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"There are a number of patients waiting for me. I will drop in again about midnight. I still have several urgent visits to make." Thus had Dr. Jodon spoken to Mademoiselle Marguerite; and yet, when he left the Hotel de Chalusse, after assuring himself that Casimir would have some straw spread over the street, the doctor quietly walked home. The visits he had spoken of merely existed in his imagination; but it was a part of his role to appear to be overrun with patients. To tell the truth, the only patient he had had to attend to that week was a superannuated porter, living in the Rue de la Pepiniere, and whom he visited twice a day, for want of something better to do. The remainder of his time was spent in waiting for patients who never came, and in cursing the profession of medicine, which was ruined, he declared, by excessive competition, combined with certain rules of decorum which hampered young practitioners beyond endurance.
However, if Dr. Jodon had devoted one-half of the time he spent in cursing and building castles in the air to study, he might have, perhaps, raised his little skill to the height of his immense ambition. But neither work nor patience formed any part of his system. He was a man of the present age, and wished to rise speedily with as little trouble as possible. A certain amount of display and assurance, a little luck, and a good deal of advertising would, in his opinion, suffice to bring about this result. It was with this conviction, indeed, that he had taken up his abode in the Rue de Courcelles, situated in one of the most aristocratic quarters of Paris. But so far, events had shown his theory to be incorrect. In spite of the greatest economy, very cleverly concealed, he had seen the little capital which constituted his entire fortune dwindle away. He had originally possessed but twenty thousand francs, a sum which in no wise corresponded with his lofty pretensions. He had paid his rent that very morning; and he could not close his eyes to the fact that the time was near at hand when he would be unable to pay it. What should he do then? When he thought of this contingency, and it was a subject that filled his mind to the exclusion of all other matters, he felt the fires of wrath and hatred kindle in his soul. He utterly refused to regard himself as the cause of his own misfortunes; on the contrary, following the example of many other disappointed individuals, he railed at mankind and everything in general--at circumstances, envious acquaintances, and enemies, whom he certainly did not possess.
At times he was capable of doing almost anything to gratify his lust for gold, for the privations which he had endured so long were like oil cast upon the flame of covetousness which was ever burning in his breast. In calmer moments he asked himself at what other door he could knock, in view of hastening the arrival of Fortune. Sometimes he thought of turning dentist, or of trying to find some capitalist who would join him in manufacturing one of those patent medicines which are warranted to yield their promoters a hundred thousand francs a year. On other occasions he dreamed of establishing a monster pharmacy, or of opening a private hospital. But money was needed to carry out any one of these plans, and he had no money. There was the rub. However the time was fast approaching when he must decide upon his course; he could not possibly hold out much longer.
His third year of practice in the Rue de Courcelles had not yielded him enough to pay his servant's wages. For he had a servant, of course. He had a valet for the same reason as he had a suite of rooms of a superficially sumptuous aspect. Faithful to his system, or, rather, to his master's system, he had sacrificed everything to show. The display of gilding in his apartments was such as to make a man of taste shut his eyes to escape the sight of it. There were gorgeous carpets and hangings, frescoed ceilings, spurious objects of virtu, and pier-tables loaded with ornaments. An unsophisticated youth from the country would certainly have been dazzled; but it would not do to examine these things too closely. There was more cotton than silk in the velvet covering of the furniture; and if various statuettes placed on brackets at a certain height had been closely inspected, it would have been found that they were of mere plaster, hidden beneath a coating of green paint, sprinkled with copper filings. This plaster, playing the part of bronze, was in perfect keeping with the man, his system, and the present age.
When the doctor reached home, his first question to his servant was as usual: "Has any one called?"
