M. de Tregars and Maxence were in luck. They had a good driver and
a fair horse; and in twenty minutes they were at the trunk store.
As soon as the cab stopped,
"Well," exclaimed M. de Tregars, "I suppose it has to be done."
And, with the look of a man who has made up his mind to do something
which is extremely repugnant to him, he jumped out, and, followed
by Maxence, entered the shop.
"It was a modest establishment; and the people who kept it, husband
and wife, seeing two customers coming in, rushed to meet them, with
that welcoming smile which blossoms upon the lips of every Parisian
"What will you have, gentlemen?"
And, with wonderful volubility, they went on enumerating every
article which they had for sale in their shop, - from the
"indispensable-necessary," containing seventy-seven pieces of solid
silver, and costing four thousand francs, down to the humblest
carpet-bag at thirty-nine cents.
But Marius de Tregars interrupted them as soon as he could get an
opportunity, and, showing them their bill,
"It was here, wasn't it," he inquired, "that the two trunks were
bought which are charged in this bill?"
"Yes, sir," answered simultaneously both husband and wife.
"When were they delivered?"
"Our porter went to deliver them, less than two hours after they
By this time the shopkeepers were beginning to exchange uneasy looks.
"Why do you ask?" inquired the woman in a tone which indicated that
she had the settled intention not to answer, unless for good and
To obtain the simplest information is not always as easy as might
be supposed. The suspicion of the Parisian tradesman is easily
aroused; and, as his head is stuffed with stories of spies and
robbers, as soon as he is questioned he becomes as dumb as an oyster.
But M. de Tregars had foreseen the difficulty:
"I beg you to believe, madame," he went on, "that my questions are
not dictated by an idle curiosity. Here are the facts. A relative
of ours, a man of a certain age, of whom we are very fond, and whose
head is a little weak, left his home some forty-eight hours since.
We are looking for him, and we are in hopes, if we find these trunks,
to find him at the same time."
With furtive glances, the husband and wife were tacitly consulting
"The fact is," they said, "we wouldn't like, under any consideration,
to commit an indiscretion which might result to the prejudice of a
"Fear nothing," said M. de Tregars with a reassuring gesture. "If
we have not had recourse to the police, it's because, you know, it
isn't pleasant to have the police interfere in one's affairs. If
you have any objections to answer me, however, I must, of course,
apply to the commissary."
The argument proved decisive.
"If that's the case," replied the woman, "I am ready to tell all I
"Well, then, madame, what do you know?"
"These two trunks were bought on Friday afternoon last, by a man of
a certain age, tall, very thin, with a stern countenance, and
wearing a long frock coat."
"No more doubt," murmured Maxence. "It was he."
And now," the woman went on, " that you have just told me that your
relative was a little weak in the head, I remember that this
gentleman had a strange sort of way about him, and that he kept
walking about the store as if he had fleas on his legs. And awful
particular he was too! Nothing was handsome enough and strong
enough for him; and he was anxious about the safety-locks, as he
had, he said, many objects of value, papers, and securities, to put
"And where did he tell you to send the two trunks?"
"Rue du Cirque, to Mme. - wait a minute, I have the name at the end
of my tongue."
"You must have it on your books, too," remarked M. de Tregars.
The husband was already looking over his blotter.
"April 26, 1872," he said. "26, here it is: 'Two leather trunks,
patent safety-locks: Mme. Zelie Cadelle, 49 Rue du Cirque.'"
Without too much affectation, M. de Tregars had drawn near to the
shopkeeper, and was looking over his shoulder.
"What is that," he asked, "written there, below the address?"
"That, sir, is the direction left by the customer 'Mark on each end
of the trunks, in large letters, "Rio de Janeiro."'"
Maxence could not suppress an exclamation. "Oh!"
But the tradesman mistook him; and, seizing this magnificent
opportunity to display his knowledge,
"Rio de Janeiro is the capital of Brazil," he said in a tone of
importance. "And your relative evidently intended to go there; and,
if he has not changed his mind, I doubt whether you can overtake
him; for the Brazilian steamer was to have sailed yesterday from
Whatever may have been his intentions, M. de Tregars remained
"If that's the case," he said to the shopkeepers, "I think I had
better give up the chase. I am much obliged to you, however, for
But, once out again,
"Do you really believe," inquired Maxence, "that my father has
M.de Tregars shook his head.
