Chapter XIV
 

It was nearly midnight when M. Wilkie left the Hotel d'Argeles after the terrible scene in which he had revealed his true character. On seeing him pass out with haggard eyes, colorless lips, and disordered clothing, the servants gathered in the vestibule took him at first for another of those ruined gamblers who not unfrequently left the house with despair in their hearts.

"Another fellow who's had bad luck!" they remarked sneeringly to one another.

"No doubt about that. He is pretty effectually used up, judging from appearances," one of them remarked.

It was not until some moments later that they learned a portion of the truth through the servants who had been on duty upstairs, and who now ran down in great terror, crying that Madame d'Argeles was dying, and that a physician must be summoned at once.

M. Wilkie was already far away, hastening up the boulevard with an agile step. Any one else would have been overcome with shame and sorrow--would have been frightened by the thought of what he had done, and have striven to find some way to conceal his disgrace; but he, not in the least. In this frightful crisis, he was only conscious of one fact--that just as he raised his hand to strike Madame Lia d'Argeles, his mother, a big, burly individual had burst into the room, like a bombshell, caught him by the throat, forced him upon his knees, and compelled him to ask the lady's pardon. He, Wilkie, to be humiliated in this style! He would never endure that. This was an affront he could not swallow, one of those insults that cry out for vengeance and for blood. "Ah! the great brute shall pay for it," he repeated, again and again, grinding his teeth. And if he hastened up the boulevard, it was only because he hoped to meet his two chosen friends, M. Costard and the Viscount de Serpillon, the co-proprietors of Pompier de Nanterre.

For he intended to place his outraged honor in their care. They should be his seconds, and present his demand for satisfaction to the man who had insulted him. A duel was the only thing that could appease his furious anger and heal his wounded pride. And a great scandal, which he would be the hero of, was not without a certain charm for him. What a glorious chance to win notoriety at an epoch when newspapers have become public laundries, in which every one washes his soiled linen and dries it in the glare of publicity! He saw his already remarkable reputation enhanced by the interest that always attaches to people who are talked about, and he could hear in advance the flattering whisper which would greet his appearance everywhere: "You see that young man?--he is the hero of that famous adventure," etc. Moreover, he was already twisting and turning the terms of the notice which his seconds must have inserted in the Figaro, hesitating between two or three equally startling beginnings: "Another famous duel," or "Yesterday, after a scandalous scene, an encounter," etc., etc.

Unfortunately, he did not meet either M. Costard or the Viscount de Serpillon. Strange to say, they were not in any of the cafes, where the flower of French chivalry usually congregates, in the company of golden-haired young women, from nine in the evening until one o'clock in the morning. This disappointment grieved M. Wilkie sorely, although he derived some benefit from it, for his disordered attire attracted attention at each place he entered, and acquaintances eagerly inquired: "Where have you come from, and what has happened to you?" Whereupon he replied with an air of profound secrecy: "Pray don't speak of it. A shocking affair! If it were noised abroad I should be inconsolable."

At last the cafes began to close, and promenaders became rare. M. Wilkie, much to his regret, was obliged to go home. When he had locked his door and donned his dressing-gown, he sat down to think over the events of the day, and collect his scattered wits. What most troubled and disquieted him was not the condition in which he had left Madame Lia d'Argeles, his mother, who was, perhaps, dying, through his fault! It was not the terrible sacrifice that this poor woman had made for him in a transport of maternal love! It was not the thought of the source from which the money he had squandered for so many years had been derived. No, M. Wilkie was quite above such paltry considerations--good enough for commonplace and antiquated people. "He was too clever for that. Ah! yes. He had a stronger stomach, and was up with the times!" If he were sorely vexed in spirit it was because he thought that the immense property which he had believed his own had slipped, perhaps for ever, from his grasp. For rising threateningly between the Chalusse millions and himself, he pictured the form of his father, this man whom he did not know, but whose very name had made Madame d'Argeles shudder.