The doctor sighed, and passing through his superb waiting-room, he entered his consulting sanctum, and seated himself in the chimney corner beside an infinitesimal fire. He was even more thoughtful than usual. The scene which he had just witnessed at the Count de Chalusse's house recurred to his mind, and he turned it over and over again in his brain, striving to find some way by which he might derive an advantage from the mystery. For he was more than ever convinced that there was a mystery. He had been engrossed in these thoughts for some time, when his meditations were disturbed by a ring at the bell. Who could be calling at this hour?
The question was answered by his servant, who appeared and informed him that a lady, who was in a great hurry, was waiting in the reception-room. "Very well," was his reply; "but it is best to let her wait a few moments." For he had at least this merit: he never deviated from his system. Under no circumstances whatever would he have admitted a patient immediately; he wished him to wait so that he might have an opportunity of reflecting on the advantages of consulting a physician whose time was constantly occupied.
However, when ten minutes or so had elapsed, he opened the door, and a tall lady came quickly forward, throwing back the veil which had concealed her face. She must have been over forty-five; and if she had ever been handsome, there was nothing to indicate it now. She had brown hair, thickly sprinkled with gray, but very coarse and abundant, and growing low over her forehead; her nose was broad and flat; her lips were thick, and her eyes were dull and expressionless. However, her manners were gentle and rather melancholy; and one would have judged her to be somewhat of a devotee. Still for the time being she seemed greatly agitated. She seated herself at the doctor's invitation; and without waiting for him to ask any questions: "I ought to tell you at once, monsieur," she began, "that I am the Count de Chalusse's house- keeper."
In spite of his self-control, the doctor bounded from his chair. "Madame Leon?" he asked, in a tone of intense surprise.
She bowed, compressing her thick lips. "I am known by that name-- yes, monsieur. But it is only my Christian name. The one I have a right to bear would not accord with my present position. Reverses of fortune are not rare in these days; and were it not for the consoling influences of religion, one would not have strength to endure them."
The physician was greatly puzzled. "What can she want of me?" he thought.
Meanwhile, she had resumed speaking: "I was much reduced in circumstances--at the end of my resources, indeed--when M. de Chalusse--a family friend--requested me to act as companion to a young girl in whom he was interested--Mademoiselle Marguerite. I accepted the position; and I thank God every day that I did so, for I feel a mother's affection for this young girl, and she loves me as fondly as if she were my own daughter." In support of her assertion, she drew a handkerchief from her pocket, and succeeded in forcing a few tears to her eyes. "Under these circumstances, doctor," she continued, "you cannot fail to understand that the interests of my dearly beloved Marguerite bring me to you. I was shut up in my own room when M. de Chalusse was brought home, and I did not hear of his illness until after your departure. Perhaps you might say that I ought to have waited until your next visit; but I had not sufficient patience to do so. One cannot submit without a struggle to the torture of suspense, when the future of a beloved daughter is at stake. So here I am." She paused to take breath, and then added, "I have come, monsieur, to ask you to tell me the exact truth respecting the count's condition."
The doctor was expecting something very different, but nevertheless he replied with all due gravity and self-possession. "It is my painful duty to tell you, madame, that there is scarcely any hope, and that I expect a fatal termination within twenty-four hours, unless the patient should regain consciousness."
The housekeeper turned pale. "Then all is lost," she faltered, "all is lost!" And unable to articulate another word she rose to her feet, bowed, and abruptly left the room.
Before the grate, with his mouth half open, and his right arm extended in an interrupted gesture, the doctor stood speechless and disconcerted. It was only when the outer door closed with a bang that he seemed restored to consciousness. And as he heard the noise he sprang forward as if to recall his visitor. "Ah!" he exclaimed, with an oath, "the miserable old woman was mocking me!" And urged on by a wild, irrational impulse, he caught up his hat and darted out in pursuit. Madame Leon was considerably in advance of him, and was walking very quickly; still, by quickening his pace, he might have overtaken her. However, he did not join her, for he scarcely knew what excuse to offer for such a strange proceeding; he contented himself by cautiously following her at a little distance. Suddenly she stopped short. It was in front of a tobacconist's shop, where there was a post-office letter-box. The shop was closed, but the box was there with its little slit for letters to be dropped into it. Madame Leon evidently hesitated. She paused, as one always does before venturing upon a decisive act, from which there will be no return, whatever may be the consequences. An observer never remains twenty minutes before a letter-box without witnessing this pantomime so expressive of irresolution. At last, however, she shrugged her shoulders with a gesture which eloquently expressed the result of her deliberations; and drawing a letter from her bosom, she dropped it into the box, and then hastened on more quickly than before.
