[MAGA. December 1848.]



It was a November night of the year 184-. For a week past the play-bills, upon the convenient but unsightly posts that disfigure the boulevards, had announced for that evening, in conspicuous capitals, the first performance of a new opera by a popular composer. Although the season of winter gaieties had scarcely begun, and country-houses and bathing-places retained a portion of the fashionable population of Paris, yet a string of elegant carriages, more or less coroneted, extended down the Rue Lepelletier, and deposited a distinguished audience at the door of the Académie de Musique. The curtain fell upon the first act; and a triple round of applause, of which a little was attributable to the merits of the opera, and a good deal to the parchment palms of a well-drilled claque, proclaimed the composer’s triumph and the opera’s success, when two men, entering the house at opposite sides, met near its centre, exchanged a familiar greeting, and seated themselves in contiguous stalls. Both belonged to the class which the lower orders of Parisians figuratively designate as gants jaunes; the said lower orders conscientiously believing primrose gloves to be a covering as inseparable from a dandy’s fingers as the natural epidermis. The younger of these two men, the Viscount Arthur de Mellay, was a most unexceptionable specimen of those lions dorés who, in modern French society, have replaced the merveilleux, the roués, and raffinés of former days. Sleek of face and red of lip, with confident eye and trim mustache, his “getting up” was evidently the result of deep reflection on the part of the most tasteful of tailors and scrupulous of valets. From his varnished boot-heel to the topmost wave of his glossy and luxuriant chevelure, the severest critic of the mode would in vain have sought an imperfection. Born, bred, and polished in the genial atmosphere of the noble faubourg, he was a credit to his club, the admiration of the vulgar, the pet of a circle of exclusive and aristocratic dames, whose approving verdict is fashionable fame. His neighbour in the stalls, some years older than himself, was scarcely less correct in externals, although bearing his leonine honours much more carelessly. Like Arthur, he was a very handsome man, but his pale face and fair mustache contrasted with the florid cheek and dark hair of his companion. The Austrian baron Ernest von Steinfeld had acquired, by long and frequent residences in Paris, rights to Parisian naturalisation. He had first visited the French capital in a diplomatic capacity, and, after abandoning that career, had spent a part of every year there as regularly as any native habitué of the Club Grammont, the Chantilly race-course, and the Bois de Boulogne. Although a German and a baron, he was neither coarse, nor stupid, nor smoky. He did not carry a tobacco-pipe in his pocket, or get muddled at dinner, or spit upon the floor, or participate in any other of the nastinesses common to the majority of his tribe. A nobleman in Austria, he would have been accounted a gentleman, and a highly bred one, in any country in the world. He was of old family, had been much about courts, held a military rank, possessed a castle and fine estate in the Tyrol, mortgaged to the very last zwanziger of their value, was somewhat blasé and troubled with the spleen, and considerably in debt, both in Vienna and Paris. He had arrived in the latter capital but a fortnight previously, after nearly a year’s absence, had established himself in a small but elegant house in a fashionable quarter, and as he still rode fine horses, dressed and dined well, played high and paid punctually, nobody suspected how near he was to the end of his cash and credit: and that he had sacrificed the last remnant of his disposable property to provide ammunition for another campaign in Paris—a campaign likely to be final, unless a wealthy heiress, a prize in the lottery, or an unexpected legacy, came in the nick of time to repair his shattered fortunes.

The second act of the opera was over. The applause, again renewed, had again subsided, and the hum of conversation replaced the crash of the noisy orchestra, the warbling of Duprez, and the passionate declamation of Madame Stolz. The house was very full; the boxes were crowded with elegantly dressed women, a few of them really pretty, a good many appearing so by the grace of gas, rouge, and costume. The curtain was no sooner down than de Mellay, compelled by the despotism of the pit to silence during the performance, dashed off at a colloquial canter, scattering, for his companion’s benefit, a shower of criticisms, witticisms, and scandal, for which he found abundant subjects amongst his acquaintances in the theatre, and to which the baron listened with the curled lip and faint smile of one for whose palled palate caviare no longer has flavour, scarcely vouchsafing an occasional monosyllable or brief sentence when Arthur’s gossip seemed to require reply. His eyes wandered round the house, their vision aided by the double glasses of one of those tremendous opera-telescopes by whose magnifying powers, it is said, the incipient wrinkle and the borrowed tint are infallibly detected, and the very tricot of Taglioni is converted into a cobweb. Presently he touched the arm of Arthur, who had just commenced an animated ocular flirtation with a blue-eyed belle in a stage-box. The baron called his attention to a box on the opposite side of the theatre.

“There is a curious group,” he said.

“Oh, yes,” replied de Mellay, carelessly, levelling his glass for a moment in the direction pointed out. “The Fatellos.” And he resumed his mute correspondence with the dame of the azure eyes.

Steinfeld remained for a short space silent, with the thoughtful puzzled air of a man who suspects he has forgotten something he ought to remember; but his efforts of memory were all in vain, and he again interrupted Arthur’s agreeable occupation.

“Whom did you say?” he inquired; indicating, by a glance rather than by a movement, the group that had riveted his attention.

“The Fatellos,” replied de Mellay, with a sort of surprise. “But, pshaw! I forget. You were at Venice last carnival, and they have not been twelve months at Paris. You have still to learn the affecting romance of Sigismund and Catalina: how the red knight from Franconie did carry off the Paynim’s daughter,—his weapons adapted to the century—bank-notes and bright doubloons, in lieu of couched lance and trenchant blade. Why, when they arrived, all Paris talked of them for three days, and might have talked longer, had not Admiral Joinville brought over from Barbary two uncommonly large baboons, which diverted the public attention. They call them Beauty and the Beast—the Fatellos, I mean, not the baboons.”

The persons who had attracted Steinfeld’s notice, and elicited this uncomplimentary tirade from the volatile viscount, occupied one of the best boxes in the theatre. In front were two ladies, likely to be the more remarked from the contrast their appearance offered with the Parisian style of beauty. Their jet-black hair, large almond-shaped eyes, and complexion of a rich glowing olive, betrayed their southern origin. Behind them sat a man of five-and-thirty or forty; a tall, high-shouldered, ungainly figure, with a profusion of reddish hair, and a set of Calmuck features of repulsive ugliness. His face was of an unhealthy paleness, excepting about the nose and cheekbones, which were blotched and heated; and the harsh and obstinate expression of his physiognomy was ill redeemed by the remarkably quick and penetrating glance of his small keen grey eyes.

“Do you mean to say yonder ungainly boor is the husband of one of those two beautiful women, who look as if they had stepped out of a legend of the Alhambra, or of a vintage-piece by Leopold Robert?”

“Certainly—husband of one, brother-in-law of the other. But I will tell you the whole story. Sigismund Fatello is one of those men born with a peculiar genius for money-getting, who, if deposited at the antipodes without a shoe to their foot, or a sou in their pocket, would end by becoming millionnaires. Although little heard of in good society till a year ago, he has long been well known on the Bourse, and in foreign capitals, as a bold financier and successful speculator. Two years ago he had occasion to go to the south of Spain, to visit mines offered by the Spanish government as security for the loan of two or three of his millions. Amongst other places he visited Seville, and was there introduced to Don Geronimo Gomez Garcia Gonfalon (and a dozen other names besides), a queer old hidalgo, descended from Boabdil of the Bloody Crescent, or some such Moorish potentate. The don dwelt in the shadow of the Giralda, and possessed two daughters reputed fair;—you see them there—judge for yourself. With one of these Fatello fell desperately in love, and asked her in marriage. The lady, who had no wish to abandon her native land for the society of so ugly and unpleasant a helpmate, demurred. But the suitor was urgent and the papa peremptory. Old Boabdil had an immense opinion of Fatello, was dazzled by his wealth and financial reputation, and insisted on his daughter’s marrying him, vowing that he himself was poor as a poet, and that if she refused she should go to a nunnery. After the usual amount of tears, threats, and promises, the marriage took place. The descendant of the Saracen made an excellent bargain for his child. Fatello, infatuated by his passion, would have agreed to any conditions, and made immense settlements on the beautiful Catalina. His father-in-law, like an old semi-African hunks as he was, pleaded poverty, hard times, forced contributions, and so forth, as excuses for giving his daughter no other portion than a few rather remarkable diamonds, and some antiquated plate dating from the kings of Granada, and better suited for a Moorish museum than a Christian sideboard. Fatello, whose dealings with the Spanish government had given him no very exalted idea of the opulence of Spanish subjects, cared not for the old boy’s maravedis, and credited his plea of poverty. A few weeks afterwards, Fatello and his wife being still in Seville, Boabdil retired for his usual siesta; but not reappearing at the usual hour, a servant went to awaken him, and found him purple with apoplexy. The unfortunate Saracen never spoke again. The next day he was buried (they lose no time in those warm latitudes); and behold, when the will was opened, he had left upwards of three millions of reals to his disconsolate daughters—about four hundred thousand francs to each of them. When the decencies had been observed in the way of mourning, and Fatello had finished his affairs, he brought his wife and her sister to Paris, took a magnificent hotel in the Faubourg St Honoré, and gave Lucullian dinners, and entertainments such as are read of in the Arabian Nights, but rarely seen in the nineteenth century.”

“And were his fêtes well attended?”

“Not quite immediately. At first everybody asked who this M. Fatello was, and nobody could tell. All sorts of queer stories were got up about him. Some said he was a Polish Jew, formerly well known in Prague, and who had commenced his fortune by attending horse-fairs. Others—misled by his name, which has an odd Italian sound—swore he was a Lombard, continuing the financial and speculative traditions of his race. He himself claims to be of a good Alsatian family; and I believe the truth is, that his father was a small proprietor in a northern department, who sent his son to Paris, as a boy, to seek his fortune, which, by virtue of industry and arithmetic, he has been lucky enough to find. But people got tired of asking who, and changed the interrogation to what. This was much more easily answered—‘The signature of Sigismund Fatello is worth millions upon every Exchange in Europe,’ was the prompt reply. You know our good Parisians, or rather, you know the world in general. If John Law or Dr Faustus returned upon earth, with wealth proceeding from the devil or a swindle, and gave banquets and balls, their rooms would not long be empty. No more were those of Fatello, against whom, however, nothing improper was ever substantiated, except a want of ancestors,—a venial offence, in these days, to be charged against a millionnaire! With a citizen king, and Jews in the chamber, or upon argent is the truest blazonry, my word for it.”

“By their assistance, then, he has got into good society?” said Steinfeld.

“Into almost the best. He has not made much progress beyond the Seine; but on this side the water he is everywhere in good odour. They make much of him at the Tuileries and in diplomatic circles; and in the Chaussée d’Antin, amongst the aristocracy of finance, his money gives him right to a high place. And if he plays the Amphitryon this winter in the style he did the last, there is no saying whether some of our stiff-necked countesses of the vieille roche may not relent, and honour his halls with their transcendental presence. His entertainments of all kinds are quite superlative; and if he be a plebeian and a brute, his wife and sister, on the other hand, are graceful as gazelles, and date from the Deluge. He is an ugly-looking monster, certainly,” added the handsome viscount; “but fortune has atoned for nature’s stinginess. A man may forget his resemblance to a chimpanzee when he has millions in his strong-box, one of the finest houses, and best filled stables, and prettiest wives in Paris,—when he possesses strength and health, and has every prospect of living long to enjoy the goods the gods have showered upon him.”

“Wrong in the last particular,—quite wrong, my dear viscount,” said a bland and unctuous voice behind de Mellay. The young men turned and found themselves face to face with a comely middle-aged personage, whose smug costume of professional black was relieved by a red ribbon in the button-hole, and who, gliding into the stall in their rear, whilst they were engrossed with their conversation, had overheard its latter sentences.

“Ha! doctor,” exclaimed the viscount, “you here, and eavesdropping! How am I wrong, most sapient and debonair of Galens?”

