The Count's Millions by Emile Gaboriau - HTML preview

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Chapter 13.

 

Few people have any idea of the great number of estates which, in default of heirs to claim them, annually revert to the government. The treasury derives large sums from this source every year. And this is easily explained, for nowadays family ties are becoming less and less binding. Brothers cease to meet; their children no longer know each other; and the members of the second generation are as perfect strangers as though they were not united by a bond of consanguinity. The young man whom love of adventure lures to a far-off country, and the young girl who marries against her parents' wishes, soon cease to exist for their relatives. No one even inquires what has become of them. Those who remain at home are afraid to ask whether they are prosperous or unfortunate, lest they should be called upon to assist the wanderers. Forgotten themselves, the adventurers in their turn soon forget. If fortune smiles upon them, they are careful not to inform their relatives. Poor--they have been cast off; wealthy--they themselves deny their kindred. Having become rich unaided, they find an egotistical satisfaction in spending their money alone in accordance with their own fancies. Now when a man of this class dies what happens? The servants and people around him profit of his loneliness and isolation, and the justice of the peace is only summoned to affix the seals, after they have removed all the portable property. An inventory is taken, and after a few formalities, as no heirs present themselves, the court declares the inheritance to be in abeyance, and appoints a trustee.

This trustee's duties are very simple. He manages the property and remits the income to the Treasury until a legal judgment declares the estate the property of the country, regardless of any heirs who may present themselves in future.

 "If I only had a twentieth part of the money that is lost in this way, my fortune would be made," exclaimed a shrewd man, some thirty years ago.

The person who spoke was Antoine Vaudore. For six months he secretly nursed the idea, studying it, examining it in all respects, weighing its advantages and disadvantages, and at last he decided that it was a good one. That same year, indeed, assisted by a little capital which he had obtained no one knew how, he created a new, strange, and untried profession to supply a new demand.

Thus Vaudore was the first man who made heir-hunting a profession. As will be generally admitted, it is not a profession that can be successfully followed by a craven. It requires the exercise of unusual shrewdness, untiring activity, extraordinary energy and courage, as well as great tact and varied knowledge. The man who would follow it successfully must possess the boldness of a gambler, the sang-froid of a duelist, the keen perceptive powers and patience of a detective, and the resources and quick wit of the shrewdest attorney.

It is easier to decry the profession than to exercise it. To begin with, the heir-hunter must be posted up with information respecting unclaimed inheritances, and he must have sufficient acquaintance with the legal world to be able to obtain information from the clerks of the different courts, notaries, and so on. When he learns that a man has died without any known heirs, his first care is to ascertain the amount of unclaimed property, to see if it will pay him to take up the case. If he finds that the inheritance is a valuable one, he begins operations without delay. He must first ascertain the deceased's full name and age. It is easy to procure this information; but it is more difficult to discover the name of the place where the deceased was born, his profession, what countries he lived in, his tastes and mode of life--in a word, everything that constitutes a complete biography.

However, when he has armed himself with the more indispensable facts, our agent opens the campaign with extreme prudence, for it would be ruinous to awake suspicion. It is curious to observe the incomparable address which the agent displays in his efforts to learn the particulars of the deceased's life, by consulting his friends, his enemies, his debtors, and all who ever knew him, until at last some one is found who says: "Such and such a man-- why, he came from our part of the country. I never knew HIM, but I am acquainted with one of his brothers--with one of his uncles-- or with one of his nephews."

Very often years of constant research, a large outlay of money, and costly and skilful advertising in all the European journals, are necessary before this result is reached. And it is only when it has been attained that the agent can take time to breathe. But now the chances are greatly in his favor. The worst is over. The portion of his task which depended on chance alone is concluded. The rest is a matter of skill, tact, and shrewdness. The detective must give place to the crafty lawyer. The agent must confer with this heir, who has been discovered at the cost of so much time and trouble and induce him to bestow a portion of this prospective wealth on the person who is able to establish his claim. There must be an agreement in writing clearly stating what proportion--a tenth, a third, or a half--the agent will be entitled to. The negotiation is a very delicate and difficult one, requiring prodigious presence of mind, and an amount of duplicity which would make the most astute diplomatist turn pale with envy. Occasionally, the heir suspects the truth, sneers at the proposition, and hurries off to claim the whole of the inheritance that belongs to him. The agent may then bid his hopes farewell. He has worked and spent money for nothing.