"There is not the slightest doubt," thought the doctor, "that letter had been prepared in advance, and whether it should be sent or not depended on the answer I gave."
We have already said that M. Jodon was not a wealthy man, and yet he would willingly have given a hundred-franc note to have known the contents of this letter, or even the name of the person to whom it was addressed. But his chase was almost ended. Madame Leon had reached the Hotel de Chalusse, and now went in. Should he follow her? His curiosity was torturing him to such a degree that he had an idea of doing so; and it required an heroic effort of will to resist the temptation successfully. But a gleam of common sense warned him that this would be a terrible blunder. Once already during the evening his conduct had attracted attention; and he began to realize that there was a better way of winning confidence than by intruding almost forcibly into other people's affairs. Accordingly he thoughtfully retraced his steps, feeling intensely disgusted with himself. "What a fool I am!" he grumbled. "If I had kept the old woman in suspense, instead of blurting out the truth, I might have learned the real object of her visit; for she had an object. But what was it?"
The doctor spent the two hours that remained to him before making his second visit in trying to discover it. But, although nothing prevented him from exploring the boundless fields of improbable possibilities, he could think of nothing satisfactory. There was only one certain point, that Madame Leon and Mademoiselle Marguerite were equally interested in the question as to whether the count would regain consciousness or not. As to their interests in the matter, the doctor felt confident that they were not identical; he was persuaded that a secret enmity existed between them, and that the housekeeper had visited him without Mademoiselle Marguerite's knowledge. For he was not deceived by Madame Leon, or by her pretended devotion to Mademoiselle Marguerite. Her manner, her smooth words, her tone of pious resignation, and the allusion to the grand name she had the right to bear, were all calculated to impose upon one; but she had been too much disconcerted toward the last to remember her part. Dr. Jodon lacked the courage to return to his sumptuous rooms, and it was in a little cafe that he thus reflected upon the situation, while drinking some execrable beer brewed in Paris out of a glass manufactured in Bavaria.
At last midnight sounded--the hour had come. Still the doctor did not move. Having been obliged to wait himself, he wished, in revenge, to make the others wait, and it was not until the cafe closed that he again walked up the Rue de Courcelles. Madame Leon had left the gate ajar, and the doctor had no difficulty in making his way into the courtyard. As in the earlier part of the evening, the servants were assembled in the concierge's lodge; but the careless gayety which shone upon their faces a few hours before had given place to evident anxiety respecting their future prospects. Through the windows of the lodge they could be seen standing round the two choice spirits of the household, M. Bourigeau, the concierge, and M. Casimir, the valet, who were engaged in earnest conversation. And if the doctor had listened, he would have heard such words as "wages," and "legacies," and "remuneration for faithful service," and "annuities" repeated over and over again.
But M. Jodon did not listen. Thinking he should find some servant inside, he entered the house. However, there was nobody to announce his presence; the door closed noiselessly behind him, the heavy carpet which covered the marble steps stifled the sound of his footsteps, and he ascended the first flight without seeing any one. The door opening into the count's room was open, the room itself being brilliantly lighted by a large fire, and a lamp which stood on a corner of the mantel-shelf. Instinctively the doctor paused and looked in. There had been no change since his first visit. The count was still lying motionless on his pillows; his face was swollen, his eyelids were closed, but he still breathed, as was shown by the regular movement of the covering over his chest. Madame Leon and Mademoiselle Marguerite were his only attendants. The housekeeper, who sat back a little in the shade, was half reclining in an arm-chair with her hands clasped in her lap, her lips firmly compressed, and her eyes fixed upon vacancy. Pale but calm, and more imposing and more beautiful than ever, Mademoiselle Marguerite was kneeling beside the bed, eagerly watching for some sign of renewed life and intelligence on the count's face.
