Baron Trigault's Vengeance by Emile Gaboriau
The old legend of Achilles's heel will be eternally true. A man may be humble or powerful, feeble or strong, but there are none of us without some weak spot in our armor, a spot vulnerable beyond all others, a certain place where wounds prove most dangerous and painful. M. Isidore Fortunat's weak place was his cash-box. To attack him there was to endanger his life--to wound him at a point where all his sensibility centred. For it was in this cash-box and not in his breast that his heart really throbbed. His safe made him happy or dejected. Happy when it was filled to overflowing by some brilliant operation, and dejected when he saw it become empty as some imprudent transaction failed.
This then explains his frenzy on that ill-fated Sunday, when, after being brutally dismissed by M. Wilkie, he returned to his rooms in the company of his clerk, Victor Chupin. This explains, too, the intensity of the hatred he now felt for the Marquis de Valorsay and the Viscount de Coralth. The former, the marquis, had defrauded him of forty thousand francs in glittering gold. The other, the viscount, had suddenly sprung up out of the ground, and carried off from under his very nose that magnificent prize, the Chalusse inheritance, which he had considered as good as won. And he had not only been defrauded and swindled--such were his own expressions--but he had been tricked, deceived, duped, and outwitted, and by whom? By people who did not make it their profession to be shrewd, like he did himself. Just fancy, his business was to outwit others, and a couple of mere amateurs had outgeneraled him. He had not only suffered in pocket, he had been humiliated as well, and so he indulged in threats of such terrible import.
However, at the very moment when he was dreaming of wreaking vengeance on the Marquis de Valorsay and the Viscount de Coralth, his housekeeper, austere Madame Dodelin, handed him Mademoiselle Marguerite's letter. He read it with intense astonishment, rubbing his eyes as if to assure himself that he were really awake. "Tuesday," he repeated, "the day after to-morrow--at your house--between three and four o'clock--I must speak with you."
His manner was so strange, and his usually impassive face so disturbed by conflicting feelings, that Madame Dodelin's curiosity overcame her prudence, and she remained standing in front of him with open mouth, staring with all her eyes and listening with all her ears. He perceived this, and angrily exclaimed: "What are you doing here? You are watching me, I do believe. Get back to your kitchen, or----"
She fled in alarm, and he then entered his private office. His heart was leaping with joy, and he laughed wickedly at the hope of a speedy revenge. "She's on the scent," he muttered; "and she has luck in her favor. She has chanced to apply to me on the very day that I had resolved to defend and rehabilitate her lover, the honest fool who allowed himself to be dishonored by those unscrupulous blackguards. Just as I was thinking of going in search of her, she comes to me. As I was about to write to her, she writes to me. Who can deny the existence of Providence after this?" Like many other people, M. Fortunat piously believed in Providence when things went to his liking, but it is sad to add that in the contrary case he denied its existence. "If she has any courage," he resumed, "and she seems to have plenty of it, Valorsay and Coralth will be in a tight place soon. And if it takes ten thousand francs to put them there, and if neither Mademoiselle Marguerite nor M. Ferailleur has the amount--ah, well! I'll advance--well, at least five thousand--without charging them any commission. I'll even pay the expenses out of my own pocket, if necessary. Ah, my fine fellows, you've laughed too soon. In a week's time we'll see who laughs last."
He paused, for Victor Chupin, who had lingered behind to pay the driver, had just entered the room. "You gave me twenty francs, m'sieur," he remarked to his employer. "I paid the driver four francs and five sous, here's the change."
"Keep it yourself, Victor," said M. Fortunat.
What! keep fifteen francs and fifteen sous? Under any other circumstances such unusual generosity would have drawn a grimace of satisfaction from young Chupin. But to-day he did not even smile; he slipped the money carelessly into his pocket, and scarcely deigned to say "thanks," in the coldest possible tone.
Absorbed in thought, M. Fortunat did not remark this little circumstance. "We have them, Victor," he resumed. "I told you that Valorsay and Coralth should pay me for their treason. Vengeance is near. Read this letter." Victor read it slowly, and as soon as he had finished his employer ejaculated, "Well?"