Dr Pilori was a physician in high practice, and of a class not uncommon in Paris,—at once a man of pleasure and a votary of science. With a fair share of talent and an inordinate one of self-conceit, he had pushed himself forward in his profession, applying himself, in conformity with the Parisian rage for spécialités, particularly to one class of complaint. The lungs were the organ he had taken under his special protection: his word was law in all cases of pulmonary disease. He was physician to an hospital, member of the Legion of Honour, and of innumerable learned societies; his portrait graced the shop-windows of medical booksellers, whilst his works, on maladies of the lungs, occupied a prominent place on their shelves. His patients were numerous and his fees large. So far the man of science. The man of pleasure occupied a gorgeous apartment in the vicinity of the Madeleine; gave smart and frequent soirées (as one means of increasing his connection), where singers of the first water gave their notes in payment of his advice. He was frequently at the opera,—occasionally at the Café de Paris,—lived on bad terms with his wife, and on good ones with a ballet-dancer, and was in request as an attendant at duels amongst the young dandies of the clubs, with most of whom he was on a footing of familiarity amounting almost to intimacy.

“How am I wrong, doctor?” repeated de Mellay.

“In your prediction of Fatello’s longevity. Of course it is of him you speak?”

“Of no other. What ails him?”

“He is dying of consumption,” gravely replied Pilori.

The viscount laughed incredulously, and even Steinfeld could not restrain a smile, so little appearance was there of a consumptive habit in the robust frame, and coarse, rough physiognomy of the financier.

“Laugh if you please, young gentlemen,” said the doctor. “It is no laughing matter for Monsieur Fatello, I can tell you. His life is not worth a year’s purchase.”

“You have been prescribing for him then, doctor?” said Arthur, maliciously.

“I have,” said the physician, suffering the hit to pass unnoticed. “No longer ago than yesterday he consulted me for a trifling indisposition, and, in studying his idiosyncrasy, I detected the graver disease. What do you think he called me in for? I ought not to tell these things, but the joke is too good to keep. He was annoyed about the blotches on his face—anxious for a clear complexion. In what strange places vanity finds a corner! Poor fellow! he little thinks how soon the worms will be at work upon his cuticle.”

“You did not tell him, then?” said de Mellay, still doubtful of the doctor’s sincerity, and with a sort of shudder at his dissecting-room style.

“What was the use? The seeds of decay are too deeply set to be eradicated by the resources of art. Although to a non-medical eye he presents little appearance of pulmonary derangement, the malady has already taken firm hold. Probably it is hereditary. It advances slowly but surely, and will not be turned aside. The forms of that terrible disease are many and various, from the pulmonia fulminante of Spain, and the galloping consumption of our island neighbours, to those more tedious varieties whose ravages extend over years, to kill as surely at last. But I do not tell you that I shall not inform M. Fatello of his condition. It is our duty to strive to the last, even when we have no hope but in a miracle. I shall see him to-morrow and break the matter to him.”

“And send him to Italy or Madeira, I suppose,” said Steinfeld, with an appearance of greater interest than he had previously taken in the conversation.

“What for? As well let him die in Paris, where he will at least have all the alleviations the resources of art and high civilisation can afford. But enough of the subject. And you, young gentlemen, say nothing of what I have told you, or you will damage my reputation for discretion.”

The rise of the curtain put a period to the conversation, and, before the act was over, a box-keeper delivered a letter to Dr Pilori, who, after reading it, rose with a certain air of importance and solicitude, and hurried out of the theatre,—his sortie provoking a smile amongst some of the habitual frequenters of the stalls, who were accustomed to see this manœuvre repeated with a frequency that gave it the air of an advertisement. The opera over, Steinfeld and de Mellay left the house together, and, whilst driving along the boulevard, the sentence of death pronounced so positively by Pilori upon Fatello was the subject of their conversation. The viscount was incredulous, took it for a hoax, and would have amused the club by its repetition, and by a burlesque of Pilori’s dogmatical and pompous tone, had not Steinfeld urged him to be silent on the subject, lest he should injure the indiscreet physician. Arthur promised to say nothing about it, and soon forgot the whole affair in the excitement of a bouillotte-table. Steinfeld, equally reserved, neither forgot the doctor’s prophecy, nor doubted the conviction that dictated it. De Mellay’s gossip about the Fatellos had doubtless excited his curiosity, and given him a wish to know them; for, two days afterwards, his elegant coupé drove into the court of their hotel, and a dandified secretary of legation presented, in due form, the Baron Ernest von Steinfeld to the wealthy financier and his handsome wife and sister.



Three months had elapsed, and Paris was in full carnival. Since the beginning of the year the town had been kept in a state of unusual excitement by the anticipation of a ball, for which the rich and fashionable Countess de M—— had issued invitations to her immense circle of friends and acquaintances. The position of the countess—who, herself the daughter of an illustrious house, and reckoning amongst her ancestors and their alliances more than one sovereign prince and constable of France, had married a man enriched and ennobled by Napoleon—gave her peculiar facilities for collecting around her all that was distinguished and fashionable in Paris, and for blending the various coteries into which political differences, as much as pride of descent on the one hand, and pride of purse on the other, split the higher circles of Parisian society. Her invitations included stiff-necked Legitimists from the dull but dignified streets of St Germain’s faubourg, noble as a La Tremouille or a Montmorency, and still sulking against the monarchy of the 7th August; wealthy parvenus from the Chaussée d’Antin, military nobles of imperial fabrication, Russian princes, English lords, Spanish grandees, diplomatists by the dozen, and a prince or two of the reigning family. Under ordinary circumstances, Madame de M—— might have hesitated to bring together so heterogeneous an assemblage—to have mingled in the same saloons all these conflicting vanities, opinions, and prejudices; but the character of her entertainment removed the inconveniences of such confrontation. It was no ordinary ball or commonplace rout of which the palatial mansion of the countess was upon this occasion to be the scene. She had conceived the bold idea of resuscitating, upon a large scale, an amusement which, in Paris, has long since degenerated into vulgar license and drunken saturnalia. Her entertainment was to be a masquerade, to which no one was to come with uncovered face or in ordinary costume. A mask and a disguise were as essential to obtain entrance, as was the ticket of admission sent to each individual invited, and which was to be delivered up at the door, accompanied by the holder’s engraved visiting-card. This precaution was to guard against the recurrence of an unpleasant incident that had occurred two years previously at a minor entertainment of similar character, when two ingenious professors of legerdemain, better known to the police than to the master of the house, found their way into the ball-room under the convenient covering of dominoes, and departed, before their presence was discovered, carrying with them a varied assortment of watches, purses, and jewellery.

The night of the much-talked-of fête had arrived; the tailors, milliners, and embroiderers, who for a month past had slaved in the service of the invited, had brought home the results of their labours: the fashionable hair-dressers had had a hard day’s work—some hundreds of wreaths and nosegays, which in June would have been beautiful, and in January seemed miraculous, and whose aggregate cost was a comfortable year’s income, had been composed by the tasteful fingers of the Parisian flower-girls. The hour was at hand, and many a fair bosom palpitated with pleasurable anticipations. The hotel of the rich Fatello, as the successful speculator was usually called, had its share of the bustle of preparation; but at last knotty questions of costume were satisfactorily settled, and the ladies committed themselves to the hands of their tirewomen. In his library sat Sigismund Fatello, opening a pile of notes and letters that had accumulated there since afternoon. Some he read and put carefully aside; to others he scarcely vouchsafed a glance; whilst a third class were placed apart for perusal at greater leisure. At last he opened one by whose contents he was strangely moved, for, on reading them, he started and turned pale, as if stung by an adder. Passing his hand over his eyes, as though to clear his vision, he stood up and placed the paper in the very strongest glare of the powerful Carcel lamp illuminating the room. A second time he read, and his agitation visibly increased. Its cause was a small note, containing but four lines, written in a feigned hand. It was an anonymous letter, striking him in his most vulnerable point. Again and again he perused it, striving to recognise the handwriting, or conjecture the author. All his efforts were in vain. Once, inspired by his good genius, he crushed the treacherous paper in his hand, and approached the fireplace to destroy it in the flames. But as he drew near the logs that glowed and crackled on the hearth, his pace became slower and slower, until he finally stood still, smoothed the crumpled paper, and once more devoured its contents. Then he walked several times up and down the apartment with a hurried step. The three months that had elapsed since Arthur de Mellay and Baron Steinfeld had met in the stalls in the opera, had not passed over the head of Fatello without producing a certain change in his appearance. He was thinner and paler, his eyes were more sunken, and a dark line was pencilled beneath them. The change, however, was not such as an indifferent person would notice; it might proceed from many causes—from mental labour, uneasiness, or grief, as well as from bodily disease—the idea of which latter was unlikely to enter the head of a careless observer of his massive frame and features, and of the general appearance of great muscular strength, still remarkable in the ill-favoured financier. Now, however, he was unusually pale and haggard. The letter he still held in his hand had worked upon him like a malevolent charm, hollowing his cheek and wrinkling his brow. For nearly half an hour he continued his monotonous walk, alternately slackening and accelerating his pace. At times he would come to a momentary halt, with the absent air of one absorbed in working out a puzzling problem. At last he opened a secretaire, touched a spring which made a secret drawer fly open, placed in this drawer the letter that had so greatly disturbed him, closed the desk, and, lighting a taper, took the direction of his wife’s sitting-room, in the opposite wing of the hotel.

Madame Fatello and Mademoiselle Sebastiana Gonfalon were equipped for the ball and in readiness to depart. Between the two sisters, in whose ages there was a difference of two years, so strong a resemblance existed that they frequently were taken for twins. Exactly of the same stature, they had the same large dark eyes, abundant hair, and brown tint of skin, and the same mouth, not very small, but beautiful in form, and adorned with teeth of dazzling whiteness. Both had the grace and fascination for which their countrywomen are renowned. The chief difference between them was in expression. Catalina was the more serious of the two: her gravity sometimes verged upon sullenness, and this was especially observable since she had been compelled to a marriage repugnant to her feelings, but which she had lacked energy and courage to resist. Her father would have found it a far less easy task to force Sebastiana to a union opposed to her inclinations. As high-spirited as her sister was irresolute, Mademoiselle Gonfalon was one of those persons whose obstinacy is increased by every attempt at coercion. Laughing and lively amidst all her gay coquetries, there still was a decision in her classically moulded chin and slightly compressed lip, and a something clandestine but resolute in her eye, which a physiognomist would have interpreted as denoting a degree of intelligence and a passionate strength of character denied by nature to her feebler sister. Upon this evening, however, it might have been thought the two young women had exchanged characters. Sebastiana, in general all smiles and sprightliness, was thoughtful and preoccupied, almost anxious; whilst the listless and melancholy Catalina had an unusual appearance of gaiety and animation. Her cheek was flushed, her eyes were brilliant, and she looked repeatedly at a jewelled bijou-watch, as though she would fain have advanced the hour at which she could with propriety make her entrance into Madame de M——’s saloons.

The door opened and Fatello came in. By a powerful exertion of that self-command which he possessed in no ordinary degree, he had banished from his countenance nearly every trace of recent agitation. He was perhaps a shade paler than usual, but his brow was unclouded, and his uncouth countenance was lighted up by the most agreeable smile it could assume.

“So, ladies,” he said, with a liveliness that sat but clumsily upon him, “you are armed for conquest. Accept my compliments on the excellent taste of your costumes. They are really charming. If you are detected, it will hardly be by your dress. Those loose robes and that convenient cowl are the best possible disguises.”

“All the better!” cried Sebastiana. “Nothing like the dear black domino, under which you can be impertinent as you like, with scarce a possibility of discovery. There will be fifty such dresses as ours in the room.”

“No doubt of it,” replied her brother-in-law, thoughtfully. And his piercing green-grey eye scanned the dominoes that shrouded the graceful figures of his wife and her sister. They were of plain black satin; but the art of the maker had contrived to impart elegance to the costume which, of all others, generally possesses it the least. The two dresses were exactly alike, except that Catalina’s was tied at the wrists with lilac ribbons, whilst nothing broke the uniform blackness of her sister’s garb. Black gloves and masks, and two bouquets of choice exotics, the masterpieces of the celebrated bouquetière of the Madeleine boulevard, completed the ladies’ equipment.

“I am sorry,” said Fatello, “to deny myself the pleasure of accompanying you to the Countess’s fête, but I am behindhand with my correspondence, and have received important letters, which I must answer by the morning’s post. My night, a part of it at least, will be passed at the desk instead of in the ball-room.”

