having the doctor go off in this
way. She called him back, and, without reflecting that she was betraying
herself, cried out:

"Do you pretend to say, monsieur, that you will prevent my taking every
means to conceal this terrible misfortune that has fallen upon me? Do
you wish our shame to be made public, to make me the laughing-stock of
the neighborhood?"

The doctor reflected without answering; the condition of affairs was
grave.

"No, madame," he finally said; "I cannot prevent your leaving La
Verberie: that would be overstepping my powers. But it is my duty to
hold you to account for the child. You are at liberty to go where you
please; but you must give me proof of the child's living, or at least
that no attempts have been made against its life."

After uttering these threatening words he left the house, and it was in
good time; for the countess was choking with suppressed rage.

"Insolent upstart!" she said, "to presume to dictate to a woman of my
rank! Ah, if I were not completely at his mercy!"

But she was at his mercy, and she knew well enough that it would be
safest to obey.

She stamped her foot with anger, as she thought that all her ambitious
plans were dashed to the ground.

No more hopes of luxury, of a millionaire son-in-law, of splendid
carriages, rich dresses, and charming card-parties where she could lose
money all night without disturbing her mind.

She would have to die as she had lived, neglected and poor; and this
future life of deprivation would be harder to bear than the past,
because she no longer had bright prospects to look forward to. It was a
cruel awakening from her golden dreams.

And it was Valentine who brought this misery upon her.

This reflection aroused all her inherent bitterness, and she felt toward
her daughter one of those implacable hatreds which, instead of being
quenched, are strengthened by time.

She wished she could see Valentine lying dead before her; above all
would she like the accursed infant to come to grief.

But the doctor's threatening look was still before her, and she dared
not attempt her wicked plans. She even forced herself to go and say a
few forgiving words to Valentine, and then left her to the care of the
faithful Mihonne.

Poor Valentine! she prayed that death might kindly end her sufferings.
She had neither the moral nor physical courage to fight against her
fate, but hopelessly sank beneath the first blow, and made no attempt to
rally herself.

She was, however, getting better. She felt that dull, heavy sensation
which always follows violent mental or physical suffering; she was still
able to reflect, and thought:

"Well, it is over; my mother knows everything. I no longer have her
anger to fear, and must trust to time for her forgiveness."

This was the secret which Valentine had refused to reveal to Gaston,
because she feared that he would refuse to leave her if he knew it; and
she wished him to escape at any price of suffering to herself. Even now
she did not regret having followed the dictates of duty, and remained at
home.

The only thought which distressed her was Gaston's danger. Had he
succeeded in embarking? How would she find out? The doctor had allowed
her to get up; but she was not well enough to go out, and she did not
know when she should be able to walk as far as Pere Menoul's cabin.

Happily the devoted old boatman was intelligent enough to anticipate her
wishes.

Hearing that the young lady at the chateau was very ill, he set about
devising some means of informing her of her friend's safety. He went to
La Verberie several times on pretended errands, and finally succeeded in
seeing Valentine. One of the servants was present, so he could not speak
to her; but he made her understand by a significant look that Gaston was
out of danger.

This knowledge contributed more toward Valentine's recovery than all the
medicines administered by the doctor, who, after visiting her daily for
six weeks, now pronounced his patient sufficiently strong to bear the
fatigues of a journey.

The countess had waited with the greatest impatience for this decision.
In order to prevent any delay, she had already sold at a discount half
of her incoming rents, supposing that the sum thus raised, twenty-five
thousand francs, would suffice for all contingent expenses.

For a fortnight she had been calling on all of her neighbors to bid them
farewell, saying that her daughter had entirely recovered her health,
and that she was going to take her to England to visit a rich old uncle,
who had repeatedly written for her.

Valentine looked forward to this journey with terror, and shuddered
when, on the evening that the doctor gave her permission to set out, her
mother came to her room, and said:

"We will start the day after to-morrow."

Only one day left! And Valentine had been unable to let Louis de
Clameran know that his brother was still living.

In this extremity she was obliged to confide in Mihonne, and sent her
with a letter to Louis.

But the faithful servant had a useless walk.

The chateau of Clameran was deserted; all the servants had been
dismissed, and M. Louis, whom they now called the marquis, had gone
abroad.

At last they started. Mme. de la Verberie, feeling that she could trust
Mihonne, decided to take her along; but first made her sacredly promise
eternal secrecy.

It was in a little village near London that the countess, under the
assumed name of Mrs. Wilson, took up her abode with her daughter and
maid-servant.

She selected England, because she had lived there a long time, and was
well acquainted with the manners and habits of the people, and spoke
their language as well as she did her own.

She had also kept up her acquaintanceship with some of the English
nobility, and often dined and went to the theatre with her friends in
London. On these occasions she always took the humiliating precaution of
locking up Valentine until she should return.

It was in this sad, solitary house, in the month of May, that the son
of Valentine de la Verberie was born. He was taken to the parish
priest, and christened Valentin-Raoul Wilson. The countess had prepared
everything, and engaged an honest farmer's wife to adopt the child,
bring him up as her own, and, when old enough, have him taught a trade.
For doing this the countess paid her five hundred pounds.

Little Raoul was given over to his adopted parent a few hours after his
birth.

The good woman thought him the child of an English lady, and there
seemed no probability that he would ever discover the secret of his
birth.

Restored to consciousness, Valentine asked for her child. She yearned
to clasp it to her bosom; she implored to be allowed to hold her babe in
her arms for only one minute.

But the cruel countess was pitiless.

"Your child!" she cried, "you must be dreaming; you have no child. You
have had brain fever, but no child."

And as Valentine persisted in saying that she knew the child was alive,
and that she must see it, the countess was forced to change her tactics.

"Your child is alive, and shall want for nothing," she said sharply;
"let that suffice; and be thankful that I have so well concealed your
disgrace. You must forget what has happened, as you would forget a
painful dream. The past must be ignored--wiped out forever. You know me
well enough to understand that I will be obeyed."

The moment had come when Valentine should have asserted her maternal
rights, and resisted the countess's tyranny.

She had the idea, but not the courage to do so.

If, on one side, she saw the dangers of an almost culpable
resignation--for she, too, was a mother!--on the other she felt crushed
by the consciousness of her guilt.

She sadly yielded; surrendered herself into the hands of a mother whose
conduct she refrained from questioning, to escape the painful necessity
of condemning it.

But she secretly pined, and inwardly rebelled against her sad
disappointment; and thus her recovery was delayed for several months.

Toward the end of July, the countess took her back to La Verberie.
This time the mischief-makers and gossips were skilfully deceived. The
countess went everywhere, and instituted secret inquiries, but heard no
suspicions of the object of her long trip to England. Everyone believed
in the visit to the rich uncle.

Only one man, Dr. Raget, knew the truth; and, although Mme. de la
Verberie hated him from the bottom of her heart, she did him the justice
to feel sure that she had nothing to fear from his indiscretion.

Her first visit was paid to him.

When she entered the room, she abruptly threw on the table the official
papers which she had procured especially for him.

"These will prove to you, monsieur, that the child is living, and well
cared for at a cost that I can ill afford."

"These are perfectly right, madame," he replied, after an attentive
examination of the papers, "and, if your conscience does not reproach
you, of course I have nothing to say."

"My conscience reproaches me with nothing, monsieur."

The old doctor shook his head, and gazing searchingly into her eyes,
said:

"Can you say that you have not been harsh, even to cruelty?"

She turned away her head, and, assuming her grand air, answered:

"I have acted as a woman of my rank should act; and I am surprised to
find in you an advocate and abettor of misconduct."

"Ah, madame," said the doctor, "it is your place to show kindness to the
poor girl; and if you feel none yourself, you have no right to complain
of it in others. What indulgence do you expect from strangers toward
your unhappy daughter, when you, her mother, are so pitiless?"

This plain-spoken truth offended the countess, and she rose to leave.

"Have you finished what you have to say, Dr. Raget?" she asked,
haughtily.

"Yes, madame; I have done. My only object was to spare you eternal
remorse. Good-day."

The good doctor was mistaken in his idea of Mme. de la Verberie's
character. She was utterly incapable of feeling remorse; but she
suffered cruelly when her selfish vanity was wounded, or her comfort
disturbed.

She resumed her luxurious mode of living, but, having disposed of a part
of her income, found it difficult to make both ends meet.

This furnished her with an inexhaustible text for complaint; and at
every meal she reproached Valentine so unmercifully, that the poor girl
shrank from coming to the table.

She seemed to forget her own command, that the past should be buried in
oblivion, and constantly recurred to it for food for her anger; a day
seldom passed, that she did not say to Valentine:

"Your conduct has ruined me."

One day her daughter could not refrain from replying:

"I suppose you would have pardoned the fault, had it enriched us."

But these revolts of Valentine were rare, although her life was a series
of tortures inflicted with inquisitorial cruelty.

Even the memory of Gaston had become a suffering.

Perhaps, discovering the uselessness of her sacrifice, of her courage,
and her devotion to what she had considered her duty, she regretted not
having followed him. What had become of him? Might he not have contrived
to send her a letter, a word to let her know that he was still alive?
Perhaps he was not dead. Perhaps he had forgotten her. He had sworn to
return a rich man before the lapse of three years. Would he ever return?

There was a risk in his returning under any circumstances. His
disappearance had not ended the terrible affair of Tarascon. He was
supposed to be dead; but as there was no positive proof of his death,
and his body could not be found, the law was compelled to yield to the
clamor of public opinion.

The case was brought before the assize court; and, in default of
appearance, Gaston de Clameran was sentenced to several years of close
confinement.

As to Louis de Clameran, no one knew positively what had become of
him. Some people said he was leading a life of reckless extravagance in
Paris.

Informed of these facts by her faithful Mihonne, Valentine became
more gloomy and hopeless than ever. Vainly did she question the dreary
future; no ray appeared upon the dark horizon of her life.

Her elasticity was gone; and she had finally reached that state of
passive resignation peculiar to people who are oppressed and cowed at
home.

In this miserable way, passed four years since the fatal evening when
Gaston left her.

Mme. de la Verberie had spent these years in constant discomfort. Seeing
that she could not live upon her income, and having too much pride to
sell her land, which was so badly managed that it only brought her in
two per cent, she mortgaged her estate in order to raise money only to
be spent as soon as borrowed.

In such matters, it is the first step that costs; and, after having once
commenced to live upon her capital, the countess made rapid strides in
extravagance, saying to herself, "After me, the deluge!" Very much as
her neighbor, the late Marquis of Clameran, had managed his affairs, she
was now conducting hers, having but one object in view--her own comfort
and pleasure.

She made frequent visits to the neighboring towns of Nimes and Avignon;
she sent to Paris for the most elegant toilets, and entertained a great
deal of company. All the luxury that she had hoped to obtain by the
acquisition of a rich son-in-law, she determined to give herself,
utterly regardless of the fact that she was reducing her child to
beggary. Great sorrows require consolation!

The summer that she returned from London, she did not hesitate to
indulge her fancy for a horse; it was rather old, to be sure, but, when
harnessed to a second-hand carriage bought on credit at Beaucaire, made
quite a good appearance.

She would quiet her conscience, which occasionally reproached her for
this constant extravagance, by saying, "I am so unhappy!"

The unhappiness was that this luxury cost her dear, very dear.

After having sold the rest of her rents, the countess first mortgaged
the estate of La Verberie, and then the chateau itself.

In less than four years she owed more than forty thousand francs, and
was unable to pay the interest of her debt.

She was racking her mind to discover some means of escape from her
difficulties, when chance came to her rescue.

For some time a young engineer, employed in surveys along the Rhone, had
made the village of Beaucaire the centre of his operations.

Being handsome, agreeable, and of polished manners, he had been warmly
welcomed by the neighboring society, and the countess frequently met
him at the houses of her friends where she went to play cards in the
evenings.

This young engineer was named Andre Fauvel.

The first time he met Valentine he was struck by her beauty, and after
once looking into her large, melancholy eyes, his admiration deepened
into love; a love so earnest and passionate, that he felt that he could
never be happy without her.

Before being introduced to her, his heart had surrendered itself to her
charms.

He was wealthy; a splendid career was open to him, he was free; and he
swore that Valentine should be his.

He confided all his matrimonial plans to an old friend of Mme. de la
Verberie, who was as noble as a Montmorency, and as poor as Job.

With the precision of a graduate of the polytechnic school, he had
enumerated all his qualifications for being a model son-in-law.

For a long time the old lady listened to him without interruption;
but, when he had finished, she did not hesitate to tell him that his
pretensions were presumptuous.

What! he, a man of no pedigree, a Fauvel, a common surveyor, to aspire
to the hand of a La Verberie!

After having enumerated all the superior advantages of that superior
order of beings, the nobility, she condescended to take a common-sense
view of the case, and said:

"However, you may succeed. The poor countess owes money in every
direction; not a day passes without the bailiffs calling upon her; so
that, you understand, if a rich suitor appeared, and agreed to her terms
for settlements--well, well, there is no knowing what might happen."

Andre Fauvel was young and sentimental: the insinuations of the old lady
seemed to him preposterous.

On reflection, however, when he had studied the character of the
nobility in the neighborhood, who were rich in nothing but prejudices,
he clearly saw that pecuniary considerations alone would be strong
enough to decide the proud Countess de la Verberie to grant him her
daughter's hand.

This certainly ended his hesitations, and he turned his whole attention
to devising a plan for presenting his claim.

He did not find this an easy thing to accomplish. To go in quest of a
wife with her purchase-money in his hand was repugnant to his feelings,
and contrary to his ideas of delicacy. But he had no one to urge his
suit for him on his own merits; so he was compelled to shut his eyes to
the distasteful features of his task, and treat his passion as a matter
of business.

The occasion so anxiously awaited, to explain his intentions, soon
presented itself.

One day he entered a hotel at Beaucaire, and, as he sat down to dinner,
he saw that Mme. de la Verberie was at the adjoining table. He blushed
deeply, and asked permission to sit at her table, which was granted with
a most encouraging smile.

Did the countess suspect the love of the young engineer? Had she been
warned by her friend?

At any rate, without giving Andre time to gradually approach the subject
weighing on his mind, she began to complain of the hard times, the
scarcity of money, and the grasping meanness of the trades-people.

She had come to Beaucaire, indeed, to borrow money, and found every bank
and cash-box closed against her; and her lawyer had advised her to sell
her land for what it would bring. This made her very angry.

Temper, joined to that secret instinct of the situation of affairs which
is the sixth sense of a woman, loosened her tongue, and made her more
communicative to this comparative stranger than she had ever been to
her bosom friends. She explained to him the horror of her situation,
her present needs, her anxiety for the future, and, above all, her great
distress at not being able to marry off her beloved daughter. If she
only had a dowry for her child!

Andre listened to these complaints with becoming commiseration, but in
reality he was delighted.

Without giving her time to finish her tale, he began to state what he
called his view of the matter.

He said that, although he sympathized deeply with the countess, he could
not account for her uneasiness about her daughter.

What? Could she be disturbed at having no dowry for her? Why, the rank
and beauty of Mlle. Valentine were a fortune in themselves, of which any
man might be proud.

He knew more than one man who would esteem himself only too happy if
Mlle. Valentine would accept his name, and confer upon him the sweet
duty of relieving her mother from all anxiety and care. Finally, he did
not think the situation of the countess's affairs nearly so desperate as
she imagined. How much money would be necessary to pay off the mortgages
upon La Verberie? About forty thousand francs, perhaps? Indeed! That was
but a mere trifle.

Besides, this sum need not be a gift from the son-in-law; if she chose,
it might be a loan, because the estate would be his in the end, and in
time the land would be double its present value; it would be a pity to
sell now. A man, too, worthy of Valentine's love could never let his
wife's mother want for the comforts and luxuries due to a lady of her
age, rank, and misfortunes. He would be only too glad to offer her a
sufficient income, not only to provide comfort, but even luxury.

As Andre spoke, in a tone too earnest to be assumed, it seemed to the
countess that a celestial dew was dropping upon her pecuniary wounds.
Her countenance was radiant with joy, her fierce little eyes beamed with
the most encouraging tenderness, her thin lips were wreathed in the most
friendly smiles.

One thought disturbed the young engineer.

"Does she understand me seriously?" he thought.

She certainly did, as her subsequent remarks proved. He saw that the
would-be sentimental old lady had an eye to business.

"Alas!" she sighed, "La Verberie cannot be saved by forty thousand
francs; the principal and interest of the debt amount to sixty
thousand."

"Oh, either forty or sixty thousand is nothing worth speaking of."

"Four thousand francs is not enough to support a lady respectably,"
she said after a pause. "Everything is so dear in this section of the
country! But with six thousand francs--yes, six thousand francs would
make me happy!"

The young man thought that her demands were becoming excessive, but with
the generosity of an ardent lover he said:

"The son-in-law of whom we are speaking cannot be very devoted to Mlle.
Valentine, if the paltry sum of two thousand francs were objected to for
an instant."

"You promise too much!" muttered the countess.

"The imaginary son-in-law," she finally added, "must be an honorable man
who will fulfil his promises. I have my daughter's happiness too much
at heart to give her to a man who did not produce--what do you call
them?--securities, guarantees."

"Decidedly," thought Fauvel with mortification, "we are making a bargain
and sale."

Then he said aloud:

"Of course, your son-in-law would bind himself in the marriage contract
to--"

"Never! monsieur, never! Put such an agreement in the marriage contract!
Think of the impropriety of the thing! What would the world say?"

"Permit me, madame, to suggest that your pension should be mentioned as
the interest of a sum acknowledged to have been received from you."

"Well, that might do very well; that is very proper."

The countess insisted upon taking Andre home in her carriage. During
the drive, no definite plan was agreed upon between them; but they
understood each other so well, that, when the countess set the young
engineer down at his own door, she invited him to dinner the next day,
and held out her skinny hand which Andre kissed with devotion, as he
thought of the rosy fingers of Valentine.

When Mme. de la Verberie returned home, the servants were dumb with
astonishment at her good-humor: they had not seen her in this happy
frame of mind for years.

And her day's work was of a nature to elevate her spirits: she had been
unexpectedly raised from poverty to affluence. She, who boasted of
such proud sentiments, never stopped to think of the infamy of the
transaction in which she had been engaged: it seemed quite right in her
selfish eyes.

"A pension of six thousand francs!" she thought, "and a thousand crowns
from the estate, that makes nine thousand francs a year! My daughter
will live in Paris after she is married, and I can spend the winters
with my dear children without expense."

At this price, she would have sold, not only one, but three daughters,
if she had possessed them.

But suddenly her blood ran cold at a sudden thought, which crossed her
mind.

"Would Valentine consent?"

Her anxiety to set her mind at rest sent her straightway to her
daughter's room. She found Valentine reading by the light of a
flickering candle.

"My daughter," she said abruptly, "an estimable young man has demanded
your hand in marriage, and I have promised it to him."

On this startling announcement, Valentine started up and clasped her
hands.

"Impossible!" she murmured, "impossible!"

"Will you be good enough to explain why it is impossible?"

"Did you tell him, mother, who I am, what I am? Did you confess----"

"Your past fully? No, thank God, I am not fool enough for that, and I
hope you will have the sense to imitate my example, and keep silent on
the subject."

Although Valentine's spirit was completely crushed by her mother's
tyranny, her sense of honor made her revolt against this demand.

"You certainly would not wish me to marry an honest man, mother, without
confessing to him everything connected with the past? I could never
practise a deception so base."

The countess felt very much like flying into a passion; but she knew
that threats would be of no avail in this instance, where resistance
would be a duty of conscience with her daughter. Instead of commanding,
she entreated.

"Poor child," she said, "my poor, dear Valentine. If you only knew the
dreadful state of our affairs, you would not talk in this heartless way.
Your folly commenced our ruin; now it is at its last stage. Do you know
that our creditors threaten to drive us away from La Verberie? Then what
will become of us, my poor child? Must I in my old age go begging from
door to door? We are on the verge of ruin, and this marriage is our only
hope of salvation."

These tearful entreaties were followed by plausible arguments.

The fair-spoken countess made use of strange and subtle theories.
What she formerly regarded as a monstrous crime, she now spoke of as a
peccadillo.

She could understand, she said, her daughter's scruples if there were
any danger of the past being brought to light; but she had taken such
precautions that there was no fear of that.

Would it make her love her husband any the less? No. Would he be made
any happier for hearing that she had loved before? No. Then why say
anything about the past?

Shocked, bewildered, Valentine asked herself if this was really her
mother? The haughty woman, who had always been such a worshipper of
honor and duty, to contradict every word she had uttered during her
life! Valentine could not understand the sudden change.

But she would have understood it, had she known to what base deeds a
mind blunted by selfishness and vanity can lend itself.

The countess's subtle arguments and shameful sophistry neither moved
nor convinced her; but she had not the courage to resist the tearful
entreaties of her mother, who ended by falling on her knees, and with
clasped hands imploring her child to save her from worse than death.

Violently agitated, distracted by a thousand conflicting emotions,
daring neither to refuse nor to promise, fearing the consequences of a
decision thus forced from her, the unhappy girl begged her mother for a
few hours to reflect.

Mme. de la Verberie dared not refuse this request, and acquiesced.

"I will leave you, my daughter," she said, "and I trust your own heart
will tell you how to decide between a useless confession and your
mother's salvation."

With these words she left the room indignant but hopeful.

And she had grounds for hope. Placed between two obligations equally
sacred, equally binding, but diametrically opposite, Valentine's
troubled mind could no longer clearly discern the path of duty. Could
she reduce her mother to want and misery? Could she basely deceive the
confidence and love of an honorable man? However she decided, her future
life would be one of suffering and remorse.

Alas! why had she not a wise and kind adviser to point out the right
course to pursue, and assist her in struggling against evil influences?
Why had she not that gentle, discreet friend who had inspired her with
hope and courage in her first dark sorrow--Dr. Raget?

Formerly the memory of Gaston had been her guiding star: now this
far-off memory was nothing but a faint mist--a sort of vanishing dream.

In romance we meet with heroines of lifelong constancy: real life
produces no such miracles.

For a long time Valentine's mind had been filled with the image of
Gaston. As the hero of her dreams she dwelt fondly on his memory; but
the shadows of time had gradually dimmed the brilliancy of her idol, and
now only preserved a cold relic, over which she sometimes wept.

When she arose the next morning, pale and weak from a sleepless, tearful
night, she had almost resolved to confess everything to her suitor.

But when evening came, and she went down to see Andre Fauvel, the
presence of her mother's threatening, supplicating eye destroyed her
courage.

She said to herself, "I will tell him to-morrow." Then she said, "I will
wait another day; one more day can make no difference."

The countess saw all these struggles, but was not made uneasy by them.

She knew by experience that, when a painful duty is put off, it is never
performed.

There was some excuse for Valentine in the horror of her situation.
Perhaps, unknown to herself, she felt a faint hope arise within her. Any
marriage, even an unhappy one, offered the prospect of a change, of
a new life, a relief from the insupportable suffering she was now
enduring.

Sometimes, in her ignorance of human life, she imagined that time and
close intimacy would take it easier for her to confess her terrible
fault; that it would be the most natural thing in the world for Andre to
pardon her, and insist upon marrying her, since he loved her so deeply.

That he sincerely loved her, she knew full well. It was not the
impetuous passion of Gaston, with its excitements and terrors, but
a calm, steady affection, more lasting than the intoxicating love of
Gaston was ever likely to be. She felt a sort of blissful rest in its
legitimacy and constancy.

Thus Valentine gradually became accustomed to Andre's soothing presence,
and was surprised into feeling very happy at the constant delicate
attentions and looks of affection that he lavished upon her. She did not
feel any love for him yet; but a separation would have distressed her
deeply.

During the courtship the countess's conduct was a masterpiece.

She suddenly ceased to importune her daughter, and with tearful
resignation said she would not attempt to influence her decision, that
her happy settlement in life was the only anxiety that weighed upon her
mind.

But she went about the house sighing and groaning as if she were upon
the eve of starving to death. She also made arrangements to be tormented
by the bailiffs. Attachments and notices to quit poured in at La
Verberie, which she would show to Valentine and, with tears in her eyes,
say:

"God grant we may not be driven from the home of our ancestors before
your marriage, my darling!"

Knowing that her presence was sufficient to freeze any confession on her
daughter's lips, she never left her alone with Andre.

"Once married," she thought, "they can settle the matter to suit
themselves. I shall not then be disturbed by it."

She was as impatient as Andre, and hastened the preparations for the
wedding. She gave Valentine no opportunity for reflection. She kept her
constantly busy, either in driving to town to purchase some article of
dress, or in paying visits.

At last the eve of the wedding-day found her anxious and oppressed with
fear lest something should prevent the consummation of her hopes and
labors. She was like a gambler who had ventured his last stake.

On this night, for the first time, Valentine found herself alone with
the man who was to become her husband.

She was sitting at twilight, in the parlor, miserable and trembling,
anxious to unburden her mind, and yet frightened at the very thought of
doing so, when Andre entered. Seeing that she was agitated, he pressed
her hand, and gently begged her to tell him the cause of her sorrow.

"Am I not your best friend," he said, "and ought I not to be the
confidant of your troubles, if you have any? Why these tears, my
darling?"

Now was the time for her to confess, and throw herself upon his
generosity. But her trembling lips refused to open when she thought of
his pain and anguish, and the anger of her mother, which would be caused
by the few words she would utter. She felt that it was too late; and,
bursting into tears, she cried out, "I am afraid--What shall I do?"

Imagining that she was merely disturbed by the vague fears experienced
by most young girls when about to marry, he tried, with tender, loving
words, to console and reassure her, promising to shield her from every
care and sorrow, if she would only trust to his devoted love. But what
was his surprise to find that his affectionate words only increased her
distress; she buried her face in her hands, and wept as if her heart
would break.

While she was thus summoning her courage, and he was entreating her
confidence, Mme. de la Verberie came hurrying into the room for them to
sign the contract.

The opportunity was lost; Andre Fauvel was left in ignorance.

The next day, a lovely spring morning, Andre Fauvel and Valentine de la
Verberie were married at the village church.

Early in the morning, the chateau was filled with the bride's friends,
who came, according to custom, to assist at her wedding toilet.

Valentine forced herself to appear calm, even smiling; but her face was
whiter than her veil; her heart was torn by remorse. She felt as though
the sad truth were written upon her brow; and this pure white dress was
a bitter irony, a galling humiliation.

She shuddered when her most intimate school-mate placed the wreath of
orange-blossoms upon her head. These emblems of purity seemed to burn
her like a band of red-hot iron. One of the wire stems of the flowers
scratched her forehead, and a drop of blood fell upon her snowy robe.

What an evil omen! Valentine was near fainting when she thought of the
past and the future connected by this bloody sign of woe.

But presages are deceitful, as it proved with Valentine; for she became
a happy woman and a loving wife.

Yes, at the end of her first year of married life, she confessed to
herself that her happiness would be complete if she could only forget
the terrible past.

Andre adored her. He had been wonderfully successful in his business
affairs; he wished to be immensely rich, not for himself, but for the
sake of his beloved wife, whom he would surround with every luxury. He
thought her the most beautiful woman in Paris, and determined that she
should be the most superbly dressed.

Eighteen months after her marriage, Madame Fauvel presented her husband
with a son. But neither this child, nor a second son born a year later,
could make her forget the first one of all, the poor, forsaken babe who
had been thrown upon strangers, mercenaries, who valued the money, but
not the child for whom it was paid.

She would look at her two sons, surrounded by every luxury which money
could give, and murmur to herself:

"Who knows if the abandoned one has bread to eat?"

If she only knew where he was: if she only dared inquire! But she was
afraid.

Sometimes she would be uneasy about Gaston's jewels, constantly fearing
that their hiding-place would be discovered. Then she would think, "I
may as well be tranquil; misfortune has forgotten me."

Poor, deluded woman! Misfortune is a visitor who sometimes delays his
visits, but always comes in the end.




XV

Louis de Clameran, the second son of the marquis, was one of those
self-controlled men who, beneath a cool, careless manner, conceal a
fiery temperament, and ungovernable passions.

All sorts of extravagant ideas had begun to ferment in his disordered
brain, long before the occurrence which decided the destiny of the
Clameran family.

Apparently occupied in the pursuit of pleasure, this precocious
hypocrite longed for a larger field in which to indulge his evil
inclinations, secretly cursing the stern necessity which chained him
down to this dreary country life, and the old chateau, which to him was
more gloomy than a prison, and as lifeless as the grave.

This existence, dragged out in the country and the small neighboring
towns, was too monotonous for his restless nature. The paternal
authority, though so gently expressed, exasperated his rebellious
temper. He thirsted for independence, riches, excitement, and all the
unknown pleasures that pall upon the senses simultaneously with their
attainment.

Louis did not love his father, and he hated his brother Gaston.

The old marquis, in his culpable thoughtlessness, had kindled this
burning envy in the heart of his second son.

A strict observer of traditional rights, he had always declared that the
eldest son of a noble house should inherit all the family possessions,
and that he intended to leave Gaston his entire fortune.

This flagrant injustice and favoritism inspired Louis with envious
hatred for his brother.

Gaston always said that he would never consent to profit by this
paternal partiality, but would share equally with his brother. Judging
others by himself, Louis placed no faith in this assertion, which he
called an ostentatious affectation of generosity.

Although this hatred was unsuspected by the marquis and Gaston, it was
betrayed by acts significant enough to attract the attention of the
servants, who often commented upon it.

They were so fully aware of Louis's sentiments toward his brother that,
when he was prevented from escaping because of the stumbling horse, they
refused to believe it an accident; and, whenever Louis came near would
mutter, "Fratricide!"

A deplorable scene took place between Louis and St. Jean, who was
allowed, on account of his fifty years' faithful service, to take
liberties which he sometimes abused by making rough speeches to his
superiors.

"It is a great pity," said the old servant, "that a skilful rider like
yourself should have fallen at the very moment when your brother's life
depended upon your horsemanship."

At this broad insinuation, Louis turned pale, and threateningly cried
out:

"You insolent dog, what do you mean?"

"You know well enough what I mean, monsieur," the old man said,
significantly.

"I do not know! Explain your impertinence: speak, I tell you!"

The man only answered by a meaning look, which so incensed Louis that
he rushed toward him with upraised whip, and would have beaten him
unmercifully, had not the other servants interfered, and dragged St.
Jean from the spot.

This altercation occurred while Gaston was in the madder-field trying to
escape his pursuers.

After a while the gendarmes and hussars returned, with slow tread and
sad faces, to say that Gaston de Clameran had plunged into the Rhone,
and was instantly drowned.

This melancholy news was received with groans and tears by everyone save
Louis, who remained calm and unmoved: not a single muscle of his face
quivered.

But his eyes sparkled with triumph. A secret voice cried within him,
"Now you are assured of the family fortune, and a marquis's coronet."

He was no longer the poverty-stricken younger son, but the sole heir of
the Clamerans.

The corporal of the gendarmes had said:

"I would not be the one to tell the poor old man that his son is
drowned."

Louis felt none of the tender-hearted scruples of the brave old soldier.
He instantly went to his father's sick-room, and said, in a firm voice:

"My brother had to choose between disgrace and death; he is dead."

Like a sturdy oak stricken by lightning, the marquis tottered and fell
when these fatal words sounded in his ears. The doctor soon arrived, but
alas! only to say that science was of no avail.

Toward daybreak, Louis, without a tear, received his father's last sigh.

Louis was now the master.

All the unjust precautions taken by the marquis to elude the law, and
insure beyond dispute the possession of his entire fortune to his eldest
son, turned against him.

By means of a fraudulent deed of trust drawn by his dishonest lawyer,
M. de Clameran had disposed everything so that, on the day of his death,
every farthing he owned would be Gaston's.

Louis alone was benefited by this precaution. He came into possession
without even being called upon for the certificate of his brother's
death.

He was now Marquis of Clameran; he was free, he was comparatively rich.
He who had never had twenty-five crowns in his pocket at once, now found
himself the possessor of two hundred thousand francs.

This sudden, unexpected fortune so completely turned his head that he
forgot his skilful dissimulation. His demeanor at the funeral of the
marquis was much censured. He followed the coffin, with his head bowed
and his face buried in a handkerchief; but this did not conceal the
buoyancy of his spirit, and the joy which sparkled in his eyes.

The day after the funeral, Louis sold everything that he could dispose
of, horses, carriages, and family plate.

The next day he discharged all the old servants, who had hoped to end
their days beneath the hospitable roof of Clameran. Several, with
tears in their eyes, took him aside, and entreated him to let them stay
without wages. He roughly ordered them to be gone, and never appear
before his eyes again.

He sent for his father's lawyer, and gave him a power of attorney to
sell the estate, and received in return the sum of twenty thousand
francs as the first payment in advance.

At the close of the week, he locked up the chateau, with a vow never to
cross its sill again, and left the keys in the keeping of St. Jean, who
owned a little house near Clameran, and would continue to live in the
neighborhood.

Poor St. Jean! little did he think that, in preventing Valentine from
seeing Louis, he had ruined the prospects of his beloved Gaston.

On receiving the keys he asked one question:

"Shall we not search for your brother's body, M. the Marquis?" he
inquired in broken-hearted tones. "And, if it is found, what must be
done with it?"

"I shall leave instructions with my notary," replied Louis. And he
hurried away from Clameran as if the ground burnt his feet. He went
to Tarascon, where he had already forwarded his baggage, and took the
stage-coach which travelled between Marseilles and Paris, the railroad
not yet being finished.

At last he was off. The lumbering old stage rattled along, drawn by six
horses; and the deep gullies made by the wheels seemed so many abysses
between the past and the future.

Lying back in a corner of the stage, Louis de Clameran enjoyed in
anticipation the fields of pleasure spread before his dazzled eyes. At
the end of the journey, Paris rose up before him, radiant, brilliantly
dazzling as the sun.

Yes, he was going to Paris, the promised land, the city of wonders,
where every Aladdin finds a lamp. There all ambitions are crowned,
all dreams realized, all passions, all desires, good and evil, can be
satisfied.

There the fast-fleeting days are followed by nights of ever-varied
pleasure and excitement. In twenty theatres tragedy weeps, or comedy
laughs; whilst at the opera the most beautiful women in the world,
sparkling with diamonds, are ready to die with ecstasy at the sound of
divine music; everywhere noise, excitement, luxury, and pleasure.

What a dream! The heart of Louis de Clameran was swollen with desire,
and he felt that he should go mad if the horses crawled with such
torturing slowness: he would like to spring from the old stage, and fly
to his haven of delight.

He never once thought of the past with a pang of regret. What mattered
it to him how his father and brother had died? All his energies were
devoted to penetrating the mysterious future that now awaited him.

Was not every chance in his favor? He was young, rich, handsome, and
a marquis. He had a constitution of iron; he carried twenty thousand
francs in his pocket, and would soon have ten times as many more.

He, who had always been poor, regarded this sum as an exhaustless
treasure.

And at nightfall, when he jumped from the stage upon the brilliantly
lighted street of Paris, he seemed to be taking possession of the grand
city, and felt as though he could buy everything in it.

His illusions were those natural to all young men who suddenly come into
possession of a patrimony after years of privation.

It is this ignorance of the real value of money that squanders fortunes,
and fritters away accumulated patrimonies so laboriously earned and
saved in the frugal provinces.

Imbued with his own importance, accustomed to the deference of the
country people, the young marquis came to Paris with the expectation
of being a lion, supposing that his name and fortune were sufficient to
place him upon any pinnacle he might desire.

He was mortified to discover his error. To his great surprise he
discovered that he possessed nothing which constituted a position in
this immense city. He found that in the midst of this busy, indifferent
crowd, he was lost, as unnoticed as a drop of water in a torrent.

But this unflattering reality could not discourage a man who was
determined to gratify his passion at all costs. His ancestral name
gained him but one privilege, disastrous for his future: it opened to
him the doors of the Faubourg St. Germain.

There he became intimate with men of his own age and rank, whose incomes
were larger than his principal.

Nearly all of them confessed that they only kept up their extravagant
style of living by dint of skilful economy behind the scenes, and by
regulating their vices and follies as judiciously as a hosier would
manage his Sunday holidays.

This information astonished Louis, but did not open his eyes. He
endeavored to imitate the dashing style of these economically wasteful
young men, without pretending to conform to their prudential rules. He
learned how to spend, but not how to settle his accounts as they did.

He was Marquis of Clameran, and, having given himself a reputation of
great wealth, he was welcomed by the _elite_ of society; if he made no
friends, he had at least many acquaintances. Among the set into which he
was received immediately upon his arrival, he found ten satellites who
took pleasure in initiating him into the secrets of fashionable life,
and correcting any little provincialisms betrayed in his manners and
conversation.

He profited well and quickly by their lessons. At the end of three
months he was fairly launched; his reputation as a skilful gambler and
one of the fastest men in Paris was fully established.

He had rented handsome apartments, with a coach-house and stable for
three horses.

Although he only furnished this bachelor's establishment with what was
necessary and comfortable, he found that comforts were very costly in
this instance.

So that the day he took possession of his apartments, and looked
over his bills, he made the startling discovery that this short
apprenticeship of Paris had cost him fifty-thousand francs, one-fourth
of his fortune.

Still he clung to his brilliant friends, although in a state of
inferiority which was mortifying to his vanity, like a poor squire
straining every nerve to make his nag keep up with blooded horses in a
race.

Fifty thousand francs! For a moment Louis had a faint idea of retreating
from the scene of temptation. But what a fall! Besides, his vices
bloomed and flourished in this charming centre. He had heretofore
considered himself fast; but the past was a state of unsophisticated
verdancy, compared with the thousand attractive sins in which he now
indulged.

Then the sight of suddenly acquired fortunes, and the many examples of
the successful results of hazardous ventures, inflamed his mind, and
persuaded him to try his fortune in the game of speculation.

He thought that in this great, rich city, he certainly could succeed in
seizing a share of the loaves and fishes.

But how? He had no idea, and he did not seek to find one. He imagined
that his good fortune would some day come, and that all he had to do was
to wait for it.

This is one of the errors which it is time to destroy.

Fortune is not to be wasted upon idle fools.

In this furious race of self-interest, it requires great skill to
bestride the capricious mare called Opportunity, and make her lead to
the end in view. Every winner must possess a strong will and a dexterous
hand. But Louis did not devote much thought to the matter. Like the
foolish man who wished to draw the prize without contributing to the
raffle, he thought:

"Bast! opportunity, chance, a rich marriage will put me all right
again!"

The rich bride failed to appear, and his last louis had gone the way of
its predecessors.

To a pressing demand for money, his notary replied by a refusal.

"Your lands are all gone," he wrote; "you now possess nothing but the
chateau. It is very valuable, but it is difficult, if not impossible,
to find a purchaser of so large an amount of real estate, in its
present condition. I will use every effort to make a good sale, and
if successful, will inform you of the fact immediately." Louis was
thunderstruck at this final catastrophe, as much surprised as if he
could have expected any other result. But what could he do?

Ruined, with nothing to look forward to, the best course was to imitate
the large number of poor fools who each year rise up, shine a moment,
then suddenly disappear.

But Louis could not renounce this life of ease and pleasure which he had
been leading for the last three years. After leaving his fortune on the
battle-ground, he was willing to leave the shreds of his honor.

He first lived on the reputation of his dissipated fortune; on the
credit remaining to a man who has spent much in a short space of time.

This resource was soon exhausted.

The day came when his creditors seized all they could lay their hands
upon, the last remains of his opulence, his carriages, horses, and
costly furniture.

He took refuge in a quiet hotel, but he could not keep away from the
wealthy set whom he considered his friends.

He lived upon them as he had lived upon the tradesmen who furnished his
supplies. Borrowing from one louis up to twenty-five, from anybody who
would lend to him, he never pretended to pay them. Constantly betting,
no one ever saw him pay a wager. He piloted all the raw young men who
fell into his hands, and utilized, in rendering shameful services, an
experience which had cost him two hundred thousand francs; he was half
courtier, half adventurer.

He was not banished, but was made to cruelly expiate the favor of being
tolerated. No one had the least regard for his feelings, or hesitated to
tell him to his face what was thought of his unprincipled conduct.

Thus, when alone in his little den, he would give way to fits of violent
rage. He had not yet reached a state of callousness to be able to endure
these humiliations without the keenest torture to his false pride and
vanity.

Envy and covetousness had long since stifled every sentiment of honor
and self-respect in his base heart. For a few years of opulence he was
ready to commit any crime.

And, though he did not commit a crime, he came very near it, and was
the principal in a disgraceful affair of swindling and extortion, which
raised such an outcry against him that he was obliged to leave Paris.

Count de Commarin, an old friend of his father, hushed up the matter,
and furnished him with money to take him to England.

And how did he manage to live in London?

The detectives of the most corrupt capital in existence were the only
people who knew his means of support.

Descending to the last stages of vice, the Marquis of Clameran finally
found his level in a society composed of shameless women and gamblers.

Compelled to quit London, he travelled over Europe, with no other
capital than his knavish audacity, deep depravity, and his skill at
cards.

Finally, in 1865, he had a run of good luck at Homburg, and returned to
Paris, where he imagined himself entirely forgotten.

Eighteen years had passed since he left Paris.

The first step which he took on his return, before even settling himself
in Paris, was to make a visit to his old home.

Not that he had any relative or friend in that part of the country, from
whom he could expect any assistance; but he remembered the old manor,
which his notary had been unable to sell.

He thought that perhaps by this time a purchaser had appeared, and he
determined to go himself and ascertain how much he should receive for
this old chateau, which had cost one hundred thousand francs in the
building.

On a beautiful October evening he reached Tarascon, and there learned
that he was still the owner of the chateau of Clameran. The next
morning, he set out on foot to visit the paternal home, which he had not
seen for twenty-five years.

Everything was so changed that he scarcely recognized this country,
where he had been born, and passed his youth.

Yet the impression was so strong, that this man, tried by such varied,
strange adventures, for a moment felt like retracing his steps.

He only continued his road because a secret, hopeful voice cried in him,
"Onward, onward!"--as if, at the end of the journey, was to be found a
new life and the long-wished-for good fortune.

As Louis advanced, the changes appeared less striking; he began to be
familiar with the ground.

Soon, through the trees, he distinguished the village steeple, then the
village itself, built upon the gentle rising of a hill, crowned by a
wood of olive-trees.

He recognized the first houses he saw: the farrier's shed covered with
ivy, the old parsonage, and farther on the village tavern, where he and
Gaston used to play billiards.

In spite of what he called his scorn of vulgar prejudices, he felt a
thrill of strange emotion as he looked on these once familiar objects.

He could not overcome a feeling of sadness as scenes of the past rose up
before him.

How many events had occurred since he last walked along this path, and
received a friendly bow and smile from every villager.

Then life appeared to him like a fairy scene, in which his every wish
was gratified. And now, he had returned, dishonored, worn out, disgusted
with the realities of life, still tasting the bitter dregs of the cup
of shame, stigmatized, poverty-stricken, and friendless, with nothing to
lose, and nothing to look forward to.

The few villagers whom he met turned and stood gazing after this
dust-covered stranger, and wondered who he could be.

Upon reaching St. Jean's house, he found the door open; he walked into
the immense empty kitchen.

He rapped on the table, and was answered by a voice calling out:

"Who is there?"

The next moment a man of about forty years appeared in the doorway, and
seemed much surprised at finding a stranger standing in his kitchen.

"What will you have, monsieur?" he inquired.

"Does not St. Jean, the old valet of the Marquis of Clameran, live
here?"

"My father died five years ago, monsieur," replied the man in a sad
tone.

This news affected Louis painfully, as if he had expected this old
man to restore him some of his lost youth; the last link was gone. He
sighed, and, after a silence, said:

"I am the Marquis of Clameran."

The farmer, at these words, uttered an exclamation of joy. He seized
Louis's hand, and, pressing it with respectful attention, cried:

"You are the marquis! Alas!" he continued, "why is not my poor father
alive to see you? he would be so happy! His last words were about his
dear masters, and many a time did he sigh and mourn at not receiving any
news of you. He is beneath the sod now, resting after a well-spent life;
but I, Joseph, his son, am here to take his place, and devote my life to
your service. What an honor it is to have you in my house! Ah, my wife
will be happy to see you; she has all her life heard of the Clamerans."

Here he ran into the garden, and called: "Toinette! I say, Toinette!
Come here quickly!"

This cordial welcome delighted Louis. So many years had gone by since he
had been greeted with an expression of kindness, or felt the pressure of
a friendly hand.

In a few moments a handsome, dark-eyed young woman entered the room, and
stood blushing with confusion at sight of the stranger.

"This is my wife, monsieur," said Joseph, leading her toward Louis, "but
I have not given her time to put on her finery. This is M. the Marquis,
Antoinette."

The farmer's wife bowed, and, having nothing to say, gracefully uplifted
her brow upon which the marquis pressed a kiss.

