Baron Trigault's Vengeance by Emile Gaboriau
As a millionaire and a gambler, Baron Trigault enjoyed all sorts of privileges. He assumed the right to be brutal, ill-bred, cynical and bold; to be one of those persons who declare that folks must take them as they find them. But his rudeness now was so thoroughly offensive that under any other circumstances the marquis would have resented it. However, he had special reasons for preserving his temper, so he decided to laugh.
"Yes, these stories always end in the same way, baron," said he. "You haven't touched a card this morning, and I know your hands are itching. Excuse me for making you waste precious time, as you say; but what you have just heard was only a necessary preface."
"Only a preface?"
"Yes; but don't be discouraged. I have arrived at the object of my visit now."
As Baron Trigault was supposed to enjoy an income of at least eight hundred thousand francs a year, he received in the course of a twelvemonth at least a million applications for money or help, and for this reason he had not an equal for detecting a coming appeal. "Good heavens!" he thought, "Valorsay is going to ask me for money." In fact, he felt certain that the marquis's pretended carelessness concealed real embarrassment, and that it was difficult for him to find the words he wanted.
"So I am about to marry," M. de Valorsay resumed--"I wish to break off my former life, to turn over a new leaf. And now the wedding gifts, the two fetes that I propose giving, the repairs at Valorsay, and the honeymoon with my wife--all these things will cost a nice little sum."
"A nice little sum, indeed!"
"Ah, well! as I'm not going to wed an heiress, I fear I shall run a trifle short. The matter was worrying me a little, when I thought of you. I said to myself: 'The baron, who always has money at his disposal, will no doubt let me have the use of five thousand louis for a year.'"
The baron's eyes were fixed upon his companion's face. "Zounds!" he exclaimed in a half-grieved, half-petulant tone; "I haven't the amount!"
It was not disappointment that showed itself on the marquis's face; it was absolute despair, quickly concealed.
But the baron had detected it; and he realized his applicant's urgent need. He felt certain that M. de Valorsay was financially ruined--and yet, as it did not suit his plans to refuse, he hastily added: "When I say I haven't that amount, I mean that I haven't got it on hand just at this moment. But I shall have it within forty-eight hours; and if you are at home at this time on the day after to-morrow, I will send you one of my agents, who will arrange the matter with you."
A moment before, the marquis had allowed his consternation to show itself; but this time he knew how to conceal the joy that filled his soul. So it was in the most indifferent manner, as if the affair were one of trivial importance, that he thanked the baron for being so obliging. Plainly enough, he now longed to make his escape, and indeed, after rattling off a few commonplace remarks. he rose to his feet and took his leave, exclaiming: "Till the day after to-morrow, then!"
The baron sank into an arm-chair, completely overcome. A martyr to a passion that was stronger than reason itself, the victim of a fatal love which he had not been able to drive from his heart, Baron Trigault had passed many terrible hours, but never had he been so completely crushed as at this moment when chance revealed the secret which he had vainly pursued for years. The old wounds in his heart opened afresh, and his sufferings were poignant beyond description. All his efforts to save this woman whom he at once loved and hated from the depths of degradation, had proved unavailing. "And she has extorted money from the Count de Chalusse," he thought; "she sold him the right to adopt their own daughter." And so strange are the workings of the human heart, that this circumstance, trivial in comparison with many others, drove the unfortunate baron almost frantic with rage. What did it avail him that he had become one of the richest men in Paris? He allowed his wife eight thousand francs a month, almost one hundred thousand francs a year, merely for her dresses and fancies. Not a quarter-day passed, but what he paid her debts to a large amount, and in spite of all this, she had sunk so low as to extort money from a man who had once loved her. "What can she do with it all?" muttered the baron, overcome with sorrow and indignation. "How can she succeed in spending the income of several millions?"
A name, the name of Ferdinand de Coralth, rose to his lips; but he did not pronounce it. He saw Pascal emerging from the smoking- room; and though he had forgotten the young advocate's very existence, his appearance now restored him to a consciousness of reality. "Ah, well! M. Ferailleur?" he said, like a man suddenly aroused from some terrible nightmare. Pascal tried to make some reply, but he was unable to do so--such a flood of incoherent thoughts was seething and foaming in his brain. "Did you hear, M. de Valorsay?" continued the baron. "Now we know, beyond the possibility of doubt, who Mademoiselle Marguerite's mother is. What is to be done? What would you do in my place?"
"Ah, monsieur! how can I tell?"
"Wouldn't your first thought be of vengeance! It is mine. But upon whom can I wreak my vengeance? Upon the Count de Chalusse? He is dead. Upon my wife? Yes, I might do so; but I lack the courage--Mademoiselle Marguerite remains."
"But she is innocent, monsieur; she has never wronged you."
The baron did not seem to hear this exclamation. "And to make Mademoiselle Marguerite's life one long misery," said he, "I need only favor her marriage with the marquis. Ah, he would make her cruelly expiate the crime of her birth."
"But you won't do so!" cried Pascal, in a transport, "it would be shameful; I won't allow it. Never, I swear before high Heaven! never, while I live, shall Valorsay marry Marguerite. He may perhaps vanquish me in the coming struggle; he may lead her to the threshold of the church, but there he will find me--armed--and I will have justice--human justice in default of legal satisfaction. And, afterward, the law may take its course!"
