The Champdoce Mystery

Contents:
Author: Emile Gaboriau

Chapter XXXI. Gaston’s Dilemma.

Yes, Sabine might yet be his, but between the lovers stood the forms of Croisenois and his associates. But now he felt strong enough to contend with them all.

"To work!" said he, "to work!"

Just then, however, he heard a sound of ringing laughter outside his door. He could distinguish a woman’s voice, and also a man’s, speaking in high, shrill tones. All at once his door burst open, and a hurricane of silks, velvets, feathers, and lace whirled in. With extreme surprise, the young artist recognized the beautiful features of Rose, /alias/ Zora de Chantemille. Gaston de Gandelu followed her, and at once began,—

"Here we are," said he, "all right again. Did you expect to see us?"

"Not in the least."

"Ah! well, it is a little surprise of the governor’s. On my word, I really will be a dutiful son for the future. To-day, the good old boy came into my room, and said, ’This morning I took the necessary steps to release the person in whom you are interested. Go and meet her.’ What do you think of that? So off I ran to find Zora, and here we are."

Andre did not pay much attention to Gaston, but was engaged in watching Zora, who was looking round the studio. She went up to Sabine’s portrait, and was about to draw the curtain, when Andre exclaimed,—

"Excuse me," said he; "I must put this picture to dry." And as the portrait stood on a moveable easel, he wheeled it into the adjoining room.

"And now," said Gaston, "I want you to come and breakfast with us to celebrate Zora’s happy release."

"I am much obliged to you, but it is impossible. I must get on with my work."

"Yes, yes; work is an excellent thing, but just now you must go and dress."

"I assure you that it is quite out of the question. I cannot leave the studio yet."

Gaston paused for a moment in deep thought.

"I have it," said he triumphantly. "You will not come to breakfast; then breakfast shall come to you. I am off to order it."

Andre ran after him, but Gaston was too quick, and he returned to the studio in anything but an amiable temper. Zora noticed his evident annoyance.

"He always goes on in this absurd way," said she, with a shrug of her pretty shoulders, "and thinks himself so clever and witty, bah!"

Her tone disclosed such contempt for Gaston that Andre looked at her in perplexed surprise.

"What do you look so astonished at? It is easy to see you do not know much of him. All his friends are just like him; if you listen to them for half an hour at a stretch, you get regularly sick. When I think of the terrible evenings that I have spent in their company, I feel ready to die with yawning;" and as she spoke, she suited the action to the word. "Ah! if he really loved me!" added she.

"Love you! Why, he adores you."

Zora made a little gesture of contempt which Toto Chupin might have envied.

"Do you think so?" said she. "Do you know what it is he loves in me? When people pass me they cry out, ’Isn’t she good style?’ and then the idiot is as pleased as Punch; but if I had on a cotton gown, he would think nothing of me."

Rose had evidently learned a good ideal, as her beauty had never been so radiant. She was one glow of health and strength.

"Then my name was not good enough for him," she went on. "His aristocratic lips could not bring themselves to utter such a common name as Rose, so he christened me Zora, a regular puppy dog’s name. He has plenty of money, but money is not everything after all. Paul had no money, and yet I loved him a thousand times better. On my word, I have almost forgotten how to laugh, and yet I used to be as merry as the day was long."

"Why did you leave Paul then?"

"Well, you see, I wanted to experience what a woman feels when she has a Cashmere shawl on, so one fine morning I took wing. But there, who knows? Paul would very likely have left me one day. There was some one who was doing his best to separate us, an old blackguard called Tantaine, who lived in the same house."

"Ah!" answered he cautiously. "What interest could he have had in separating you?"

"I don’t know," answered the girl, assuming a serious air; "but I am sure he was trying it on. A fellow doesn’t hand over banknotes for nothing, and I saw him give one for five hundred francs to Paul; and more than that, he promised him that he should make a great fortune through a friend of his called Mascarin."

Andre started. He remembered the visit that Paul had made him, on the pretext of restoring the twenty francs he had borrowed, and at which he had boasted that he had an income of a thousand francs a month, and might make more, though he had not said how this was to be done. "I think that Paul has forgotten me. I saw him once at Van Klopen’s, and he never attempted to say a word to me. He was certainly with that Mascarin at the time."

Andre could only draw one conclusion from this, either that Paul was protected by the band of conspirators, or else that he formed one of it. In that case he was useful to them; while Rose, who was in their way, was persecuted by them. Andre’s mind came to this conclusion in an instant. It seemed to him that if Catenac had been desirous of imprisoning Rose, it was because she was in the way, and her presence disturbed certain combinations. Before, however, he could work out his line of deduction, Gaston’s shrill voice was heard upon the stairs, and in another moment he made his appearance.