"You will see the children in a few minutes, M. the Marquis," said
Joseph; "I have sent to the school for them."

The worthy couple overwhelmed the marquis with attentions.

After so long a walk he must be hungry, they said; he must take a glass
of wine now, and breakfast would soon be ready; they would be so proud
and happy if M. the Marquis would partake of a country breakfast!

Louis willingly accepted their invitation; and Joseph went to the cellar
after the wine, while Toinette ran to catch her fattest pullet.

In a short time, Louis sat down to a table laden with the best of
everything on the farm, waited upon by Joseph and his wife, who watched
him with respectful interest and awe.

The children came running in from school, smeared with the juice of
berries. After Louis had embraced them they stood off in a corner, and
gazed at him with eyes wide open, as if he were a rare curiosity.

The important news had spread, and a number of villagers and countrymen
appeared at the open door, to speak to the Marquis of Clameran.

"I am such a one, M. the Marquis; don't you remember me?" "Ah! I should
have recognized you anywhere." "The late marquis was very good to me."
Another would say, "Don't you remember the time when you lent me your
gun to go hunting?"

Louis welcomed with secret delight all these protestations and proofs of
devotion which had not chilled with time.

The kindly voices of these honest people recalled many pleasant moments
of the past, and made him feel once more the fresh sensations of his
youth.

Here, at least, no echoes of his stormy life had been heard; no
suspicions of his shameful career were entertained by these humble
villagers on the borders of the Rhone.

He, the adventurer, the bully, the base accomplice of London swindlers,
delighted in these marks of respect and veneration, bestowed upon him as
the representative of the house of Clameran; it seemed to make him
once more feel a little self-respect, as if the future were not utterly
hopeless.

Ah, had he possessed only a quarter of his squandered inheritance, how
happy he would be to peacefully end his days in this his native village!

But this rest after so many vain excitements, this haven after so many
storms and shipwrecks, was denied him. He was penniless; how could he
live here when he had nothing to live upon?

This thought of his pressing want gave him courage to ask Joseph for the
key of the chateau, that he might go and examine its condition.

"You won't need the key, except the one to the front door, M. the
Marquis," replied Joseph.

It was but too true. Time had done its work, and the lordly manor
of Clameran was nothing but a ruin. The rain and sun had rotted the
shutters so that they were crumbling and dilapidated.

Here and there were traces of the friendly hand of St. Jean, who had
tried to retard the total ruin of the old chateau; but of what use were
his efforts?

Within, the desolation was still greater. All of the furniture which
Louis had not dared to sell stood in the position he left it, but in
what a state! All of the tapestry hangings and coverings were moth-eaten
and in tatters; nothing seemed left but the dust-covered woodwork of the
chairs and sofas.

Louis was almost afraid to enter these grand, gloomy rooms, where every
footfall echoed until the air seemed to be filled with sounds strange
and ominous.

He almost expected to see the angry old marquis start from some dark
corner, and heap curses on his head for having dishonored the name.

He turned pale with terror, when he suddenly recalled the scene of his
fatal stumble and poor Gaston's death. The room was surely inhabited by
the spirits of these two murdered men. His nerves could not bear it, and
he hurried out into the open air and sunshine.

After a while, he recovered sufficiently to remember the object of his
visit.

"Poor St. Jean was foolish to let the furniture in the chateau drop to
pieces. Why did he not use it?"

"My father would not have dared to touch anything without receiving an
order, M. the Marquis."

"He was very unwise to wait for an order, when anything was going
to destruction without benefiting anyone. As the chateau is fast
approaching the condition of the furniture, and my fortune does not
permit me to repair it, I will sell it before the walls crumble away."

Joseph could scarcely believe his ears. He regarded the selling of the
chateau of Clameran as a sacrilege; but he was not bold of speech, like
his father, so he dared not express an opinion.

"Would there be difficulty in selling this ruin?" continued Louis.

"That depends upon the price you ask, M. the Marquis; I know a man who
would purchase the property if he could get it cheap."

"Who is he?"

"M. Fougeroux, who lives on the other side of the river. He came from
Beaucaire, and twelve years ago married a servant-maid of the late
Countess de la Verberie. Perhaps M. the Marquis remembers her--a plump,
bright-eyed brunette, named Mihonne."

Louis did not remember Mihonne.

"When can we see this Fougeroux?" he inquired.

"To-day; I will engage a boat to take us over."

"Well, let us go now. I have no time to lose."

An entire generation has passed away since Louis had last crossed the
Rhone in old Pilorel's boat.

The faithful ferryman had been buried many years, and his duties were
now performed by his son, who, possessing great respect for traditional
opinions, was delighted at the honor of rowing the Marquis of Clameran
in his boat, and soon had it ready for Louis and Joseph to take their
seats.

As soon as they were fairly started, Joseph began to warn the marquis
against the wily Fougeroux.

"He is a cunning fox," said the farmer; "I have had a bad opinion of him
ever since his marriage, which was a shameful affair altogether. Mihonne
was over fifty years of age, and he was only twenty-four, when he
married her; so you may know it was money, and not a wife, that he
wanted. She, poor fool, believed that the young scamp really loved her,
and gave herself and her money up to him. Women will be trusting fools
to the end of time! And Fougeroux is not the man to let money lie idle.
He speculated with Mihonne's gold, and is now very rich. But she, poor
thing, does not profit by his wealth; one can easily understand his not
feeling any love for her, when she looks like his grandmother; but he
deprives her of the necessaries of life, and beats her cruelly."

"He would like to plant her six feet under ground," said the ferryman.

"Well, it won't be long before he has the satisfaction of burying her,"
said Joseph; "the poor old woman has been in almost a dying condition
ever since Fougeroux brought a worthless jade to take charge of the
house, and makes his wife wait upon her like a servant."

When they reached the opposite shore, Joseph asked young Pilorel to
await their return.

Joseph knocked at the gate of the well-cultivated farm, and inquired for
the master; the farm-boy said that "M. Fougeroux" was out in the field,
but he would go and tell him.

He soon appeared. He was an ill-looking little man, with a red beard and
small, restless eyes.

Although M. Fougeroux professed to despise the nobility and the clergy,
the hope of driving a good bargain made him obsequious to Louis. He
insisted upon ushering his visitor into "the parlor," with many bows and
repetitions of "M. the Marquis."

Upon entering the room, he roughly ordered an old woman, who was
crouching over some dying embers, to make haste and bring some wine for
M. the Marquis of Clameran.

At this name, the old woman started as if she had received an electric
shock. She opened her mouth to say something, but a look from her tyrant
froze the words upon her lips. With a frightened air she hobbled out to
obey his orders, and in a few minutes returned with a bottle of wine and
three glasses.

Then she resumed her seat by the fire, and kept her eyes fastened upon
the marquis.

Could this really be the merry, pretty Mihonne, who had been the
confidante of the little fairy of Verberie?

Valentine herself would never have recognized this poor, shrivelled,
emaciated old woman.

Only those who are familiar with country life know what hard work and
worry can do to make a woman old.

The bargain, meanwhile, was being discussed between Joseph and
Fougeroux, who offered a ridiculously small sum for the chateau, saying
that he would only buy it to tear down, and sell the materials. Joseph
enumerated the beams, joists, ashlars, and the iron-work, and volubly
praised the old domain.

As for Mihonne, the presence of the marquis had a wonderful effect upon
her.

If the faithful servant had hitherto never breathed the secret confided
to her probity, it was none the less heavy for her to bear.

After marrying, and being so harshly treated that she daily prayed for
death to come to her relief, she began to blame everybody but herself
for her misfortunes.

Weakly superstitious, she traced back the origin of her sorrows to the
day when she took the oath on the holy gospel during mass.

Her constant prayers that God would send her a child to soothe her
wounded heart, being unanswered, she was convinced that she was cursed
with barrenness for having assisted in the abandonment of an innocent,
helpless babe.

She often thought, that by revealing everything, she could appease the
wrath of Heaven, and once more enjoy a happy home. Nothing but her
love for Valentine gave her strength to resist a constant temptation to
confess everything.

But to-day the sight of Louis decided her to relieve her mind. She
thought there could be no danger in confiding in Gaston's brother. Alas
for woman's tongue!

The sale was finally concluded. It was agreed that Fougeroux should give
five thousand two hundred and eighty francs in cash for the chateau, and
land attached; and Joseph was to have the old furniture.

The marquis and the new owner of the chateau shook hands, and noisily
called out the essential word:

"Agreed!"

Fougeroux went himself to get the "bargain bottle" of old wine.

The occasion was favorable to Mihonne; she walked quickly over to where
the marquis stood, and said in a nervous whisper:

"M. the Marquis, I must speak with you apart."

"What can you want to tell me, my good woman?"

"It is a secret of life and death. This evening, at dusk, meet me in the
walnut wood, and I will tell you everything."

Hearing her husband's approaching step, she darted back to her corner by
the fire.

Fougeroux filled the glasses, and drank to the health of Clameran.

As they returned to the boat, Louis tried to think what could be the
object of this singular rendezvous.

"Joseph, what the deuce can that old witch want with me?" he said
musingly.

"Who can tell? She used to be in the service of a lady who was very
intimate with M. Gaston; so my father used to say. If I were in your
place I would go and see what she wanted, monsieur. You can dine with
me, and, after dinner, Pilorel will row you over."

Curiosity decided Louis to go, about seven o'clock, to the walnut wood,
where he found Mihonne impatiently awaiting him.

"Ah, here you are, at last, M. the Marquis," she said, in a tone of
relief. "I was afraid you would disappoint me."

"Yes, here I am, my good woman, to listen to what you have to say."

"I have many things to say. But first tell me some news of your
brother."

Louis regretted having come, supposing from this request that the old
woman was childish, and might bother him for hours with her senseless
gabble.

"You know well enough that my poor brother was drowned in the Rhone."

"Good heavens!" cried Mihonne, "are you ignorant, then, of his escape?
Yes, he did what has never been done before; he swam across the swollen
Rhone. The next day Mlle. Valentine went to Clameran to tell the news;
but St. Jean prevented her from seeing you. Afterward I carried a letter
from her, but you had left the country."

Louis could not believe this strange revelation.

"Are you not mixing up dreams with real events, my good woman?" he said
banteringly.

"No," she replied, mournfully shaking her head. "If Pere Menoul were
alive, he would tell you how he took charge of your brother until he
embarked for Marseilles. But that is nothing compared to the rest. M.
Gaston has a son."

"My brother had a son! You certainly have lost your mind, my poor
woman."

"Alas, no. Unfortunately for my happiness in this world and in the
world to come, I am only telling the truth; he had a child, and Mlle.
Valentine was its mother. I took the poor babe, and carried it to a
woman whom I paid to take charge of it."

Then Mihonne described the anger of the countess, the journey to London,
and the abandonment of little Raoul.

With the accurate memory natural to people unable to read and write,
she related the most minute particulars--the names of the village, the
nurse, the child's Christian name, and the exact date of everything
which had occurred.

Then she told of Valentine's wretched suffering, of the impending ruin
of the countess, and finally how everything was happily settled by the
poor girl's marriage with an immensely rich man, who was now one of the
richest bankers in Paris, and was named Fauvel.

A harsh voice calling, "Mihonne! Mihonne!" here interrupted the old
woman.

"Heavens!" she cried in a frightened tone, "that is my husband, looking
for me."

And, as fast as her trembling limbs could carry her, she hurried to the
farm-house.

For several minutes after her departure, Louis stood rooted to the spot.

Her recital had filled his wicked mind with an idea so infamous, so
detestable, that even his vile nature shrank for a moment from its
enormity.

He knew Fauvel by reputation, and was calculating the advantages he
might gain by the strange information of which he was now possessed by
means of the old Mihonne. It was a secret, which, if skilfully managed,
would bring him in a handsome income.

The few faint scruples he felt were silenced by the thought of an old
age spent in poverty. After the price of the chateau was spent, to what
could he look forward? Beggary.

"But first of all," he thought, "I must ascertain the truth of the old
woman's story; then I will decide upon a plan."

This was why, the next day, after receiving the five thousand two
hundred and eighty francs from Fougeroux, Louis de Clameran set out for
London.




XVI

During the twenty years of her married life, Valentine had experienced
but one real sorrow; and this was one which, in the course of nature,
must happen sooner or later.

In 1859 her mother caught a violent cold during one of her frequent
journeys to Paris, and, in spite of every attention which money could
procure, she became worse, and died.

The countess preserved her faculties to the last, and with her dying
breath said to her daughter:

"Ah, well! was I not wise in prevailing upon you to bury the past? Your
silence has made my old age peaceful and happy, and I now thank you for
having done your duty to yourself and to me. You will be rewarded on
earth and in Heaven, my dear daughter."

Mme. Fauvel constantly said that, since the loss of her mother, she had
never had cause to shed a tear.

And what more could she wish for? As years rolled on, Andre's love
remained steadfast; he was as devoted a husband as the most exacting
woman could wish. To his great love was added that sweet intimacy which
results from long conformity of ideas and unbounded confidence.

Everything prospered with this happy couple. Andre was twice as wealthy
as he had ever hoped to be even in his wildest visions; every wish of
Valentine was anticipated by Andre; their two sons, Lucien and Abel,
were handsome, intelligent young men, whose honorable characters
and graceful bearing reflected credit upon their parents, who had so
carefully watched over their education.

Nothing seemed wanting to insure Valentine's felicity. When her husband
and sons were at their business, her solitude was cheered by the
intelligent, affectionate companionship of a young girl whom she loved
as her own daughter, and who in return filled the place of a devoted
child.

Madeleine was M. Fauvel's niece, and when an infant had lost both
parents, who were poor but very worthy people. Valentine begged to adopt
the babe, thinking she could thus, in a measure, atone for the desertion
of the poor little creature whom she had abandoned to strangers.

She hoped that this good work would bring down the blessings of God upon
her.

The day of the little orphan's arrival, M. Fauvel invested for her ten
thousand francs, which he presented to Madeleine as her dowry.

The banker amused himself by increasing this ten thousand francs in the
most marvellous ways. He, who never ventured upon a rash speculation
with his own money, always invested it in the most hazardous schemes,
and was always so successful, that at the end of fifteen years the ten
thousand francs had become half a million.

People were right when they said that the Fauvel family were to be
envied.

Time had dulled the remorse and anxiety of Valentine. In the
genial atmosphere of a happy home, she had found rest, and almost
forgetfulness. She had suffered so much at being compelled to deceive
Andre that she hoped she was now at quits with fate.

She began to look forward to the future, and her youth seemed buried
in an impenetrable mist, and was, as it were, the memory of a painful
dream.

Yes, she believed herself saved, and her very feeling of security made
the impending danger more fearful in its shock.

One rainy November day, her husband had gone to Provence on business.
She was sitting, gazing into the bright fire, and thankfully meditating
upon her present happiness, when the servant brought her a letter, which
had been left by a stranger, who refused to give his name.

Without the faintest presentiment of evil, she carelessly broke the
seal, and in an instant was almost petrified by the words which met her
terrified eye:


"MADAME--Would it be relying too much upon the memories of the past to
hope for half an hour of your time?

"To-morrow, between two and three, I will do myself the honor of calling
upon you.

"THE MARQUIS OF CLAMERAN."


Fortunately, Mme. Fauvel was alone.

Trembling like a leaf, she read the letter over and over again, as if
to convince herself that she was not the victim of a horrible
hallucination.

Half a dozen times, with a sort of terror, she whispered that name once
so dear--Clameran! spelling it aloud as if it were a strange name which
she could not pronounce. And the eight letters forming the name seemed
to shine like the lightning which precedes a clap of thunder.

Ah! she had hoped and believed that the fatal past was atoned for,
and buried in oblivion; and now it stood before her, pitiless and
threatening.

Poor woman! As if all human will could prevent what was fated to be!

It was in this hour of security, when she imagined herself pardoned,
that the storm was to burst upon the fragile edifice of her happiness,
and destroy her every hope.

A long time passed before she could collect her scattered thoughts
sufficiently to decide upon a course of conduct.

Then she began to think she was foolish to be so frightened. This
letter was written by Gaston, of course; therefore she need feel no
apprehension. Gaston had returned to France, and wished to see her. She
could understand this desire, and she knew too well this man, upon whom
she had lavished her young affection, to attribute any bad motives to
his visit.

He would come; and finding her the wife of another, the mother of grown
sons, they would exchange thoughts of the past, perhaps a few regrets;
she would restore the jewels which she had faithfully kept for him; he
would assure her of his lifelong friendship, and--that would be all.

But one distressing doubt beset her agitated mind. Should she conceal
from Gaston the birth of his son?

To confess was to expose herself to many dangers. It was placing herself
at the mercy of a man--a loyal, honorable man to be sure--confiding
to him not only her own peace, honor, and happiness, but the honor and
happiness of her family, of her noble husband and loving sons.

Still silence would be a crime. She had abandoned her child, denied him
the cares and affection of a mother; and now should she add to her sin
by depriving him of the name and fortune of his father?

She was still undecided when the servant announced dinner.

But she had not the courage to meet the glance of her sons. She sent
word that she was not well, and would not be down to dinner. For the
first time in her life she rejoiced at her husband's absence.

Madeleine came hurrying into her aunt's room to see what was the matter;
but Valentine dismissed her, saying she would try to sleep off her
indisposition.

She wished to be alone in her trouble, and see if she could decide upon
some plan for warding off this impending ruin.

The dreaded morrow came.

She counted the hours until two o'clock. After that, she counted the
minutes.

At half-past two the servant announced:

"M. the Marquis of Clameran."

Mme. Fauvel had promised herself to be calm, even cold. During a long,
sleepless night, she had mentally arranged beforehand every detail of
this painful meeting. She had even decided upon what she should say.
She would reply this, and ask that; her words were all selected, and her
speech ready.

But, at the dreaded moment, her strength gave way; she turned as cold as
marble, and could not rise from her seat; she was speechless, and, with
a frightened look, silently gazed upon the man who respectfully bowed,
and stood in the middle of the room.

Her visitor was about fifty years of age, with iron-gray hair and
mustache, and a cold, severe cast of countenance; his expression was one
of haughty severity as he stood there in his full suit of black.

The agitated woman tried to discover in his face some traces of the
man whom she had so madly loved, who had pressed her to his heart, and
besought her to remain faithful until he should return from a foreign
land, and lay his fortune at her feet--the father of her son.

She was surprised to discover no resemblance to the youth whose memory
had haunted her life; no, never would she have recognized this stranger
as Gaston.

As he continued to stand motionless before her, she faintly murmured:

"Gaston!"

He sadly shook his head, and replied:

"I am not Gaston, madame. My brother succumbed to the misery and
suffering of exile: I am Louis de Clameran."

What! it was not Gaston, then, who had written to her; it was not Gaston
who stood before her!

She trembled with terror; her head whirled, and her eyes grew dim.

It was not he! And she had committed herself, betrayed her secret by
calling him "Gaston."

What could this man want?--this brother in whom Gaston had never
confided? What did he know of the past?

A thousand probabilities, each one more terrible than the other, flashed
across her brain.

Yet she succeeded in overcoming her weakness so that Louis scarcely
perceived it.

The fearful strangeness of her situation, the very imminence of peril,
inspired her with coolness and self-possession.

Haughtily pointing to a chair, she said to Louis with affected
indifference:

"Will you be kind enough, monsieur, to explain the object of this
unexpected visit?"

The marquis, seeming not to notice this sudden change of manner, took a
seat without removing his eyes from Mme. Fauvel's face.

"First of all, madame," he began, "I must ask if we can be overheard by
anyone?"

"Why this question? You can have nothing to say to me that my husband
and children should not hear."

Louis shrugged his shoulders, and said:

"Be good enough to answer me, madame; not for my sake, but for your
own."

"Speak, then, monsieur; you will not be heard."

In spite of this assurance, the marquis drew his chair close to the sofa
where Mme. Fauvel sat, so as to speak in a very low tone, as if almost
afraid to hear his own voice.

"As I told you, madame, Gaston is dead; and it was I who closed his
eyes, and received his last wishes. Do you understand?"

The poor woman understood only too well, but was racking her brain to
discover what could be the purpose of this fatal visit. Perhaps it was
only to claim Gaston's jewels.

"It is unnecessary to recall," continued Louis, "the painful
circumstances which blasted my brother's life. However happy your own
lot has been, you must sometimes have thought of this friend of your
youth, who unhesitatingly sacrificed himself in defence of your honor."

Not a muscle of Mme. Fauvel's face moved; she appeared to be trying to
recall the circumstances to which Louis alluded.

"Have you forgotten, madame?" he asked with bitterness: "then I must
explain more clearly. A long, long time ago you loved my unfortunate
brother."

"Monsieur!"

"Ah, it is useless to deny it, madame: I told you that Gaston confided
everything to me--everything," he added significantly.

But Mme. Fauvel was not frightened by this information. This
"everything" could not be of any importance, for Gaston had gone abroad
in total ignorance of her secret.

She rose, and said with an apparent assurance she was far from feeling:

"You forget, monsieur, that you are speaking to a woman who is now
advanced in life, who is married, and who has grown sons. If your
brother loved me, it was his affair, and not yours. If, young and
ignorant, I was led into imprudence, it is not your place to remind me
of it. This past which you evoke I buried in oblivion twenty years ago."

"Thus you have forgotten all that happened?"

"Absolutely all; everything."

"Even your child, madame?"

This question, uttered in a sneer of triumph, fell upon Mme. Fauvel like
a thunder-clap. She dropped tremblingly into her seat, murmuring:

"My God! How did he discover it?"

Had her own happiness alone been at stake, she would have instantly
thrown herself upon a Clameran's mercy. But she had her family to
defend, and the consciousness of this gave her strength to resist him.

"Do you wish to insult me, monsieur?" she asked.

"Do you pretend to say you have forgotten Valentin-Raoul?"

She saw that this man did indeed know all. How? It little mattered. He
certainly knew; but she determined to deny everything, even the most
positive proofs, if he should produce them.

For an instant she had an idea of ordering the Marquis of Clameran
to leave the house; but prudence stayed her. She thought it best to
discover how much he really knew.

"Well," she said with a forced laugh, "will you be kind enough to state
what you wish with me?"

"Certainly, madame. Two years ago the vicissitudes of exile took my
brother to London. There, at the house of a friend, he met a young man
by the name of Raoul. Gaston was so struck by the youth's appearance and
intelligence, that he inquired who he was, and discovered that beyond a
doubt this boy was his son, and your son, madame."

"This is quite a romance you are relating."

"Yes, madame, a romance the denouement of which is in your hands. Your
mother certainly used every precaution to conceal your secret; but the
best-laid plans always have some weak point. After your marriage, one of
your mother's London friends came to Tarascon, and spread the report
of what had taken place at the English village. This lady also revealed
your true name to the nurse who was bringing up the child. Thus
everything was discovered by my brother, who had no difficulty in
obtaining the most positive proofs of the boy's parentage."

Louis closely watched Mme. Fauvel's face to see the effect of his words.

To his astonishment she betrayed not the slightest agitation or alarm;
she was smiling as if entertained by the recital of his romance.

"Well, what next?" she asked carelessly.

"Then, madame, Gaston acknowledged the child. But the Clamerans are
poor; my brother died on a pallet in a lodging-house; and I have only
an income of twelve hundred francs to live upon. What is to become of
Raoul, alone with no relations or friends to assist him? My brother's
last moments were embittered by anxiety for the welfare of his child."

"Really, monsieur----"

"Allow me to finish," interrupted Louis. "In that supreme hour Gaston
opened his heart to me. He told me to apply to you. 'Valentine,' said
he, 'Valentine will remember the past, and will not let our son want for
anything; she is wealthy, she is just and generous; I die with my mind
at rest.'"

Mme. Fauvel rose from her seat, and stood, evidently waiting for her
visitor to retire.

"You must confess, monsieur," she said, "that I have shown great
patience."

This imperturbable assurance amazed Louis.

"I do not deny," she continued, "that I at one time possessed the
confidence of M. Gaston de Clameran. I will prove it by restoring to you
your mother's jewels, with which he intrusted me on his departure."

While speaking she took from beneath the sofa-cushion the purse of
jewels, and handed it to Louis.

"These jewels would have been given to the owner the instant they
were called for, monsieur, and I am surprised that your brother never
reclaimed them."

Louis betrayed his astonishment at the sight of the jewels. He tried to
cover his embarrassment by boldly saying:

"I was told not to mention this sacred trust."

Mme. Fauvel, without making any reply, laid her hand on the bell-rope
and quietly said:

"You will allow me to end this interview, monsieur, which was only
granted for the purpose of placing in your hands these precious jewels."

Thus dismissed, M. de Clameran was obliged to take his leave without
attaining his object.

"As you will, madame," he said, "I leave you; but before doing so I
must tell you the rest of my brother's dying injunctions: 'If Valentine
disregards the past, and refuses to provide for our son, I enjoin it
upon you to compel her to do her duty.' Meditate upon these words,
madame, for what I have sworn to do, upon my honor, shall be done!"

At last Mme. Fauvel was alone. She could give vent to her despair.

Exhausted at her efforts at self-restraint during the presence of
Clameran, she felt weary and crushed in body and spirit.

She had scarcely strength to drag herself up to her chamber, and lock
the door.

Now there was no room for doubt; her fears had become realities. She
could fathom the abyss into which she was about to be hurled, and knew
that in her fall she would drag her family with her.

God alone, in this hour of danger, could help her, could save her from
destruction. She prayed.

"Oh, my God!" she cried, "punish me for my great sin, and I will
evermore adore thy chastising hand! I have been a bad daughter, an
unworthy mother, and a perfidious wife. Smite me, oh, God, and only me!
In thy just anger spare the innocent, have pity upon my husband and my
children!"

What were her twenty years of happiness compared to this hour of misery?
A bitter remorse; nothing more. Ah, why did she listen to her mother?
Why had she committed moral suicide?

Hope had fled; despair had come.

This man who had left her presence with a threat upon his lips would
return to torture her now. How could she escape him?

To-day she had succeeded in subduing her heart and conscience; would she
again have the strength to master her feelings?

She well knew that her calmness and courage were entirely due to the
inaptness of Clameran.

Why did he not use entreaties instead of threats?

When Louis spoke of Raoul, she could scarcely conceal her emotion; her
maternal heart yearned toward the innocent child who was expiating his
mother's faults.

A chill of horror passed over her at the idea of his enduring the pangs
of hunger.

Her child wanting bread, when she, his mother, was rolling in wealth!

Ah, why could she not lay all her possessions at his feet? With what
delight would she undergo the greatest privations for his sake! If she
could but send him enough money to support him comfortably!

But no; she could not take this step without compromising herself and
her family.

Prudence forbade her acceptance of the intervention of Louis de
Clameran.

To confide in him, was placing herself, and all she held dear, at his
mercy--at the mercy of a man who inspired her with instinctive terror.

Then she began to ask herself if he had spoken the truth, or had trumped
up this story to frighten her?

In thinking over Louis's story, it seemed improbable and disconnected.

If Gaston had been living in Paris, in the poverty described by his
brother, why had he not demanded of the married woman the deposit
intrusted to the maiden?

Why, when anxious about the future of their child, had he not come to
her, if he had such confidence in her generosity? If he intrusted her on
his death-bed, why had he not shown this trust while living?

A thousand vague apprehensions beset her mind; she felt suspicion and
distrust of everyone and everything.

She was aware that the time had come for her to take a decisive step,
and upon this step depended her whole future peace and happiness. If she
once yielded, what would not be exacted of her in the future? She would
certainly be made to suffer if she refused to yield. If she had only
some wise friend to advise her!

For a moment she thought of throwing herself at her husband's feet and
confessing all.

Unfortunately, she thrust aside this means of salvation. She pictured
to herself the mortification and sorrow that her noble-hearted husband
would suffer upon discovering, after a lapse of twenty years, how
shamefully he had been deceived, how his confidence and love had been
betrayed.

Having been once deceived, would he ever trust her again? Would he
believe in her fidelity as a wife, when he discovered that she had
uttered her marriage vows to love and honor him, when her heart was
already given to another?

She knew Andre was too magnanimous to ever allude to her horrible fault,
and would use every means to conceal it. But his domestic happiness
would be gone forever. His chair at the fireside would be left empty;
his sons would shun her presence, and every family bond would be
severed.

Then again, would peace be preserved by her silence? Would not Clameran
end by betraying her to Andre?

She thought of ending her doubts by suicide; but her death would not
silence her implacable enemy, who, not being able to disgrace her while
alive, would dishonor her memory.

Fortunately, the banker was still absent; and, during the two days
succeeding Louis's visit, Mme. Fauvel could keep her room under pretence
of sickness.

But Madeleine, with her feminine instinct, saw that her aunt was
troubled by something worse than nervous headache, for which the
physician was prescribing all sorts of remedies, with no beneficial
effect.

She remembered that this sudden illness dated from the visit of the
melancholy-looking stranger, who had been closeted for a long time with
her aunt.

Madeleine supposed something was weighing upon the miserable woman's
mind, and the second day of her sickness ventured to say:

"What makes you so sad, dear aunt? If you will not tell me, do let me
bring our good curé to see you."

With a sharpness foreign to her nature, which was gentleness itself,
Mme. Fauvel refused to assent to her niece's proposition.

What Louis calculated upon happened.

After long reflection, not seeing any issue to her deplorable situation,
Mme. Fauvel determined to yield.

By consenting to everything demanded of her, she had a chance of saving
her husband from suffering and disgrace.

She well knew that to act thus was to prepare a life of torture for
herself; but she alone would be the victim, and, at any rate, she would
be gaining time. Heaven might at last interpose, and save her from ruin.

In the meantime, M. Fauvel had returned home, and Valentine resumed her
accustomed duties.

But she was no longer the happy mother and devoted wife, whose smiling
presence was wont to fill the house with sunshine and comfort. She was
melancholy, anxious, and at times irritable.

Hearing nothing of Clameran, she expected to see him appear at any
moment; trembling at every knock, and turning pale when a strange step
was heard to enter, she dared not leave the house, for fear he should
come during her absence.

Her agony was like that of a condemned man, who, each day as he wakes
from his uneasy slumber, asks himself, "Am I to die to-day?"

Clameran did not come; he wrote, or rather, as he was too prudent to
furnish arms which could be used against him, he had a note written,
which Mme. Fauvel alone might understand, in which he said that he was
quite ill, and unable to call upon her; and hoped she would be so good
as to come to his room the next day; she had only to ask for 317, Hotel
du Louvre.

The letter was almost a relief for Mme. Fauvel. Anything was preferable
to suspense. She was ready to consent to everything.

She burned the letter, and said, "I shall go."

The next day at the appointed hour, she dressed herself in a plain black
silk, a large bonnet which concealed her face, and, putting a thick veil
in her pocket to be used if she found it necessary, started forth.

After hurriedly walking several squares, she thought she might, without
fear of being recognized, call a coach. In a few minutes she was set
down at the Hotel du Louvre. Here her uneasiness increased. Her circle
of acquaintances being large, she was in terror of being recognized.
What would her friends think if they saw her at the Hotel du Louvre
disguised in this old dress?

Anyone would naturally suspect an intrigue, a rendezvous; and her
character would be ruined forever.

This was the first time since her marriage that she had had occasion for
mystery; and her efforts to escape notice were in every way calculated
to attract attention.

The porter said that the Marquis of Clameran's rooms were on the third
floor.

She hurried up the stairs, glad to escape the scrutinizing glances of
several men standing near; but, in spite of the minute directions given
by the porter, she lost her way in one of the long corridors of the
hotel.

Finally, after wandering about for some time, she found a door bearing
the number sought--317.

She stood leaning against the wall with her hand pressed to her
throbbing heart, which seemed bursting.

Now, at the moment of risking this decisive step, she felt paralyzed
with fright. She would have given all she possessed to find herself safe
in her own home.

The sight of a stranger entering the corridor ended her hesitation.

With a trembling hand she knocked at the door.

"Come in," said a voice from within.

She entered the room.

It was not the Marquis of Clameran who stood in the middle of the
room, but a young man, almost a youth, who bowed to Mme. Fauvel with a
singular expression on his handsome face.

Mme. Fauvel thought that she had mistaken the room.

"Excuse me, monsieur," she said, blushing deeply. "I thought that this
was the Marquis of Clameran's room."

"It is his room, madame," replied the young man; then, seeing she was
silent and about to leave, he added:

"I presume I have the honor of addressing Mme. Fauvel?"

She bowed affirmatively, shuddering at the sound of her own name,
frightened at this proof of Clameran's betrayal of her secret to a
stranger.

With visible anxiety she awaited an explanation.

"Reassure yourself, madame," said the young man: "you are as safe here
as if you were in your own house. M. de Clameran desired me to make his
excuses; he will not have the honor of seeing you to-day."

"But, monsieur, from an urgent letter sent by him yesterday, I was led
to suppose--to infer--that he----"

"When he wrote to you, madame, he had projects in view which he has
since renounced."

Mme. Fauvel was too agitated and troubled to think clearly. Beyond the
present she could see nothing.

"Do you mean," she asked with distrust, "that he has changed his
intentions?"

The young man's face was expressive of sad compassion, as if he shared
the sufferings of the unhappy woman before him.

"The marquis has renounced," he said, in a melancholy tone, "what he
wrongly considered a sacred duty. Believe me, he hesitated a long time
before he could decide to apply to you on a subject painful to you
both. When he began to explain his apparent intrusion upon your private
affairs, you refused to hear him, and dismissed him with indignant
contempt. He knew not what imperious reasons dictated your conduct.
Blinded by unjust anger, he swore to obtain by threats what you refused
to give voluntarily. Resolved to attack your domestic happiness, he had
collected overwhelming proofs against you. Pardon him: an oath given to
his dying brother bound him.

"These convincing proofs," he continued, as he tapped his finger on a
bundle of papers which he had taken from the mantel, "this evidence that
cannot be denied, I now hold in my hand. This is the certificate of the
Rev. Dr. Sedley; this is the declaration of Mrs. Dobbin, the farmer's
wife; and these others are the statements of the physician and of
several persons of high social position who were acquainted with Mme. de
la Verberie during her stay in London. Not a single link is missing. I
had great difficulty in getting these papers away from M. de Clameran.
Had he anticipated my intention of thus disposing of them, they would
never have been surrendered to my keeping."

As he finished speaking, the young man threw the bundle of papers into
the fire where they blazed up; and in a moment nothing remained of them
but a little heap of ashes.

"All is now destroyed, madame," he said, with a satisfied air. "The
past, if you desire it, is as completely annihilated as those papers.
If anyone, thereafter, dares accuse you of having had a son before your
marriage, treat him as a vile calumniator. No proof against you can be
produced; none exists. You are free."

Mme. Fauvel began to understand the sense of this scene; the truth
dawned upon her bewildered mind.

This noble youth, who protected her from the anger of De Clameran, who
restored her peace of mind and the exercise of her own free will, by
destroying all proofs of her past, was, must be, the child whom she had
abandoned: Valentin-Raoul.

In an instant, all was forgotten save the present. Maternal tenderness,
so long restrained, now welled up and overflowed as with intense emotion
she murmured:

"Raoul!"

At this name, uttered in so thrilling a tone, the youth started and
tottered, as if overcome by an unhoped-for happiness.

"Yes, Raoul," he cried, "Raoul, who would a thousand times rather die
than cause his mother a moment's pain; Raoul, who would shed his life's
blood to spare her one tear."

She made no attempt to struggle against nature's yearnings; her longing
to clasp to her heart this long-pined-for first-born must be gratified
at all costs.

She opened her arms, and Raoul sprang forward with a cry of joy:

"Mother! my blessed mother! Thanks be to God for this first kiss!"

Alas! this was the sad truth. The deserted child had never been blest by
a mother's kiss. This dear son whom she had never seen before, had
been taken from her, despite her prayers and tears, without a mother's
blessing, a mother's embrace. After twenty years waiting, should it be
denied him now?

But joy so great, following upon so many contending emotions, was more
than the excited mother could bear; she sank back in her chair almost
fainting, and with distended eyes gazed in a bewildered, eager way upon
her long-lost son, who was now kneeling at her feet.

With tenderness she stroked the soft chestnut curls, and drank in the
tenderness of his soft dark eyes, and expressive mouth, as he murmured
words of filial affection in her craving ear.

"Oh, mother!" he said, "words cannot describe my feelings of pain
and anguish upon hearing that my uncle had dared to threaten you. He
threaten you! He repents already of his cruelty; he did not know you as
I do. Yes, my mother, I have known you for a long, long time. Often have
my father and I hovered around your happy home to catch a glimpse of you
through the window. When you passed by in your carriage, he would say
to me, 'There is your mother, Raoul!' To look upon you was our greatest
joy. When we knew you were going to a ball, we would wait near the door
to see you enter, in your satin and diamonds. How often have I followed
your fast horses to see you descend from the carriage and enter wealthy
doors, which I could never hope to penetrate! And how my noble father
loved you always! When he told his brother to apply to you in my behalf,
he was unconscious of what he said; his mind was wandering."

Tears, the sweetest tears she had ever shed, coursed down Mme. Fauvel's
cheeks, as she listened to the musical tones of Raoul's voice.

This voice was so like Gaston's, that she seemed once more to be
listening to the lover of her almost forgotten youth.

She was living over again those stolen meetings, those long hours of
bliss, when Gaston was at her side, as they sat and watched the river
rippling beneath the trees.

It seemed only yesterday that Gaston had pressed her to his faithful
heart; she saw him still saying gently:

"In three years, Valentine! Wait for me!"

Andre, her two sons, Madeleine, all were forgotten in this new-found
affection.

Raoul continued in tender tones:

"Only yesterday I discovered that my uncle had been to demand for me a
few crumbs of your wealth. Why did he take such a step? I am poor, it is
true, very poor; but I am too familiar with poverty to bemoan it. I have
a clear brain and willing hands: that is fortune enough for a young man.
You are very rich. What is that to me? Keep all your fortune, my beloved
mother; but do not repel my affection; let me love you. Promise me
that this first kiss shall not be the last. No one will ever know of
my new-found happiness; not by word or deed will I do aught to let the
world suspect that I possess this great joy."

And Mme. Fauvel had dreaded this son! Ah, how bitterly did she now
reproach herself for not having flown to meet him the instant she heard
that he was living!

She questioned him regarding the past; she wished to know how he had
lived, what he had been doing.

He replied that he had nothing to conceal; his existence had been that
of every poor boy, who had nothing to look forward to but a life of
labor and privation.

The farmer's wife who had brought him up was a kind-hearted woman,
and had always treated him with affection. She had even given him an
education superior to his condition in life, because, as she always
said, he would make himself a great name, and attain to wealth, if he
were taught.

When about sixteen years of age, she procured him a situation in a
banking-house; and he was getting a salary, which, though small, was
enough to support him and supply a few luxuries for his adopted mother.

One day a stranger came to him and said:

"I am your father: come with me."

Since then nothing was wanting to his happiness, save a mother's
tenderness. He had suffered but one great sorrow, and that was the day
when Gaston de Clameran, his father, had died in his arms.

"But now," he said, "all is forgotten, that one sorrow is forgotten in
my present happiness. Now that I see you and possess your love, I forget
the past, and ask for nothing more."

Mme. Fauvel was oblivious of the lapse of time, and was startled when
Raoul exclaimed:

"Why, it is seven o'clock!"

Seven o'clock! What would her family think of this long absence? Her
husband must be even now awaiting dinner.

"Shall I see you again, mother?" asked Raoul in a beseeching tone, as
they were about to separate.

"Oh, yes!" she replied, fondly, "yes, often; every day, to-morrow."

But now, for the first time since her marriage, Mme. Fauvel perceived
that she was not mistress of her actions. Never before had she had
occasion to wish for uncontrolled liberty.

She left her heart and soul behind her in the Hotel du Louvre, where she
had just found her son. She was compelled to leave him, to undergo the
intolerable agony of composing her face to conceal this great happiness,
which had changed her whole life and being. She was angry with fate
because she could not remain with her first-born son.

Having some difficulty in procuring a carriage, it was half-past seven
before she reached the Rue de Provence, when she found the family
waiting for her.

She thought her husband silly, and even vulgar, when he joked her upon
letting her poor children starve to death, while she was promenading the
boulevards.

So strange are the sudden effects of a new passion, that she regarded
almost with contempt this unbounded confidence reposed in her.

She replied to his jest with a forced calmness, as if her mind were
really as free and undisturbed as it had been before Clameran's visit.

So intoxicated had been her sensations while with Raoul, that in her joy
she was incapable of desiring anything else, of dreaming of aught save
the renewal of these delightful emotions.

No longer was she a devoted wife, an affectionate mother to this
household which looked up to her as though she were a superior being.
She took no interest in the two sons who had beena short while since her
chief pride and joy. They had always been petted and indulged in every
way; they had a father, they were rich; whist the other, the other! oh,
how much reparation was due to him!

She almost regarded her family as responsible for Raoul's sufferings, so
blinded was she in her devotion to her martyr, as she called him.

Her folly was complete. No remorse for the past, no apprehensions for
the future, disturbed the satisfied present. To her the future was
to-morrow; eternity was the sixteen hours which must elapse before
another interview.

She seemed to think that Gaston's death absolved the past, and changed
the present.

Her sole regret was her marriage. Free, with no family ties, she could
have consecrated herself exclusively to Raoul. How gladly would she have
sacrificed her affluence to enjoy poverty with him!

She felt no fear that her husband and sons would suspect the thoughts
which absorbed her mind; but she dreaded her niece.

She imagined that Madeleine looked at her strangely on her return from
the Hotel du Louvre. She must suspect something; but did she suspect the
truth?

For several days she asked embarrassing questions, as to where her aunt
went, and with whom she had been during these long absences from home.

This disquietude and seeming curiosity changed the affection which Mme.
Fauvel had hitherto felt for her adopted daughter into positive dislike.

She regretted having placed over herself a vigilant spy from whom she
could not escape. She pondered what means she could take to avoid the
penetrating watchfulness of a girl who was accustomed to read in her
face every thought that crossed her mind.

With unspeakable satisfaction she solved the difficulty in a way which
she thought would please all parties.

During the last two years the banker's cashier and _protege_, Prosper
Bertomy, had been devoted in his attentions to Madeleine. Mme. Fauvel
decided to do all in her power to hasten matters, so that, Madeleine
once married and out of the house, there would be no one to criticise
her own movements. She could then spend most of her time with Raoul
without fear of detection.

That evening, with a duplicity of which she would have been incapable a
few weeks before, she began to question Madeleine about her sentiments
toward Prosper:

"Ah, ha, mademoiselle," she said, gayly, "I have discovered your secret.
You are going on at a pretty rate! The idea of your choosing a husband
without my permission!"

"Why, aunt! I thought you----"

"Yes, I know; you thought I had suspected the true state of affairs!
That is precisely what I have done."

Then, in a serious tone, she said:

"Therefore nothing remains to be done except to obtain the consent of
Master Prosper. Do you think he will grant it?"

"Oh, Aunt Valentine! he would be too happy."

"Ah, indeed! you seem to know all about it; perhaps you do not care for
any assistance in carrying out your wishes?"

Madeleine, blushing and confused, hung her head, and said nothing. Mme.
Fauvel drew her toward her, and continued affectionately:

"My dear child, do not be distressed: you have done nothing wrong, and
need fear no opposition to your wishes. Is it possible that a person of
your penetration supposed us to be in ignorance of your secret? Did you
think that Prosper would have been so warmly welcomed by your uncle and
myself, had we not approved of him in every respect?"

Madeleine threw her arms around her aunt's neck, and said:

"Oh, my dear aunt, you make me so happy! I am very grateful for your
love and kindness. I am very glad that you are pleased with my choice."

Mme. Fauvel said to herself:

"I will make Andre speak to Prosper, and before two months are over the
marriage must take place. Madeleine once married, I shall have nothing
to fear."

Unfortunately, Mme. Fauvel was so engrossed by her new passion that she
put off from day to day her project of hastening the marriage, until it
was too late. Spending a portion of each day at the Hotel du Louvre with
Raoul, and, when separated from him, devoting her thoughts to insuring
him an independent fortune and a good position, she could think of
nothing else.

She had not yet spoken to him of money or business.

She imagined that she had discovered in him his father's noble
qualities; that the sensitiveness which is so easily wounded was
expressed in his every word and action.

She anxiously wondered if he would ever accept the least assistance from
her. The Marquis of Clameran quieted her doubts on this point.

She had frequently met him since the day on which he had so frightened
her, and to her first aversion had succeeded a secret sympathy. She felt
kindly toward him for the affection he lavished on her son.

If Raoul, with the heedlessness of youth, mocked at the future, Louis,
the man of the world, looked upon it with different eyes. He was anxious
for the welfare of his nephew, and constantly complained of the idle
life he was now leading.

