The Count's Millions
The justice of the peace and Mademoiselle Marguerite were at last alone in M. de
Chalusse's study. This room, which the count had preferred above all others, was a
spacious, magnificent, but rather gloomy apartment, with lofty walls and dark, richly
carved furniture. Its present aspect was more than ever solemn and lugubrious, for it gave
one a chill to see the bands of white tape affixed to the locks of the cabinets and
bookcases. When the magistrate had installed himself in the count's arm-chair, and the
girl had taken a seat near him, they remained looking at each other in silence for a few
moments. The magistrate was asking himself how he should begin. Having fathomed
Mademoiselle Marguerite's extreme sensitiveness and reserve, he said to himself that if
he offended or alarmed her, she would refuse him her confidence, in which case he would
be powerless to serve her as he wished to do. He had, in fact, an almost passionate desire
to be of service to her, feeling himself drawn toward her by an inexplicable feeling of
sympathy, in which esteem, respect, and admiration alike were blended, though he had
only known her for a few hours. Still, he must make a beginning. "Mademoiselle," he
said, at last, "I abstained from questioning you before the servants--and if I take the
liberty of doing so now, it is not, believe me, out of any idle curiosity; moreover, you are
not compelled to answer me. But you are young--and I am an old man; and it is my duty--
even if my heart did not urge me to do so--to offer you the aid of my experience----"
"Speak, monsieur," interrupted Marguerite. "I will answer your questions frankly, or else
not answer them at all."
"To resume, then," said he, "I am told that M. de Chalusse has no relatives, near or
remote. Is this the truth?"
"So far as I know--yes, monsieur. Still, I have heard it said that a sister of his,
Mademoiselle Hermine de Chalusse, abandoned her home twenty-five or thirty years ago,
when she was about my age, and that she has never received her share of the enormous
fortune left by her parents."
"And has this sister never given any sign of life?"
"Never! Still, monsieur, I have promised you to be perfectly frank. That letter which the
Count de Chalusse received yesterday, that letter which I regard as the cause of his death-
- well, I have a presentiment that it came from his sister. It could only have been written
by her or--by that other person whose letters--and souvenirs--you found in the escritoire."
"And--this other person--who can she be?" As the young girl made no reply, the
magistrate did not insist, but continued: "And you, my child, who are you?"
She made a gesture of sorrowful resignation, and then, in a voice faltering with emotion,
she answered: "I do not know, monsieur. Perhaps I am the count's daughter. I should be
telling an untruth if I said that was not my belief. Yes, I believe it, but I have never been