"Place for the banquet," said he; "make way for the lordly feast."

Two waiters followed him, bearing a number of covered dishes on trays. At another time Andre would have been very angry at this invasion, and at the prospect of a breakfast that would last two or three hours and utterly change everything; but now he was inclined to bless Gaston for his happy idea, and, with the assistance of Rose, he speedily cleared a large table for the reception of the viands.

Gaston did nothing, but talked continually.

"And now I must tell you the joke of the day. Henri de Croisenois, one of my dearest friends, has absolutely launched a Company."

Andre nearly let fall a bottle, which he was about to place upon the table.

"Who told you this?" asked he quickly.

"Who told me? Why, a great big flaming poster. Tafila Copper Mines; capital, four millions. And my esteemed friend, Henri, has not a fivefranc piece to keep the devil out of his pocket."

The face of the young artist expressed such blank surprise that Gaston burst into a loud laugh.

"You look just as I did when I read it. Henri de Croisenois, the chairman of a Company! Why, if you had been elected Pope, I should not have been more surprised. Tafila Copper Mines! What a joke! The shares are five hundred francs."

The waiters had now retired, and Gaston urged his friends to take their places at the table, and all seemed merry as a marriage bell; but many a gay commencement has a stormy ending.

Gaston, whose shallow brain could not stand the copious draughts of wine with which he washed down his repast, began all at once to overwhelm Zora with bitter reproaches at her not being able to comprehend how a man like him, who was destined to play a serious part in society, could have been led away, as he had been, by a person like her.

Gaston had a tongue which was never at a loss either to praise or blame, and Zora was equally ready to retort, and defended herself with such acrimony that the lad, knowing himself to be in fault, entirely lost the small remnant of temper which he still possessed, and dashed out of the room, declaring that he never wished to set eyes upon Zora again, and that she might keep all the presents that he had lavished upon her for all he cared.

His departure was hailed with delight by Andre, who, now that he was left alone with Zora, hoped to derive some further information from her, and especially a distinct description of Paul, whom he felt that he must now reckon among his adversaries. But his hopes were destined to be frustrated, for Zora was so filled with anger and excitement that she refused to listen to another word; and putting on her hat and mantle, with scarcely a glance at the mirror, rushed out of the studio with the utmost speed, declaring that she would seek out Paul, and make him revenge the insults that Gaston had put on her.

All this passed so rapidly that the young painter felt as if a tornado had passed through his humble dwelling; but as peace and calm returned, he began to see that Providence had directly interposed in his favor, and had sent Rose and Gaston to his place to furnish him with fresh and important facts. All that Rose had said, incomplete as her statement was, had thrown a ray of light upon an intrigue which, up till now, had been shaded in the thickest gloom. The relations of Paul with Mascarin explained why Catenac had been so anxious to have Rose imprisoned, and also seemed to hint vaguely at the reason for the extraction of the forged signatures from the simple Gaston. What could be the meaning of the Company started by De Croisenois at the very moment when he was about to celebrate his union with Sabine?

Andre desired to see the advertisement of the Company for himself; and without stopping to change his blouse, ran downstairs to the corner of the street, where Gaston had told him that the announcement of the Company was placarded up. He found it there, in a most conspicuous position, with all its advantages most temptingly set forth. Nothing was wanting; and there was even a woodcut of Tafila, in Algiers, which represented the copper mines in full working operation; while at the top, the name of the chairman, the Marquis de Croisenois, stood out in letters some six inches in height.

Andre stood gazing at this wonderful production for fully five minutes, when all at once a gleam of prudence flashed across his mind.

"I am a fool," said he to himself. "How do I know how many watchful eyes are now fixed on me, reading on my countenance my designs regarding this matter and its leading spirit?"

Upon his return to his room, he sat for more than an hour, turning over the whole affair in his mind, and at length he flattered himself that he had hit upon an expedient. Behind the house in which he lodged was a large garden, belonging to some public institution, the front of which was in the Rue Laval. A wall of about seven feet in height divided these grounds from the premises in the Rue de la Tour d’Auvergne. Why should he not go out by the way of these ornamental grounds and so elude the vigilance of the spies who might be in waiting at the front of the house?

"I can," thought he, "alter my appearance so much that I shall not be recognized. I need not return here to sleep. I can ask a bed from Vignol, who will help me in every possible way."