But Chupin was not a person to give advice lightly. "Excuse me, m'sieur," said he, "but in order to answer you, I must have some knowledge of the affair. I only know what you've told me--which is little enough--and what I've guessed. In fact, I know nothing at all."
M. Fortunat reflected for a moment. "You are right, Victor," he said, at last. "So far the explanation I gave you was all that was necessary; but now that I expect more important services from you, I ought to tell you the whole truth, or at least all I know about the affair. This will prove my great confidence in you." Whereupon, he acquainted Chupin with everything he knew concerning the history of M. de Chalusse, the Marquis de Valorsay, and Mademoiselle Marguerite.
However, if he expected these disclosures to elevate him in his subordinate's estimation he was greatly mistaken. Chupin had sufficient experience and common sense to read his master's character and discern his motives. He saw plainly enough that this honest impulse on M. Fortunat's part came from disappointed avarice and wounded vanity, and that the agent would have allowed the Marquis de Valorsay to carry out his infamous scheme without any compunctions of conscience, providing he, himself, had not been injured by it. Still, the young fellow did not allow his real feelings to appear on his face. First, it was not his business to tell M. Fortunat his opinion of him; and in the second place, he did not deem it an opportune moment for a declaration of his sentiments. So, when his employer paused, he exclaimed: "Well, we must outwit these scoundrels--for I'll join you, m'sieur; and I flatter myself that I can be very useful to you. Do you want the particulars of the viscount's past life? If so, I can furnish them. I know the brigand. He's married, as I told you before, and I'll find his wife for you in a few days. I don't know exactly where she lives, but she keeps a tobacco store, somewhere, and that's enough. She'll tell you how much he's a viscount. Ha! ha! Viscount just as much as I am--and no more. I can tell you the scrapes he has been in."
"No doubt; but the most important thing is to know how he's living now, and on what!"
"Not by honest work, I can tell you. But give me a little time, and I'll find out for sure. As soon as I can go home, change my clothes, and disguise myself, I'll start after him; and may I be hung, if I don't return with a complete report before Tuesday."
A smile of satisfaction appeared on M. Fortunat's face. "Good, Victor!" he said, approvingly, "very good! I see that you will serve me with your usual zeal and intelligence. Rest assured that you will be rewarded as you have never been rewarded before. As long as you are engaged in this affair, you shall have ten francs a day; and I'll pay your board, your cab-hire, and all your expenses."
This was a most liberal offer, and yet, far from seeming delighted, Chupin gravely shook his head. "You know how I value money, m'sieur," he began.
"Too much, Victor, my boy, too much----"
"Excuse me, it's because I have responsibilities, m'sieur. You know my establishment"--he spoke this word with a grandiloquent air--"you have seen my good mother--my expenses are heavy----"
"In short, you don't think I offer you enough?"
"On the contrary, sir--but you don't allow me to finish. I love money, don't I? But no matter, I don't want to be paid for this business. I don't want either my board or my expenses, not a penny--nothing. I'll serve you, but for my own sake, for my own pleasure--gratis."
M. Fortunat could not restrain an exclamation of astonishment. Chupin, who was as eager for gain as an old usurer--Chupin, as grasping as avarice itself, refuse money! This was something which he had never seen before, and which he would no doubt never see again.
Victor had become very much excited; his usually pale cheeks were crimson, and in a harsh voice, he continued: "It's a fancy of mine--that's all. I have eight hundred francs hidden in my room, the fruit of years of work. I'll spend the last penny of it if need be; and if I can see Coralth in the mire, I shall say, 'My money has been well expended.' I'd rather see that day dawn than be the possessor of a hundred thousand francs. If a horrible vision haunted you every night, and prevented you from sleeping, wouldn't you give something to get rid of it? Very well! that brigand's my nightmare. There must be an end to it."