M. Wilkie was seized with terror when he looked his actual situation in the face. What was to become of him? He was certain that Madame d'Argeles would not give him another sou. She could not--he recognized that fact. His intelligence was equal to that. On the other hand, if he ever obtained anything from the count's estate, which was more than doubtful, would he not be obliged to wait a long time for it? Yes, in all probability such would be the case. Then how should he live, how would he be able to obtain food in the meantime? His despair was so poignant that tears came to his eyes; and he bitterly deplored the step he had taken. Yes, he actually sighed for the past; he longed to live over again the very years in which he had so often complained of his destiny. Then, though not a millionaire by any means, he at least wanted for nothing. Every quarter-day a very considerable allowance was promptly paid him, and, in great emergencies, he could apply to Mr. Patterson, who always sent a favorable answer if not drawn upon too heavily. Yes, he sighed for that time! Ah! if he had only then realized how fortunate he was! Had he not been one of the most opulent members of the society in which he moved? Had he not been flattered and admired more than any of his companions? Had he not found the most exquisite happiness in his part ownership of Pompier de Nanterre!

Now, what remained? Nothing, save anxiety concerning the future, and all sorts of uncertainties and terrors! What a mistake! What a blunder he had made! Ah! if he could only begin again. He sincerely wished that the great adversary of mankind had the Viscount de Coralth in his clutches. For, in his despair, it was the once dear viscount that he blamed, accused, and cursed.

He was in this ungrateful frame of mind when a loud, almost savage, ring came at his door. As his servant slept in an attic upstairs, Wilkie was quite alone in his rooms, so he took the lamp and went to open the door himself. At this hour of the night, the visitor could only be M. Costard or the Viscount de Serpillon, or perhaps both of them. "They have heard that I was looking for them, and so they have hastened here," he thought.

But he was mistaken. The visitor was neither of these gentlemen, but M. Ferdinand de Coralth in person. Prudence had compelled the viscount to leave Madame d'Argeles's card-party one of the last, but as soon as he was out of the house he had rushed to the Marquis de Valorsay's to hold a conference with him, far from suspecting that he was followed, and that an auxiliary of Pascal Ferailleur and Mademoiselle Marguerite was even then waiting for him below--an enemy as formidable as he was humble--Victor Chupin.

At sight of the man who had so long been his model--the friend who had advised what he styled his blunder--Wilkie was so surprised that he almost dropped his lamp. Then as his wrath kindled, "Ah! so it's you!" he exclaimed, angrily. "You come at a good time!"

But M. de Coralth was too much exasperated to notice Wilkie's strange greeting. Seizing him roughly by the arm, and closing the door with a kick, he dragged Wilkie back into the little drawing- room. "Yes, it's I," he said, curtly. "It's I--come to inquire if you have gone mad?"

"Viscount!"

"I can find no other explanation of your conduct! What! You choose Madame d'Argeles's reception day, and an hour when there are fifty guests in her drawing-room to present yourself!"

"Ah, well! it wasn't from choice. I had been there twice before, and had the doors shut in my face."

"You ought to have gone back ten times, a hundred times, a thousand times, rather than have accomplished such an idiotic prank as this."

"Excuse me."

"What did I recommend? Prudence, calmness and moderation, persuasive gentleness, sentiments of the loftiest nature, tenderness, a shower of tears----"

"Possibly, but----"

"But instead of that, you fall upon this woman like a thunderbolt, and set the whole household in the wildest commotion. What could you be thinking of, to make such an absurd and frightful scene? For you howled and shrieked like a street hawker, and we could hear you in the drawing-room. If all is not irretrievably lost, there must be a special Providence for the benefit of fools!"

In his dismay, Wilkie endeavored to falter some excuses, but he was only able to begin a few sentences which died away, uncompleted in his throat. The violence shown by M. de Coralth, who was usually as cold and as polished as marble, quieted his own wrath. Still toward the last he felt disposed to rebel against the insults that were being heaped upon him. "Do you know, viscount, that I begin to think this very strange," he exclaimed. "If any one else had led me into such a scrape, I should have called him to account in double-quick time."

M. de Coralth shrugged his shoulders with an air of contempt, and threateningly replied: "Understand, once for all, that you had better not attempt to bully me! Now, tell me what passed between your mother and yourself?"

"First I should like----"

"Dash it all! Do you suppose that I intend to remain here all night? Tell me what occurred, and be quick about it. And try to speak the truth."

It was one of M. Wilkie's greatest boasts that he had an indomitable will--an iron nature. But the viscount exercised powerful influence over him, and, to tell the truth, inspired him with a form of emotion which was nearly akin to fear. Moreover, a glimmer of reason had at last penetrated his befogged brain: he saw that M. de Coralth was right--that he had acted like a fool, and that, if he hoped to escape from the dangers that threatened him, he must take the advice of more experienced men than himself. So, ceasing his recriminations, he began to describe what he styled his explanation with Madame d'Argeles. All went well at first; for he dared not misrepresent the facts.

