My uncle's cashier.
‘"My dear Charles, it is a question for you, not for me — you must decide yourself; I can only state the conditions upon which that decision must be founded.
If you go to college, you must go with a very small allowance indeed, and you must work hard for a fellowship of some kind, for I can leave you nothing, as you know that, beyond a provision for your mother and the unmarried girls, I shall leave nothing behind me when I go. If you do go to college, you will enter a circle the entering of which will multiply ten-fold your chances of success in after life; it will give you a position in society of which nothing but bad conduct on your part can deprive you, and will put you in the fair road to become what I should like to see you — a scholar and a gentleman.
If, on the other hand, you accept your uncle's offer, you will have a far larger allowance, as salary, than I can give you under any circumstances, the chance of succeeding him in a very good business, and soon becoming a man of some importance in the commercial world.
I need say no more — you must, choose for yourself; I shall want your answer tomorrow in time to post; go and think it over.
Don't say anything to your sisters, or they'll persuade you to go to Paris
for the chance of visiting you there."’
Such was my father's address to me at the age of seventeen.
It was a difficult question to decide — Oxford
Still I did decide, and next day announced that decision.
‘"I should prefer going to college, father, at all events."’
‘"Glad to hear it, my boy, though the other course would have been the cheaper for me; still I am glad to hear it. I can't do much for you; but in sending you to college, I can do more than I can in any other way. If there's anything in you, it will come out there; if not, you will not be spoiled for other things afterward; so God speed you, my boy!"’
To college, therefore, I went, with only one more word of advice from my father.
As I left the gate in the hired chaise for the station, he said:
‘"God bless you, my boy!
if you mean to be anything, don't hear midnight strike too often."’
Three years passed, and I was ‘"getting on,"’ as my mother used to tell her friends; in a few months more I had hopes of getting something worth having, in the shape of my degree, with honors and a fellowship.
Alas! My hopes were vain.
I had hardly returned to college at the end of my third long vacation, when I received a telegram announcing my father's illness, and reached home too late to see him again alive.
My college dreams were over — I had not a penny in the world — I must work for all I was to have.
My uncle now wrote to repeat his former offer.
I joyfully accepted it; and a month after my father's death I was in Paris
My uncle's house was in one of the small streets lying between the Rue Viviene
and the Rue Montmartre
, just north of the Bourse.--It was, as may be supposed from its situation, an old rambling place, with the banking-offices on one side of the court-yard, and the residence on the other.
The offices, the scene of my new duties, consisted of a suit of three rooms, communicating by swing doors; in the farthest sat my uncle, the next was the chief cashier
's or clerk's, and the third the office proper.
A counter stretched along the whole length of the room, and on top of the counter ran a high, strong, wire-guard, with two or three small circular openings, through which the money was passed and papers were taken.
Behind this guard I was to sit as third cashier or clerk.
My uncle's business was that of a banker, bill- discounter, and money-lender; and to judge by the rate at which he lived he must for some years have employed a very large amount of capital, or have lent his money at a little more than five per cent. interest.
My uncle having shown me the offices, took me over to the house.
‘"My daughter, Mr. Wardes
; Victorine, my dear, Mr. Wardes
, a nephew of mine."’
I looked at my cousin once and again — she was worth looking at — a most singular mixture of races was visible in her face.
She had a high, broad, thoughtful, German
forehead — a man's rather than a girl's — a delicate chin and mouth, with the small teeth so characteristic of the more highly organized French nature, and a nose and eyes unmistakably English in the clear bridged outline of the one, and the open, fearless gaze of the others.
She was a curiosity — a new thing — and I determined to study Victorine, my cousin.
‘"You must dine with us at six o'clock.--Where did you sleep last night?"’
‘"At the Bedford
‘"You'd better bring your trunks here; your room is ready."’
‘"Really, I had no idea that I was to live here."’
‘"Where else, boy?
is not a cheap place for young men; you'll live here cheaper than anywhere else; more comfortably, perhaps, if you and Victorine don't quarrel."’