M. de Coralth, who was a man of wide experience, would certainly have felt alarmed if he had seen his unknown enemy at the present moment, for Victor's eyes, usually a pale and undecided blue, were glittering like steel, and his hands were clinched most threateningly. "For he was the cause of all my trouble," he continued, gloomily. "I've told you, sir, that I was guilty of an infamous deed once upon a time. If it hadn't been for a miracle I should have killed a man--the king of men. Ah, well! if Monsieur Andre had broken his back by falling from a fifth-floor window, my Coralth would be the Duc de Champdoce to-day. And shall he be allowed to ride about in his carriage, and deceive and ruin honest people? No--there are too many such villains at large for public safety. Wait a little, Coralth--I owe you something, and I always pay my debts. When M. Andre saved me, though I richly deserved to have my throat cut, he made no conditions. He only said, 'If you are not irredeemably bad you will be honest after this.' And he said these words as he was lying there as pale as death with his shoulder broken, and his body mangled from his fall. Great heavens! I felt smaller than--than nothing before him. But I swore that I would do honor to his teachings--and when evil thoughts enter my mind, and when I feel a thirst for liquor, I say to myself, 'Wait a bit, and--and M. Andre will take a glass with you.' And that quenches my thirst instantly. I have his portrait at home, and every night, before going to bed, I tell him the history of the day--and sometimes I fancy that he smiles at me. All this is very absurd, perhaps, but I'm not ashamed of it. M. Andre and my good mother, they are my supports, my crutches, and with them I'm not afraid of making a false step." Schebel, the German philosopher, who has written a treatise on Volition, in four volumes, was no greater a man than Chupin. "So you may keep your money, sir," he resumed. "I'm an honest fellow, and honest men ought to ask no reward for the performance of a duty. Coralth mustn't be allowed to triumph over the innocent chap he ruined. What did you call him? Ferailleur? It's an odd name. Never mind-- we'll get him out of this scrape; he shall marry his sweetheart after all; and I'll dance at the wedding."
As he finished speaking he laughed a shrill, dangerous laugh, which revealed his sharp teeth--but such invincible determination was apparent on his face, that M. Fortunat felt no misgivings. He was sure that this volunteer would be of more service than the highest-priced hireling. "So I can count on you, Victor?" he inquired.
"As upon yourself."
"And you hope to have some positive information by Tuesday?"
"Before then, I hope, if nothing goes amiss."
"Very well; I will devote my attention to Ferailleur then. As to Valorsay's affairs, I am better acquainted with them than he is himself. We must be prepared to enter upon the campaign when Mademoiselle Marguerite comes, and we will act in accordance with her instructions."
Chupin had already caught up his hat; but just as he was leaving the room, he paused abruptly. "How stupid!" he exclaimed. "I had forgotten the principal thing. Where does Coralth live?"
"Unfortunately, I don't know."
According to his habit when things did not go to his liking, Chupin began to scratch his head furiously. "That's bad," growled he. "Viscounts of his stamp don't parade their addresses in the directory. Still, I shall find him." However, although he expressed this conviction he went off decidedly out of temper.
"I shall lose the entire evening hunting up the rascal's address," he grumbled, as he hastened homeward. "And whom shall I ask for it?--Madame d'Argeles's concierge? Would he know it--M. Wilkie's servant? That would be dangerous." He thought of roaming sound about M. de Valorsay's residence, and of bribing one of the valets; but while crossing the boulevard, the sight of Brebant's Restaurant put a new idea into his head. "I have it!" he muttered; "my man's caught!" And he darted into the nearest cafe where he ordered some beer and writing materials.
Under other circumstances, he would have hesitated to employ so hazardous an expedient as the one he was about to resort to, but the character of his adversaries justified any course; besides, time was passing, and he had no choice of resources. As soon as the waiter served him, he drained his glass of beer to give himself an inspiration, and then, in his finest hand, he wrote:
MY DEAR VISCOUNT--Here's the amount--one hundred francs--that I lost to you last evening at piquet. When shall I have my revenge? Your friend,
When he had finished this letter he read it over three or four times, asking himself if this were the style of composition that very fashionable folks employ in repaying their debts. To tell the truth, he doubted it. In the rough draft which he penned at first, he had written bezique, but in the copy he wrote piquet, which he deemed a more aristocratic game. "However," said he, "no one will examine it closely!"