"I will give you my opinion," he uttered, "after I have investigated
matters in the Rue du Cirque."
They drove there in a few minutes; and, the cab having stopped at
the entrance of the street, they walked on foot in front of No. 49.
It was a small cottage, only one story in height, built between a
sanded court-yard and a garden, whose tall trees showed above the
roof. At the windows could be seen curtains of light-colored silk,
- a sure indication of the presence of a young and pretty woman.
For a few minutes Marius de Tregars remained in observation; but,
as nothing stirred,
"We must find out something, somehow," he exclaimed impatiently.
And noticing a large grocery store bearing No. 62, he directed his
steps towards it, still accompanied by Maxence.
It was the hour of the day when customers are rare. Standing in
the centre of the shop, the grocer, a big fat man with an air of
importance, was overseeing his men, who were busy putting things
M. de Tregars took him aside, and with an accent of mystery,
"I am," he said, "a clerk with M. Drayton, the jeweler in the Rue
de la Paix; and I come to ask you one of those little favors which
tradespeople owe to each other."
A frown appeared on the fat man's countenance. He thought, perhaps,
that M. Drayton's clerks were rather too stylish-looking; or else,
perhaps, be felt apprehensive of one of those numerous petty swindles
of which shopkeepers are constantly the victims.
"What is it?" said he. "Speak!"
"I am on my way," spoke M. de Tregars, "to deliver a ring which a
lady purchased of us yesterday. She is not a regular customer, and
has given us no references. If she doesn't pay, shall I leave the
ring? My employer told me, 'Consult some prominent tradesman of the
neighborhood, and follow his advice.'"
Prominent tradesman! Delicately tickled vanity was dancing in the
"What is the name of the lady?" he inquired.
"Mme. Zelie Cadelle."
The grocer burst out laughing.
"In that case, my boy," he said, tapping familiarly the shoulder
of the so-called clerk, "whether she pays or not, you can deliver
The familiarity was not, perhaps, very much to the taste of the
Marquis de Tregars. No matter.
"She is rich, then, that lady?" he said.
"Personally no. But she is protected by an old fool, who allows
her all her fancies."
"It is scandalous; and you cannot form an idea of the amount of
money that is spent in that house. Horses, carriages, servants,
dresses, balls, dinners, card-playing all night, a perpetual
carnival: it must be ruinous!
M. de Tregars never winced.
"And the old man who pays?" he asked; "do you know him?"
"I have seen him pass,-a tall, lean, old fellow, who doesn't look
very rich, either. But excuse me: here is a customer I must wait
Having walked out into the street,
"We must separate now," declared M. de Tregars to Maxence.
"What! You wish to"
"Go and wait for me in that caf yonder, at the corner of the street.
I must see that Zelie Cadelle and speak to her."
And without suffering an objection on the part of Maxence, he walked
resolutely up to the cottage-gate, and rang vigorously.
At the sound of the bell, one of those servants stepped out into the
yard, who seem manufactured on purpose, heaven knows where, for the
special service of young ladies who keep house, - a tall rascal with
sallow complexion and straight hair, a cynical eye, and a low,
"What do you wish, sir?" he inquired through the grating.
"That you should open the door, first," uttered M. de Tregars, with
such a look and such an accent, that the other obeyed at once.
"And now," he added, "go and announce me to Mme. Zelie Cadelle."
"Madame is out," replied the valet.
And noticing that M. de Tregars shrugged his shoulders,
"Upon my word," he said, "she has gone to the bois with one of her
friends. If you won't believe me, ask my comrades there."
And he pointed out two other servants of the same pattern as himself,
who were silting at a table in the carriage-house, playing cards,
But M. de Tregars did not mean to be imposed upon. He felt certain
that the man was lying. Instead, therefore, of discussing,
"I want you to take me to your mistress," be ordered, in a tone that
admitted of no objection; "or else I'll find my way to her alone."