However, such a misfortune is of rare occurrence. On hearing of the unexpected good fortune that has befallen him, the heir is generally unsuspicious, and willingly promises to pay the amount demanded of him. A contract is drawn up and signed; and then, but only then, does the agent take his client into his confidence. "You are the relative of such a person, are you not?"

"Yes."

"Very well. He is dead, and you are his heir. Thank Providence, and make haste to claim your money."

As a rule, the heir loyally fulfils his obligation. But sometimes it happens that, when he has obtained undisputed possession of the property, he declares that he has been swindled, and refuses to fulfil his part of the contract. Then the case must go to the courts. It is true, however, that the judgment of the tribunals generally recalls the refractory client to a sense of gratitude and humility.

 Now our friend M. Isidore Fortunat was a hunter of missing heirs. Undoubtedly he often engaged in other business which was a trifle less respectable; but heir-hunting was one of the best and most substantial sources of his income. So we can readily understand why he so quickly left off lamenting that forty thousand francs lent to the Marquis de Valorsay.

Changing his tactics, he said to himself that, even if he had lost this amount through M. de Chalusse's sudden death, it was much less than he might obtain if he succeeded in discovering the unknown heirs to so many millions. And he had some reason to hope that he would be able to do so. Having been employed by M. de Chalusse when the latter was seeking Mademoiselle Marguerite, M. Fortunat had gained some valuable information respecting his client, and the additional particulars which he had obtained from Madame Vantrasson elated him to such an extent that more than once he exclaimed: "Ah, well! it is, perhaps, a blessing in disguise, after all."

Still, M. Isidore Fortunat slept but little after his stormy interview with the Marquis de Valorsay. A loss of forty thousand francs is not likely to impart a roseate hue to one's dreams--and M. Fortunat prized his money as if it had been the very marrow of his bones. By way of consolation, he assured himself that he would not merely regain the sum, but triple it; and yet this encouragement did not entirely restore his peace of mind. The gain was only a possibility, and the loss was a certainty. So he twisted, and turned, and tossed on his bed as if it had been a hot gridiron, exhausting himself in surmises, and preparing his mind for the difficulties which he would be obliged to overcome.

His plan was a simple one, but its execution was fraught with difficulties. "I must discover M. de Chalusse's sister, if she is still living--I must discover her children, if she is dead," he said to himself. It was easy to SAY this; but how was he to do it? How could he hope to find this unfortunate girl, who had abandoned her home thirty years previously, to fly, no one knew where, or with whom? How was he to gain any idea of the life she had lived, or the fate that had befallen her? At what point on the social scale, and in what country, should he begin his investigations? These daughters of noble houses, who desert the paternal roof in a moment of madness, generally die most miserably after a wretched life. The girl of the lower classes is armed against misfortune, and has been trained for the conflict. She can measure and calculate the force of her fall, and regulate and control it to a certain extent. But the others cannot. They have never known privation and hardship, and are, therefore, defenceless. And for the very reason that they have been hurled from a great height, they often fall down into the lowest depths of infamy.

 "If morning would only come," sighed M. Isidore Fortunat, as he tossed restlessly to and fro. "As soon as morning comes I will set to work!"

But just before daybreak he fell asleep; and at nine o'clock he was still slumbering so soundly that Madame Dodelin, his housekeeper, had considerable difficulty in waking him. "Your clerks have come," she exclaimed, shaking him vigorously; "and two clients are waiting for you in the reception-room."

 He sprang up, hastily dressed himself, and went into his office. It cost him no little effort to receive his visitors that morning; but it would have been folly to neglect all his other business for the uncertain Chalusse affair. The first client who entered was a man still young, of common, even vulgar appearance. Not being acquainted with M. Fortunat, he deemed it proper to introduce himself without delay. "My name is Leplaintre, and I am a coal merchant," said he. "I was recommended to call on you by my friend Bouscat, who was formerly in the wine trade."

 M. Fortunat bowed. "Pray be seated," was his reply. "I remember your friend very well. If I am not mistaken I gave him some advice with reference to his third failure."

 "Precisely; and it is because I find myself in the same fix as Bouscat that I have called on you. Business is very bad, and I have notes to a large amount overdue, so that--"

 "You will be obliged to go into bankruptcy."

 "Alas! I fear so."

 M. Fortunat already knew what his client desired, but it was against his principles to meet these propositions more than half way. "Will you state your case?" said he.