A little ashamed of his indiscretion, the doctor retreated seven or eight steps down the stairs, and then ascended them again, coughing slightly, so as to announce his approach. This time he was heard. for Mademoiselle Marguerite came to the door to meet him. "Well?" he inquired.
He advanced toward the bed, but before he had time to examine his patient Mademoiselle Marguerite handed him a scrap of paper. "The physician who usually attends M. de Chalusse has been here in your absence, monsieur," said she. "This is his prescription, and we have already administered a few drops of the potion."
M. Jodon, who was expecting this blow, bowed coldly.
"I must add," continued Mademoiselle Marguerite, "that the doctor approved of all that had been done; and I beg you will unite your skill with his in treating the case."
Unfortunately all the medical skill of the faculty would have availed nothing here. After another examination, Dr. Jodon declared that it would be necessary to wait for the action of nature, but that he must be informed of the slightest change in the sick man's condition. "And I will tell my servant to wake me at once if I am sent for," he added.
He was already leaving the room, when Madame Leon barred his passage. "Isn't it true, doctor, that one attentive person would suffice to watch over the count?" she asked.
"Most assuredly," he answered.
The housekeeper turned toward Mademoiselle Marguerite. "Ah, you see, my dear young lady," she said, "what did I tell you? Listen to me; take a little rest. Watching is not suitable work for one of your age----"
"It is useless to insist," interrupted the young girl, resolutely. "I shall remain here. I shall watch over him myself."
The housekeeper made no reply; but it seemed to the doctor that the two women exchanged singular glances. "The devil!" he muttered, as he took his departure; "one might think that they distrusted each other!"
Perhaps he was right; but at all events he had scarcely left the house before Madame Leon again urged her dear young lady to take a few hours' rest. "What can you fear?" she insisted, in her wheedling voice. "Sha'n't I be here? Do you suppose your old Leon capable of losing herself in sleep, when your future depends upon a word from that poor man lying there?"
"Ah, no! my dear young lady; my love for you compels me "
"Oh, enough!" interrupted Mademoiselle Marguerite; "enough, Leon!"
Her tone was so determined that the housekeeper was compelled to yield; but not without a deep sigh, not without an imploring glance to Heaven, as if calling upon Providence to witness the purity of her motives and the usefulness of her praiseworthy efforts. "At least, my dear lady, wrap yourself up warmly. Shall I go and bring you your heavy travelling shawl?"
"Thanks, my dear Leon--Annette will bring it."
"Then, pray, send for it. But we are not going to watch alone? What should we do if we needed anything?"
"I will call," replied Marguerite.
This was unnecessary, for Dr. Jodon's departure from the house had put an abrupt termination to the servants' conference; and they were now assembled on the landing, anxious and breathless, and peering eagerly into the sick-room.
Mademoiselle Marguerite went toward them. "Madame Leon and myself will remain with the count," she said. "Annette"--this was the woman whom she liked best of all the servants "Casimir and a footman will spend the night in the little side salon. The others may retire."