One day, after praising the attractive qualities of Raoul, he said:

"This pleasant life is very well, as long as it lasts; but people cannot
live upon air, and, as my handsome nephew has no fortune, it would be
only prudent for us to procure him some employment."

"Ah, my dear uncle, do let me enjoy my present happiness. What is the
use of any change? What do I want?"

"You want for nothing at present, Raoul; but when your resources are
exhausted, and mine, too--which will be in a short time--what will
become of you?"

"_Bast!_ I will enter the army. All the Clamerans are born soldiers; and
if a war comes----"

Mme. Fauvel laid her hand upon his lips, and said in a tone of
reproachful tenderness:

"Cruel boy, become a soldier? would you, then, deprive me of the joy of
seeing you?"

"No, my mother; no."

"You must agree to whatever plans we make for your good," said Louis;
"and not be talking of any wild schemes of your own."

"I am ready to obey; but not yet. One of these days I will go to work,
and make a fortune."

"How, poor, foolish boy? What can you do?"

"_Dame!_ I don't know now; but set your mind at rest, I will find a
way."

Finding it impossible to make this self-sufficient youth listen to
reason, Louis and Mme. Fauvel, after discussing the matter fully,
decided that assistance must be forced upon him, and his path in life
marked out for him.

It was difficult, however, to choose a profession; and Clameran thought
it prudent to wait awhile, and study the bent of the young man's mind.
In the meanwhile it was decided that Mme. Fauvel should place funds at
Clameran's disposal for Raoul's support.

Regarding Gaston's brother in the light of a father to her child, Mme.
Fauvel soon found him indispensable. She continually longed to see
him, either to consult him concerning some step to be taken for Raoul's
benefit, or to impress upon him some good advice to be given.

Thus she was well pleased, when one day he requested the honor of being
allowed to call upon her at her own house.

Nothing was easier than to introduce the Marquis of Clameran to her
husband as an old friend of her family; and, after once being admitted,
he might come as often as he chose.

Mme. Fauvel congratulated herself upon this arrangement.

Afraid to go to Raoul every day, and in constant terror lest her letters
to him should be discovered, and his replies fall into her husband's
hands, she was delighted at the prospect of having news of him from
Clameran.

For a month, things went on very smoothly, when one day the marquis
confessed that Raoul was giving him a great deal of trouble. His
hesitating, embarrassed manner frightened Mme. Fauvel. She thought
something dreadful had happened, and that he was trying to break the bad
news gently.

"What is the matter?" she said, turning pale.

"I am sorry to say," replied Clameran, "that this young man has
inherited all the pride and passions of his ancestors. He is one
of those natures who stop at nothing, who only find incitement in
opposition; and I can think of no way of checking him in his mad
career."

"Merciful Heaven! what has he been doing?"

"Nothing especially censurable; that is, nothing irreparable, thus far;
but I am afraid of the future. He is unaware of the liberal allowance
which you have placed in my hands for his benefit; and, although he
thinks that I support him, there is not a single indulgence which
he denies himself; he throws away money as if he were the son of a
millionaire."

Like all mothers, Mme. Fauvel attempted to excuse her son.

"Perhaps you are a little severe," she said. "Poor child, he has
suffered so much! He has undergone so many privations during his
childhood, that this sudden happiness and wealth has turned his head;
he seizes it as a starving man seizes a piece of bread. Is it surprising
that he should refuse to listen to reason until hungry nature shall have
been gratified? Ah, only have patience, and he will soon return to
the path of sober duty. He has too noble a heart to do anything really
wrong."

"He has suffered so much!" was Mme. Fauvel's constant excuse for Raoul.
This was her invariable reply to M. de Clameran's complaints of his
nephew's conduct.

And, having once commenced, he was now constant in his accusations
against Raoul.

"Nothing restrains his extravagance and dissipation," Louis would say in
a mournful voice; "the instant a piece of folly enters his head, it is
carried out, no matter at what cost."

Mme. Fauvel saw no reason why her son should be thus harshly judged.

"You must remember," she said in an aggrieved tone, "that from infancy
he has been left to his own unguided impulses. The unfortunate boy never
had a mother to tend and counsel him. You must remember, too, that he
has never known a father's guidance."

"There is some excuse for him, to be sure; but nevertheless he must
change his present course. Could you not speak seriously to him, madame?
You have more influence over him than I."

She promised, but forgot her good resolution when with Raoul. She had
so little time to devote to him, that it seemed cruel to spend it in
reprimands. Sometimes she would hurry from home for the purpose of
following the marquis's advice; but, the instant she saw Raoul, her
courage failed; a pleading look from his soft, dark eyes silenced the
rebuke upon her lips; the sound of his voice banished every anxious
thought, and lulled her mind to the present happiness.

But Clameran was not a man to lose sight of the main object, in what he
considered a sentimental wasting of time. He would have no compromise of
duty.

His brother had bequeathed to him, as a precious trust, his son Raoul;
he regarded himself, he said, as his guardian, and would be held
responsible in another world for his welfare.

He entreated Mme. Fauvel to use her influence, when he found himself
powerless in trying to check the heedless youth in his headlong career.
She ought, for the sake of her child, to see more of him, study his
disposition, and daily admonish him in his duty to himself and to her.

"Alas," the poor woman replied, "that would be my heart's desire. But
how can I do it? Have I the right to ruin myself? I have other children,
for whom I must be careful of my reputation."

This answer appeared to astonish Clameran. A fortnight before, Mme.
Fauvel would not have alluded to her other sons.

"I will think the matter over," said Louis, "And perhaps when I see
you next I shall be able to submit to you a plan which will reconcile
everything."

The reflections of a man of so much experience could not be fruitless.
He had a relieved, satisfied look, when he called to see Mme. Fauvel on
the following week.

"I think I have solved the problem," he said.

"What problem?"

"The means of saving Raoul."

He explained himself by saying, that as Mme. Fauvel could not, without
arousing her husband's suspicions, continue her daily visits to Raoul,
she must receive him at her own house.

This proposition shocked Mme. Fauvel; for though she had been imprudent,
even culpable, she was the soul of honor, and naturally shrank from the
idea of introducing Raoul into the midst of her family, and seeing him
welcomed by her husband, and perhaps become the friend of his sons.
Her instinctive sense of justice made her declare that she would never
consent to such an infamous step.

"Yes," said the marquis, thoughtfully, "there is some risk; but then, it
is the only chance of saving your child."

She resisted with so much firmness and indignation that Louis was
astonished, and for a time nonplussed; though he by no means let the
subject drop, but seized every opportunity of impressing upon her
tortured mind that Raoul's salvation depended entirely upon her.

"No," she would always reply, "no! Never will I be so base and
perfidious to my husband!"

Unfortunate woman! little did she know of the pitfalls which stand ever
ready to swallow up wanderers from the path of virtue.

Before a week had passed, she listened to this project, which at first
had filled her with horror, with a willing ear, and even began to devise
means for its speedy execution.

Yes, after a cruel struggle, she finally yielded to the pressure of
Clameran's politely uttered threats and Raoul's wheedling entreaties.

"But how," she asked, "upon what pretext can I receive Raoul?"

"It would be the easiest thing in the world," replied Clameran, "to
admit him as an ordinary acquaintance, and, indeed, to place him on
the same footing which I myself occupy--that of an intimate friend and
habitue of your drawing-rooms. But Raoul must have more than this; he
needs your constant care."

After torturing Mme. Fauvel for a long time, he finally revealed his
scheme.

"We have in our hands," he said, "the solution of this problem, which
may be so easily reached that I regard it as an inspiration."

Mme. Fauvel eagerly scanned his face as she listened with the pitiable
resignation of a martyr.

"Have you not a cousin, a widow lady, who had two daughters, living at
St. Remy?" asked Louis.

"Yes, Mme. de Lagors."

"Precisely so. What fortune has she?"

"She is poor, monsieur, very poor."

"And, but for the assistance you render her secretly, she would be
thrown upon the charity of the world."

Mme. Fauvel was bewildered at finding the marquis so well informed of
her private affairs.

"How could you have discovered this?" she asked.

"Oh, I know all about this affair, and many others besides. I know, for
example, that your husband has never met any of your relatives, and that
he is not even aware of the existence of your cousin De Lagors. Do you
begin to comprehend my plan?"

She not only understood it, but also knew that she would end by being a
party to it.

"All will succeed if you follow my instructions," said Louis. "To-morrow
or next day, you will receive a letter from your cousin at St. Remy,
telling you that she has sent her son to Paris on a visit, and begs you
to receive and watch over him. Naturally you show this letter to your
husband; and a few days afterward he warmly welcomes your nephew, Raoul
de Lagors, a handsome, rich, attractive young man, who does everything
he can to please you both."

"Monsieur," replied Mme. Fauvel, "my cousin is a pious, honorable woman,
and nothing would induce her to countenance so shameful a transaction."

The marquis smiled scornfully, and said:

"Who told you that I intended to confide in her?"

"But you would be obliged to do so! How else?"

"You are very simple, madame. The letter which you will receive, and
show to your husband, will be dictated by me, and posted at St. Remy
by a friend of mine. If I spoke of the obligations under which you have
placed your cousin, it was merely to show you that, in case of accident,
her own interest would make her serve you. Do you see any obstacle to
this plan, madame?"

Mme. Fauvel's eyes flashed with indignation.

"Is my will of no account?" she exclaimed. "You seem to have made your
arrangements without consulting me at all."

"Excuse me," said the marquis, with ironical politeness, "but I knew
that you would take the same view of the matter as myself. Your good
sense would convince you of the necessity of using every possible means
of rescuing your child from destruction."

"But it is a crime, monsieur, that you propose--an abominable crime! My
mind revolts at the very idea of it!"

This speech seemed to arouse all the bad passions slumbering in
Clameran's bosom; and his pale face had a fiendish expression as he
fiercely replied:

"We had better end this humbuggery, and come to a clear understanding at
once. Before you begin to talk about crime, think over your past life.
You were not so timid and scrupulous when you gave yourself up to your
lover; neither did you hesitate to faithlessly refuse to share his
exile, although for your sake he had just jeopardized his life by
killing two men. You felt no scruples at abandoning your child in
London; although rolling in wealth, you never even inquired if this poor
waif had bread to eat. You felt no scruples about marrying M. Fauvel.
Did you tell your confiding husband of the lines of shame concealed
beneath that orange wreath? Did you hesitate to confirm and strengthen
his happy delusion, that his lips had pressed the first kiss upon your
brow? No! All these crimes you indulged in; and, when in Gaston's name
I demand reparation, you indignantly refuse. But, mark my words, madame,
it is too late! You ruined the father; but you shall save the son, or,
by all the saints in heaven, I swear you shall no longer cheat the world
of its esteem."

"I will obey you, monsieur," murmured the trembling, frightened woman.

The following week Raoul, now Raoul de Lagors, was seated at the
banker's dinner-table, between Mme. Fauvel and Madeleine.




XVII

It was not without the most painful suffering and self-condemnation that
Mme. Fauvel submitted to the will of the pitiless Marquis of Clameran.

She had used every argument and entreaty to soften him; but he merely
looked upon her with a triumphant, sneering smile, when she knelt at his
feet, implored him to be merciful and spare her the shame and remorse
of committing another crime. Spare her this torture, and she would grant
anything else he wished, give Raoul all she possessed while alive, and
insure him a handsome competency after her death.

Alas! neither tears nor prayers moved him. Disappointed, and almost
desperate, she sought the intercession of her son.

Raoul was in a state of furious indignation at the sight of his mother's
distress, and hastened to demand an apology from Clameran.

But he had reckoned without his host. He soon returned with downcast
eyes, and moodily angry at his own powerlessness, declaring that safety
demanded a complete surrender to the tyrant.

Now only did the wretched woman fully fathom the abyss into which she
was being dragged, and clearly see the labyrinth of crime of which she
was becoming the victim.

And all this suffering was the consequence of a fault, an interview
granted to Gaston. Ever since that fatal day she had been vainly
struggling against the implacable logic of events. Her life had been
spent in trying to overcome the past, and now it had risen to crush her.

The hardest thing of all to do, the act that most wrung her heart, was
showing to her husband the forged letter from St. Remy, and saying that
she expected to see her rich young nephew in a day or two. 'Tis hard to
deceive those who trust and love us.

But words cannot paint the torture she endured on the evening that she
introduced Raoul to her family, and saw the honest banker cordially
shake hands with this nephew of whom he had never heard before, and
affectionately say to him:

"I am not surprised that a rich young fellow like yourself should prefer
Paris to St. Remy, and nothing will give me more pleasure than your
visit; for I seldom have an opportunity of welcoming a relative of my
dear wife, for whose sake I take an interest in everyone coming from St.
Remy."

Raoul exerted his utmost to deserve this warm reception.

If his early education had been neglected, and he lacked those delicate
refinements of manner and conversation which home influence imparts, his
superior tact concealed these defects.

He possessed the happy faculty of reading characters, and adapting his
conversation to the minds of his listeners.

Before a week had gone by, he was a favorite with M. Fauvel, intimate
with Abel and Lucien, and inseparable from Prosper Bertomy, the cashier,
who spent all his evenings with the banker's family.

Charmed at the favorable impression made by Raoul, Mme. Fauvel recovered
comparative ease of mind, and at times almost congratulated herself
upon having obeyed the marquis, as she saw all around her contented and
happy. Once more she began to hope that peace had not deserted her, that
God had forgiven her.

Alas! she rejoiced too soon.

Raoul's intimacy with his cousins threw him among a set of rich young
men, whose extravagance he not only imitated, but surpassed. He daily
grew more dissipated and reckless. Gambling, racing, expensive suppers,
made money slip through his fingers like grains of sand.

This proud young man, whose sensitive delicacy not long since made
him refuse to accept aught save affection from his mother, now never
approached her without demanding large sums of money.

At first she gave with pleasure, not stopping to count the rolls of
notes she would eagerly run to bring him. But as he each time increased
his demands, until they finally reached a sum far larger than she
could bestow, her eyes were opened to the ruinous effects of her lavish
generosity.

This rich woman, whose magnificent diamonds, elegant toilets, and
superb equipages were the admiration and envy of Paris, now suffered
the keenest torture. She had no more money to give her son; and what
so pains the female heart as being unable to gratify the wishes of a
beloved being?

Her husband never thought of giving her a fixed sum for the year's
expenses, or of asking how she disposed of her money. The day after the
wedding he gave her a key to his secretary, and told her, that what was
his was hers, to use as she thought best. And, ever since, she had been
in the habit of freely taking all the money necessary for keeping up the
hospitable, elegant house over which she so gracefully presided; for her
own dress, and many charitable purposes that the world never knew of.

But the fact of her having always been so modest in her personal
expenses that her husband used to jestingly say that he was afraid she
would end by being a miser; and her judicious, well-regulated management
of household expenditures, causing her to spend much the same amount
each year--prevented her now being able to dispose of large sums,
without giving rise to embarrassing questions.

M. Fauvel, the most generous of millionaires, delighted to see his
wife indulge in any extravagance, no matter how foolish; but he would
naturally expect to see traces of the money spent, something to show for
it.

The banker might suddenly discover that double the usual amount of
money was used in the house; and, if he should ask the cause of this
astonishing outlay, what answer could she give?

In three months, Raoul had squandered a little fortune. In the first
place, he was obliged to have bachelor's apartments, prettily furnished,
and a handsome outfit from a fashionable tailor, besides the thousand
little things indispensable to a society man; he must have a blooded
horse and a coupe. His doting mother felt it her duty to give him these
luxuries, when her other sons were enjoying everything of the sort,
besides many other advantages of which her poor Raoul was deprived.
But each day the extravagance of his fancies increased, and Mme. Fauvel
began to be alarmed when his demands far exceeded her ability to gratify
them.

When she would gently remonstrate, Raoul's beautiful eyes would fill
with tears, and in a sad, humble tone he would say:

"Alas! you are right to refuse me this gratification. What claim have I?
I must not forget that I am only the poor son of Valentine, not the rich
banker's child!"

This touching repentance wrung her heart, so that she always ended by
granting him more than he had asked for. The poor boy had suffered
so much that it was her duty to console him, and atone for her past
neglect.

She soon discovered that he was jealous and envious of his two
brothers--for, after all, they were his brothers--Abel and Lucien.

"You never refuse them anything," he would resentfully say: "they were
fortunate enough to enter life by the golden gate. Their every wish
is gratified; they enjoy wealth, position, home affection, and have a
splendid future awaiting them."

"But what is lacking to your happiness, my son? Have you not everything
that money can give? and are you not first in my affections?" asked his
distressed mother.

"What do I want? Apparently nothing, in reality everything. Do I possess
anything legitimately? What right have I to your affection, to the
comforts and luxuries you heap upon me, to the name I bear? Is not my
life an extortion, my very birth a fraud?"

When Raoul talked in this strain, she would weep, and overwhelm him with
caresses and gifts, until she imagined that every jealous thought was
vanished from his mind.

As spring approached, she told Raoul she designed him to spend the
summer in the country, near her villa at St. Germain. She wanted to have
him with her all the time, and this was the only way of gratifying her
wish. She was surprised to find her proposal readily acquiesced in. In
a few days he told her he had rented a little house at Vesinet, and
intended having his furniture moved into it.

"Then, just think, dear mother, what a happy summer we will spend
together!" he said, with beaming eyes.

She was delighted for many reasons, one of which was that the expenses
of the prodigal son would necessarily be lessened. Anxiety as to the
exhausted state of her finances made her bold enough to chide him at the
dinner-table one day for having lost two thousand francs at the races
that morning.

"You are severe, my dear," said M. Fauvel with the carelessness of a
rich man, who considered this sum a mere trifle. "Mamma Lagors won't
object to footing his bills; mammas are created for the special purpose
of paying bills."

And, not observing that his wife had turned pale at these jocular words,
he turned to Raoul, and added:

"Don't disturb yourself about a small sum like this, my boy; when you
want money, come to me."

What could Mme. Fauvel say? Had she not followed Clameran's orders, and
told her husband that Raoul was wealthy? She could not go now and tell
him that he would never recover any money which he lent to a penniless
spendthrift.

Why had she been made to tell this unnecessary lie?

She suspected the snare laid for her; but now it was too late to escape
it: struggles would only more deeply entangle her in its meshes.

The banker's offer was soon accepted. That same week Raoul went to his
uncle's bank, and boldly borrowed ten thousand francs.

When Mme. Fauvel heard of this piece of audacity, she wrung her hands in
despair.

"What can he want with so much money?" she moaned to herself: "what
wicked extravagance is it for?" For some time Clameran had kept away
from Mme. Fauvel's house. She decided to write and ask him to come and
advise her as to what steps should be taken to check Raoul.

She hoped that this energetic, determined man, who was so fully awake
to his duties as a guardian and an uncle, would make Raoul listen to
reason, and instantly refund the borrowed money.

When Clameran heard what his graceless nephew had done, his surprise and
anger were unbounded. He expressed so much indignation against Raoul,
that Mme. Fauvel was frightened at the storm she had raised, and began
to make excuses for her son.

While they were discussing the matter, Raoul came in, and a violent
altercation ensued between him and Clameran.

But the suspicions of Mme. Fauvel were aroused; she watched them, and it
seemed to her--could it be possible--that their anger was feigned; that,
although they abused and even threatened each other in the bitterest
language, their eyes twinkled with amusement.

She dared not breathe her doubts; but, like a subtle poison which
disorganizes everything with which it comes in contact, this new
suspicion filled her thoughts, and added to her already intolerable
sufferings.

Yet she never once thought of blaming Raoul; nor for a moment did she
feel displeased with her idolized son. She accused the marquis of taking
advantage of the youthful weakness and inexperience of his nephew.

She knew that she would have to suffer insolence and extortion from this
man who had her completely in his power; but she could not imagine what
object he now had in view, for she plainly saw that he was aiming
at something more than his nephew's success in life. He constantly
concealed some plan to benefit himself at her expense; but assuredly her
darling Raoul could not be an accomplice in any plot to harass her.

Clameran himself soon cleared her mind of all doubts.

One day, after complaining more bitterly than usual of Raoul, and
proving to Mme. Fauvel that it was impossible for this state of affairs
to continue much longer, and a catastrophe was inevitable, he would up
by saying there was one means of salvation left.

This was that he, Clameran, must marry Madeleine!

Mme. Fauvel was prepared for almost any base proposal save this one. She
knew that his cupidity and insolence stopped at nothing, but never did
she imagine he would have the wild presumption to aspire to Madeleine's
hand.

If she had renounced all hope of happiness for herself, if she consented
to the sacrifice of her own peace of mind, it was because she thus hoped
to insure the undisturbed felicity of her household, of her husband,
whom she had sinned against.

This unexpected declaration shocked her, and for a moment she was
speechless.

"Do you suppose for an instant, monsieur," she indignantly exclaimed,
"that I will consent to any such disgraceful project? Sacrifice
Madeleine, and to you!"

"I certainly do suppose so, madame; in fact, I am certain of it," he
answered with cool insolence.

"What sort of a woman do you think I am, monsieur? Alas, I am to
eternally suffer for a fault committed twenty years ago; have I not
already been more than adequately punished? And does it become you to
be constantly reproaching me with my long-past imprudence? You have no
right to be thus harassing me, till I dare not say my life is my own!
Your power is at an end, and God only knows how deeply I regret having
been insane enough to yield to its base sway! So long as I alone was
to be the tool, you found me weak and timid; but, now that you seek the
ruin of those I love, I rebel against your usurped authority. I have
still a little conscience left, and nothing under heaven will force me
to sacrifice my gentle, pure-hearted Madeleine!"

"May I inquire, madame, why you regard Mlle. Madeleine's becoming the
Marchioness of Clameran as a disgrace and a sacrifice?"

"My niece chose, of her own free will, a husband whom she will shortly
marry. She loves M. Prosper Bertomy."

The marquis disdainfully shrugged his shoulders.

"A school-girl love-affair," said he; "she will forget all about it, if
you wish her to do so."

"I do not wish it. I wish her to marry him."

"Listen to me," he replied, in the low, suppressed tone of a man trying
to control himself: "let us not waste time in these idle discussions.
Hitherto you have always commenced by protesting against my proposed
plans, and in the end acknowledge the good sense and justness of my
arguments; now, for once why not yield without going through with the
customary preliminaries? I ask it as a favor."

"Never," said Mme. Fauvel, "never will I yield."

Clameran paid no attention to this interruption, but went on:

"I insist upon this marriage, mainly on your account, although it will
enable me to re-establish my own affairs, as well as yours and Raoul's.
Of course you see that the allowance you give your son is insufficient
for his extravagant style of living. The time approaches when, having
nothing more to give him, you will have to encroach upon your husband's
money-drawer to such an extent that longer concealment will be
impossible. When that day comes what is to be done? Perhaps you have
some feasible plan of escape?"

Mme. Fauvel shuddered. The dreadful day of discovery could not be far
off, and no earthly way was there to escape it.

The marquis went on:

"Assist me now, and, instead of having to make a shameful confession,
you will thank me for having saved you. Mlle. Madeleine is rich: her
dowry will enable me to supply the deficiency, and spare you all further
anxiety about Raoul."

"I would rather be ruined than be saved by such means."

"But I will not permit you to ruin us all. Remember, madame, that we are
associated in a common cause, the future welfare of Raoul; and, although
you have a right to rush upon destruction yourself, you certainly shall
not drag us with you."

"Cease your importunities," she said, looking him steadily in the eye.
"I have made up my mind irrevocably."

"To what?"

"To do everything and anything to escape your shameful persecution.
Oh! you need not smile. I shall throw myself at M. Fauvel's feet, and
confess everything. He is noble-hearted and generous, and, knowing how I
have suffered, will forgive me."

"Do you think so?" said Clameran derisively.

"You mean to say that he will be pitiless, and banish me from his roof.
So be it; it will only be what I deserve. There is no torture that I
cannot bear, after what I have suffered through you."

This inconceivable resistance so upset all the marquis's plans that he
lost all constraint, and, dropping the mask of politeness, appeared in
his true character.

"Indeed!" he said in a fierce, brutal tone, "so you have decided to
confess to your loving, magnanimous husband! A famous idea! What a
pity you did not think of it before; it is rather late to try it now.
Confessing everything the first day I called on you, you might have been
forgiven. Your husband might have pardoned a youthful fault atoned for
by twenty years of irreproachable conduct; for none can deny that you
have been a faithful wife and a good mother. But picture the indignation
of your trusting husband when you tell him that this pretended nephew,
whom you imposed upon his family circle, who sat at his table, who
borrowed his money, is your illegitimate son! M. Fauvel is, no doubt,
an excellent, kind-hearted man; but I scarcely think he will pardon a
deception of this nature, which betrays such depravity, duplicity, and
audacity."

All that the angry marquis said was horribly true; yet Mme. Fauvel
listened unflinchingly, as if the coarse cruelty of his words
strengthened her resolution to have nothing more to do with him, but to
throw herself on her husband's mercy.

"Upon my soul," he went on, "you must be very much infatuated with this
M. Bertomy! Between the honor of your husband's name, and pleasing
this love-sick cashier, you refuse to hesitate. Well, I suppose he will
console you. When M. Fauvel divorces you, and Abel and Lucien avert
their faces at your approach, and blush at being your sons, you will be
able to say, 'I have made Prosper happy!'"

"Happen what may, I shall do what is right," said Mme. Fauvel.

"You shall do what I say!" cried Clameran, threateningly. "Do you
suppose that I will allow your sentimentality to blast all my hopes?
I shall tolerate no such folly, madame, I can assure you. Your niece's
fortune is indispensable to us, and, more than that--I love the fair
Madeleine, and am determined to marry her."

The blow once struck, the marquis judged it prudent to await the result.
With cool politeness, he continued:

"I will leave you now, madame, to think the matter over, and you cannot
fail to view it in the same light as I do. You had better take my
advice, and consent to this sacrifice of prejudice, as it will be the
last required of you. Think of the honor of your family, and not of your
niece's love-affair. I will return in three days for your answer."

"Your return is unnecessary, monsieur: I shall tell my husband
everything to-night."

If Mme. Fauvel had not been so agitated herself, she would have detected
an expression of alarm upon Clameran's face.

But this uneasiness was only momentary. With a shrug, which meant, "Just
as you please," he said:

"I think you have sense enough to keep your secret."

He bowed ceremoniously, and left the room, but slammed the front door
after him so violently as to prove that his restrained anger burst forth
before leaving the house.

Clameran had cause for fear. Mme. Fauvel's determination was not
feigned. She was firm in her resolve to confess.

"Yes," she cried, with the enthusiasm of a noble resolution, "yes, I
will tell Andre everything!"

She believed herself to be alone, but turned around suddenly at the
sound of footsteps, and found herself face to face with Madeleine, who
was pale and swollen-eyed with weeping.

"You must obey this man, aunt," she quietly said.

Adjoining the parlor was a little card-room separated only by a heavy
silk curtain, instead of a door.

Madeleine was sitting in this little room when the marquis arrived, and,
as there was no egress save through the parlor, had remained, and thus
overheard the conversation.

"Good Heaven!" cried Mme. Fauvel with terror, "do you know----"

"I know everything, aunt."

"And you wish me to sacrifice you to this fiend?"

"I implore you to let me save you from misery."

"You certainly despise and hate M. de Clameran; how can you think I
would let you marry him?"

"I do despise him, aunt, and shall always regard him as the basest of
men; nevertheless I will marry him."

Mme. Fauvel was overcome by the magnitude of this devotion.

"And what is to become of Prosper, my poor child--Prosper, whom you
love?"

Madeleine stifled a sob, and said in a firm voice:

"To-morrow I will break off my engagement with M. Bertomy."

"I will never permit such a wrong," cried Mme. Fauvel. "I will not add
to my sins by suffering an innocent girl to bear their penalty."

The noble girl sadly shook her head, and replied:

"Neither will I suffer dishonor to fall upon this house, which is my
home, while I have power to prevent it. Am I not indebted to you for
more than life? What would I now be had you not taken pity on me? A
factory girl in my native village. You warmly welcomed the poor orphan,
and became a mother to her. Is it not to your husband that I owe the
fortune which excites the cupidity of this wicked Clameran? Are not Abel
and Lucien brothers to me? And now, when the happiness of all who have
been loving and generous to me is at stake, do you suppose I would
hesitate? No. I will become the wife of Clameran."

Then began a struggle of self-sacrifice between Mme. Fauvel and her
niece, as to which should be the victim; only the more sublime, because
each offered her life to the other, not from any sudden impulse, but
deliberately and willingly.

But Madeleine carried the day, fired as she was by that holy enthusiasm
of sacrifice which is the sustaining element of martyrs.

"I am responsible to none but myself," said she, well knowing this to be
the most vulnerable point she could attack; "whilst you, dear aunt, are
accountable to your husband and children. Think of the pain and sorrow
of M. Fauvel if he should learn the truth; it would kill him."

The generous girl was right. She knew her uncle's heart.

After having sacrificed her husband to her mother, Mme. Fauvel was about
to immolate her husband and children for Raoul.

As a general thing, a first fault draws many others in its train. As an
impalpable flake is the beginning of an avalanche, so an imprudence is
often the prelude to a great crime.

To false situations there is but one safe issue: truth.

Mme. Fauvel's resistance grew weaker and more faint, as her niece
pointed out the line for her to pursue: the path of wifely duty.

"But," she faintly argued, "I cannot accept your sacrifice. What sort of
a life will you lead with this man?"

"We can hope for the best," replied Madeleine with a cheerfulness she
was far from feeling; "he loves me, he says; perhaps he will be kind to
me."

"Ah, if I only knew where to obtain money! It is money that the grasping
man wants; money alone will satisfy him."

"Does he not want it for Raoul? Has not Raoul, by his extravagant
follies, dug an abyss which must be bridged over by money? If I could
only believe M. de Clameran!"

Mme. Fauvel looked at her niece with bewildered curiosity.

What! this inexperienced girl had weighed the matter in its different
lights before deciding upon a surrender; whereas, she, a wife and a
mother, had blindly yielded to the inspirations of her heart!

"What do you mean? Madeleine, what do you suspect?"

"I mean this, aunt: that I do not believe that Clameran has any thought
of his nephew's welfare. Once in possession of my fortune, he may leave
you and Raoul to your fates. And there is another dreadful suspicion
that tortures my mind."

"A suspicion?"

"Yes, and I would reveal it to you, if I dared; if I did not fear that
you--"

"Speak!" insisted Mme. Fauvel. "Alas! misfortune has given me strength
to bear all things. There is nothing worse than has already happened. I
am ready to hear anything."

Madeleine hesitated; she wished to enlighten her credulous aunt, and yet
hesitated to distress her.

"I would like to be certain," she said, "that some secret understanding
between M. de Clameran and Raoul does not exist. Do you not think they
are acting a part agreed upon for the purpose of extorting money?"

Love is blind and deaf. Mme. Fauvel would not remember the laughing
eyes of the two men, upon the occasion of the pretended quarrel in her
presence. Infatuation had drowned suspicion. She could not, she would
not, believe in such hypocrisy. Raoul plot against the mother? Never!

"It is impossible," she said, "the marquis is really indignant and
distressed at his nephew's mode of life, and he certainly would not
countenance any disgraceful conduct. As to Raoul, he is vain, trifling,
and extravagant; but he has a good heart. Prosperity has turned his
head, but he loves me still. Ah, if you could see and hear him, when
I reproach him for his faults, your suspicions would fly to the winds.
When he tearfully promises to be more prudent, and never again give me
trouble, he means to keep his word; but perfidious friends entice
him away, and he commits some piece of folly without thinking of the
consequences."

Mothers always blame themselves and everyone else for the sins of their
sons. The innocent friends come in for the principal share of censure,
each mother's son leading the other astray.

Madeleine had not the heart to undeceive her aunt.

"God grant that what you say may be true," she said; "if so, this
marriage will not be useless. We will write to M. de Clameran to-night."

"Why to-night, Madeleine? We need not hurry so. Let us wait a little;
something else might happen to save us."

These words, this confidence in chance, in a mere nothing, revealed
Mme. Fauvel's true character, and accounted for her troubles. Timid,
hesitating, easily swayed, she never could come to a firm decision, form
a resolution, and abide by it, in spite of all arguments brought to
bear against it. In the hour of peril she would always shut her eyes and
trust to chance for a relief which never came. Never once did she think
to ward off trouble by her own exertions.

Quite different was Madeleine's character. Beneath her gentle timidity
lay a strong, self-reliant will. Once decided upon what was right and
just, nothing could change her. If it was her duty to make a sacrifice,
it was to be carried out to the letter; no hesitation and sighs for
what might have been; she shut out all deceitful illusions, and walked
straight forward without one look back.

"We had better end the matter at once, dear aunt," she said, in a
gentle, but firm tone. "Believe me, the reality of misfortune is not as
painful as its apprehension. You cannot bear the shocks of sorrow, and
delusive hopes of happiness, much longer. Do you know what anxiety of
mind has done to you? Have you looked in the mirror during the last four
months?"

She led her aunt up to the glass, and said:

"Look at yourself."

Mme. Fauvel was indeed a mere shadow of her former self.

She had reached the perfidious age when a woman's beauty, like a
full-blown rose, fades in a day.

Four months of trouble had made her an old woman. Sorrow had stamped its
fatal seal upon her brow. Her fair, soft skin was wrinkled, her golden
hair was streaked with silver, and her large, soft eyes had a painfully
frightened look.

"Do you not agree with me," continued Madeleine, pityingly, "that peace
of mind is necessary to you? Do you not see that you are a wreck of your
former self? It is a miracle that M. Fauvel has not noticed this sad
change in you!"

Mme. Fauvel, who flattered herself that she had displayed wonderful
dissimulation, shook her head.

"Alas, my poor aunt! you think you concealed your secret from all: you
may have blinded my uncle, but I suspected all along that something
dreadful was breaking your heart."

"You suspected what, Madeleine? Not the truth?"

"No, I was afraid--Oh, pardon an unjust suspicion, my dear aunt, but I
was wicked enough to suppose----"

She stopped, too distressed to finish her sentence; then, making a
painful effort, she added, as her aunt signed to her to go on:

"I was afraid that perhaps you loved another man than my uncle; it was
the only construction that I could put upon your strange conduct."

Mme. Fauvel buried her face, and groaned. Madeleine's suspicion was, no
doubt, entertained by others.

"My reputation is gone," she moaned.

"No, dear aunt, no; do not be alarmed about that. No one has had
occasion to observe you as I have; it was only a dreadful thought which
penetrated my mind in spite of my endeavors to dispel it. Have courage:
we two can fight the world and silence our enemies. You shall be saved,
aunt: only trust in me."

The Marquis of Clameran was agreeably surprised that evening by
receiving a letter from Mme. Fauvel, saying that she consented to
everything, but must have a little time to carry out the plan.

Madeleine, she said, could not break off her engagement with M. Bertomy
in a day. M. Fauvel would make objections, for he had an affection for
Prosper, and had tacitly approved of the match. It would be wiser to
leave to time the smoothing away of certain obstacles which a sudden
attack might render insurmountable.

A line from Madeleine, at the bottom of the letter, assured him that she
fully concurred with her aunt.

Poor girl! she did not spare herself. The next day she took Prosper
aside, and forced from him the fatal promise to shun her in the
future, and to take upon himself the responsibility of breaking their
engagement.

He implored Madeleine to at least explain the reason of this banishment,
which destroyed all of his hopes for happiness.

She quietly replied that her peace of mind and honor depended upon his
blind obedience to her will.

He left her with death in his soul.

As he went out of the house, the marquis entered.

Yes, he had the audacity to come in person, to tell Mme. Fauvel that,
now he had the promise of herself and Madeleine, he would consent to
wait awhile.

He himself saw the necessity of patience, knowing that he was not liked
by the banker.

Having the aunt and niece on his side, or rather in his power, he was
certain of success. He said to himself that the moment would come when a
deficit impossible to be paid would force them to hasten the wedding.

Raoul did all he could to bring matters to a crisis.

Mme. Fauvel went sooner than usual to her country seat, and Raoul at
once moved into his house at Vesinet. But living in the country did not
lessen his expenses.

Gradually he laid aside all hypocrisy, and now only came to see his
mother when he wanted money; and his demands were frequent and more
exorbitant each time.

As for the marquis, he prudently absented himself, awaiting the
propitious moment.

At the end of three weeks he met the banker at a friend's, and was
invited to dinner the next day.

Twenty people were seated at the table; and, as the dessert was being
served, the banker suddenly turned to Clameran and said:

"I have a piece of news for you, monsieur. Have you any relatives of
your name?"

"None that I know of, monsieur."

"I am surprised. About a week ago, I became acquainted with another
Marquis of Clameran."

Although so hardened by crime, impudent enough to deny anything,
Clameran was so taken aback that he sat with pale face and a blank look,
silently staring at M. Fauvel.

But he soon recovered enough self-control to say hurriedly:

"Oh, indeed! That is strange. A Clameran may exist; but I cannot
understand the title of marquis."

M. Fauvel was not sorry to have the opportunity of annoying a guest
whose aristocratic pretensions had often piqued him.

"Marquis or not," he replied, "the Clameran in question seems to be able
to do honor to the title."

"Is he rich?"

"I have reason to suppose that he is very wealthy. I have been notified
to collect for him four hundred thousand francs."

Clameran had a wonderful faculty of self-control; he had so schooled
himself that his face never betrayed what was passing in his mind. But
this news was so startling, so strange, so pregnant of danger, that his
usual assurance deserted him.

He detected a peculiar look of irony in the banker's eye.

The only persons who noticed this sudden change in the marquis's matter
were Madeleine and her aunt. They saw him turn pale, and exchange a
meaning look with Raoul.

"Then I suppose this new marquis is a merchant," said Clameran after a
moment's pause.

"That I don't know. All that I know is, that four hundred thousand
francs are to be deposited to his account by some ship-owners at Havre,
after the sale of the cargo of a Brazilian ship."

"Then he comes from Brazil?"

"I do not know, but I can give you his Christian name."

"I would be obliged."

M. Fauvel arose from the table, and brought from the next room a
memorandum-book, and began to read over the names written in it.

"Wait a moment," he said, "let me see--the 22nd, no, it was later than
that. Ah, here it is: Clameran, Gaston. His name is Gaston, monsieur."

But this time Louis betrayed no emotion or alarm; he had had sufficient
time to recover his self-possession, and nothing could not throw him off
his guard.

"Gaston?" he queried, carelessly. "I know who he is now. He must be the
son of my father's sister, whose husband lived at Havana. I suppose,
upon his return to France, he must have taken his mother's name, which
is more sonorous than his father's, that being, if I recollect aright,
Moirot or Boirot."

The banker laid down his memorandum-book, and, resuming his seat, went
on:

"Boirot or Clameran," said he, "I hope to have the pleasure of inviting
you to dine with him before long. Of the four hundred thousand francs
which I was ordered to collect for him, he only wishes to draw one
hundred, and tells me to keep the rest on running account. I judge from
this that he intends coming to Paris."

"I shall be delighted to make his acquaintance."

Clameran broached another topic, and seemed to have entirely forgotten
the news told him by the banker.

Although apparently engrossed in the conversation of his neighbor at the
table, he closely watched Mme. Fauvel and her niece.

He saw that they were unable to conceal their agitation, and stealthily
exchanged significant looks.

Evidently the same terrible idea had crossed their minds.

Madeleine seemed more nervous and startled than her aunt. When M. Fauvel
uttered Gaston's name, she saw Raoul begin to draw back in his chair and
glance in a frightened manner toward the window, like a detected thief
looking for means of escape.

Raoul, less experienced than his uncle, was thoroughly discountenanced.
He, the original talker, the lion of a dinner-party, never at a loss
for some witty speech, was now perfectly dumb; he sat anxiously watching
Louis.

At last the dinner ended, and as the guests passed into the
drawing-room, Clameran and Raoul managed to remain last in the
dining-room.

When they were alone, they no longer attempted to conceal their anxiety.

"It is he!" said Raoul.

"I have no doubt of it."

"Then all is lost; we had better make our escape."

But a bold adventurer like Clameran had no idea of giving up the ship
till forced to do so.

"Who knows what may happen?" he asked, thoughtfully. "There is hope yet.
Why did not that muddle-headed banker tell us where this Clameran is to
be found?"

Here he uttered a joyful exclamation. He saw M. Fauvel's memorandum-book
lying on the table.

"Watch!" he said to Raoul.

Seizing the note-book, he hurriedly turned over the leaves, and, in an
undertone, read:

"Gaston, Marquis of Clameran, Oloron, Lower Pyrenees."

"Well, does finding out his address assist us?" inquired Raoul, eagerly.

"It may save us: that is all. Let us return to the drawing-room; our
absence might be observed. Exert yourself to appear unconcerned and gay.
You almost betrayed us once by your agitation."

"The two women suspect something."

"Well, suppose they do?"

"The best thing that we can do is escape; the sooner we leave Paris, the
better."

"Do you think we should do any better in London? Don't be so easily
frightened. I am going to plant my batteries, and I warrant they will
prove successful."

They joined the other guests. But, if their conversation had not been
overheard their movements had been watched.

Madeleine looked through the half-open door, and saw Clameran consulting
her uncle's note-book, and whispering to Raoul. But what benefit would
she derive from this proof of the marquis's villany? She knew now that
he was plotting to obtain her fortune, and she would be forced to yield
it to him; that he had squandered his brother's fortune, and was now
frightened at the prospect of having to account for it. Still this did
not explain Raoul's conduct. Why did he show such fear?

Two hours later, Clameran was on the road to Vesinet with Raoul,
explaining to him his plans.

"It is my precious brother, and no mistake," he said. "But that need not
alarm you so easily, my lovely nephew."

"Merciful powers! Doesn't the banker expect to see him any day? Is he
not liable to pounce down on me to-morrow?"

"Don't be an idiot!" interrupted Clameran. "Does he know that Fauvel
is Valentine's husband? That is what we must find out. If he knows that
little fact, we must take to our heels; if he is ignorant of it, our
case is not desperate."

"How will you find out?"

"By simply asking him."

Raoul exclaimed at his ally's cunning:

"That is a dangerous thing to do," he said.

"'Tis not as dangerous as sitting down with our hands folded. And, as to
running away at the first suspicion of alarm, it would be imbecility."

"Who is going to look for him?"

"I am."

"Oh, oh, oh!" exclaimed Raoul in three different tones. Clameran's
audacity confounded him.

"But what am I going to do?" he inquired after a moment's silence.

"You will oblige me by remaining here and keeping quiet. I will send you
a despatch if there is danger; and then you can decamp."

As they parted at Raoul's door, Clameran said:

"Now, remember. Stay here, and during my absence be very intimate at
your devoted mother's. Be the most dutiful of sons. Abuse me as much as
you please to her; and, above all, don't indulge in any folly; make no
demands for money; keep your eyes open. Good-by. To-morrow evening I
will be at Oloron talking with this new Clameran."




XVIII

After leaving Valentine de la Verberie, Gaston underwent great peril and
difficulty in effecting his escape.

But for the experienced and faithful Menoul, he never would have
succeeded in embarking.

Having left his mother's jewels with Valentine, his sole fortune
consisted of not quite a thousand francs; and with this paltry sum in
his pocket, the murderer of two men, a fugitive from justice, and with
no prospect of earning a livelihood, he took passage for Valparaiso.

But Menoul was a bold and experienced sailor.

While Gaston remained concealed in a farm-house at Camargue, Menoul went
to Marseilles, and that very evening discovered, from some of his sailor
friends, that a three-masted American vessel was in the roadstead, whose
commander, Captain Warth, a not over-scrupulous Yankee, would be glad to
welcome on board an able-bodied man who would be of assistance to him at
sea.

After visiting the vessel, and finding, during a conversation over
a glass of rum with the captain, that he was quite willing to take a
sailor without disturbing himself about his antecedents, Menoul returned
to Gaston.

"Left to my own choice, monsieur," he said, "I should have settled this
matter on the spot; but you might object to it."

"What suits you, suits me," interrupted Gaston.

"You see, the fact is, you will be obliged to work very hard. A sailor's
life is not boy's play. You will not find much pleasure in it. And I
must confess that the ship's company is not the most moral one I ever
saw. You never would imagine yourself in a Christian company. And the
captain is a regular swaggering bully."

"I have no choice," said Gaston. "Let us go on board at once."

Old Menoul's suspicions were correct.

Before Gaston had been on board the Tom Jones forty-eight hours, he saw
that chance had cast him among a collection of the most depraved bandits
and cut-throats.

The vessel, which seemed to have recruited at all points of the compass,
possessed a crew composed of every variety of thievish knaves; each
country had contributed a specimen.

But Gaston's mind was undisturbed as to the character of the people with
whom his lot was cast for several months.

It was only his miserable wounded body, that the vessel was carrying
to a new country. His heart and soul rested in the shady park of La
Verberie, beside his lovely Valentine. He took no note of the men around
him, but lived over again those precious hours of bliss beneath the old
tree on the banks of the Rhone, where his beloved had confided her heart
to his keeping, and sworn to love him forever.

