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10: The Golden Spoon

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Author Topic: 10: The Golden Spoon  (Read 36 times)
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« on: March 17, 2023, 04:44:03 am »

"Nous avons tous assez de force pour supporter les maux d'autrui."

A few days later I received a letter from Madame de Clericy. "I write," it ran, "to tell you of the satisfaction that Lucille and I have found in the improvements you initiated here. I laugh---mon ami---when I think of all that you did in three days. It seems as if a strong and energetic wind---such as I imagine your English breezes to be---had blown across my old home, leaving it healthier, purer, better; leaving also those within it somewhat breathless and surprised. I suppose that many Englishmen are like you, and suspect that they will some day master the world. We have had visitors, among others Alphonse Giraud, whom I believe you do not yet know. If contrasts are mutually attractive, then you will like him. I wonder if you know, or suspect, that he is more or less an acknowledged aspirant to Lucille's hand, but----"

Madame de Clericy had run her pen through the last word, leaving it, however, legible. And here she began a new subject, asking me, indeed, to write and give her news of the Vicomte. I am no indoor man or subtle analyst of a motive---much less of a woman's motive, if, indeed, women are so often possessed of such, as some believe---but the obliterated word and Madame de Clericy's subsequent embarkation on a new subject made me pause while I deciphered her letter.

It had originally been arranged that the Vicomte should follow the ladies to La Pauline, leaving me in Paris to attend to my duties, but the sudden political crisis led to a delay in his departure. In truth, I gathered from Madame's letter that he must have written to her saying that the visit was at present impossible. Madame, in fact, asked me to advise her by return of the state of the Vicomte's health, and plainly told me that if business matters were worrying him she would return to Paris without delay.

And if Madame returned she would bring Lucille with her, and thus put an end to the aspirations of Alphonse Giraud, for the prosecution of which the seclusion of La Pauline afforded excellent opportunity. I had but to write a word to bring all this about. Did Madame de Clericy know all that she placed within my power? Did she know, and yet place it there purposely? Who can tell? I remembered Lucille's coldness---her departure without one word of explanation. I recollected that the twenty million francs at that moment in the Hôtel Clericy would, in due course, be part of Alphonse Giraud's fortune. I was mindful, lastly, that in England we are taught to ride straight, and I sat down and wrote to Madame that her husband was in good health, and that I quite hoped to see him depart in a few days for La Pauline. I will not deny that the letter went into the post-box followed by a curse.

We may, however, write letters and post them. We may---if we be great men---indite despatches and give them into the hands of trusty messengers, and a little twirl of Fortune's wheel will send all our penmanship to the winds.

While I was smoking a pipe and deciphering a long communication received from the gentleman who further entangled my affairs in England, a visitor was announced to me.

"Monsieur Alphonse Giraud."

"Why?" I wondered as I rose to receive this gentleman. "Why, Monsieur Alphonse Giraud?"

He was already in the doorway, and, I made no doubt, had conceived an ultra-British toilet for the occasion. For outwardly he was more English than myself. He came forward, holding out his hand, and I thought of Madame's words. Were we to become friends?

"Monsieur Howard," he said, "I have to apologise. Mon Dieu!---to think that you have been in Paris three months, and I have never called to place myself at your disposition! And a friend of Alfred Gayerson, of that good, stout John Turner---of half a dozen hardy English friends of mine."

I was about to explain that his oversight had a good excuse in the fact that my existence must have been unknown to him, but he silenced me with his two outstretched hands, waving a violent negation.

"No---no!" he said, smiting himself grievously on the chest. "I have no excuse. You say that I was ignorant of your existence---then it was my business to find it out. Ignorance is often a crime. An English gentleman---a sportsman---a fox-hunter! For you chase the fox, I know. I see it in your brown face. And you belong to the English Jockey Club---is it not so?"

I admitted that it was so, and Alphonse Giraud's emotion was such that he could only press my hand in silence.

"Ah, well!" he cried almost immediately, with the utmost gaiety. "We have begun late, but that is no reason why it should not be a good friendship---is it?"

And he took the chair I offered with such hearty good-will that my cold English sympathy was drawn towards him.

"I came but yesterday from the South," he went on. "Indeed, from La Pauline, where I have been paying a delightful visit. Madame de Clericy---so kind---and Mademoiselle Lucille----"

He twisted up the unsuccessful side of his moustache, and gave a quick little sigh. Then he remembered his scarf, and attended to the horseshoe pin that adorned it.

"You know my father," he said, suddenly, "the---er---Baron Giraud. He has been more fortunate than myself in making your acquaintance earlier."

I bowed and said what was necessary.

"A kind man---a dear man," said the Baron's son. "But no sportsman. Figure to yourself---he fears an open window."

He laughed and shrugged his little shoulders.

"I dare say many Englishmen would not understand him."

"I am not of those," replied I. "I understand him and appreciate his many able qualities."

From which it will be seen that I can lie as well as any man.

"The poor dear has been called to Paris, on his affairs. Not that I understand them. I have no head for affairs. Even my tailor cheats me---but what will you? He can cut a good coat, and one must forgive him. My father's hotel in the Champs Elysées is uninhabitable at the moment. The whitewashers!---and they sing so loud and so false, as whitewashers ever do. The poor man is desolated in an appartement in the Hôtel Bristol. I am all right. I have my own lodging---a mere bachelor kennel---where I hope to see you soon and often."

He threw his card on the table, rising to go, and timing his departure with that tact and grace which is only compassed by Frenchmen or Spaniards.