It was evident that he would do just as he said, by force if needs
be. The valet saw this, and, after hesitating a moment longer,
"Come along, then," he said, "since you insist so much. We'll talk
to the chambermaid."
And, having led M. de Tregars into the vestibule, he called out,
A woman at once made her appearance who was a worthy mate for the
valet. She must have been about forty, and the most alarming
duplicity could be read upon her features, deeply pitted by the
small-pox. She wore a pretentious dress, an apron like a
stage-servant, and a cap profusely decorated with flowers and
"Here is a gentleman," said the valet, "who insists upon seeing
madame. You fix it with him."
Better than her fellow servant, Mlle. Amanda could judge with whom
she had to deal. A single glance at this obstinate visitor
convinced her that he was not one who can be easily turned off.
Putting on, therefore, her pleasantest smile, thus displaying at
the same time her decayed teeth,
"The fact is that monsieur will very much disturb madame," she
"I shall excuse myself."
"But I'll be scolded."
Instead of answering, M. de Tregars took a couple of
twenty-franc-notes out of his pocket, and slipped them into her
"Please follow me to the parlor, then," she said with a heavy sigh.
M. de Tregars did so, whilst observing everything around him with
the attentive perspicacity of a deputy sheriff preparing to make
out an inventory.
Being double, the house was much more spacious than could have
been thought from the street, and arranged with that science of
comfort which is the genius of modern architects.
The most lavish luxury was displayed on all sides; not that solid,
quiet, and harmonious luxury which is the result of long years of
opulence, but the coarse, loud, and superficial luxury of the
parvenu, who is eager to enjoy quick, and to possess all that he
has craved from others.
The vestibule was a folly, with its exotic plants climbing along
crystal trellises, and its Sevres and China jardinieres filled with
gigantic azaleas. And along the gilt railing of the stairs marble
and bronze statuary was intermingled with masses of growing flowers.
"It must take twenty thousand francs a year to keep up this
conservatory alone," thought M. de Tregars.
Meantime the old chambermaid opened a satinwood door with silver
"That's the parlor," she said. "Take a seat whilst I go and tell
In this parlor everything had been combined to dazzle. Furniture,
carpets, hangings, every thing, was rich, too rich, furiously,
incontestably, obviously rich. The chandelier was a masterpiece,
the clock an original and, unique piece of work. The pictures
hanging upon the wall were all signed with the most famous names.
"To judge of the rest by what I have seen," thought M. de Tregars,
"there must have been at least four or five hundred thousand francs
spent on this house."
And, although he was shocked by a quantity of details which betrayed
the most absolute lack of taste, he could hardly persuade himself
that the cashier of the Mutual Credit could be the master of this
sumptuous dwelling; and he was asking himself whether he had not
followed the wrong scent, when a circumstance came to put an end to
all his doubts.
Upon the mantlepiece, in a small velvet frame, was Vincent Favoral's
M. de Tregars had been seated for a few minutes, and was collecting
his somewhat scattered thoughts, when a slight grating sound, and
a rustling noise, made him turn around.
Mme. Zelie Cadelle was coming in.
She was a woman of some twenty-five or six, rather tall, lithe, and
well made. Her face was pale and worn; and her heavy dark hair was
scattered over her neck and shoulders. She looked at once sarcastic
and good-natured, impudent and naive, with her sparkling eyes, her
turned-up nose, and wide mouth furnished with teeth, sound and white,
like those of a young dog. She had wasted no time upon her dress;
for she wore a plain blue cashmere wrapper, fastened at the waist
with a sort of silk scarf of similar color.
From the very threshold,
"Dear me!" she exclaimed, "how very singular!"
M. de Tregars stepped forward.
"What?" he inquired.
"Oh, nothing!" she replied, - "nothing at all!"
And without ceasing to look at him with a wondering eye, but
suddenly changing her tone of voice,
"And so, sir," she said, "my servants have been unable to keep you
from forcing yourself into my house!"