The coal merchant blushed. It was hard to confess the truth; but the effort had to be made. "This is my case," he replied, at last. "Among my creditors I have several enemies, who will refuse me a release. They would like to deprive me of everything I possess. And in that case, what would become of me? Is it right that I should be compelled to starve?"

 "It is a bad outlook."

"It is, indeed, monsieur; and for this reason, I desire--if possible, if I can do so without danger--for I am an honest man, monsieur--I wish to retain a little property--secretly, of course, not for myself, by any means, but I have a young wife and----"

 M. Fortunat took compassion on the man's embarrassment. "In short," he interrupted, "you wish to conceal a part of your capital from your creditors?"

On hearing this precise and formal statement of his honorable intentions, the coalmerchant trembled. His feelings of integrity would not have been alarmed by a periphrasis, but this plain speaking shocked him. "Oh, monsieur!" he protested, "I would rather blow my brains out than defraud my creditors of a single penny that was rightfully theirs. What I am doing is for their interest, you understand. I shall begin business again under my wife's name; and if I succeed, they shall be paid--yes, monsieur, every sou, with interest. Ah! if I had only myself to think of, it would be quite different; but I have two children, two little girls, so that----"

 "Very well," replied M. Fortunat. "I should suggest to you the same expedient as I suggested to your friend Bouscat. But you must gather a little ready money together before going into bankruptcy."

 "I can do that by secretly disposing of a part of my stock, so----"

 "In that case, you are saved. Sell it and put the money beyond your creditors' reach."

The worthy merchant scratched his ear in evident perplexity. "Excuse me," said he. "I had thought of this plan; but it seemed to me--dishonorable--and--also very dangerous. How could I explain this decrease in my stock? My creditors hate me. If they suspected anything, they would accuse me of fraud, and perhaps throw me into prison; and then----"

M. Fortunat shrugged his shoulders. "When I give advice," he roughly replied, "I furnish the means of following it without danger. Listen to me attentively. Let us suppose, for a moment, that some time ago you purchased, at a very high figure, a quantity of stocks and shares, which are to-day almost worthless, could not this unfortunate investment account for the absence of the sum which you wish to set aside? Your creditors would be obliged to value these securities, not at their present, but at their former value."

 "Evidently; but, unfortunately, I do not possess any such securities."

 "You can purchase them."

 The coal-merchant opened his eyes in astonishment. "Excuse me," he muttered, "I don't exactly understand you."

He did not understand in the least; but M. Fortunat enlightened him by opening his safe, and displaying an enormous bundle of stocks and shares which had flooded the country a few years previously, and ruined a great many poor, ignorant fools which were hungering for wealth; among them were shares in the Tifila Mining Company, the Berchem Coal Mines, the Greenland Fisheries, the Mutual Trust and Loan Association, and so on. There had been a time when each of these securities would have fetched five hundred or a thousand francs at the Bourse, but now they were not worth the paper on which they were printed.

 "Let us suppose, my dear sir," resumed M. Fortunat, "that you had a drawer full of these securities----"

But the other did not allow him to finish. "I see," he exclaimed; "I see--I can sell my stock, and put the proceeds in my pocket with perfect safety. There is enough to represent my capital a thousand times over."

And, in a paroxysm of delight, he added: "Give me enough of these shares to represent a capital of one hundred and twenty thousand francs; and give me some of each kind. I should like my creditors to have a variety."

Thereupon M. Fortunat counted out a pile of these worthless securities as carefully as if he had been handling bank-notes; and his client at the same time drew out his pocketbook.

 "How much do I owe you?" he inquired.

 "Three thousand francs."

 The honest merchant bounded from his chair. "Three thousand francs!" he repeated. "You must be jesting. That trash is not worth a louis."

"I would not even give five francs for it," rejoined M. Fortunat, coldly; "but it is true that I don't desire to purchase these shares in my creditors' interest. With you it is quite a different matter--this trash, as you very justly call it, will save you at least a hundred thousand francs. I ask only three per cent., which is certainly not dear. Still, you know, I don't force any one to purchase them." And, in a terribly significant tone, he added: "You can undoubtedly buy similar securities on better terms; but take care you don't arouse your creditors' suspicions by applying elsewhere."

"He would betray me, the scoundrel!" thought the merchant. And, realizing that he had fallen into a trap, "Here are three thousand francs," he sighed; "but at least, my dear sir, give me good measure, and throw in a few thousand francs more."