Then, as soon as the ink was dry, he folded the letter and slipped it into an envelope with a hundred franc-note which he drew from an old pocketbook. He next addressed the envelope as follows: "Monsieur le Vicomte de Coralth, En Ville," and having completed his preparations, he paid his score, and hastened to Brebant's. Two waiters were standing at the doorway, and, showing them the letter, he politely asked: "Do you happen to know this name? A gentleman dropped this letter on leaving your place last evening. I ran after him to return it; but I couldn't overtake him."
The waiters examined the address. "Coralth!" they replied. "We scarcely know him. He isn't a regular customer, but he comes here occasionally."
"And where does he live?"
"Why do you wish to know?"
"So as to take him this letter, to be sure!"
The waiters shrugged their shoulders. "Let the letter go; it is not worth while to trouble yourself."
Chupin had foreseen this objection, and was prepared for it. "But there's money in the letter," he remonstrated. And opening the envelope, he showed the bank-note which he had taken from his own pocket-book.
This changed the matter entirely. "That is quite a different thing," remarked one of the waiters. "If you find money, you are, of course, responsible for it. But just leave it here at the desk, and the next time the viscount comes in, the cashier will give it to him."
A cold chill crept over Chupin at the thought of losing his bank- note in this way. "Ah! I don't fancy that idea!" he exclaimed. "Leave it here? Never in life! Who'd get the reward? A viscount is always generous; it is quite likely he would give me twenty francs as a reward for my honesty. And that's why I want his address."
The argument was of a nature to touch the waiters; they thought the young man quite right; but they did not know M. de Coralth's address, and they saw no way of procuring it. "Unless perhaps the porter knows," observed one of them.
The porter, on being called, remembered that he had once been sent to M. de Coralth's house for an overcoat. "I've forgotten his number," he declared; "but he lives in the Rue d'Anjou, near the corner of the Rue de la Ville l'Eveque."
This direction was not remarkable for its precision, but it was more than sufficient for a pure-blooded Parisian like Victor Chupin. "Many thanks for your kindness," he said to the porter. "A blind man, perhaps, might not be able to go straight to M. de Coralth's house from your directions, but I have eyes and a tongue as well. And, believe me, if there's any reward, you shall see that I know how to repay a good turn."
"And if you don't find the viscount," added the waiters, "bring the money here, and it will be returned to him."
"Naturally!" replied Chupin. And he strode hurriedly away. "Return!" he muttered; "not I! I thought for a moment they had their hands on my precious bank-note."
But he had already recovered from his fright, and as he turned his steps homeward he congratulated himself on the success of his stratagem. "For my viscount is caught," he said to himself. "The Rue d'Anjou Saint Honore hasn't a hundred numbers in it, and even if I'm compelled to go from door to door, my task will soon be accomplished."
On reaching home he found his mother engaged in knitting, as usual. This was the only avocation that her almost complete blindness allowed her to pursue; and she followed it constantly. "Ah! here you are, Toto," she exclaimed, joyously. "I didn't expect you so soon. Don't you scent a savory smell? As you must be greatly tired after being up all night, I'm making you a stew."
As customary when he returned, Chupin embraced the good woman with the respectful tenderness which had so surprised M. Fortunat. "You are always kind," said he, "but, unfortunately, I can't remain to dine with you."
"But you promised me."
"That's true, mamma; but business, you see--business."
The worthy woman shook her head. "Always business!" she exclaimed.
"Yes--when a fellow hasn't ten thousand francs a year."
"You have become a worker, Toto, and that makes me very happy; but you are too eager for money, and that frightens me."
"That's to say, you fear I shall do something dishonest. Ah! mother! do you think I can forget you and Monsieur Andre?"
His mother said no more, and he entered the tiny nook which he so pompously styled his chamber, and quickly changed the clothes he was wearing (his Sunday toggery) for an old pair of checked trousers, a black blouse, and a glazed cap. And when he had finished, and given a peculiar turn to his hair, no one would have recognized him. In place of M. Fortunat's respectable clerk, there appeared one of those vagabonds who hang about cafes and theatres from six in the evening till midnight, and spend the rest of their time playing cards in the low drinking dens near the barrieres. It was the old Chupin come to life once more--Toto Chupin as he had appeared before his conversion. And as he took a last look in the little glass hanging over the table, he was himself astonished at the transformation. "Ah!" he muttered, "I was a sorry looking devil in those days."