"I hope, madame," said M. de Tregars with a polite bow, "that you
will excuse my persistence. I come for a matter which can suffer
She was still looking at him obstinately. "Who are you?" she asked.
"My name will not afford you any information. I am the Marquis de
"Tregars!" she repeated, looking up at the ceiling, as if in search
of an inspiration. "Tregars! Never heard of it!"
And throwing herself into an 'arm chair,
"Well, sir, what do you wish with me, then? Speak!"
He had taken a seat near her, and kept his eyes riveted upon hers.
"I have come, madame," he replied, "to ask you to put me in the way
to see and speak to the man whose photograph is there on the
He expected to take her by surprise, and that by a shudder, a cry,
a gesture, she might betray her secret. Not at all.
"Are you, then, one of M. Vincent's friends?" she asked quietly.
M. de Tregars understood, and this was subsequently confirmed, that
it was under his Christian name of Vincent alone, that the cashier
of the Mutual Credit was known in the Rue du Cirque.
"Yes, I am a friend of his," he replied; "and if I could see him,
I could probably render him an important service.
"Well, you are too late."
"Because M. Vincent put off more than twenty-four hours since?"
"Are you sure of that?"
"As sure as a person can be who went to the railway station
yesterday with him and all his baggage."
"You saw him leave?"
"As I see you."
"Where was he going?"
"To Havre, to take the steamer for Brazil, which was to sail on the
same day; so that, by this time, he must be awfully seasick."
"And you really think that it was his intention to go to Brazil?"
"He said so. It was written on his thirty-six trunks in letters
half a foot high. Besides, he showed me his ticket."
"Have you any idea what could have induced him to expatriate himself
thus, at his age?"
"He told me he had spent all his money, and also some of other
people's; that he was afraid of being arrested; and that he was
going yonder to be quiet, and try to make another fortune."
Was Mme. Zelie speaking in good faith? To ask the question would
have been rather naive; but an effort might be made to find out.
Carefully concealing his own impressions, and the importance he
attached to this conversation,
"I pity you sincerely, madame," resumed M. de Tregars; "for you must
be sorely grieved by this sudden departure."
"Me!" she said in a voice that came from the heart. "I don't care
Marquis de Tregars knew well enough the ladies of the class to which
he supposed that Mme. Zelie Cadelle must belong, not to be surprised
at this frank declaration.
"And yet," he said, "you are indebted to him for the princely
magnificence that surrounds you here."
"He being gone, as you say, will you be able to keep up your style
Half raising herself from her seat,
"I haven't the slightest idea of doing so," she exclaimed." Never
in the whole world have I had such a stupid time as for the last
five months that I have spent in this gilded cage. What a bore,
my beloved brethren! I am yawning still at the mere thought of the
number of times I have yawned in it."
M. de Tregars' gesture of surprise was the more natural, that his
surprise was immense.
"You are tired being here?" he said.
"And you have only been here five months?"
"Dear me; yes! and by the merest chance, too, you'll see. One day
at the beginning of last December, I was coming from - but no matter
where I was coming from. At any rate, I hadn't a cent in my pocket,
and nothing but an old calico dress on my back; and I was going
along, not in the best of humor, as you may imagine, when I feel
that some one is following me. Without looking around, and from
the corner of my eye, if look over my shoulder, and I see a
respectable-looking old gentleman, wearing a long frock-coat."
"In his own natural person, and who was walking, walking. I quietly
begin to walk slower; and, as soon as we come to a place where there
was hardly any one, he comes up alongside of me."
Something comical must have happened at this moment, which Mme.
Zelie Cadelle said nothing about; for she was laughing most heartily,
- a frank and sonorous laughter.
"Then," she resumed, "he begins at once to explain that I remind
him of a person whom he loved tenderly, and whom he has just had
the misfortune to lose, adding, that he would deem himself the
happiest of men if I would allow him to take care of me, and insure
me a brilliant position."
"You see! That rascally Vincent!" said M. de Tregars, just to be
Mme. Zelie shook her head.
