Page images
PDF
EPUB

the heavy silence of the vast apartment. Astonished-almost affrighted, he next rushed to the chamber of his wife. There nothing but a scene of disorder presented itself-empty band-boxes, cast off ribbons, tattered music sheets, letters and notes torn piece-meal. Through the rest of the house he ran, half distraught at meeting everywhere the same dumb but unmistakable marks of a sudden departure. No living thing met his anxious search save a venerable grimalkin—the favourite perhaps of some long-gone mistress of the mansion, who, perched upon a lofty wardrobe, composedly regarded his feverish movements, as if in mockery of human life with all its carking cares and cruel vicissitudes. An empty waterjug, flung with too true an aim, seriously disturbed the poor beast's equanimity. Almost beside himself with suspicion of the worst, our unfortunate husband flew to the porter's lodge to seek for information. Within its walls sat that grave personage an important appendage in all French dwellings, serenely smoking his favourite pipe, which many years of tobacco impregnation had rendered of more intrinsic value to connoisseurs of the weed than scores of the clayey conduits of self-indulgence in all their virgin purity and whiteness.

"Where is Mr. Nelson ?" exclaimed Viscomté vehemently, "and his daughter-the Countess I would say?"

"Gone out," coolly replied the old soldier, who, having received an enor mous fee and the promise of another, was not faithless to his engagement to cause the greatest possible delay in the movements of the individual now questioning him.

"Gone out!-gone where?"

[blocks in formation]

of the Englishman and his family—your wife, the Countess, as you call her, among the rest, do you? Well, so far as I can tell you, you shall know, and much good may it do you," continued the spiteful old fellow, his temper getting the better of his prudent resolve to communicate nothing. "In less than an half hour after breakfast the rent of the hotel for the whole season was paid in advance, carriages were loaded, post horses were on and every body away."

"In what direction?"

"To Paris! was the word given, and thence to England, I presume, to rid themselves of Monsieur," a mocking inclination of the head accompanied these last words.

"Impertinent!" exclaimed Viscomté, as he hurried to the quarters of Taulin, his only friend, for comfort and counsel. His friend, an officer of the same rank and regiment with himself, he found occupied in preparations for dinner, and consequently in no mood of mind inviting disagreeable interruption. Almost as bad in other respects, Taulin was equal to Viscomté in hardened selfishness, which made the pair most fit associates, and fairly mated them.

"Those English rogues have absconded!" cried the latter, so soon as his voice had sufficiently recovered from the effects of a rapid pace and excessive excite

ment.

"Indeed," returned Taulin, adjusting his cravat, "that is really funny," and he chuckled as if highly amused.

66

Rogues! you say that Madame the Countess and her respectable papa are rogues? quite possible! But if they have tricked you, as it appears they have, you can no longer call them fools, as you have often done. But tell me what has happened, and how it was they overreached your smartness."

"You mock at me, Taulin, as if you rejoiced to find me poor again like yourself. But you mistake, for within my port-folio there is that which is a sufficient guarantee against poverty. It was to seek your advice and aid to catch my fugitive wife that I came to see you. The whole family have fled to England."

"Well, let us dine now, for I am famishing, and after that we will talk the matter over."

"Dine! I mean to follow the wretches instantly; what is the start of a few hours in a long journey?"

"You, of course, have plenty of money to pay for extra post-horses," asked Taulin, looking askance at his dear friend.

"Not twenty francs in the world, but on this paper security which is here," touching his side-pocket, "I can raise thousands."

"Not so fast, my dear fellow," replied Taulin in rather a contemptuous tone, "for if that wily old English fox has robbed you of your wife, rely on it that he has not done his work by halves. I should not be surprised if your fancied treasures were to turn to pebbles as in the fable."

"You torture me Taulin, for the devilish sake of torturing. But I am sure of my affair. A friend in London informs me that Nelson is exceedingly rich."

"That may well be, and yet, like most rich men, he may prefer to keep his gold for himself while he lives."