And what would become of her now, poor child, when he was no longer
there to love, console, and defend her?

Happily, he had no time for sad reflections.

His every moment was occupied in learning the rough apprenticeship of a
sailor's life. All his energies were spent in bearing up under the heavy
burden of labor allotted to him. Being totally unaccustomed to manual
work, he found it difficult to keep pace with the other sailors, and for
the first week or two he was often near fainting at his post, from sheer
fatigue; but indomitable energy kept him up.

This was his salvation. Physical suffering calmed and deadened his
mental agony. The few hours relaxation granted him were spent in heavy
sleep; the instant his weary body touched his bunk, his eyes closed, and
no moment did he have to mourn over the past.

At rare intervals, when the weather was calm, and he was relieved
from his constant occupation of trimming the sails, he would anxiously
question the future, and wonder what he should do when this irksome
voyage was ended.

He had sworn that he would return before the end of three years, rich
enough to satisfy the exactions of Mme. de la Verberie. How should he be
able to keep this boastful promise? Stern reality had convinced him
that his projects could never be realized, except by hard work and
long waiting. What he hoped to accomplish in three years was likely to
require a lifetime.

Judging from the conversation of his companions, he was not now on the
road to fortune.

The Tom Jones set sail for Valparaiso, but certainly went in a
roundabout way to reach her destination.

The real fact was, that Captain Warth proposed visiting the Gulf of
Guinea.

A friend of his, the "Black Prince," he said, with a loud laugh, was
waiting for him at Badagri, to exchange a cargo of "_ebony_" for some
pipes of rum, and a hundred flint-lock muskets which were on board the
Tom Jones.

Gaston soon saw that he was serving his apprenticeship on a slaver, one
of the many ships sent yearly by the free and philanthropic Americans,
who made immense fortunes by carrying on the slave-trade.

Although this discovery filled Gaston with indignation and shame, he was
prudent enough to conceal his impressions.

His remonstrances, no matter how eloquent, would have made no change in
the opinions of Captain Warth regarding a traffic which brought him
in more than a hundred per cent, in spite of the French and English
cruisers, the damages, sometimes entire loss of cargoes, and many other
risks.

The crew admired Gaston when they learned that he had cut two men into
mince-meat when they were insolent to him; this was the account of
Gaston's affair, as reported to the captain by old Menoul.

Gaston wisely determined to keep on friendly terms with the villains, as
long as he was in their power. To express disapproval of their conduct
would have incurred the enmity of the whole crew, without bettering his
own situation.

He therefore kept quiet, but swore mentally that he would desert on the
first opportunity.

This opportunity, like everything impatiently longed for, came not.

By the end of three months, Gaston had become so useful and popular that
Captain Warth found him indispensable.

Seeing him so intelligent and agreeable, he liked to have him at his own
table, and would spend hours at cards with him or consulting about
his business matters. The mate of the ship dying, Gaston was chosen to
replace him. In this capacity he made two successful voyages to Guinea,
bringing back a thousand blacks, whom he superintended during a trip of
fifteen hundred leagues, and finally landed them on the coast of Brazil.

When Gaston had been with Captain Warth about three years, the Tom Jones
stopped at Rio Janeiro for a month, to lay in supplies. He now decided
to leave the ship, although he had become somewhat attached to the
friendly captain, who was after all a worthy man, and never would have
engaged in the diabolical traffic of human beings, but for his little
angel daughter's sake. He said that his child was so good and beautiful,
that she deserved a large fortune. Each time that he sold a black, he
would quiet any faint qualms of conscience by saying, "It is for little
Mary's good."

Gaston possessed twelve thousand francs, as his share of the profits,
when he landed at Brazil.

As a proof that the slave-trade was repugnant to his nature, he left the
slaver the moment he possessed a little capital with which to enter some
honest business.

But he was no longer the high-minded, pure-hearted Gaston, who had
so devotedly loved and perilled his life for the little fairy of La
Verberie.

It is useless to deny that evil examples are pernicious to morals.
The most upright characters are unconsciously influenced by bad
surroundings. As the exposure to rain, sun, and sea-air first darkened
and then hardened his skin, so did wicked associates first shock and
then destroy the refinement and purity of Gaston's mind. His heart
had become as hard and coarse as his sailor hands. He still remembered
Valentine, and sighed for her presence; but she was no longer the sole
object of affection, the one woman in the world to him. Contact with sin
had lowered his standard of women.

The three years, after which he had pledged himself to return, had
passed; perhaps Valentine was expecting him. Before deciding on any
definite project, he wrote to an intimate friend at Beaucaire to learn
what had happened during his long absence. He expressed great anxiety
about his family and neighbors.

He also wrote to his father, asking why he had never answered the many
letters which he had sent to him by returning sailors, who would have
safely forwarded the replies.

At the end of a year, he received an answer from his friend.

The letter almost drove him mad.

It told him that his father was dead; that his brother had left France,
Valentine was lately married, and that he, Gaston, had been sentenced to
ten years' imprisonment for murder.

Henceforth he was alone in the world; with no country, no family, no
home, and disgraced by a public sentence.

Valentine was married, and he had no object in life! He would hereafter
have faith in no one, since she, Valentine, had cast him off, forgotten
him. What could he expect of others, when she had broken her troth, had
lacked the courage to keep her promise and wait for him?--she, whom he
had so trusted.

In his despair, he almost regretted the Tom Jones. Yes, he sighed for
the wicked slaver crew, his life of excitement and peril. The dangers
and triumphs of those bold pirates whose only care was to heap up money
would have been preferable to his present wretchedness.

But Gaston was not a man to be long cast down.

"Money is the cause of it all!" he said with rage. "If the lack of money
can bring such misery, its possession must bestow intense happiness.
Henceforth I will devote all my energies to getting money."

He set to work with a greedy activity, which increased each day. He
tried all the many speculations open to adventurers. Alternately he
traded in furs, worked in a mine, and cultivated lands.

Five times he went to bed rich, and waked up ruined; five times, with
the patience of the castor, whose hut is swept away by each returning
tide, he recommenced the foundation of his fortune.

Finally, after long weary years of toil and struggle, he was worth a
million in gold, besides immense tracts of land.

He had often said that he would never leave Brazil, that he wanted to
end his days in Rio. He had forgotten that love for his native land
never dies in the heart of a Frenchman. Now that he was rich, he wished
to die in France.

He made inquiries, and found that the law of limitations would permit
him to return without being disturbed by the authorities. He left his
property in charge of an agent, and embarked for France, taking a large
portion of his fortune with him.

Twenty-three years and four months had elapsed since he fled from home.

On a bright, crisp day in January, 1866, he once again stepped on
French soil. With a sad heart, he stood upon the quays at Bordeaux, and
compared the past with the present.

He had departed a young man, ambitious, hopeful, and beloved; he
returned gray-haired, disappointed, trusting no one.

Gold could not supply the place of affection. He had said that riches
would bring happiness: his wealth was immense, and he was miserable.

His health, too, began to suffer from this sudden change of climate.
Rheumatism confined him to his bed for several months. As soon as
he could sit up, the physicians sent him to the warm baths, where he
recovered his health, but not his spirits. He felt his lonely condition
more terribly in his own country than when in a foreign land.

He determined to divert his mind by engaging in some occupation which
would keep him too busy to think of himself and his disappointment.
Charmed with the beauty of the Pyrenees, and the lovely valley of Aspe,
he resolved to take up his abode there.

An iron-mill was for sale near Oloron, on the borders of the Gara; he
bought it with the intention of utilizing the immense quantity of wood,
which, for want of means of transportation, was being wasted in the
mountains.

He was soon settled comfortably in his new home, and enjoying a busy,
active life.

One evening, as he was ruminating over the past, his servant brought him
a card, and said the gentleman was waiting to see him.

He read the name on the card: _Louis de Clameran_.

Many years had passed since Gaston had experienced such violent
agitation. His blood rushed to his face, and he trembled like a leaf.

The old home affections which he thought dead now sprung up anew in his
heart. A thousand confused memories rushed through his mind. Like one
in a dream, he tottered toward the door, gasping, in a smothered, broken
voice:

"My brother! oh, my brother!"

Hurriedly passing by the frightened servant, he ran downstairs.

In the passage stood a man: it was Louis de Clameran.

Gaston threw his arms around his neck and held him in a close embrace
for some minutes, and then drew him into the room.

Seated close beside him, with his two hands tightly clasped in those of
Louis, Gaston gazed at his brother as a fond mother would gaze at her
son just returned from the battle-field.

There was scarcely any danger and excitement which the mate of the
redoubtable Captain Warth had not experienced; nothing had ever before
caused him to lose his calm presence of mind, to force him to betray
that he had a heart. The sight of this long unseen brother seemed to
have changed his nature; he was like a woman, weeping and laughing at
once.

"And is this really Louis?" he cried. "My dear brother! Why, I should
have recognized you among a thousand; the expression of your face is
just the same; your smile takes me back twenty-three years."

Louis did indeed smile, just as he smiled on that fatal night when his
horse stumbled, and prevented Gaston's escape.

He smiled now as if he was perfectly happy at meeting his brother.

And he was much more at ease than he had been a few moments before. He
had exerted all the courage he possessed to venture upon this meeting.
Nothing but pressing necessity would have induced him to face this
brother, who seemed to have risen from the dead to reproach him for his
crimes.

His teeth chattered and he trembled in every limb when he rang Gaston's
bell, and handed the servant his card, saying:

"Take this to your master."

The few moments before Gaston's appearance seemed to be centuries. He
said to himself:

"Perhaps it is not he; if it is he, does he know? Does he suspect
anything? How will he receive me?"

He was so anxious, that when he saw Gaston running downstairs, he felt
like fleeing from the house without speaking to him.

Not knowing the nature of Gaston's feelings, whether he was hastening
toward him in anger or brotherly love, he stood perfectly motionless.
But one glance at his brother's face convinced him that he was the same
affectionate, credulous, trusting Gaston of old; and, now that he was
certain that his brother harbored no suspicions, he smilingly received
the demonstrations lavished upon him.

"After all," continued Gaston, "I am not alone in the world; I shall
have someone to love, someone to care for me."

Then, as if suddenly struck by a thought, he said:

"Are you married, Louis?"

"No."

"That is a pity, a great pity. It would so add to my happiness to see
you the husband of a good, affectionate woman, the father of bright,
lovely children! It would be a comfort to have a happy family about me.
I should look upon them all as my own. To live alone, without a loving
wife to share one's joys and sorrows, is not living at all: it is a sort
of living death. There is no joy equal to having the affection of a true
woman whose happiness is in your keeping. Oh the sadness of having only
one's self to care for! But what am I saying? Louis, forgive me. I
have you now, and ought not that to be enough? I have a brother, a kind
friend who will be interested in me, and afford me company, instead of
the weariness of solitude."

"Yes, Gaston, yes: I am your best friend."

"Of course you are. Being my brother, you are naturally my true friend.
You are not married, you say. Then we will have to do the best we
can, and keep house for ourselves. We will live together like two old
bachelors, as we are, and be as happy as kings; we will lead a gay life,
and enjoy everything that can be enjoyed. I feel twenty years younger
already. The sight of your face renews my youth, and I feel as active
and strong as I did the night I swam across the swollen Rhone. And that
was long, long ago. The struggles, privations, and anxieties endured
since, have been enough to age any man. I feel old, older than my
years."

"What an idea!" interrupted Louis: "why, you look younger than I do."

"You are jesting."

"I swear I think you look the younger."

"Would you have recognized me?"

"Instantly. You are very little changed."

And Louis was right. He himself had an old, worn-out, used-up
appearance; while Gaston, in spite of his gray hair and weather-beaten
face, was a robust man, in the full maturity of his prime.

It was a relief to turn from Louis's restless eyes and crafty smile to
Gaston's frank, honest face.

"But," said Gaston, "how did you know that I was living? What kind
chance guided you to my house?"

Louis was prepared for this question. During his eighteen hours' ride by
the railway, he had arranged all his answers, and had his story ready.

"We must thank Providence for this happy meeting," he replied. "Three
days ago, a friend of mine returned from the baths, and mentioned that
he had heard that a Marquis of Clameran was near there, in the Pyrenees.
You can imagine my surprise. I instantly supposed that some impostor had
assumed our name. I took the next train, and finally found my way here."

"Then you did not expect to see me?"

"My dear brother, how could I hope for that? I thought that you were
drowned twenty-three years ago."

"Drowned! Mlle. de la Verberie certainly told you of my escape? She
promised that she would go herself, the next day, and tell my father of
my safety."

Louis assumed a distressed look, as if he hesitated to tell a sad truth,
and said, in a regretful tone:

"Alas! she never told us."

Gaston's eyes flashed with indignation. He thought that perhaps
Valentine had been glad to get rid of him.

"She did not tell you?" he exclaimed. "Did she have the cruelty to let
you mourn my death? to let my old father die of a broken heart? Ah, she
must have been very fearful of what the world says. She sacrificed me,
then, for the sake of her reputation."

"But why did you not write to us?" asked Louis.

"I did write as soon as I had an opportunity; and Lafourcade wrote back,
saying that my father was dead, and that you had left the country."

"I left Clameran because I believed you to be dead."

After a long silence, Gaston arose, and walked up and down the room as
if to shake off a feeling of sadness; then he said, cheerfully:

"Well, it is of no use to mourn over the past. All the memories in the
world, good or bad, are not worth one slender hope for the future; and
thank God, we have a bright future before us. Let us bury the past, and
enjoy life together."

Louis was silent. His footing was not sure enough to risk any questions.

"But here I have been talking incessantly for an hour," said Gaston,
"and I dare say that you have not dined."

"No, I have not, I confess."

"Why did you not say so before? I forgot that I had not dined myself.
I will not let you starve, the first day of your arrival. I will make
amends by giving you some splendid old Cape wine."

He pulled the bell, and ordered the servant to hasten dinner, adding
that it must be an excellent one; and within an hour the two brothers
were seated at a sumptuous repast.

Gaston kept up an uninterrupted stream of questions. He wished to know
all that had happened during his absence.

"What about Clameran?" he abruptly asked.

Louis hesitated a moment. Should he tell the truth, or not?

"I have sold Clameran," he finally said.

"The chateau too?"

"Yes."

"You acted as you thought best," said Gaston sadly; "but it seems to me
that, if I had been in your place, I should have kept the old homestead.
Our ancestors lived there for many generations, and our father lies
buried there."

Then seeing Louis appear sad and distressed, he quickly added:

"However, it is just as well; it is in the heart that memory dwells, and
not in a pile of old stones. I myself had not the courage to return to
Provence. I could not trust myself to go to Clameran, where I would have
to look into the park of La Verberie. Alas, the only happy moments of my
life were spent there!"

Louis's countenance immediately cleared. The certainty that Gaston had
not been to Provence relieved his mind of an immense weight.

The next day Louis telegraphed to Raoul:

"Wisdom and prudence. Follow my directions. All goes well. Be sanguine."

All was going well; and yet Louis, in spite of his skilfully applied
questions, had obtained none of the information which he had come to
obtain.

Gaston was communicative on every subject except the one in which Louis
was interested. Was this silence premeditated, or simply unconscious?
Louis, like all villains, was ever ready to attribute to others the bad
motives by which he himself would be influenced.

Anything was better than this uncertainty; he determined to ask his
brother plainly what his intentions were in regard to money matters.

He thought the dinner-table a favorable opportunity, and began by
saying:

"Do you know, my dear Gaston, that thus far we have discussed every
topic except the most important one?"

"Why do you look so solemn, Louis? What is the grave subject of which
you speak?"

"Our father's estate. Supposing you to be dead, I inherited, and have
disposed of it."

"Is that what you call a serious matter?" said Gaston with an amused
smile.

"It certainly is very serious to me; as you have a right to half of the
estate, I must account to you for it. You have--"

"I have," interrupted Gaston, "a right to ask you never to allude to the
subject again. It is yours by limitation."

"I cannot accept it upon those terms."

"But you must. My father only wished to have one of us inherit his
property; we will be carrying out his wishes by not dividing it."

Seeing that Louis's face still remained clouded, he went on:

"Ah, I see what annoys you, my dear Louis; you are rich, and think that
I am poor, and too proud to accept anything from you. Is it not so?"

Louis started at this question. How could he reply so as not to commit
himself?

"I am not rich," he finally said.

"I am delighted to hear it," cried Gaston. "I wish you were as poor as
Job, so that I might share what I have with you."

Dinner over, Gaston rose and said:

"Come, I want to visit with you, my--that is, our property. You must see
everything about the place."

Louis uneasily followed his brother. It seemed to him that Gaston
obstinately shunned anything like an explanation.

Could all this brotherly confidence be assumed to blind him as to his
real plans? Why did Gaston inquire into his brother's past and future,
without revealing his own? Louis's suspicions were aroused, and he
regretted his over-hasty seeking of Gaston.

But his calm, smiling face betrayed none of the anxious thoughts which
filled his mind.

He was called upon to praise everything. First he was taken over the
house and servants' quarters, then to the stable, kennels, and the
vast, beautifully laid-out garden. Across a pretty meadow was the
iron-foundery in full operation. Gaston, with all the enthusiasm of
a new proprietor, explained everything, down to the smallest file and
hammer.

He detailed all his projects; how he intended substituting wood for
coal, and how, besides having plenty to work the forge, he could make
immense profits by felling the forest trees, which had hitherto been
considered impracticable. He would cut a hundred cords of wood that
year.

Louis approved of everything; but only answered in monosyllables, "Ah,
indeed! excellent idea; quite a success."

His mind was tortured by a new pain; he was paying no attention to
Gaston's remarks, but enviously comparing all this wealth and prosperity
with his own poverty.

He found Gaston rich, respected, and happy, enjoying the price of his
own labor and industry; whilst he--Never had he so cruelly felt the
misery of his own condition; and he had brought it on himself, which
only made it more aggravating.

After a lapse of twenty-three years, all the envy and hate he had felt
toward Gaston, when they were boys together, revived.

"What do you think of my purchase?" asked Gaston, when the inspection
was over.

"I think you possess, my dear brother, a most splendid piece of
property, and on the loveliest spot in the world. It is enough to excite
the envy of any poor Parisian."

"Do you really think so?"

"Certainly."

"Then, my dear Louis," said Gaston joyfully, "this property is yours, as
well as mine. You like this lovely Bearn more than the dusty streets of
Paris? I am very glad that you prefer the comforts of living on your
own estate, to the glitter and show of a city life. Everything you can
possibly want is here, at your command. And, to employ our time, there
is the foundery. Does my plan suit you?"

Louis was silent. A year ago this proposal would have been eagerly
welcomed. How gladly he would have seized this offer of a comfortable,
luxurious home, after having been buffeted about the world so long! How
delightful it would have been to turn over a new leaf, and become an
honest man!

But he saw with disappointment and rage that he would now be compelled
to decline it.

He was no longer free. He could not leave Paris.

He had become entangled in one of those hazardous plots which are fatal
if neglected, and whose failure generally leads the projector to the
galleys.

Alone, he could easily remain where he was: but he was trammelled with
an accomplice.

"You do not answer me," said Gaston with surprise; "are there any
obstacles to my plans?"

"None."

"What is the matter, then?"

"The matter is, my dear brother, that the salary of an office which I
hold in Paris is all that I have to support me."

"Is that your only objection? Yet you just now wanted to pay me back
half of the family inheritance! Louis, that is unkind; you are not
acting as a brother should."

Louis hung his head. Gaston was unconsciously telling the truth.

"I should be a burden to you, Gaston."

"A burden! Why, Louis, you must be mad! Did I not tell you I am very
rich? Do you suppose that you have seen all I possess? This house and
the iron-works do not constitute a fourth of my fortune. Do you think
that I would have risked my twenty years' savings in an experiment of
this sort? The forge may be a failure; and then what would become of me,
if I had nothing else?

"I have invested money which yields me an income of eighty thousand
francs. Besides, my grants in Brazil have been sold, and my agent has
already deposited four hundred thousand francs to my credit as part
payment."

Louis trembled with pleasure. He was, at last, to know the extent of the
danger hanging over him. Gaston had finally broached the subject which
had caused him so much anxiety, and he determined that it should now be
explained before their conversation ended.

"Who is your agent?" he asked with assumed indifference.

"My old partner at Rio. He deposited the money at my Paris banker's."

"Is this banker a friend of yours?"

"No; I never heard of him until my banker at Pau recommended him to me
as an honest, reliable man; he is immensely wealthy, and stands at the
head of the financiers in Paris. His name is Fauvel, and he lives on the
Rue de Provence."

Although prepared for hearing almost anything, and determined to betray
no agitation, Louis turned deadly pale.

"Do you know this banker?" asked Gaston.

"Only by reputation."

"Then we can make his acquaintance together; for I intend accompanying
you to Paris, when you return there to settle up your affairs before
establishing yourself here to superintend the forge."

At this unexpected announcement of a step which would prove his utter
ruin, Louis was stupefied. In answer to his brother's questioning look,
he gasped out.

"You are going to Paris?"

"Certainly I am. Why should I not go?"

"There is no reason why."

"I hate Paris, although I have never been there. But I am called there
by interest, by sacred duties," he hesitatingly said. "The truth is, I
understand that Mlle. de la Verberie lives in Paris, and I wish to see
her."

"Ah!"

Gaston was silent and thoughtful for some moments, and then said,
nervously:

"I will tell you, Louis, why I wish to see her. I left our family jewels
in her charge, and I wish to recover them."

"Do you intend, after a lapse of twenty-three years, to claim these
jewels?"

"Yes--or rather no. I only make the jewels an excuse for seeing her.
I must see her because--because--she is the only woman I ever really
loved!"

"But how will you find her?"

"Oh! that is easy enough. Anyone can tell me the name of her husband,
and then I will go to see her. Perhaps the shortest way to find out,
would be to write to Beaucaire. I will do so to-morrow."

Louis made no reply.

Men of his character, when brought face to face with imminent danger,
always weigh their words, and say as little as possible, for fear of
committing themselves by some indiscreet remark.

Above all things, Louis was careful to avoid raising any objections
to his brother's proposed trip to Paris. To oppose the wishes of a
determined man has the effect of making him adhere more closely to them.
Each argument is like striking a nail with a hammer. Knowing this, Louis
changed the conversation, and nothing more during the day was said of
Valentine or Paris.

At night, alone in his room, he brought his cunning mind to bear upon
the difficulties of his situation, and wondered by what means he could
extricate himself.

At first the case seemed hopeless, desperate. During twenty years, Louis
had been at war with society, trusted by none, living upon his wits,
and the credulity of foolish men enabling him to gain an income without
labor; and, though he generally attained his ends, it was not without
great danger and constant dread of detection.

He had been caught at the gaming-table with his hands full of duplicate
cards; he had been tracked all over Europe by the police, and obliged to
fly from city to city under an assumed name; he had sold to cowards his
skilful handling of the sword and pistol; he had been repeatedly thrown
into prison, and always made his escape. He had braved everything, and
feared nothing. He had often conceived and carried out the most criminal
plans, without the slightest hesitation or remorse. And now here he sat,
utterly bewildered, unable to think clearly; his usual impudence and
ready cunning seemed to have deserted him.

Thus driven to the wall, he saw no means of escape, and was almost
tempted to confess all, and throw himself upon his brother's clemency.
Then he thought that it would be wiser to borrow a large sum from
Gaston, and fly the country.

Vainly did he think over the wicked experiences of the past: none of the
former successful stratagems could be resorted to in the present case.

Fatally, inevitably, he was about to be caught in a trap laid by
himself.

The future was fraught with danger, worse than danger--ruin and
disgrace.

He had to fear the wrath of M. Fauvel, his wife and niece. Gaston would
have speedy vengeance the moment he discovered the truth; and Raoul,
his accomplice, would certainly turn against him, and become his most
implacable enemy.

Was there no possible way of preventing a meeting between Valentine and
Gaston?

None that he could think of.

Their meeting would be his destruction.

Lost in reflection, he paid no attention to the flight of time. Daybreak
still found him sitting at the window with his face buried in his hands,
trying to come to some definite conclusion what he should say and do to
keep Gaston away from Paris.

"It is vain for me to think," he muttered. "The more I rack my brain,
the more confused it becomes. There is nothing to be done but gain time,
and wait for an opportunity."

The fall of the horse at Clameran was what Louis called "an
opportunity."

He closed the window, and, throwing himself upon the bed, was soon in a
sound sleep; being accustomed to danger, it never kept him awake.

At the breakfast-table, his calm, smiling face bore no traces of a
wakeful, anxious night.

He was in a gayer, more talkative mood than usual, and said he would
like to ride over the country, and visit the neighboring towns. Before
leaving the table, he had planned several excursions which were to take
place during the week.

He hoped to keep Gaston so amused and occupied, that he would forget all
about going to Paris in search of Valentine.

He thought that with time, and skilfully put objections, he could
dissuade his brother from seeking out his former love. He relied upon
being able to convince him that this absolutely unnecessary interview
would be painful to both, embarrassing to him, and dangerous to her.

As to the jewels, if Gaston persisted in claiming them, Louis could
safely offer to go and get them for him, as he had only to redeem them
from the pawnbroker.

But his hopes and plans were soon scattered to the winds.

"You know," said Gaston, "I have written."

Louis knew well enough to what he alluded, but pretended to be very much
surprised, and said:

"Written? To whom? Where? For what?"

"To Beaucaire, to ask Lafourcade the name of Valentine's husband."

"You are still thinking of her?"

"She is never absent from my thoughts."

"You have not given up your idea of going to see her?"

"Of course not."

"Alas, Gaston! you forget that she whom you once loved is now the wife
of another, and possibly the mother of a large family. How do you know
that she will consent to see you? Why run the risk of destroying her
domestic happiness, and planting seeds of remorse in your own bosom?"

"I know I am a fool; but my folly is dear to me, and I would not cure it
if I could."

The quiet determination of Gaston's tone convinced Louis that all
remonstrances would be unavailing.

Yet he remained the same in his manner and behavior, apparently
engrossed in pleasure parties; but, in reality, his only thought was the
mail. He always managed to be at the door when the postman came, so that
he was the first to receive his brother's letters.

When he and Gaston were out together at the time of the postman's visit,
he would hurry into the house first, so as to look over the letters
which were always laid in a card-basket on the hall table.

His watchfulness was at last rewarded.

The following Sunday, among the letters handed to him by the postman,
was one bearing the postmark of Beaucaire.

He quickly slipped it into his pocket; and, although he was on the point
of mounting his horse to ride with Gaston, he said that he must run up
to his room to get something he had forgotten; this was to gratify his
impatient desire to read the letter.

He tore it open, and, seeing "Lafourcade" signed at the bottom of three
closely written pages, hastily devoured the contents.

After reading a detailed account of events entirely uninteresting to
him, Louis came to the following passage relating to Valentine:


"Mlle. de la Verberie's husband is an eminent banker named Andre Fauvel.
I have not the honor of his acquaintance, but I intend going to see him
shortly. I am anxious to submit to him a project that I have conceived
for the benefit of this part of the country. If he approves of it, I
shall ask him to invest in it, as his name will be of great assistance
to the scheme. I suppose you have no objections to my referring him to
you, should he ask for my indorsers."


Louis trembled like a man who had just made a narrow escape from death.
He well knew that he would have to fly the country if Gaston received
this letter.

But though the danger was warded off for the while, it might return and
destroy him at any moment.

Gaston would wait a week for an answer, then he would write again;
Lafourcade would instantly reply to express surprise that his first
letter had not been received; all of this correspondence would occupy
about twelve days. In those twelve days Louis would have to think over
some plan for preventing Lafourcade's visit to Paris; since, the instant
he mentioned the name of Clameran to the banker, everything would be
discovered.

Louis's meditations were interrupted by Gaston, who called from the
lower passage:

"What are you doing, Louis? I am waiting for you."

"I am coming now," he replied.

Hastily thrusting Lafourcade's letter into his trunk, Louis ran down to
his brother.

He had made up his mind to borrow a large sum from Gaston, and go off to
America; and Raoul might get out of the scrape as best he could.

The only thing which now disturbed him was the sudden failure of the
most skilful combination he had ever conceived; but he was not a man to
fight against destiny, and determined to make the best of the emergency,
and hope for better fortune in his next scheme.

The next day about dusk, while walking along the pretty road leading
from the foundery to Oloron, he commenced a little story which was to
conclude by asking Gaston to lend him two hundred thousand francs.

As they slowly went along arm in arm, about half a mile from the
foundery they met a young laborer who bowed as he passed them.

Louis dropped his brother's arm, and started back as if he had seen a
ghost.

"What is the matter?" asked Gaston, with astonishment.

"Nothing, except I struck my foot against a stone, and it is very
painful."

Gaston might have known by the tremulous tones of Louis's voice that
this was a lie. Louis de Clameran had reason to tremble; in this workman
he recognized Raoul de Lagors.

Instinctive fear paralyzed and overwhelmed him.

The story he had planned for the purpose of obtaining the two hundred
thousand francs was forgotten; his volubility was gone; and he silently
walked along by his brother's side, like an automaton, totally incapable
of thinking or acting for himself.

He seemed to listen, he did listen; but the words fell upon his ear
unmeaningly; he could not understand what Gaston was saying, and
mechanically answered "yes" or "no," like one in a dream.

Whilst necessity, absolute necessity, kept him here at Gaston's side,
his thoughts were all with the young man who had just passed by.

What had brought Raoul to Oloron? What plot was he hatching? Why was he
disguised as a laborer? Why had he not answered the many letters which
Louis had written him from Oloron? He had ascribed this silence to
Raoul's carelessness, but now he saw it was premeditated. Something
disastrous must have happened at Paris; and Raoul, afraid to commit
himself by writing, had come himself to bring the bad news. Had he come
to say that the game was up, and they must fly?

But, after all, perhaps he was mistaken in supposing this to be his
accomplice. It might be some honest workman bearing a strong resemblance
to Raoul.

If he could only run after this stranger, and speak to him! But no, he
must walk on up to the house with Gaston, quietly, as if nothing had
happened to arouse his anxiety. He felt as if he would go mad if his
brother did not move faster; the uncertainty was becoming intolerable.

His mind filled with these perplexing thoughts, Louis at last reached
the house; and Gaston, to his great relief, said that he was so tired
that he was going directly to bed.

At last he was free!

He lit a cigar, and, telling the servant not to sit up for him, went
out.

He knew that Raoul, if it was Raoul, would be prowling near the house,
waiting for him.

His suspicions were well founded.

He had barely proceeded thirty yards, when a man suddenly sprang from
behind a tree, and stood before him.

The night was clear, and Louis recognized Raoul.

"What is the matter?" he impatiently demanded; "what has happened?"

"Nothing."

"What! Do you mean to say that nothing has gone wrong in Paris--that no
one is on our track?"

"Not the slightest danger of any sort. And moreover, but for your
inordinate greed of gain, everything would have succeeded admirably; all
was going on well when I left Paris."

"Then why have you come here?" cried Louis fiercely. "Who gave you
permission to desert your post, when your absence might bring ruin upon
us? What brought you here?"

"That is my business," said Raoul with cool impertinence.

Louis seized the young man's wrists, and almost crushed them in his
vicelike grasp.

"Explain this strange conduct of yours," he said, in a tone of
suppressed rage. "What do you mean by it?"

Without apparent effort Raoul released his hands from their
imprisonment, and jeeringly said:

"Hein! Gently, my friend! I don't like being roughly treated; and, if
you don't know how to behave yourself, I have the means of teaching
you."

At the same time he drew a revolver from his pocket.

"You must and shall explain yourself," insisted Louis: "if you
don't----"

"Well, if I don't? Now, you might just as well spare yourself the
trouble of trying to frighten me. I intend to answer your questions when
I choose; but it certainly won't be here, in the middle of the road,
with the bright moonlight showing us off to advantage. How do you know
people are not watching us this very minute? Come this way."

They strode through the fields, regardless of Gaston's plants, which
were trampled under foot in order to take a short cut.

"Now," began Raoul, when they were at a safe distance from the road,
"now, my dear uncle, I will tell you what brings me here. I have
received and carefully read your letters. I read them over again. You
wished to be prudent; and the consequence was, that your letters were
unintelligible. Only one thing did I understand clearly: we are in
danger."

"Only the more reason for your watchfulness and obedience."

"Very well put: only, before braving danger, my venerable and beloved
uncle, I want to know its extent. I am not a man to retreat in the hour
of peril, but I want to know exactly how much risk I am running."

"I told you to keep quiet, and follow my directions."

"But to do this would imply that I have perfect confidence in you, my
dear uncle," said Raoul, sneeringly.

"And why should you not? What reasons for distrust have you after all
that I have done for you? Who went to London, and rescued you from a
state of privation and ignominy? I did. Who gave you a name and position
when you had neither? I did. And who is working now to maintain your
present life of ease, and insure you a splendid future? I am. And how do
you repay me?"

"Superb, magnificent, inimitable!" said Raoul, with mocking derision.
"But, while on the subject, why don't you prove that you have sacrificed
yourself for my sake? You did not need me as a tool for carrying out
plans for your own benefit; did you? oh no, not at all! Dear, kind,
generous, disinterested uncle! You ought to have the Montyon prize;
I think I must recommend you as the most deserving person I have ever
met!"

Clameran was so angry at these jeering words that he feared to trust
himself to speak.

"Now, my good uncle," continued Raoul more seriously, "we had better end
this child's play, and come to a clear understanding. I follow you here,
because I thoroughly understand your character, and have just as much
confidence in you as you deserve, and not a particle more. If it were
for your advantage to ruin me, you would not hesitate one instant. If
danger threatened us, you would fly alone, and leave your dutiful nephew
to make his escape the best way he could. Oh! don't look shocked, and
pretend to deny it; your conduct is perfectly natural, and in your place
I would act the same way. Only remember this, that I am not a man to
be trifled with. Now let us cease these unnecessary recriminations, and
come to the point: what is your present plan?"

Louis saw that his accomplice was too shrewd to be deceived, and that
the safest course was to trust all to him, and to pretend that he had
intended doing so all along.

Without any show of anger, he briefly and clearly related all that had
occurred at his brother's.

He told the truth about everything except the amount of his brother's
fortune, the importance of which he lessened as much as possible.

"Well," said Raoul, when the report was ended, "we are in a nice fix.
And do you expect to get out of it?"

"Yes, if you don't betray me."

"I wish you to understand, marquis, that I have never betrayed anyone
yet; don't judge me by yourself, I beg. What steps will you take to get
free of this entanglement?"

"I don't know; but something will turn up. Oh, don't be alarmed; I'll
find some means of escape: so you can return home with your mind at
rest. You run no risk in Paris, and 'tis the best place for you. I will
stay here to watch Gaston."

Raoul reflected for some moments, and then said:

"Are you sure I am not in danger at Paris?"

"What are you afraid of? We have Mme. Fauvel so completely in our power
that she would not dare speak a word against you; even if she knew the
whole truth, what no one but you and I know, she would not open her
lips, but be only too glad to hush up matters so as to escape punishment
for her fault from her deceived husband and a censuring world."

"I know we have a secure hold on her," said Raoul. "I am not afraid of
her giving any trouble."

"Who, then?"

"An enemy of your own making, my respected uncle; a most implacable
enemy--Madeleine."

"Fiddlesticks!" replied Clameran, disdainfully.

"It is very well for you to treat her with contempt," said Raoul,
gravely; "but I can tell you, you are much mistaken in your estimate of
her character. I have studied her lately, and see that she is devoted to
her aunt, and ready to make any sacrifice to insure her happiness. But
she has no idea of doing anything blindly, of throwing herself away
if she can avoid it. She has promised to marry you. Prosper is
broken-hearted at being discarded, it is true; but he has not given up
hope. You imagine her to be weak and yielding, easily frightened? It's a
great mistake. She is self-reliant and fearless. More than that, she is
in love, my good uncle; and a woman will defend her lover as a tigress
defends her young. She will fight to the bitter end before marrying
anyone save Prosper."

"She is worth five hundred thousand francs."

"So she is; and at five per cent we would each have an income of twelve
thousand five hundred francs. But, for all that, you had better take my
advice, and give up Madeleine."

"Never; I swear by Heaven!" exclaimed Clameran. "Rich or poor, she shall
be mine! I first wanted her money, but now I want her; I love her for
herself, Raoul!"

Raoul seemed to be amazed at this declaration of his uncle.

He raised his hands, and started back with astonishment.

"Is it possible," he said, "that you are in love with Madeleine?--you!"

"Yes," replied Louis, sullenly. "Is there anything so very extraordinary
in it?"

"Oh, no, certainly not! only this sentimental view of the matter
explains your strange behavior. Alas, you love Madeleine! Then, my
venerable uncle, we might as well surrender at once."

"Why so?"

"Because you know the axiom, 'When the heart is interested the head is
lost.' Generals in love always lose their battles. The day is not far
off when your infatuation of Madeleine will make you sell us both for
a smile. And, mark my words, she is shrewd, and watching us as only an
enemy can watch."

With a forced laugh Clameran interrupted his nephew.

"Just see how you fire up for no cause," he said; "you must dislike the
charming Madeleine very much, if you abuse her in this way."

"She will prove to be our ruin: that is all."

"You might as well be frank, and say you are in love with her yourself."

"I am only in love with her money," replied Raoul, with an angry frown.

"Then what are you complaining of? I shall give you half her fortune.
You will have the money without being troubled with the wife; the profit
without the burden."

"I am not over fifty years old," said Raoul conceitedly. "I can
appreciate a pretty woman better than you."

"Enough of that," interrupted Louis angrily. "The day I relieved your
pressing wants, and brought you to Paris, you promised to follow my
directions, to help me carry out my plan; did you not?"

"Yes; but not the plot you are hatching now! You forget that my liberty,
perhaps my life, is at stake. You may hold the cards, but I must have
the right of advising you."

It was midnight before the accomplices separated.

"I won't stand idle," said Louis. "I agree with you that something must
be done at once. But I can't decide what it shall be on the spur of the
moment. Meet me here at this hour to-morrow night, and I will have some
plan ready for you."

"Very good. I will be here."

"And remember, don't be imprudent!"

"My costume ought to convince you that I am not anxious to be recognized
by anyone. I left such an ingenious alibi, that I defy anybody to
prove that I have been absent from my house at Vesinet. I even took the
precaution to travel in a third-class car. Well, good-night. I am going
to the inn."

Raoul went off after these words, apparently unconscious of having
aroused suspicion in the breast of his accomplice.

During his adventurous life, Clameran had transacted "business" with too
many scamps not to know the precise amount of confidence to place in a
man like Raoul.

The old adage, "Honor among thieves," seldom holds good after the
"stroke." There is always a quarrel over the division of the spoils.

This distrustful Clameran foresaw a thousand difficulties and
counter-plots to be guarded against in his dealings with Raoul.

"Why," he pondered, "did the villain assume this disguise? Why this
alibi at Paris? Can he be laying a trap for me? It is true that I have
a hold upon him; but then I am completely at his mercy. Those accursed
letters which I have written to him, while here, are so many proofs
against me. Can he be thinking of cutting loose from me, and making off
with all the profits of our enterprise?"

Louis never once during the night closed his eyes; but by daybreak he
had fully made up his mind how to act, and with feverish impatience
waited for evening to come, to communicate his views with Raoul.

His anxiety made him so restless that the unobserving Gaston finally
noticed it, and asked him what the matter was; if he was sick, or
troubled about anything.

At last evening came, and, at the appointed hour, Louis went to the
field where they had met the night previous, and found Raoul lying on
the grass smoking a fragrant cigar, as if he had no other object in life
except to blow little clouds of smoke in the air, and count the stars in
the clear sky above him.

"Well?" he carelessly said, as Louis approached, "have you decided upon
anything?"

"Yes. I have two projects, either of which would probably accomplish our
object."

"I am listening."

Louis was silently thoughtful for a minute, as if arranging his thoughts
so as to present them as clearly and briefly as possible.

"My first plan," he began, "depends upon your approval. What would you
say, if I proposed to you to renounce the affair altogether?"

"What!"

"Would you consent to disappear, leave France, and return to London, if
I paid you a good round sum?"

"What do you call a good round sum?"

"I will give you a hundred and fifty thousand francs."

"My respected uncle," said Raoul with a contemptuous shrug, "I am
distressed to see how little you know me! You try to deceive me, to
outwit me, which is ungenerous and foolish on your part; ungenerous,
because it fails to carry out our agreement; foolish, because as you
know well enough, my power equals yours."

"I don't understand you."

"I am sorry for it. I understand myself, and that is sufficient. Oh!
I understand you, my dear uncle. I have watched you with careful eyes,
which are not to be deceived; I see through you clearly. If you offer me
one hundred and fifty thousand francs, it is because you intend to walk
off with half a million for yourself."

"You are talking like a fool," said Clameran with virtuous indignation.

"Not at all; I only judge the future by the past. Of all the large sums
extorted from Mme. Fauvel, often against my wishes, I never received a
tenth part."

"But you know we have a reserve fund."

"All very good; but you have the keeping of it, my good uncle. It is
very nice for you, but not so funny for me. If our little plot were
to be discovered to-morrow, you would walk off with the money-box, and
leave your devoted nephew to be sent to prison."

"Ingrate!" muttered Louis, as if distressed at these undeserved
reproaches of his protege.

"You have hit on the very word I was trying to remember," cried Raoul:
"'ingrate' is the name that just suits you. But we have not time for
this nonsense. I will end the matter by proving how you have been trying
to deceive me."

"I would like to hear you do so if you can."

"Very good. In the first place, you told me that your brother only
possessed a modest competency. Now, I learn that Gaston has an income
of at least sixty thousand francs. It is useless for you to deny it; and
how much is this property worth? A hundred thousand crowns. He had four
hundred thousand francs deposited in M. Fauvel's bank. Total, seven
hundred thousand francs. And, besides all this, the broker in Oloron
has orders to buy up a large amount of stocks and railroad shares, which
will require large cash payments. I have not wasted my day, you see, and
have obtained all the information I came for."

Raoul's information was too concise and exact for Louis to deny it.

"You might have sense enough," Raoul went on, "to know how to manage
your forces if you undertake to be a commander. We had a splendid game
in our hands; and you, who held the cards, have made a perfect muddle of
it."

"I think--"

"That the game is lost? That is my opinion too, and all through you. You
have no one to blame but yourself."

"I could not control events."

"Yes, you could, if you had been shrewd. Fools sit down and wait for an
opportunity; sensible men make one. What did we agree upon in London?
We were to implore my good mother to assist us a little, and, if she
complied with our wishes, we were to be flattering and affectionate in
our devotion to her. And what was the result? At the risk of killing
the golden goose, you have made me torment the poor woman until she is
almost crazy."

"It was prudent to hasten matters."

"You think so, do you? Was it also to hasten matters that you took it
into your head to marry Madeleine? That made it necessary to let her
into the secret; and, ever since, she has advised and set her aunt
against us. I would not be surprised if she makes her confess everything
to M. Fauvel, or even inform against us at the police-office."

"I love Madeleine!"

"You told me that before. And suppose you do love her. You led me into
this piece of business without having studied its various bearings,
without knowing what you were about. No one but an idiot, my beloved
uncle, would go and put his foot into a trap, and then say, 'If I had
only known about it!' You should have made it your business to know
everything. You came to me, and said, 'Your father is dead,' which was
a lie to start with; perhaps you call it a mistake. He is living; and,
after what we have done, I dare not appear before him. He would have
left me a million, and now I shall not get a sou. He will find his
Valentine, and then good-by."

"Enough!" angrily interrupted Louis. "If I have made a mistake, I know
how to redeem it. I can save everything yet."

"You can? How so?"

"That is my secret," said Louis gloomily.

Louis and Raoul were silent for a minute. And this silence between them,
in this lonely spot, at dead of night, was so horribly significant that
both of them shuddered.

An abominable thought had flashed across their evil minds, and without a
word or look they understood each other.

Louis broke the ominous silence, by abruptly saying:

"Then you refuse to disappear if I pay you a hundred and fifty thousand
francs? Think it over before deciding: it is not too late yet."

"I have fully thought it over. I know you will not attempt to deceive
me any more. Between certain ease, and the probability of an immense
fortune, I choose the latter at all risks. I will share your success or
your failure. We will swim or sink together."

"And you will follow my instructions?"

"Blindly."

Raoul must have been very certain of Louis's intentions of resorting to
the most dangerous extremities, must have known exactly what he intended
to do; for he did not ask him a single question. Perhaps he dared not.
Perhaps he preferred doubt to shocking certainty, as if he could thus
escape the remorse attendant upon criminal complicity.

"In the first place," said Louis, "you must at once return to Paris."

"I will be there in forty-eight hours."

