The Champdoce Mystery by Emile Gaboriau - HTML preview
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Paul could not for the life of him imagine why Tantaine had left the room in apparently so angry a mood. He had certainly spoken of Flavia in a most improper manner; for the very weakness of which she had been guilty should have caused him to treat her with tender deference and respect. He could understand the anger of Hortebise, who was Rigal's friend; but what on earth had Tantaine in common with the wealthy banker and his daughter? Forgetful of the pain which the smallest movement upon his part produced, Paul sat up in his bed, and listened with intense eagerness, hoping to catch what was going on in the next room; but he could hear nothing through the thick walls and the closed door.
"What can they be doing?" asked he. "What fresh plot are they contriving?"
Daddy Tantaine and Hortebise passed out of the room hastily, but when they reached the staircase they stood still. The doctor wore the same smiling expression of face, and he endeavored to calm his companion, who appeared to be on the verge of desperation.
"Have courage," whispered he; "what is the use of giving way to passion? You cannot help this; it is too late now. Besides, even if you could, you would not, as you know very well, indeed!"
The old man was moving his spectacles, not to wipe his glasses, but his eyes.
"Ah!" moaned he, "now I can enter into the feelings of M. de Mussidan when I proved to him that his daughter had a lover. I have been hard and pitiless, and I am cruelly punished."
"My old friend, you must not attach too much importance to what you have heard. Paul is a mere boy, and, of course, a boaster."
"Paul is a miserably cowardly dog," answered the old man in a fierce undertone. "Paul does not love the girl as she loves him; but what he says is true, only too true, I can feel. Between her father and her lover she would not hesitate for a moment. Ah! unhappy girl, what a terrible future lies before her."
He stopped himself abruptly.
"I cannot speak to her myself," resumed he; "do you, doctor, strive and make her have reason."
Hortebise shrugged his shoulders. "I will see what my powers of oratory can do," answered he; "but you are not quite yourself to-day. Remember that a chance word will betray the secret of our lives."
"Go at once, and I swear to you that, happen what may, I will be calm."
The doctor went back into Paul's room, while Tantaine sat down on the topmost stair, his face buried in his hands.
Mademoiselle Flavia was just going to Paul, when the doctor again appeared.
"What, back again?" asked she petulantly. "I thought that you had been far away by this time."
"I want to say something to you," answered he, "and something of a rather serious nature. You must not elevate those charming eyebrows. I see you guess what I am going to say, and you are right. I am come to tell you that this is not the proper place for Mademoiselle Rigal."
"I know that."
This unexpected reply, made with the calmest air in the world, utterly disconcerted the smiling doctor.
"It seems to me----" began he.
"That I ought not to be here; but then, you see, I place duty before cold, worldly dictates. Paul is very ill, and has no one to take care of him except his affianced bride; for has not my father given his consent to our union?"
"Flavia, listen to the experience of a man of the world. The nature of men is such that they never forgive a woman for compromising her reputation, even though it be in their own favor. Do you know what people will say twenty-four hours after your marriage? Why, that you had been his mistress for weeks before, and that it was only the knowledge of that fact that inclined your father to consent to the alliance."
Flavia's face grew crimson. "Very well," said she, "I will obey, and never say again that I was obstinate; but let me say one word to Paul, and then I will leave him."
The doctor retired, not guessing that this obedience arose from the sudden suspicion which had arisen in Flavia's mind. "It is done," said he, as he rejoined Tantaine on the stairs; "let us hasten, for she will follow us at once."
By the time that Tantaine got into the street, he seemed to have recovered a certain amount of his self-command. "We have succeeded," said he, "but we shall have to work hard, and this marriage must be hastened by every means in our power. It can be celebrated now without any risk, for in twelve hours the only obstacle that stands between that youth there and the colossal fortune of the Champdoce will have vanished away."
Though he had expected something of the kind, the face of the doctor grew very pale.
"What, Andre?" faltered he.
"Andre is in great danger, doctor, and may not survive to-morrow, and a portion of the work necessary to this end will be done to-night by our young friend Toto Chupin."
"By that young scamp? Why, only the other day you laughed when I suggested employing him."
"I shall this time kill two birds with one stone. Once an investigation is made--let us speak plainly--into Andre's death, there will be some inquiry made as to a certain window frame that has been sawed through, and suspicion will fall upon Toto Chupin, who will have been seen lurking about the spot. It will be proved that he purchased a saw, and that he changed just before a note for one thousand francs; he will be found hiding in a garret in the Hotel de Perou."
The doctor looked aghast. "Are you mad?" cried he. "Toto will accuse you."
"Very likely, but by that time poor old Tantaine will be dead and buried. Then Mascarin will disappear, our faithful Beaumarchef will be in the United States, and we can afford to laugh at the police."