The coal-merchant smiled the ghastly smile of a man who sees no way of escape from imposition, and has, therefore, resolved to submit with the best grace possible. But M. Fortunat's gravity did not relax. He gave what he had promised--neither more nor less--in exchange for the bank-notes, and even gravely exclaimed: "See if the amount is correct."

His client pocketed the shares without counting them: but before leaving the room he made his estimable adviser promise to assist him at the decisive moment, and help him to prepare one of those clear financial statements which make creditors say: "This is an honest man who has been extremely unfortunate."

M. Fortunat was admirably fitted to render this little service; for he devoted such part of his time as was not spent in hunting for missing heirs to difficult liquidations, and he had indeed made bankruptcy a specialty in which he was without a rival. The business was a remunerative one, thanks to the expedient he had revealed to the coal-merchant--an expedient which is common enough nowadays, but of which he might almost be called the inventor. It consisted in compelling the persons who asked for his advice to purchase worthless shares at whatever price he chose to set upon them, and they were forced to submit, under penalty of denunciation and exposure.

 The client who followed the coal-merchant proved to be a simple creature, who had called to ask for some advice respecting a slight difficulty between himself and his landlord. M. Fortunat speedily disposed of him, and then, opening the door leading into the outer office, he called: "Cashier!"

 A shabbily-dressed man, some thirty-five years of age, at once entered the private sanctum, carrying a money-bag in one hand and a ledger in the other.

 "How many debtors were visited yesterday?" inquired M. Fortunat.

 "Two hundred and thirty-seven."

 "What was the amount collected?"

 "Eighty-nine francs."

 M. Isidore Fortunat's grimace was expressive of satisfaction. "Not bad," said he, "not at all bad."

Then a singular performance began. M. Fortunat called over the names of his debtors, one by one, and the cashier answered each name by reading a memorandum written against it on the margin of a list he held. "Such a one," said the agent, "and such a one-and such----" Whereupon the cashier replied: "Has paid two francs--was not at home-paid twenty sous--would not pay anything."

How did it happen that M. Fortunat had so many debtors? This question can be easily answered. In settling bankrupts' estates it was easy for him to purchase a large number of debts which were considered worthless, at a trifling cost, and he reaped a bountiful harvest on a field which would have yielded nothing to another person. It was not because he was rigorous in his demands; he conquered by patience, gentleness, and politeness, but also by unwearying perseverance and tenacity. When he decided that a debtor was to pay him a certain sum, it was paid. He never relaxed in his efforts. Every other day some one was sent to visit the debtor, to follow him, and harass him; he was surrounded by M. Fortunat's agents; they pursued him to his office, shop, or cafe-everywhere, continually, incessantly--and always with the most perfect urbanity. At last even the most determined succumbed; to escape this frightful persecution, they, somehow or other, found the money to satisfy M. Fortunat's claim. Besides Victor Chupin, he had five other agents whose business it was to visit these poor wretches. A list was assigned to each man every morning; and when evening came, he made his report to the cashier, who in turn reported to his employer. This branch of industry added considerably to the profits of M. Fortunat's other business, and was the third and last string to his bow.

The report proceeded as usual, but it was quite evident that M. Fortunat's thoughts were elsewhere. He paused each moment to listen eagerly for the slightest sound outside, for before receiving the coal-merchant he had told Victor Chupin to run to the Rue de Courcelles and ask M. Casimir for news of the Count de Chalusse. He had done this more than an hour before; and Victor Chupin, who was usually so prompt, had not yet made his appearance.

 At last, however, he returned, whereupon M. Fortunat dismissed the cashier, and addressed his messenger: "Well?" he asked.

 "He is no longer living. They think he died without a will, and that the pretty young lady will be turned out of the house."

 This information agreed so perfectly with M. Fortunat's presentiments that he did not even wince, but calmly asked: "Will Casimir keep his appointment?"

 "He told me that he would endeavor to come, and I'd wager a hundred to one that he will be there; he would travel ten leagues to put something good into his stomach."

 M. Fortunat's opinion coincided with Chupin's. "Very well," said he. "Only you were a long time on the road, Victor."

 "That's true, m'sieur; but I had a little matter of my own to attend to--a matter of a hundred francs, if you please."

 M. Fortunat knit his brows angrily. "It's only right to attend to business," said he; "but you think too much of money, Victor-- altogether too much. You are insatiable."

 The young man proudly lifted his head, and with an air of importance, replied: "I have so many responsibilities----"

 "Responsibilities!--you?"