"You know him," she resumed. "He is not young; he is not handsome;
he is not funny. I did not fancy him one bit; and, if I had only
known where to find shelter for the night, I'd soon have sent him
to the old Nick, - him and his brilliant position. But, not having
enough money to buy myself a penny-loaf, it wasn't the time to put
on any airs. So I tell him that I accept. He goes for a cab; we
get into it; and he brings me right straight here."
Positively M. de Tregars required his entire self-control to conceal
the intensity of his curiosity.
"Was this house, then, already as it is now?" he interrogated.
"Precisely, except that there were no servants in it, except the
chambermaid Amanda, who is M. Favoral's confidante. All the others
had been dismissed; and it was a hostler from a stable near by who
came to take care of the horses."
"And what then?"
"Then you may imagine what I looked like in the midst of all this
magnificence, with my old shoes and my fourpenny skirt. Something
like a grease-spot on a satin dress. M. Vincent seemed delighted,
nevertheless. He had sent Amanda out to get me some under-clothing
and a ready-made wrapper; and, whilst waiting, he took me all
through the house, from the cellar to the garret, saying that
everything was at my command, and that the next day I would have a
battalion of servants to wait on me."
It was evidently with perfect frankness that she was speaking, and
with the pleasure one feels in telling an extraordinary adventure.
But suddenly she stopped short, as if discovering that she was
forgetting herself, and going farther than was proper.
And it was only after a moment of reflection that she went on,
"It was like fairyland to me. I had never tasted the opulence of
the great, you see, and I had never had any money except that which
I earned. So, during the first days, I did nothing but run up and
down stairs, admiring everything, feeling everything with my own
hands, and looking at myself in the glass to make sure that I was
not dreaming. I rang the bell just to make the servants come up;
I spent hours trying dresses; then I'd have the horses put to the
carriage, and either ride to the bois, or go out shopping. M.
Vincent gave me as much money as I wanted; and it seemed as though I
never spent enough. I shout, I was like a mad woman.
A cloud appeared upon Mme. Zelie's countenance, and, changing
suddenly her tone and her manner,
"Unfortunately," she went on, "one gets tired of every thing. At
the end of two weeks I knew the house from top to bottom, and after
a month I was sick of the whole thing; so that one night I began
"'Where do you want to go?' Amanda asked me.
'Why, to Mabille, to dance a quadrille, or two.'
'Because M. Vincent does not wish you to go out at night.'
'We'll see about that!'
The next day, I tell all this to M. Vincent; and he says that Amanda
is right; that it is not proper for a woman in my position to
frequent balls; and that, if I want to go out at night, I can stay.
Get out! I tell you what, if it hadn't been for the fine carriage,
and all that, I would have cleared out that minute. Any way, I
became disgusted from that moment, and have been more and more ever
since; and, if M. Vincent had not himself left, I certainly would."
"To go where?"
"Anywhere. Look here, now! do you suppose I need a man to support
me! No, thank Heaven! Little Zelie, here present, has only to
apply to any dressmaker, and she'll be glad to give her four francs
a day to run the machine. And she'll be free, at least; and she can
laugh and dance as much as she likes."
M. de Tregars had made a mistake: he had just discovered it.
Mme. Zelie Cadelle was certainly not particularly virtuous; but she
was far from being the woman he expected to meet.
"At any rate," he said, "you did well to wait patiently."
"I do not regret it."
"If you can keep this house -"
She interrupted him with a great burst of laughter.
"This house!" she exclaimed. "Why, it was sold long ago, with every
thing in it, - furniture, horses, carriages, every thing except me.
A young gentleman, very well dressed, bought it for a tall girl, who
looks like a goose, and has far over a thousand francs of red hair on
"Are you sure of that?"
"Sure as I live, having seen with my own eyes the young swell and
his red-headed friend counting heaps of bank-notes to M. Vincent.
They are to move in day after to-morrow; and they have invited me
to the house-warming. But no more of it for me, I thank you! I
am sick and tired of all these people. And the proof of it is, I
am busy packing my things; and lots of them I have too, - dresses,
underclothes, jewelry. He was a good-natured fellow, old Vincent
was, anyhow. He gave me money enough to buy some furniture. I
have hired a small apartment; and I am going to set up dress-making
on my own hook. And won't we laugh then! and won't we have some
fun to make up for lost time! Come, my children, take your places
for a quadrille. Forward two!"