This was more than I had hoped for, to find myself domiciled in my uncle's house.
I thought he had done much in renewing his offer after my previous refusal, but this overcame me.
‘"I'm really very grateful to you for all your kindness."’
‘"All right, my lad, all right!
See and get your things here, or you'll be late for dinner."’
At dinner I was introduced to the chief clerk
, or rather, the manager of my uncle's business.
Once or twice I noticed his eyes fix themselves on me in a way that gave me the idea of his measuring me. I felt annoyed at this, and I showed it a little, perhaps, in the tone of my voice as I answered his inquiries as to the practices of English commerce.
‘"Oh!"’ said my uncle, ‘"he knows nothing about the matter, Monsieur Vernay
Ask him to recite to you a chorus from the 'Antigone
,' and he'll repeat half the book; but of commerce — of banking — he knows nothing."’
‘"We shall be able to teach him our system in a few years, if he shall stay so long with us."’
‘"He'll stay longer than I shall, I dare say, M. Vernay
‘"Let me hope not, M. Wardes
; you are a young man yet — quite a young man."’
‘"That may be, but I don't mean to spend all my life in your dear Paris
, M. Vernay
. --Oh, no."’
‘"Whatever comes, we shall do our best with the young gentleman, to make him useful. "’
I felt angry and vexed at this conversation; though the hints thrown out by my uncle were plain enough, I did not like this contemptuous treatment from his manager.
Moreover, I noticed that M. Vernay
paid most assiduous and graceful attentions to Victorine, who accepted them as a matter of course, and this made me still more inclined to dislike him.
My work was easy enough — too easy.
I copied letters, paid away money, and did the work that belonged to my department as junior clerk.
was careful to give me nothing to do that was not simplicity itself, and I was bored for want of something that might occupy my mind as well as fingers.
In the evenings I seldom went out, and was very content to spend my time with Victorine, who, on her part, seemed to think the evenings were pleasant enough to seem short; so while papadozed in his chair Victorine and I talked and sang to our heart's content.
came about once a week to dinner, and contrived then, and indeed at all times, to give my uncle the idea that I was in need of much teaching as regarded business matters.
‘"How many years do you think, Charles,"’ (we were cousins, reader,) ‘"it will take you to learn to conduct papa's business."’
‘"How many months you mean, Victorine.
These practical men, your farther and M. Vernay
, are greatly mistaken in their estimate about me; they fancy that because I never looked into a day-book, or journal, or ledger before I came here, I shall be years learning their use; it's a mistake of theirs.
I have, even since I was old enough to think, done little else but think, and discipline of this kind enables me to learn in a month what their undisciplined minds would require twelve for.--As for M. Vernay
and his 'Systeme,
' as he calls it, it is a good one, and a workable one; but there are fifty methods of applying the same principles.
He boasts that by his system fraud is rendered impossible, because discovery is certain; he's wrong, and greatly wrong, and if I had access to his books I believe I could prove to demonstration that it is so."’
Victorine somewhat incautiously defended me the next time I was attacked, and repeated my remark that if I had access to his books I could prove fraud to be possible.
started, turned pale, and turned on me a glance that made me sure of two things first, that this chance bolt had hit the mark — that there was
fraud; and next that if M. Vernay
could put me out of his way he would not be very particular as to the means of doing it.
This one idea of fraud kept forcing itself before me constantly; M. Vernay
's jealous care of particular books and keys, his constant endeavors to make my uncle take ‘"one glass more"’ than was good for him, and the strange, auspicious-looking people who came to him first, and then drew out money from the bank, all compelled me to think of it. I was more than confirmed in my suspicious by an incident which occurred some few months after this idea first entered my mind.
I had lost myself in one of the Faubourgs rather late one evening, and entered a small, mean- looking restaurant to ask any way.--There were a number of men in the room, and as I glanced in a looking-glass
I saw a face there was no mistaking — that of M. Vernay
. --He was sitting at one of the little, round marble-topped tables with two companions, with his face to the wall, and his side-face reflected in the glass.