Although he had cautiously avoided making any noise in dressing, his mother, with the wonderfully acute hearing of the blind, had followed each of his movements as surely as if she had been standing near watching him. "You have changed your clothes, Toto," she remarked.
"But why have you put on your blouse, my son?"
Although accustomed to his mother's remarkable quickness of perception, he was amazed. Still he did not think of denying it. She would only have to extend her hand to prove that he was telling a falsehood. The blind woman's usually placid face had become stern. "So it is necessary to disguise yourself," she said, gravely.
"Hush, my son! When a man doesn't wish to be recognized, he's evidently doing something he's ashamed of. Ever since your employer came here, you have been concealing something from me. Take care, Toto! Since I heard that man's voice, I'm sure that he is quite as capable of urging you to commit a crime as others were in days gone by."
The blind woman was preaching to a convert; for during the past three days, M. Fortunat had shown himself in such a light that Chupin had secretly resolved to change his employer. "I promise you I'll leave him, mother," he declared, "so you may be quite easy in mind."
"Very well; but now, at this moment, where are you going?"
There was only one way of completely reassuring the good woman, and that was to tell her all. Chupin did so with absolute frankness. "Ah, well!" she said, when the narrative was finished. "You see now how easy it is to lead you astray! How could you be induced to play the part of a spy, when you know so well what it leads to? It's only God's protecting care that has saved you again from an act which you would have reproached yourself for all your life. Your employer's intentions are good now; but they were criminal when he ordered you to follow Madame d'Argeles. Poor woman! She had sacrificed herself for her son, she had concealed herself from him, and you were working to betray her. Poor creature! how she must have suffered, and how much I pity her! To be what she is, and to see herself denounced by her own son! I, who am only a poor plebeian, should die of shame under such circumstances."
Chupin blew his nose so loudly that the window-panes rattled; this was his way of repressing his emotion whenever it threatened to overcome him. "You speak like the good mother that you are," he exclaimed at last," and I'm prouder of you than if you were the handsomest and richest lady in Paris, for you're certainly the most honest and virtuous; and I should be a thorough scoundrel if I caused you a moment's sorrow. And if ever I set my foot in such a mess again, I hope some one will cut it off. But for this once----"
"For this once, you may go, Toto; I give my consent."
He went off with a lighter heart; and on reaching the Rue d'Anjou he immediately began his investigations. They were not successful at first. At every house where he made inquiries nobody had any knowledge of the Viscount de Coralth. He had visited half the buildings in the street, when he reached one of the handsomest houses, in front of which stood a cart laden with plants and flowers. An old man, who seemed to be the concierge, and a valet in a red waistcoat, were removing the plants from the vehicle and arranging them in a line under the porte cochere. As soon as the cart was emptied, it drove away, whereupon Chupin stepped forward, and addressing the concierge, asked: "Does the Viscount de Coralth live here?"
"Yes. What do you want with him?"
Having foreseen this question, Chupin had prepared a reply. "I certainly don't come to call on him," he answered. "My reason for inquiring is this: just now, as I passed near the Madeleine, a very elegant lady called me, and said: 'M. de Coralth lives in the Rue d'Anjou, but I've forgotten the number. I can't go about from door to door making inquiries, so if you'll go there and ascertain his address for me, I'll give you five francs for yourself,' so my money's made."
Profiting by his old Parisian experience, Chupin had chosen such a clever excuse that both his listeners heartily laughed. "Well, Father Moulinet," cried the servant in the red waistcoat, "what do you say to that? Are there any elegant ladies who give five francs for your address?"
"Is there any lady who's likely to send such flowers as these to you?" was the response.
Chupin was about to retire with a bow, when the concierge stopped him. "You accomplish your errands so well that perhaps you'd be willing to take these flower-pots up to the second floor, if we gave you a glass of wine!"
No proposal could have suited Chupin better. Although he was prone to exaggerate his own powers and the fecundity of his resources, he had not flattered himself with the hope that he should succeed in crossing the threshold of M. de Coralth's rooms. For, without any great mental effort, he had realized that the servant arrayed in the red waistcoat was in the viscount's employ, and these flowers were to be carried to his apartments. However any signs of satisfaction would have seemed singular under the circumstances, and so he sulkily replied: "A glass of wine! you had better say two."
