The Count's Millions
For some little time there had been a noise of footsteps and a subdued murmur of voices
in the vestibule. Annoyed by this interruption, although he perfectly understood its cause,
the magistrate rose and hastily opened the door. He was not mistaken. His clerk had
returned from lunch, and the time of waiting seemed extremely long to him. "Ah! it's
you," said the magistrate. "Very well! begin your inventory. It won't be long before I join
you." And closing the door he resumed his seat again. Mademoiselle Marguerite was so
absorbed in her narrative that she scarcely noticed this incident, and he had not seated
himself before she resumed. "In all my life, I had never seen such an imposing looking
person as the Count de Chalusse. His manner, attire, and features could not fail to inspire
a child like me with fear and respect. I was so awed that I had scarcely enough presence
of mind to bow to him. He glanced at me coldly, and exclaimed: 'Ah! is this the young
girl you were speaking of?' The count's tone betrayed such disagreeable surprise that the
superior was dismayed. She looked at me, and seemed indignant at my more than modest
attire. 'It's a shame to allow a child to leave home dressed in this fashion,' she angrily
exclaimed. And she almost tore my huge apron off me, and then with her own hands
began to arrange my hair as if to display me to better advantage. 'Ah! these employers,'
she exclaimed, 'the best of them are bad. How they do deceive you. It's impossible to
place any confidence in their promises. Still, one can't always be at their heels.'
"But the superior's efforts were wasted, for M. de Chalusse had turned away and had
begun talking with some gentlemen near by. For the office was full that morning. Five or
six gentlemen, whom I recognized as the directors of the asylum, were standing round the
steward in the black skullcap. They were evidently talking about me. I was certain of this
by the glances they gave me, glances which, however, were full of kindness. The superior
joined the group and began speaking with unusual vivacity, while standing in the recess
of a window, I listened with all my might. But I must have overestimated my intelligence,
for I could gain no meaning whatever from the phrases which followed each other in
rapid succession; though the words 'adoption,' 'emancipation,' 'dowry,' 'compensation,'
'reimbursement for sums expended,' recurred again and again. I was only certain of one
point: the Count de Chalusse wished something, and these gentlemen were specifying
other things in exchange. To each of their demands he answered: 'Yes, yes--it's granted.
That's understood.' But at last he began to grow impatient, and in a voice which
impressed one with the idea that he was accustomed to command, he exclaimed, 'I will do
whatever you wish. Do you desire anything more?' The gentlemen at once became silent,
and the superior hastily declared that M. de Chalusse was a thousand times too good, but
that one could expect no less of him, the last representative of one of the greatest and
oldest families of France.
"I cannot describe the surprise and indignation that were raging in my soul. I divined--I
felt that it was MY fate, MY future, MY life that were being decided, and I was not even
consulted on the matter. They were disposing of me as if they were sure in advance of my
consent. My pride revolted at the thought, but I could not find a word to say in protest.
Crimson with shame, confused and furious, I was wondering how I could interfere, when