"It seems like a success," said the doctor, "but push on for mercy's sake; all these delays and fluctuations will make me seriously ill."
The two worthy associates held this conversation in a doorway, anxious to be sure that Flavia had kept her promise. In a brief space of time they saw her come out of the house and move in the direction of her father's bank.
"Now," said Tantaine, "I can go in peace, doctor; farewell for the present;" and without waiting for a reply he was walking rapidly away when he was stopped by Beaumarchef, who came up breathless and barred his passage.
"I was looking for you," cried he; "the Marquis de Croisenois is in the office and is swearing at me like anything."
"Go back to the office and tell the Marquis that the master will soon be with him;" and thus speaking, Tantaine disappeared down a court by the side of Martin Rigal's house.
The Marquis was striding up and down the office, every now and then discharging a rumbling cannonade of oaths. "Fine business people," remarked he, "to make an appointment and then not to keep it!" He checked himself; for the door of the inner office slowly opened, and Mascarin appeared on the threshold. "Punctuality," said he, "does not consist in coming before, but at the time appointed."
The Marquis was cowed at once, and followed Mascarin into the sanctum and watched him with curious gaze as the redoubtable head of the association seemed to be searching for something among the papers on his desk. When Mascarin had found what he was in search of, he turned and addressed the Marquis.
"I desired to see you," said he, "with reference to the great financial enterprise which you are to launch almost immediately."
"Yes; I understand that we must discuss it, fully understand it, and feel our way."
Mascarin uttered a contemptuous whistle.
"Do you think," asked he, "that I am the kind of person to stand and wait while you feel your way? Because if you do, the sooner you undeceive yourself the better. Things that I take in hand are carried out like a flash of lightning. You have been playing while I and Catenac have been working, and nothing remains to be done but to act."
"Act! What do you mean?"
"I mean that offices have been taken in the Rue Vivienne, that the articles of association have been drawn up, the directors chosen, and the Company registered. The printer brought the prospectus here yesterday; you can begin sending them out to-morrow."
"Read it for yourself," said Mascarin, handing a printed paper to him. "Read, and then, perhaps, you will be convinced."
Croisenois, in a dazed sort of manner, accepted the paper and read it aloud.
COPPER MINES OF TAFILA, ALGERIA. Chairman: THE MARQUIS HENRI DE CROISENOIS. Capital: Four Million Francs.
This company does not appeal to that rash class of speculators who are willing to incur great risks for the sake of obtaining for a time heavy dividends.
The shareholders in the Tafila Copper Mining Company, Limited, must not look for a dividend of more than six, or at the utmost seven, per cent.
"Well," interrupted Mascarin, "what do you think of this for a beginning?" "It seems fair enough," answered De Croisenois, "but suppose others than those whose names you have in your black list take shares, what do you say we are to do then?"
"We should simply decline to allot shares to them, that is all. See the Article XX. in the Articles of Association. 'The Board of Directors may decline to allot shares to applicants without giving any reason for so doing.' "
"And suppose," continued the Marquis, "that one of our own people dispose of his share, may we not find our new shareholder a thorn in our side?"
"Article XXI. 'No transfer of stock is valid, unless passed by the Board of Directors, and recorded in the books of the Company,' " read out Mascarin.
"And how will the game be brought to a conclusion?"
"Easily enough. You will advertise one morning that two-thirds of the capital having been unsuccessfully sunk in the enterprise, you are compelled to apply for a winding-up of the Company under Article XVII. Six months afterwards you will announce that the liquidation of the Company has, after all expenses have been paid, left no balance whatsoever. Then you wash your hands of the whole thing, and the matter is at an end."
Croisenois felt that he had no ground to stand upon, but he ventured on one more objection.
"It seems rather a strange thing to launch this enterprise at the present moment. May it not interfere with my marriage prospects? and may not the Count de Mussidan decline to give me his daughter and risk her dowry in this manner? One moment, I--"
The agent sneered and cut short the tergiversations of the Marquis.
"You mean, I suppose," said he, "that when once you are safely married and have received Mademoiselle Sabine's dowry, you will take leave of us. Not so, my dear young friend; and if this is your idea, put it aside, for it is utter nonsense. I should hold you then as I do now."
The Marquis saw that any further struggle would be of no avail, and gave in.
* * * * *
That evening, when M. Martin Rigal emerged from his private office, his daughter Flavia was more than usually demonstrative in her tokens of affection. "How fondly I love you, my dearest father!" said she, as she rained kisses on his cheeks. "How good you are to me!" but on this occasion the banker was too much preoccupied to ask his daughter the reason for this extreme tenderness on her part.