There was nothing in this announcement to excite surprise; the tone and manner in which it was made were perfectly natural; but, nevertheless, Sebastiana Gonfalon darted a keen quick glance at her brother-in-law, as though seeking in his words a double meaning or disguised purpose. Madame Fatello showed neither surprise nor disappointment, but, approaching a table, she took from a costly basket of gold filagree, overflowing with cards and invitations, an envelope containing three tickets for the masquerade. Selecting two of them, she threw the third into the basket, and again looked at her watch. At that moment the door opened, and her carriage was announced.

“Come, Sebastiana,” said Madame Fatello, impatiently. “Good-night, M. Fatello.” And, with a slight bow to her husband, she passed into the anteroom.

“Good-night, Sigismund,” said Sebastiana. “Change your mind and follow us.”

“Impossible,” said Fatello, with the same smiling countenance as before.

Sebastiana followed her sister. Fatello lingered a few moments in the drawing-room, and then returned to his study. As he entered it, he heard the roll of the carriage-wheels driving out of the court.

The masquerade given by the Countess de M—— was that kind of magnificent and extraordinary entertainment which forms the event of the year in which it occurs; which is long held up as a pattern to gala-givers, and as marking a red-letter epoch in the annals of fashion and pleasure. Nothing was spared to make it in all respects perfect. An entire floor of the Countess’s vast mansion had been cleared, for the occasion, of all superfluous furniture; three splendid saloons were appropriated to dancing: two others, equally spacious, to refreshments. In these, the appetites of the guests had been richly catered for. One was the coffee-house, the other the restaurant. In the former, on a multitude of small marble tables, a regiment of attentive waiters served ices and sherbets, wine and chocolate, coffee and liqueurs. In the latter, tables were laid for supper, and upon each of them lay a printed bill of fare, where the hungry made their selection from a list of the most delicate dishes, whose appearance followed the order with a celerity that would have done honour to the best-appointed hotel in Paris. A long, wide gallery, and some smaller rooms, were used as a promenade, where the company freely circulated. In a music-hall, a strong party of professional singers kept up an unceasing concert for the entertainment of all comers; and in a chamber fitted up as a tent, an Italian juggler, with peaked beard, and in antique costume of black velvet, performed tricks of extraordinary novelty and ingenuity. Every part and corner of this magnificent suite of apartments was lighted a giorno, draped with coloured silks and muslins, and enlivened by a profusion of tall mirrors, multiplying tenfold the fantastical figures of the maskers and the flame of the countless bougies. Many hundreds of porcelain vases, containing the choicest plants forced prematurely into flower, and all remarkable for brilliancy of colour or fragrance of perfume, lined the broad corridors and the recesses of the windows, which latter were further filled by admirably executed transparencies, forming a series of views from the Italian lakes. The whole resembled a scene from fairyland, or an enchanted palace, raised by the wand of some benevolent gnome for the delectation of the sons and daughters of mortality. If the entertainment was of unparalleled magnificence, the appearance of the guests did it no discredit. Tasteful and ingeniously devised costumes crowded the apartments; history and romance had been ransacked for characters; the most costly materials had been lavishly employed in the composition of dresses for that one night’s diversion. All was glitter of jewels, wave of plumes, and rustle of rich brocades. In diamonds alone an emperor’s ransom was displayed; and more than one fair masker bore upon her neck and arms, and graceful head, the annual revenue of half-a-dozen German princes.

As Sebastiana had predicted, there was a considerable sprinkling of dominoes amongst the motley throng; and as usual, of those who had selected that dress, more favourable to concealment and intrigue than to display of personal graces or costly ornaments, at least one-half had preferred black to any other colour. These latter seemed the subject of the particular attention of one of their number, who, soon after twelve o’clock, made his appearance in the ball-room. Impatience to share in the much-talked-of fête had rendered the invited punctual; by that hour nearly all had arrived, and in such numbers that the rooms, though so large and numerous, were crowded at least as much as was convenient and consistent with circulation. Hence the black domino was frequently impeded in the rapid movements he commenced whenever one of his own species—that is to say, a domino of the same colour—caught his eye, movements which had for their object to meet or overtake the person of garb similar to his own. On such occasions, so great was his impatience, that in a public ball-room he would surely have incurred a quarrel by the somewhat too vigorous use he made of his elbows. But Madame de M——’s well-bred guests merely shrugged their shoulders, and wondered who the manant could be who thus imported into their élite society the unceremonious usages of an opera-house masquerade. The black domino heeded not their mute wonderment, nor cared for the unfavourable impression he might leave upon the ribs and the minds of those he jostled. He was evidently looking for somebody, and however discouraging the task of seeking one particular black domino in a crowded masquerade, where there were two or three score of them, he persevered, in spite of repeated disappointments. At last it seemed as if success had rewarded his constancy. With the suddenness and certainty of a well-broken pointer, he came to a dead stop at sight of a black satin domino leaning on the arm of an elegant Hungarian hussar. To the steps of this couple he thenceforward attached himself. Whithersoever they went he followed, keeping at sufficient distance to prevent their noticing his pursuit; regulating his pace by theirs, but occasionally accelerating it so as to pass them, and lingering for a second when close at their side, as if trying to distinguish the tones of their voices, or to catch a few words of their discourse. Whilst thus engaged, he did not observe that he had himself become an object of attention to a third black domino, who, previously to him, had been dogging, but at greater distance, and with still more precaution than he observed, the steps of the hussar and his companion. The curiosity and caution of domino No. 3 appeared to receive fresh stimulus from the apparition of a rival observer, over whose movements he kept careful watch, but from afar, and concealed as much as possible amongst the crowd, somewhat after the fashion in which the Red Indian observes, from his shelter amidst the trees of the forest, the movements of the hunter, who himself watches from an ambush the course of a herd of deer.

The only portion of the apartments thrown open to the maskers that was not rendered light as day by a profusion of wax candles, was a vast conservatory, the entrance to which was through two large French windows, opening out of one of the dancing-rooms. Paved with a mosaic of divers coloured marbles and fanciful device, it contained a choice collection of exotics and evergreens, of such remarkable size and beauty that the topmost leaves of many of them rustled against the elevated glass roof. These trees and shrubs were so arranged as to form a sort of miniature labyrinth, upon whose paths a mild light was thrown by lamps of coloured glass suspended to the branches. This illumination, although ample to guide the steps of the promenaders between the verdant and flowering hedges, seemed but a twilight, from its contrast with the broad glare of the adjoining apartments. The change from a strong to a subdued light had been purposely contrived by the judicious arrangers of the fête, as a relief for eyes wearied by the brilliancy of the ball-room. As yet, however, few persons seemed eager for the transition, and the conservatory was little resorted to except at the close of a dance, when its comparatively fresh atmosphere was gladly sought.

Quadrilles had just commenced in all the dancing-rooms, when the Hungarian hussar and his domino, making their way slowly and with some difficulty in rear of the dancers, took refuge in the conservatory from the din of music and pressure of the crowd. They were evidently so absorbed in their conversation, so much alone in the midst of the multitude, that their eternal pursuer ventured unusually near to them, and was close at their heels when they passed through the glass door. Then, instead of continuing to follow them, he struck into another path, which ran nearly parallel to the one they took. On reaching a circle of beautiful arbutus, whose white bells and bright strawberries gleamed like pearls and blood-drops in the light of the purple lamps that hung amongst them, the hussar and his companion paused beside a porphyry basin, supported by a sculptured pedestal of the same material. For a few moments they stood silent, gazing at the gold-fish that swam their monotonous circle in the basin; and at the little fountain that spouted up in its centre. Then, leaning upon the edge of the vase, they resumed their conversation in tones less guarded than before, for here they might almost consider themselves alone—the few groups and couples sauntering in the conservatory being too much engrossed in their own discourse to heed that of others. The Hungarian removed his mask, still, however, holding it ready to apply to his face in case of intrusion; whilst the domino contented herself with raising the silken beard of hers, to allow the musical tones proceeding from a pair of rosy and youthful lips to fall more clearly upon her companion’s ear. Thus they continued a conversation apparently of deep interest to both, and which they suspended only when some passing party of masks lingered for an instant beside the fountain, until the end of the quadrille brought a throng of dancers into the conservatory. Then they left the place, and sauntered back into the ball-room.

Meanwhile the third domino watched the conservatory doors with a lynx-eyed vigilance worthy a pupil of the celebrated Vidocq. Although the loose black dress might have covered either a short man or a woman of the middle stature, the delicacy of the gloved fingers, and of the tiny foot that peeped from below its border, left little doubt as to the sex of its wearer. From a convenient position on the steps leading up to an orchestra, the fringe of her mask confined by her hand, so as to prohibit even a glimpse of her ivory chin, she subjected to a rigid scrutiny all who issued from the conservatory. Suddenly, from the door nearest to her, the hussar and his companion made their appearance, and, as they passed, she shrouded herself behind the portly figure and sumptuous embroideries of a Venetian doge. Then she resumed her watch, and a minute had not elapsed when she saw the tall black domino, whom she had observed during the evening, re-enter the dancing-room and make his way as fast as the crowd would allow him to the nearest door of exit, with a hurried and irregular step, hardly to be explained otherwise than by sudden illness or violent emotion. She followed him to the head of the staircase, down which he rushed, disappearing at its foot through the crowd of lackeys in the hall. Having seen this, she re-entered the ball-room, sought out the hussar and his companion, and soon afterwards was whirling with the former in the giddy circles of a waltz.

Some hours later, as the Hungarian retired from the ball, almost borne along in the dense stream of masks that now flowed through the rooms, he felt a momentary pressure of his hand. A paper remained in its palm, upon which his fingers mechanically closed. Amidst the ever-moving throng it was impossible to detect the person from whom he had received it. By this time a large portion of the company, oppressed by the heat, had unmasked, but he knew none of the faces he saw around him, whilst of those who had preserved their vizards he could fix on none as object of suspicion. So soon as he could extricate himself from the crowd, he unfolded the paper. It contained the following mysterious words, hastily scrawled with a pencil:—

“One whom you think asleep wakes and watches. He is here; has followed and overheard you, and will seek revenge. Be prepared. Proof is difficult: denial may be safety. Adopt it at all risks. Masked, the sisters are undistinguishable. Credit this warning from a sincere friend.”

Thrice the Hungarian perused this mysterious billet; and then, thrusting it into the breast of his richly braided jacket, slowly left the house.



The house selected by Baron Ernest von Steinfeld, wherein to pass what might possibly be his last season in Paris, was situated in the Rue St Lazare. It was one of those buildings, of frequent occurrence in modern Parisian architecture, which seem intended to gratify the taste of such persons as prefer the English fashion of occupying an entire house, to the French one of dwelling upon a floor. At the bottom of a paved courtyard, around three sides of which was built a large mansion containing many tenants, stood one of those edifices known in French parlance as pavilions—not that they possess a dome, resemble a tent, or, for the most part, have any of the qualities of a summer-house, but because, in Paris, the term “house” is grudgingly bestowed upon a building of less than five stories and thirty or forty rooms. This pavilion had but three stories and a dozen rooms; it was a particularly complete and independent habitation, standing well back from the body of the house under whose number it was included, and of which, although detached, it was considered to form part; and having two entrances, one through the court, the other from a lane running at right angles with the street. The ground-floor contained, besides a light and commodious vestibule and servants’ offices, only one apartment, a handsome dining-room, in which, however, it was impossible, for three quarters of the year, to dine without lamps—the daylight admitted by its one broad window being greatly limited by the walls of a nook of garden, and by the impending branches of a laburnum and acacia, which mingled their boughs in affectionate union, twin lords of a square yard of grass, and of a fathom’s length of flower-bed, and in the spring-time rejoiced the inmates of the pavilion with the odorous rustle of their yellow clusters and rose-coloured blossoms. The first floor contained two pleasant drawing-rooms and a boudoir; the second, bath, bed, and dressing-rooms. The roof, flat and surrounded by a parapet, commanded a view over the adjacent gardens of an extensive bathing establishment and maison de santé, and was no unpleasant resort, on a fine day, for persons desirous to inhale the fresh air, or to scent it with the fumes of Havana’s weed. This pavilion, described by the Petites Affiches as fraîchement décoré—the said decoration consisting in fresh paint and paper, and in a profusion of that cheerful French luxury, large and excellent mirrors—was rented for six months by Baron Steinfeld, who had hired, for the same period, from a fashionable upholsterer—for a sum which would almost have furnished the house permanently in a plainer manner—a complete set of furniture, against whose perfect elegance and good taste not a syllable could be breathed. His establishment was as correct as his residence. It consisted, in the first place, of a French cook, with whose sauces Arthur de Mellay had repeatedly expressed his willingness to eat a fragment of his father; which offer—considering the worthy count had been a guardsman in the time of Louis XVI., and, consequently, was neither young nor tender—was certainly a high testimonial to the merits of sauce and cook. Then came an Italian valet, quite as skilful a personage in his way as the professor of gastronomic science—speaking three or four languages, accumulating in his own individuality the knowledge and acquirements of a legion of hair-dressers, tailors, perfumers, and the like—thoroughly versed in the arcana of the toilet, a secretary in case of need, and a perfect Mercury in matters of intrigue. The third person of Steinfeld’s household, the last, and also by much the least—physically speaking, that is to say, but by no means in his own estimation—was one of those miniature tigers (copied from the English, and essential appendages to the establishment of a Paris lion), who look as if they had been subjected to that curious Chinese process by which lofty shrubs and forest trees are stunted to dimensions that permit the plantation of a grove in a flower-pot—wizen-faced, top-booted abortions, uniting the mischief and the proportions of a monkey, and frightfully precocious in every species of villany. The house also contained, during the day, an old Frenchwoman, of a species indigenous and confined to Paris—the patient butt of the cook’s ill-humours and of the groom’s pranks, with bearded chin and slipshod feet, and willing for any sort of dirty work, from the scouring of a kettle to the administration of the remedy renowned in French pharmacy.