But when he came to the intervention of the man who had prevented him from striking his mother, he turned crimson, and rage again filled his heart. "I'm sorry I let myself get into such a mess!" he exclaimed. "You should have seen my condition. My shirt- collar was torn, and my cravat hung in tatters. He was much stronger than I--the contemptible scoundrel!--ah! if it hadn't been for that---- But I shall have my revenge. Yes, he shall learn that he can't trample a man under foot with impunity. To- morrow two of my friends will call upon him; and if he refuses to apologize or to give me satisfaction, I'll cane him."

It was evident enough that M. de Coralth had to exercise considerable constraint to listen to these fine projects. "I must warn you that you ought to speak in other terms of an honorable and honored gentleman," he interrupted, at last.

"Eh! what! You know him then?"

"Yes, Madame d'Argeles's defender is Baron Trigault."

M. Wilkie's heart bounded with joy, as he heard this name. "Ah! this is capital!" he exclaimed. "What! So it was Baron Trigault-- the noted gambler--who owns such a magnificent house in the Rue de la Ville l'Eveque, the husband of that extremely stylish lady, that notorious cocotte----"

The viscount sprang from his chair, and interrupting M. Wilkie: "I advise you, for the sake of your own safety," he said, measuring his words to give them greater weight, "never to mention the Baroness Trigault's name except in terms of the most profound respect."

There was no misunderstanding M. de Coralth's tone, and his glance said plainly that he would not allow much time to pass before putting his threat into execution. Having always lived in a lower circle to that in which the baroness sparkled with such lively brilliancy, M. Wilkie was ignorant of the reasons that induced his distinguished friend to defend her so warmly; but he did understand that it would be highly imprudent to insist, or even to discuss the matter. So, in his most persuasive manner, he resumed: "Let us say no more about the wife, but give our attention to the husband. So it was the baron who insulted me! A duel with him--what good luck! Well! he may sleep in peace to- night, but as soon as he is up in the morning he will find Costard and Serpillon on hand. Serpillon has not an equal as a second. First, he knows the best places for a meeting; then he lends the combatants weapons when they have none; he procures a physician; and he is on excellent terms with the journalists, who publish reports of these encounters."

The viscount had never had a very exalted opinion of Wilkie's intelligence, but now he was amazed to see how greatly he had overestimated it. "Enough of such foolishness," he interrupted, curtly. "This duel will never take place."

"I should like to know who will prevent it?"

"I will, if you persist in such an absurd idea. You ought to have sense enough to know that the baron would kick Serpillon out of the house, and that you would only cover yourself with ridicule. So, between your duel and my help make your choice, and quickly."

The prospect of sending his seconds to demand satisfaction from Baron Trigault was certainly a very attractive one. But, on the other hand, Wilkie could not afford to dispense with M. de Coralth's services. "But the baron has insulted me," he urged.

"Well, you can demand satisfaction when you obtain possession of your property: but the least scandal now would spoil your last chances."

"I will abandon the project, then," sighed Wilkie, despondently; "but pray advise me. What do you think of my situation?"

M. de Coralth seemed to consider a moment, and then gravely replied: "I think that, unassisted, you have no chance whatever. You have no standing, no influential connections, no position--you are not even a Frenchman."

"Alas! that is precisely what I have said to myself."

"Still, I am convinced that with some assistance you might overcome your mother's resistance, and even your father's pretentions."

"Yes, but where could I find protectors?"

The viscount's gravity seemed to increase. "Listen to me," said he; "I will do for you what I would not do for any one else. I will endeavor to interest in your cause one of my friends, who is all powerful by reason of his name, his fortune, and his connections--the Marquis de Valorsay, in fact."

"The one who is so well known upon the turf?"

"The same."

"And you will introduce me to him?"

"Yes. Be ready to-morrow at eleven o'clock, and I will call for you and take you to his house. If he interests himself in your cause, it is as good as gained." And as his companion overwhelmed him with thanks, he rose, and said: "I must go now. No more foolishness, and be ready to-morrow at the appointed time."

Thanks to the surprising mutability of temper which was the most striking characteristic of his nature, M. Wilkie was already consoled for his blunder.