And, bouncing out of her chair, she began sketching out one of
those bold cancan steps which astound the policemen on duty in the
"Bravo!" said M. de Tregars, forcing himself to smile, - "bravo!"
He saw clearly now what sort of woman was Mme. Zelie Cadelle; how
he should speak to her, and what cords he might yet cause to vibrate
within her. He recognized the true daughter of Paris, wayward and
nervous, who in the midst of her disorders preserves an instinctive
pride; who places her independence far above all the money in the
world; who gives, rather than sells, herself; who knows no law but
her caprice, no morality but the policeman, no religion but pleasure.
As soon as she had returned to her seat,
"There you are dancing gayly," he said, "and poor Vincent is
doubtless groaning at this moment over his separation from you."
"Ah! I'd pity him if I had time," she said.
"He was fond of you?"
"Don't speak of it."
"If he had not been fond of you, he would not have put you here."
Mme. Zelie made a little face of equivocal meaning.
"What proof is that?" she murmured.
"He would not have spent so much money for you."
"For me!" she interrupted, - "for me! What have I cost him of any
consequence? Is it for me that he bought, furnished, and fitted
out this house? No, no! He had the cage; and he put in the bird,
- the first he happened to find. He brought me here as he might
have brought any other woman, young or old, pretty or ugly, blonde
or brunette. As to what I spent here, it was a mere bagatelle
compared with what the other did, - the one before me. Amanda kept
telling me all the time I was a fool. You may believe me, then,
when I tell you that M. Vincent will not wet many handkerchiefs
with the tears he'll shed over me."
"But do you know what became of the one before you, as you call her,
- whether she is alive or dead, and owing to what circumstances the
cage became empty?"
But, instead of answering, Mme. Zelie was fixing upon Marius de
Tregars a suspicious glance. And, after a moment only,
"Why do you ask me that?" she said.
"I would like to know."
She did not permit him to proceed. Rising from her seat, and
stepping briskly up to him,
"Do you belong to the police, by chance?" she asked in a tone of
If she was anxious, it was evidently because she had motives of
anxiety which she had concealed. If, two or three times she had
interrupted herself, it was because, manifestly, she had a secret
to keep. If the idea of police had come into her mind, it is
because, very probably, they had recommended her to be on her guard.
M. de Tregars understood all this, and, also, that he had tried to
go too fast.
"Do I look like a secret police-agent?" he asked.
She was examining him with all her power of penetration.
Not at all, I confess," she replied. "But, if you are not one, how
is it that you come to my house, without knowing me from this side
of sole leather, to ask me a whole lot of questions, which I am
fool enough to answer?"
"I told you I was a friend of M. Favoral."
"Who's that Favoral?"
"That's M. Vincent's real name, madame."
She opened her eyes wide.
"You must be mistaken. I never heard him called any thing but
"It is because he had especial motives for concealing his
personality. The money he spent here did not belong to him: he
took it, he stole it, from the Mutual Credit Company where he was
cashier, and where he left a deficit of twelve millions."
Mme. Zelie stepped back as though she had trodden on a snake.
It's impossible!" she cried.
"It is the exact truth. Haven't you seen in the papers the case
of Vincent Favoral, cashier of the Mutual Credit?"
And, taking a paper from his pocket, he handed it to the young woman,
But she pushed it back, not without a slight blush. "Oh, I believe
you!" she said.
The fact is, and Marius understood it, she did not read very
"The worst of M. Vincent Favoral's conduct," he resumed, "is, that,
while he was throwing away money here by the handful, he subjected
his family to the most cruel privations."
"He refused the necessaries of life to his wife, the best and the
worthiest of women; he never gave a cent to his son; and he
deprived his daughter of every thing."
"Ah, if I could have suspected such a thing!" murmured Mme. Zelie.
"Finally, and to cap the - climax, he has gone, leaving his wife
and children literally without bread."