"Yes, indeed, m'sieur. And why not? My poor, good mother hasn't been able to work for a year, and who would care for her if I didn't? Certainly not my father, the good-fornothing scamp, who squandered all the Duke de Sairmeuse's money without giving us a sou of it. Besides, I'm like other men, I'm anxious to be rich, and enjoy myself. I should like to ride in my carriage like other people do. And whenever a gamin, such as I was once, opened the door for ME, I should put a five-franc piece in his hand----"

He was interrupted by Madame Dodelin, the worthy housekeeper, who rushed into the room without knocking, in a terrible state of excitement. "Monsieur!" she exclaimed, in the same tone as if she would have called "Fire!"

"here is Monsieur de Valorsay."

 M. Fortunat sprang up and turned extremely pale. "What to the devil brings him here?" he anxiously stammered. "Tell him that I've gone out--tell him--"

But it was useless, for the marquis at that very moment entered the room, and the agent could only dismiss his housekeeper and Chupin.

 M. de Valorsay seemed to be very angry, and it looked as if he meant to give vent to his passion. Indeed, as soon as he was alone with M. Fortunat, he began: "So this is the way you betray your friends, Master Twenty-per-Cent! Why did you deceive me last night about the ten thousand francs you had promised me? Why didn't you tell me the truth? You knew of the misfortune that had befallen M. de Chalusse. I heard of it first scarcely an hour ago through a letter from Madame Leon."

M. Fortunat hesitated somewhat. He was a quiet man, opposed to violence of any kind; and it seemed to him that M. de Valorsay was twisting and turning his cane in a most ominous manner. "I must confess, Monsieur le Marquis," he at last replied, "that I had not the courage to tell you of the dreadful misfortune which had befallen us."

 "How--US?"

"Certainly. If you lose the hope of several millions, I also lose the amount I advanced to you, forty thousand francs--my entire fortune. And yet, you see that I don't complain. Do as I do-- confess that the game is lost."

The marquis was listening with an air of suppressed wrath; his face was crimson, there was a dark frown on his brow, and his hands were clinched. He was apparently furious with passion, but in reality he was perfectly self-possessed. The best proof that can be given of his coolness is that he was carefully studying M. Fortunat's face, and trying to discover the agent's real intentions under his meaningless words. He had expected to find "his dear extortioner" exasperated by his loss, cursing and swearing, and demanding his money--but not at all. He found him more gentle and calm, colder and more reserved than ever; brimful of resignation indeed, and preaching submission to the inevitable. "What can this mean?" he thought, with an anxious heart. "What mischief is the scoundrel plotting now? I'd wager a thousand to one that he's forging some thunderbolt to crush me." And, in a haughty tone, he said aloud:

 "In a word, you desert me."

With a deprecatory gesture, M. Fortunat exclaimed: "I desert you, Monsieur le Marquis! What have I done that you should think so ill of me? Alas! circumstances are the only traitors. I shouldn't like to deprive you of the courage you so much need, but, honestly, it would be folly to struggle against destiny. How can you hope to succeed in your plans? Have you not resorted to every possible expedient to prolong your apparently brilliant existence until the present time? Are you not at such a point that you must marry Mademoiselle Marguerite in a month's time, or perish? And now the count's millions are lost! If I might be allowed to give you some advice, I should say, 'The shipwreck is inevitable; think only of saving yourself.' By tact and shrewdness, you might yet save something from your creditors. Compromise with them. And if you need my services, here I am. Go to Nice, and give me a power of attorney to act for you. From the debris of your fortune, I will undertake to guarantee you a competence which would satisfy many an ambitious man."

 The marquis laughed sneeringly. "Excellent!" he exclaimed. "You would rid yourself of me and recover your forty thousand francs at the same time. A very clever arrangement."

 M. Fortunat realized that his client understood him; but what did it matter?" I assure you ---" he began.

But the marquis silenced him with a contemptuous gesture. "Let us stop this nonsense," said he. "We understand each other better than that. I have never made any attempt to deceive you, nor have I ever supposed that I had succeeded in doing so, and pray do me the honor to consider me as shrewd as yourself." And still refusing to listen to the agent, he continued: "If I have come to you, it is only because the case is not so desperate as you suppose. I still hold some valuable cards which you are ignorant of. In your opinion, and every one else's, Mademoiselle Marguerite is ruined. But I know that she is still worth three millions, at the very least."

 "Mademoiselle Marguerite?"

