The Champdoce Mystery

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Author: Emile Gaboriau

Chapter XXII. A Gentleman in Difficulties.

When Andre had got rid of the young man, and had been ushered into M. Gandelu’s presence, the change in the gentleman’s appearance struck him with horror. His eyes were red and swollen as if he had been weeping, but as soon as he caught sight of Andre his face brightened, and he welcomed him warmly.

"Oh, it does me good to see you, and I bless the fortunate chance that has brought you here to-day."

"It is not a very fortunate chance," answered Andre, as he shook his head sadly.

For the first time Gandelu noticed the air of gravity which marked the young man, and the shade of sorrow upon his brow.

"What ails you, Andre?" asked he.

"A great misfortune is hanging over me."

"What do you mean?"

"The naked truth and this misfortune may bring death and despair to me."

"I am your friend, my dear boy," said the old man, "and would gladly be of service to you. Tell me if I can be of any use?"

"I come to you to-day to ask a favor at your hands."

"And you thought of the old man, then? I thank you for doing so. Give me your hand; I like to feel the grasp of an honest man’s hand; it warms my heart."

"It is the secret of my life that I am going to confide to you," said he, with some solemnity.

M. Gandelu made no reply, but struck his clenched fist upon his breast, as though to show that any secret confided to him would be locked up in the safe security of his heart.

Then Andre hesitated no longer, and, with the exception of giving names, told the whole story of his love, his ambitions, and his hopes, and gave a clear account of how matters stood.

"How can I help you?" asked M. Gandelu.

"Allow me," said Andre, "to hand over the work with which you have intrusted me to one of my friends. I will retain the responsibility, but will merely act as one of the workmen. This, to a certain extent, will give me my liberty, while at the same time I shall be earning a little money, which is just now of vast importance to me."

"Is that what you call a favor?"

"Certainly, and a very great one, too."

Gandelu rose hastily, and, opening an iron safe which stood in one corner of the room, and taking from it a bundle of banknotes, he placed them on the table before Andre with an expressive look, which meant, "Take what you desire."

The unlooked-for kindness of this man, who forgot all his own sorrows in his anxiety to relieve the necessities of another, affected Andre deeply.

"I do not need money," began he.

With a wave of his hand Gandelu inspired silence. "Take these twenty thousand francs," said he, "and then I can tell you why I asked you to come upstairs."

A refusal would have wounded the old man deeply, and so Andre took the proffered loan.

Gandelu resumed his seat, and remained in gloomy silence for some time.

"My dear boy," said he, in a voice broken by emotion, "a day or two back you saw something of the trouble that I am laboring under. I have no longer any respect or esteem for that wretched fool, my son, Pierre."

Andre had already guessed that he had been incensed with reference to something connected with Gaston.

"You son has behaved very foolishly," said he; "but remember he is very young."

A sad smile passed over the old man’s face.

"My son is old in vice," replied he. "I have thought the matter over only too plainly. Yesterday he declared that he would kill himself. An absurd threat. Up to this time I have been culpably weak, and it is no use now to act in an opposite direction. The unhappy boy is infatuated with a degraded woman named Rose, and I have had her locked up; but I have made up my mind to let her out again, and also to pay his debts. It is weak folly, I allow; but what am I to do? I am his father after all; and while I cannot respect her, I must love him. He has almost broken my heart, but it was his to do as he liked with."

Andre made no reply, and Gandelu went on.

"I have not deceived myself; my son is ruined. I can but stand by and wait for the end. If this Rose is not everything that is bad, her influence may be of some use to him. But I want some one to undertake these negotiations, and I had hopes, Andre, that you would have been able to do so."