Scarcely had I regained my room, after duly admiring Alphonse Giraud's smart dog-cart, when the servant again appeared. The Baron Giraud had arrived to see the Vicomte, who happened to be out. The affairs of the Baron were urgent, and he desired to see me---was, indeed, awaiting me with impatience in Monsieur de Clericy's study.

Thither I hastened, and found the great financier in that state of perturbation and perspiration which the political crisis seemed to have rendered chronic. He was, however, sufficiently himself to remember that I was a paid dependent.

"How is this?" he cried. "I call to see the Vicomte on important affairs, and he is out."

"It is," I replied, "that the Vicomte de Clericy is not a man of affairs, but a gentleman of station and birth---that this is not an office, but a nobleman's private house."

And I suppose I looked towards the door, for the Baron gasped out something that might have been an apology, and looked redder in the face.

"But, my good sir," he whined distractedly, "it is a matter of the utmost gravity. It is a crisis in the money market. A turn of the wheel may make me a poor man. Where is the Vicomte? Where are my twenty million francs?"

"The Vicomte has gone out, as is his custom before déjeûner, and your twenty millions are, so far as I know, safe in this house. I have not the keeping of either."

"But you took the responsibility," snapped the Baron.

"For all that I am worth---namely, one hundred and twenty pounds a year, out of which I have to find my livery."

"Can you go out and find the Vicomte? I will wait here," asked the Baron, in the utmost distress. It is indeed love that makes the world go round---love of money.

"I know where he is usually to be found," was my reply, "and can go and seek him. I will return here in half an hour if I fail to find him."

"Yes---yes; go, my good sir---go! And God be with you!" With which inappropriate benediction he almost pushed me out of the room.

On making inquiries of the servants, I found my task more difficult than I had anticipated. Monsieur de Clericy had not taken the carriage, as was his habit. He had gone out on foot, carrying, as the butler told me, a bundle of papers in his hand.

"They had the air of business papers of value---so closely he held them," added the man.

He had taken the direction of the Boulevard, with the intention, it appeared, of calling a cab. I hurried, however, to the Vicomte's favourite club, and learned that he had not been seen there. His habits being more or less known to me, I prosecuted my search in such quarters as seemed likely, but without success.

At the Cercle de l'Union I ran against John Turner, who was reading the Times there.

"Ah!" he said, "young Howard. Come to lunch, I suppose. You look hungry---gad, what a twist you had that day! Just in time. I can tell you what is worth eating."

"Thanks; you know such advice is wasted on a country boor like myself. No; I came seeking the Vicomte de Clericy. Have you seen him?"

"Ah! you are still with old Clericy; thought you were up to some mischief---so d---d quiet. Then Mademoiselle is kind?"

"Mademoiselle is away," I answered. "Do you know anything of the Baron Giraud?"

"Do I know anything of the devil," growled John Turner, returning to the perusal of his newspaper. "Are he and old Clericy putting their heads together? I would not trust Giraud with ten sous so far as the club door."

"Exactly!"

"Then he and old Clericy are at it---are they?" said John Turner, looking at me over the Times with his twinkling eyes. "And you, Monsieur, le secrétaire, are anxious about your patron. Ha, ha! You have a lot to learn yet, Master Dick."

I looked impatiently at the clock. Twenty minutes had already been wasted in my fruitless search.

"Then you haven't seen de Clericy?"

"No---my good boy---I haven't. And if you cannot find him you may be sure that it is because he does not want to be found."

The words followed me as I left the room. It seemed that John Turner believed in no man.

There was nothing for it but to return to the Rue des Palmiers, and tell the Baron that I had failed to find my patron. The cab I had hired was awaiting me, and in a few minutes I was rattling across the bridge of the Holy Fathers.

"Monsieur le Vicomte returned a few minutes ago," the butler told me. "He has gone to the study, and is now with the Baron Giraud. The Vicomte asked that you should go to him at once."

The atmosphere of the old house seemed gloomy and full of foreboding as I ran up the stairs. The servant stood at the open door and watched me. In that unknown world behind the green baize door more is known than we suspect, and there is often no surprise there when we who live above stairs are dumbfounded.

In my haste I forgot to knock at Monsieur de Clericy's door before opening it---indeed, I think it was ajar.

"My good friend," I heard as I entered the room, "collect yourself. Be calm. We are together in a great misfortune---the money has been stolen!"

The voice was that of my patron. I went in and closed the door behind me. For it seemed, to my fancy, that there were other doors ajar upon the landing, and listeners on the stairs.

The two old men were facing each other, the one purple in the visage, with starting eyes, the other white and quiet.

"Stolen?" echoed the Baron in a thick voice, and with a wild look round the room. "Then I am ruined!"

The old Vicomte spread out his trembling hands in despair, a gesture that seemed to indicate a crumbling away of the world beneath us.

The Baron Giraud turned and looked at me. He did not recognise me for quite ten seconds.

"Then it is not you," he said, thickly. "As you are there. You did not steal it."

"No---I did not steal it," I answered quietly, for there was a look in his face that I did not understand, while it frightened me. Suddenly his eyes shot red---his face was almost black. He fell forward into my arms, and I tore his collar off as I laid him to the ground.

"Ah, mon Dieu, mon Dieu!" the Vicomte was crying as he ran hither and thither, wringing his hands, while I attended, unskillfully enough, to the stricken man. "Ah, mon Dieu! what is this?"

"It is death," I answered, with my hand inside the Baron's shirt. "Who stole that money?"

The Vicomte looked at me.

"Charles Miste," he said.
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