"You must be very intimate at Mme. Fauvel's, and keep me informed of
everything that takes place in the family."

"I understand."

Louis laid his hand upon Raoul's shoulder, as if to impress upon his
mind what he was about to say.

"You have a sure means of being restored to your mother's confidence and
affection, by blaming me for everything that has happened to distress
her. Abuse me constantly. The more odious you render me in her eyes and
those of Madeleine, the better you will serve me. Nothing would please
me more than to be denied admittance to the house when I return to
Paris. You must say that you have quarrelled with me, and that, if I
still come to see you, it is because you cannot prevent it, and you will
never voluntarily have any intercourse with me. That is the scheme; you
can develop it."

Raoul listened to these strange instructions with astonishment.

"What!" he cried: "you adore Madeleine, and take this means of showing
it? An odd way of carrying on a courtship, I must confess. I will be
shot if I can comprehend."

"There is no necessity for your comprehending."

"All right," said Raoul submissively; "if you say so."

Then Louis reflected that no one could properly execute a commission
without having at least an idea of its nature.

"Did you ever hear," he asked Raoul, "of the man who burnt down his
lady-love's house so as to have the bliss of carrying her out in his
arms?"

"Yes: what of it?"

"At the proper time, I will charge you to set fire, morally, to Mme.
Fauvel's house; and I will rush in, and save her and her niece. Now,
in the eyes of those women my conduct will appear more magnanimous and
noble in proportion to the contempt and abuse they have heaped upon me.
I gain nothing by patient devotion: I have everything to hope from a
sudden change of tactics. A well-managed stroke will transform a demon
into an angel."

"Very well, a good idea!" said Raoul approvingly, when his uncle had
finished.

"Then you understand what is to be done?"

"Yes, but will you write to me?"

"Of course; and if anything should happen at Paris----"

"I will telegraph to you."

"And never lose sight of my rival, the cashier."

"Prosper? not much danger of our being troubled by him, poor boy! He is
just now my most devoted friend. Trouble has driven him into a path of
life which will soon prove his destruction. Every now and then I pity
him from the bottom of my soul."

"Pity him as much as you like; but don't interfere with his
dissipation."

The two men shook hands, and separated apparently the best friends in
the world; in reality the bitterest enemies.

Raoul would not forgive Louis for having attempted to appropriate all
the booty, and leave him in the lurch, when it was he who had risked the
greatest dangers.

Louis, on his part, was alarmed at the attitude taken by Raoul. Thus far
he had found his nephew tractable, and even blindly obedient; and now
he had suddenly become rebellious and threatening. Instead of ordering
Raoul, he was forced to consult and bargain with him.

What could be more wounding to his vanity and self-conceit than the
reproaches, well founded though they were, to which he had been obliged
to listen, from a mere youth?

As he walked back to his brother's house, thinking over what had just
occurred, Louis swore that sooner or later he would be revenged, and
that, as soon as he could get rid of Raoul he would do so, and would do
him some great injury.

But, for the present, he was so afraid lest the young villain should
betray him, or thwart his plans in some way, that he wrote to him the
next day, and every succeeding day, full particulars of everything that
happened. Seeing how important it was to restore his shaken confidence,
Louis entered into the most minute details of his plans, and asked
Raoul's advice about every step he took.

The situation remained the same. The dark cloud remained threateningly
near, but grew no larger.

Gaston seemed to have forgotten that he had written to Beaucaire, and
never mentioned Valentine's name once.

Like all men accustomed to a busy life, Gaston was miserable except
when occupied, and spent his whole time in the foundery, which seemed to
absorb him entirely.

When he began the experiment of felling the woods, his losses had been
heavy; but he determined to continue the work until it should be equally
beneficial to himself and the neighboring land-owners.

He engaged the services of an intelligent engineer, and thanks to
untiring energy, and the new improvements in machinery, his profits soon
more than equalled his expenses.

"Now that we are doing so well," said Gaston joyously, "we shall
certainly make twenty-five thousand francs next year."

Next year! Alas, poor Gaston!

Five days after Raoul's departure, one Saturday afternoon, Gaston was
suddenly taken ill.

He had a sort of vertigo, and was so dizzy that he was forced to lie
down.

"I know what is the matter," he said. "I have often been ill in this way
at Rio. A couple of hours' sleep will cure me. I will go to bed, and you
can send someone to awaken me when dinner is ready, Louis; I shall be
all right by that time."

But, when the servant came to announce dinner, he found Gaston much
worse. He had a violent headache, a choking sensation in his throat, and
dimness of vision. But his worst symptom was dysphonia; he would try
to articulate one word, and find himself using another. His jaw-bones
became so stiff that it was with the greatest difficulty that he opened
his mouth.

Louis came up to his brother's room, and urged him to send for the
physician.

"No," said Gaston, "I won't have any doctor to make me ill with
all sorts of medicines; I know what is the matter with me, and my
indisposition will be cured by a simple remedy which I have always
used."

At the same time he ordered Manuel, his old Spanish servant, who had
lived with him for ten years, to prepare him some lemonade.

The next day Gaston appeared to be much better. He ate his breakfast,
and was about to take a walk, when the pains of the previous day
suddenly returned, in a more violent form.

Without consulting his brother, Louis sent to Oloron for Dr. C----,
whose wonderful cures at Eaux Bonnes had won him a wide reputation.

The doctor declared that there was no danger, and merely prescribed a
dose of valerian, and a blister with some grains of morphine sprinkled
on it.

But in the middle of the night, all the symptoms suddenly changed for
the worse. The pain in the head was succeeded by a fearful oppression,
and the sick man suffered torture in trying to get his breath; daybreak
found him still tossing restlessly from pillow to pillow.

When Dr. C---- came early in the morning, he appeared very much
surprised at this change for the worse. He inquired if they had not
administered an overdose of morphine. Manuel said that he had put the
blister on his master, and the doctor's directions had been accurately
followed.

The doctor, after having examined Gaston, and found his breathing heavy
and irregular, prescribed a heavy dose of sulphate of quinine; he then
retired, saying he would return the next day.

As soon as the doctor had gone, Gaston sent for a friend of his, a
lawyer, to come to him as soon as possible.

"For Heaven's sake, what do you want with a lawyer?" inquired Louis.

"I want his advice, brother. It is useless to try and deceive ourselves;
I know I am extremely ill. Only timid fools are superstitious about
making their wills; if I defer it any longer, I may be suddenly taken
without having arranged my affairs. I would rather have the lawyer at
once, and then my mind will be at rest."

Gaston did not think he was about to die, but, knowing the uncertainty
of life, determined to be prepared for the worst; he had too often
imperilled his life, and been face to face with death, to feel any fear
now.

He had made his will while ill at Bordeaux; but, now that he had
found Louis, he wished to leave him all his property, and sent for his
business man to advise as to the best means of disposing of his wealth
for his benefit.

The lawyer was a shrewd, wiry little man, very popular because he had
a faculty for always gaining suits which other attorneys had lost,
or declined to try, because of their groundlessness. Being perfectly
familiar with all the intricacies of the law, nothing delighted him more
than to succeed in eluding some stringent article of the code; and often
he sacrificed large fees for the sake of outwitting his opponent, and
controverting the justness of a decision.

Once aware of his client's wishes and intentions, he had but one
idea: and that was, to carry them out as inexpensively as possible,
by skilfully evading the heavy costs to be paid by the inheritor of an
estate.

He explained to Gaston that he could, by an act of partnership,
associate Louis in his business enterprises, by signing an
acknowledgment that half of the money invested in these various
concerns, belonged to and had been advanced by his brother; so that, in
the event of Gaston's death, Louis would only have to pay taxes on half
the fortune.

Gaston eagerly took advantage of this fiction; not that he thought
of the money saved by the transaction if he died, but this would be
a favorable opportunity for sharing his riches with Louis, without
wounding his delicate sensibility.

A deed of partnership between Gaston and Louis de Clameran, for the
working of a cast-iron mill, was drawn up; this deed acknowledged
Louis to have invested five hundred thousand francs as his share of the
capital; therefore half of the iron-works was his in his own right.

When Louis was called in to sign the paper, he violently opposed his
brother's project.

"Why do you distress me by making these preparations for death, merely
because you are suffering from a slight indisposition? Do you think that
I would consent to accept your wealth during your lifetime? If you die,
I am your heir; if you live, I enjoy your property as if it were my
own. What more can you wish? Pray do not draw up any papers; let things
remain as they are, and turn all your attention to getting well."

Vain remonstrances. Gaston was not a man to be persuaded from
accomplishing a purpose upon which he had fully set his heart. When,
after mature deliberation, he made a resolution, he always carried it
out in spite of all opposition.

After a long and heroic resistance, which betrayed great nobleness of
character and rare disinterestedness, Louis, urged by the physician,
finally yielded, and signed his name to the papers drawn up by the
lawyer.

It was done. Now he was legally Gaston's partner, and possessor of half
his fortune. No court of law could deprive him of what had been deeded
with all the legal formalities, even if his brother should change his
mind and try to get back his property.

The strangest sensations now filled Louis's breast.

He was in a state of delirious excitement often felt by persons suddenly
raised from poverty to affluence.

Whether Gaston lived or died, Louis was the lawful possessor of an
income of twenty-five thousand francs, without counting the eventual
profits of the iron-works.

At no time in his life had he hoped for or dreamed of such wealth. His
wildest wishes were surpassed. What more could he want?

Alas! he wanted the power of enjoying these riches; they had come too
late.

This fortune, fallen from the skies, should have filled his heart with
joy; whereas it only made him melancholy and angry.

This unlooked-for happiness seemed to have been sent by cruel fate as
a punishment for his past sins. What could be more terrible than seeing
this haven of rest open to him, and to be prevented from enjoying it
because of his own vile plottings?

Although his conscience told him that he deserved this misery, he blamed
Gaston entirely for his present torture. Yes, he held Gaston responsible
for the horrible situation in which he found himself.

His letters to Raoul for several days expressed all the fluctuations of
his mind, and revealed glimpses of coming evil.

"I have twenty-five thousand livres a year," he wrote to him, a few
hours after signing the agreement of partnership; "and I possess in my
own right five hundred thousand francs. One-fourth of this sum would
have made me the happiest of men a year ago. Now it is of no use to me.
All the gold on earth could not remove one of the difficulties of our
situation. Yes, you were right. I have been imprudent; but I pay dear
for my precipitation. We are now going down hill so rapidly that nothing
can save us; we must fall to the very bottom. To attempt stopping half
way would be madness. Rich or poor, I have cause to tremble as long as
there is any risk of a meeting between Gaston and Valentine. How can
they be kept apart? Will my brother renounce his plan of discovering the
whereabouts of this woman whom he so loved?"

No; Gaston would never be turned from his search for his first love, as
he proved by calling for her in the most beseeching tones when he was
suffering his worst paroxysms of pain.

He grew no better. In spite of the most careful nursing his symptoms
changed, but showed no improvement.

Each attack was more violent than the preceding.

Toward the end of the week the pains left his head, and he felt well
enough to get up and partake of a slight nourishment.

But poor Gaston was a mere shadow of his former self. In one week he had
aged ten years. His strong constitution was broken. He, who ten days ago
was boasting of his vigorous health, was now weak and bent like an old
man. He could hardly drag himself along, and shivered in the warm sun as
if he were bloodless.

Leaning on Louis's arm, he slowly walked down to look at the forge, and,
seating himself before a furnace at full blast, he declared that he felt
very much better, that this intense heat revived him.

His pains were all gone, and he could breathe without difficulty.

His spirits rose, and he turned to the workmen gathered around, and said
cheerfully:

"I was not blessed with a good constitution for nothing, my friends, and
I shall soon be well again."

When the neighbors called to see him, and insisted that this illness
was entirely owing to change of climate, Gaston replied that he supposed
they were right, and that he would return to Rio as soon as he was well
enough to travel.

What hope this answer roused in Louis's breast!

"Yes," he eagerly said, "I will go with you; a trip to Brazil would be
charming! Let us start at once."

But the next day Gaston had changed his mind.

He told Louis that he felt almost well, and was determined not to leave
France. He proposed going to Paris to consult the best physicians; and
then he would see Valentine.

That night he grew worse.

As his illness increased, he became more surprised and troubled at not
hearing from Beaucaire.

He wrote again in the most pressing terms, and sent the letter by a
courier who was to wait for the answer.

This letter was never received by Lafourcade.

At midnight, Gaston's sufferings returned with renewed violence, and for
the first time Dr. C---- was uneasy.

A fatal termination seemed inevitable. Gaston's pain left him in a
measure, but he was growing weaker every moment. His mind wandered,
and his feet were as cold as ice. On the fourteenth day of his illness,
after lying in a stupor for several hours, he revived sufficiently
to ask for a priest, saying that he would follow the example of his
ancestors, and die like a Christian.

The priest left him after half an hour's interview, and all the workmen
were summoned to receive the farewell greeting of their master.

Gaston spoke a few kind words to them all, saying that he had provided
for them in his will.

After they had gone, he made Louis promise to carry on the iron-works,
embraced him for the last time, and sank back on his pillow in a dying
state.

As the bell tolled for noon he quietly breathed his last, murmuring,
softly, "In three years, Valentine; wait for me."

Now Louis was in reality Marquis of Clameran, and besides he was a
millionaire.

Two weeks later, having made arrangements with the engineer in charge of
the iron-works to attend to everything during his absence, he took his
seat in the train for Paris.

He had sent the following significant telegram to Raoul the night
previous: "I will see you to-morrow."




XIX

Faithful to the programme laid down by his accomplice, while Louis
watched at Oloron, Raoul remained in Paris with the purpose of
recovering the confidence and affection of Mme. Fauvel, and of lulling
any suspicions which might arise in her breast.

The task was difficult, but not impossible.

Mme. Fauvel had been distressed by Raoul's wild extravagance, but had
never ceased to love him.

Whatever faults he had committed, whatever future follies he might
indulge in, he would always remain her best-loved child, her first-born,
the living image of her noble, handsome Gaston, the lover of her youth.

She adored her two sons, Lucien and Abel; but she could not overcome an
indulgent weakness for the unfortunate child, torn from her arms the
day of his birth, abandoned to the mercies of hired strangers, and for
twenty years deprived of home influences and a mother's love.

She blamed herself for Raoul's misconduct, and accepted the
responsibility of his sins, saying to herself, "It is my fault. But for
me, he would not have been exposed to the temptations of the world."

Knowing these to be her sentiments, Raoul did not hesitate to take
advantage of them.

Never were more irresistible fascinations employed for the
accomplishment of a wicked object. Beneath an air of innocent
frankness, this precocious scoundrel concealed wonderful astuteness
and penetration. He could at will adorn himself with the confiding
artlessness of youth, so that angels might have yielded to the soft
look of his large dark eyes. There were few women living who could have
resisted the thrilling tones of his sympathetic voice.

During the month of Louis's absence, Mme. Fauvel was in a state of
comparative happiness.

Never had this mother and wife--this pure, innocent woman, in spite of
her first and only fault--enjoyed such tranquillity. She felt as one
under the influence of enchantment, while revelling in the sunshine of
filial love, which almost bore the character of a lover's passion;
for Raoul's devotion was ardent and constant, his manner so tender and
winning, that anyone would have taken him for Mme. Fauvel's suitor.

As she was still at her country seat, and M. Fauvel went into the city
every morning at nine o'clock, and did not return till six, she had the
whole of her time to devote to Raoul. When she had spent the morning
with him at his house in Vesinet, she would often bring him home to dine
and spend the evening with her.

All his past faults were forgiven, or rather the whole blame of them was
laid upon Clameran; for, now that he was absent, had not Raoul once more
become her noble, generous, affectionate son, the pride and consolation
of her life?

Raoul enjoyed the life he was leading, and took such an interest in the
part that he was playing, that his acting was perfect. He possessed
the faculty which makes cheats successful, faith in his own impostures.
Sometimes he would stop to think whether he was telling the truth, or
acting a shameful comedy.

His success was wonderful. Even Madeleine, the prudent, distrustful
Madeleine, without being able to shake off her prejudice against the
young adventurer, confessed that perhaps she had been influenced by
appearances, and had judged unjustly.

Raoul not only never asked for money, but even refused it when offered;
saying that, now that his uncle was away, his expenses were but
trifling.

Affairs were in this happy state when Louis arrived from Oloron.

Although now immensely rich, he resolved to make no change in his style
of living, but returned to his apartments at the Hotel du Louvre.

His only outlay was the purchase of a handsome carriage; and this was
driven by Manuel, who consented to enter his service, although Gaston
had left him a handsome little fortune, more than sufficient to support
him comfortably.

Louis's dream, the height of his ambition, was to be ranked among the
great manufacturers of France.

He was prouder of being called "iron-founder" than of his marquisate.

During his adventurous life, he had met with so many titled gamblers and
cut-throats, that he no longer believed in the prestige of nobility.
It was impossible to distinguish the counterfeit from the genuine. He
thought what was so easily imitated was not worth the having.

Dearly bought experience had taught him that our unromantic century
attaches no value to armorial bearings, unless their possessor is rich
enough to display them upon a splendid coach.

One can be a marquis without a marquisate, but it is impossible to be a
forge-master without owning iron-works.

Louis now thirsted for the homage of the world. All the badly digested
humiliations of the past weighed upon him.

He had suffered so much contempt and scorn from his fellow-men, that he
burned to avenge himself. After a disgraceful youth, he longed to live a
respected and honored old age.

His past career disturbed him little. He was sufficiently acquainted
with the world to know that the noise of his coach-wheels would silence
the jeers of those who knew his former life.

These thoughts fermented in Louis's brain as he journeyed from Pau to
Paris. He troubled his mind not in the least about Raoul, determined to
use him as a tool so long as he needed his services, and then pay him a
large sum if he would go back to England.

All these plans and thoughts were afterward found noted down in the
diary which he had in his pocket at the time of the journey.

The first interview between the accomplices took place at the Hotel du
Louvre.

Raoul, having a practical turn of mind, said he thought that they both
ought to be contented with the result already obtained, and that it
would be folly to try and grasp anything more.

"What more do we want?" he asked his uncle. "We now possess over a
million; let us divide it and keep quiet. We had better be satisfied
with our good luck, and not tempt Providence."

But this moderation did not suit Louis.

"I am rich," he replied, "but I desire more than wealth. I am determined
to marry Madeleine: I swear she shall be my wife! In the first place,
I madly love her, and then, as the nephew of the most eminent banker in
Paris, I at once gain high position and public consideration."

"I tell you, uncle, your courtship will involve you in great risks."

"I don't care if it does. I choose to run them. My intention is to share
my fortune with you; but I will not do so till the day after my wedding.
Madeleine's fortune will then be yours."

Raoul was silent. Clameran held the money, and was therefore master of
the situation.

"You don't seem to anticipate any difficulty in carrying out your
wishes," he said discontentedly; "how are you to account for your
suddenly acquired fortune? M. Fauvel knows that a Clameran lived at
Oloron, and had money in his bank. You tell him that you never heard of
this person bearing your name, and then, at the end of the month, you
come and say that you have inherited his fortune. People don't inherit
fortunes from perfect strangers; so you had better trump up some
relationship."

"You are an innocent youth, nephew; your ingenuousness is amusing."

"Explain yourself."

"Certainly. The banker, his wife, and Madeleine must be informed that
the Clameran of Oloron was a natural son of my father, consequently
my brother, born at Hamburg, and recognized during the emigration. Of
course, he wished to leave his fortune to his own family. This is the
story which you must tell Mme. Fauvel to-morrow."

"That is a bold step to take."

"How so?"

"Inquiries might be made."

"Who would make them? The banker would not trouble himself to do so.
What difference is it to him whether I had a brother or not? My title as
heir is legally authenticated; and all he has to do is to pay the money
he holds, and there his business ends."

"I am not afraid of his giving trouble."

"Do you think that Mme. Fauvel and her niece will ask any questions? Why
should they? They have no grounds for suspicion. Besides, they cannot
take a step without compromising themselves. If they knew all our
secrets I would not have the least fear of their making revelations.
They have sense enough to know that they had best keep quiet."

Not finding any other objections to make, Raoul said:

"Very well, then, I obey you; but I am not to call upon Mme. Fauvel for
any more money, am I?"

"And why not, pray?"

"Because, my uncle, you are rich now."

"Suppose I am rich," replied Louis, triumphantly; "what is that to you?
Have we not quarrelled about the means of making this money? and did you
not heap abuse upon me until I consider myself justified in refusing you
any assistance whatever? However, I will overlook the past. And, when I
explain my present plan, you will feel ashamed of your former doubts and
suspicion. You will say with me, 'Success is certain.'"

Louis de Clameran's scheme was very simple, and therefore unfortunately
presented the strongest chances of success.

"We will go back and look at our balance-sheet. As heretofore, my
brilliant nephew, you seem to have misunderstood my management of this
affair; I will now explain it to you."

"I am listening."

"In the first place, I presented myself to Mme. Fauvel, and said not,
'Your money or your life,' but 'Your money or your reputation!' It was
a rude blow to strike, but effective. As I expected, she was frightened,
and regarded me with the greatest aversion."

"Aversion is a mild term, uncle."

"I know that. Then I brought you upon the scene; and, without flattering
you in the least, I must say that your opening act was a perfect
success. I was concealed behind the curtain, and saw your first
interview; it was sublime! She saw you, and loved you: you spoke a few
words and won her heart."

"And but for you?"

"Let me finish. This was the first act of our comedy. Let us pass to the
second. Your extravagant follies--your grandfather would have said,
your dissoluteness--soon changed our respective situations. Mme. Fauvel,
without ceasing to worship you--you resemble Gaston so closely--was
uneasy about you. She was so frightened that she was forced to come to
me for assistance."

"Poor woman!"

"I acted my part very well, as you must confess. I was grave, cold,
indignant, and represented the distressed uncle to perfection. I spoke
of the old probity of the Clamerans, and bemoaned that the family honor
should be dragged in the dust by a degenerate descendant. For a
short time I triumphed at your expense; Mme. Fauvel forgot her former
prejudice against me, and soon showed that she esteemed and liked me."

"That must have been a long time ago."

Louis paid no attention to this ironical interruption.

"Now we come to the third scene," he went on to say, "the time when Mme.
Fauvel, having Madeleine for an adviser, judged us at our true value.
Oh! you need not flatter yourself that she did not fear and despise us
both. If she did not hate you, Raoul, it was because a mother's heart
always forgives a sinful child. A mother can despise and worship her son
at the same time."

"She has proved it to me in so many touching ways, that!--yes, even I,
hardened as I am--was moved, and felt remorse."

"Parbleu! I have felt some pangs myself. Where did I leave off? Oh, yes!
Mme. Fauvel was frightened, and Madeleine, bent on sacrificing herself,
had discarded Prosper, and consented to marry me, when the existence
of Gaston was suddenly revealed. And what has happened since? You have
succeeded in convincing Mme. Fauvel that you are pure, and that I am
blacker than hell. She is blinded by your noble qualities, and she and
Madeleine regard me as your evil genius, whose pernicious influence led
you astray."

"You are right, my venerated uncle; that is precisely the position you
occupy."

"Very good. Now we come to the fifth act, and our comedy needs entire
change of scenery. We must veer around."

"Change our tactics?"

"You think it difficult, I suppose? Nothing easier. Listen attentively,
for the future depends upon your skilfulness."

Raoul leaned back in his chair, with folded arms, as if prepared for
anything, and said:

"I am ready."

"The first thing for you to do," said Louis, "is to go to Mme. Fauvel
to-morrow, and tell her the story about my natural brother. She will not
believe you, but that makes no difference. The important thing is, for
you to appear convinced of the truth of what you tell her."

"Consider me convinced."

"Five days hence, I will call on M. Fauvel, and confirm the notification
sent him by my notary at Oloron, that the money deposited in the bank
now belongs to me. I will repeat, for his benefit, the story of the
natural brother, and ask him to keep the money until I call for it, as I
have no occasion for it at present. You, who are so distrustful, my good
nephew, may regard this deposit as a guarantee of my sincerity."

"We will talk of that another time. Go on."

"Then I will go to Mme. Fauvel, and say, 'Being very poor, my dear
madame, necessity compelled me to claim your assistance in the support
of my brother's son, who is also yours. This youth is worthless and
extravagant.'"

"Thanks, my good uncle."

"'He has poisoned your life when he should have added to your happiness;
he is a constant anxiety and sorrow to your maternal heart. I have come
to offer my regrets for your past trouble, and to assure you that you
will have no annoyance in the future. I am now rich, and henceforth take
the whole responsibility of Raoul upon myself. I will provide handsomely
for him.'"

"Is that what you call a scheme?"

"Parbleu, you will soon see whether it is. After listening to this
speech, Mme. Fauvel will feel inclined to throw herself in my arms, by
way of expressing her gratitude and joy. She will refrain, however,
on account of her niece. She will ask me to relinquish my claim on
Madeleine's hand, now that I am rich. I will roundly tell her, No. I
will make this an opportunity for an edifying display of magnanimity and
disinterestedness. I will say, 'Madame, you have accused me of cupidity.
I am now able to prove your injustice. I have been infatuated, as every
man must be, by the beauty, grace, and intelligence of Mlle. Madeleine;
and--I love her. If she were penniless, my devotion would only be the
more ardent. She has been promised to me, and I must insist upon this
one article of our agreement. This must be the price of my silence. And,
to prove that I am not influenced by her fortune, I give you my sacred
promise, that, the day after the wedding, I will send Raoul a stock
receipt of twenty-five thousand livres per annum."

Louis expressed himself with such convincing candor, that Raoul, an
artist in knavery, was charmed and astonished.

"Beautifully done," he cried, clapping his hands with glee. "That last
sentence will create a chasm between Mme. Fauvel and her niece. The
promise of a fortune for me will certainly bring my mother over to our
side."

"I hope so," said Louis with pretended modesty. "And I have strong
reasons for hoping so, as I shall be able to furnish the good lady with
excellent arguments for excusing herself in her own eyes. You know when
someone proposes some little--what shall we call it?--transaction to an
honest person, it must be accompanied by justifications sufficient to
quiet all qualms of conscience. I shall prove to Mme. Fauvel and her
niece that Prosper has shamefully deceived them. I shall prove to them
that he is cramped by debts, dissipated, and a reckless gambler, openly
associating with a woman of no character."

"And very pretty, besides, by Jove! You must not neglect to expatiate
upon the beauty and fascinations of the adorable Gypsy; that will be
your strongest point."

"Don't be alarmed; I shall be more eloquent than a popular divine. Then
I will explain to Mme. Fauvel that if she really loves her niece, she
will persuade her to marry, not an insignificant cashier, but a man of
position, a great manufacturer, a marquis, and, more than this, one rich
enough to establish you in the world."

Raoul was dazzled by this brilliant prospect.

"If you don't decide her, you will make her waver," he said.

"Oh! I don't expect a sudden change. I only intend planting the germ in
her mind; thanks to you, it will develop, flourish, and bear fruit."

"Thanks to me?"

"Allow me to finish. After making my speeches I shall disappear from the
scene, and your role will commence. Of course your mother will repeat
the conversation to you, and then we can judge of the effect produced.
But remember, you must scorn to receive any assistance from me. You must
swear that you will brave all privation, want, famine even, rather than
accept a cent from a base man whom you hate and despise; a man who--But
you know exactly what you are to say. I can rely upon you for good
acting."

"No one can surpass me when I am interested in my part. In pathetic
roles I am always a success, when I have had time to prepare myself."

"I know you are. But this disinterestedness need not prevent you from
resuming your dissipations. You must gamble, bet, and lose more money
than you ever did before. You must increase your demands, and say that
you must have money at all costs. You need not account to me for any
money you can extort from her. All you get is your own to spend as you
please."

"You don't say so! If you mean that--"

"You will hurry up matters, I'll be bound."

"I can promise you, no time shall be wasted."

"Now listen to what you are to do, Raoul. Before the end of three
months, you must have exhausted the resources of these two women. You
must force from them every franc they can raise, so that they will be
wholly unable to procure money to supply your increasing demands. In
three months I must find them penniless, absolutely ruined, without even
a jewel left."

Raoul was startled at the passionate, vindictive tone of Louis's voice
as he uttered these last words.

"You must hate these women, if you are so determined to make them
miserable," he said.

"I hate them?" cried Louis. "Can't you see that I madly love Madeleine,
love her as only a man of my age can love? Is not her image ever in my
mind? Does not the very mention of her name fire my heart, and make me
tremble like a school-boy?"

"Your great devotion does not prevent you planning the destruction of
her present happiness."

"Necessity compels me to do so. Nothing but the most cruel deceptions
and the bitterest suffering would ever induce her to become my wife, to
take me as the lesser of two evils. The day on which you have led Mme.
Fauvel and her niece to the extreme edge of the precipice, pointed out
its dark depths, and convinced them that they are irretrievably lost, I
shall appear, and rescue them. I will play my part with such grandeur,
such lofty magnanimity, that Madeleine will be touched, will forget her
past enmity, and regard me with favorable eyes. When she finds that it
is her sweet self, and not her money, that I want, she will soften, and
in time yield to my entreaties. No true woman can be indifferent to a
grand passion. I don't pretend to say that she will love me at first;
but, if she will only consent to be mine, I ask for nothing more; time
will do much, even for a poor devil like myself."

Raoul was shocked at this cold-blooded perversity of his uncle;
but Clameran showed his immense superiority in wickedness, and the
apprentice admired the master.

"You would certainly succeed, uncle," he said, "were it not for the
cashier. Between you and Madeleine, Prosper will always stand; if not in
person, certainly in memory."

Louis smiled scornfully, and, throwing away his cigar, which had died
out, said:

"I don't mind Prosper, or attach any more importance to him than to that
cigar."

"But she loves him."

"So much the worse for him. Six months hence, she will despise him; he
is already morally ruined, and at the proper time I will make an end of
him socially. Do you know whither the road of dissipation leads, my good
nephew? Prosper supports Gypsy, who is extravagant; he gambles, keeps
fast horses, and gives suppers. Now, you gamble yourself, and know how
much money can be squandered in one night; the losses of baccarat
must be paid within twenty-four hours. He has lost heavily, must pay,
and--has charge of a money-safe."

Raoul protested against this insinuation.

"It is useless to tell me that he is honest, that nothing would induce
him to touch money that does not belong to him. I know better. Parbleu!
I was honest myself until I learned to gamble. Any man with a grain of
sense would have married Madeleine long ago, and sent us flying bag and
baggage. You say she loves him! No one but a coward would be defrauded
of the woman he loved and who loved him. Ah, if I had once felt
Madeleine's hand tremble in mine, if her rosy lips had once pressed a
kiss upon my brow, the whole world could not take her from me. Woe
to him who dared stand in my path! As it is, Prosper annoys me, and I
intend to suppress him. With your aid I will so cover him with disgrace
and infamy, that Madeleine will drive every thought of him from her
mind, and her love will turn to hate."

Louis's tone of rage and vengeance startled Raoul, and made him regard
the affair in a worse light than ever.

"You have given me a shameful, dastardly role to play," he said after a
long pause.

"My honorable nephew has scruples, I suppose," said Clameran sneeringly.

"Not exactly scruples; yet I confess--"

"That you want to retreat? Rather too late to sing that tune, my friend.
You wish to enjoy every luxury, have your pockets filled with gold, cut
a fine figure in high society, and remain virtuous. Are you fool enough
to suppose a poor man can be honest? 'Tis a luxury pertaining to the
wealthy. Did you ever see people such as we draw money from the pure
fount of virtue? We must fish in muddy waters, and then wash ourselves
clean, and enjoy the result of our labor."

"I have never been rich enough to be honest," said Raoul humbly; "but
I must say it goes hard with me to torture two defenceless, frightened
women, and ruin the character of a poor devil who regards me as his best
friend. It is a low business!"

This resistance exasperated Louis to the last degree.

"You are the most absurd, ridiculous fool I ever met," he cried. "An
opportunity occurs for us to make an immense fortune. All we have to
do is to stretch out our hands and take it; when you must needs prove
refractory, like a whimpering baby. Nobody but an ass would refuse to
drink when he is thirsty, because he sees a little mud at the bottom
of the bucket. I suppose you prefer theft on a small scale, stealing by
driblets. And where will your system lead you? To the poor-house or the
police-station. You prefer living from hand to mouth, supported by Mme.
Fauvel, having small sums doled out to you to pay your little gambling
debts."

"I am neither ambitious nor cruel."

"And suppose Mme. Fauvel dies to-morrow: what will become of you? Will
you go cringing up to the widower, and implore him to continue your
allowance?"

"Enough said," cried Raoul, angrily interrupting his uncle. "I never
had any idea of retreating. I made these objections to show you what
infamous work you expect of me, and at the same time prove to you that
without my assistance you can do nothing."

"I never pretended to the contrary."

"Then, my noble uncle, we might as well settle what my share is to be.
Oh! it is not worth while for you to indulge in idle protestations. What
will you give me in case of success? and what if we fail?"

"I told you before. I will give you twenty-five thousand livres a year,
and all you can secure between now and my wedding-day."

"This arrangement suits me very well; but where are your securities?"

This question was discussed a long time before it was satisfactorily
settled by the accomplices, who had every reason to distrust each other.

"What are you afraid of?" asked Clameran.

"Everything," replied Raoul. "Where am I to obtain justice, if you
deceive me? From this pretty little poniard? No, thank you. I would be
made to pay as dear for your hide, as for that of an honest man."

Finally, after long debate and much recrimination, the matter was
arranged, and they shook hands before separating.

Alas! Mme. Fauvel and her niece soon felt the evil effects of the
understanding between the villains.

Everything happened as Louis had arranged.

Once more, when Mme. Fauvel had begun to breathe freely, and to hope
that her troubles were over, Raoul's conduct suddenly changed; he became
more extravagant and dissipated than ever.

Formerly, Mme. Fauvel would have said, "I wonder what he does with all
the money I give him?" Now she saw where it went.

Raoul was reckless in his wickedness; he was intimate with actresses,
openly lavishing money and jewelry upon them; he drove about with four
horses, and bet heavily on every race. Never had he been so exacting
and exorbitant in his demands for money; Mme. Fauvel had the greatest
difficulty in supplying his wants.

He no longer made excuses and apologies for spending so much; instead
of coaxingly entreating, he demanded money as a right, threatening to
betray Mme. Fauvel to her husband if she refused him.

At this rate, all the possessions of Mme. Fauvel and Madeleine soon
disappeared. In one month, all their money had been squandered. Then
they were compelled to resort to the most shameful expedients in the
household expenses. They economized in every possible way, making
purchases on credit, and making tradesmen wait; then they changed
figures in the bills, and even invented accounts of things never bought.

These imaginary costly whims increased so rapidly, that M. Fauvel one
day said, as he signed a large check, "Upon my word, ladies, you will
buy out all the stores, if you keep on this way. But nothing pleases me
better than to see you gratify every wish."

Poor women! For months they had bought nothing, but had lived upon the
remains of their former splendor, having all their old dresses made
over, to keep up appearances in society.

More clear-sighted than her aunt, Madeleine saw plainly that the day
would soon come when everything would have to be explained.

Although she knew that the sacrifices of the present would avail
nothing in the future, that all this money was being thrown away without
securing her aunt's peace of mind, yet she was silent. A high-minded
delicacy made her conceal her apprehensions beneath an assumed calmness.

The fact of her sacrificing herself made her refrain from uttering
anything like a complaint or censure. She seemed to forget herself
entirely in her efforts to comfort her aunt.

"As soon as Raoul sees we have nothing more to give," she would say, "he
will come to his senses, and stop all this extravagance."

The day came when Mme. Fauvel and Madeleine found it impossible to give
another franc.

The evening previous, Mme. Fauvel had a dinner-party, and with
difficulty scraped together enough money to defray the expenses.

Raoul appeared, and said that he was in the greatest need of money,
being forced to pay a debt of two thousand francs at once.

In vain they implored him to wait a few days, until they could with
propriety ask M. Fauvel for money. He declared that he must have it now,
and that he would not leave the house without it.

"But I have no way of getting it for you," said Mme. Fauvel desperately;
"you have taken everything from me. I have nothing left but my diamonds:
do you want them? If they can be of use, take them."

Hardened as the young villain was, he blushed at these words.

He felt pity for this unfortunate woman, who had always been so kind
and indulgent to him, who had so often lavished upon him her maternal
caresses. He felt for the noble girl who was the innocent victim of a
vile plot.

But he was bound by an oath; he knew that a powerful hand would save
these women at the brink of the precipice. More than this, he saw
an immense fortune at the end of his road of crime, and quieted his
conscience by saying that he would redeem his present cruelty by honest
kindness in the future. Once out of the clutches of Clameran, he would
be a better man, and try to return some of the kind affection shown him
by these poor women.

Stifling his better impulses, he said harshly to Mme. Fauvel, "Give me
the jewels; I will take them to the pawnbroker's." Mme. Fauvel handed
him a box containing a set of diamonds. It was a present from her
husband the day he became worth a million.

And so pressing was the want of these women who were surrounded by
princely luxury, with their ten servants, beautiful blooded horses, and
jewels which were the admiration of Paris, that they implored him to
bring them some of the money which he would procure on the diamonds, to
meet their daily wants.

He promised, and kept his word.

But they had revealed a new source, a mine to be worked; he took
advantage of it.

One by one, all Mme. Fauvel's jewels followed the way of the diamonds;
and, when hers were all gone, those of Madeleine were given up.

A recent law-suit, which showed how a young and beautiful woman had
been kept in a state of terror and almost poverty, by a rascal who had
possession of her letters, a sad case which no honest man could read
without blushing for his sex, has revealed to what depths human infamy
can descend.

And such abominable crimes are not so rare as people suppose.

How many men are supported entirely by stolen secrets, from the coachman
who claims ten louis every month of the foolish girl whom he drove to
a rendezvous, to the elegant dandy in light kids, who discovered a
financial swindle, and makes the parties interested buy his silence,
cannot be known.

This is called the extortion of hush-money, the most cowardly and
infamous of crimes, which the law, unfortunately, can rarely overtake
and punish.

"Extortion of hush-money," said an old prefect of police, "is a trade
which supports at least a thousand scamps in Paris alone. Sometimes
we know the black-mailer and his victim, and yet we can do nothing.
Moreover, if we were to catch the villain in the very act, and hand him
over to justice, the victim, in her fright at the chance of her secret
being discovered, would turn against us."

It is true, extortion has become a business. Very often it is the
business of loafers, who spend plenty of money, when everyone knows they
have no visible means of support, and of whom people ask, "What do they
live upon?"

The poor victims do not know how easy it would be to rid themselves
of their tyrants. The police are fully capable of faithfully
keeping secrets confided to them. A visit to the Rue de Jerusalem, a
confidential communication with a head of the bureau, who is as silent
as a father confessor, and the affair is arranged, without noise,
without publicity, without anyone ever being the wiser. There are traps
for "master extortioners," which work well in the hands of the police.

Mme. Fauvel had no defence against the scoundrels who were torturing
her, save prayers and tears; these availed her little.

Sometimes Mme. Fauvel betrayed such heart-broken suffering when Raoul
begged her for money which she had no means of obtaining, that he would
hurry away disgusted at his own brutal conduct, and say to Clameran:

"You must end this dirty business; I cannot stand it any longer. I
will blow any man's brains out, or fight a crowd of cut-throats, if you
choose; but as to killing by agony and fright these two poor miserable
women, whom I am really fond of, I am not going to do it. You ask for
more than I can do. I am not quite the cowardly hound you take me for."

Clameran paid no attention to these remonstrances: indeed, he was
prepared for them.

"It is not pleasant, I know," he replied; "but necessity knows no law.
Have a little more perseverance and patience; we have almost got to the
end."

The end was nearer than Clameran supposed. Toward the latter part
of November, Mme. Fauvel saw that it was impossible to postpone the
catastrophe any longer, and as a last effort determined to apply to the
marquis for assistance.

She had not seen him since his return from Oloron, except once, when he
came to announce his accession to wealth. At that time, persuaded that
he was the evil genius of Raoul, she had received him very coldly, and
did not invite him to repeat his visit.

She hesitated about speaking to her niece of the step she intended
taking, because she feared violent opposition.

To her great surprise Madeleine warmly approved of it.

Trouble had made her keen-sighted and suspicious. Reflecting on past
events, comparing and weighing every act and speech of Raoul, she was
now convinced that he was Clameran's tool.

She thought that Raoul was too shrewd to be acting in this shameful way,
ruinously to his own interests, if there were not some secret motive
at the bottom of it all. She saw that this persecution was more feigned
than real.

So thoroughly was she convinced of this, that, had it only concerned
herself alone, she would have firmly resisted the oppression, certain
that the threatened exposure would never take place.

Recalling, with a shudder, certain looks of Clameran, she guessed the
truth, that the object of all this underhand work was to force her to
become his wife.

Determined on making the sacrifice, in spite of her repugnance toward
the man, she wished to have the deed done at once; anything was
preferable to this terrible anxiety, to the life of torture which Raoul
made her lead. She felt that her courage might fail if she waited and
suffered much longer.

"The sooner you see M. de Clameran the better for us, aunt," she said,
after talking the project over.

The next day Mme. Fauvel called on the marquis at the Hotel du Louvre,
having sent him a note announcing her intended visit.

He received her with cold, studied politeness, like a man who had been
misunderstood and had been unjustly wounded.

After listening to her report of Raoul's scandalous behavior, he became
very indignant, and swore that he would soon make him repent of his
heartlessness.

But when Mme. Fauvel told of the immense sums of money forced from her,
Clameran seemed confounded, as if he could not believe it.

"The worthless rascal!" he exclaimed, "the idea of his audacity! Why,
during the last four months, I have given him more than twenty thousand
francs, which I would not have done except to prevent him from applying
to you, as he constantly threatened to do."

Seeing an expression of doubtful surprise upon Mme. Fauvel's face, Louis
arose, and took from his desk some receipts signed by Raoul. The total
amount was twenty-three thousand five hundred francs.

Mme. Fauvel was shocked and amazed.

"He has obtained forty thousand francs from me," she faintly said, "so
that altogether he has spent sixty thousand francs in four months."

"I can't imagine what he does with it," said Clameran, "unless he spends
it on actresses."

"Good heavens! what can these creatures do with all the money lavished
on them?"

"That is a question I cannot answer, madame."

He appeared to pity Mme. Fauvel sincerely; he promised that he would
at once see Raoul, and reason with him about the shameful life he was
leading; perhaps he could be persuaded to reform. Finally, after many
protestations of friendship, he wound up by placing his fortune at her
disposal.

Although Mme. Fauvel refused his offer, she appreciated the kindness of
it, and on returning home said to Madeleine:

"Perhaps we have mistaken his character; he may be a good man after
all."

Madeleine sadly shook her head. She had anticipated just what happened.
Clameran's magnanimity and generosity confirmed her presentiments.

Raoul came to see his uncle, and found him radiant.

"Everything is going on swimmingly, my smart nephew," said Clameran;
"your receipts acted like a charm. Ah, you are a partner worth having.
I congratulate you upon your success. Forty thousand francs in four
months!"

"Yes," said Raoul carelessly. "I got about that much from pawnbrokers."

"Pests! Then you must have a nice little sum laid by."

"That is my business, uncle, and not yours. Remember our agreement.
I will tell you this much: Mme. Fauvel and Madeleine have turned
everything they could into money; they have nothing left, and I have had
enough of my role."

"Your role is ended. I forbid you to hereafter ask for a single
centime."

"What are you about to do? What has happened?"

"The mine is loaded, nephew, and I am awaiting an opportunity to set
fire to it."

Louis de Clameran relied upon making his rival, Prosper Bertomy, furnish
him this ardently desired opportunity.

He loved Madeleine too passionately to feel aught save the bitterest
hate toward the man whom she had freely chosen, and who still possessed
her heart.

Clameran knew that he could marry her at once if he chose; but in what
way? By holding a sword of terror over her head, and forcing her to be
his. He became frenzied at the idea of possessing her person, while her
heart and soul would always be with Prosper.

Thus he swore that, before marrying, he would so cover Prosper with
shame and ignominy that no honest person would speak to him. He had
first thought of killing him, but, fearing that Madeleine would enshrine
and worship his memory, he determined to disgrace him.

He imagined that there would be no difficulty in ruining the unfortunate
young man. He soon found himself mistaken.

Though Prosper led a life of reckless dissipation, he preserved order
in his disorder. If in a state of miserable entanglement, and obliged to
resort to all sorts of make-shifts to escape his creditors, his caution
prevented the world from knowing it.

Vainly did Raoul, with his pockets full of gold, try to tempt him to
play high; every effort to hasten his ruin failed.

When he played he did not seem to care whether he lost or won; nothing
aroused him from his cold indifference.

His friend Nina Gypsy was extravagant, but her devotion to Prosper
restrained her from going beyond certain limits.