"Well, I'll say a whole bottleful. my boy, if that suits you any better," replied the servant, with the charming good-nature so often displayed by people who are giving other folk's property away.
"Then I'm at your service!" exclaimed Chupin. And, loading himself with a host of flower-pots as skilfully as if he had been accustomed to handling them all his life, he added: "Now, lead the way."
The valet and the concierge preceded him with empty hands, of course; and, on reaching the second floor, they opened a door, and said: "This is the place. Come in."
Chupin had expected to find that M. de Coralth's apartments were handsomer than his own in the Faubourg Saint Denis; but he had scarcely imagined such luxury as pervaded this establishment. The chandeliers seemed marvels in his eyes; and the sumptuous chairs and couches eclipsed M. Fortunat's wonderful sofa completely. "So he no longer amuses himself with petty rascalities," thought Chupin, as he surveyed the rooms. "Monsieur's working on a grand scale now. Decidedly this mustn't be allowed to continue."
Thereupon he busied himself placing the flowers in the numerous jardinieres scattered about the rooms, as well as in a tiny conservatory, cleverly contrived on the balcony, and adjoining a little apartment with silk hangings, that was used as a smoking- room. Under the surveillance of the concierge and the valet he was allowed to visit the whole apartments. He admired the drawing-room, filled to overflowing with costly trifles; the dining-room, furnished in old oak; the luxurious bed-room with its bed mounted upon a platform, as if it were a throne, and the library filled with richly bound volumes. Everything was beautiful, sumptuous and magnificent, and Chupin admired, though he did not envy, this luxury. He said to himself that, if ever he became rich, his establishment should be quite different. He would have preferred rather more simplicity, a trifle less satin, velvet, hangings, mirrors and gilding. Still this did not prevent him from going into ecstasies over each room he entered; and he expressed his admiration so artlessly that the valet, feeling as much flattered as if he were the owner of the place, took a sort of pride in exhibiting everything.
He showed Chupin the target which the viscount practised at with pistols for an hour every morning; for Monsieur le Vicomte was a capital marksman, and could lodge eight balls out of ten in the neck of a bottle at a distance of twenty paces. He also displayed his master's swords; for Monsieur le Vicomte handled side arms as adroitly as pistols. He took a lesson every day from one of the best fencing-masters in Paris; and his duels had always terminated fortunately. He also showed the viscount's blue velvet dressing- gown, his fur-trimmed slippers, and even his elaborately embroidered night-shirts. But it was the dressing-room that most astonished and stupefied Chupin. He stood gazing in open-mouthed wonder at the immense white marble table, with its water spigots and its basins, its sponges and boxes, its pots and vials and cups; and he counted the brushes by the dozen--brushes hard and soft, brushes for the hair, for the beard, for the hands, and the application of cosmetic to the mustaches and eyebrows. Never had he seen in one collection such a variety of steel and silver instruments, knives, pincers, scissors, and files. "One might think oneself in a chiropodist's, or a dentist's establishment," remarked Chupin to the servant. "Does your master use all these every day?"
"Certainly, or rather twice a day--morning and evening--at his toilette."
Chupin expressed his feelings with a grimace and an exclamation of mocking wonder. "Ah, well! he must have a clean skin," he said.
His listeners laughed heartily; and the concierge, after exchanging a significant glance with the valet, said sotto voce, "Zounds! it's his business to be a handsome fellow!" The mystery was solved.
While Chupin changed the contents of the jardinieres, and remained upstairs in the intervals between the nine or ten journeys he made to the porte-cochere for more flowers, he listened attentively to the conversation between the concierge and the valet, and heard snatches of sentences that enlightened him wonderfully. Moreover, whenever a question arose as to placing a plant in one place rather than another, the valet stated as a conclusive argument that the baroness liked it in such or such a place, or that she would be better pleased with this or that arrangement, or that he must comply with the instructions she had given him. Chupin was therefore obliged to conclude that the flowers had been sent here by a baroness who possessed certain rights in the establishment. But who was she?