It was an hour past noon on the day succeeding the Countess of M——’s masquerade, and Steinfeld sat alone at breakfast. It were more correct to say that he sat at the breakfast table; for the savoury meal before him was still untasted, and he seemed in no haste to attack it. In vain the green oysters from Ostend lay invitingly open, and one of Chevet’s pies displayed, through a triangular aperture in its crust, the tender tints of an exquisite foie-gras—the result of the martyrdom of some unhappy Strasburg duck; in vain a fragrant steam of truffles oozed from beneath the covers of two silver dishes, fresh from the laboratory of Macedoine the cook, and mingled its odours with the flowery aroma of a bottle of Sauterne, from which Rufini the valet had just extracted the long yellow-sealed cork. Apparently none of these creature-comforts dwelt in the desires of the baron, who sat sideways to the table, his chin resting on his hand, gazing upon vacancy with an intenseness bespeaking deep pre-occupation. One acquainted with Steinfeld’s circumstances would have hesitated little in conjecturing the nature of the unpleasant reflections in which he seemed absorbed. They might very well have for motive the unprosperous state of his exchequer, the heavy incumbrances weighing upon the hereditary acres, the approaching decease of that convenient but fickle ally, on whose succour half the world exist, and whose name is Credit. The baron had been anything but a prudent man. Too careless of the future, he had neglected fortune when she offered herself to his embrace; and now she revenged herself by averting her countenance. Of high descent and fair estate, handsome person and fascinating manners, for some years Steinfeld might have aspired to the hand of almost any heiress in Vienna or Paris. Numerous were the matrimonial overtures that had been more or less directly made to him, at a time when, in love with his bachelorhood, and celebrated for his bonnes fortunes, he looked upon the bonds of Hymen as the most oppressive of fetters, intolerable even when sheathed in gold. The match-makers, repulsed without exception, at last renounced all further attempts upon the hand of the handsome Austrian—as Steinfeld was generally called in Paris—and declared him an incorrigible partisan of celibacy. To the unmolested enjoyment of his bachelor bliss the baron was for some years left, until one morning he awoke to the disagreeable consciousness that profuse expenditure had done its work, and that ruin or a rich marriage formed the only alternatives left him. He was fully alive to the difficulties placed in the way of the latter by the change in his circumstances. His ancient name and personal advantages remained, but his fair estate was in the hands of the harpies; and however disposed romantic young ladies might be to overlook this misfortune, prudent papas would deem it a serious stumbling-block. Then it was that, roused by horrid visions of approaching poverty from his usual state of happy insouciance, the baron gathered together the relics of his past opulence, squeezed and exhausted every remaining resource, and, assuming a bold front against bad fortune, returned to Paris with much the feelings of the soldier who screws up all his energies to conquer or to die. It was no apprehension, however, as to the result of this final struggle—no nervous trepidation arising from the imminence of his situation, that now clouded Steinfeld’s brow and spoiled his appetite. On the contrary, he deemed victory secure, and beheld himself, in no remote perspective, emerging triumphantly from his difficulties, even as a snake, casting its shabby skin, reappears in glittering scales of gold. He had not wasted the three months he had passed in Paris, and was well satisfied with the result of his exertions. His present uneasiness had a different origin—one similar to the cause by which, some fifteen hours previously, we saw Sigismund Fatello so deeply moved. The baron turned and twisted in his hand a letter, to whose contents he again and again recurred, pondering them intently. Like that received by the banker, the billet was anonymous; like his, it contained but three or four lines; but, despite its brevity and want of authenticity, it proved, on the part of the writer, whoever that might be, an acquaintance with the baron’s most important secret, that did not fail greatly to disquiet him. Who had thus detected what he deemed so surely concealed? He strained his eyes and memory, in vain endeavouring to recognise the handwriting; and more than once, fancying he had done so, he fetched notes and letters from a desk in the adjoining boudoir, to compare them with the anonymous epistle. But the comparison always dissipated his suspicion. Then, taking a pen, and a diminutive sheet of amber-scented paper, he began a note, but tore the paper after writing only three words, and threw the fragments impatiently into the fire. Just then the pavilion bell rang loudly; the next minute there was a knock at the room door, and Celestin the tiger made his appearance, bearing a card inscribed with the name of M. Sigismund Fatello, and an inquiry whether Monsieur le Baron was at home and visible.

On reading the banker’s name, Steinfeld made a slight and sudden movement, almost amounting to a start, but, instantly recovering himself, he bade his groom show the visitor upstairs. At the same time he hastily seated himself, ordered Rufini to take off the covers, poured some wine into a glass, and helped himself from the first dish that came to hand; so that when Fatello, ushered in by the groom, entered the apartment, he had all the appearance of one whose whole faculties were concentrated, for the time being, in the enjoyment of an excellent meal. Rising from his chair, with an air of jovial cordiality, he hastened to welcome the banker.

“An unexpected pleasure, my dear Fatello,” said he. “What favourable chance procures me so early a visit? You are come to breakfast, I hope. Rufini, a knife and fork for M. Fatello.”

“I have breakfasted, M. le Baron,” replied Fatello, with a dryness amounting almost to incivility. “If my call is untimely my business is pressing——and private,” he added, with a glance at the Italian, who stood in respectful immobility behind his master’s chair.

“Leave the room, Rufini,” said Steinfeld.

The well-drilled valet bowed in silence, and glided noiselessly from the apartment.

“Now, then, my good friend,” said the Austrian, in the same gay off-hand tone as before, “I am all ear and attention. What is up? Nothing bad, I hope; nothing so serious as to spoil my appetite. I have heard a proverb condemning discourse between a full man and a hungry one.”

Fatello made no immediate reply. There was something very peculiar in his aspect. His lips were pale and compressed, and his brows slightly knit. He seemed constraining himself to silence until he felt he could speak calmly on a subject which roused anger and indignation in his breast. Whilst seemingly engrossed by his breakfast, Steinfeld lost not a look or motion of his visitor’s, not a line of his physiognomy, or a glance of his small piercing eye. And the baron, notwithstanding his assumed careless levity of manner, did not feel altogether at his ease.

“You have not turned conspirator, I hope,” said he, when Fatello, after a short but awkward pause, still remained silent. “No Henri-quinquist plot, or plan to restore the glorious days of the guillotine and the Goddess of Liberty? No, no; a Crœsus of your calibre, my dear Fatello, would not mix in such matters. Your plotters are hungry dogs, with more debts than ducats. Talking of hunger—I am grieved you have breakfasted. This mushroom omelet does honour to Macedoine.”

The baron would have talked on—for at that moment any sort of babble seemed to him preferable to silence. But Fatello, who had not heard a word he had said, suddenly rose from his seat, rested his hands upon the table, and leaning forward, with eyes sternly fixed upon Steinfeld, uttered these remarkable words, in tones rendered harsh and grating by the effort that made them calm:

“Monsieur le Baron de Steinfeld, you are courting my wife!”

The most expert physiognomist would have failed to detect upon the countenance of the ex-diplomatist any other expression than one of profound astonishment, tinged by that glow of indignation an innocent man would be likely to feel at an unfounded accusation, abruptly and brutally brought. After sustaining for a few seconds Fatello’s fixed and angry gaze, his features relaxed into a slightly contemptuous smile.

“The jest is surely in questionable taste, my dear M. Fatello. And the severity of your countenance might alarm a man with a conscience less clear than mine.”

“I jest not, sir, with my honour and happiness,” retorted Fatello, with a rude fierceness that brought a flush to the baron’s cheek—a flame of anger which the next moment, however, dispelled.

“Then, my dear M. Fatello,” said Steinfeld, “since, instead of a bad jest, you mean sober earnest, I can only say you are grossly misinformed, and that your suspicions are as injurious to Madame Fatello, as your manner of expressing them is insulting to myself.”

“I have no suspicions,” replied Fatello, “but a certainty.”

“Impossible!” said the baron. “Name my accuser. He shall account for the base calumny.”

“He desires no better,” replied Fatello, sternly. “I myself accuse you. No slanderous tongues, but my own ears, are evidence against you. And yourself, sir, shall confess what you now so stubbornly deny. You were at last night’s masquerade.”

“I was so.”

“In hussar uniform—crimson vest and white pelisse.”

Steinfeld bowed assent. “The uniform of the regiment to which I formerly belonged.”

“A black domino was on your arm.”

Ma foi!” cried the baron, with a laugh that sounded rather forced, “if you demand an account of all the masks I walked and danced with, I shall hardly be able to satisfy you. Dominoes there were, doubtless; and, of all colours, black amongst the rest.”

“You equivocate, sir,” said Fatello, angrily. “I will aid your memory. The domino I mean was your companion early in the night. The domino I mean danced once with you (a waltz), and afterwards walked with you through the rooms, in deep conversation. The domino I mean stood with you for more than ten minutes beside the fountain in the conservatory. The domino I mean was my wife; and you, Baron Steinfeld, are a villain!”

During this singular conversation Steinfeld had sat, leaning back in his large elbow-chair, in an attitude of easy indifference—one slippered foot thrown carelessly over the other, and his hands thrust into the pockets of his damask dressing-gown. On receiving this last outrageous insult, his lip blanched with passion, his whole person quivered as with an electric shock, and he half rose from his semi-recumbent position. But the baron was a man of vast self-command; one of those cool-headed cool-hearted egotists who rarely act upon impulse, or compromise their interests by ill-timed impetuosity. The first choleric movement, prompting him to throw Fatello downstairs, was checked with wonderful promptitude, and with little appearance of effort. In reality, however, the effort was a violent one. As a soldier at the triangles bites a bullet with the rage of pain, so Steinfeld clenched his hands till the strong sharp nails almost cut into the palm. As he did so, a paper in his pocket rustled against his knuckles. It was the note so mysteriously conveyed to him at the masquerade, and which he had been pondering when Fatello was announced. To one so quick-witted, the mere touch of the paper was as suggestive as a volume of sage counsels. In an instant every sign of annoyance disappeared from his features; he rose quietly from his seat, and with easy dignity and an urbane countenance confronted Fatello, who stood gloomy and lowering before the fire.

“I see, M. Fatello,” he said, “that you are bent upon our cutting each other’s throats; but, strange as it may seem, after the terms you have employed, I still hope to avert the unpleasant necessity. For one moment moderate your language, and give me time for brief explanation. If I rightly understand you, it is from your own observations you thus accuse me; and I presume you did me the honour of a personal surveillance at last night’s ball?”

Fatello, his violence checked for the moment from further outbreak by the baron’s courtesy and coolness, made a gesture of sullen assent.

“And that you overheard a part, but not the whole, of my conversation with the black domino in question?”