He had received M. de Coralth as an enemy; but he now escorted him to the door with every obsequious attention--in fact, just as if he looked upon him as his preserver. A word which the viscount had dropped during the conversation had considerably helped to bring about this sudden revulsion of feelings. "You cannot fail to understand that if the Marquis de Valorsay espouses your cause, you will want for nothing. And if a lawsuit is unavoidable, he will be perfectly willing to advance the necessary funds." How could M. Wilkie lack confidence after that? The brightest hopes, the most ecstatic visions had succeeded the gloomy forebodings of a few hours before. The mere thought of being presented to M. de Valorsay, a nobleman celebrated for his adventures, his horses, and his fortune, more than sufficed to make him forget his troubles. What rapture to become that illustrious nobleman's acquaintance, perhaps his friend! To move in the same orbit as this star of the first magnitude which would inevitably cast some of its lustre upon him! Now he would be a somebody in the world. He felt that he had grown a head taller, and Heaven only knows with what disdain poor Costard and Serpillon would have been received had they chanced to present themselves at that moment.

It is needless to say that Wilkie dressed with infinite care on the following morning, no doubt in the hope of making a conquest of the marquis at first sight. He tried his best to solve the problem of appearing at the same time most recherche but at ease, excessively elegant and yet unostentatious; and he devoted himself to the task so unreservedly that he lost all conception of the flight of time: so that on seeing M. de Coralth enter his rooms, he exclaimed in unfeigned astonishment: "You here already?"

It seemed to him that barely five minutes had elapsed since he took his place before the looking-glass to study attitudes and gestures, with a new and elegant mode of bowing and sitting down, like an actor practising the effects which are to win him applause.

"Why do you say 'already?'" replied the viscount. "I am a quarter of an hour behind time. Are you not ready?"

"Yes, certainly."

"Let us start at once, then; my brougham is outside."

The drive was a silent one. M. Ferdinand de Coralth, whose smooth white skin would ordinarily have excited the envy of a young girl, did not look like himself. His face was swollen and covered with blotches, and there were dark blue circles round his eyes. He seemed, moreover, to be in a most savage humor. "He hasn't had sleep enough," thought M. Wilkie, with his usual discernment; "he hasn't a bronze constitution like myself."

M. Wilkie himself was insensible to fatigue, and although he had not closed his eyes the previous night, he only felt that nervous trepidation which invariably attacks debutants, and makes the throat so marvellously dry. For the first, and probably the last time in his life, M. Wilkie distrusted his own powers, and feared that he was not "quite up to the mark," as he elegantly expressed it.

The sight of the Marquis de Valorsay's handsome mansion was not likely to restore his assurance. When he entered the courtyard, where the master's mail-phaeton stood in waiting; when through the open doors of the handsome stables he espied the many valuable horses neighing in their stalls, and the numerous carriages shrouded in linen covers; when he counted the valets on duty in the vestibule, and when he ascended the staircase behind a lackey attired in a black dress-coat, and as serious in mien as a notary; when he passed through the handsome drawing-rooms, filled to overflowing with pictures, armor, statuary, and all the trophies gained by the marquis's horses upon the turf, M. Wilkie mentally acknowledged that he knew nothing of high life, and that what he had considered luxury was scarcely the shadow of the reality. He felt actually ashamed of his own ignorance. This feeling of inferiority became so powerful that he was almost tempted to turn and fly, when the man clothed in black opened the door and announced, in a clear voice: "M. le Vicomte de Coralth!--M. Wilkie."

With a most gracious and dignified air--the air of a true grand seigneur--the only portion of his inheritance which he had preserved intact, the marquis rose to his feet, and, offering his hand to M. de Coralth, exclaimed: "You are most welcome, viscount. This gentleman is undoubtedly the young friend you spoke of in the note I received from you this morning?"

"The same; and really he stands greatly in need of your kindness. He finds himself in an extremely delicate position, and knows no one who can lend him a helping hand."

"Ah, well, I will lend him one with pleasure, since he is your friend. But I must know the circumstances before I can act. Sit down, gentlemen, and enlighten me."

M. Wilkie had prepared his story in advance, a touching and witty narrative; but when the moment came to begin it, he found himself unable to speak. He opened his mouth, but no sound issued from his lips, and it seemed as if he had been stricken dumb. Accordingly it was M. de Coralth who made a statement of the case, and he did it well. The narrative thus gained considerably in clearness and precision; and even M. Wilkie noticed that his friend understood how to present the events in their most favorable light, and how to omit them altogether when his heartless conduct would have appeared too odious. He also noticed--and he considered it an excellent omen--that M. de Valorsay was listening with the closest attention.