"What shall I do? You frighten me." "If you had leave of absence, which you cannot have, for you were refused a month ago, and if you had plenty of cash, which you have not, I should advise you to follow your wife on the instant."

"As for leave," answered Viscomté fiercely, "I will go without it,-and for money, you, my friend, must furnish that, for I know of no one else who will."

"I! I furnish money! my treasury was reduced to nothing by last night's rouge et noir, and the four solitary naps which my purse can boast, I raised this morning by pawning the only family relic left to me,—a respectable old diamond ring, which has fed me so often that I always redeem it with my next month's pay. But be comforted, for if you had a thousand gold pieces, you would not be such a fool as to forfeit your commission-your only means of living except the gambling table, which has served us both so shabbily of late."

"Ten thousand devils!" exclaimed

Viscomté.

"You speak too truly, and

I am tied hand and foot."

"Come, come along," said Taulin, buttoning his coat and taking his companion by the arm, "Eat and sleep, and then see what can be done. To-day it is too late for any thing like business."

As may be well supposed, Viscomté neither relished his dinner, nor slept to his satisfaction that night. Early on the morrow, in a fit of desperation, he applied, through his colonel, for leave of absence, and by the intervention of that officer and of others who, with him, hoped to profit at the gambling table, by the wealth of the Englisman when transferred to France, he was at length allowed to quit his post for the space of a few days.

"But of what avail will your leave be, now that you have it, unless you can meet your travelling expenses?" inquired his comforter, Taulin, "In England they say, everything is decidedly dear."

"I thought of all that in advance," replied Viscomté, and so soon as I found, on going to Paris, that nothing could be raised on my marriage settlements-a curse on them and on him who made them! I wrote to my old mother in Provence, and by to-day's mail I shall receive, without doubt, her semi-annual pension which, as the widow of a general officer, she is allowed."

"And what will the poor old lady do for her daily bread during the next six months?" asked Taulin.

"That is her concern-not mine," said Viscomté. "She risked her life once for my sake without consulting me, and her daily bread, as you call it, she may intrust, without much fear, to an only son, who cannot do without it, and will, if fortune favours him, soon return it."

"Brute!" muttered his companion, turning away in disgust at such manifest heartlessness, for Taulin also was the only son of a widowed mother, and though bad enough in most respects, one redeeming feature in his perverted nature was, that to this parent he was not a thankless child. "Well, do as you please," he added, on mastering the

unwonted feeling which had assailed him, "but for your mother's sake no less than for your own, I would it had been otherwise. I pity her!"

"Poh! of what consequence to her is the advance of the paltry sum I want for a few weeks, when it can be replaced with interest?"

"But should you fail to replace it?" A tinge of shame stained the cheek even of Viscomté as he exclaimed, "I cannot fail! this evening I shall be off for London, and before a week is over you will see me a rich man or, au revoir, mon ami!" and thus parted these two loving friends!

Arrived in London, Viscomté drove straightway to the residence of his compatriot, with whom he had been in correspondence since the commencement of his marriage scheme.

"You know all about the devilish steps of that infamous Nelson," he exclaimed, after exchanging hastily with his friend the customary greetings, and to what extent he has succeeded hitherto in cheating me. What have you to tell me of him and of his movements since his arrival in this country?"

"I really do not understand you," replied the other.

"What! did you not get my long letter a week ago or more, asking you to watch the miscreant, and to take the necessary measures for securing my rights?"

"I have received no letter from you since that which announced the near approach of your marriage."

66

Sacré mon dieu! then there is every thing to fear, and no time must be lost. Do you know his banker?"

[blocks in formation]

"In two minutes."

"That accursed post-office! to think that the most important letter I ever wrote should have been miscarried!"

"Blame rather your own scraggy, disjointed, undecipherable handwriting. Your writing master, or his pupil must have had a strong turn for hieroglyphics. Why, do you know that not one of your literary productions ever reached my door till it had perambulated half of England, as the post-marks showed ?"