This Vignol was the friend to whom, at Andre’s request, M. Gandelu had given the superintendence of the works at his new house in the Champs Elysees.

"I shall," continued he, "by this means escape entirely from De Croisenois and his emissaries, and can watch their game without their having any suspicion of my doing so. For the time being, of course, I must give up seeing those who have been helping me,—De Breulh, Gandelu, Madame de Bois Arden, and M. de Mussidan; that, however, cannot be avoided. I can use the post, and by it will inform them all of the step that I have taken."

It was dark before he had finished his letters, and, of course, it was too late to try anything that day; consequently he went out, posted his letters, and dined at the nearest restaurant.

On his return home, he proceeded to arrange his disguise. He had it ready, among his clothes: a blue blouse, a pair of check trousers, well-worn shoes, and a shabby cap, were all that he required, and he then applied himself to the task of altering his face. He first shaved off his beard. Then he twisted down two locks of hair, which he managed to make rest on his forehead. Then he commenced applying some coloring to his face with a paint-brush; but this he found to be an extremely difficult business, and it was not for a long while that he was satisfied with the results that he had produced. He then knotted an old handkerchief round his neck, and clapped his cap on one side, with the peak slanting over one eye. Then he took a last glance in the glass, and felt that he had rendered himself absolutely unrecognizable. He was about to impart a few finishing touches, when a knock came at his door. He was not expecting any one at such an hour, nine o’clock; for the waiters from the restaurant had already removed the remains of the feast.

"Who is there?" cried he.

"It is I," replied a weak voice; "I, Gaston de Gandelu."

Andre decided that he had no cause to distrust the lad, and so he opened his door.

"Has M. Andre gone out?" asked the poor boy faintly. "I though I heard his voice."

Gaston had not penetrated his disguise, and this was Andre’s first triumph; but he saw now that he must alter his voice, as well as his face.

"Don’t you know me?" asked he.

It was evident that young Gaston had received some terrible shock; for it could not have been the quarrel in the morning that had reduced him to this abject state of prostration.

"What has gone wrong with you?" asked Andre kindly.

"I have come to bid you farewell; I am going to shoot myself in half an hour."

"Have you gone mad?"

"Not in the least," answered Gaston, passing his hand across his forehead in a distracted manner; "but those infernal bills have turned up. I was just leaving the dining-room, after having treated the governor to my company, when the butler whispered in my ear that there was a man outside who wanted to see me. I went out and found a dirtylooking old scamp, with his coat collar turned up round the nape of his neck."

"Did he say that his name was Tantaine?" exclaimed Andre.

"Ah! was that his name? Well, it doesn’t matter. He told me in the most friendly manner that the holder of my bills had determined to place them in the hands of the police to-morrow at twelve o’clock, but that there was still a way for me to escape."

"And this was to take Rose out of France with you," said Andre quickly.

Gaston was overwhelmed with surprise.

"Who the deuce told you that?" asked he.

"No one; I guessed it; for it was only the conclusion of the plan which they had initiated when you were induced to forge Martin Rigal’s signature. Well, what did you say?"

"That the idea was a ridiculous one, and that I would not stir a yard. They shall find out that I can be obstinate, too; besides, I can see their little game. As soon as I am out of the way they will go to the governor and bleed him."

But Andre was not listening to him. What was best to be done? To advise Gaston to go and take Rose with him was to deprive himself of a great element of success; and to permit him to kill himself was, of course, out of the question.

"Just attend to me," said he at last; "I have an idea which I will tell you as soon as we are out of this house; but for reasons which are too long to go into at present it is necessary for me to get into the street without going through the door. You will, therefore, go away, and as the clock strikes twelve you will ring at the gateway of 29, Rue de Laval. When it is opened, ask some trivial question of the porter; and when you leave, take care that you do not close the gate. I shall be in the garden of the house and will slip out and join you."

The plan succeeded admirably, and in ten minutes Gaston and Andre were walking along the boulevards.

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Chicago: Emile Gaboriau, "Chapter XXXI. Gaston’s Dilemma.," 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 August 21, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PAYHRB6WAMDMVBE.

MLA: Gaboriau, Emile. "Chapter XXXI. Gaston’s Dilemma." 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. 21 Aug. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PAYHRB6WAMDMVBE.

Harvard: Gaboriau, E, 'Chapter XXXI. Gaston’s Dilemma.' in The Champdoce Mystery, ed. and trans. . cited in 1921, The Champdoce Mystery, Henry Holt and Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 21 August 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PAYHRB6WAMDMVBE.