I saw him clearly, but from his position he could not see me. Instead of asking my way I took a seat near the party, and took up the paper.
They spoke in French and rapidly, in an under tone.
‘"I tell you,"’ said Vernay
, ‘"it will not do; you always have to ask me before you draw, and unless you can do it in my way it cannot be done."’
‘"Repeat,"’ said one, ‘"repeat; what is your way?"’
‘"This,"’ said Vernay
‘"I will give you a check now for 50,000 francs, with the Marquis
Lizette will bring it; she must come in her carriage and cash it to-morrow — and--"’
‘"That's it exactly"’--and--‘"what are we to do?"’
‘"Give me notes for 45,000 francs to-night."’
‘"45,000--that is only 5000 francs, and a carriage and horses, and Lizette's dress — it is too little; besides, we have not got the money; I like the old way best; I will come as usual."’
‘"You cannot do that without risk of discovery.
That prying English nephew is suspicious — he has the eyes of an eagle — an owl I ought to say, for he sees in the dark."’
‘"Can't you quiet him?
There is water under all the bridges of the Seine still."’
‘"He's too happy for that; happy men don't drown themselves."’
‘"Does he go out at night?
An appointment with a pretty girl might tempt him."’
‘"Not at all — he's in love with Victorine."’
‘"That is serious, Vernay
— she was to be yours."’
‘"That may be yet. Now, will you have it, or shall I go to Hamburger, and make him the offer?"’
The two consulted for a moment, and one of them left the room.
In a few minutes he returned (I was deeply absorbed in the paper, which completely hid my face;) he said to his companion:
‘"I have it."’
‘"You are agreed, then?"’
Where is the check?"’
drew from his pocket-book a blank check, filled it for 50,000 francs, and dated it.
‘"Now the notes.
To be sure."’
looked carefully at the notes, and then, signing the check, handed it over to his companions.
‘"Oh, at two; and tell her not to talk too much."’
He rose and left the room with his companions.
I hardly knew when I saw the table vacant whether I had dreamed it or not. I looked at the table, and there was nothing that would help me to realize the truth; but under the table lay a piece of paper.
I pounced upon it, and found that it was a piece of blotting paper similar to that I had used in the office, and on it was the thickened impression of the signature of the check.
I reached home in a state of anxiety that may easily be imagined, and found my uncle rather worse than usual.
He was always a little ‘"comfortable,"’ as kind wives say, toward evening; tonight he was asleep in his arm-chair, and snoring violently.
Victorine came down, hearing I had come in.
‘"Charles, what is the matter with you?--you look so ill and pale.
What has happened?--Do, pray, tell me; so cold, too. Come up stairs, there's a fire in the drawing room."’
She made me go with her — made me take some brandy, and then again asked me what was the matter.
I told her. We had reached that delicious stage of affection when, though nothing has been said, it is felt by both that there is but one interest between them.
She was almost incredulous at my narration of the incident, as I was myself of having witnessed the scene.
I showed her the blotting paper, and it convinced her.
‘"It's no use telling my father to-night, he has such confidence in M. Vernay
that he will not believe it; you must tell him in the morning."’
I told him in the morning what I had heard and seen.
‘"My dear nephew, you must have been very drunk, or else — no, that is not possible, your father's child could not get drunk.
I do, myself, sometimes; but he could not deliberately lie. No, my dear Charles, M. Vernay
is an old and tried servant of mine, and I will not believe you. I will not insult him by it.--You were drunk, sir, very.
Don't let me hear of it again."’
I went to my desk an hour afterward.
came in with my uncle.
‘"Charles, did you balance your cash last night?"’
‘"Yes, sir. I always do."’
‘"It was right?"’
‘"There's a mistake somewhere,"’ said M. Vernay
. ‘"There is missing a sum of 1000 francs."’
‘"It can't be in my accounts, uncle; for here is the book, and here is the balance to correspond."’