Raoul's great intimacy with Prosper enabled him to fully understand the
state of his mind; that he was trying to drown his disappointment in
excitement, but had not given up all hope.

"You need not hope to beguile Prosper into committing any piece of
folly," said Raoul to his uncle; "his head is as cool as a usurer's. He
never goes beyond a certain degree of dissipation. What object he has in
view I know not. Perhaps, when he has spent his last napoleon, he will
blow his brains out; he certainly never will descend to any dishonorable
act. As to tampering with the money-safe intrusted to his keeping----"

"We must force him on," replied Clameran, "lead him into extravagances,
make Gypsy call on him for costly finery, lend him plenty of money."

Raoul shook his head, as if convinced that his efforts would be vain.

"You don't know Prosper, uncle: we can't galvanize a dead man. Madeleine
killed him the day she discarded him. He takes no interest in anything
on the face of the earth."

"We can wait and see."

They did wait; and, to the great surprise of Mme. Fauvel, Raoul once
more became an affectionate and dutiful son, as he had been during
Clameran's absence. From reckless extravagance he changed to great
economy. Under pretext of saving money, he remained at Vesinet, although
it was very uncomfortable and disagreeable there in the winter. He
said he wished to expiate his sins in solitude. The truth was, that,
by remaining in the country, he insured his liberty, and escaped his
mother's visits.

It was about this time that Mme. Fauvel, charmed with the improvement in
Raoul, asked her husband to give him some employment.

M. Fauvel was delighted to please his wife, and at once offered Raoul
the place of corresponding clerk with a salary of five hundred francs a
month.

The appointment pleased Raoul; but, in obedience to Clameran's command,
he refused it, saying his vocation was not banking.

This refusal so provoked the banker, that he told Raoul, if he was so
idle and lazy, not to call on him for money again, or expect him to do
anything to assist him. Raoul seized this pretext for ostensibly ceasing
his visits.

When he wanted to see his mother, he would come in the afternoon, when
he knew that M. Fauvel would be from home; and he only came often enough
to keep informed of what was going on in the household.

This sudden lull after so many storms appeared ominous to Madeleine.
She was more certain that ever that the plot was now ripe, and would
suddenly burst upon them, without warning. She did not impart her
presentiment to her aunt, but prepared herself for the worst.

"What can they be doing?" Mme. Fauvel would say; "can they have ceased
to persecute us?"

"Yes: what can they be doing?" Madeleine would murmur.

Louis and Raoul gave no signs of life, because, like expert hunters,
they were silently hiding, and watching for a favorable opportunity of
pouncing upon their victims.

Never losing sight of Prosper for a day, Raoul had exhausted every
effort of his fertile mind to compromise his honor, to insnare him into
some inextricable entanglement. But, as he had foreseen, the cashier's
indifference offered little hope of success.

Clameran began to grow impatient at this delay, and had fully determined
to bring matters to a crisis himself, when one morning, about three
o'clock, he was aroused by Raoul.

He knew that some event of great importance must have happened, to make
his nephew come to his house at this hour of the morning.

"What is the matter?" he anxiously inquired.

"Perhaps nothing; perhaps everything. I have just left Prosper."

"Well?"

"I had him, Mme. Gypsy, and three other friends to dine with me. After
dinner, I made up a game of baccarat, but Prosper took no interest in
it, although he was quite tipsy."

"You must be drunk yourself to come here waking me up in the middle
of the night, to hear this idle gabble," said Louis angrily. "What the
devil do you mean by it?"

"Now, don't be in a hurry; wait until you hear the rest."

"Morbleu! speak, then!"

"After the game was over, we went to supper; Prosper became intoxicated,
and betrayed the secret name with which he closes the money-safe."

At these words Clameran uttered a cry of triumph.

"What was the word?"

"The name of his friend."

"Gypsy! Yes, that would be five letters."

Louis was so excited that he jumped out of bed, slipped on his
dressing-gown, and began to stride up and down the chamber.

"Now we have got him!" he said with vindictive satisfaction. "There's no
chance of escape for him now! Ah, the virtuous cashier won't touch the
money confided to him: so we must touch it for him. The disgrace will be
just as great, no matter who opens the safe. We have the word; you know
where the key is kept."

"Yes; when M. Fauvel goes out he always leaves the key in the drawer of
his secretary, in his chamber."

"Very good. Go and get this key from Mme. Fauvel. If she does not give
it up willingly, use force: so that you get it, that is the point; then
open the safe, and take out every franc it contains. Ah, Master Bertomy,
you shall pay dear for being loved by the woman whom I love!"

For five minutes Clameran indulged in such a tirade of abuse against
Prosper, mingled with rhapsodies of love for Madeleine, that Raoul
thought him almost out of his mind.

"Before crying victory," he said, "you had better consider the drawbacks
and difficulties. Prosper might change the word to-morrow."

"Yes, he might; but it is not probable he will; he will forget what he
said while drunk; besides, we can hasten matters."

"That is not all. M. Fauvel has given orders that no large sum shall be
kept in the safe over-night; before closing the bank everything is sent
to the Bank of France."

"A large sum will be kept there the night I choose."

"You think so?"

"I think this: I have a hundred thousand crowns deposited with M.
Fauvel: and if I desire the money to be paid over to me early some
morning, directly the bank is opened, of course the money will be kept
in the safe the previous night."

"A splendid idea!" cried Raoul admiringly.

It was a good idea; and the plotters spent several hours in studying its
strong and weak points.

Raoul feared that he would never be able to overcome Mme. Fauvel's
resistance. And, even if she yielded the key, would she not go directly
and confess everything to her husband? She was fond of Prosper, and
would hesitate a long time before sacrificing him.

But Louis felt no uneasiness on this score.

"One sacrifice necessitates another," he said: "she has made too many
to draw back at the last one. She sacrificed her adopted daughter;
therefore she will sacrifice a young man, who is, after all, a
comparative stranger to her."

"But madame will never believe any harm of Prosper; she will always have
faith in his honor; therefore--"

"You talk like an idiot, my verdant nephew!"

Before the conversation had ended, the plan seemed feasible. The
scoundrels made all their arrangements, and fixed the day for committing
the crime.

They selected the evening of the 7th of February, because Raoul knew
that M. Fauvel would be at a bank-director's dinner, and Madeleine was
invited to a party on that evening.

Unless something unforeseen should occur, Raoul knew that he would find
Mme. Fauvel alone at half-past eight o'clock.

"I will ask M. Fauvel this very day," said Clameran, "to have my money
on hand for Tuesday."

"That is a very short notice, uncle," objected Raoul. "You know there
are certain forms to be gone through, and he can claim a longer time
wherein to pay it over."

"That is true, but our banker is proud of always being prepared to pay
any amount of money, no matter how large; and if I say I am pressed, and
would like to be accommodated on Tuesday, he will make a point of having
it ready for me. Now, you must ask Prosper, as a personal favor to you,
to have the money on hand at the opening of the bank."

Raoul once more examined the situation, to discover if possible a grain
of sand which might be converted into a mountain at the last moment.

"Prosper and Gypsy are to be at Vesinet this evening," he said, "but I
cannot ask them anything until I know the banker's answer. As soon as
you arrange matters with him, send me word by Manuel."

"I can't send Manuel, for an excellent reason; he has left me; but I can
send another messenger."

Louis spoke the truth; Manuel was gone. He had insisted on keeping
Gaston's old servant in his service, because he thought it imprudent to
leave him at Oloron, where his gossiping might cause trouble.

He soon became annoyed by Manuel's loyalty, who had shared the perils
and good fortunes of an excellent master for many years; and determined
to rid himself of this last link which constantly reminded him of
Gaston. The evening before, he had persuaded Manuel to return to
Arenys-de-mer, a little port of Catalonia, his native place; and Louis
was looking for another servant.

After breakfasting together, they separated.

Clameran was so elated by the prospect of success, that he lost sight of
the great crime intervening. Raoul was calm, but resolute. The shameful
deed he was about to commit would give him riches, and release him
from a hateful servitude. His one thought was liberty, as Louis's was
Madeleine.

Everything seemed to progress finely. The banker did not ask for the
notice of time, but promised to pay the money at the specified hour.
Prosper said he would have it ready early in the morning.

The certainty of success made Louis almost wild with joy. He counted the
hours, and the minutes, which passed but too slowly.

"When this affair is ended," he said to Raoul, "I will reform and be a
model of virtue. No one will dare hint that I have ever indulged in any
sins, great or small."

But Raoul became more and more sad as the time approached. Reflection
gradually betrayed the blackness of the contemplated crime.

Raoul was bold and determined in the pursuit of his own gratifications
and wickedness; he could smile in the face of his best friend, while
cheating him of his last napoleon at cards; and he could sleep well
after stabbing his enemy in the heart; but he was young.

He was young in sin. Vice had not yet penetrated to his marrow-bones:
corruption had not yet crowded into his soul enough to uproot and
destroy every generous sentiment.

It had not been so very long since he had cherished a few holy beliefs.
The good intentions of his boyhood were not quite obliterated from his
sometimes reproachful memory.

Possessing the daring courage natural to youth, he despised the cowardly
part forced upon him; this dark plot, laid for the destruction of two
helpless women, filled him with horror and disgust. His heart revolted
at the idea of acting the part of Judas toward his mother to betray her
between two kisses.

Disgusted by the cool villainy of Louis, he longed for some unexpected
danger to spring up, some great peril to be braved, so as to excuse
himself in his own eyes, to give him the spirit to carry through
the scheme; for he would like to reap the benefits without doing the
revolting work.

But no; he well knew that he ran no risk, not even that of being
arrested and sent to the galleys. For he was certain that, if M. Fauvel
discovered everything, he would do his best to hush it up, to conceal
every fact connected with the disgraceful story which would implicate
his wife. Although he was careful not to breathe it to Clameran, he felt
a sincere affection for Mme. Fauvel, and was touched by the indulgent
fondness which she so unchangingly lavished upon him. He had been happy
at Vesinet, while his accomplice, or rather his master, was at Oloron.
He would have been glad to lead an honest life, and could not see the
sense of committing a crime when there was no necessity for it. He hated
Clameran for not consenting to let the matter drop, now that he was rich
enough to live in affluence the rest of his life, and who, for the sake
of gratifying a selfish passion, was abusing his power, and endangering
the safety and happiness of so many people. He longed for an opportunity
of thwarting his plots, if it could be done without also ruining
himself.

His resolution, which had been so firm in the beginning, was growing
weaker and weaker as the hours rolled on: as the crisis approached, his
horror of the deed increased.

Seeing this uncertain state of Raoul's mind, Louis never left him, but
continued to paint for him a dazzling future, position, wealth, and
freedom. Possessing a large fortune, he would be his own master, gratify
his every wish, and make amends to his mother for his present undutiful
conduct. He urged him to take pride in acting his part in this little
comedy, which would soon be over without doing harm to anyone.

He prepared, and forced his accomplice to rehearse, the scene which was
to be enacted at Mme. Fauvel's, with as much coolness and precision as
if it were to be performed at a public theatre. Louis said that no piece
could be well acted unless the actor was interested and imbued with the
spirit of his role.

But the more urgently Louis pressed upon him the advantages to be
derived from success, the oftener he sounded in his ears the magic
words, "five hundred thousand francs," the more loudly did Raoul's
conscience cry out against the sinful deed.

On Monday evening, about six o'clock, Raoul felt so depressed and
miserable, that he had almost made up his mind to refuse to move another
step, and to tell Louis that he must find another tool to carry out his
abominable plot.

"Are you afraid?" asked Clameran, who had anxiously watched these inward
struggles.

"Yes, I am afraid. I am not cursed with your ferocious nature and iron
will. I am the most miserable dog living!"

"Come, cheer up, my boy! You are not yourself to-day. Don't fail me at
the last minute, when everything depends upon you. Just think that we
have almost finished; one more stroke of our oars, and we are in port.
You are only nervous: come to dinner, and a bottle of Burgundy will soon
set you right."

They were walking along the boulevard. Clameran insisted upon their
entering a restaurant, and having dinner in a private room.

Vainly did he strive, however, to chase the gloom from Raoul's pale
face; he sat listening, with a sullen frown, to his friend's jests about
"swallowing the bitter pill gracefully."

Urged by Louis, he drank two bottles of wine, in hopes that intoxication
would inspire him with courage to do the deed, which Clameran impressed
upon his mind must and should be done before many more hours had passed
over his head.

But the drunkenness he sought came not; the wine proved false; at the
bottom of the last bottle he found disgust and rage.

The clock struck eight.

"The time has come," said Louis firmly.

Raoul turned livid; his teeth chattered, and his limbs trembled so that
he was unable to stand on his feet.

"Oh, I cannot do it!" he cried in an agony of terror and rage.

Clameran's eyes flashed with angry excitement at the prospect of all his
plans being ruined at the last moment. But he dared not give way to his
anger, for fear of exasperating Raoul, whom he knew to be anxious for an
excuse to quarrel; so he quietly pulled the bell-rope. A boy appeared.

"A bottle of port," he said, "and a bottle of rum."

When the boy returned with the bottles, Louis filled a goblet with the
two liquors mixed, and handed it to Raoul.

"Drink this," he said in a tone of command.

Raoul emptied the glass at one draught, and a faint color returned to
his ashy cheeks. He arose, and snatching up his hat, cried fiercely:

"Come along!"

But before he had walked half a square, the factitious energy inspired
by drink deserted him.

He clung to Clameran's arm, and was almost dragged along in the
direction of the banker's house, trembling like a criminal on his way to
the scaffold.

"If I can once get him in the house," thought Louis, "and make him
begin, the excitement of his mother's opposition will make him carry
it through successfully. The cowardly baby! I would like to wring his
neck!"

Although his breast was filled with these thoughts and fears, he was
careful to conceal them from Raoul, and said soothingly:

"Now, don't forget our arrangement, and be careful how you enter the
house; everything depends upon your being unconcerned and cool, to avoid
arousing suspicion in the eyes of anyone you may meet. Have you a pistol
in your pocket?"

"Yes, yes! Let me alone!"

It was well that Clameran had accompanied Raoul; for, when he got in
sight of the door, his courage gave way, and he longed to retreat.

"A poor, helpless woman!" he groaned, "and an honest man who pressed my
hand in friendship yesterday, to be cowardly ruined, betrayed by me! Ah,
it is too base! I cannot!"

"Come, don't be a coward! I thought you had more nerve. Why, you might
as well have remained virtuous and honest; you will never earn your salt
in this sort of business."

Raoul overcame his weakness, and, silencing the clamors of his
conscience, rushed up the steps, and pulled the bell furiously.

"Is Mme. Fauvel at home?" he inquired of the servant who opened the
door.

"Madame is alone in the sitting-room adjoining her chamber," was the
reply.

Raoul went upstairs.




XX

Clameran's last injunction to Raoul was:

"Be very cautious when you enter the room; your appearance must tell
everything, so you can avoid preliminary explanations."

The recommendation was useless.

The instant that Raoul went into the little salon, the sight of his
pale, haggard face and wild eyes caused Mme. Fauvel to spring up with
clasped hands, and cry out:

"Raoul! What has happened? Speak, my son!"

The sound of her tender, affectionate voice acted like an electric shock
upon the young bandit. He shook like a leaf. But at the same time his
mind seemed to change. Louis was not mistaken in his estimate of his
companion's character. Raoul was on the stage, his part was to be
played; his assurance returned to him; his cheating, lying nature
assumed the ascendant, and stifled any better feeling in his heart.

"This misfortune is the last I shall ever suffer, mother!"

Mme. Fauvel rushed toward him, and, seizing his hand, gazed searchingly
into his eyes, as if to read his very soul.

"What is the matter? Raoul, my dear son, do tell me what troubles you."

He gently pushed her from him.

"The matter is, my mother," he said in a voice of heart-broken despair,
"that I am an unworthy, degenerate son! Unworthy of you, unworthy of my
noble father!"

She tried to comfort him by saying that his errors were all her fault,
and that he was, in spite of all, the pride of her heart.

"Alas!" he said, "I know and judge myself. No one can reproach me for
my infamous conduct more bitterly than does my own conscience. I am
not naturally wicked, but only a miserable fool. At times I am like an
insane man, and am not responsible for my actions. Ah, my dear mother,
I would not be what I am, if you had watched over my childhood. But
brought up among strangers, with no guide but my own evil passions,
nothing to restrain me, no one to advise me, no one to love me, owning
nothing, not even my stolen name, I am cursed with vanity and unbounded
ambition. Poor, with no one to assist me but you, I have the tastes and
vices of a millionnaire's son.

"Alas for me! When I found you, the evil was done. Your affection, your
maternal love, the only true happiness of my life, could not save me. I,
who had suffered so much, endured so many privations, even the pangs of
hunger, became spoiled by this new life of luxury and pleasure which
you opened before me. I rushed headlong into extravagance, as a drunkard
long deprived of liquor seizes and drains to the dregs the first bottle
in his reach."

Mme. Fauvel listened, silent and terrified, to these words of despair
and remorse, which Raoul uttered with vehemence.

She dared not interrupt him, but felt certain some dreadful piece of
news was coming.

Raoul continued in a sad, hopeless tone:

"Yes, I have been a weak fool. Happiness was within my reach, and I
had not the sense to stretch forth my hand and grab it. I rejected a
heavenly reality to eagerly pursue a vain phantom. I, who ought to have
spent my life at your feet, and daily striven to express my gratitude
for your lavish kindness, have made you unhappy, destroyed your peace of
mind, and, instead of being a blessing, I have been a curse ever since
the first fatal day you welcomed me to your kind heart. Ah, unfeeling
brute that I was, to squander upon creatures whom I despised, a fortune,
of which each gold piece must have cost you a tear! Too late, too late!
With you I might have been a good and happy man!"

He stopped, as if overcome by the conviction of his evil deeds, and
seemed about to burst into tears.

"It is never too late to repent, my son," murmured Mme. Fauvel in
comforting tones.

"Ah, if I only could!" cried Raoul; "but no, it is too late! Besides,
can I tell how long my good resolutions will last? This is not the first
time that I have condemned myself pitilessly. Stinging remorse for each
new fault made me swear to lead a better life, to sin no more. What was
the result of these periodical repentances? At the first temptation I
forgot my remorse and good resolutions. I am weak and mean-spirited,
and you are not firm enough to govern my vacillating nature. While
my intentions are good, my actions are villainous. The disproportion
between my extravagant desires, and the means of gratifying them, is too
great for me to endure any longer. Who knows to what fearful lengths my
unfortunate disposition may lead me? However, I will take my fate in my
own hands!" he finally said with a reckless laugh.

"Oh, Raoul, my dear son," cried Mme. Fauvel in an agony of terror,
"explain these dreadful words; am I not your mother? Tell me what
distresses you; I am ready to hear the worst."

He appeared to hesitate, as if afraid to crush his mother's heart by the
terrible blow he was about to inflict. Then in a voice of gloomy despair
he replied:

"I am ruined."

"Ruined?"

"Yes, ruined; and I have nothing more to expect or hope for. I am
dishonored, and all through my own fault; no one is to be blamed but
myself."

"Raoul!"

"It is the sad truth, my poor mother; but fear nothing: I shall not
trail in the dust the name which you bestowed upon me. I will at least
have the courage not to survive my dishonor. Come, mother, don't pity
me, or distress yourself; I am one of those miserable beings fated to
find no peace save in the arms of death. I came into the world with
misfortune stamped upon my brow. Was not my birth a shame and disgrace
to you? Did not the memory of my existence haunt you day and night,
filling your soul with remorse? And now, when I am restored to you after
many years' separation, do I not prove to be a bitter curse instead of a
blessing?"

"Ungrateful boy! Have I ever reproached you?"

"Never! Your poor Raoul will die with your beloved name on his lips;
his last words a prayer to Heaven to heap blessings upon your head, and
reward your long-suffering devotion."

"Die? You die, my son!"

"It must be, my dear mother; honor compels it. I am condemned by judges
from whose decision no appeal can be taken--my conscience and my will."

An hour ago, Mme. Fauvel would have sworn that Raoul had made her suffer
all the torments that a woman could endure; but now she felt that all
her former troubles were nothing compared with her present agony.

"My God! Raoul, what have you been doing?"

"Money was intrusted to me: I gambled and lost it."

"Was it a large sum?"

"No; but more than I can replace. My poor mother, have I not taken
everything from you? Did you not give me your last jewel?"

"But M. de Clameran is rich. He placed his fortune at my disposal. I
will order the carriage, and go to him."

"But M. de Clameran is absent, and will not return to Paris until next
week; and if I do not have the money this evening, I am lost. Alas! I
have thought deeply, and, although it is hard to die so young, still
fate wills it so."

He pulled a pistol from his pocket, and, with a forced smile, said:

"This will settle everything."

Mme. Fauvel was too excited and frightened to reflect upon the horror
of Raoul's behavior, and that these wild threats were a last resort
for obtaining money. Forgetful of the past, careless of the future, her
every thought concentrated upon the present, she comprehended but
one fact: that her son was about to commit suicide, and that she was
powerless to prevent the fearful deed.

"Oh, wait a little while my son!" she cried. "Andre will soon return
home, and I will ask him to give me--How much did you lose?"

"Thirty thousand francs."

"You shall have them to-morrow."

"But I must have the money to-night."

Mme. Fauvel wrung her hands in despair.

"Oh! why did you not come to me sooner, my son? Why did you not have
confidence enough in me to come at once for help? This evening! There is
no one in the house to open the money-safe; if it were not for that--if
you had only come before Andre went out--"

"The safe!" cried Raoul, with sudden joy, as if this magic word had
thrown a ray of light upon his dark despair; "do you know where the key
is kept?"

"Yes: it is in the next room."

"Well!" he exclaimed, with a bold look that caused Mme. Fauvel to lower
her eyes, and keep silent.

"Give me the key, mother," he said in a tone of entreaty.

"Oh, Raoul, Raoul!"

"It is my life I am asking of you."

These words decided her; she snatched up a candle, rushed into her
chamber, opened the secretary, and took out M. Fauvel's key.

But, when about to hand it to Raoul, she seemed to suddenly see the
enormity of what she was doing.

"Oh, Raoul! my son," she murmured, "I cannot! Do not ask me to commit
such a dreadful deed!"

He said nothing, but sadly turned to leave the room; then coming back to
his mother said:

"Ah, well; it makes but little difference in the end! At least, you will
give me one last kiss, before we part forever, my darling mother!"

"What could you do with the key, Raoul?" interrupted Mme. Fauvel. "You
do not know the secret word of the buttons."

"No; but I can try to open it without moving the buttons."

"You know that money is never kept in the safe over-night."

"Nevertheless, I can make the attempt. If I open the safe, and find
money in it, it will be a miracle, showing that Heaven has pitied my
misfortune, and provided relief."

"And if you are not successful, will you promise me to wait until
to-morrow, to do nothing rash to-night?"

"I swear it, by my father's memory."

"Then take the key and follow me."

Pale and trembling, Raoul and Mme. Fauvel passed through the banker's
study, and down the narrow staircase leading to the offices and
cash-room below.

Raoul walked in front, holding the light, and the key of the safe.

Mme. Fauvel was convinced that it would be utterly impossible to open
the safe, as the key was useless without the secret word, and of course
Raoul had no way of discovering what that was.

Even granting that some chance had revealed the secret to him, he would
find but little in the safe, since everything was deposited in the Bank
of France. Everyone knew that no large sum was ever kept in the safe
after banking hours.

The only anxiety she felt was, how Raoul would bear the disappointment,
and how she could calm his despair.

She thought that she would gain time by letting Raoul try the key; and
then, when he could not open the safe, he would keep his promise, and
wait until the next day. There was surely no harm in letting him try the
lock, when he could not touch the money.

"When he sees there is no chance of success," she thought, "he will
listen to my entreaties; and to-morrow--to-morrow----"

What she could do to-morrow she knew not, she did not even ask herself.
But in extreme situations the least delay inspires hope, as if a short
respite meant sure salvation.

The condemned man, at the last moment, begs for a reprieve of a day, an
hour, a few seconds. Raoul was about to kill himself: his mother prayed
to God to grant her one day, not even a day, one night; as if in this
space of time some unexpected relief would come to end her misery.

They reached Prosper's office, and Raoul placed the light on a high
stool so that it lighted the whole room.

He then summoned up all his coolness, or rather that mechanical
precision of movement, almost independent of will, of which men
accustomed to peril avail themselves in time of need.

Rapidly, with the dexterity of experience, he slipped the buttons on the
five letters composing the name of G, y, p, s, y.

His features, during this short operation, expressed the most intense
anxiety. He was fearful that his nervous energy might give out; of not
being able to open the safe; of not finding the money there when
he opened it; of Prosper having changed the word; or perhaps having
neglected to leave the money in the safe.

Mme. Fauvel saw these visible apprehensions with alarm. She read in his
eyes that wild hope of a man who, passionately desiring an object,
ends by persuading himself that his own will suffices to overcome all
obstacles.

Having often been present when Prosper was preparing to leave his
office, Raoul had fifty times seen him move the buttons, and lock the
safe, just before leaving the bank. Indeed, having a practical turn
of mind, and an eye to the future, he had even tried to lock the safe
himself on several occasions, while waiting for Prosper.

He inserted the key softly, turned it around, pushed it farther in,
and turned it a second time; then thrust it in suddenly, and turned it
again. His heart beat so loudly that Mme. Fauvel could hear its throbs.

The word had not been changed; the safe opened.

Raoul and his mother simultaneously uttered a cry; she of terror, he of
triumph.

"Shut it again!" cried Mme. Fauvel, frightened at the incomprehensible
result of Raoul's attempt: "Come away! Don't touch anything, for
Heaven's sake! Raoul!"

And, half frenzied, she clung to Raoul's arm, and pulled him away so
abruptly, that the key was dragged from the lock, and, slipping along
the glossy varnish of the safe-door, made a deep scratch some inches
long.

But at a glance Raoul discovered, on the upper shelf of the safe, three
bundles of bank-notes. He snatched them up with his left hand, and
slipped them inside his vest.

Exhausted by the effort she had just made, Mme. Fauvel dropped Raoul's
arm, and, almost fainting with emotion, clung to the back of a chair.

"Have mercy, Raoul!" she moaned. "I implore you to put back that money
and I solemnly swear that I will give you twice as much to-morrow. Oh,
my son, have pity upon your unhappy mother!"

He paid no attention to these words of entreaty, but carefully examined
the scratch on the safe. He was alarmed at this trace of the robbery,
which it was impossible for him to cover up.

"At least you will not take all," said Mme. Fauvel; "just keep enough to
save yourself, and put back the rest."

"What good would that do? The discovery will be made that the safe has
been opened; so I might as well take all as a part."

"Oh, no! not at all. I can account to Andre; I will tell him I had a
pressing need for a certain sum, and opened the safe to get it."

In the meantime Raoul had carefully closed the safe.

"Come, mother, let us go back to the sitting-room. A servant might go
there to look for you, and be astonished at our absence."

Raoul's cruel indifference and cold calculations at such a moment filled
Mme. Fauvel with indignation. She saw that she had no influence over her
son, that her prayers and tears had no effect upon his hard heart.

"Let them be astonished," she cried: "let them come here and find us! I
will be relieved to put an end to this tissue of crime. Then Andre will
know all, and drive me from his house. Let come what will, I shall
not sacrifice another victim. Prosper will be accused of this theft
to-morrow. Clameran defrauded him of the woman he loved, and now you
would deprive him of his honor! I will have nothing to do with so base a
crime."

She spoke so loud and angrily that Raoul was alarmed. He knew that the
errand-boy slept in a room close by, and might be in bed listening to
her, although it was early in the evening.

"Come upstairs!" he said, seizing Mme. Fauvel's arm.

But she clung to a table and refused to move a step.

"I have been cowardly enough to sacrifice Madeleine," she said, "but I
will not ruin Prosper."

Raoul had an argument in reserve which he knew would make Mme. Fauvel
submit to his will.

"Now, really," he said with a cynical laugh, "do you pretend that you do
not know Prosper and I arranged this little affair together, and that he
is to have half the booty?"

"Impossible! I never will believe such a thing of Prosper!"

"Why, how do you suppose I discovered the secret word? Who do you
suppose disobeyed orders, and left the money in the safe?"

"Prosper is honest."

"Of course he is, and so am I too. The only thing is, that we both need
money."

"You are telling a falsehood, Raoul!"

"Upon my soul, I am not. Madeleine rejected Prosper, and the poor fellow
has to console himself for her cruelty; and these sorts of consolations
are expensive, my good mother."

He took up the candle, and gently but firmly led Mme. Fauvel toward the
staircase.

She mechanically suffered herself to be led along, more bewildered by
what she had just heard than she was at the opening of the safe-door.

"What!" she gasped, "can Prosper be a thief?"

She began to think herself the victim of a terrible nightmare, and that,
when she waked, her mind would be relieved of this intolerable torture.
She helplessly clung to Raoul's arm as he helped her up the narrow
little staircase.

"You must put the key back in the secretary," said Raoul, as soon as
they were in the chamber again.

But she did not seem to hear him; so he went and replaced the safe-key
in the place from which he had seen her take it.

He then led, or rather carried, Mme. Fauvel into the little
sitting-room, and placed her in an easy-chair.

The set, expressionless look of the wretched woman's eyes, and her dazed
manner, frightened Raoul, who thought that she had lost her mind, that
her reason had finally given way beneath this last terrible shock.

"Come, cheer up, my dear mother," he said in coaxing tones as he rubbed
her icy hands; "you have saved my life, and rendered an immense service
to Prosper. Don't be alarmed; everything will come out right in the
end. Prosper will be accused, perhaps arrested; he expects that, and is
prepared for it; he will deny his culpability; and, as there is no proof
against him, he will be set at liberty immediately."

But these falsehoods were wasted on Mme. Fauvel, who was incapable of
understanding anything said to her.

"Raoul," she moaned in a broken-hearted tone, "Raoul, my son, you have
killed me."

Her gentle voice, kind even in its despairing accents, touched the very
bottom of Raoul's perverted heart, and once more his soul was wrung
by remorse; so that he felt inclined to put back the stolen money, and
comfort the despairing woman whose life and reason he was destroying.
The thought of Clameran restrained him.

Finding his efforts to restore Mme. Fauvel fruitless, that, in spite
of all his affectionate regrets and promises, she still sat silent,
motionless, and death-like; and fearing that M. Fauvel or Madeleine
might enter at any moment, and demand an explanation, he hastily pressed
a kiss upon his mother's brow, and hurried from the house.

At the restaurant, in the room where they had dined, Clameran, tortured
by anxiety, awaited his accomplice.

He wondered if at the last moment, when he was not near to sustain him,
Raoul would prove a coward, and retreat; if any unforeseen trifle had
prevented his finding the key; if any visitors were there; and, if so,
would they depart before M. Fauvel's return from the dinner-party?

He had worked himself into such a state of excitement, that, when Raoul
returned, he flew to him with ashy face and trembling all over, and
could scarcely gasp out:

"Well?"

"The deed is done, uncle, thanks to you; and I am now the most
miserable, abject villain on the face of the earth."

He unbuttoned his vest, and, pulling out the four bundles of bank-notes,
angrily dashed them upon the table, saying, in a tone of scorn and
disgust:

"Now I hope you are satisfied. This is the price of the happiness,
honor, and perhaps the life of three people."

Clameran paid no attention to these angry words. With feverish eagerness
he seized the notes, and rattled them in his hand as if to convince
himself of the reality of success.

"Now Madeleine is mine!" he cried excitedly.

Raoul looked at Clameran in silent disgust. This exhibition of joy was
a shocking contrast to the scene in which he had just been an actor. He
was humiliated at being the tool of such a heartless scoundrel as he now
knew Clameran to be.

Louis misinterpreted this silence, and said gayly:

"Did you have much difficulty?"

"I forbid you ever to allude to this evening's work," cried Raoul
fiercely. "Do you hear me? I wish to forget it."

Clameran shrugged his shoulders at this outburst of anger, and said in a
bantering tone:

"Just as you please, my handsome nephew: I rather think you will want
to remember it though, when I offer you these three hundred and fifty
thousand francs. You will not, I am sure, refuse to accept them as a
slight souvenir. Take them: they are yours."

This generosity seemed neither to surprise nor satisfy Raoul.

"According to our agreement," he said sullenly, "I was to have more than
this."

"Of course: this is only part of your share."

"And when am I to have the rest, if you please?"

"The day I marry Madeleine, and not before, my boy. You are too valuable
an assistant to lose at present; and you know that, though I don't
mistrust you, I am not altogether sure of your sincere affection for
me."

Raoul reflected that to commit a crime, and not profit by it, would be
the height of absurdity. He had come with the intention of breaking off
all connection with Clameran; but he now determined that he would not
abandon his accomplice until he had been well paid for his services.

"Very well," he said, "I accept this on account; but remember, I will
never do another piece of work like this to-night. You can do what you
please; I shall flatly refuse."

Clameran burst into a loud laugh, and said:

"That is sensible: now that you are rich, you can afford to be honest.
Set your conscience at rest, for I promise you I will require nothing
more of you save a few trifling services. You can retire behind the
scenes now, while I appear upon the stage; my role begins."




XXI

For more than an hour after Raoul's departure, Mme. Fauvel remained in a
state of stupor bordering upon unconsciousness.

Gradually, however, she recovered her senses sufficiently to comprehend
the horrors of her present situation; and, with the faculty of thought,
that of suffering returned.

The dreadful scene in which she had taken part was still before her
affrighted vision; all the attending circumstances, unnoticed at the
time, now struck her forcibly.

She saw that she had been the dupe of a shameful conspiracy: that Raoul
had tortured her with cold-blooded cruelty, had taken advantage of her
tenderness, and had speculated upon her fright.

But had Prosper anything to do with the robbery? This Mme. Fauvel had
no way of finding out. Ah, Raoul knew how the blow would strike when he
accused Prosper. He knew that Mme. Fauvel would end by believing in the
cashier's complicity.

The unhappy woman sat and thought over every possible way in which Raoul
could find out the secret word without Prosper's knowledge. She rejected
with horror the idea that the cashier was the instigator of the crime;
but, in spite of herself, it constantly recurred. And finally she felt
convinced that what Raoul said must be true; for who but Prosper could
have betrayed the word? And who but Prosper could have left so large an
amount of money in the safe, which, by order of the banker, was to be
always left empty at night?

Knowing that Prosper was leading a life of extravagance and dissipation,
she thought it very likely that he had, from sheer desperation, resorted
to this bold step to pay his debts; her blind affection, moreover, made
her anxious to attribute the crime to anyone, rather than to her darling
son.

She had heard that Prosper was supporting one of those worthless
creatures whose extravagance impoverishes men, and whose evil influence
perverts their natures. When a young man is thus degraded, will he
stop at any sin or crime? Alas! Mme. Fauvel knew, from her own sad
experience, to what depths even one fault can lead. Although she
believed Prosper guilty, she did not blame him, but considered herself
responsible for his sins.

Had she not herself banished the poor young man from the fireside which
he had begun to regard as his own? Had she not destroyed his hopes of
happiness, by crushing his pure love for a noble girl, whom he looked
upon as his future wife, and thus driven him into a life of dissipation
and sin?

She was undecided whether to confide in Madeleine, or bury the secret in
her own breast.

Fatally inspired, she decided to keep silent.

When Madeleine returned home at eleven o'clock, Mme. Fauvel not only was
silent as to what had occurred, but even succeeded in so concealing all
traces of her agitation, that she escaped any questions from her niece.

Her calmness never left her when M. Fauvel and Lucien returned, although
she was in terror lest her husband should go down to the cash-room to
see that everything was safely locked up. It was not his habit to open
the money-safe at night, but he sometimes did.

As fate would have it, the banker, as soon as he entered the room, began
to speak of Prosper, saying how distressing it was that so interesting a
young man should be thus throwing himself away, and wondering what could
have happened to make him suddenly cease his visits at the house, and
resort to bad company.

If M. Fauvel had looked at the faces of his wife and niece while he
harshly blamed the cashier, he would have been puzzled at their strange
expressions.

All night long Mme. Fauvel suffered the most intolerable agony. She
counted each stroke of the town-clock, as the hours dragged on.

"In six hours," she said to herself, "in five hours--in four hours--in
three hours--in one hour--all will be discovered; and then what will
happen? Heaven help me!"

At sunrise she heard the servants moving about the house. Then the
office-shutters opened; then, later, she heard the clerks going into the
bank.

She attempted to get up, but felt so ill and weak that she sank back
on her pillow; and lying there, trembling like a leaf, bathed in cold
perspiration, she awaited the discovery of the robbery.

She was leaning over the side of the bed, straining her ear to catch a
sound from the cash-room, when Madeleine, who had just left her, rushed
into the room.

The white face and wild eyes of the poor girl told Mme. Fauvel that the
crime was discovered.

"Do you know what has happened, aunt?" cried Madeleine, in a shrill,
horrified tone. "Prosper is accused of robbery, and the police have come
to take him to prison!"

A groan was Mme. Fauvel's only answer.

"Raoul or the marquis is at the bottom of this," continued Madeleine
excitedly.

"How can they be concerned in it, my child?"

"I can't tell yet; but I only know that Prosper is innocent. I have just
seen him, spoken to him. He would never have looked me in the face had
he been guilty."

Mme. Fauvel opened her lips to confess all: fear kept her silent.

"What can these wretches want?" said Madeleine: "what new sacrifice do
they demand? Dishonor Prosper! Good heavens! Why did they not kill him
at once? He would rather be dead than disgraced!"

Here the entrance of M. Fauvel interrupted Madeleine. The banker was so
angry that he could scarcely speak.

"The worthless scoundrel!" he cried; "to think of his daring to accuse
me! To insinuate that I robbed my own safe! And that Marquis de Clameran
must needs doubt my good faith in keeping my engagement to pay his
money!"

Then, without noticing the effect of his story upon the two women, he
proceeded to relate all that had occurred downstairs.

"I was afraid this extravagance would lead to something terrible," he
said in conclusion; "you know I told you last night that Prosper was
growing worse in his conduct, and that he would get into trouble."

Throughout the day Madeleine's devotion to her aunt was severely tried.

The generous girl saw disgrace heaped upon the man she loved. She had
perfect faith in his innocence; she felt sure she knew who had laid the
trap to ruin him; and yet she could not say a word in his defence.

Fearing that Madeleine would suspect her of complicity in the theft, if
she remained in bed and betrayed so much agitation, Mme. Fauvel arose
and dressed for breakfast.

It was a dreary meal. No one tasted a morsel. The servants moved about
on their tiptoes, as silently as if a death had occurred in the family.

About two o'clock, a servant came to M. Fauvel's study, and said that
the Marquis de Clameran desired to see him.

"What!" cried the banker; "does he dare----"

Then, after a moment's reflection, he added:

"Ask him to walk up."

The very name of Clameran had sufficed to arouse all the slumbering
wrath of M. Fauvel. The victim of a robbery, finding his safe empty at
the moment that he was called upon to make a heavy payment, he had been
constrained to conceal his anger and resentment; but now he determined
to have his revenge upon his insolent visitor.

But the marquis declined to come upstairs. The messenger returned with
the answer that the gentleman had a particular reason for seeing M.
Fauvel in the office below, where the clerks were.

"What does this fresh impertinence mean?" cried the banker, as he
angrily jumped up and hastened downstairs.

M. de Clameran was standing in the middle of the room adjoining the
cash-room; M. Fauvel walked up to him, and said bluntly:

"What do you want now, monsieur? You have been paid your money, and I
have your receipt."

To the surprise of all the clerks, and the banker himself, the marquis
seemed not in the least offended at this rude greeting, but answered in
a deferential but not at all humble manner:

"You are hard upon me, monsieur; but I deserve it, and that is why I am
here. A gentleman always acknowledges when he is in the wrong: in this
instance I am the offender; and I flatter myself that my past will
permit me to say so without being accused of cowardice or lack of
self-respect. I insisted upon seeing you here instead of in your study,
because, having been rude to you in the presence of your clerks, I
wished them to hear me apologize for my behavior of this morning."

Clameran's speech was so different from his usual overbearing, haughty
conduct, that surprise almost stupefied the banker, and he could only
answer:

"I must say that I was hurt by your doubts, insinuations, suspicions of
my honor----"

"This morning," continued the marquis, "I was irritated, and
thoughtlessly gave way to my temper. Although I am gray-headed, my
disposition is as excitable as that of a fiery young man of twenty
years; and I hope you will forget words uttered in a moment of
excitement, and now deeply regretted."

M. Fauvel, being a kind-hearted though quick-tempered man, could
appreciate Clameran's feelings; and, knowing that his own high
reputation for scrupulous honesty could not be affected by any hasty or
abusive language uttered by a creditor, at once calmed down before so
frank an apology; and, holding out his hand to Clameran, said:

"Let us forget what happened, monsieur."

They conversed in a friendly manner for some minutes; and, after
Clameran had explained why he had such pressing need of the money at
that particular hour of the morning, turned to leave, saying that he
would do himself the honor of calling upon Mme. Fauvel during the day.

"That is, if a visit from me would not be considered intrusive," he said
with a shade of hesitation. "Perhaps, after the trouble of this morning,
she does not wish to be disturbed."

"Oh, no!" said the banker; "come, by all means; I think a visit from you
would cheer her mind. I shall be from home all day, trying to trace this
unfortunate affair."

Mme. Fauvel was in the same room where Raoul had threatened to kill
himself the night previous; she looked very pale and ill as she lay on a
sofa. Madeleine was bathing her forehead.

When M. de Clameran was announced, they both started up as if a phantom
had appeared before them.

Although Louis had been gay and smiling when he parted from M. Fauvel
downstairs, he now wore a melancholy aspect, as he gravely bowed, and
refused to seat himself in the chair which Mme. Fauvel motioned him to
take.

"You will excuse me, ladies, for intruding at this time of your
affliction; but I have a duty to fulfil."

The two women were silent; they seemed to be waiting for him to explain.
He added in an undertone:

"I know all."

By an imploring gesture, Mme. Fauvel tried to stop him. She saw that he
was about to reveal her secret to Madeleine.

But Louis would not see this gesture; he turned his whole attention to
Madeleine, who haughtily said:

"Explain yourself, monsieur."

"Only one hour ago," he replied, "I discovered that Raoul last night
forced from his mother the key of the money-safe, and stole three
hundred and fifty thousand francs."

Madeleine crimsoned with shame and indignation; she leaned over the
sofa, and seizing her aunt's wrist shook it violently, and in a hollow
voice cried:

"It is false, is it not, aunt? speak!"

"Alas! alas!" groaned Mme. Fauvel. "What have I done?"

"You have allowed Prosper to be accused," cried Madeleine; "you have
suffered him to be arrested, and disgraced for life."

"Forgive me," sighed Mme. Fauvel. "He was about to kill himself; I was
so frightened! Then you know--Prosper was to share the money: he gave
Raoul the secret word--"

"Good Heavens! Aunt, how could you believe such a falsehood as that?"

Clameran interrupted them.

"Unfortunately, what your aunt says of M. Bertomy is the truth," he said
in a sad tone.

"Your proofs, monsieur; where are your proofs?"

"Raoul's confession."

"Raoul is false."

"That is only too true: but how did he find out the word, if M. Bertomy
did not reveal it? And who left the money in the safe but M. Bertomy?"

These arguments had no effect upon Madeleine.

"And now tell me," she said scornfully, "what became of the money?"

There was no mistaking the significance of these words: they meant:

"You are the instigator of the robbery, and of course you have taken
possession of the money."

This harsh accusation from a girl whom he so passionately loved, when,
grasping bandit as he was, he gave up for her sake all the money gained
by his crime, so cruelly hurt Clameran that he turned livid. But his
mortification and anger did not prevent him from pursuing the part he
had prepared and studied.

"A day will come, mademoiselle," he said, "when you will deeply regret
having treated me so cruelly. I understand your insinuation; you need
not attempt to deny it."

"I have no idea of denying anything, monsieur."

"Madeleine!" remonstrated Mme. Fauvel, who trembled at the rising anger
of the man who held her fate in his hands, "Madeleine, be careful!"

"Mademoiselle is pitiless," said Clameran sadly; "she cruelly punishes
an honorable man whose only fault is having obeyed his brother's
dying injunctions. And I am here now, because I believe in the joint
responsibility of all the members of a family."

Here he slowly drew from his pocket several bundles of bank-notes, and
laid them on the mantel-piece.

"Raoul stole three hundred and fifty thousand francs," he said: "I
return the same amount. It is more than half my fortune. Willingly would
I give the rest to insure this being the last crime committed by him."

Too inexperienced to penetrate this bold, and yet simple plan of
Clameran's, Madeleine was dumb with astonishment; all her calculations
were upset.

Mme. Fauvel, on the contrary, accepted this restitution as salvation
sent from heaven.