Come, cease your untimely badinage: the carriage is at the door, and now I will explain to you my frightful predicament."

Mr. Nelson's banker was at a considerable distance, and the crowded state of the streets afforded plenty of time for Viscomté to impart to his companion the history of his woes.

66

Here we are at last,” said Mr. Capitaine, the said companion, as the cab drew up before the door of a dingy old structure in the heart of the city. I hope we shall find the venerable gentleman in good humour; he has the reputation of being terribly crabbed and cross-grained."

The two travellers were detained in a sort of ante-bureau till Viscomté, in extreme nervousness, had gnawed his nails even to the bleeding quick. At length, however, they were formally ushered into the sanctum of the chief of the establishment-a dry, hard-visaged, oldfashioned man of business, in nankeen breeches, and silk-stockings, who received them as foreigners were once too commonly received by Englishmen at the first interview,-like suspected pickpockets.

Having ceremoniously invited them to be seated, himself standing before the fire-place, he silently waited for them to open their budget, although he doubtless guessed the nature of it. Of the two Frenchmen, Capitaine alone understood English, and of course acted as spokesman and interpreter for the almost frantic Viscomté, who, notwithstanding the apparent uselessness of such a course, did no small share of the talking.

"We have come," began the former

when he had succeeded in quieting his turbulent protégé, “to inquire about Mr. Nelson, who keeps his accounts at your house, and to take the necessary steps for turning into cash a legally executed document of his in favour of my friend here, Monsieur le Comte de Viscomté."

"Mr. Nelson, I have to say, has no funds in our house-we are not his bankers," stiffly replied the old gentle

man.

"But you were his bankers not long ago, and if you will, you can tell us where he is, and where his property lies."

"I can give you no intelligence as to the actual residence of Mr. Nelson, nor as to the location of his funds. It is not the custom of our house to meddle with the concerns of others."

"Tell him," cried Viscomté when this had been translated to him,-" tell him that he is a coquin—that he lies, and that he shall fight me á l'outrance.”

"Bah! If I were to say one half of what you utter, he would have you arrested and in prison before you were an hour older. You know nothing of these islanders nor of their ways."

Had not the keen gaze of the two men been diverted for a moment from the countenance of the stolid old English wight, they would have detected a curious twist in the corner of the mouth, which denoted that he perfectly understood, and was greatly amused by all this side talk.

"Have you any other affair to discuss sirs?" asked the banker with a most provoking sang froid. "Because if you have not, allow me to say that this is our busiest hour.".

When this remark was explained to Viscomté, starting from his chair with the gesticulation of a madman, he shouted, "Say to the old scoundrel that he shall disgorge all he knows, or I will drag it out of his filthy throat with his heart's blood to cleanse it from his lying words. Show him this," he continued, drawing forth Mr. Nelson's bond of settlement for £25,000, and ask if it be not genuine and worth the money. Make him pay its value out of Mr. Nelson's

funds, which I am sure he has in his possession."

[ocr errors]

Nonsense! you know nothing about business-you are half mad-nothing can be done here-we must be going. I will set a clever police officer, whom I know, on the tracks of your friends and it will go hard with the fellow when once found if he make not good his signature." "It is hardly possible," Capitaine added, as the two were ceremoniously bowed out, "that a man would abandon his native country forever merely to be rid of an obnoxious son-in-law."

"I am not so sure of that," replied Viscomté, "These English are a strange people they seem capable of anything and everything when once the fit seizes them. But where are we to find your police officer?"

"I will give his address to the cabman, and on our way we will stop at Nelson's house, where something may perhaps be heard of him. At the worst, we will, before night, seize on it and its contents, which will go largely towards covering the amount of your bond, I should think, judging from the expensive style. in which your respectable father-in-law lived."