"Yes, Monsieur Twenty-per-Cent. Let her become my wife, and the very next day I will place her in possession of an income of a hundred and fifty thousand francs. But she must marry me first; and this scornful maiden will not grant me her hand unless I can convince her of my love and disinterestedness."

 "But your rival?"

M. de Valorsay gave a nervous start, but quickly controlled himself. "He no longer exists. Read this day's Figaro, and you will be edified. I have no rival now. If I can only conceal my financial embarrassment a little longer, she is mine. A friendless and homeless girl cannot defend herself long in Paris-- especially when she has an adviser like Madame Leon. Oh! I shall win her! I shall have her!--she is a necessity to me. Now you can judge if it would be wise on your part to deprive me of your assistance. Would you like to know what I want? Simply this--the means to sustain me two or three months longer--some thirty thousand francs. You can procure the money--will you? It would make, in all, seventy thousand francs that I should owe you, and I will promise to pay you two hundred and fifty thousand if I succeed--and I shall succeed! Such profit is worth some risk. Reflect, and decide. But no more subterfuges, if you please. Let your answer be plain yes or no."

 Without a second's hesitation, M. Fortunat replied, "No."

The flush on the marquis's face deepened, and his voice became a trifle harsher; but that was all. "Confess, then, that you have resolved to ruin me," he said. "You refuse before you have heard me to the end. Wait, at least, until I have told you my plans, and shown you the solid foundation which my hopes rest upon."

But M. Fortunat had resolved to listen to nothing. He wished for no explanations, so distrustful was he of himself--so much did he fear that his adventurous nature would urge him to incur further risk. He was positively afraid of the Marquis de Valorsay's eloquence; besides, he knew well enough that the person who consents to listen is at least half convinced. "Tell me nothing, monsieur," he hastily answered; "it would be useless. I haven't the money. If I had given you ten thousand francs last night, I should have been compelled to borrow them of M. Prosper Bertomy. And even if I had the money, I should still say ' Impossible.' Every man has his system--his theory, you know. Mine is, never to run after my money. With me, whatever I may lose, I regard it as finally lost; I think no more about it, and turn to something else. So your forty thousand francs have already been entered on my profit and loss account. And yet it would be easy enough for you to repay me, if you would follow my advice and go quietly into bankruptcy."

"Never!" interrupted M. de Valorsay; "never! I do not wish to temporize," he continued. "I will save all, or save nothing. If you refuse me your help, I shall apply elsewhere. I will never give my good friends, who detest me, and whom I cordially hate in return, the delicious joy of seeing the Marquis de Valorsay fall step by step from the high position he has occupied. I will never truckle to the men whom I have eclipsed for fifteen years. No, never! I would rather die, or even commit the greatest crime!"

He suddenly checked himself, a trifle astonished, perhaps, by his own plain-speaking; and, for a moment, he and M. Fortunat looked into each other's eyes, striving to divine their respective secret thoughts.

 The marquis was the first to speak. "And so," said he, in a tone which he strove to make persuasive, but which was threatening instead, "it is settled--your decision is final?"

 "Final."

 "You will not even condescend to listen to my explanation?"

 "It would be a loss of time."

On receiving this cruel reply, M. de Valorsay struck the desk such a formidable blow with his clenched fist that several bundles of papers fell to the floor. His anger was not feigned now. "What are you plotting, then?" he exclaimed; "and what do you intend to do? What is your object in betraying me? Take care! It is my life that I am going to defend, and as truly as there is a God in heaven, I shall defend it well. A man who is determined to blow his brains out if he is defeated, is a terribly dangerous adversary. Woe to you, if I ever find you standing between me and the Count de Chalusse's millions!"

Every drop of blood had fled from M. Fortunat's face, still his mien was composed and dignified. "You do wrong to threaten me," said he. "I don't fear you in the least. If I were your enemy, I should bring suit against you for the forty thousand francs you owe me. I should not obtain my money, of course, but I could shatter the tottering edifice of your fortune by a single blow. Besides, you forget that I possess a copy of our agreement, signed by your own hand, and that I have only to show it to Mademoiselle Marguerite to give her a just opinion of your disinterestedness. Let us sever our connection now, monsieur, and each go his own way without reference to the other. If you should succeed you will repay me."

Victory perched upon the agent's banner, and it was with a feeling of pride that he saw his noble client depart, white and speechless with rage. "What a rascal that marquis is," he muttered. "I would certainly warn Mademoiselle Marguerite, poor girl, if I were not so much afraid of him."