had I descended to bombast, but I had guessed at the keynote，
But Madame Leon, who was usually so loquacious, did not seem to be in a talkative mood that evening, and, after kissing her dear young lady, she went into her own room.
"She did not succeed in finding the Marquis de Valorsay," thought Marguerite, "and being in doubt as to the part she is to play, she feels furious."
The young girl tried to sum up the impressions of the evening, and to decide upon a plan of conduct, but she felt sad and very weary. She said to herself that rest would be more beneficial than anything else, and that her mind would be clearer on the morrow; so after a fervent prayer in which Pascal Ferailleur's name was mentioned several times, she prepared for bed. But before she fell asleep she was able to collect another bit of evidence. The sheets on her bed were new.
If Marguerite had been born in the Hotel de Chalusse, if she had known a father's and a mother's tender care from her infancy, if she had always been protected by a large fortune from the stern realities of life, there would have been no hope for her now that she was left poor and alone--for how can a girl avoid dangers she is ignorant of? But from her earliest childhood Marguerite had studied the difficult science of real life under the best of teachers--misfortune. Cast upon her own resources at the age of thirteen, she had learned to look upon everybody and everything with distrust; and by relying only on herself, she had become strangely cautious and clear-sighted. She knew how to watch and how to listen, how to deliberate and how to act. Two men, the Marquis de Valorsay and M. de Fondege's son, coveted her hand; and one of the two, the marquis, so she believed, was capable of any crime. Still she felt no fears. She had been in danger once before when she was little more than a child, when the brother of her employer insulted her with his attentions, but she had escaped unharmed.
Deceit was certainly most repugnant to her truth-loving nature; but it was the only weapon of defence she possessed. And so on the following day she carefully studied the abode of her entertainers. And certainly the study was instructive. The General's household was truly Parisian in character; or, at least, it was what a Parisian household inevitably becomes when its inmates fall a prey to the constantly increasing passion for luxury and display, to the furore for aping the habits and expenditure of millionaires, and to the noble and elevated desire of humiliating and outshining their neighbors. Ease, health, and comfort had been unscrupulously sacrificed to show. The dining- room was magnificent, the drawing-room superb; but these were the only comfortably furnished apartments in the establishment. The other rooms were bare and desolate. It is true that Madame de Fondege had a handsome wardrobe with glass doors in her own room, but this was an article which the friend of the fashionable Baroness Trigault could not possibly dispense with. On the other hand, her bed had no curtains.
The aspect of the place fittingly explained the habits and manners of the inmates. What sinister fears must have haunted them! for how could this extreme destitution in one part of the establishment be reconciled with the luxury noticeable in the other, except by the fact that a desperate struggle to keep up appearances was constantly going on? And this constant anxiety made out-door noise, excitement, and gayety a necessity of their existence, and caused them to welcome anything that took them from the home where they had barely sufficient to deceive society, and not enough to impose upon their creditors. "And they keep three servants," thought Mademoiselle Marguerite--"three enemies who spend their time in ridiculing them, and torturing their vanity."
Thus, on the very first day after her arrival, she realized the real situation of the General and his wife. They were certainly on the verge of ruin when Mademoiselle Marguerite accepted their hospitality. Everything went to prove this: the coachman's insolent demand, the servants' impudence, the grocer's refusal to furnish a single bottle of wine on credit, the milliner's persistence, and, lastly, the new sheets on the visitors' beds. "Yes," thought Mademoiselle Marguerite to herself, "the Fondeges were ruined when I came here. They would never have sunk so low if they had not been utterly destitute of resources. So, if they rise again, if money and credit come back again, then the old magistrate is right--they have obtained possession of the Chalusse millions!"
On this side, at least, Mademoiselle Marguerite had no very wide field of investigation to explore. Her common sense told her that her task would merely consist in carefully watching the behavior of the General and his wife, in noting their expenditure, and so on. It was a matter of close attention, and of infinitesimal trifles. Nor was she much encouraged by her first success. It was, perhaps, important; and yet it might be nothing. For she felt that the real difficulties would not begin until she became morally certain that the General had stolen the millions that were missing from the count's escritoire. Even then it would remain for her to discover how he had obtained possession of this money. And when she had succeeded in doing this, would her task be ended? Certainly not. She must obtain sufficient evidence to give her the right of accusing the General openly, and in the face of every one. She must have material and indisputable proofs before she could say: "A robbery has been committed. I was accused of it. I was innocent. Here is the culprit!"
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