“I heard enough, and too much,” replied Fatello, with a savage scowl at his interlocutor. “This is idle talk, mere gain of time. Baron Steinfeld!” cried the banker, in a voice that again rose high above its usual pitch, “you are——”

“Stop!” interrupted Steinfeld, speaking very quickly, but with an extraordinary and commanding calmness, which again had its effect. “Descend not to invective, M. Fatello. There is always time for violence. Hear reason. You are in error, an error easily explained. I certainly saw Madame Fatello at the ball, saw and spoke with her—patience, sir, and hear me! But the domino, of my conversation with whom you heard a part, was not Madame Fatello, but Mademoiselle Gonfalon. You take little interest in the frivolities of a masquerade, and are possibly unaware that the two ladies’ dresses were exactly similar. You can have heard our conversation but imperfectly, or you would not have wronged me by this suspicion.”

Whilst uttering these last sentences, Steinfeld redoubled the keenness of the scrutiny with which he regarded the banker’s uncomely and agitated physiognomy. But although piquing himself, as a former diplomatist, on skill in reading men’s thoughts through their faces, he was unable to decipher the expression of Fatello’s countenance on receiving this plausible explanation of the error into which he had been led by the sisters’ identity of costume. As he proceeded with it, the banker’s lips, slightly parting, gave his face an air of stupefied wonderment, in addition to its previously inflamed and angry aspect. When Steinfeld concluded an explanation uttered with every appearance of sincerity and candour, and in that flexible and affable tone which, when he chose to employ it, imparted to his words a peculiarly seductive and persuasive charm, Fatello’s lips were again firmly closed, and curled with a curious and inexplicable smile. This faded away; he struck his left hand against his forehead, and remained for some moments plunged in thought, as if he hastily retraced in his memory what he had heard the night before, to see how it tallied with the explanation just given him. Thus, at least, Steinfeld interpreted his manner; and although the Austrian’s countenance preserved its serenity, his heart throbbed violently against his ribs during the banker’s brief cogitation. The result of this was evidently satisfactory to Fatello, from whose brow, when his hand again dropped by his side, the lowering cloud had disappeared, replaced by affability and regret.

“I see,” he said, with better grace than might have been expected from him, and taking a step towards Steinfeld, “that nothing remains for me but to implore your pardon, baron, for my unwarrantable suspicions, and for the harsh and unbecoming expressions into which they betrayed me. Jealousy is an evil counsellor, and blinds to the simplest truths. I scarce dare hope you will forgive my intemperate conduct, without exacting the hostile meeting for which I was just now as eager as I at present am to avoid it. If you insist I must not refuse, but I give you my word that if I have a duel with you to-day, nothing shall induce me to depart from the defensive.”

“I should be unreasonable,” replied Steinfeld, graciously, “if I exacted ampler satisfaction than this handsome apology, for what, after all, was no unnatural misconception. Ten years ago I might have been more punctilious, but after three or four encounters of the kind, a duel avoided, when its real motive is removed, is a credit to a man’s good sense, and no slur upon his courage.”

“No one will ever attack yours, my dear baron,” said Fatello. “I only hope you will always keep what has passed between us this morning as profound a secret as I, for my own sake, certainly shall do. I am by no means disposed to boast of my part in the affair.”

Steinfeld bowed politely, and the two men exchanged, with smiles upon their faces, a cordial grasp of the hand.

“Out of evil cometh good,” said the banker, sententiously, subsiding upon the silken cushions of a causeuse that extended its arms invitingly at the chimney-corner. “I am delighted to find that the leaden bullet I anticipated exchanging with you is likely to be converted into a golden ring, establishing so near a connection between us as to render our fighting a duel one of the least probable things in the world. My dear baron, I shall rejoice to call you brother-in-law.”

“It would be a great honour for me,” replied Steinfeld, “but you overrate the probability of my enjoying it. Nothing has passed between Mademoiselle Gonfalon and myself to warrant my reckoning on her preference.”

“Tush, tush! baron,” said Fatello, apparently not heeding, or not noticing the somewhat supercilious turn of Steinfeld’s phrases, “you forget the new and not very creditable occupation to which the demons of jealousy and suspicion last night condemned me. You forget that I tracked you in the promenade, and lay in ambush by the fountain, or you would hardly put me off with such tales as these.”

The baron winced imperceptibly on being thus reminded how closely his movements had been watched.

“You are evidently new at the profession of a scout,” said he, jestingly, “or you would have caught more correctly my conversation with your amiable sister-in-law. Mademoiselle Gonfalon is a charming person; the mask gives a certain license to flirtation, and a partial hearing of what passed between us has evidently misled you as to its precise import.”

“Not a bit of it!” cried Fatello, with an odd laugh—“I heard better than you think, I assure you; and what I did hear quite satisfied me that you are a smitten man, and that Sebastiana is well disposed to favour your suit.”

“I must again protest,” said Steinfeld, expressing himself with some embarrassment, “that the thought of becoming Mademoiselle Gonfalon’s husband, great as the honour would be, has never yet been seriously entertained by me; and that, however you may have been misled by the snatches of our conversation you overheard, nothing ever passed between us exceeding the limits of allowable flirtation—the not unnatural consequence of Mademoiselle Sebastiana’s fascinating vivacity, and of the agreeable footing of intimacy on which, for the last three months, I have found admittance at your hospitable house.”

Sigismund Fatello preserved, whilst the baron waded through the intricacies of his artificial and complicated denial, a half-smile of polite but total incredulity.

“My dear baron,” said he gravely, when Steinfeld at last paused, “I am sure you are too honourable a man to trifle with the affections of any woman. I know you as the very opposite character to those heartless and despicable male coquets, who ensnare susceptible hearts for the cruel pleasure of bruising or breaking them, and sacrificing, in their vile egotism, the happiness of others to the indulgence of a paltry vanity. I detect the motives of your present reserve, and, believe me, I appreciate their delicacy. Rumour, that eternal and impertinent gossip, has asserted that Baron Ernest von Steinfeld has impaired, by his open hand and pursuit of pleasure, the heritage of his forefathers. I do not mean that this has become matter of common report; but we bankers have opportunities of knowing many things, and can often read in our bill-books and ledgers the histories of families and individuals. In short, it is little matter how I know that your affairs, my dear baron, are less flourishing than they might be, or than you could wish. But this, after all, is an unimportant matter. The dirty acres are still there—the Schloss Steinfeld still stands firm upon its foundation, and though there be a bit of a mortgage on the domain, and some trouble with refractory Jews, it is nothing, I am sure, but what a clear head and a little ready cash will easily dispose of.”

It was natural to suppose that a lover, whose position on the brink of ruin made him scruple to ask the hand of his mistress of her nearest male relative and protector, and who found his embarrassments suddenly smoothed over and made light of by the very person who might be expected to exaggerate them, would be the last man to place fresh stumbling-blocks on the path to happiness thus unexpectedly cleared before him. Steinfeld, however, appeared little disposed to chime in with the banker’s emollient view of his disastrous financial position. With an eagerness that bespoke either the most honourable punctiliousness, or very little anxiety to become the husband of Mademoiselle Gonfalon, he set Fatello right.

“I heartily wish,” said he, “matters were no worse than you suppose. You quite underrate my real embarrassments. My estate is mine only nominally; not a farthing it produces comes into my pocket; the very castle and its furniture are pledged; some houses in Vienna, and a few thousand florins of Austrian rentes, derived from my mother, melted away years ago; I am deeply in debt, and harassed on all sides by duns and extortioners. I calculated my liabilities the other day—why I know not, for I have no chance of clearing them—and I found it would require three hundred thousand florins to release my lands and pay my debts. You see, my dear M. Fatello, I am not a very likely match for an heiress.”

Fatello had listened with profound attention to the insolvent balance-sheet exhibited by the baron.

“Three hundred thousand florins—six hundred thousand francs,” said he, musingly—“allowing for usury and overcharges, might doubtless be got rid of for a hundred thousand less. Well, baron, when Sebastiana marries she will have more than that tacked to her apron. Her father left her something like half a million, and I have not let the money lie idle. She is a richer woman by some thousand louis d’ors than she was at his death. I don’t carry her account in my head, but I daresay her fortune would clear your lands, and leave a nice nest-egg besides. And although she certainly might find a husband in better plight as regards money matters, yet, as you are so much attached to each other, and happiness, after all, is before gold, I shall make no difficulties. I noticed the girl was absent and sentimental of late, but never guessed the real cause. Ah, baron! you fascinating dogs have much to answer for!”

Whilst Fatello thus ran on, with, as usual, more bluntness than good breeding, Steinfeld was evidently on thorns; and at the first appearance of a pause in the banker’s discourse, he impatiently struck in.

“I must beg your attention, M. Fatello,” said he, “whilst I repeat what you evidently have imperfectly understood—that it has never entered my head to gain Mademoiselle Gonfalon’s affections, and that I have no reason to believe I should succeed in the attempt. I again repeat, that nothing but the most innocent and unimportant flirtation has passed between us. I am deeply sensible of your kind intentions—grateful for your generous willingness to overlook my unfortunate circumstances, and to promote my marriage with your sister-in-law; but, flattering and advantageous as such a union would be to me, I am not certain it would lead to that happiness which you justly deem preferable to wealth. I doubt whether my disposition and that of Mademoiselle Sebastiana would exactly harmonise. Moreover, necessitous though I am, it goes against my pride to owe everything to my wife. It would pain me to see her dowry swallowed up by my debts. Let us drop the subject, I entreat you. To-morrow you will appreciate and rejoice at my hesitation. I fully comprehend the generous impulse that prompts you. Having done me an injustice, you would compensate me beyond my merits. Thanks, my good friend; but believe me, if happiness resides not in wealth, neither is it found in hasty or ill-assorted unions. And, to tell you the truth, however politic a rich marriage might be in the present critical state of my affairs, I long ago made a vow against matrimony, which I still hesitate to break.”

“You are the best judge of your own motives,” said Fatello, stiffly, “but you quite misconstrue mine. It never entered my head to view you as a victim, or to think myself called upon to atone, by providing you with a rich and handsome wife, for the jealousy you so successfully proved groundless. Such compensation would be excessive for so slight an injury. No, no, baron—you have quite mistaken me. As the nearest connection and natural guardian of Mademoiselle Gonfalon, it is my duty to watch over her, and not to allow her feelings to be trifled with. For some time past I have suspected her affections were engaged, but it never occurred to me they were fixed upon you. Well—last night I go to a ball, and, actuated by suspicions to which it is unnecessary to recur, I listen to your conversation with my sister-in-law. To a plain man like myself, it bore but one interpretation—that you have sought and won her heart. You deny this, and assert your language to have been that of common gallantry and compliment, such as may be addressed to any woman without her inferring serious intentions. Here, then, we are gravely at issue. You maintain my ears deceived me; I persist in crediting their evidence. Fortunately, an arbiter is easily found. I shall now return home, see my sister-in-law, and confess to her my eavesdropping, keeping its real motive and my visit to you profoundly secret. From her I shall learn how matters really stand. If her account agree with Baron Steinfeld’s, I shall ever more mistrust my hearing; if the contrary, and that the baron, himself a sworn foe to marriage, has compromised the happiness of a young and confiding woman, why, then, he will not be surprised if I seek of him, for so grave an offence, the reparation which a short time ago I was ready to afford him for one comparatively insignificant.” And Fatello bowed formally, and with severe countenance moved towards the door. But before he could leave the room, Steinfeld, who had stood for a moment thoughtful and perplexed, hurried to intercept him, and laid his hand upon the lock.

“You are really too hasty, Fatello,” said he, “and not altogether reasonable. What ill weed have you trodden upon, that makes you so captious this morning? Own that our conversation has taken an odd turn! Would any one believe that you, Fatello the millionnaire press a marriage between your sister, the wealthy Mademoiselle Gonfalon, and myself, the needy Baron Steinfeld—and that it is I, the ruined spendthrift, from whom the obstacles to the match proceed? Neither in romance nor in real life has the case a precedent. And you may be assured the world will not applaud your wisdom, nor Mademoiselle Sebastiana feel grateful for your zeal.”

“For the world’s applause I care not that,” replied Fatello, snapping his fingers. “As to my sister, I have neither will nor power to constrain her. I do but afford her the protection she is entitled to at my hands. I press her upon no man, but neither do I suffer her to be trifled with. Sebastiana Gonfalon does not lack suitors, I can assure you.”