‘"Let me cast it,"’ said Vernay
He did--520, 346.
‘"Try that, M. Wardes
I do not make it correct; I make it more."’
I cast it again, and it was more by just 1,000 francs.
I cast it again--521 it was. My uncle cast it--521 it was.
‘"How is this, Charles?
you said you made the balance right.
Did you look at your cash last, night?"’
‘"I did. I can assert that the balance last night in the book and the cash box was the same.
I can prove it. I posted it, according to M. Vernay
's system, in the daily balance-book. "’
‘"It is 520 here, M. Wardes
He handed the book to my uncle.
The door opened.
‘"Well, Francois, what is it?"’
‘"Only that I shall give this to Monsieur Wardes
I have found it in his chamber."’
He held out a paper to me, it was a note for 1,000 francs.
‘"Charles, my boy, you should let me know when you want money.
, see those books are corrected."’ And my uncle walked away.
How the day went I do not know.
I noticed, however, that M. Vernay
once or twice went down to the strong room and brought up some books, and that no woman came for money.
About five o'clock M. Vernay
came to me, after the other clerk and my uncle had gone, and said:
, we have been looking at the accounts of Madame
la Marquise--;will you help me to carry down these books?
The porter has gone; I am rather late."
I took the books and followed him down into the basement.
He unlocked the outer gate of the outer safe, where the general books were kept, and passed through to the inner safe, in which were kept the deeds and valuable securities on which my uncle lent money; this was separated from the outer safe by an iron gate in the daytime, and at night by a solid fire-proof door.
He put his books on the shelf, and requested me to put mine on the same shelf in the proper order.
The numbers on the backs were almost illegible, and I was some time, even in the strong gas-light
, trying to read them.
‘"Can I help you, M. Wardes
‘"No, thank you, I've just done."’
I put up the last book, and turned to go.--The heavy door swung rapidly on its hinges; I heard the spring catch, and the key turn, and I was in black darkness.
! M. Vernay
the door is shut."’
‘"I know it,"’ said his voice, muffled by its thickness; you have access to all my books now."
I heard the heavy clash of the door of the outer safe, and then silence, as deep as death, was round me. I did not swoon or faint.
I felt I was the victim of a most horrible trick; it was nothing more.
I should be released in the morning, and I would make him repent it. I heard presently a hissing sound — it continued; presently I smelled gas. I should never see the morning.
I should be stitled with the noise — the plan was clear before me now. All accident — no one knew I helped him with the books — he did not know I was in the safe, and he shut the door.
It was purely one of those accidents that will happen.
Still the gas missed like a serpent before its fatal spring.
I must stop that.
I felt round the walls for the burner, and soon found it.--There was no tap!
I remembered now the tap was in the outer safe, and the gas was lighted in the inner one by a long stick between the bars of the gate.
My fingers stopped it in a moment, but I could not keep my finger there always.
I tried, and the arm became so tired of the contracted position above my head, that I could not keep my finger over it to save my life.
I thought of some other plan.
To light it — alas!
I did not smoke.
I had no means to do it, and if I had, it would only have consumed the air, every inch of which was precious as life itself.
At last I thought of something that would do. I tore some corners off the leaves of a book, chewed them into a pulp, and put it over the holes in the tube, pressing it in hard.
The hissing ceased.
I climbed the shelves and smelled round the burner — I had one foe the less.
I then began to think seriously as to the chances of the air lasting me till released in the morning.
In the morning?
This was, O. God!
Saturday! Saturday! Sunday, Monday--two nights and a whole day!
There was no hope!
I might have lived till the morning, but on Sunday there was no business done, and my absence would be assign accounted for by that horrible mistake in my book.
Two nights and a day — how many hours?
To Sunday night at five, twenty-four.
To Monday morning at ten, seventeen. Forty-one long hours.
Forty-one hours. There was not air enough to last me ten.
I felt round the door; it was all but air-proof.
If I could make them hear!