"Oh, thanks, monsieur, thanks!" she cried, gratefully clasping
Clameran's hand in hers; "you are goodness itself!"

Louis's eye lit up with pleasure. But he rejoiced too soon. A minute's
reflection brought back all of Madeleine's distrust. She thought this
magnanimity and generosity unnatural in a man whom she considered
incapable of a noble sentiment, and at once concluded that it must
conceal some snare beneath.

"What are we to do with the money?" she demanded.

"Restore it to M. Fauvel, mademoiselle."

"We restore it, monsieur, and how? Restoring the money is denouncing
Raoul, and ruining my aunt. Take back your money, monsieur. We will not
touch it."

Clameran was too shrewd to insist; he took up the money, and prepared to
leave.

"I comprehend your refusal, mademoiselle, and must find another way
of accomplishing my wish. But, before retiring, let me say that your
injustice pains me deeply. After the promise you made to me, I had
reason to hope for a kinder welcome."

"I will keep my promise, monsieur; but not until you have furnished
security."

"Security! And for what? Pray, explain yourself."

"Something to protect my aunt against the molestations of Raoul after
my--marriage. What is to prevent his coming to extort money from his
mother after he has squandered my dowry? A man who spends a hundred
thousand francs in four months will soon run through my little fortune.
We are making a bargain; I give you my hand in exchange for the honor
and life of my aunt; and of course you must give me some guarantee to
secure the performance of your promise."

"Oh! I will give you ample securities," cried Clameran, "such as will
quiet all your suspicious doubts of my good faith. Alas! you will
not believe in my devotion; what shall I do to convince you of its
sincerity? Shall I try to save M. Bertomy?"

"Thanks for the offer, monsieur," replied Madeleine disdainfully; "if
Prosper is guilty, let him be punished by the law; if he is innocent,
God will protect him."

Here Madeleine stood up, to signify that the interview was over.

Clameran bowed, and left the room.

"What pride! What determination! The idea of her demanding securities
of me!" he said to himself as he slowly walked away. "But the proud girl
shall be humbled yet. She is so beautiful! and, if I did not so madly
love her, I would kill her on the spot!"

Never had Clameran been so irritated.

Madeleine's quiet determination and forethought had unexpectedly thrown
him off his well-laid track; not anticipating any such self assertion on
her part, he was disconcerted, and at a loss how to proceed.

He knew that it would be useless to attempt deceiving a girl of
Madeleine's character a second time; he saw that she had penetrated his
motives sufficiently to put her on the defensive, and prepare her for
any new surprise. Moreover, she would prevent Mme. Fauvel from being
frightened and forced into submission any longer.

With mortification and rage, Louis saw that after all his plotting, when
success was in his reach, when his hopes were almost crowned, he had
been foiled and scornfully set at defiance by a girl: the whole thing
would have to be gone over again.

Although Madeleine had resigned herself to sacrifice, it was still
evident that she had no idea of doing so blindly, and would not hazard
her aunt's and her own happiness upon the uncertainty of a verbal
promise.

Clameran racked his brain to furnish guarantees; how could he convince
her that Raoul had no idea or desire of annoying Mme. Fauvel in the
future?

He could not tell Madeleine that her dowry was to be the bribe received
by Raoul for his future good behavior and past crimes.

The knowledge of all the circumstances of this shameful criminal
intrigue would have reassured her upon her aunt's peace of mind; but
then it would never do to inform her of these details, certainly not
before the marriage.

What securities could he give? Not one could he think of.

But Clameran was not one of those slow-minded men who take weeks to
consider a difficulty. When he could not untie a knot, he would cut it.

Raoul was a stumbling-block to his wishes, and he swore to rid himself
of his troublesome accomplice as soon as possible.

Although it was not an easy matter to dispose of so cunning a knave,
Clameran felt no hesitation in undertaking to accomplish his purpose. He
was incited by one of those passions which age renders terrible.

The more certain he was of Madeleine's contempt and dislike, the more
determined he was to marry her. His love seemed to be a sort of insane
desire to possess and call his own the one being whom he recognized as
his superior in every way.

But he had sense enough to see that he might ruin his prospects by undue
haste, and that the safest course would be to await the result of the
robbery and its effect upon Prosper.

He waited in anxious expectation of a summons from Mme. Fauvel. At last
he concluded that Madeleine was waiting for him to make the next move in
the direction of yielding.

He was right; Madeleine knew that after the last bold step the
accomplices would remain quiet for a while; she knew resistance could
have no worse results than would cowardly submission; and therefore
assumed the entire responsibility of managing the affair so as to keep
at bay both Raoul and Clameran.

She knew that Mme. Fauvel would be anxious to accept any terms of peace,
but she determined to use all her influence to prevent her doing this,
and to force upon her the necessity of preserving a dignified silence.

This accounted for the silence of the two women, who were quietly
waiting for their adversaries to renew hostilities.

They even succeeded in concealing their anxiety beneath assumed
indifference; never asking any questions about the robbery, or those in
any way connected with it.

M. Fauvel brought them an account of Prosper's examination, the many
charges brought against him, his obstinate denial of having stolen the
money; and finally how, after great perplexity and close study of the
case by the judge of instruction, the cashier had been discharged for
want of sufficient proof against him.

Since Clameran's offer to restore the notes, Mme. Fauvel had not doubted
Prosper's guilt. She said nothing, but inwardly accused him of having
seduced her son from the path of virtue, and enticed him into crime--her
son whom she would never cease to love, no matter how great his faults.

Madeleine had perfect faith in Prosper's innocence.

She was so confident of his being restored to liberty that she ventured
to ask her uncle, under pretext of some charitable object, to give
her ten thousand francs, which she sent to the unfortunate victim of
circumstantial evidence; who, from what she had heard of his poverty,
must be in need of assistance.

In the letter--cut from her prayer-book to avoid detection by
writing--accompanying the money, she advised Prosper to leave France,
because she knew that it would be impossible for a man of his proud
nature to remain on the scene of his disgrace; the greater his
innocence, the more intolerable his suffering.

Besides, Madeleine, at that time feeling that she would be obliged to
marry Clameran, was anxious to have the man she loved far, far away from
her.

On the day that this anonymous present was sent, in opposition to the
wishes of Mme. Fauvel, the two poor women were entangled fearfully in
pecuniary difficulties.

The tradesmen whose money had been squandered by Raoul refused to give
credit any longer, and insisted upon their bills being paid at once;
saying they could not understand how a man of M. Fauvel's wealth and
position could keep them waiting for such insignificant sums.

The butcher, grocer, and wine-merchant had bills of one, two, and five
hundred francs only; but, not having even that small amount, Mme. Fauvel
had difficulty in prevailing upon them to receive a part on account, and
wait a little longer for the residue.

Some of the store-keepers threatened to ask the banker for their money,
if everything was not settled before the end of the week.

Alas! Mme. Fauvel's indebtedness amounted to fifteen thousand francs.

Madeleine and her aunt had declined all invitations during the winter,
to avoid purchasing evening dresses; having always been remarkable for
their superb toilets, seldom appearing in the same ball-dress twice,
they dared not give rise to comment by wearing their old dresses, and
knowing that M. Fauvel would be the first to ask the cause of this
sudden change, as he liked to see them always the best-dressed women in
the room.

But at last they were obliged to appear in public. M. Fauvel's most
intimate friends, the Messrs. Jandidier, were about to give a splendid
ball, and, as fate would have it, a fancy ball, which would require the
purchasing of costumes.

Where would the money come from?

They had been owing a large bill to their dressmaker for over a year.
Would she consent to furnish them dresses on credit? They were ashamed
to ask her.

Madeleine's new maid, Palmyre Chocareille, extricated them from this
difficulty.

This girl, who seemed to have suffered all the minor ills of
life--which, after all, are the hardest to bear--seemed to have divined
her mistress's anxiety.

At any rate, she voluntarily informed Madeleine that a friend of hers,
a first-class dressmaker, had just set up for herself, and would be glad
to furnish materials and make the dresses on credit, for the sake of
obtaining the patronage of Mme. Fauvel and her niece, which would at
once bring her plenty of fashionable customers.

But, after this dilemma was settled, a still greater one presented
itself.

Mme. Fauvel and her niece could not appear at a ball without jewelry;
and every jewel they owned had been taken by Raoul, and pawned.

After thinking the matter over, Madeleine decided to ask Raoul to take
some of the stolen money, and redeem the last set of jewels he had
forced from his mother. She informed her aunt of her intention, and
said, in a tone that admitted of no contradiction:

"Appoint an interview with Raoul: he will not dare to refuse you; and I
will go in your stead."

The next day, the courageous girl took a cab, and, regardless of the
inclement weather, went to Vesinet.

She would have been filled with consternation had she known that M.
Verduret and Prosper were following close behind, and witnessed her
interview from the top of a ladder.

Her bold step was fruitless. Raoul swore that he had divided with
Prosper; that his own half of the money was spent, and that he had not a
napoleon wherewith to redeem anything.

He even refused to give up the pledges; and Madeleine had to resort
to threats of exposure, before she could induce him to surrender the
tickets of four or five trifling articles that were indispensable to
their toilet.

Clameran had ordered him to refuse positively to give up a single
ticket, because he hoped that in their distress they would call upon him
for relief.

The violent altercation witnessed by Clameran's new valet, Joseph
Dubois, had been caused by the exaction of this promise.

The accomplices were at that time on very bad terms. Clameran was
seeking a safe means of getting rid of Raoul; and the young scamp,
having a presentiment of his uncle's intentions, was determined to
outwit him.

Nothing but the certainty of impending danger could reconcile them. The
danger was revealed to them both at the Jandidier ball.

Who was the mysterious mountebank that indulged in such transparent
allusions to Mme. Fauvel's private troubles, and then said, with
threatening significance to Louis: "I was the best friend of your
brother Gaston?"

Who he was, where he came from, they could not imagine; but they
clearly saw that he was a dangerous enemy, and forthwith attempted to
assassinate him upon his leaving the ball.

Having been followed and watched by their would-be victim, they became
alarmed--especially when he suddenly disappeared--and wisely decided
that the safest thing they then could do was to return quietly to their
hotel.

"We cannot be too guarded in our conduct," whispered Clameran; "we must
discover who he is before taking any further steps in this matter."

Once more, Raoul tried to induce him to give up his project of marrying
Madeleine.

"Never!" he exclaimed fiercely, "I will marry her or perish in the
attempt!"

He thought that, now they were warned, the danger of being caught was
lessened; when on his guard, few people could entrap so experienced and
skilful a rogue.

Little did Clameran know that a man who was a hundred-fold more skilful
than he was closely pursuing him.




XXII

THE CATASTROPHE

Such are the facts that, with an almost incredible talent for
investigation, had been collected and prepared by the stout man with the
jovial face who had taken Prosper under his protection, M. Verduret.

Reaching Paris at nine o'clock in the evening, not by the Lyons road
as he had said, but by the Orleans train, M. Verduret hurried up to the
Archangel, where he found the cashier impatiently expecting him.

"You are about to hear some rich developments," he said to Prosper, "and
see how far back into the past one has to seek for the primary cause of
a crime. All things are linked together and dependent upon each other in
this world of ours. If Gaston de Clameran had not entered a little
cafe at Tarascon to play a game of billiards twenty years ago, your
money-safe would not have been robbed three weeks ago.

"Valentine de la Verberie is punished in 1866 for the murder committed
for her sake in 1840. Nothing is neglected or forgotten, when stern
Retribution asserts her sway. Listen."

And he forthwith related all that he had discovered, referring, as he
went along, to a voluminous manuscript which he had prepared, with many
notes and authenticated proofs attached.

During the last week M. Verduret had not had twenty-four hours' rest,
but he bore no traces of fatigue. His iron muscles braved any amount of
labor, and his elastic nature was too well tempered to give way beneath
such pressure.

While any other man would have sunk exhausted in a chair, he stood up
and described, with the enthusiasm and captivating animation peculiar
to him, the minutest details and intricacies of the plot that he had
devoted his whole energy to unravelling; personating every character he
brought upon the scene to take part in the strange drama, so that his
listener was bewildered and dazzled by his brilliant acting.

As Prosper listened to this narrative of events happening twenty years
back, the secret conversations as minutely related as if overheard the
moment they took place, it sounded more like a romance than a statement
of plain facts.

All these ingenious explanations might be logical, but what foundation
did they possess? Might they not be the dreams of an excited
imagination?

M. Verduret did not finish his report until four o'clock in the morning;
then he cried, with an accent of triumph:

"And now they are on their guard, and sharp, wary rascals too: but they
won't escape me; I have cornered them beautifully. Before a week is
over, Prosper, you will be publicly exonerated, and will come out of
this scrape with flying colors. I have promised your father you shall."

"Impossible!" said Prosper in a dazed way, "it cannot be!"

"What?"

"All this you have just told me."

M. Verduret opened wide his eyes, as if he could not understand anyone
having the audacity to doubt the accuracy of _his_ report.

"Impossible, indeed!" he cried. "What! have you not sense enough to see
the plain truth written all over every fact, and attested by the best
authority? Your thick-headedness exasperates me to the last degree."

"But how can such rascalities take place in Paris, in our very midst,
without----"

"Parbleu!" interrupted the fat man, "you are young, my friend! Are you
innocent enough to suppose that crimes, forty times worse than this,
don't occur every day? You think the horrors of the police-court are
the only ones. Pooh! You only read in the _Gazette des Tribunaux_ of the
cruel melodramas of life, where the actors are as cowardly as the knife,
and as treacherous as the poison they use. It is at the family fireside,
often under shelter of the law itself, that the real tragedies of
life are acted; in modern crimes the traitors wear gloves, and cloak
themselves with public position; the victims die, smiling to the last,
without revealing the torture they have endured to the end. Why, what
I have just related to you is an everyday occurrence; and you profess
astonishment."

"I can't help wondering how you discovered all this tissue of crime."

"Ah, that is the point!" said the fat man with a self-satisfied smile.
"When I undertake a task, I devote my whole attention to it. Now, make
a note of this: When a man of ordinary intelligence concentrates his
thoughts and energies upon the attainment of an object, he is certain to
obtain ultimate success. Besides that, I have my own method of working
up a case."

"Still I don't see what grounds you had to go upon."

"To be sure, one needs some light to guide one in a dark affair like
this. But the fire in Clameran's eye at the mention of Gaston's name
ignited my lantern. From that moment I walked straight to the solution
of the mystery, as I would walk to a beacon-light on a dark night."

The eager, questioning look of Prosper showed that he would like to know
the secret of his protector's wonderful penetration, and at the same
time be more thoroughly convinced that what he had heard was all
true--that his innocence would be more clearly proved.

"Now confess," cried M. Verduret, "you would give anything in the world
to find out how I discovered the truth?"

"I certainly would, for it is the darkest of mysteries, marvellous!"

M. Verduret enjoyed Prosper's bewilderment. To be sure, he was neither
a good judge nor a distinguished amateur; but he was an astonished
admirer, and sincere admiration is always flattering, no matter whence
it comes.

"Well," he replied, "I will explain my system. There is nothing
marvellous about it as you will soon see. We worked together to find the
solution of the problem, so you know my reasons for suspecting Clameran
as the prime mover in the robbery. As soon as I had acquired this
certainty, my task was easy. You want to know what I did? I placed
trustworthy people to watch the parties in whom I was most interested.
Joseph Dubois took charge of Clameran, and Nina Gypsy never lost sight
of Mme. Fauvel and her niece."

"I cannot comprehend how Nina ever consented to this service."

"That is my secret," replied M. Verduret. "Having the assistance of good
eyes and quick ears on the spot, I went to Beaucaire to inquire into the
past, so as to link it with what I knew of the present. The next day I
was at Clameran; and the first step I took was to find the son of St.
Jean, the old valet. An honest man he was, too; open and simple as
nature herself; and he made a good bargain in selling me his madder."

"Madder?" said Prosper with a puzzled look; "what did you----"

"Of course I wanted to buy his madder. Of course I did not appear to
him as I do to you now. I was a countryman wanting to buy madder; he
had madder for sale; so we began to bargain about the price. The debate
lasted almost all day, during which time we drank a dozen bottles of
wine. About supper-time, St. Jean was as drunk as a bunghole, and I had
purchased nine hundred francs' worth of madder which your father will
sell to-morrow."

Prosper's astonished countenance made M. Verduret laugh heartily.

"I risked nine hundred francs," he continued, "but thread by thread I
gathered the whole history of the Clamerans, Gaston's love-affair, his
flight, and the stumbling of the horse ridden by Louis. I found also
that about a year ago Louis returned, sold the chateau to a man named
Fougeroux, whose wife, Mihonne, had a secret interview with Louis the
day of the purchase. I went to see Mihonne. Poor woman! her rascally
husband has pounded all the sense out of her; she is almost idiotic. I
told her I came from the Clameran family, and she at once related to me
everything she knew."

The apparent simplicity of this mode of investigation confounded
Prosper. He wondered it had not occurred to him before.

"From that time," continued M. Verduret, "the skein began to
disentangle; I held the principal thread. I now set about finding out
what had become of Gaston. Lafourcade, who is a friend of your father,
informed me that he had bought a foundery, and settled in Oloron, where
he soon after suddenly died. Thirty-six hours later I was at Oloron."

"You are certainly indefatigable!" said Prosper.

"No, but I always strike while the iron is hot. At Oloron I met Manuel,
who had gone there to make a little visit before returning to Spain.
From him I obtained a complete history of Gaston's life, and all the
particulars of his death. Manuel also told me of Louis's visit; and the
inn-keeper described a young workman who was there at the same time,
whom I at once recognized as Raoul."

"But how did you know of all the conversations between the villains?"
said Prosper. "You seem to be aware of their secret thoughts."

"You evidently think I have been drawing upon my imagination. You will
soon see to the contrary," said Verduret good-humoredly. "While I was
at work down there, my aids did not sit with their hands tied together.
Mutually distrustful, Clameran and Raoul preserved all the letters
received from each other. Joseph Dubois copied them, or the important
portions of them, and forwarded them to me. Nina spent her time
listening at all doors under her supervision, and sent me a faithful
report. Finally, I have at the Fauvels another means of investigation
which I will reveal to you later."

"I understand it all now," murmured Prosper.

"And what have you been doing during my absence, my young friend?" asked
M. Verduret; "have you heard any news?"

At this question Prosper turned crimson. But he knew that it would never
do to keep silent about his imprudent step.

"Alas!" he stammered, "I read in a newspaper that Clameran was about to
marry Madeleine; and I acted like a fool."

"What did you do?" inquired Verduret anxiously.

"I wrote an anonymous letter to M. Fauvel, informing him that his wife
was in love with Raoul--"

M. Verduret here brought his clinched fist down upon the little table
near by, with such violence that the thin plank was shivered. His
cheerful face in an instant clouded over.

"What folly!" he exclaimed, "how could you go and ruin everything?"

He arose from his seat, and strode up and down the room, oblivious of
the lodgers below, whose windows shook with every angry stamp of his
foot.

"What made you act so like a child, an idiot, a fool?" he said
indignantly to Prosper.

"Monsieur!"

"Here you are, drowning; an honest man springs into the water to save
you, and just as he approaches the shore you entangle his feet to
prevent him from swimming! What was my last order to you when I left
here?"

"To keep quiet, and not go out of the hotel."

"Well."

The consciousness of having done a foolish thing made Prosper appear
like a frightened school-boy, accused by his teacher of playing truant.

"It was night, monsieur," he hesitatingly said, "and, having a violent
headache, I took a walk along the quay thinking there was no risk in
my entering a cafe; there I picked up a paper, and read the dreadful
announcement."

"Did you not promise to trust everything to me?"

"You were absent, monsieur; and you yourself might have been surprised
by an unexpected--"

"Only fools are ever surprised into committing a piece of folly," cried
M. Verduret impatiently. "To write an anonymous letter! Do you know to
what you expose me? Breaking a sacred promise made to one of the few
persons whom I highly esteem among my fellow-beings. I shall be looked
upon as a liar, a cheat--I who--"

He abruptly stopped, as if afraid to trust himself to speak further;
after calming down a little, he turned to Prosper, and said:

"The best thing we can do is to try and repair the harm you have done.
When and where did you post this idiotic letter?"

"Yesterday evening, at the Rue du Cardinal Lemoine. It hardly reached
the bottom of the box before I regretted having written it."

"You had better have regretted it before dropping it in. What time was
it?"

"About ten o'clock."

"Then your sweet little letter must have reached M. Fauvel with his
early mail; probably he was alone in his study when he read it."

"I know he was: he never goes down to the bank until he has opened his
letters."

"Can you recall the exact terms of your letter? Stop and think, for it
is very important that I should know."

"Oh, it is unnecessary for me to reflect. I remember the letter as if I
had just written it."

And almost verbatim he repeated what he had written.

After attentively listening, M. Verduret sat with a perplexed frown
upon his face, as if trying to discover some means of repairing the harm
done.

"That is an awkward letter," he finally said, "to come from a person
who does not deal in such things. It leaves everything to be understood
without specifying anything; it is vague, jeering, insidious. Repeat it
to me."

Prosper obeyed, and his second version did not vary from the first in a
single word.

"Nothing could be more alarming than that allusion to the cashier," said
the fat man, repeating the words after Prosper. "The question, 'Was it
also he who stole Mme. Fauvel's diamonds?' is simply fearful. What could
be more exasperating than the sarcastic advice, 'In your place, I would
not have any public scandal, but would watch my wife?' The effect of
your letter must have been terrible," he added thoughtfully as he stood
with folded arms looking at poor Prosper. "M. Fauvel is quick-tempered,
is he not?"

"He has a violent temper, when aroused."

"Then the mischief is not irreparable."

"What! do you suppose--"

"I think that an impulsive man is afraid of himself, and seldom carries
out his first angry intentions. That is our chance of salvation. If,
upon the receipt of your bomb-shell, M. Fauvel, unable to restrain
himself, rushed into his wife's room, and cried, 'Where are your
diamonds?' Mme. Fauvel will confess all; and then good-by to our hopes."

"Why would this be disastrous?"

"Because, the moment Mme. Fauvel opens her lips to her husband, our
birds will take flight."

Prosper had never thought of this eventuality.

"Then, again," continued M. Verduret, "it would deeply distress another
person."

"Anyone whom I know?"

"Yes, my friend, and very well too. I should certainly be chagrined to
the last degree, if these two rascals escape, without having obtained
complete satisfaction from them."

"It seems to me that you know how to take care of yourself, and can do
anything you please."

M. Verduret shrugged his shoulders, and said:

"Did you not perceive the gaps in my narrative?"

"I did not."

"That is because you don't know how to listen. In the first place, did
Louis de Clameran poison his brother, or not?"

"Yes; I am sure of it, from what you tell me."

"There you are! You are much more certain, young man, than I am. Your
opinion is mine; but what proof have we? None. I skilfully questioned
Dr. C----. He has not the shadow of suspicion; and Dr. C---- is no
quack; he is a cultivated, observing man of high standing. What poisons
produce the effects described? I know of none; and yet I have studied up
on poisons from Pomerania digitalis to Sauvresy aconite."

"The death took place so opportunely----"

"That anybody would be convinced of foul play. That is true; but chance
is sometimes a wonderful accomplice in crime. In the second place, I
know nothing of Raoul's antecedents."

"Is information on that point necessary?"

"Indispensable, my friend; but we will soon know something. I have sent
off one of my men--excuse me, I mean one of my friends--who is very
expert and adroit, M. Palot; and he writes that he is on the track. I am
interested in the history of this sentimental, sceptical young rascal. I
have an idea that he must have been a brave, honest sort of youth before
Clameran ruined him."

Prosper was no longer listening.

M. Verduret's words had inspired him with confidence. Already he saw
the guilty men arraigned before the bar of justice; and enjoyed, in
anticipation, this assize-court drama, where he would be publicly
exonerated and restored to position.

Then he would seek Madeleine; for now he understood her strange conduct
at the dressmaker's, and knew that she had never ceased to love him.

This certainty of future happiness restored all the self-possession that
had deserted him the day he found the safe robbed. For the first time he
was astonished at the peculiarity of his situation.

Prosper had at first only been surprised at the protection of M.
Verduret and the extent of his investigations: now he asked himself,
what could have been his motives for acting thus?

What price did he expect for this sacrifice of time and labor?

His anxiety made him say nervously:

"It is unjust to us both, monsieur, for you to preserve your incognito
any longer. When you have saved the honor and life of a man, you should
at least let him know whom he is to thank for it."

"Oh!" said M. Verduret smilingly, "you are not out of the woods yet. You
are not married either: so you must wait a little longer; patience and
faith."

The clock struck six.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed M. Verduret. "Can it be six o'clock? I did
hope to have a good night's rest, but I must keep on moving. This is no
time to be asleep."

He went into the passage, and, leaning over the balusters, called, "Mme.
Alexandre! I say, Mme. Alexandre!"

The hostess of the Archangel, the portly wife of Fanferlot the Squirrel,
evidently had not been to bed. This fact struck Prosper.

She appeared, obsequious, smiling, and eager to please.

"What can I do for you, gentlemen?" she inquired.

"You can send your--Joseph Dubois and Palmyre to me as soon as possible.
Let me know when they arrive. I will rest a few minutes, and you can
awake me when they come."

As soon as Mme. Alexandre left the room, the fat man unceremoniously
threw himself on the bed.

"You have no objections, I suppose?" he said to Prosper.

In five minutes he was fast asleep; and Prosper sat by the bed watching
him with a perplexed gaze, wondering who this strange man could be.

About nine o'clock someone tapped timidly at the door.

Slight as the noise was, it aroused M. Verduret, who sprang up, and
called out:

"Who is it?"

Prosper arose and opened the door.

Joseph Dubois, the valet of the Marquis of Clameran, entered.

This important assistant of M. Verduret was breathless from fast
running; and his little rat eyes were more restless than ever.

"Well, patron, I am glad to see you once more," he cried. "Now you can
tell me what to do; I have been perfectly lost during your absence, and
have felt like a jumping monkey with a broken string.

"What! did you get frightened too?"

"Bless me! I think I had cause for alarm when I could not find you
anywhere. Yesterday afternoon I sent you three despatches, to the
addresses you gave me, Lyons, Beaucaire, and Oloron, but received no
answer. I was almost crazy with anxiety when your message reached me
just now."

"Things are getting hot, then."

"Hot! They are burning! The place is too warm to hold me any longer;
upon my soul, I can't stand it!"

M. Verduret occupied himself in repairing his toilet, become disarranged
by lying down.

When he had finished, he threw himself in an easy-chair, and said to
Joseph Dubois, who remained respectfully standing, cap in hand, like a
soldier awaiting orders:

"Explain yourself, my boy, and quickly, if you please; no
circumlocution."

"It is just this, patron. I don't know what your plans are, or what line
you are taking now; but I can just tell you this: that you will have to
wind up the affair pretty quickly."

"That is your opinion, Master Joseph?"

"Yes, patron, because if you wait any longer, good-by to our covey: you
will certainly find an empty cage, and the birds flown. You smile? Yes,
I know you are clever, and can accomplish anything; but they are cunning
blades, and as slippery as eels. They know that they are watched, too."

"The devil they do!" cried M. Verduret. "Who has been committing
blunders?"

"Oh! nobody has done anything wrong," replied Joseph. "You know, patron,
that they suspected something long ago. They gave you a proof of it, the
night of the fancy ball; that ugly cut on your arm was the beginning.
Ever since, they have had one eye open all the time. They had begun to
feel easier, when all of a sudden, yesterday, _ma foi_, they began to
smell a rat!"

"Was that the cause of your telegrams?"

"Of course. Now listen: yesterday morning when my master got up, about
ten o'clock, he took it into his head to arrange the papers in his desk;
which, by the way, has a disgusting lock which has given me a deal of
trouble. Meanwhile, I pretended to be fixing the fire, so as to remain
in the room to watch him. Patron, the man has an eye like a Yankee! At
the first glance he saw, or rather divined, that his papers had been
meddled with, he turned livid, and swore an oath; Lord, what an oath!"

"Never mind the oath; go on."

"Well, how he discovered the little attentions I had devoted to
his letters, I can't imagine. You know how careful I am. I had put
everything in perfect order; just as I found things I left them, when,
lo and behold! my noble marquis picks up each paper, one at a time,
turns it over, and smells it. I was just thinking I would offer him a
magnifying-glass, when all of a sudden he sprang up, and with one kick
sent his chair across the room, and flew at me with his eyes flashing
like two pistols. 'Somebody has been at my papers,' he shrieked; 'this
letter has been photographed!' B-r-r-r! I am not a coward, but I can
tell you that my heart stood perfectly still; I saw myself as dead
as Caesar, cut into mince-meat; and says I to myself, 'Fanfer--excuse
me--Dubois, my friend, you are lost, dead;' and I thought of Mme.
Alexandre."

M. Verduret was buried in thought, and paid no attention to the worthy
Joseph's analysis of his personal sensations.

"What happened next?" said Verduret after a few minutes.

"Why, he was just as frightened as I was, patron. The rascal did not
even dare to touch me. To be sure, I had taken the precaution to get out
of his reach; we talked with a large table between us. While wondering
what could have enabled him to discover the secret, I defended myself
with virtuous indignation. I said:

"'It cannot be; M. le marquis is mistaken. Who would dare touch his
papers?'

"Bast! Instead of listening to me, he flourished an open letter, and
said:

"'This letter has been photographed! here is proof of it!' and he
pointed to a little yellow spot on the paper, shrieking out, 'Look!
Smell! Smell it, you devil! It is--' I forget the name he called it, but
some acid used by photographers."

"I know, I know," said M. Verduret; "go on; what next?"

"Then, patron, we had a scene; what a scene! He ended by seizing me by
the throat, and shaking me like a plum-tree, saying he would shake me
until I told him who I was, what I knew, and where I came from. As if I
knew, myself! I was obliged to account for every minute of my time
since I had been in his service. The devil was worse than a judge of
instruction, in his questions. Then he sent for the hotel porter,
who had charge of the front door, and questioned him closely, but in
English, so that I could not understand. After a while, he cooled down,
and when the boy was gone, presented me with twenty francs, saying, 'I
am sorry I was so sharp with you; you are too stupid to have been guilty
of the offence.'"

"He said that, did he?"

"He used those very words to my face, patron."

"And you think he meant what he said?"

"Certainly I do."

The fat man smiled, and whistled a little tune expressive of contempt.

"If you think that," he said, "Clameran was right in his estimate of
your brilliancy."

It was easy to see that Joseph Dubois was anxious to hear his patron's
grounds for considering him stupid, but dared not ask.

"I suppose I am stupid, if you think so," said poor Fanferlot humbly.
"Well, after he had done blustering about the letters, M. le marquis
dressed, and went out. He did not want his carriage, but I saw him hire
a cab at the hotel door. I thought he had perhaps disappeared forever;
but I was mistaken. About five o'clock he returned as gay as a
bull-finch. During his absence, I had telegraphed to you."

"What! did you not follow him?"

"I stayed on the spot in case of his return; but one of our friends kept
watch on him, and this friend gave me a report of my dandy's movements.
First he went to a broker's, then to the bank and discount office: so he
must be collecting his money to take a little trip."

"Is that all he did?"

"That is all, patron. But I must tell you how the rascals tried to shut
up, 'administratively,' you understand, Mlle. Palmyre. Fortunately you
had anticipated something of the kind, and given orders to watch over
her safety. But for you, she would now be in prison."

Joseph looked up to the ceiling by way of trying to remember something
more. Finding nothing there, he said:

"That is all. I rather think M. Patrigent will rub his hands with
delight when I carry him my report. He did not expect to see me any
more, and has no idea of the facts I have collected to swell the size of
his FILE 113."

There was a long silence. Joseph was right in supposing that the crisis
had come. M. Verduret was arranging his plan of battle while waiting
for the report of Nina--now Palmyre, upon which depended his point of
attack.

But Joseph Dubois began to grow restless and uneasy.

"What must I do now, patron?" he asked.

"Return to the hotel; probably your master had noticed your absence; but
he will say nothing about it, so continue--"

Here M. Verduret was interrupted by an exclamation from Prosper, who was
standing near a window.

"What is the matter?" he inquired.

"There is Clameran!" cried Prosper, "over there."

M. Verduret and Joseph ran to the window.

"Where is he?" said Joseph, "I don't see him."

"There, at the corner of the bridge, behind that orange-woman's stall."

Prosper was right. It was the noble Marquis of Clameran, who, hid behind
the stall, was watching for his servant to come out of the Archangel.

At first the quick-sighted Verduret had some doubts whether it was the
marquis, who, being skilled in these hazardous expeditions, managed to
conceal himself behind a pillar so as to elude detection.

But a moment came, when, elbowed by the pressing crowd, he was obliged
to come out on the pavement in full view of the window.

"Now don't you see I was right!" cried the cashier.

"Well," said the amazed Joseph, "I am amazed!"

M. Verduret seemed not in the least surprised, but quietly said:

"The game needs hunting. Well, Joseph, my boy, do you still think that
your noble master was duped by your acting injured innocence?"

"You assured me to the contrary, patron," said Joseph in an humble tone;
"and your opinion is more convincing than all the proofs in the world."

"This pretended outburst of rage was premeditated on the part of your
noble master. Knowing that he is being tracked, he naturally wishes to
discover who his adversaries are. You can imagine how uncomfortable he
must be at this uncertainty. Perhaps he thinks his pursuers are some of
his old accomplices, who, being starved, want a piece of his cake. He
will remain there until you come out: then he will come in to find out
who you are."

"But, patron, I can go home without his seeing me."

"Yes, I know. You will climb the little wall separating the Archangel
from the wine-merchant's yard, and keep along the stationer's area,
until you reach the Rue de la Huchette."

Poor Joseph looked as if he had just received a bucket of ice-water upon
his head.

"Exactly the way I was going, patron," he gasped out. "I heard that you
knew every plank and door of all the houses in Paris, and it certainly
must be so."

The fat man made no reply to Joseph's admiring remarks. He was thinking
how he could catch Clameran.

As to the cashier, he listened wonderingly, watching these strangers,
who seemed determined to reinstate him in public opinion, and punish his
enemies, while he himself stood by powerless and bewildered. What their
motives for befriending him could be, he vainly tried to discover.

"I will tell you what I can do," said Joseph after deep thought.

"What is it?"

"I can innocently walk out of the front door, and loaf along the street
until I reach the Hotel du Louvre."

"And then?"

"Dame! Clameran will come in and question Mme. Alexandre, whom you can
instruct beforehand; and she is smart enough to put any sharper off the
track."

"Bad plan!" pronounced M. Verduret decidedly; "a scamp so compromised
as Clameran is not easily put off the track; now his eyes are opened, he
will be pretty hard to catch."

Suddenly, in a brief tone of authority which admitted of no
contradiction, the fat man said:

"I have a way. Has Clameran, since he found that his papers had been
searched, seen Lagors?"

"No, patron."

"Perhaps he has written to him?"

"I'll bet you my head he has not. Having your orders to watch his
correspondence, I invented a little system which informs me every time
he touches a pen; during the last twenty-four hours the pens have not
been touched."

"Clameran went out yesterday."

"But the man who followed him says he wrote nothing on the way."

"Then we have time yet!" cried Verduret. "Hurry! Hurry! I give you
fifteen minutes to make yourself a head; you know the sort; I will watch
the rascal until you come up."

The delighted Joseph disappeared in a twinkling; while Prosper and M.
Verduret remained at the window observing Clameran, who, according to
the movements of the crowd, was sometimes lost to sight, and sometimes
just in front of the window, but was evidently determined not to quit
his post until he had obtained the information he sought.

"Why do you devote yourself exclusively to the marquis?" asked Prosper.

"Because, my friend," replied M. Verduret, "because--that is my
business, and not yours."

Joseph Dubois had been granted a quarter of an hour in which to
metamorphose himself; before ten minutes had elapsed he reappeared.

The dandified coachman with Bergami whiskers, red vest, and foppish
manners, was replaced by a sinister-looking individual, whose very
appearance was enough to scare any rogue.

His black cravat twisted around a paper collar, and ornamented by an
imitation diamond pin; his long-tailed black boots and heavy cane,
revealed the employee of the Rue de Jerusalem, as plainly as the
shoulder-straps mark a soldier.

Joseph Dubois had vanished forever; and from his livery, phoenix-like
and triumphant, arose the radiant Fanferlot, surnamed the Squirrel.

When Fanferlot entered the room, Prosper uttered a cry of surprise and
almost fright.

He recognized the man who had assisted the commissary of police to
examine the bank on the day of the robbery.

M. Verduret examined his aide with a satisfied look, and said:

"Not bad! There is enough of the police-court air about you to alarm
even an honest man. You understood me perfectly this time."

Fanferlot was transported with delight at this compliment.

"What must I do now, patron?" he inquired.

"Nothing difficult for an adroit man: but remember, upon the precision
of our movements depends the success of my plan. Before arresting
Lagors, I wish to dispose of Clameran. Now that the rascals are
separated, the first thing to do is to prevent their coming together."

"I understand," said Fanferlot, snapping his little rat-like eyes; "I am
to create a diversion."

"Exactly. Go out by the Rue de la Huchette, and hasten to St. Michel's
bridge; loaf along the bank, and finally sit on the steps of the quay,
so that Clameran may know he is being watched. If he doesn't see you, do
something to attract his attention."

"Parbleu! I will throw a stone into the water," said Fanferlot, rubbing
his hands with delight at his own brilliant idea.

"As soon as Clameran has seen you," continued M. Verduret, "he will be
alarmed, and instantly decamp. Knowing there are reasons why the police
should be after him, he will hasten to escape you; then comes the time
for you to keep wide awake; he is a slippery eel, and cunning as a rat."

"I know all that; I was not born yesterday."

"So much the better. You can convince him of that. Well, knowing you
are at his heels, he will not dare to return to the Hotel du Louvre,
for fear of being called on by troublesome visitors. Now, it is very
important that he should not return to the hotel."

"But suppose he does?" said Fanferlot.

M. Verduret thought for a minute, and then said:

"It is not probable that he will do so; but if he should, you must wait
until he comes out again, and continue to follow him. But he won't enter
the hotel; very likely he will take the cars: but in that event don't
lose sight of him, no matter if you have to follow him to Siberia. Have
you money with you?"

"I will get some from Mme. Alexandre."

"Very good. Ah! one more word. If the rascal takes the cars, send
me word. If he beats about the bush until night, be on your guard,
especially in lonely places; the desperado is capable of any enormity."

"If necessary, must I fire?"

"Don't be rash; but, if he attacks you, of course defend yourself. Come,
'tis time you were gone."

Dubois-Fanferlot went out. Verduret and Prosper resumed their post of
observation.

"Why all this secrecy?" inquired Prosper. "Clameran is charged with ten
times worse crimes than I was ever accused of, and yet my disgrace was
made as public as possible."

"Don't you understand," replied the fat man, "that I wish to separate
the cause of Raoul from that of the marquis? But, sh! look!"

Clameran had left his place near the orange-woman's stand, and
approached the bridge, where he seemed to be trying to make out some
unexpected object.

"Ah!" said M. Verduret; "he has just discovered our man."

Clameran's uneasiness was quite apparent; he walked forward a few steps,
as if intending to cross the bridge; then, suddenly turning around,
rapidly walked in the direction of the Rue St. Jacques.

"He is caught!" cried M. Verduret with delight.

At that moment the door opened, and Mme. Nina Gypsy, _alias_ Palmyre
Chocareille, entered.

Poor Nina! Each day spent in the service of Madeleine seemed to have
aged her a year.

Tears had dimmed the brilliancy of her beautiful black eyes; her rosy
cheeks were pale and hollow, and her merry smile was quite gone.

Poor Gypsy, once so gay and spirited, now crushed beneath the burden of
her sorrows, was the picture of misery.

Prosper thought that, wild with joy at seeing him, and proud of having
so nobly devoted herself to his interest, Nina would throw her arms
around his neck, and say how much she loved him. To his surprise, Nina
scarcely spoke to him. Although his every thought had been devoted to
Madeleine since he discovered the reasons for her cruelty, he was hurt
by Nina's cold manner.

The girl stood looking at M. Verduret with a mixture of fear and
devotion, like a poor dog that has been cruelly treated by its master.

He, however, was kind and gentle in his manner toward her.

"Well, my dear," he said encouragingly, "what news do you bring me?"

"Something is going on at the house, monsieur, and I have been trying
to get here to tell you; at last, Mlle. Madeleine made an excuse for
sending me out."

"You must thank Mlle. Madeleine for her confidence in me. I suppose she
carried out the plan we decided upon?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"She receives the Marquis of Clameran's visits?"

"Since the marriage has been decided upon, he comes every day, and
mademoiselle receives him with kindness. He seems to be delighted."

These answers filled Prosper with anger and alarm. The poor young man,
not comprehending the intricate moves of M. Verduret, felt as if he
were being tossed about from pillar to post, and made the tool and
laughing-stock of everybody.

"What!" he cried; "this worthless Marquis of Clameran, an assassin and
a thief, allowed to visit at M. Fauvel's, and pay his addresses to
Madeleine? Where are the promises, monsieur, which you have made? Have
you merely been amusing yourself by raising my hopes, to dash them--"

"Enough!" interrupted M. Verduret harshly; "you are too green to
understand anything, my friend. If you are incapable of helping
yourself, at least have sense enough to refrain from importuning
those who are working for you. Do you not think you have already done
sufficient mischief?"

Having administered this rebuke, he turned to Gypsy, and said in softer
tones:

"Go on, my child: what have you discovered?"

"Nothing positive, monsieur; but enough to make me nervous, and fearful
of impending danger. I am not certain, but suspect from appearances,
that some dreadful catastrophe is about to happen. It may only be a
presentiment. I cannot get any information from Mme. Fauvel; she refuses
to answer any hints, and moves about like a ghost, never opening her
lips. She seems to be afraid of her niece, and to be trying to conceal
something from her."

"What about M. Fauvel?"

"I was just about to tell you, monsieur. Some fearful misfortune has
happened to him, you may depend upon it. He wanders about as if he had
lost his mind. Something certainly occurred yesterday; his voice even
is changed. He is so harsh and irritable that mademoiselle and M. Lucien
were wondering what could be the matter with him. He seems to be on the
eve of giving way to a burst of anger; and there is a wild, strange look
about his eyes, especially when he looks at madame. Yesterday evening,
when M. de Clameran was announced, he jumped up, and hurried out of the
room, saying that he had some work to do in his study."

A triumphant exclamation from M. Verduret interrupted Mme. Gypsy. He was
radiant.

"Hein!" he said to Prosper, forgetting his bad humor of a few minutes
before; "Hein! What did I tell you?"

"He has evidently----"

"Been afraid to give way to his first impulse; of course he has. He is
now seeking for proofs of your assertions. He must have them by this
time. Did the ladies go out yesterday?"

"Yes, a part of the day."

"What became of M. Fauvel?"

"The ladies took me with them; we left M. Fauvel at home."

"Not a doubt of it!" cried the fat man; "he looked for proofs, and found
them, too! Your letter told him exactly where to go. Ah, Prosper, that
unfortunate letter gives more trouble than everything else together."

These words seemed to throw a sudden light on Mme. Gypsy's mind.

"I understand it now!" she exclaimed. "M. Fauvel knows everything."

"That is, he thinks he knows everything; and what he has been led to
fear, and thinks he has discovered, is worse than the true state of
affairs."

"That accounts for the order which M. Cavaillon overheard him give to
his servant-man, Evariste."

"What order?"

"He told Evariste to bring every letter that came to the house, no
matter to whom addressed, into his study, and hand them to him; saying
that, if this order was disobeyed, he should be instantly discharged."

"At what time was this order given?" asked M. Verduret.

"Yesterday afternoon."

"That is what I was afraid of," cried M. Verduret. "He has clearly made
up his mind what course to pursue, and is keeping quiet so as to
make his vengeance more sure. The question is, Have we still time to
counteract his projects? Have we time to convince him that the anonymous
letter was incorrect in some of its assertions?"

He tried to hit upon some plan for repairing the damage done by
Prosper's foolish letter.

"Thank you for your information, my dear child," he said after a long
silence. "I will decide at once what steps to take, for it will never
do to sit quietly and let things go on in this way. Return home without
delay, and be careful of everything you say and do; for M. Fauvel
suspects you of being in the plot. Send me word of anything that
happens, no matter how insignificant it may be."

Nina, thus dismissed, did not move, but said timidly:

"What about Caldas, monsieur?"

This was the third time during the last fortnight that Prosper had heard
this name, Caldas.

The first time it had been whispered in his ear by a
respectable-looking, middle-aged man, who offered his protection one
day, when passing through the police-office passage.

The second time, the judge of instruction had mentioned it in connection
with Gypsy's history.

Prosper thought over all the men he had ever been connected with, but
could recall none named Caldas.