“Unquestionably,” said Steinfeld, with an absent air; “Mademoiselle Gonfalon is indeed a most charming person, and, were she penniless, would still be a prize to any man. I only wish I enjoyed the place in her good opinion you so erroneously imagine me to occupy.”

“Well, well,” said Fatello, striving to get at the door, before which the baron had planted himself, “since error there is, it will soon be cleared up. You cannot blame me, baron, for preferring, in so delicate an affair, the testimony of my own ears to that of any one person. But if two unite against me, I shall think myself crazed or bewitched, and shall at least be silenced and confounded, if not entirely convinced.”

“Answer me one question,” said Steinfeld. “If yesterday, before you overheard a part of my conversation with your sister, I had asked of you her hand, exposing to you at the same time the state of my fortunes, or rather of my misfortunes, would you then have sanctioned my suit and pleaded my cause with Mademoiselle Gonfalon? Would you, and will you now—for, believe me, I need it more than you think—add the weight of your arguments and advocacy to the prepossession you persist in thinking your sister has in my favour, a prepossession of whose existence I hardly dare flatter myself?”

“Why not?” said Fatello, with an air of straightforward cordiality. “Why not? You are not rich, certainly, but Sebastiana is rich enough for both. You have high birth, talents, interest with the Emperor, and, once married, with your debts paid, and your wild oats sown, you may take ambition instead of pleasure for a mistress, and aspire to high employment. Why not return to diplomacy, for which you are so admirably qualified, and come back to us as Austrian ambassador? Believe me, baron, there is a fine career before you, if you will but pursue it.”

“Perhaps,” said Steinfeld, smiling to himself, like a man to whom a bright perspective is suddenly thrown open; “and, as you say, the first step would be a suitable marriage, which, by ridding me of all encumbrance, might enable me to climb lightly and steadily the hill of wealth and honours.”

“And a millionaire brother-in-law to give you an occasional push by the way,” added Fatello, with one of his heavy, purse-proud smiles; “pushes you may repay in kind, for diplomatist and financier should ever hunt in couples.”

“My dear Fatello,” said Steinfeld, “the prospect is too charming to be lightly relinquished. You must think strangely of my first reluctance to avail myself of your friendly disposition in my favour; but I so little suspected it, I was so bewildered by its sudden revelation, so embarrassed by my own difficulties—and then pride, you know—a morbid fear of being thought mercenary; in short, you will make allowance for my strange way of meeting your kind encouragement. I can only say, that since you deem me worthy of her, and if you can obtain her consent (a more difficult task, I fear, than you imagine), I shall be the happiest of men as the husband of the adorable Sebastiana.”

“That is speaking to the purpose,” said Fatello; “and, for my part, I repeat that I shall be happy to call you brother-in-law. I will do my best for you with Sebastiana, to whom I will at once communicate your formal demand in marriage. But, pshaw! you rogue,” added he, with a clumsy attempt at archness, “you have made pretty sure of her consent, and need no brotherly advocate.”

“Indeed you are mistaken,” replied Steinfeld, earnestly. “I only wish I were as confident, and with good reason, as you think me.”

“Well, well, no matter,” said the banker. “You shall shortly hear your fate.”

“I shall be on thorns till I learn it,” said the baron. “And, my dear Fatello,” said he, detaining the banker, who, after shaking hands with him, was about to leave the room, “it is perhaps not necessary to refer—at least not weigh upon—our conversation at last night’s masquerade. It might vex Mademoiselle Gonfalon—to learn that she had been overheard—or—she might doubt your having heard, and think I had been confiding to you a presumptuous and unfounded belief of her partiality for myself. Women, you know, are susceptible on these points; it might indispose her towards me, and lessen my chance. In short,” he added, with a smile, “if you will be guided by an ex-roué, now reformed, but who has some little experience of the female heart, you will confine yourself to the communication of my proposals, without reference to anything past, and apply all your eloquence to induce Mademoiselle Sebastiana to receive them as favourably as yourself.”

Fatello nodded knowingly.

“Ay, ay,” said he, “I see I need not despair of my ears. They do not serve me so badly. But never fear, baron—I will know nothing, except that you are desperately in love, and that your life depends on your suit’s success. That is the established formula, is it not?”

When the baron—after escorting Fatello, in spite of his resistance, to the door of the pavilion, where the banker’s carriage awaited him—re-entered the breakfast-room, the joyous and hopeful expression his countenance had worn during the latter part of his conversation with his visitor was exchanged for one of anxiety and doubt. Instead of returning to the breakfast, of which he had scarcely eaten a mouthful, he drew his arm-chair to the fire, threw himself into it, and fell into a brown study. The attentive valet, who came in full of concern for his master’s interrupted meal, was sharply dismissed, with an order to admit no callers. After a short time, however, Steinfeld’s cogitations apparently assumed a rosier hue. The wrinkles on his brow relaxed their rigidity, he ceased to gnaw his mustache, and at length a smile dawned upon his features, and grew till it burst into a laugh. Something or other inordinately tickled the baron’s fancy; for he lay back in his chair and laughed heartily, but silently, with the eyes rather than the mouth, for nearly a minute. Then getting up, and lounging pensively through the room, he indulged in a soliloquy of muttered and broken sentences, which, like the secret cipher of a band of conspirators, were unintelligible without a key. Their obscurity was increased by a style of metaphor borrowed from the card-table, and which a man of such correct taste as Steinfeld would doubtless have scrupled to employ in conversation with any one but himself.

“What an odd caprice of fate!” he said. “A strange turn in the game, indeed! The card I most feared turns up trumps! It rather deranges my calculations; but perhaps it is as good a card as the other. Decidedly as sure a one. What certainty that yonder pedantic booby is right in his prognostics? And then there was no avoiding it. Provided, only, Fatello is silent about last night. If not, all is spoilt. And if she makes a scene! Your Spanish dames are reputed fiery as Arabs; but I take her for one of the milder sort—rather a pining than a storming beauty. What if I were to miss both, by some infernal quiproquo or other? Query, too, whether Sebastiana accepts; but I think, with Fatello to back me, I need not fear much on that score. I detect his motives. To your rich upstart, money is dirt compared with descent, connection, title. He would like to be an ambassador’s brother-in-law, the near connection of a family dating from Charlemagne—he, the man of nothing, with plebeian written on his front. Upwards of half a million. Seven hundred thousand, I daresay. I had reckoned on nearly double, and now I may lose both. Well, à la grâce du diable. I will go take a gallop.”

And in another half hour the aspirant to the hand and fortune of Sebastiana Gonfalon was cantering round the Bois de Boulogne, followed at the prescribed distance by Celestin, who, mounted on a fine English horse, near sixteen hands high, bore no slight resemblance to an ape exalted on an elephant.



The hotel of the Northern Eagle, situated in one of the most respectable of the numerous small streets between the Rue St Honoré and the Rue Neuve des Petits Champs, is one of several hundred establishments of the class, scattered over Paris, and which, although bearing the ambitious title of “hotel,” differ in no essential respect from what in London are styled third or fourth rate lodging-houses. It is a tall, narrow, melancholy-looking edifice, entered through an archway, which devours a great part of the ground-floor, and is closed at night by a heavy coach-door, and in the day-time by a four-foot palisade, painted a bright green, with a gate in the middle, and a noisy bell that rings whenever the gate is opened. Under the archway, and in the little paved court that terminates it, there is always a strong smell of blacking in the morning, and an equally strong smell of soup in the afternoon; the former arising from the labours of Jean, a strapping, broad-shouldered native of Picardy, who makes beds, cleans boots, and carries water for the entire hotel; the latter emanating from a small, smoky den, not unlike a ship’s caboose, where a dingy cookmaid prepares the diurnal pot-au-feu for the mistress of the hotel, her son and husband, and for a couple of pensioners, who, in consideration of the moderate monthly payment of fifty francs each, are admitted to share the frugal ragouts of Madame Duchambre’s dinner-table. By an architectural arrangement, common enough in old Paris houses, and which seems designed to secure a comfortable gush of cold air through the crevices of every door in the building, the foot of the staircase is in the court, open to all weathers—a circumstance most painful to Jean, who takes pride in the polish of his stairs, and is to be seen, whenever his other avocations leave him a moment’s leisure, busily repairing, with a brush buckled on his foot, and a bit of wax in a cleft stick, the damage done to their lustre by the muddy boots of the lodgers. The hotel contains about five-and-twenty rooms, all let singly, with the exception of the first floor, divided into two “appartemens” of two rooms and a cupboard each, for which Madame Duchambre obtains the extravagant rent of ninety and one hundred francs per month. Above the first floor the rooms are of various quality—from the commodious chamber which, by the French system of an alcove for the bed, is converted in the day-time into a very tolerable imitation of a parlour—to the comfortless attic, an oven in summer, an ice-house in winter, dearly paid at five francs a-week by some struggling artisan who works hard enough in the day to sleep anywhere at night.

At the period referred to by this narrative, a room upon the third floor of the hotel of the Northern Eagle was occupied, as might be ascertained by inspection of a lithographed visiting-card, stuck upon the door with a wafer, by Godibert Carcassonne, captain in the 1st African Chasseurs, known emphatically amongst the permanent tenants of the hotel as “The Captain.” Not that military occupants were a rarity under the wings of the Northern Eagle; captains were common enough there—majors not very scarce—and it was upon record that more than one colonel had occupied the yellow salon upon the first floor. But none of these warriors bore comparison with Captain Carcassonne in the estimation of Madame Duchambre, an elderly lady with a game leg, and a singularly plain countenance, who had seen better days, and had a strong sense of the proprieties of life. In general she professed no great affection for men of the sword, whom she considered too much addicted to strong drink and profane oaths, and who did not always, she said, respect la pudeur de la maison. The captain, however, had completely won her heart—not by any particular meekness or abstinence, for he consumed far more cognac than spring water, had a voice like a deep-mouthed mastiff, and swore, when incensed, till the very rafters trembled. Nevertheless he had somehow or other gained her affections; partly, perhaps, by the regularity with which, upon all his visits to Paris during the previous fifteen years, he had lodged in her house and paid his bills; partly, doubtless, by the engaging familiarity with which he helped himself from her snuff-box, and addressed her as “Maman Duchambre.”

It was eight o’clock at night, and, contrary to his wont, Captain Carcassonne, instead of contesting a pool at billiards in his accustomed café, or occupying a stall at his favourite Palais Royal theatre, was seated in his room alone, a coffee-cup and a bottle on the table beside him, the amber mouth-piece of a huge meerschaum pipe disappearing under his heavy dark mustache, smoking steadily, and reading the Sentinelle de l’Armée. He was a powerful active man, about forty years of age, with a red-brown complexion, martial features, and a cavalier air, in whom Algerine climate and fatigues had mitigated, if it had not wholly checked, that tendency to corpulence early observable in many French cavalry officers, for the most part a sedentary and full-feeding race. Of a most gregarious disposition, no slight cause would have induced the captain to pass in slow solitude those evening hours, which, according to his creed, ought invariably, in Paris, to dance merrily by in the broad light of gas, and in the excitement of a theatre or coffee-house. Neither was it, in his eyes, a trifle that had placed him, as he expressed it, under close arrest for the evening. He was paying a small instalment of a debt of gratitude, which many would have held expunged by lapse of time, but which Carcassonne still remembered and willingly acknowledged. Many years previously—within a twelvemonth after his promotion from a sergeantcy in a crack hussar regiment to a cornetcy in a corps of chasseurs, newly formed for African service, and in which he had since sabred his way to the command of a troop—Godibert Carcassonne, when on leave of absence at Paris, had been led, by thoughtlessness and by evil associates, rather than by innate vice, into a scrape which threatened to blast his prospects in the army, and consequently in life, and of his extrication from which there was no possibility, unless he could immediately procure five thousand francs. The sum was trifling, but to him it seemed immense, for he estimated it by the difficulty of obtaining it. Driven to desperation, thoughts of suicide beset him, when at that critical moment a friend came to the rescue. By the merest chance he stumbled upon a former school-fellow, a native of the same department as himself, and his accomplice in many a boyish frolic. They had not seen each other for years. When Carcassonne was taken by the conscription, his schoolmate had already departed to seek fortune at Paris, the Eldorado of provincials, and there, whilst the smart but penniless young soldier was slowly working his way to a commission, he had taken root and prospered. He was not yet a wealthy man, but neither was he a needy or a niggardly one; for, on hearing the tale of his friend’s difficulties, he offered him, after a few moments’ internal calculation, the loan of the sum on which his fate depended, and gruffly cut short the impetuous expression of gratitude with which the generous offer was joyfully accepted. The loan was in fact a gift; for when, sometime afterwards, Carcassonne remitted to his friend a small instalment of his debt, scraped together by a pinching economy that did him honour, out of his slender pay, the little draft was returned to him, with the words, “You shall pay me when you are colonel.” And as all subsequent attempts were met by the same answer, the money was still unpaid. But never did loan bear better interest of gratitude. Carcassonne had never forgotten the obligation, was never weary of seeking opportunities of requiting it. These were hard to find, for his friend was now a rich man, and there was little the dragoon could do for him beyond choosing his horses, and giving his grooms valuable veterinary hints, derived from his long experience of the chevaline race in the stables of the 1st Chasseurs. Once only was he fortunate enough to hear his benefactor slightingly spoken of at a public table in Paris. That was a happy day for Carcassonne, and a sad one for the offender, who was taken home a few hours afterwards with a pistol bullet in his shoulder.