It was impossible; the house was the other side of a noisy court-yard; I must die!
No, no; ten thousand times no. I must live; I will live.
I bethought me of my old store of knowledge.
How long could I live without fresh air?
How many hours had I in which to reach it?
I paced the length and breadth of the room; I measured its height, and found that by breathing only twenty times a minute I might live for thirteen hours, that would be till 6 o'clock on Sunday morning; and after that I must have air — air was life.
I must bore through the walls; the lock was impregnable.
The walls of brick would yield to tools.
Tools! mockery! I had but a penknife; a toy; and I had thirteen hours to get through a wall at least two feet thick.
It was a work of years, not hours.
Tools! A long-pointed bar and a hammer.
I remembered to have seen a mason boring through a wall at my father's with such tools.
My penknife was two inches long.
I tried it; it was soft brass; my knife cut it readily.
It might work through beside the gas-pipe.
The man surely bored a larger hole than the pipe would fill.
I felt the pipe where it went round the wall, and then pricked the wall with my knife — the cement with which the hole had been filled round the pipe was harder than the wall itself.
In tracing my way round the room my hand touched the gate.
I was saved!
I never felt such a sensation as when my hand touched that gate.
It was rapture!
bliss! I had despaired — I was now full of hope.
I passed my hand carefully over the gate; I felt one of the bars, they were of round iron, about three-quarters of an inch in thickness, and after running through the frame-work of the gate were pointed at the end. But to get them out of that frame-work!
I pulled one.
It yielded a little, and then mocked at my efforts.
I must have a hammer.
I felt carefully round the walls again.
The shelves were all let into the walls — there was nothing!
I felt again, and close to the gate the shelf had been cut away to allow the gate to roll back, and the shelves were supported on brackets.
If those brackets were wrought-iron.
I was helpless — cast-iron might save me yet. I felt them carefully and compared them; if they were wrought, they would be unlike in some points — if cast, alike in all. I knew now what the touch of the blind must be, so full of instruction to the mind.
They were cast-iron, not a trace of difference could be found.
One more sign and I was certain; if cast, they would be cast in a mould, and there would be a slight roughness in the casting where the halves of the mould had been joined.
I felt again.
There was the roughness — the same in both.
And now to break them off. A blow, a heavy blow, alone could do it. I remembered to have noticed, when putting away the books, a small chest of apparently solid iron on one of the shelves.
I sought for it and found it; it was heavy, nearly the fourth of a hundredweight, I thought.
I poised it carefully, and felt I had strength enough to throw it with an aim. I cleared away the books from the slate shelf which rested on one of these brackets, and then measuring carefully the distance, threw the chest on to it. It fell short and crashed on the floor.
Once more I tried, and this time successfully.
The missile smashed the shelf into pieces.
I kicked and beat away the smaller fragments till the bracket stood out from the wall by itself.
And now came the test of my skill.
If I threw once at the bracket in that black darkness I threw twenty times or more; at last, one fortunately directed blow, and I had the joy of hearing it ring on the pavement of the room.
I had now a hammer — awkward, it is true — still a tool that would give a blow with a certain force.
I struck again and again at the bars of the gate, they yielded as the other had done and then were fast.
I sank down exhausted with my useless efforts.
Why did they not yield?
I could give no more force to the blow — to throw the chest at them would be useless; the size would spread the blow over two or three of the bars, and the force would be lost.
I must cut through one of the bars in the middle and thus wrench out the half I needed.--How had I seen men cut through iron?
With files — I could not hope for these.
I remembered to have heard of prisoners who cut through iron bars with a watch spring — by what horrible fatality was my watch at that moment in the case on my dressing-table.--A watch spring — a thin piece of steel.
Would iron do?
In almost less time than it takes to tell I had broken up one of the sheet-iron
deed boxes, and by carefully bending a piece of it back ward and forward on the sharp edge of the chest I had used as a missile, I obtained a strip about the length of my hand, and two fingers broad, and with this I commenced sawing one of the bars.