Her orders were obeyed. Two o'clock sounded from the church-tower near by, and then the solemn and terrible silence was only broken by the hard breathing of the unconscious man and the implacable ticktack of the clock on the mantel-shelf, numbering the seconds which were left for him to live. From the streets outside, not a sound reached this princely abode, which stood between a vast courtyard and a garden as large as a park. Moreover, the straw which had been spread over the paving-stones effectually deadened the rumble of the few vehicles that passed. Enveloped in a soft, warm shawl, Madame Leon had again taken possession of her arm- chair, and while she pretended to be reading a prayer-book, she kept a close watch over her dear young lady, as if she were striving to discover her in-most thoughts. Mademoiselle Marguerite did not suspect this affectionate espionage. Besides, what would it have mattered to her? She had rolled a low arm-chair near the bedside, seated herself in it, and her eyes were fixed upon M. de Chalusse. Two or three times she started violently, and once even she said to Madame Leon: "Come--come and see!"
It seemed to her that there was a faint change in the patient's face; but it was only a fancy--she had been deceived by the shadows that played about the room, caused by the capricious flame in the grate. The hours were creeping on, and the housekeeper, wearying at last of her fruitless watch, dropped asleep; her head fell forward on to her breast, her prayer-book slipped from her hands, and finally she began to snore. But Mademoiselle Marguerite did not perceive this, absorbed as she was in thoughts which, by reason of their very profundity, had ceased to be sorrowful. Perhaps she felt she was keeping a last vigil over her happiness, and that with the final breath of this dying man all her girlhood's dreams and all her dearest hopes would take flight for evermore. Undoubtedly her thoughts flew to the man to whom she had promised her life--to Pascal, to the unfortunate fellow whose honor was being stolen from him at that very moment, in a fashionable gaming-house.
About five o'clock the air became so close that she felt a sudden faintness, and opened the window to obtain a breath of fresh air. The noise aroused Madame Leon from her slumbers. She rose, yawned, and rather sullenly declared that she felt very queer, and would certainly fall ill if she did not take some refreshment. It became necessary to summon M. Casimir, who brought her a glass of Madeira and some biscuits. "Now I feel better," she murmured, after her repast. "My excessive sensibility will be the death of me." And so saying, she dropped asleep again.
Mademoiselle Marguerite had meanwhile returned to her seat; but her thoughts gradually became confused, her eyelids grew heavy, and although she struggled, she at last fell asleep in her turn, with her head resting on the count's bed. It was daylight when a strange and terrible shock awoke her. It seemed to her as if an icy hand, some dead person's hand, was gently stroking her head, and tenderly caressing her hair. She at once sprang to her feet. The sick man had regained consciousness; his eyes were open and his right arm was moving. Mademoiselle Marguerite darted to the bell-rope and pulled it violently, and as a servant appeared in answer to the summons, she cried: "Run for the physician who lives near here--quick!--and tell him that the count is conscious."
In an instant, almost, the sick-room was full of servants, but the girl did not perceive it. She had approached M. de Chalusse, and taking his hand, she tenderly asked: "You hear me, do you not, monsieur? Do you understand me?"
His lips moved; but only a hollow, rattling sound, which was absolutely unintelligible, came from his throat. Still, he understood her; as it was easy to see by his gestures--despairing and painful ones, for paralysis had not released its hold on its victim, and it was only with great difficulty that he could slightly move his right arm. He evidently desired something. But what?
They mentioned the different articles in the room--everything indeed that they could think of. But in vain, until the housekeeper suddenly exclaimed: "He wishes to write."
That was, indeed, what he desired. With the hand that was comparatively free, with the hoarse rattle that was his only voice, M. de Chalusse answered, "Yes, yes!" and his eyes even turned to Madame Leon with an expression of joy and gratitude. They raised him on his pillows, and brought him a small writing- desk, with some paper, and a pen that had been dipped in ink. But like those around him, he had himself over-estimated his strength; if he could move his hand, he could not control its movements. After a terrible effort and intense suffering, however, he succeeded in tracing a few words, the meaning of which it was impossible to understand. It was only with the greatest difficulty that these words could be deciphered--"My entire fortune--give--friends--against----" This signified nothing.
In despair, he dropped the pen, and his glance and his hand turned to that part of the room opposite his bed. "Monsieur means his escritoire, perhaps?"
