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- The Champdoce Mystery - 40/61 -
"Poor Zora," he added; "I was never mashed on a woman like I was on her. And then what a splendid form she has! Why, the hairdresser said he had never seen such hair in his life; and she is at St. Lazare. As soon as the police came for her, her first thoughts were of me, and she shrieked out, 'Poor Gaston will kill himself when he hears of this.' The cook told me this, and added that her mistress's sufferings were terrible. And she is at St. Lazare. I tried to see her, but it was no go"; and here the boy's voice broke into a sob.
"Come," said Andre, "keep up your spirits."
"Ah! you shall see if, as soon as I am twenty-one, I don't marry her. I don't put all the blame on the old man. He has been advised by his lawyer, a beast by the name of Catenac. Do you know /him/?"
"You don't seem to know any one. Well, I shall send him a challenge to-morrow. I have got my seconds all ready. By the way, would you like to act for me? I can easily get rid of one of the others."
"I have had no experience in such matters."
"Ah, then you would be of no use. My seconds must put him into a regular blue funk."
"In that case--"
"No; I know what you are going to say: you mean that I had best look out for a military swell; but, after all, the matter lies in a nutshell. I am the insulted party, and draw pistols at ten paces. If that frightens him, he will make the governor drop all this rubbish."
Had his mind not been so much occupied, this rhodomontade on Gaston's part would have amused Andre very much, but now he asked himself what would be the quickest way to escape from him.
Just at this moment a servant emerged from the house.
"Sir," said he, addressing Andre, "my master has seen you from his window, and begs that you will go up to him at once."
"I will be with him immediately," answered Andre; and, holding out his hand to Gaston, he took leave of him with a few words of encouragement.
A GENTLEMAN IN DIFFICULTIES.
When Andre had got rid of the young man, and had been ushered into M. Gandelu's presence, the change in the gentleman's appearance struck him with horror. His eyes were red and swollen as if he had been weeping, but as soon as he caught sight of Andre his face brightened, and he welcomed him warmly.
"Oh, it does me good to see you, and I bless the fortunate chance that has brought you here to-day."
"It is not a very fortunate chance," answered Andre, as he shook his head sadly.
For the first time Gandelu noticed the air of gravity which marked the young man, and the shade of sorrow upon his brow.
"What ails you, Andre?" asked he.
"A great misfortune is hanging over me."
"What do you mean?"
"The naked truth and this misfortune may bring death and despair to me."
"I am your friend, my dear boy," said the old man, "and would gladly be of service to you. Tell me if I can be of any use?"
"I come to you to-day to ask a favor at your hands."
"And you thought of the old man, then? I thank you for doing so. Give me your hand; I like to feel the grasp of an honest man's hand; it warms my heart."
"It is the secret of my life that I am going to confide to you," said he, with some solemnity.
M. Gandelu made no reply, but struck his clenched fist upon his breast, as though to show that any secret confided to him would be locked up in the safe security of his heart.
Then Andre hesitated no longer, and, with the exception of giving names, told the whole story of his love, his ambitions, and his hopes, and gave a clear account of how matters stood.
"How can I help you?" asked M. Gandelu.
"Allow me," said Andre, "to hand over the work with which you have intrusted me to one of my friends. I will retain the responsibility, but will merely act as one of the workmen. This, to a certain extent, will give me my liberty, while at the same time I shall be earning a little money, which is just now of vast importance to me."
"Is that what you call a favor?"
"Certainly, and a very great one, too."
Gandelu rose hastily, and, opening an iron safe which stood in one corner of the room, and taking from it a bundle of banknotes, he placed them on the table before Andre with an expressive look, which meant, "Take what you desire."
The unlooked-for kindness of this man, who forgot all his own sorrows in his anxiety to relieve the necessities of another, affected Andre deeply.
"I do not need money," began he.
With a wave of his hand Gandelu inspired silence. "Take these twenty thousand francs," said he, "and then I can tell you why I asked you to come upstairs."
A refusal would have wounded the old man deeply, and so Andre took the proffered loan.
Gandelu resumed his seat, and remained in gloomy silence for some time.
"My dear boy," said he, in a voice broken by emotion, "a day or two back you saw something of the trouble that I am laboring under. I have no longer any respect or esteem for that wretched fool, my son, Pierre."
Andre had already guessed that he had been incensed with reference to something connected with Gaston.
"You son has behaved very foolishly," said he; "but remember he is very young."
A sad smile passed over the old man's face.
"My son is old in vice," replied he. "I have thought the matter over only too plainly. Yesterday he declared that he would kill himself. An absurd threat. Up to this time I have been culpably weak, and it is no use now to act in an opposite direction. The unhappy boy is infatuated with a degraded woman named Rose, and I have had her locked up; but I have made up my mind to let her out again, and also to pay his debts. It is weak folly, I allow; but what am I to do? I am his father after all; and while I cannot respect her, I must love him. He has almost broken my heart, but it was his to do as he liked with."
Andre made no reply, and Gandelu went on.
"I have not deceived myself; my son is ruined. I can but stand by and wait for the end. If this Rose is not everything that is bad, her influence may be of some use to him. But I want some one to undertake these negotiations, and I had hopes, Andre, that you would have been able to do so."
Andre felt that all his efforts ought to be devoted to the interests of Sabine, but at the same time he could not leave the kind old man to the mercy of others, and by a display of absolute heroism he determined to accede to the broken-hearted father's desires and briefly told him that he was at his service. Gandelu thanked him warmly, and Andre seating himself at the table, the two men entered into a long discussion as to the best means to be adopted. It was finally decided that Andre should act with freedom and according to his own instincts, and that M. Gandelu should, to actual appearance, remain firm in the course he had entered upon, and should only be induced, by Andre's intercession, to adopt milder measures. The result justified their anticipations, for Gaston was even more crushed and downcast than Andre had imagined, and it was in an agony of suspense that he awaited the return of the young painter. As soon as he saw him descending the steps he sprang forward to greet him.
"Well," said he, in a tone of eager inquiry.
"Your father," returned Andre, "is terribly angry with you, but I hope to be able to induce him to do something for you."
"Will he set Zora at liberty?"
"Perhaps he will; but first he must have something more from you than promises--he must have stable guarantees."
At these words Gaston's face fell. "Guarantees," answered he sulkily. "Is not my word of honor enough? What sort of guarantees does he require?"
"That I cannot tell you, and you must find out for yourself; but I will do all I can for you."
Gaston gazed upon Andre in surprise.
"Do you mean to tell me," asked he, "that you can do pretty well what you like with the governor?"
"Not exactly; but surely you can see that I have a good deal of
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