Transported with indignation,
"Why, that man must have been a horrible old scoundrel" exclaimed
the young woman.
This is just the point to which M. de Tregars wished to bring, her.
"And now," he resumed, "you must understand the enormous interest
we have in knowing what has become of him."
"I have already told you."
M. de Tregars had risen, in his turn. Taking Mme. Zelie's hands,
and fixing upon her one of those acute looks, which search for the
truth down to the innermost recesses of the conscience,
"Come, my dear child," he began in a penetrating voice, "you are a
worthy and honest girl. Will you leave in the most frightful
despair a family who appeal to your heart? Be sure that no harm
will ever happen through us to Vincent Favoral."
She raised her hand, as they do to take an oath in a court of
justice, and, in a solemn tone,
"I swear," she uttered, "that I went to the station with M. Vincent;
that he assured me that he was going to Brazil; that he had his
passage-ticket; and that all his baggage was marked, 'Rio de
The disappointment was great: and M. de Tregars manifested it by
"At least," he insisted, "tell me who the woman was whose place you
But already had the young woman returned to her feeling of mistrust.
"How in the world do you expect me to know?" she replied. "Go and
ask Amanda. I have no accounts to give you. Besides, I have to
go and finish packing my trunks. So good-by, and enjoy yourself."
And she went out so quick, that she caught Amanda, the chambermaid,
kneeling behind the door.
"So that woman was listening," thought M. de Tregars, anxious and
But it was in vain that he begged Mme. Zelie to return, and to hear
a single word more. She disappeared; and he had to resign himself
to leave the house without learning any thing more for the present.
He had remained there very long; and he was wondering, as he walked
out, whether Maxence had not got tired waiting for him in the little
caf where he had sent him.
But Maxence had remained faithfully at his post. And when Marius de
Tregars came to sit by him, whilst exclaiming, "Here you are at last!"
he called his attention at the same time with a gesture, and a wink
from the corner of his eye, to two men sitting at the adjoining table
before a bowl of punch.
Certain, now, that M. de Tregars would remain on the lookout, Maxence
was knocking on the table with his fist, to call the waiter, who was
busy playing billiards with a customer.
And when he came at last, justly annoyed at being disturbed,
"Give us two mugs of beer," Maxence ordered, "and bring us a pack
M. de Tregars understood very well that something extraordinary had
happened; but, unable to guess what, he leaned over towards his
"What is it?" he whispered.
"We must hear what these two men are saying; and we'll play a game
of piquet for a subterfuge."
The waiter returned, bringing two glasses of a muddy liquid, a piece
of cloth, the color of which was concealed under a layer of dirt, and
a pack of cards horribly soft and greasy.
"My deal," said Maxence.
And he began shuffling, and giving the cards, whilst M. de Tregars
was examining the punch-drinkers at the next table.
In one of the two, a man still young, wearing a striped vest with
alpaca sleeves, he thought he recognized one of the rascally-looking
fellows he had caught a glimpse of in Mme. Zelie Cadelle's
The other, an old man, whose inflamed complexion and blossoming
nose betrayed old habits of drunkenness, looked very much like a
coachman out of place. Baseness and duplicity bloomed upon his
countenance; and the brightness of his small eyes rendered still
more alarming the slyly obsequious smile that was stereotyped upon
his thin and pale lips.
They were so completely absorbed in their conversation, that they
paid no attention whatever to what was going on around them.
"Then," the old one was saying, "it's all over."
"Entirely. The house is sold."
"And the boss?"
"Gone to America."
"What! Suddenly, that way?"
"No. We supposed he was going on some journey, because, every day
since the beginning of the week, they were bringing in trunks and
boxes; but no one knew exactly when he would go. Now, in the night
of Saturday to Sunday, he drops in the house like a bombshell, wakes
up everybody, and says he must leave immediately. At once we
harness up, we load the baggage up, we drive him to the Western
Railway Station, and good-by, Vincent!"
"And the young lady?"
"She's got to get out in the next twenty-four hours; but she don't
seem to mind it one bit. The fact is we are the ones who grieve
the most, after all."