Worthy marquis! if his own interests had been in jeopardy he could not have appeared more deeply concerned. When the viscount had concluded his story, he gravely exclaimed: "Your young friend is indeed in a most critical position, a position from which he cannot escape without being terribly victimized, if he's left dependent on his own resources."

"But it is understood that you will help him, is it not?"

M. de Valorsay reflected for a little, and then, addressing M. Wilkie, replied: "Yes, I consent to assist you, monsieur. First, because your cause seems to me just, and, also, because you are M. de Coralth's friend. I promise you my aid on one condition--that you will follow my advice implicitly."

The interesting young man lifted his hand, and, by dint of a powerful effort, he succeeded in articulating: "Anything you wish!--upon my sacred word!"

"You must understand that when I engage in an enterprise, it must not fail. The eye of the public is upon me, and I have my prestige to maintain. I have given you a great mark of confidence, for in lending you my influence I become, in some measure at least, your sponsor. But I cannot accept this great responsibility unless I am allowed absolute control of the affair."

"And I think that we ought to begin operations this very day. The main thing is to circumvent your father, the terrible man with whom your mother has threatened you."

"Ah! but how?"

"I shall dress at once and go to the Hotel de Chalusse, in order to ascertain what has occurred there. You on your side must hasten to Madame d'Argeles and request her politely, but firmly, to furnish you with the necessary proofs to assert your rights. If she consents, well and good! If she refuses, we will consult some lawyer as to the next step. In any case, call here again at four o'clock."

But the thought of meeting Madame d'Argeles again was anything but pleasing to Wilkie. "I would willingly yield that undertaking to some one else," said he. "Cannot some one else go in my place?"

Fortunately M. de Coralth knew how to encourage him. "What! are you afraid?" he asked.

Afraid! he?--never! It was easy to see that by the way he settled his hat on his head and went off, slamming the door noisily behind him.

"What an idiot!" muttered M. de Coralth. "And to think that there are ten thousand in Paris built upon the very same plan!"

M. de Valorsay gravely shook his head. "Let us thank fortune that he is as he is. No youth who possessed either heart or intelligence would play the part that I intend for him, and enable me to obtain proud Marguerite and her millions. But I fear he won't go to Madame d'Argeles's house. You noticed his repugnance!"

"Oh, you needn't trouble yourself in the least on that account-- he'll go. He would go to the devil if the noble Marquis de Valorsay ordered him to do so."

M. de Coralth understood Wilkie perfectly. The fear of being considered a coward by a nobleman like the Marquis de Valorsay was more than sufficient, not only to divest him of all his scruples, but even to induce him to commit any act of folly, or actually a crime. For if he had looked upon M. de Coralth as an oracle, he considered the marquis to be a perfect god.

Accordingly, as he hastened toward Madame d'Argeles's residence, he said to himself: "Why shouldn't I go to her house? I've done her no injury. Besides, she won't eat me." And remembering that he should be obliged to render a report of this interview, he resolved to assert his superiority and to remain cool and unmoved, as he had seen M. de Coralth do so often.

However, the unusual aspect of the house excited his surprise, and puzzled him not a little. Three huge furniture vans, heavily laden, were standing outside the gate. In the courtyard there were two more vehicles of the same description, which a dozen men or so were busily engaged in loading. "Ah, ha!" muttered M. Wilkie, "it was fortunate that I came--very fortunate; so she was going to run away!" Thereupon, approaching a group of servants who were in close conference in the hall, he demanded, in his most imperious manner: "Madame d'Argeles!"

The servants remembered the visitor perfectly; they now knew who he really was, and they could not understand how he could have the impudence and audacity to come there again so soon after the shameful scene of the previous evening. "Madame is at home," replied one of the men, in anything but a polite tone; "and I will go and see if she will consent to see you. Wait here."

He went off, leaving M. Wilkie in the vestibule to settle his collar and twirl his puny mustaches, with affected indifference; but in reality he was far from comfortable. For the servants did not hesitate to stare at him, and it was quite impossible not to read their contempt in their glances. They even sneered audibly and pointed at him; and he heard five or six epithets more expressive than elegant which could only have been meant for himself. "The fools!" thought he, boiling with anger. "The scoundrels! Ah! if I dared. If a gentleman like myself was allowed to notice such blackguards, how I'd chastise them!"

