The Count's Millions HTML version

Chapter 4.
It is in vain that the law has endeavored to shield private life from prying eyes. The
scribes who pander to Parisian curiosity surmount all obstacles and brave every danger.
Thanks to the "High Life" reporters, every newspaper reader is aware that twice a week--
Mondays and Thursdays--Madame Lia d'Argeles holds a reception at her charming
mansion in the Rue de Berry. Her guests find plenty of amusement there. They seldom
dance; but card- playing begins at midnight, and a dainty supper is served before the
departure of the guests.
It was on leaving one of these little entertainments that that unfortunate young man, Jules
Chazel, a cashier in a large banking- house, committed suicide by blowing out his brains.
The brilliant frequenters of Madame d'Argeles's entertainments considered this act proof
of exceeding bad taste and deplorable weakness on his part. "The fellow was a coward,"
they declared. "Why, he had lost hardly a thousand louis!"
He had lost only that, it is true--a mere trifle as times go. Only the money was not his; he
had taken it from the safe which was confided to his keeping, expecting, probably, to
double the amount in a single night. In the morning, when he found himself alone,
without a penny, and the deficit staring him in the face, the voice of conscience cried,
"You are a thief!" and he lost his reason.
The event created a great sensation at the time, and the Petit Journal published a curious
story concerning this unfortunate young man's mother. The poor woman--she was a
widow--sold all she possessed, even the bed on which she slept, and when she had
succeeded in gathering together twenty thousand francs--the ransom of her son's honor--
she carried them to the banker by whom her boy had been employed. He took them,
without even asking the mother if she had enough left to purchase her dinner that
evening; and the fine gentleman, who had won and pocketed Jules Chazel's stolen gold,
thought the banker's conduct perfectly natural and just. It is true that Madame d'Argeles
was in despair during forty-eight hours or so; for the police had begun a sort of
investigation, and she feared this might frighten her visitors and empty her drawing-
rooms. Not at all, however; on the contrary, she had good cause to congratulate herself
upon the notoriety she gained through this suicide. For five days she was the talk of Paris,
and Alfred d'Aunay even published her portrait in the Illustrated Chronicle.
Still, no one was able to say exactly who Madame Lia d'Argeles was. Who was she, and
whence did she come? How had she lived until she sprang up, full grown, in the sunshine
of the fashionable world? Did the splendid mansion in the Rue de Berry really belong to
her? Was she as rich as she was supposed to be? Where had she acquired such manners,
the manners of a thorough woman of the world, with her many accomplishments, as well
as her remarkable skill as a musician? Everything connected with her was a subject of
conjecture, even to the name inscribed upon her visiting cards--"Lia d'Argeles."