"Is it possible?"
"It is so. She was a good girl; and we won't soon find one like
The old man seemed distressed.
"Bad luck!" he growled. "I would have liked that house myself."
"Oh, I dare say you would!"
"And there is no way to get in?"
"Can't tell. It will be well to see the others, those who have
bought. But I mistrust them: they look too stupid not to be mean."
Listening intently to the conversation of these two men, it was
mechanically and at random that M. de Tregars and Maxence threw
their cards on the table, and uttered the common terms of the game
"Five cards! Tierce, major! Three aces."
Meantime the old man was going on,
"Who knows but what M. Vincent may come back?"
"No danger of that!"
The other looked carefully around, and, seeing only two players
absorbed in their game,
"Because," he replied, "M. Vincent is completely ruined, it seems.
He spent all his money, and a good deal of other people's money
besides. Amanda, the chambermaid, told me; and I guess she knows."
"You thought he was so rich!"
" He was. But no matter how big a bag is: if you keep taking out
of it, you must get to the bottom."
"Then he spent a great deal?"
"It's incredible! I have been in extravagant houses; but nowhere
have I ever seen money fly as it has during the five months that I
have been in that house. A regular pillage! Everybody helped
themselves; and what was not in the house, they could get from the
tradespeople, have it charged on the bill; and it was all paid
without a word."
"Then, yes, indeed, the money must have gone pretty lively," said
the old one in a convinced tone.
"Well," replied the other, "that was nothing yet. Amanda the
chambermaid who has been in the house fifteen years, told us some
stories that would make you jump. She was not much for spending,
Zelie; but some of the others, it seems...
It required the greatest effort on the part of Maxence and M. de
Tregars not to play, but only to pretend to play, and to continue
to count imaginary points, - " One, two, three, four."
Fortunately the coachman with the red nose seemed much interested.
"What others?" he asked.
"That I don't know any thing about," replied the younger valet.
"But you may imagine that there must have been more than one in that
little house during the many years that M. Vincent owned it, - a man who
hadn't his equal for women, and who was worth millions."
"And what was his business?"
"Don't know that, either."
"What! there were ten of you in the house, and you didn't know the
profession of the man who paid you all?"
"We were all new."
"The chambermaid, Amanda, must have known."
"When she was asked, she said that he was a merchant. One thing is
sure, he was a queer old chap."
So interested was the old coachman, that, seeing the punch-bowl
empty, he called for another. His comrade could not fail to show
his appreciation of such politeness.
"Ah, yes!" he went on, "old Vincent was an eccentric fellow; and
never, to see him, could you have suspected that he cut up such
capers, and that he threw money away by the handful"
"Imagine a man about fifty years old, stiff as a post, with a face
about as pleasant as a prison-gate. That's the boss! Summer and
winter, he wore laced shoes, blue stockings, gray pantaloons that
were too short, a cotton necktie, and a frock-coat that came down
to his ankles. In the street, you would have taken him for a hosier
who had retired before his fortune was made."
"You don't say so!"
"No, never have I seen a man look so much like an old miser. You
think, perhaps, that he came in a carriage. Not a bit of it! He
came in the omnibus, my boy, and outside too, for three sons; and
when it rained he opened his umbrella. But the moment he had
crossed the threshold of the house, presto, pass! complete change
of scene. The miser became pacha. He took off his old duds, put
on a blue velvet robe; and then there was nothing handsome enough,
nothing good enough, nothing expensive enough for him. And, when
he had acted the my lord to his heart's content, he put on his old
traps again, resumed his prison-gate face, climbed up on top of the
omnibus, and went off as he came."
"And you were not surprised, all of you, at such a life?"
"Very much so."
"And you did not think that these singular whims must conceal
"Oh, but we did!"
"And you didn't try to find out what that something was?
"How could we?"
"Was it very difficult to follow your boss, and ascertain where he
went, after leaving the house?"
"Certainly not; but what then?"
"Why," he replied, "you would have found out his secret in the end;
and then you would have gone to him and told him, 'Give me so much,
or I peach.'"