The object of this devoted attachment, on the part of the rough but honest-hearted soldier, was not insensible to the sincerity and value of such friendship, and returned it after his own fashion, that is to say, somewhat as the owner of a noble dog permits its demonstrations of affection, and requites them by an occasional caress. When Carcassonne came to Paris, which he did as often as he could get leave of absence from his duties in Africa, his first visit was always for his benefactor, who invariably got up a dinner for him—not at his own house, which the dragoon would have considered a tame proceeding, but at some renowned restaurant—a regular bamboche, as the African styled it, where champagne corks flew and punch flamed from six in the evening till any hour after midnight. Then, the civilian’s occupations being numerous, and his sphere of life quite different from that of the soldier, the two saw but little of each other, except through a casual meeting in the rich man’s stables, or on the boulevard, or when—but this was very rare—Carcassonne was surprised in his room, at the Northern Eagle, by an unexpected but most welcome visit from his friend, come to smoke a passing cigar, and have ten minutes’ chat over boyish days and reminiscences.

These visits were a great treat to the captain; and it was the anticipation of one of them that now kept him in his room. To his astonishment, he had received that morning a note from his friend, requesting him to remain at home in the evening, as he would call upon and crave a service of him. Carcassonne was delighted at the intimation, and not feeling quite certain when evening might be said to begin, he shut himself up in his room at four o’clock, ordered in dinner from a neighbouring traiteur, sipped his coffee in contented solitude, and now awaited, with the dutiful patience of a soldier on sentry, the promised coming of his friend. At last a cough and a heavy footstep were heard upon the stairs; the captain took up a candle, opened the door, and, stepping out into the gloomy corridor, the light fell upon the tall ungainly figure and sullen features of Sigismund Fatello.

“Come in, my dear fellow,” cried Carcassonne, in his stentorian tones, and with a soldier’s oath. “I’ve expected you these three hours. What—wet? Snow? Come to the fire, and take a sup of cognac till the punch is made.”

It snowed heavily outside, and the banker’s upper-coat had caught a few large flakes in crossing the court. He heeded them not, but putting down, untasted, the glass of brandy handed to him by the captain, he took a chair, and motioned Carcassonne to another.

“What the deuce is the matter with you, Sigismund?” said the captain, looking hard at his friend. “Are you ill?”

“Better than I have for a long time been. Fresh from a wedding.”

“Oho!” said Carcassonne. “I thought you had not put on full dress to visit your old comrade in his den at the Northern Eagle. And whose wedding was it?”

“A singular one,” replied the banker, parrying the question. “Strangely brought about, certainly. Would you like to hear its history, Carcassonne?”

“By all means,” said the captain, who always liked whatever Fatello proposed. “But the business you came about?—you said I could do something for you. What is it?”

“Plenty of time for that. It will keep. Let me tell you of this marriage.”

“Delighted to listen,” said Carcassonne, settling himself in his chair, and filling his pipe from a huge embroidered bag, once the property of an Arabian Emir’s lady, but which a razzia had degraded into a receptacle for tobacco.

“You must know, then, Carcassonne,” said Fatello, “that a friend of mine, named Oliver, a man of middle age, more calculated to shine in a counting-house than in a boudoir, was fool enough, not very long ago, to fall in love with a beautiful girl, twenty years younger than himself; and as he was rich, and her father avaricious, the marriage was brought about, although not altogether with her good will.”

“Bad,” quoth the captain, between two puffs of his pipe. “An unwilling bride is apt to prove a sour wife.”

“Once married,” continued Fatello, without heeding his friend’s interruption, “Oliver, who knew he had not his wife’s love, spared no pains to obtain her friendship. He was not such a man, either by person, manners, or temper, as women are apt to fancy; but, to atone for his deficiencies, he covered her with gold, was the slave of her caprices, forestalled her slightest wish. Her amusement and happiness were the whole study of his life; and after a while his efforts seemed crowned with success. She treated him as a friend, and appeared contented with her lot. This was all he had dared to hope, and, having attained this, he was happy. His existence, from boyhood upwards, had been agitated and laborious, but riches had rewarded his toils, and he could now look forward to a long period of happiness and repose. At the very moment he indulged these visions of a bright future, a single word, whispered in his ear by a physician of high repute, crumbled the entire fabric. That word was Consumption, and when he heard it he knew his doom was sealed. His father, his elder brother, his sisters, all had been carried off, in the prime of their strength, by the insidious disease, whose germ, implanted in their system before they saw the light, was ineradicable by the resources of art. The shock was severe—it could not be otherwise—for most of the things were his for which men prize life. But he was no poltroon, to pine at the approach of death; and he nerved himself to meet like a man his inevitable fate. Although with scarce a shadow of hope, he neglected no means of combating the deadly malady; and, enjoining secresy to his physician, he concealed from every one his belief that his days were numbered and his race wellnigh run. He was calm and resigned, if not hopeful, when he one day received a letter that chilled his very soul. His wife, it told him, loved another, whom she would meet that night at a masquerade. Although anonymous, its indications were so precise, that Oliver, spurred by fiercest jealousy, disguised himself and went secretly to the ball. There he discovered his wife, in the company of a foreign fopling, who, for some time previously, had been a frequent visitor at his house. He kept near them, occasionally catching a sentence confirmatory of his suspicions, until they withdrew from the crowd, and sought a retired nook, where to converse uninterrupted. He found means to secrete himself in their vicinity, and overheard—no evidence of his dishonour, for then he had stabbed them where they stood—but words whence he gathered the existence of the most heartless, perfidious, and cold-blooded calculation.

“The wife of his bosom, to gain whose affection he had squandered millions, and changed his very nature, impatiently awaited his death to bestow her hand, and the fortune he should bequeath her, on the smooth-tongued seducer whose arts had beguiled her. The secret of his fatal malady had been divulged by the physician, to whom alone it was known, in the hearing of this foreign adventurer, who, ever upon the watch to redeem his broken fortunes by a wealthy marriage, profited by the disclosure. He obtained an introduction to Oliver’s house, and applied every art and energy to gain his wife’s affections. He was but too successful. She listened to his protestations, and on learning her husband’s impending death, pledged herself to become his, when she should be released by it from ties she abhorred. All this, and more, Oliver gathered from their conversation, to which he had the courage to listen to the end, although each sentence went to his heart like a stab, leaving in the wound the venom of hate and jealousy, to rankle there until the latest moment of his life. What had you done, Carcassonne, had you been in his place?”

Pardieu!” said the captain, who had listened with profound attention, and great expenditure of smoke, to his friend’s narrative; “I can hardly say, Sigismund. If I had kept my hands off the butterfly scoundrel, when I heard him courting my wife, I should have followed him when he had had his chat out, and requested the pleasure of crossing swords with him at his earliest convenience; and had I got one good cut at him, he should not have needed another. What did your friend?”

“Very nearly what you have said. He went home and destroyed his will, and made another. Then he sought his enemy, to challenge him to an instant encounter. The mean villain denied his treachery, and swore that she, to whom his vows of love were addressed, was not Oliver’s wife, but his sister-in-law. Oliver well knew this to be a lie, but he affected to believe he had been deceived by similarity of dress and imperfect hearing, for the subterfuge had suddenly suggested to him a sure means of punishing his faithless wife, and defeating her seducer’s aim. He declared himself willing to aid the views of the foreigner—one Baron Steinfeld, an Austrian of high family, but ruined fortunes—and to urge his sister-in-law to accept his hand. Disagreeably surprised at such willingness, where he had wished and expected opposition, Steinfeld strove to recede, but found extrication impossible from the trap he had rushed into. Finally he was compelled to yield; the less unwillingly because the bride thus given him was not without fortune, which Oliver exaggerated, the better to allure him. So that when Oliver left him, it was to convey his formal proposals to the lady, who was nothing loath, and to-day they were married.”

“To-day!” exclaimed Carcassonne. “This, then, is the wedding you come from. And what said Madame Oliver?”

“What could she say? Made all the secret opposition she could, no doubt; and then, finding it in vain—for her sister seemed as much fascinated by the Austrian Lothario as she was herself—she took ill and kept her bed. It needed all her woman’s pride and her fear of malicious comment to carry her calmly through to-day’s ceremonies and festivities.”

“A very strange tale!” cried the captain. “And all true, eh?”

“To the letter. But that is not all. To-day, after the marriage, Oliver sought five minutes’ conversation with his newly-made brother-in-law; and his first act, when they were alone, was to hand him the anonymous letter he had received on the day of the masquerade, in which was mentioned the colour of the ribbons worn by Madame Oliver at the ball, as a sign by which Steinfeld was to distinguish her amongst the crowd of dominoes.”

“Good!” said Carcassonne, emphatically, “And what said the Kaiserlie?”

“Denied everything, until Oliver recapitulated, word for word, certain phrases of the conversation he had overheard. This struck him dumb; but soon he recovered his effrontery, and expressed surprise at Oliver’s reviving the subject, especially at that moment.”

“‘Since you deemed it advisable to overlook the offence at the time, and to promote my marriage with your sister-in-law,’ he said, ‘I cannot understand your motive for now raking up the grievance.’

“‘I will explain,’ replied Oliver. ‘I married you to my sister-in-law that you might never be my widow’s husband, whether I die a few months hence, by the hand of God, or to-morrow by yours, in the duel which shall no longer be delayed.’”

“The devil!” shouted the captain, at this announcement. “Your friend Oliver is the wrong man to jest with, I see that. But will he really fight his sister’s husband?”

“He really will,” replied Fatello, calmly. “Should you scruple, in his place?”

“By my soul, it’s hard to say, till one is tried. We are used in Africa to hear fellows reckoning on our boots before we think of leaving them off. But that hurts neither us nor the boots, whilst a man’s wife——It is aggravating, certainly, particularly to a man of your Oliver’s temper. A saint or a priest might not approve, but, as a soldier and sinner, I must say revenge, in such a case, seems sweet and natural.”

“Then,” said Fatello, “I may reckon on your assistance to-morrow?”

“On my assistance!—I—you! What the devil do you mean?” cried Carcassonne, dropping his pipe, and starting from his seat in extraordinary perturbation.

“Merely that my friend Oliver and your friend Fatello are one and the same person, whose business here to-night is to ask you to second him in his duel to-morrow with Baron Ernest von Steinfeld, married this morning to Mademoiselle Sebastiana Gonfalon.”