"Yes, yes," the sick man hoarsely answered.
"Perhaps the count wishes that it should be opened?"
"Yes, yes!" was the reply again.
"My God!" exclaimed Mademoiselle Marguerite, with a gesture of despair; "what have I done? I have broken the key. I feared the responsibility which would fall upon us all."
The expression of the count's face had become absolutely frightful. It indicated utter discouragement, the most bitter suffering, the most horrible despair. His soul was writhing in a body from which life had fled. Intelligence, mind, and will were fast bound in a corpse which they could not electrify. The consciousness of his own powerlessness caused him a paroxysm of frantic rage; his hands clinched, the veins in his throat swelled, his eyes almost started from their sockets, and in a harsh, shrill voice that had nothing human in it, he exclaimed: "Marguerite!-- despoiled!--take care!--your mother!" And this was all--it was the supreme effort that broke the last link that bound the soul to earth.
"A priest!" cried Madame Leon!" A priest! In the name of Heaven, go for a priest!"
"Rather for a notary," suggested M. Casimir. "You see he wishes to make a will."
But at that moment the physician entered, pale and breathless. He walked straight to the bedside, glanced at the motionless form, and solemnly exclaimed: "The Count de Chalusse is dead!"
There was a moment's stupor--the stupor which always follows death, especially when death comes suddenly and unexpectedly. A feeling of mingled wonder, selfishness, and fear pervaded the group of servants. "Yes, it is over!" muttered the doctor; "it is all over!"
And as he was familiar with these painful scenes, and had lost none of his self-possession, he furtively studied Mademoiselle Marguerite's features and attitude. She seemed thunderstruck. With dry, fixed eyes and contracted features, she stood rooted to her place, gazing at the lifeless form as if she were expecting some miracle--as if she still hoped to hear those rigid lips reveal the secret which he had tried in vain to disclose, and which he had carried with him to the grave.
The physician was the only person who observed this. The other occupants of the room were exchanging looks of distress. Some of the women had fallen upon their knees, and were sobbing and praying in the same breath. But Madame Leon's sobs could be heard above the rest. They were at first inarticulate moans, but suddenly she sprang toward Mademoiselle Marguerite, and clasping her in her arms, she cried: "What a misfortune! My dearest child, what a loss!" Utterly incapable of uttering a word, the poor girl tried to free herself from this close embrace, but the housekeeper would not be repulsed, and continued: "Weep, my dear young lady, weep! Do not refuse to give vent to your sorrow."
She herself displayed so little self-control that the physician reprimanded her with considerable severity, whereat her emotion increased, and with her handkerchief pressed to her eyes, she sobbed: "Yes, doctor, yes; you are right; I ought to moderate my grief. But pray, doctor, remove my beloved Marguerite from this scene, which is too terrible for her young and tender heart. Persuade her to retire to her own room, so that she may ask God for strength to bear the misfortune which has befallen her."
The poor girl had certainly no intention of leaving the room, but before she could say so, M. Casimir stepped forward. "I think," he dryly observed, "that mademoiselle had better remain here."
"Eh?" said Madame Leon, looking up suddenly. "And why, if you please?"
Anger had dried the housekeeper's tears. "What do you mean?" she asked. "Do you pretend to prevent mademoiselle from doing as she chooses in her own house?"
M. Casimir gave vent to a contemptuous whistle, which, twenty-four hours earlier, would have been punished with a heavy blow from the man who was now lying there--dead. "Her own house!" he answered; "her own house! Yesterday I shouldn't have denied it; but to-day it's quite another thing. Is she a relative? No, she isn't. What are you talking about, then? We are all equals here."
He spoke so impudently that even the doctor felt indignant. "Scoundrel!" said he.