The impassable M. Verduret started and trembled at the mention of this
name, but, quickly recovering himself, said:

"I promised to find him for you, and I will keep my promise. Now you
must go; good-morning."

It was twelve o'clock, and M. Verduret suddenly remembered that he
was hungry. He called Mme. Alexandre, and the beaming hostess of the
Archangel soon placed a tempting breakfast before Prosper and his
friend.

But the savory broiled oysters and flaky biscuit failed to smooth the
perplexed brow of M. Verduret.

To the eager questions and complimentary remarks of Mme. Alexandre, he
answered:

"Chut, chut! let me alone; keep quiet."

For the first time since he had known the fat man, Prosper saw him
betray anxiety and hesitation.

He remained silent as long as he could, and then uneasily said:

"I am afraid I have embarrassed you very much, monsieur."

"Yes, you have dreadfully embarrassed me," replied M. Verduret. "What on
earth to do now, I don't know! Shall I hasten matters, or keep quiet and
wait for the next move? And I am bound by a sacred promise. Come, we had
better go and advise with the judge of instruction. He can assist me.
Come with me; let us hurry."




XXIII

As M. Verduret had anticipated, Prosper's letter had a terrible effect
upon M. Fauvel.

It was toward nine o'clock in the morning, and M. Fauvel had just
entered his study when his mail was brought in.

After opening a dozen business letters, his eyes fell on the fatal
missive sent by Prosper.

Something about the writing struck him as peculiar.

It was evidently a disguised hand, and although, owing to the fact of
his being a millionnaire, he was in the habit of receiving anonymous
communications, sometimes abusive, but generally begging him for money,
this particular letter filled him with an indefinite presentiment of
evil. A cold chill ran through his heart, and he dreaded to open it.

With absolute certainty that he was about to learn of a new calamity,
he broke the seal, and opening the coarse cafe paper, was shocked by the
following words:


"DEAR SIR--You have handed your cashier over to the law, and you acted
properly, convinced as you were of his dishonesty.

"But if it was he who took three hundred and fifty thousand francs from
your safe, was it he also who took Mme. Fauvel's diamonds?"


This was a terrible blow to a man whose life hitherto had been an
unbroken chain of prosperity, who could recall the past without one
bitter regret, without remembering any sorrow deep enough to bring forth
a tear.

What! His wife deceive him! And among all men, to choose one vile enough
to rob her of her jewels, and force her to be his accomplice in the ruin
of an innocent young man!

For did not the letter before him assert this to be a fact, and tell him
how to convince himself of its truth?

M. Fauvel was as bewildered as if he had been knocked on the head with a
club. It was impossible for his scattered ideas to take in the enormity
of what these dreadful words intimated. He seemed to be mentally and
physically paralyzed, as he sat there staring blankly at the letter.

But this stupefaction suddenly changed to indignant rage.

"What a fool I am!" he cried, "to listen to such base lies, such
malicious charges against the purest woman whom God ever sent to bless a
man!"

And he angrily crumpled up the letter, and threw it into the empty
fireplace, saying:

"I will forget having read it. I will not soil my mind by letting it
dwell upon such turpitude!"

He said this, and he thought it; but, for all that, he could not open
the rest of his letters. The anonymous missive stood before his eyes in
letters of fire, and drove every other thought from his mind.

That penetrating, clinging, all-corroding worm, suspicion, had taken
possession of his soul; and as he leaned over his desk, with his
face buried in his hands, thinking over many things which had lately
occurred, insignificant at the time, but fearfully ominous now, this
unwillingly admitted germ of suspicion grew and expanded until it became
certainty.

But, resolved that he would not think of his wife in connection with so
vile a deed, he imagined a thousand wild excuses for the mischief-maker
who took this mode of annoying him; of course there was no truth in his
assertions, but from curiosity he would like to know who had written it.
And yet suppose----

"Merciful God! can it be true?" he wildly cried, as the idea of his
wife's guilt would obstinately return to his troubled mind.

Thinking that the writing might throw some light on the mystery, he
started up and tremblingly picked the fatal letter out of the ashes.
Carefully smoothing it out, he laid it on his desk, and studied the
heavy strokes, light strokes, and capitals of every word.

"It must be from some of my clerks," he finally said, "someone who is
angry with me for refusing to raise his salary; or perhaps it is the one
that I dismissed the other day."

Clinging to this idea, he thought over all the young men in his
bank; but not one could he believe capable of resorting to so base a
vengeance.

Then he wondered where the letter had been posted, thinking this might
throw some light upon the mystery. He looked at the envelope, and read
the post-mark:

"Rue du Cardinal Lemoine."

This fact told him nothing.

Once more he read the letter, spelling over each word, and trying to put
a different construction on the horrible phrases that stared him in the
face.

It is generally agreed that an anonymous letter should be treated with
silent contempt, and cast aside as the malicious lies of a coward who
dares not say to a man's face what he secretly commits to paper, and
forces upon him.

This is all very well in theory, but is difficult to practise when
the anonymous letter comes. You throw it in the fire, it burns; but,
although the paper is destroyed by the flames, doubt remains. Suspicion
arises from its ashes, like a subtle poison penetrates the inmost
recesses of the mind, weakens its holiest beliefs, and destroys its
faith.

The trail of the serpent is left.

The wife suspected, no matter how unjustly, is no longer the wife in
whom her husband trusted as he would trust himself: the pure being who
was above suspicion no longer exists. Suspicion, no matter whence the
source, has irrevocably tarnished the brightness of his idol.

Unable to struggle any longer against these conflicting doubts, M.
Fauvel determined to resolve them by showing the letter to his wife; but
a torturing thought, more terrible than any he had yet suffered, made
him sink back in his chair in despair.

"Suppose it be true!" he muttered to himself; "suppose I have been
miserably duped! By confiding in my wife, I shall put her on her guard,
and lose all chance of discovering the truth."

Thus were realized all Verduret's presumptions.

He had said, "If M. Fauvel does not yield to his first impulse, if he
stops to reflect, we have time to repair the harm done."

After long and painful meditation, the banker finally decided to wait,
and watch his wife.

It was a hard struggle for a man of his frank, upright nature, to play
the part of a domestic spy, and jealous husband.

Accustomed to give way to sudden bursts of anger, but quickly mastering
them, he would find it difficult to be compelled to preserve his
self-restraint, no matter how dreadful the discoveries might be. When
he collected the proofs of guilt one by one, he must impose silence upon
his resentment, until fully assured of possessing certain evidence.

There was one simple means of ascertaining whether the diamonds had been
pawned.

If the letter lied in this instance, he would treat it with the scorn it
deserved. If, on the other hand, it should prove to be true!

At this moment, the servant announced breakfast; and M. Fauvel looked
in the glass before leaving his study, to see if his face betrayed
the emotion he felt. He was shocked at the haggard features which it
reflected.

"Have I no nerve?" he said to himself: "oh! I must and shall control my
feelings until I find out the truth."

At table he talked incessantly, so as to escape any questions from his
wife, who, he saw, was uneasy at the sight of his pale face.

But, all the time he was talking, he was casting over in his mind
expedients of getting his wife out of the house long enough for him to
search her bureau.

At last he asked Mme. Fauvel if she were going out before dinner.

"Yes," said she: "the weather is dreadful, but Madeleine and I must do
some shopping."

"At what time shall you go?"

"Immediately after breakfast."

He drew a long breath as if relieved of a great weight.

In a short time he would know the truth.

His uncertainty was so torturing to the unhappy man that he preferred
the most dreadful reality to his present agony.

Breakfast over, he lighted a cigar, but did not remain in the
dining-room to smoke it, as was his habit. He went into his study to try
and compose his nerves.

He took the precaution to send Lucien on a message so as to be alone in
the house.

After the lapse of half an hour, he heard the carriage roll away with
his wife and niece.

Hurrying into Mme. Fauvel's room, he opened the drawer of the
chiffonnier, where she kept her jewels.

The last dozen or more leather and velvet boxes, containing superb sets
of jewelry which he had presented to her, were gone!

Twelve boxes remained. He nervously opened them.

They were all empty!

The anonymous letter had told the truth.

"Oh, it cannot be!" he gasped in broken tones. "Oh, no, no!"

He wildly pulled open every drawer in the vain hope of finding them
packed away. Perhaps she kept them elsewhere.

He tried to hope that she had sent them to be reset; but no, they were
all superbly set in the latest fashion; and, moreover, she never would
have sent them all at once. He looked again.

Nothing! not one jewel could he find.

He remembered that he had asked his wife at the Jandidier ball why she
did not wear her diamonds; and she had replied with a smile:

"Oh! what is the use? Everybody knows them so well; and, besides, they
don't suit my costume."

Yes, she had made the answer without blushing, without showing the
slightest sign of agitation or shame.

What hardened impudence! What base hypocrisy concealed beneath an
innocent, confiding manner!

And she had been thus deceiving him for twenty years! But suddenly a
gleam of hope penetrated his confused mind--slight, barely possible;
still a straw to cling to:

"Perhaps Valentine has put her diamonds in Madeleine's room."

Without stopping to consider the indelicacy of what he was about to do,
he hurried into the young girl's room, and pulled open one drawer after
another. What did he find?

Not Mme. Fauvel's diamonds; but Madeleine's seven or eight boxes also
empty.

Great heavens! Was this gentle girl, whom he had treated as a daughter,
an accomplice in this deed of shame? Had she contributed her jewelry to
add to the disgrace of the roof that sheltered her?

This last blow was almost too much for the miserable man. He sank almost
lifeless into a chair, and wringing his hands, groaned over the wreck of
his happiness. Was this the happy future to which he had looked forward?
Was the fabric of his honor, well-being, and domestic bliss, to be
dashed to the earth and forever lost in a day? Were his twenty years'
labor and high-standing to end thus in shame and sorrow?

Apparently nothing was changed in his existence; he was not materially
injured; he could not reach forth his hand, and heal or revenge the
smarting wound; the objects around him were unchanged; everything went
on in the outside world just as it had gone on during the last twenty
years; and yet what a horrible change had taken place in his own heart!
While the world envied his prosperity and happiness, here he sat, more
heartsore and wearied of life than the worst criminal that ever stood
before the inquisition.

What! Valentine, the pure young girl whom he had loved and married in
spite of her poverty, in spite of her cold offering of calm affection in
return for his passionate devotion; Valentine, the tender, loving wife,
who, before a year of married life had rolled by, so often assured
him that her affection had grown into a deep, confiding love, that her
devotion had grown stronger every day, and that her only prayer was that
God would take them both together, since life would be a burden without
her noble husband to shield and cherish her--could she have been acting
a lie for twenty years?

She, the darling wife, the mother of his sons!

His sons? Good God! Were they his sons?

If she could deceive him now when she was silver-haired, had she not
deceived him when she was young?

Not only did he suffer in the present, but the uncertainty of the past
tortured his soul.

He was like a man who is told that the exquisite wine he has drank
contains poison.

Confidence is never half-way: it is, or it is not. His confidence was
gone. His faith was dead.

The wretched banker had rested his every hope and happiness on the
love of his wife. Believing that she had proved faithless, that she had
played him false, and was unworthy of trust, he admitted no
possibility of peaceful joy, and felt tempted to seek consolation from
self-destruction. What had he to live for now, save to mourn over the
ashes of the past?

But this dejection did not last long. Indignant anger, and thirst for
vengeance, made him start up and swear that he would lose no time in
vain regrets.

M. Fauvel well knew that the fact of the diamonds being stolen was not
sufficient ground upon which to bring an accusation against any of the
accomplices.

He must possess overwhelming proofs before taking any active steps.
Success depended upon present secrecy.

He began by calling his valet, and ordering him to bring to him every
letter that should come to the house.

He then wrote to a notary at St. Remy, for minute and authentic
information about the Lagors family, and especially about Raoul.

Finally, following the advice of the anonymous letter, he went to the
Prefecture of Police, hoping to obtain a biography of Clameran.

But the police, fortunately for many people, are as discreetly silent as
the grave. They guard their secrets as a miser his treasure.

Nothing but an order from the chief judge could open those formidable
green boxes, and reveal their secrets.

M. Fauvel was politely asked what motives urged him to inquire into the
past life of a French citizen; and, as he declined to state his reasons,
the chief of police told him he had better apply to the Procureur for
the desired information.

This advice he could not follow. He had sworn that the secret of his
wrongs should be confined to the three persons interested. He chose to
avenge his own injuries, to be alone the judge and executioner.

He returned home more angry than ever; there he found the despatch
answering the one which he had sent to St. Remy. It was as follows:


"The Lagors are very poor, and there has never been any member of the
family named Raoul. Mme. Lagors had no son, only two daughters."


This information dashed his last hope.

The banker thought, when he discovered his wife's infamy, that she
had sinned as deeply as a woman could sin; but he now saw that she had
practised a system more shocking than the crime itself.

"Wretched creature!" he cried with anguish; "in order to see her lover
constantly, she dared introduce him to me under the name of a nephew who
never existed. She had the shameless courage to bring him beneath her
husband's roof, and seat him at my fireside, between my sons; and I,
confiding fool that I was, welcomed the villain, and lent him money."

Nothing could equal the pain of wounded pride and mortification which he
suffered at the thought that Raoul and Mme. Fauvel had amused themselves
with his good-natured credulity and obtuseness.

Nothing but death could wipe out an injury of this nature. But the very
bitterness of his resentment enabled him to restrain himself until the
time for punishment came. With grim satisfaction he promised himself
that his acting would be as successful as theirs.

That day he succeeded in concealing his agitation, and kept up a flow of
talk at dinner; but at about nine o'clock, when Clameran called on the
ladies, he rushed from the house, for fear that he would be unable to
control his indignation at the sight of this destroyer of his happiness;
and did not return home until late in the night.

The next day he reaped the fruit of his prudence.

Among the letters which his valet brought him at noon, was one bearing
the post-mark of Vesinet.

He carefully opened the envelope, and read:


"DEAR AUNT--It is imperatively necessary for me to see you to-day; so do
not fail to come to Vesinet.

"I will explain why I give you this trouble, instead of calling at your
house.

"RAOUL."


"I have them now!" cried M. Fauvel trembling with satisfaction at the
near prospect of vengeance.

Eager to lose no time, he opened a drawer, took out a revolver, and
examined the hammer to see if it worked easily.

He imagined himself alone, but a vigilant eye was watching his
movements. Gypsy, immediately upon her return from the Archangel,
stationed herself at the key-hole of the study-door, and saw all that
occurred.

M. Fauvel laid the pistol on the mantel-piece, and nervously resealed
the letter, which he then took to the box where the letters were usually
left, not wishing anyone to know that Raoul's letter had passed through
his hands.

He was only absent two minutes, but, inspired by the imminence of the
danger, Gypsy darted into the study, and rapidly extracted the balls
from the revolver.

"Thank Heaven!" she murmured: "this peril is averted, and M. Verduret
will now perhaps have time to prevent a murder. I must send Cavaillon to
tell him."

She hurried into the bank, and sent the clerk with a message, telling
him to leave it with Mme. Alexandre, if M. Verduret had left the hotel.

An hour later, Mme. Fauvel ordered her carriage, and went out.

M. Fauvel jumped into a hackney-coach, and followed her.

"God grant that M. Verduret may reach there in time!" cried Nina to
herself, "otherwise Mme. Fauvel and Raoul are lost."




XXIV

The moment that the Marquis of Clameran perceived that Raoul de Lagors
was the only obstacle between him and Madeleine, he swore that the
obstacle should soon be removed.

That very day he took steps for the accomplishment of his purpose. As
Raoul was walking out to Vesinet about midnight, he was stopped at a
lonely spot, by three men, who asked him what o'clock it was; while
looking at his watch, the ruffians fell upon him suddenly, and but for
Raoul's wonderful strength and agility, would have left him dead on the
spot.

As it was, he soon, by his skilfully plied blows (for he had become a
proficient in fencing and boxing in England), made his enemies take to
their heels.

He quietly continued his walk home, fully determined to be hereafter
well armed when he went out at night.

He never for an instant suspected his accomplice of having instigated
the assault.

But two days afterward, while sitting in a cafe, a burly, vulgar-looking
man, a stranger to him, interrupted him several times while talking,
and, after making several rough speeches as if trying to provoke a
quarrel, finally threw a card in his face, saying its owner was ready to
grant him satisfaction when and where he pleased.

Raoul rushed toward the man to chastise him on the spot; but his friends
held him back, telling him that it would be much more gentlemanly to run
a sword through his vulgar hide, than have a scuffle in a public place.

"Very well, then: you will hear from me to-morrow," he said scornfully
to his assailant. "Wait at your hotel until I send two friends to
arrange the matter with you."

As soon as the stranger had left, Raoul recovered from his excitement,
and began to wonder what could have been the motive for this evidently
premeditated insult.

Picking up the card of the bully, he read:


W. H. B. JACOBSON. Formerly Garibaldian volunteer, Ex-officer of the
army of the South. (Italy, America.)

30, Rue Leonie.


Raoul had seen enough of the world to know that these heroes who cover
their visiting-cards with titles have very little glory elsewhere than
in their own conceit.

Still the insult had been offered in the presence of others; and, no
matter who the offender was, it must be noticed. Early the next morning
Raoul sent two of his friends to make arrangements for a duel. He gave
them M. Jacobson's address, and told them to report at the Hotel du
Louvre, where he would wait for them.

Having dismissed his friends, Raoul went to find out something about M.
Jacobson; and, being an expert at the business of unravelling plots and
snares, he determined to discover who was at the bottom of this duel
into which he had been decoyed.

The information obtained was not very promising.

M. Jacobson, who lived in a very suspicious-looking little hotel whose
inmates were chiefly women of light character, was described to him as
an eccentric gentleman, whose mode of life was a problem difficult to
solve. No one knew his means of support.

He reigned despotically in the hotel, went out a great deal, never came
in until midnight, and seemed to have no capital to live upon, save his
military titles, and a talent for carrying out whatever was undertaken
for his own benefit.

"That being his character," thought Raoul, "I cannot see what object he
can have in picking a quarrel with me. What good will it do him to run a
sword through my body? Not the slightest; and, moreover, his pugnacious
conduct is apt to draw the attention of the police, who, from what I
hear, are the last people this warrior would like to have after him.
Therefore he must have some reason for pursuing me; and I must find out
what it is."

The result of his meditations was, that Raoul, upon his return to the
Hotel du Louvre, did not mention a word of his adventure to Clameran,
whom he found already up.

At half-past eight his seconds arrived.

M. Jacobson had selected the sword, and would fight that very hour, in
the woods of Vincennes.

"Well, come along," cried Raoul gayly. "I accept the gentleman's
conditions."

They found the Garibaldian waiting; and after an interchange of a few
thrusts Raoul was slightly wounded in the right shoulder.

The "Ex-superior officer of the South" wished to continue the combat;
but Raoul's seconds--brave young men--declared that honor was satisfied,
and that they had no intention of subjecting their friend's life to
unnecessary hazards.

The ex-officer was forced to admit that this was but fair, and
unwillingly retired from the field. Raoul went home delighted at having
escaped with nothing more serious than a little loss of blood, and
resolved to keep clear of all so-called Garibaldians in the future.

In fact, a night's reflection had convinced him that Clameran was the
instigator of the two attempts to kill him. Mme. Fauvel having told
him what conditions Madeleine placed on her consent to marriage, Raoul
instantly saw how necessary his removal would be, now that he was an
impediment in the way of Clameran's success. He recalled a thousand
little remarks and events of the last few days, and, on skilfully
questioning the marquis, had his suspicions changed into certainty.

This conviction that the man whom he had so materially assisted in his
criminal plans was so basely ungrateful as to turn against him, and hire
assassins to murder him in cold blood, inspired in Raoul a resolution to
take speedy vengeance upon his treacherous accomplice, and at the same
time insure his own safety.

This treason seemed monstrous to Raoul. He was as yet not sufficiently
experienced in ruffianism to know that one villain always sacrifices
another to advance his own projects; he was credulous enough to believe
in the adage, "there's honor among thieves."

His rage was naturally mingled with fright, well knowing that his life
hung by a thread, when it was threatened by a daring scoundrel like
Clameran.

He had twice miraculously escaped; a third attempt would more than
likely prove fatal.

Knowing his accomplice's nature, Raoul saw himself surrounded by snares;
he saw death before him in every form; he was equally afraid of going
out, and of remaining at home. He only ventured with the most suspicious
caution into the most public places; he feared poison more than the
assassin's knife, and imagined that every dish placed before him tasted
of strychnine.

As this life of torture was intolerable, he determined to anticipate a
struggle which he felt must terminate in the death of either Clameran or
himself; and, if he were doomed to die, to be first revenged. If he went
down, Clameran should go too; better kill the devil than be killed by
him.

In his days of poverty, Raoul had often risked his life to obtain a few
guineas, and would not have hesitated to make short work of a person
like Clameran.

But with money prudence had come. He wished to enjoy his four hundred
thousand francs without being compromised by committing a murder which
might be discovered; he therefore began to devise some other means
of getting rid of his dreaded accomplice. Meanwhile, he devoted his
thoughts to some discreet way of thwarting Clameran's marriage with
Madeleine. He was sure that he would thus strike him to the heart, and
this was at least a satisfaction.

Raoul was persuaded that, by openly siding with Madeleine and her aims,
he could save them from Clameran's clutches. Having fully resolved upon
this course, he wrote a note to Mme. Fauvel asking for an interview.

The poor woman hastened to Vesinet convinced that some new misfortune
was in store for her.

Her alarm was groundless. She found Raoul more tender and affectionate
than he had ever been. He saw the necessity of reassuring her, and
winning his old place in her forgiving heart, before making his
disclosures.

He succeeded. The poor lady had a smiling and happy air as she sat in an
arm-chair, with Raoul kneeling beside her.

"I have distressed you too long, my dear mother," he said in his softest
tones, "but I repent sincerely: now listen to my--"

He had not time to say more; the door was violently thrown open, and
Raoul, springing to his feet, was confronted by M. Fauvel.

The banker had a revolver in his hand, and was deadly pale.

It was evident that he was making superhuman efforts to remain calm,
like a judge whose duty it is to justly punish crime.

"Ah," he said with a horrible laugh, "you look surprised. You did not
expect me? You thought that my imbecile credulity insured your safety."

Raoul had the courage to place himself before Mme. Fauvel, and to stand
prepared to receive the expected bullet.

"I assure you, uncle," he began.

"Enough!" interrupted the banker with an angry gesture, "let me hear no
more infamous falsehoods! End this acting, of which I am no longer the
dupe."

"I swear to you--"

"Spare yourself the trouble of denying anything. I know all. I know who
pawned my wife's diamonds. I know who committed the robbery for which an
innocent man was arrested and imprisoned."

Mme. Fauvel, white with terror, fell upon her knees.

At last it had come--the dreadful day had come. Vainly had she added
falsehood to falsehood; vainly had she sacrificed herself and others:
all was discovered.

She saw that all was lost, and wringing her hands she tearfully moaned:

"Pardon, Andre! I beg you, forgive me!"

At these heart-broken tones, the banker shook like a leaf. This voice
brought before him the twenty years of happiness which he had owed
to this woman, who had always been the mistress of his heart, whose
slightest wish had been his law, and who, by a smile or a frown, could
make him the happiest or the most miserable of men. Alas! those days
were over now.

Could this wretched woman crouching at his feet be his beloved
Valentine, the pure, innocent girl whom he had found secluded in the
chateau of La Verberie, who had never loved any other than himself?
Could this be the cherished wife whom he had worshipped for so many
years?

The memory of his lost happiness was too much for the stricken man. He
forgot the present in the past, and was almost melted to forgiveness.

"Unhappy woman," he murmured, "unhappy woman! What have I done that you
should thus betray me? Ah, my only fault was loving you too deeply,
and letting you see it. One wearies of everything in this world, even
happiness. Did pure domestic joys pall upon you, and weary you, driving
you to seek the excitement of a sinful passion? Were you so tired of the
atmosphere of respect and affection which surrounded you, that you must
needs risk your honor and mine by braving public opinion? Oh, into
what an abyss you have fallen, Valentine! and, oh, my God! if you were
wearied by my constant devotion, had the thought of your children no
power to restrain your evil passions; could you not remain untarnished
for their sake?"

M. Fauvel spoke slowly, with painful effort, as if each word choked him.

Raoul, who listened with attention, saw that if the banker knew some
things, he certainly did not know all.

He saw that erroneous information had misled the unhappy man, and that
he was still a victim of false appearances.

He determined to convince him of the mistake under which he was
laboring, and said:

"Monsieur, I hope you will listen."

But the sound of Raoul's voice was sufficient to break the charm.

"Silence!" cried the banker with an angry oath, "silence!"

For some moments nothing was heard but the sobs of Mme. Fauvel.

"I came here," continued the banker, "with the intention of killing you
both. But I cannot kill a woman, and I will not kill an unarmed man."

Raoul once more tried to speak.

"Let me finish!" interrupted M. Fauvel. "Your life is in my hands; the
law excuses the vengeance of an injured husband; but I refuse to take
advantage of it. I see on your mantel a revolver similar to mine; take
it, and defend yourself."

"Never!"

"Defend yourself!" cried the banker raising his arm, "if you do not--"

Feeling the barrel of M. Fauvel's revolver touch his breast, Raoul in
self-defence seized his own pistol, and prepared to fire.

"Stand in that corner of the room, and I will stand in this," continued
the banker; "and when the clock strikes, which will be in a few seconds,
we will both fire."

They took the places designated, and stood perfectly still.

But the horror of the scene was too much for Mme. Fauvel to witness any
longer without interposing. She understood but one thing: her son and
her husband were about to kill each other before her very eyes. Fright
and horror gave her strength to start up and rush between the two men.

"For God's sake, have mercy, Andre!" she cried, wringing her hands with
anguish, "let me tell you everything; don't kill--"

This burst of maternal love, M. Fauvel thought the pleadings of a
criminal woman defending her lover.

He roughly seized his wife by the arm, and thrust her aside, saying with
indignant scorn:

"Get out of the way!"

But she would not be repulsed; rushing up to Raoul, she threw her arms
around him, and said to her husband:

"Kill me, and me alone; for I am the guilty one."

At these words M. Fauvel glared at the guilty pair, and, deliberately
taking aim, fired.

Neither Raoul nor Mme. Fauvel moved. The banker fired a second time;
then a third.

He cocked the pistol for a fourth shot, when a man rushed into the room,
snatched the pistol from the banker's hand, and, throwing him on the
sofa, ran toward Mme. Fauvel.

This man was M. Verduret, who had been warned by Cavaillon, but did not
know that Mme. Gypsy had extracted the balls from M. Fauvel's revolver.

"Thank Heaven!" he cried, "she is unhurt."

"How dare you interfere?" cried the banker, who by this time had
joined the group. "I have the right to avenge my honor when it has been
degraded; the villain shall die!"

M. Verduret seized the banker's wrists in a vice-like grasp, and
whispered in his ear:

"Thank God you are saved from committing a terrible crime; the anonymous
letter deceived you."

In violent situations like this, all the untoward, strange attending
circumstances appear perfectly natural to the participators, whose
passions have already carried them beyond the limits of social
propriety.

Thus M. Fauvel never once thought of asking this stranger who he was and
where he came from.

He heard and understood but one fact: the anonymous letter had lied.

"But my wife confesses she is guilty," he stammered.

"So she is," replied M. Verduret, "but not of the crime you imagine. Do
you know who that man is, that you attempted to kill?"

"Her lover!"

"No: her son!"

The words of this stranger, showing his intimate knowledge of the
private affairs of all present, seemed to confound and frighten Raoul
more than M. Fauvel's threats had done. Yet he had sufficient presence
of mind to say:

"It is the truth!"

The banker looked wildly from Raoul to M. Verduret; then, fastening his
haggard eyes on his wife, exclaimed:

"It is false! you are all conspiring to deceive me! Proofs!"

"You shall have proofs," replied M. Verduret, "but first listen."

And rapidly, with his wonderful talent for exposition, he related the
principal points of the plot he had discovered.

The true state of the case was terribly distressing to M. Fauvel, but
nothing compared with what he had suspected.

His throbbing, yearning heart told him that he still loved his wife. Why
should he punish a fault committed so many years ago, and atoned for by
twenty years of devotion and suffering?

For some moments after M. Verduret had finished his explanation, M.
Fauvel remained silent.

So many strange events had happened, rapidly following each other in
succession, and culminating in the shocking scene which had just taken
place, that M. Fauvel seemed to be too bewildered to think clearly.

If his heart counselled pardon and forgetfulness, wounded pride and
self-respect demanded vengeance.

If Raoul, the baleful witness, the living proof of a far-off sin, were
not in existence, M. Fauvel would not have hesitated. Gaston de Clameran
was dead; he would have held out his arms to his wife, and said:

"Come to my heart! your sacrifices for my honor shall be your
absolution; let the sad past be forgotten."

But the sight of Raoul froze the words upon his lips.

"So this is your son," he said to his wife--"this man, who has plundered
you and robbed me!"

Mme. Fauvel was unable to utter a word in reply to these reproachful
words.

"Oh!" said M. Verduret, "madame will tell you that this young man is the
son of Gaston de Clameran; she has never doubted it. But the truth is--"

"What!"

"That, in order to swindle her, he has perpetrated a gross imposture."

During the last few minutes Raoul had been quietly creeping toward the
door, hoping to escape while no one was thinking of him.

But M. Verduret, who anticipated his intentions, was watching him out of
the corner of one eye, and stopped him just as he was about leaving the
room.

"Not so fast, my pretty youth," he said, dragging him into the middle of
the room; "it is not polite to leave us so unceremoniously. Let us
have a little conversation before parting; a little explanation will be
edifying!"

The jeering words and mocking manner of M. Verduret made Raoul turn
deadly pale, and start back as if confronted by a phantom.

"The clown!" he gasped.

"The same, friend," said the fat man. "Ah, now that you recognize me,
I confess that the clown and myself are one and the same. Yes, I am the
mountebank of the Jandidier ball; here is proof of it."

And turning up his sleeve he showed a deep cut on his arm.

"I think that this recent wound will convince you of my identity," he
continued. "I imagine you know the villain that gave me this little
decoration, that night I was walking along the Rue Bourdaloue. That
being the case, you know, I have a slight claim upon you, and shall
expect you to relate to us your little story."

But Raoul was so terrified that he could not utter a word.

"Your modesty keeps you silent," said M. Verduret. "Bravo! modesty
becomes talent, and for one of your age you certainly have displayed a
talent for knavery."

M. Fauvel listened without understanding a word of what was said.

"Into what dark depths of shame have we fallen!" he groaned.

"Reassure yourself, monsieur," replied M. Verduret with great respect.
"After what I have been constrained to tell you, what remains to be said
is a mere trifle. I will finish the story.

"On leaving Mihonne, who had given him a full account of the misfortunes
of Mlle. Valentine de la Verberie, Clameran hastened to London.

"He had no difficulty in finding the farmer's wife to whom the old
countess had intrusted Gaston's son.

"But here an unexpected disappointment greeted him.

"He learned that the child, whose name was registered on the parish
books as Raoul-Valentin Wilson, had died of the croup when eighteen
months old."

"Did anyone state such a fact as that?" interrupted Raoul: "it is
false."

"It was not only stated, but proved, my pretty youth," replied M.
Verduret. "You don't suppose I am a man to trust to verbal testimony; do
you?"

He drew from his pocket several officially stamped documents, with red
seals attached, and laid them on the table.

"These are declarations of the nurse, her husband, and four witnesses.
Here is an extract from the register of births; this is a certificate
of registry of his death; and all these are authenticated at the French
Embassy. Now are you satisfied, young man?"

"What next?" inquired M. Fauvel.

"The next step was this," replied M. Verduret. "Clameran, finding
that the child was dead, supposed that he could, in spite of this
disappointment, obtain money from Mme. Fauvel; he was mistaken. His
first attempt failed. Having an inventive turn of mind, he determined
that the child should come to life. Among his large circle of rascally
acquaintances, he selected a young fellow to impersonate Raoul-Valentin
Wilson; and the chosen one stands before you."

Mme. Fauvel was in a pitiable state. And yet she began to feel a ray of
hope; her acute anxiety had so long tortured her, that the truth was a
relief; she would thank Heaven if this wicked man was proved to be no
son of hers.

"Can this be possible?" she murmured, "can it be?"

"Impossible!" cried the banker: "an infamous plot like this could not be
executed in our midst!"

"All this is false!" said Raoul boldly. "It is a lie!"

M. Verduret turned to Raoul, and, bowing with ironical respect, said:

"Monsieur desires proofs, does he? Monsieur shall certainly have
convincing ones. I have just left a friend of mine, M. Palot, who
brought me valuable information from London. Now, my young gentleman,
I will tell you the little story he told me, and then you can give your
opinion of it.

"In 1847 Lord Murray, a wealthy and generous nobleman, had a jockey
named Spencer, of whom he was very fond. At the Epsom races, this jockey
was thrown from his horse, and killed. Lord Murray grieved over the
loss of his favorite, and, having no children of his own, declared his
intention of adopting Spencer's son, who was then but four years old.

"Thus James Spencer was brought up in affluence, as heir to the immense
wealth of the noble lord. He was a handsome, intelligent boy, and gave
satisfaction to his protector until he was sixteen years of age; when he
became intimate with a worthless set of people, and turned out badly.

"Lord Murray, who was very indulgent, pardoned many grave faults; but
one fine morning he discovered that his adopted son had been imitating
his signature upon some checks. He indignantly dismissed him from the
house, and told him never to show his face again.

"James Spencer had been living in London about four years, managing to
support himself by gambling and swindling, when he met Clameran, who
offered him twenty-five thousand francs to play a part in a little
comedy which he had arranged to suit the actors."

"You are a detective!" interrupted Raoul.

The fat man smiled grimly.

"At present," he replied, "I am merely a friend of Prosper Bertomy. It
depends entirely upon your behavior which character I appear in while
settling up this little affair."

"What do you expect me to do?"

"Restore the three hundred and fifty thousand francs which you have
stolen."

The young rascal hesitated a moment, and then said:

"The money is in this room."

"Very good. This frankness is creditable, and will benefit you. I know
that the money is in this room, and also exactly where it is to be
found. Be kind enough to look behind that cupboard, and you will find
the three hundred and fifty thousand francs."

Raoul saw that his game was lost. He tremblingly went to the cupboard,
and pulled out several bundles of bank-notes, and an enormous package of
pawnbroker's tickets.

"Very well done," said M. Verduret, as he carefully examined the money
and papers: "this is the most sensible step you ever took."

Raoul relied on this moment, when everybody's attention would be
absorbed by the money, to make his escape. He slid toward the door,
gently opened it, slipped out, and locked it on the outside; the key
being still in the lock.

"He has escaped!" cried M. Fauvel.

"Naturally," replied M. Verduret, without even looking up: "I thought he
would have sense enough to do that."

"But is he to go unpunished?"

"My dear sir, would you have this affair become a public scandal? Do you
wish your wife's name to be brought into a case of this nature before
the police-court?"

"Oh, monsieur!"

"Then the best thing you can do, is to let the rascal go scot free. Here
are receipts for all the articles which he has pawned, so that we should
consider ourselves fortunate. He has kept fifty thousand francs, but
that is all the better for you. This sum will enable him to leave
France, and we shall never see him again."

Like everyone else, M. Fauvel yielded to the ascendancy of M. Verduret.

Gradually he had awakened to the true state of affairs; prospective
happiness no longer seemed impossible, and he felt that he was indebted
to the man before him for more than life. But for M. Verduret, where
would have been his honor and domestic peace?

With earnest gratitude he seized M. Verduret's hand as if to carry it to
his lips, and said, in broken tones:

"Oh, monsieur! how can I ever find words to express how deeply I
appreciate your kindness? How can I ever repay the great service you
have rendered me?"

M. Verduret reflected a moment, and then said:

"If you feel under any significant obligations to me, monsieur, you have
it in your power to return them. I have a favor to ask of you."

"A favor? you ask of me? Speak, monsieur, you have but to name it. My
fortune and life are at your disposal."

"I will not hesitate, then, to explain myself. I am Prosper's friend,
and deeply interested in his future. You can exonerate him from this
infamous charge of robbery; you can restore him to his honorable
position. You can do more than this, monsieur. He loves Mlle.
Madeleine."

"Madeleine shall be his wife, monsieur," interrupted the banker: "I give
you my word of honor. And I will so publicly exonerate him, that not
a shadow of suspicion will rest upon his name. I will place him in
a position which will prevent slander from reproaching him with the
painful remembrance of my fatal error."

The fat man quietly took up his hat and cane, as if he had been paying
an ordinary morning call, and turned to leave the room, after saying,
"Good-morning." But, seeing the weeping woman raise her clasped hands
appealingly toward him, he said hesitatingly:

"Monsieur, excuse my intruding any advice; but Mme. Fauvel--"

"Andre!" murmured the wretched wife, "Andre!"

The banker hesitated a moment; then, following the impulse of his heart,
ran to his wife, and, clasping her in his arms, said tenderly:

"No, I will not be foolish enough to struggle against my deep-rooted
love. I do not pardon, Valentine: I forget; I forget all!"

M. Verduret had nothing more to do at Vesinet.

Without taking leave of the banker, he quietly left the room, and,
jumping into his cab, ordered the driver to return to Paris, and drive
to the Hotel du Louvre as rapidly as possible.

His mind was filled with anxiety about Clameran. He knew that Raoul
would give him no more trouble; the young rogue was probably taking his
passage for some foreign land at that very moment. But Clameran should
not escape unpunished; and how this punishment could be brought about
without compromising Mme. Fauvel, was the problem to be solved.

M. Verduret thought over the various cases similar to this, but not one
of his former expedients could be applied to the present circumstances.
He could not deliver the villain over to justice without involving Mme.
Fauvel.

After long thought, he decided that an accusation of poisoning must come
from Oloron. He would go there and work upon "public opinion," so that,
to satisfy the townspeople, the authorities would order a post-mortem
examination of Gaston. But this mode of proceeding required time; and
Clameran would certainly escape before another day passed over his head.
He was too experienced a knave to remain on slippery ground, now that
his eyes were open to the danger which menaced him. It was almost dark
when the carriage stopped in front of the Hotel du Louvre; M. Verduret
noticed a crowd of people collected together in groups, eagerly
discussing some exciting event which seemed to have just taken
place. Although the policeman attempted to disperse the crowd by
authoritatively ordering them to "Move on! Move on!" they would merely
separate in one spot to join a more clamorous group a few yards off.

"What has happened?" demanded M. Verduret of a lounger near by.

"The strangest thing you ever heard of," replied the man; "yes, I saw
him with my own eyes. He first appeared at that seventh-story window; he
was only half-dressed. Some men tried to seize him; but, bast! with the
agility of a squirrel, he jumped out upon the roof, shrieking, 'Murder!
murder!' The recklessness of his conduct led me to suppose--"

The gossip stopped short in his narrative, very much surprised and
vexed; his questioner had vanished.

"If it should be Clameran!" thought M. Verduret; "if terror has deranged
that brain, so capable of working out great crimes! Fate must have
interposed----"

While thus talking to himself, he elbowed his way through the crowded
court-yard of the hotel.

At the foot of the staircase he found M. Fanferlot and three
peculiar-looking individuals standing together, as if waiting for
someone.

"Well," cried M. Verduret, "what is the matter?"

With laudable emulation, the four men rushed forward to report to their
superior officer.

"Patron," they all began at once.

"Silence!" said the fat man with an oath; "one at a time. Quick! what is
the matter?"

"The matter is this, patron," said Fanferlot dejectedly. "I am doomed
to ill luck. You see how it is; this is the only chance I ever had of
working out a beautiful case, and, paf! my criminal must go and fizzle!
A regular case of bankruptcy!"

"Then it is Clameran who--"

"Of course it is. When the rascal saw me this morning, he scampered off
like a hare. You should have seen him run; I thought he would never stop
this side of Ivry: but not at all. On reaching the Boulevard des Ecoles,
a sudden idea seemed to strike him, and he made a beeline for his
hotel; I suppose, to get his pile of money. Directly he gets here, what
does he see? these three friends of mine. The sight of these gentlemen
had the effect of a sunstroke upon him; he went raving mad on the spot.
The idea of serving me such a low trick at the very moment I was sure of
success!"

"Where is he now?"

"At the prefecture, I suppose. Some policemen handcuffed him, and drove
off with him in a cab."

"Come with me."

M. Verduret and Fanferlot found Clameran in one of the private cells
reserved for dangerous prisoners.

He had on a strait-jacket, and was struggling violently against three
men, who were striving to hold him, while a physician tried to force him
to swallow a potion.

"Help!" he shrieked; "help, for God's sake! Do you not see my brother
coming after me? Look! he wants to poison me!"

M. Verduret took the physician aside, and questioned him about the
maniac.

"The wretched man is in a hopeless state," replied the doctor; "this
species of insanity is incurable. He thinks someone is trying to poison
him, and nothing will persuade him to eat or drink anything; and, as
it is impossible to force anything down his throat, he will die of
starvation, after having suffered all the tortures of poison."

M. Verduret, with a shudder, turned to leave the prefecture, saying to
Fanferlot:

"Mme. Fauvel is saved, and by the interposition of God, who has himself
punished Clameran!"

"That don't help me in the least," grumbled Fanferlot. "The idea of all
my trouble and labor ending in this flat, quiet way! I seem to be born
for ill-luck!"

"Don't take your blighted hopes of glory so much to heart," replied
M. Verduret. "It is a melancholy fact for you that _File No. 113_ will
never leave the record-office; but you must bear your disappointment
gracefully and heroically. I will console you by sending you as bearer
of despatches to a friend of mine, and what you have lost in fame will
be gained in gold."




XXV

Four days had passed since the events just narrated, when one morning
M. Lecoq--the official Lecoq, who resembled the dignified head of
a bureau--was walking up and down his private office, at each turn
nervously looking at the clock, which slowly ticked on the mantel, as
if it had no intention of striking any sooner than usual, to gratify the
man so anxiously watching its placid face.

At last, however, the clock did strike; and just then the faithful
Janouille opened the door, and ushered in Mme. Nina and Prosper Bertomy.

"Ah," said M. Lecoq, "you are punctual; lovers are generally so."

"We are not lovers, monsieur," replied Mme. Gypsy. "M. Verduret gave
us express orders to meet here in your office this morning, and we have
obeyed."

"Very good," said the celebrated detective: "then be kind enough to wait
a few minutes; I will tell him you are here."

During the quarter of an hour that Nina and Prosper remained alone
together, they did not exchange a word. Finally a door opened, and M.
Verduret appeared.

Nina and Prosper eagerly started toward him; but he checked them by one
of those peculiar looks which no one ever dared resist.

"You have come," he said severely, "to hear the secret of my conduct.
I have promised, and will keep my word, however painful it may be to
my feelings. Listen, then. My best friend is a loyal, honest man,
named Caldas. Eighteen months ago this friend was the happiest of men.
Infatuated by a woman, he lived for her alone, and, fool that he was,
imagined that she felt the same love for him."

"She did!" cried Gypsy, "yes, she always loved him."

"She showed her love in a peculiar way. She loved him so much, that
one fine day she left him, and ran off with another man. In his first
moments of despair, Caldas wished to kill himself. Then he reflected
that it would be wiser to live, and avenge himself."

"And then," faltered Prosper.

"Then Caldas avenged himself in his own way. He made the woman who
deserted him recognize his immense superiority over his rival. Weak,
timid, and helpless, the rival was disgraced, and falling over the verge
of a precipice, when the powerful hand of Caldas reached forth and saved
him. You understand all now, do you not? The woman is Nina; the rival is
yourself; and Caldas is--"

With a quick, dexterous movement, he threw off his wig and whiskers, and
stood before them the real, intelligent, proud Lecoq.

"Caldas!" cried Nina.

"No, not Caldas, not Verduret any longer: but Lecoq, the detective!"

M. Lecoq broke the stupefied silence of his listeners by saying to
Prosper:

"It is not to me alone that you owe your salvation. A noble girl
confided to me the difficult task of clearing your reputation. I
promised her that M. Fauvel should never know the shameful secrets
concerning his domestic happiness. Your letter thwarted all my plans,
and made it impossible for me to keep my promise. I have nothing more to
say."

He turned to leave the room, but Nina barred his exit.

"Caldas," she murmured, "I implore you to have pity on me! I am _so_
miserable! Ah, if you only knew! Be forgiving to one who has always
loved you, Caldas! Listen."

Prosper departed from M. Lecoq's office alone.

On the 15th of last month, was celebrated, at the church of Notre Dame
de Lorette, the marriage of M. Prosper Bertomy and Mlle. Madeleine
Fauvel.

The banking-house is still on the Rue de Provence; but as M. Fauvel has
decided to retire from business, and live in the country, the name of
the firm has been changed, and is now--

"Prosper Bertomy & Co."



THE END




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