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Baron Trigault's Vengeance
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This proved to be the note in pencil which Madame Leon had given to Pascal, and which he had divined rather than read by the light of the street-lamp; he had handed it to his mother on his return, and she had kept it. He had scarcely been in his right mind the evening he received it, but now he was enjoying the free exercise of all his faculties. He no sooner glanced at the note than he sprang up, and in an excited voice, exclaimed, "Marguerite never wrote this!"
The strange discovery seemed to stupefy him. "I was mad, raving mad!" he muttered. "The fraud is palpable, unmistakable. How could I have failed to discover it?" And as if he felt the need of convincing himself that he was not deceived, he continued, speaking to himself rather than to his mother: "The hand-writing is not unlike Marguerite's, it's true; but it's only a clever counterfeit. And who doesn't know that all writings in pencil resemble each other more or less? Besides, it's certain that Marguerite, who is simplicity itself, would not have made use of such pretentious melodramatic phrases. How could I have been so stupid as to believe that she ever thought or wrote this: 'One cannot break a promise made to the dying; I shall keep mine even though my heart break.' And again: 'Forget, therefore, the girl who has loved you so much: she is now the betrothed of another, and honor requires she should forget even your name!'" He read these passages with an extravagant emphasis, which heightened their absurdity. "And what shall I say of these mistakes in spelling?" he resumed. "You noticed them, of course, mother? - command is written with a single 'm,' and supplicate with one 'p.' These are certainly not mistakes that we can attribute to haste! Ignorance is proved since the blunder is always the same. The forger is evidently in the habit of omitting one of the double letters."
Madame Ferailleur listened with an impassive face. "And these mistakes are all the more inexcusable since this letter is only a copy," she observed, quietly.
"Yes; a verbatim copy. Yesterday evening, while I was examining it for the twentieth time, it occurred to me that I had read some portions of it before. Where, and under what circumstances? It was a puzzle which kept me awake most of the night. But this morning I suddenly remembered a book which I had seen in the hands of the workmen at the factory, and which I had often laughed over. So, while I was out this morning I entered a book-shop, and purchased the volume. That's it, there on the corner of the mantel-shelf. Take it and see."
Pascal obeyed, and noticed with surprise that the work was entitled, "The Indispensable and Complete Letter-writer, for Both Sexes, in Every Condition of Life."
"Now turn to the page I have marked," said Madame Ferailleur.
He did so, and read: "(Model 198). Letter from a young lady who has promised her dying father to renounce the man she loves, and to bestow her hand upon another." Doubt was no longer possible. Line for line and word for word, the mistakes in spelling excepted, the note was an exact copy of the stilted prose of the "Indispensable Letter-writer."
It seemed to Pascal as if the scales had suddenly fallen from his eyes, and that he could now understand the whole intrigue which had been planned to separate him from Marguerite. His enemies had dishonored him in the hope that she would reject and scorn him, and, disappointed in their expectations, they had planned this pretended rupture of the engagement to prevent him from making any attempt at self-justification. So, in spite of some short-lived doubts, his love had been more clear-sighted than reason, and stronger than appearances. He had been quite right, then, in saying to his mother: "I can never believe that Marguerite deserts me at a moment when I am so wretched - that she condemns me unheard, and has no greater confidence in me than in my accusers. Appearances may indicate the contrary, but I am right." Certain circumstances, which had previously seemed contradictory, now strengthened this belief. "How is it," he said to himself, "that Marguerite writes to me that her father, on his death-bed, made her promise to renounce me, while Valorsay declares the Count de Chalusse died so suddenly, that he had not even time to acknowledge his daughter or to bequeath her his immense fortune? One of these stories must be false; and which of them? The one in this note most probably. As for the letter itself, it must have been the work of Madame Leon."
If he had not already possessed irrefutable proofs of this, the "Indispensable Letter-writer" would have shown it. The housekeeper's perturbation when she met him at the garden gate was now explained. She was shuddering at the thought that she might be followed and watched, and that Marguerite might appear at any moment, and discover everything.
"I think it would be a good plan to let this poor young girl know that her companion is Valorsay's spy," remarked Madame Ferailleur.
Pascal was about to approve this suggestion, when a sudden thought deterred him. "They must be watching Marguerite very closely," he replied, "and if I attempt to see her, if I even venture to write to her, our enemies would undoubtedly discover it. And then, farewell to the success of my plans."
"Then you prefer to leave her exposed to these dangers?"
"Yes, even admitting there is danger, which is by no means certain. Owing to her past life, Marguerite's experience is far in advance of her years, and if some one told me that she had fathomed Madame Leon's character, I should not be at all surprised."
It was necessary to ascertain what had become of Marguerite; and Pascal was puzzling his brain to discover how this might be done, when suddenly he exclaimed: "Madame Vantrasson! We have her; let us make use of her. It will be easy to find some excuse for sending her to the Hotel de Chalusse: she will gossip with the servants there, and in that way we can discover the changes that have taken place."
This was a heroic resolution on Pascal's part, and one which he would have recoiled from the evening before. But it is easy to be brave when one is hopeful; and he saw his chances of success increase so rapidly that he no longer feared the obstacles that had once seemed almost insurmountable. Even his mother's opposition had ceased to alarm him. For why should he fear after the surprising proof she had given him of her love of justice, proving that the pretended letter from Mademoiselle Marguerite was really a forgery?
He slept but little that night and did not stir from the house on the following day. He was busily engaged in perfecting his plan of attack against the marquis. His advantages were considerable, thanks to Baron Trigault, who had placed a hundred thousand francs at his disposal; but the essential point was to use this amount in such a way as to win Valorsay's confidence, and induce him to betray himself. Pascal's hours of meditation were not spent in vain, and when it became time for him to repair to his enemy's house, he said to his mother: "I've found a plan; and if the baron will let me follow it out, Valorsay is mine!"