But the valet turned toward him with an air which proved that he was well acquainted with the doctor's servant, and, consequently, with all the secrets of the master's life. "Call your own valet a scoundrel, if you choose," he retorted, "but not me. Your duties here are over, aren't they? So leave us to manage our own affairs. Thank heaven, I know what I'm talking about. Everybody knows that caution must be exercised in a dead man's house, especially when that house is full of money, and when, instead of relatives, there are--persons who--who are there nobody knows how or why. In case any valuables were missed, who would be accused of taking them? Why, the poor servants, of course. Ah, they have broad shoulders! Their trunks would be searched; and even if nothing were found, they would be sent to prison all the same. In the meantime other people would escape with the booty. No, Lisette! No one will stir from this room until the arrival of the justice----"
Madame Leon was bursting with rage. "All right!" she interrupted; "I'm going to send for the count's particular friend, General----"
"I don't care a fig for your general."
It was Mademoiselle Marguerite who put an end to this indecent dispute. Its increasing violence had aroused her from her stupor. Casimir's impudence brought a flush to her forehead, and stepping forward with haughty resolution, she exclaimed: "You forget that one never raises one's voice in the chamber of death." Her words were so true, and her manner so majestic, that M. Casimir was silenced. Then, pointing to the door, she coldly added: "Go for the justice of the peace, and don't set foot here again, except in his company."
He bowed, stammered an unintelligible apology, and left the room. "She always gets the best of me," he growled, as he went downstairs. "But seals shall be put on everything."
When he entered the porter's lodge, M. Bourigeau was just getting up, having slept all night, while his wife watched. "Quick," ordered M. Casimir; "make haste and finish dressing, and run for the justice of the peace--we must have him here at once. Everything must be done regularly and in order, upstairs."
The concierge was in despair. "Heavens!" he exclaimed; "so the master's dead! What a misfortune!"
"You may well say so; and this is the second time such a thing has happened to me. I remember now what a shrewd fellow named Chupin once said to me. 'If I were a servant,' he remarked, 'before entering a man's service, I'd make him insure his life for my benefit in one of those new-fangled companies, so that I might step into a handsome fortune if he took it into his head to die.' But make haste, Bourigeau."
"That's a famous idea, but scarcely practicable," growled the concierge.
"I don't know whether it is or not. But at all events I'm terribly annoyed. The count was giving me enormous wages, and I had got him nicely into my ways. Well, after all, I shall only have to begin again!"
M. Bourigeau had not yet attained to the heights of such serene philosophy, and as he buttoned his overcoat, he groaned: "Ah! you're not situated as I am, Casimir. You've only yourself to look out for. I have my furniture; and if I don't succeed in finding a position where I can have two rooms, I shall be obliged to sell part of it. What a blessed nuisance!"
As soon as he was dressed he started off on his mission; and M. Casimir, who dared not return to the house, began walking slowly to and fro in front of the lodge. He had made some thirty turns or so, and was beginning to feel impatient, when he saw Victor Chupin approaching. "You are always on hand at the right moment," remarked M. Casimir. "It's all over!"
Chupin turned eagerly. "Then our bargain holds?" he exclaimed. "You understand what I mean--the funeral, you know."
"It isn't certain that I shall have anything to do with it; but call again in three hours from now."
"All right, I'll be here."
"And M. Fortunat?" asked Casimir.
"He received what he called a 'violent shock' last evening, but he's better this morning. He instructed me to tell you that he should look for you between twelve and one--you know where."
"I'll endeavor to be there, although it may be difficult for me to get away. If I go, however, I'll show him the letter that caused the count's illness; for the count threw it away, after tearing it into several pieces, and I found some of the bits which escaped his notice as well as mademoiselle's. It's a strange letter, upon my word!"
Chupin gazed at the valet with a look of mingled wonder and admiration. "By Jove!" he exclaimed, "how fortunate a man must be to secure a valet like you!"
His companion smiled complacently, but all of a sudden he remarked: "Make haste and go. I see Bourigeau in the distance, bringing the justice of the peace."
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
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