On arriving at the quarter indicated, the door of the once hospitable mansion, so continually open to the touch of friendship, was closely locked and barred, as if to exclude forever the light of day. Dust-covered placards upon its unwashed pannels, and upon the shuttered windows, disclosed the fact that house and furniture had been sold at public auction a week before. Our two adventurers stood

aghast. Bell and knocker they vainly sounded, and the empty sound fell on Viscomté's irritable nerve like acid on the scalded flesh.

A sharp "detective" now became their solitary hope, foreigners as they both were, and wholly unacquainted with the society to which Mr. Nelson belonged. Such a man was found in the course of the morning, but, after much search, all he could ascertain was that the person they were in quest of, having disposed of, by public sale, the only real prop

erty he owned, had, with his daughter departed, whither no one could tell.

The next day, accompanied by the same officer and an interpreter, Viscomté set off for Liverpool, Capitaine's affairs detaining him in town. Had there been railroads and electric telegraphs in operation at that time, much mischief might have befallen the fugitives, for adverse winds had detained the ship which was to bear them to a foreign land, and, although their passage had been engaged in the name of their bankers, they could hardly have escaped the prying search of a desperate man like Viscomté. But the heavens were at length propitious, and at the latest moment came to their relief. Uncertain of the safety of those he dearly loved, their faithful banker, as we have seen, afforded scant aid or comfort to the wifeless husband; but I, when assured of their departure, saw no reason on meeting Viscomté a few days after his return to London for eluding his questions, although it would have better pleased me to avoid him altogether.

It was in the Haymarket that we encountered each other. Vainly did I try to pass him in the crowd without recognition, and, failing in that, with the slight est possible nod. He would not be denied.

[ocr errors]

You can, without doubt," he abruptly begun, "acquaint me, sir, with what I wish to know, and am resolved you shall tell me. Where is Mr. Nelson, and the Countess, my wife? Inform me too where he has placed his property."

The first movement of my mind, on seeing the care-worn, haggard and neglected face before me, was to let the wretched fellow down gently, and leave him to find out the worst at his leisure, being quite sure that it would come to his knowledge soon enough for comfort. But when, observing my hesitation while reflecting how to inflict the smallest quantity of pain even on so bad a man, he peremptorily added, "Come, come, sir, you, who were so intimate in the family, must be able to answer my questions truly, as indeed you shall before we part," I am not so clear but that I expe

rienced a very agreeable, however uncharitable, sensation at the opportunity thus forced on me of inflicting a severe punishment while complying with his rude demand.

"O, yes!" I replied, passing by unheeded his impertinence, "I will answer your questions as I well can, since Mr. Nelson availed himself of my services throughout the whole transaction which has just terminated so much to his satisfaction and so little to your profit.

"You may or may not remember that, directly on Miss Nelson's falling ill one evening, I was absent from my lodgings at Saint Germain for a considerable time."

"I do, nor did I like the look of the thing but go on, if you please," he added, resuming his habitual good tone of manner.

"My mission was to London, with full powers, in conjunction with his bankers, to turn into cash every penny's worth of his large estate."

"And you did so?"

"We did: his house and furniture were sold for the most they would fetch-all his other property, consisting of government securities and Indian bonds, were disposed of in the course of a week, and, with the results of these sales in bills of exchange on a foreign country, Mr. Nelson and daughter are now far away on the broad ocean, never to return while you are in existence. Such was his determination."

“And I am a ruined man!" exclaimed the poor wretch in a tone of despair which, in any other, would have moved my compassion. "Ruined too-curses on my stupidity! by a dull, jolt-head EnglishmanI, sharp as I thought myself to be, aye and am! to be thus duped and robbed !— fool! fool! that I was to trust to such a miscreant, whom I deemed too witless to be feared, and to let myself be cajoled by that fair-faced trickster-that seeming love-sick puling girl of his, whom I now hate and loathe as I always despised her. But I must know to what land they have fled."

"Not from me can you learn it," I angrily replied, greatly enraged at such

« PreviousContinue »