It may easily be imagined that Steinfeld, brave as he unquestionably was, did not feel particularly pleased at finding himself called upon to risk his life in a profitless duel, at the very moment when that life had acquired fresh value in his eyes, through his acquisition of a pretty wife and a handsome fortune. The former, it is true, the baron, whose utter selfishness made him incapable of love in the higher sense of the word, prized only as a child does a new plaything, or an epicure a fresh dish presented to his sated palate. Pretty and attractive as his bride was, her personal charms weighed far less with him than her golden ones. Even in these he had been somewhat disappointed. Although considerable, they were less than Fatello’s round-numbered generalities had led him to expect; and, moreover, when the time came to discuss the settlements, the banker fought hard to secure his sister-in-law’s fortune upon her own head and that of her children. This, however, Steinfeld vigorously resisted, urging the necessity of extricating his estates from pawn; and Sebastiana, enamoured of her handsome bridegroom, and whose ardent and jealous imagination drew a romantic picture of a tête-à-tête existence in a secluded chateau, far from the rivalries of a capital, expressed so strongly her will to apply her fortune in the manner Steinfeld desired, that Fatello, after much opposition, and with no good grace, was compelled to yield the point. The sum thus placed in the Austrian’s power, although less than he had anticipated, was yet so large to a man in his position, that its possession threw a pleasant rose-coloured tint over his existence, of which the prospect of poverty and the annoyances of duns had for some time past deprived it. So that when, upon his wedding-day, Fatello fiercely taxed him with his perfidy, repeated the words of insult he had addressed to him on the morrow of the masquerade, and insisted upon a duel, the baron did all in his power to pacify him, urging their new but near connection as an insuperable obstacle to a quarrel, and even humbling himself to express contrition for his offence, which he persisted, however, would have been viewed as but a venial one by any but so morbid, jealous, and vindictive a person as Fatello, and which, in no case, considering the relation they now stood in to each other, could be held to justify them in seeking each other’s life. But to his expostulations, apologies, and arguments, Fatello replied with such savage invective and ungovernable violence, taunting the baron with cowardice, and threatening him, if he refused the reparation demanded, with public exposure and manual chastisement—threats, of whose execution Fatello’s intemperate character and colossal frame (the latter still muscular and powerful in spite of the disease mining it) allowed very little doubt—that Steinfeld saw there was no alternative but to accept the meeting; and, assuming the cold and haughty tone of an injured man, he briefly arranged with Fatello its principal conditions. To avoid scandal, and to insure, as far as possible, the safety of the survivor, the duel was to take place in the grounds of a country-house belonging to the banker, at about a league from Paris, and the seconds and surgeon were to be pledged to the strictest secresy. Fatello named Captain Carcassonne, and Steinfeld the Viscount Arthur de Mellay, between whom the details of the affair were to be settled.

Both the principals, however, in this singular duel, were destined to experience difficulties from the friends they had fixed upon to second them. Captain Carcassonne, who himself cared no more for a duel than an English prizefighter does for a round with the gloves, and who never slept a wink the fewer, or ate a mouthful less breakfast before going out to fight one, was seized with a sudden trepidation when he learned that his friend, whom he well knew to be unskilled in fence and fire, was to enter the field with a man reputed expert in both. At first he would not hear of the meeting taking place, swearing, in direct opposition to what he had just before said, that he should not think of fighting for such a trifle. When this plea was overruled, a bright idea struck him. He would pick a quarrel with Steinfeld, and wing him with a pistol-shot, or spoil his beauty with a sabre cut, just as Fatello chose; ay, would kill him outright, if nothing less would satisfy his vindictive friend. But Fatello, whose morbid desire of revenge had assumed the character of a monomania, rejected all the captain’s plans; and Carcassonne, whose affection and deference for his old companion and benefactor were unbounded, ceased to make objections, and fixed his thoughts solely upon the necessary preliminaries. As to Fatello’s announcement of the danger his life was in from lurking disease (a danger more remote, but also more certain than that he would incur upon the morrow), it would deeply have grieved the worthy captain had he attached the least credit to it; but his contempt for doctors and their prognostications prevented his dwelling on it longer than to give a smile to the credulity of his friend. Meanwhile Steinfeld had some trouble with de Mellay. It not being the fashion in France for newly-married couples to escape from the place of their wedding as fast as four posters can carry them, the baron had taken his bride to his house in the Rue St Lazare, which a little arrangement had adapted for their residence during the few days that were to elapse before their departure for Germany. There, upon the evening of his wedding-day, he had a conference with the viscount, who, startled, like Carcassonne, at the news of the projected duel, insisted on full explanations before consenting to render Steinfeld the service required of him. These explanations Steinfeld was compelled to give; and although he spread over them a varnish favourable to himself, de Mellay plainly saw that the part the Austrian had played in the whole affair did him no credit, and that Fatello’s extraordinary vindictiveness, if not justified, was in some degree extenuated, by his adversary’s perfidious manœuvres and gross breach of hospitality. He at first insisted on attempting a reconciliation, but Steinfeld having convinced him of its impossibility, he would not refuse to stand by an intimate friend and companion, who had more than once gone upon the ground with him. He suggested, however—almost, indeed, made it a condition—that the baron should fire wide, or not at all, the first time, in doing which he ran little risk, for Fatello was known to be unskilled with the pistol. De Mellay resolved to place the duellists as far apart as possible, and to make them fire together. He made sure Fatello would miss the first shot, and that then, if Steinfeld had not fired, the affair could easily be made up.

It was three in the afternoon, and the snow lay thick upon the ground, when Steinfeld and his second entered a small door in the paling of the banker’s park, at a short distance from which they had dismissed their hackney coach. Fatello, Carcassonne, and Dr Pilori, had preceded them in the banker’s carriage. The five men met upon a bowling-green surrounded by trees, which, although leafless, were so thickly planted as to form an impervious screen. More for form’s sake and the satisfaction of conscience, than with hope of success, the seconds essayed a reconciliation. The attempt was rendered fruitless by Fatello’s firm determination; and after a brief conference between the viscount and Carcassonne, the combatants were placed at twenty paces. It was agreed they were to fire together, when six had been counted. The seconds stepped aside. Carcassonne counted. When he came to “six,” a single report followed. Steinfeld staggered. De Mellay ran to him.

“Nothing,” said the baron. “My dear brother-in-law shoots better than I thought, that is all.” And he showed a rent made by Fatello’s bullet in the front of his tightly-buttoned surtout, near the waist. A button had been cut away, and the ball had grazed the skin, but without drawing blood.

“This shall not avail you, sir,” cried Fatello, in a tone of indescribable exasperation. “We came to fight, not to play. Fire, sir!” And he stood sideways, expecting his adversary’s bullet.

Steinfeld smiled bitterly. Then, raising his pistol, he took aim at a redbreast, which, scared from the bough by Fatello’s fire, had again settled, tamed by cold and hunger, upon a sapling five-and-twenty paces off. Bark and feathers flew at the same time, and the unlucky little bird lay disembowelled upon the snow. Carcassonne and de Mellay exchanged a word or two, and advanced towards Fatello.

“Enough done, my dear Sigismund,” said the captain. “After the baron’s forbearance, this can go no farther.”

Fatello’s reply was a torrent of imprecations. His eyes were bloodshot, his cheeks pale as death; he was insane with passion. The captain in vain endeavoured to soothe and calm him. He raged and stormed like a madman.

“Monsieur Fatello,” said de Mellay with surprise—almost with disgust—“for heaven’s sake compose yourself. This persistence is unworthy of you. What injury have you received to justify such malignity? Neither your second nor myself can let this affair proceed, otherwise than to a reconciliation.”

There was a decision in the young man’s tone and manner that seemed to strike Fatello and check his fury. For a moment or two he gazed silently at the viscount, as if recalled to reason by his remonstrance. It was the trick of the maniac, to put the keeper off his guard. Suddenly pushing Carcassonne aside, he reached, in two bounds, a pistol-case that lay open at a short distance, and, seizing one of the weapons, levelled it at Steinfeld. With a cry of horror, de Mellay and Carcassonne threw themselves before the baron.

“This is murder!” exclaimed the viscount.

“Stop!” said Steinfeld, pale, but quite calm. “Wait a moment, sir, and you shall be satisfied. There is no alternative, my dear de Mellay. Monsieur Fatello insists. Give me the other pistol.”

De Mellay hesitated, and looked at the captain.

Ma foi!” said Carcassonne, shrugging his shoulders, as if he thought a bullet more or less hardly worth so much discussion—“if they will have it!” The principals resumed their ground, and the word was again given. This time both pistols were discharged. Steinfeld stirred not, but Fatello fell to the ground and lay there without motion. Dr Pilori ran forward, and, kneeling beside him, unbuttoned his coat. There was a small blue spot on the breast, from which oozed a drop or two of blood. The doctor seized the wrist of the fallen man. Steinfeld and the seconds gazed anxiously in his face, awaiting his verdict.

“I aimed at his arm,” said Steinfeld gloomily, “but the cold made my hand shake.”

Carcassonne seemed not to hear the remark. De Mellay glanced at the baron, and then at the bird that lay upon the blood-sprinkled snow more than twenty yards off.

“Quite dead,” said Pilori, letting the arm fall. “It is a painful thing to kill a man,” added the materialist doctor to Steinfeld, who stood regarding his victim with a moody and regretful gaze. “It may be satisfactory to you to know that he could not have lived six months longer.”

In France, a few years ago, duels, even when fatal in result, did not necessarily entail strict judicial investigation, unless such investigation was provoked by the friends of the fallen man. In the instance here recorded no one thought proper to take vindictive steps. Fatello’s coachman was instructed, and largely bribed, to say that his master had been struck with apoplexy in his carriage, and that, on discovering his condition, he had at once driven him to Dr Pilori. The physician’s arrival at the house, in company with the corpse, and the absence of hemorrhage from the wound, rendered it easy to conceal the latter, and gave plausibility to the story, which found general credit. It was not till several days afterwards that a report spread of the real cause of the banker’s death. Even then it attained little publicity, and by many was looked upon as a malicious fabrication. Before it got wind, however, the survivors of the domestic drama we have narrated, were far from its scene. By a will made a month before his death, Fatello had left the whole of his great riches, with the exception of some munificent donations to public charities, and of an ample legacy to Captain Carcassonne, to a cousin of his own name in Alsace. But he could not alienate his wife’s fortune, or deprive her of the splendid jointure secured to her by her father’s cautious greediness; and these constituted very large wealth, with which his widow, shortly after his death, left Paris for her native country. Her Parisian friends and acquaintances were edified, in the highest degree, by the grief she displayed at Fatello’s decease. She was disconsolate; and, for at least a day and a half, “cette pauvre Madame Fatello” was the prevailing topic of conversation, and the object of universal sympathy. Henpecked husbands held her up as a model of conjugal affection; and wicked wives secretly wondered at the poignant regret shown by such a young, rich, and handsome widow, for so ugly, unprepossessing, and morose a man. But it occurred to no one to seek the cause of her excessive grief in a bridal wreath instead of in a funeral shroud; to trace the source of her sorrow to the loss of an expected husband whom she passionately loved, not to that of a departed one, whom she never regretted.

Although little apprehensive of persecution, many motives concurred to render Paris an undesirable residence for the survivor of the duel in which Fatello met his death. The day after the fatal meeting, a travelling carriage left Paris by the road to Brussels. It contained Ernest von Steinfeld and his bride. In spite of some practice in duelling, and of the triple armour of selfishness in which he was habitually cased, there was a cloud upon the baron’s brow which change of scene and the caresses of his young wife did not always suffice to dissipate. And, although sensible to his bride’s beauty and fascination, and grateful, as far as it was in his nature to be so, for the passionate affection she showed him, it may be doubted whether he would not have repulsed her endearments, and spurned her from him, had he detected a secret that lay buried in the innermost recesses of her heart—had he recognised, in Sebastiana Gonfalon, the writer of the two anonymous letters that tended so materially to bring about her marriage, and the violent death of Sigismund Fatello.

As it was, the Baroness von Steinfeld had not long to congratulate herself on the success of her culpable manœuvres, whose sole extenuation was to be found in the fiery passions of her race, and in a moral education totally neglected. Doubtless, when planning and carrying out her guilty scheme, the possibility of so terrible a result never occurred to her; and it were attributing improbable depravity to one so young to doubt that she felt remorse at the catastrophe. She did not long await her punishment. Bright as were her hopes of happiness when led to the altar by the man she adored, she soon was bitterly convinced, that no true or permanent felicity could be the consequence of a union achieved by guilty artifice, and sealed with a brother’s blood. A few months were sufficient to darken her destiny and blight her joys. Her fortune swallowed up by Steinfeld’s debts and extravagance, her person speedily became indifferent to the sated and cold-hearted voluptuary; and whilst her reckless husband, faithful to nothing but to his hatred of matrimonial ties, again galloped upon the road to ruin, in the most dissipated circles of the Austrian capital, she saw herself condemned to solitude and unavailing regrets, in the very castle where she had anticipated an existence of unalloyed bliss.