in the first hour of my peril! And now you risk your life，
This explanation was so plausible that Madame d'Argeles felt half convinced. "Ah! if you had only spoken that word!" she murmured. The baron smiled a crafty and malicious smile, which would have chilled M. de Coralth's very blood if he had chanced to see it. "I am not so stupid!" he replied. "We mustn't frighten the fish till we are quite ready. Our net is the Chalusse estate, and Coralth and Valorsay will enter it of their own accord. It is not my plan, but M. Ferailleur's. There's a man for you! and if Mademoiselle Marguerite is worthy of him they will make a noble pair. Without suspecting it, your son has perhaps rendered us an important service this evening--"
"Alas!" faltered Madame d'Argeles, "I am none the less ruined--the name of Chalusse is none the less dishonored!"
She wanted to return to the drawing-room; but she was compelled to relinquish this idea. The expression of her face betrayed too plainly the terrible ordeal she had passed through. The servants had heard M. Wilkie's parting words; and news of this sort flies about with the rapidity of lightning. That very night, indeed, it was currently reported at the clubs that there would be no more card-playing at the d'Argeles establishment, as that lady was a Chalusse, and consequently the aunt of the beautiful young girl whom M. and Madame de Fondege had taken under their protection.
Unusual strength of character, unbounded confidence in one's own energy, with thorough contempt of danger, and an invincible determination to triumph or perish, are all required of the person who, like Mademoiselle Marguerite, intrusts herself to the care of strangers--worse yet, to the care of actual enemies. It is no small matter to place yourself in the power of smooth-tongued hypocrites and impostors, who are anxious for your ruin, and whom you know to be capable of anything. And the task is a mighty one-- to brave unknown dangers, perilous seductions, perfidious counsels, and perhaps even violence, at the same time retaining a calm eye and smiling lips. Yet such was the heroism that Marguerite, although scarcely twenty, displayed when she left the Hotel de Chalusse to accept the hospitality of the Fondege family. And, to crown all, she took Madame Leon with her--Madame Leon, whom she knew to be the Marquis de Valorsay's spy.
But, brave as she was, when the moment of departure came her heart almost failed her. There was despair in the parting glance she cast upon the princely mansion and the familiar faces of the servants. And there was no one to encourage or sustain her. Ah, yes! standing at a window on the second floor, with his forehead pressed close against the pane of glass, she saw the only friend she had in the world--the old magistrate who had defended, encouraged, and sustained her--the man who had promised her his assistance and advice, and prophesied ultimate success.
"Shall I be a coward?" she thought; "shall I be unworthy of Pascal?" And she resolutely entered the carriage, mentally exclaiming: "The die is cast!"
The General insisted that she should take a place beside Madame de Fondege on the back seat; while he found a place next to Madame Leon on the seat facing them. The drive was a silent and tedious one. The night was coming on; it was a time when all Paris was on the move, and the carriage was delayed at each street corner by a crowd of passing vehicles. The conversation was solely kept alive by the exertions of Madame de Fondege, whose shrill voice rose above the rumble of the wheels, as she chronicled the virtues of the late Count de Chalusse, and congratulated Mademoiselle Marguerite on the wisdom of her decision. Her remarks were of a commonplace description, and yet each word she uttered evinced intense satisfaction, almost delight, as if she had won some unexpected victory. Occasionally, the General leaned from the carriage window to see if the vehicle laden with Mademoiselle Marguerite's trunks was following them, but he said nothing.
At last they reached his residence in the Rue Pigalle. He alighted first, offered his hand successively to his wife, Mademoiselle Marguerite, and Madame Leon, and motioned the coachman to drive away.
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