He was manoeuvering cleverly in the hope of ascertaining this point, when a carriage was heard driving into the courtyard below. "Monsieur must have returned!" exclaimed the valet, darting to the window.
Chupin also ran to look out, and saw a very elegant blue-lined brougham, drawn by a superb horse, but he did not perceive the viscount. In point of fact, M. de Coralth was already climbing the stairs, four at a time, and, a moment later, he entered the room, angrily exclaiming, "Florent, what does this mean? Why have you left all the doors open?"
Florent was the servant in the red waistcoat. He slightly shrugged his shoulders like a servant who knows too many of his master's secrets to have anything to fear, and in the calmest possible tone replied, "If the doors are open, it is only because the baroness has just sent some flowers. On Sunday, too, what a funny idea! And I have been treating Father Moulinet and this worthy fellow" (pointing to Chupin) "to a glass of wine, to acknowledge their kindness in assisting me."
Fearing recognition, Chupin hid his face as much as possible; but M. de Coralth did not pay the slightest attention to him. There was a dark frown on his handsome, usually smiling countenance, and his hair was in great disorder. Evidently enough, something had greatly annoyed him. "I am going out again," he remarked to his valet, "but first of all I must write two letters which you must deliver immediately."
He passed into the drawing-room as he spoke, and Florent scarcely waited till the door was closed before uttering an oath. "May the devil take him!" he exclaimed. "Here he sets me on the go again. It is five o'clock, too, and I have an appointment in half an hour.
A sudden hope quickened the throbbings of Chupin's heart. He touched the valet's arm, and in his most persuasive tone remarked: "I've nothing to do, and as your wine was so good, I'll do your errands for you, if you'll pay me for the wear and tear of shoe- leather."
Chupin's appearance must have inspired confidence, for the servant replied:--"Well--I don't refuse--but we'll see."
The viscount did not spend much time in writing; he speedily reappeared holding two letters which he flung upon the table, saying: "One of these is for the baroness. You must deliver it into her hands or into the hands of her maid--there will be no answer. You will afterward take the other to the person it is addressed to, and you must wait for an answer which you will place on my writing-table--and make haste." So saying, the viscount went off as he had entered--on the run--and a moment later, his brougham was heard rolling out of the courtyard.
Florent was crimson with rage. "There," said he, addressing Chupin rather than the concierge, "what did I tell you? A letter to be placed in madame's own hands or in the hands of her maid, and to be concealed from the baron, who is on the watch, of course. Naturally no one can execute that commission but myself."
"That's true!" replied Chupin; "but how about the other?"
The valet had not yet examined the second letter. He now took it from the table, and glanced at the address. "Ah," said he, "I can confide this one to you, my good fellow, and it's very fortunate, for it is to be taken to a place on the other side of the river. Upon my word! masters are strange creatures! You manage your work so as to have a little leisure, and the moment you think yourself free, pouf!--they send you anywhere in creation without even asking if it suits your convenience. If it hadn't been for you, I should have missed a dinner with some very charming ladies. But, above all, don't loiter on the way. I don't mind paying your omnibus fare if you like. And you heard him say there would be an answer. You can give it to Moulinet, and in exchange, he'll give you fifteen sous for your trouble, and six sous for your omnibus fare. Besides, if you can extract anything from the party the letter's intended for, you are quite welcome to it."
"Agreed, sir! Grant me time enough to give an answer to the lady who is waiting at the Madeleine, and I'm on my way. Give me the letter."
"Here it is, said the valet, handing it to Chupin. But as the latter glanced at the address he turned deadly pale, and his eyes almost started from their sockets. For this is what he read: "Madame Paul. Dealer in Tobacco. Quai de la Seine." Great as was his self-control, his emotion was too evident to escape notice. "What's the matter with you?" asked the concierge and the valet in the same breath. "What has happened to you?"
A powerful effort of will restored this young fellow's coolness, and ready in an instant with an excuse for his blunder, he replied, "I have changed my mind. What! you'd only give me fifteen sous to measure such a distance as that! Why, it isn't a walk--it's a journey!"
His explanation was accepted without demur. His listeners thought he was only taking advantage of the need they had of his services-- as was perfectly natural under the circumstances. "What! So you are dissatisfied!" cried the valet. "Very well! you shall have thirty sous--but be off!"