But the valet who had gone to warn Madame d'Argeles soon reappeared and put an end to his sufferings. "Madame will see you," said the man, impudently. "Ah! if I were in her place----"

"Come, make haste," rejoined Wilkie, indignantly, and following the servant, he was ushered into a room which had already been divested of its hangings, curtains, and furniture. He here found Madame d'Argeles engaged in packing a large trunk with household linen and sundry articles of clothing.

By a sort of miracle the unfortunate woman had survived the terrible shock which had at first threatened to have an immediately fatal effect. Still she had none the less received her death-blow. It was only necessary to look at her to be assured of that. She was so greatly changed that when M. Wilkie's eyes first fell on her, he asked himself if this were really the same person whom he had met on the previous evening. Henceforth she would be an old woman. You would have taken her for over fifty, so terrible had been the sufferings caused her by the shameful conduct of her son. In this sad-eyed, haggard-faced woman, clad in black, no one would have recognized the notorious Lia d'Argeles, who, only the evening before, had driven round the lake, reclining on the cushions of her victoria, and eclipsing all the women around her by the splendor of her toilette. Nothing now remained of the gay worldling but the golden hair which she was condemned to see always the same, since its tint had been fixed by dyes as indelible as the stains upon her past.

She rose with difficulty when M. Wilkie entered, and in the expressionless voice of those who are without hope, she asked: "What do you wish of me?"

As usual, when the time came to carry out his happiest conceptions, his courage failed him. "I came to talk about our affairs, you know," he replied, "and I find you moving."

"I am not moving."

"Nonsense! you can't make me believe that! What's the meaning of these carts in the courtyard?"

"They are here to convey all the furniture in the house to the auction-rooms."

Wilkie was struck dumb for a moment, but eventually recovering himself a little, he exclaimed: "What! you are going to sell everything?"

"Yes."

"Astonishing, upon my honor! But afterward?"

"I shall leave Paris."

"Bah! and where are you going?"

With a gesture of utter indifference, she gently replied: "I don't know; I shall go where no one will know me, and where it will be possible for me to hide my shame."

A terrible disquietude seized hold of Wilkie. This sudden change of residence, this departure which so strongly resembled flight, this cold greeting when he expected passionate reproaches, seemed to indicate that Madame d'Argeles's resolution would successfully resist any amount of entreaty on his part. "The devil," he remarked, "I don't think this at all pleasant! What is to become of me? How am I to obtain possession of the Count de Chalusse's estate? That's what I am after! It's rightfully mine, and I'm determined to have it, as I told you once before. And when I've once taken anything into my head----"

He paused, for he could no longer face the scornful glances that Madame d'Argeles was giving him. "Don't be alarmed," she replied bitterly, "I shall leave you the means of asserting your right to my parents' estate."

"Ah--so----"

"Your threats obliged me to decide contrary to my own wishes. I felt that no amount of slander or disgrace would daunt you."

"Of course not, when so many millions are at stake."

"I reflected, and I saw that nothing would arrest you upon your downward path except a large fortune. If you were poor and compelled to earn your daily bread--a task which you are probably incapable of performing--who can tell what depths of degradation you might descend to? With your instincts and your vices, who knows what crime you wouldn't commit to obtain money? It wouldn't be long before you were in the dock, and I should hear of you only through your disgrace. But, on the other hand, if you were rich, you would probably lead an honest life, like many others, who, wanting for nothing, are not tempted to do wrong, who, in fact, show virtue in which there is nothing worthy of praise. For real virtue implies temptation--a struggle and victory."

Although he did not understand these remarks very well, M. Wilkie evinced a desire to offer some objections; but Madame d'Argeles had already resumed: "So I went to my notary this morning. I told him everything; and by this time my renunciation of my rights to the estate of the Count de Chalusse is already recorded."

"What! your renunciation. Oh! no."

"Allow me to finish since you don't understand me. As soon as I renounce the inheritance it becomes yours."

"Truly?"

"I have no wish to deceive you. I only desire that the name of Lia d'Argeles should not be mentioned. I will give you the necessary proofs to establish your identity; my marriage contract and your certificate of birth."

It was joy that made M. Wilkie speechless now. "And when will you give me these documents?" he faltered, after a short pause.

"You shall have them before you leave this house; but first of all I must talk with you."