The baron looked at him with deep emotion. "Ah, you know what it is to love!" he exclaimed; and in a hollow voice, he added: "and thus it was that I loved Marguerite's mother."
The breakfast-table had not been cleared, and a large decanter of water was still standing on it. The baron poured out two large glasses, which he drained with feverish avidity, and then he began to walk aimlessly about the room.
Pascal held his peace. It seemed to him that his own destiny was being decided in this man's mind, that his whole future depended upon the determination he arrived at. A prisoner awaiting the verdict of the jury could not have suffered more intense anxiety. At last, when a minute, which seemed a century, had elapsed, the baron paused. "Now as before, M. Ferailleur," he said, roughly, "I'm for you and with you. Give me your hand--that's right. Honest people ought to protect and assist one another when scoundrels assail them. We will reinstate you in public esteem, monsieur. We will unmask Coralth, and we will crush Valorsay if we find that he is really the instigator of the infamous plot that ruined you."
"What, monsieur! Can you doubt it after your conversation with him?"
The baron shook his head. "I've no doubt but what Valorsay is ruined financially," said he. "I am certain that my hundred thousand francs will be lost forever if I lend them to him. I would be willing to swear that he bet against his own horse and prevented the animal from winning, as he is accused of doing."
"You must see, then--"
"Excuse me--all this does not explain the great discrepancy between your allegations and his story. You assure me that he cares nothing whatever for Mademoiselle Marguerite; he pretends that he adores her."
"Yes, monsieur, yes--the scoundrel dared to say so. Ah! if I had not been deterred by a fear of losing my revenge!"
"I understand; but allow me to conclude. According to you, Mademoiselle Marguerite possesses several millions. According to him, she hasn't a penny of her own. Which is right? I believe he is. His desire to borrow a hundred thousand francs of me proves it; and, besides, he wouldn't have come this morning to tell me a falsehood, which would be discovered to-morrow. Still, if he is telling the truth, it is impossible to explain the foul conspiracy you have suffered by."
This objection had previously presented itself to Pascal's mind, and he had found an explanation which seemed to him a plausible one. "M. de Chalusse was not dead," said he, "when M. de Coralth and M. de Valorsay decided on this plan of ridding themselves of me. Consequently, Mademoiselle Marguerite was still an heiress."
"That's true; but the very day after the commission of the crime, the accomplices must have discovered that it could do them no good; so, why have they still persisted in their scheme?"
Pascal tried to find a satisfactory answer, but failed.
"There must be some iniquitous mystery in this affair, which neither you nor I suspect," remarked the baron.
"That is exactly what my mother told me."
"Ah! that's Madame Ferailleur's opinion? Then it is a good one. Come, let us reason a little. Mademoiselle Marguerite loved you, you say?"
"And she has suddenly broken off the engagement?"
"She wrote to me that the Count de Chalusse extorted from her a promise on his death-bed, that she would marry the Marquis de Valorsay."
The baron sprang to his feet. "Stop," he cried--"stop! We now have a clue to the truth, perhaps. Ah! so Mademoiselle Marguerite has written to you that M. de Chalusse commanded her to marry the marquis! Then the count must have been fully restored to consciousness before he breathed his last. On the other hand, Valorsay pretends that Mademoiselle Marguerite is left without resources, simply because the count died too suddenly to be able to write or to sign a couple of lines. Can you reconcile these two versions of the affair, M. Ferailleur? Certainly not. Then which version is false? We must ascertain that point. When shall you see Mademoiselle Marguerite again?"
"She has requested me never to try to see her again."
"Very well! She must be disobeyed. You must discover some way of seeing her without anyone's knowledge. She is undoubtedly watched, so don't write on any account." He reflected for a moment, and then added: "We shall, perhaps, become morally certain of Valorsay's and Coralth's guilt, but there's a wide difference between this and the establishment of their guilt by material proofs. Two scoundrels who league to ruin an honest man don't sign a contract to that effect before a notary. Proofs! Ah! where shall we find them? We must gain an intimate knowledge of Valorsay's private life. The best plan would be to find some man devoted to our interests who would watch him, and insinuate himself into his confidence."
Pascal interrupted the baron with an eager gesture. Hope glittered in his eyes. "Yes!" he exclaimed, "yes; it is necessary that M. de Valorsay should be watched by a man of quick perception--a man clever enough to make himself useful to the marquis, and capable of rendering him an important service in case of need. I will be the man, monsieur, if you will allow me. The thought occurred to me just now while I was listening to you. You promised to send some one to Valorsay's house with money. I entreat you to allow me to take the place of the man you intended to send. The marquis doesn't know me, and I am sufficiently sure of myself to promise you that I will not betray my identity. I will present myself as your agent; he will give me his confidence. I shall take him money or fair promises, I shall be well received, and I have a plan----"
He was interrupted by a rap at the door. The next moment a footman entered, and informed his master that a messenger wished to speak to him on urgent business. "Let him come in," said the baron.
It was Job, Madame Lia d'Argeles's confidential servant, who entered the room. He bowed respectfully, and, with an air of profound mystery exclaimed: "I have been looking for the baron everywhere. I was ordered by madame not to return without him."
"Very well," said M. Trigault. "I will go with you at once."