Andre felt that all his efforts ought to be devoted to the interests of Sabine, but at the same time he could not leave the kind old man to the mercy of others, and by a display of absolute heroism he determined to accede to the broken-hearted father’s desires and briefly told him that he was at his service. Gandelu thanked him warmly, and Andre seating himself at the table, the two men entered into a long discussion as to the best means to be adopted. It was finally decided that Andre should act with freedom and according to his own instincts, and that M. Gandelu should, to actual appearance, remain firm in the course he had entered upon, and should only be induced, by Andre’s intercession, to adopt milder measures. The result justified their anticipations, for Gaston was even more crushed and downcast than Andre had imagined, and it was in an agony of suspense that he awaited the return of the young painter. As soon as he saw him descending the steps he sprang forward to greet him.

"Well," said he, in a tone of eager inquiry.

"Your father," returned Andre, "is terribly angry with you, but I hope to be able to induce him to do something for you."

"Will he set Zora at liberty?"

"Perhaps he will; but first he must have something more from you than promises—he must have stable guarantees."

At these words Gaston’s face fell. "Guarantees," answered he sulkily. "Is not my word of honor enough? What sort of guarantees does he require?"

"That I cannot tell you, and you must find out for yourself; but I will do all I can for you."

Gaston gazed upon Andre in surprise.

"Do you mean to tell me," asked he, "that you can do pretty well what you like with the governor?"

"Not exactly; but surely you can see that I have a good deal of influence over him. If you want a proof of this, see, here is the money to take up these bills you told me of."

"What, Verminet’s?"

"I suppose so. I am speaking of those to which you were mad enough to forge another man’s name."

Foolish as the boy was, this act of his had caused him many a sleepless night, and he had reflected very often how he could possibly escape from the consequence of his act of rashness.

"Give me the money," cried he.

Andre shook his head, however. "Forgive me," said he, "but this money does not quit my hand until the bills are handed over to me. Your father’s orders on this point are decided; but the sooner we settle the affair the better."

"That is too bad; the governor is as sly as a fox; but he must have his own way, I suppose, so come on. Only just wait till I slip on a coat more suitable to my position than this lounging suit."

He rushed away, and was back again in ten minutes as neat as a new pin, and full of gayety and good spirits.

"We can walk," said he, putting his arm through Andre’s. "We have to go to the Rue St. Anne."

Verminet had his office in this street—the office of the Mutual Loan Society, of which he was the managing director. The house, in spite of its grandiloquent title, was of excessively shabby exterior. The Mutual Loan Society was frequented by those who, having lost their credit, wished to obtain a fresh amount, and who, having no money, wanted to borrow some.

Verminet’s plan of financial operations was perfectly simple. A tradesman on the verge of bankruptcy would come to him, Verminet would look into his case and make him sign bills for the sum he required, handing him in exchange bills drawn by other tradesman in quite as serious a predicament as himself, and pocketed a commission of two per cent. upon both the transactions. Verminet obtained clients from the simple fact that an embarrassed tradesman is utterly reckless, cares not what he signs, and will clutch at a straw to keep his head above water. But there were many other transactions carried on at the office of the Mutual Loan Society, for its largest means of income was drawn from even less respectable sources, and it was alleged that many of these bogus bills which are occasionally cashed by some respectable bankers were manufactured there. At any rate, Verminet managed to make money somehow.

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Chicago: Emile Gaboriau, "Chapter XXII. A Gentleman in Difficulties.," The Champdoce Mystery, ed. Burton, Isabel, Lady, 1831-1896 and trans. Douglas, Robert B. (Robert Bruce) in The Champdoce Mystery (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1921), Original Sources, accessed April 22, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CKFPVMSYLHC551P.

MLA: Gaboriau, Emile. "Chapter XXII. A Gentleman in Difficulties." The Champdoce Mystery, edited by Burton, Isabel, Lady, 1831-1896, and translated by Douglas, Robert B. (Robert Bruce), in The Champdoce Mystery, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1921, Original Sources. 22 Apr. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CKFPVMSYLHC551P.

Harvard: Gaboriau, E, 'Chapter XXII. A Gentleman in Difficulties.' in The Champdoce Mystery, ed. and trans. . cited in 1921, The Champdoce Mystery, Henry Holt and Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 April 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CKFPVMSYLHC551P.