"So I will, at once," replied Chupin. And, imitating the whistle of a locomotive with wonderful perfection, he darted away at a pace which augured a speedy return.
However, when he was some twenty yards from the house he stopped short, glanced around him, and espying a dark corner slipped into it. "That fool in the red waistcoat will be coming out to take the letter to that famous baroness," he thought. "I'm here, and I'll watch him and see where he goes. I should like to find out the name of the kind and charitable lady who watches over his brigand of a master with such tender care."
The day and the hour were in his favor. Night was coming on, hastened by a thick fog; the street lamps were not yet lighted, and as it was Sunday most of the shops were closed. It grew dark so rapidly that Chupin was scarcely able to recognize Florent when he at last emerged from the house. It is true that he looked altogether unlike the servant in the red waist-coat. As he had the key to the wardrobe containing his master's clothes, he did not hesitate to use them whenever an opportunity offered. On this occasion he had appropriated a pair of those delicately tinted trousers which were M. de Coralth's specialty, with a handsome overcoat, a trifle too small for him, and a very elegant hat.
"Fine doings, indeed!" growled Chupin as he started in pursuit. "My servants sha'n't serve me in that way if I ever have any."
But he paused in his soliloquy, and prudently hid himself under a neighboring gateway. The gorgeous Florent was ringing at the door of one of the most magnificent mansions in the Rue de la Ville l'Eveque. The door was opened, and he went in. "Ah! ah!" thought Chupin, "he hadn't far to go. The viscount and the baroness are shrewd. When you have flowers to send to anybody it's convenient to be neighbors!"
He glanced round, and seeing an old man smoking his pipe on the threshold of a shop, he approached him and asked politely "Can you tell me whom that big house belongs to?"
"To Baron Trigault," replied the man, without releasing his hold on his pipe.
"Thank you, monsieur," replied Chupin, gravely. "I inquired, because I think of buying a house "And repeating the name of Trigault several times to impress it upon his memory he darted off on his errand.
It might be supposed that his unexpected success had delighted him, but, on the contrary, it rendered him even more exacting. The letter he carried burned his pocket like a red-hot iron. "Madame Paul," he muttered, "that must be the rascal's wife. First, Paul is his Christian name; secondly, I've been told that his wife keeps a tobacco shop--so the case is plain. But the strangest thing about it is that this husband and wife should write to each other, when I fancied them at dagger's ends." Chupin would have given a pint of his own blood to know the contents of the missive. The idea of opening it occurred to him, and it must be confessed that it was not a feeling of delicacy that prevented him. He was deterred by a large seal which had been carefully affixed, and which would plainly furnish evidence if the letter were tampered with. Thus Chupin was punished for Florent's faults, for this seal was the viscount's' invariable precaution against his servant's prying curiosity. So our enterprising youth could only read and re-read the superscription and smell the paper, which was strongly scented with verbena. He fancied that there was some mysterious connection between this letter intended for M. de Coralth's wife and the missive sent to the baroness. And why should it not be so? Had they not both been written under the influence of anger? Still he failed to perceive any possible connection between the rich baroness and the poor tobacco dealer, and his cogitations only made him more perplexed than ever. However, his efforts to solve the mystery did not interfere with the free use of his limbs, and he soon found himself on the Quai de la Seine. "Here I am," he muttered. "I've come more quickly than an omnibus."
The Quai de la Seine is a broad road, connecting the Rue de Flandres with the canal de l'Ourcq. On the left-hand side it is bordered with miserable shanties interspersed with some tiny shops, and several huge coal depots. On the right-hand side--that next to the canal--there are also a few provision stores. In the daytime there is no noisier nor livelier place than this same Quai; but nothing could be more gloomy at night-time when the shops are closed, when the few gas-lamps only increase the grimness of the shadows, and when the only sound that breaks the silence is the rippling of the water as its smooth surface is ruffled by some boatman propelling his skiff through the canal.
"The Viscount must certainly have made a mistake," thought Chupin; "there is no such shop on the Quai." He was wrong, however; for after passing the Rue de Soissons he espied the red lantern of a tobacco-shop, glimmering through the fog.