Baron Trigault's Vengeance
Having almost reached the goal, Chupin slackened his pace. He approached the
shop very cautiously and peered inside, deeming it prudent to reconnoitre a little
before he went in. And certainly there was nothing to prevent a prolonged
scrutiny. The night was very dark, the quay deserted. No one was to be seen; not
a sound broke the stillness. The darkness, the surroundings, and the silence
were sinister enough to make even Chupin shudder, though he was usually as
thoroughly at home in the loneliest and most dangerous by-ways of Paris as an
honest man of the middle classes would be in the different apartments of his
modest household. "That scoundrel's wife must have less than a hundred
thousand a year if she takes up her abode here!" thought Chupin.
And, in fact, nothing could be more repulsive than the tenement in which
Madame Paul had installed herself. It was but one story high, and built of clay,
and it had fallen to ruin to such an extent that it had been found necessary to
prop it up with timber, and to nail some old boards over the yawning fissures in
the walls. "If I lived here, I certainly shouldn't feel quite at ease on a windy day,"
continued Chupin, sotto voce.
The shop itself was of a fair size, but most wretched in its appointments, and
disgustingly dirty. The floor was covered with that black and glutinous coal-dust
which forms the soil of the Quai de la Seine. An auctioneer would have sold the
entire stock and fixtures for a few shillings. Four stone jars, and a couple of pairs
of scales, a few odd tumblers, filled with pipes and packets of cigarettes, some
wine-glasses, and three or four labelled bottles, five or six boxes of cigars, and
as many packages of musty tobacco, constituted the entire stock in trade.
As Chupin compared this vile den with the viscount's luxurious abode, his blood
fairly boiled in his veins. "He ought to be shot for this, if for nothing else," he
muttered through his set teeth. "To let his wife die of starvation here!" For it was
M. de Coralth's wife who kept this shop. Chupin, who had seen her years before,
recognized her now as she sat behind her counter, although she was cruelly
changed. "That's her," he murmured. "That's certainly Mademoiselle Flavie."
He had used her maiden name in speaking of her. Poor woman! She was
undoubtedly still young--but sorrow, regret, and privations, days spent in hard
work to earn a miserable subsistence, and nights spent in weeping, had made
her old, haggard, and wrinkled before her time. Of her once remarkable beauty
naught remained but her hair, which was still magnificent, though it was in wild
disorder, and looked as if it had not been touched by a comb for weeks; and her
big black eyes, which gleamed with the phosphorescent and destructive brilliancy
of fever. Everything about her person bespoke terrible reverses, borne without
dignity. Even if she had struggled at first, it was easy to see that she struggled no
longer. Her attire--her torn and soiled silk dress, and her dirty cap--revealed
thorough indolence, and that morbid indifference which at times follows great
misfortunes with weak natures.