Half an hour's hard work produced no impression on the bar, and had turned up the edge of the soft sheet-iron
on both sides.
If it had been a question of saws, I could have turned ten deed boxes into a hundred saws to cut through that one bar. Alas!
it was no such thing, the saw would not cut; and then sprung up before me the vision of a large yard with blocks of stone and the motion to and fro of the suspended saw of the stone sawyer, and his little tricking water barrel and heap of sand.
Once more I went to work.
I broke off the corner of one of the stone shelves (the lower ones were of stone, the upper of slate,) pounded it fine with my hammer, and then wetting the edge of the saw with saliva, I strewed the pounded stone upon it. I felt the saw become steadier and steadier, and at last I could feel with my nail a little nick in the bar. I worked for nearly three hours at this one bar, changing my saw when it was worn hollow for another and another till I had worn out six of them.
I was nearly through — another half-hour and I should be quite through; yet it might break off now with a blow — it might — and it might leave a ragged end to my chisel that would destroy half the force of my blows when I came to bore through the wall; I would not strike, but kept on patiently, and at last the saw went through.
I seized the end, and in a few minutes I held in my hand the instrument of my deliverance.
The air of the room had by this time become close and stilting, and it was only by stooping what I could breathe freely.
I had still, as far as I could judge, some five hours left; in those I must accomplish my deliverance or die.
I now commenced sounding with my hammer for the feast solid part of the wall.
In striking it on a part nearly opposite the shelves cut out for the gate, I thought I heard it sound hollow.
I struck again and again without success, it all seemed alike.
Once more I determined to strike over the whole space I had previously struck, this I did, and found the spot about the size of a penny piece from which the sound came.
I then carefully felt the wall in the neighborhood, and found a rough indented line ran from this place round the angle of the wall, and on the wall in the same line were three small holes in a circle.
I decided at once that this was the place of some burner fixed, and afterward removed; the rough line was the mark left by the pipe, and the hollow place must be the hole through which the old pipe entered the room.
I drove the chisel into the place and found it hard, very hard, but still hollow.
My life now hung upon the choice of a right place; if this hole was filled up with the hard cement, and the difference of sound arose merely from difference in density, then I had better try the wall over for a brick softer than the rest; but if it was not full — if those who should have filled it had put but a few inches of cement at each end of the hole — then, in another hour, I was as safe as if I were free.
I would risk it. The hollow sound was so cheery that I would
believe that it must be a true guide.
Blow after blow, and the hole grew deep, and my progress less as my control over the point of the instrument lessened when one sudden, sharp blow drove the chisel into the wall the length of my arm. The place was hollow.
I had now but to drive it through the crust of cement on the outer wall, and I should live.
I drove it cautiously and carefully, and at last heard the echo of the pieces falling on the other side, and, drawing out the chisel, felt the air rush in. How can words convey the sensation I experienced as I drew in the God-given breath of life!
I could now defy Death; there was a fountain at which I might drink and live.
For hours I sat close to the hole and breathed, and then fell asleep.
I know now how long I slept, but I awoke sore and tired, and with a horrible headache and on me. I could not have many hours to stay; so I hoped on, and tightened my belt to case the gnawing pain at my stomach.
And now began the horrors of solitude; while I had employment for the mind.
I felt no pain of any kind; now I was going mad with anxiety and fear.
I must find some employment.
in this utter darkness.
But if darkness, why not light?
Yes, I would have light.
For this I must enlarge the hole, and went to work again with blistered hands, and in two hours had enlarged it to twice its original diameter, and had consequently four times as much air flowing in.
My next step was to grate from the cages of a book a paper powder for tinder, and spreading this on the ground in a heap, I struck with the point of my hammer the stone shelf above it. The sparks flew about at the contact, but it was at least an hour before one lodged in a heap and set it smouldering.
I watched anxiously as the little red ring grew larger and brighter in the heap, and then applying a piece of thin paper rolled to a fine point to the centre of the ring, I gently blew the redness into a flame — yes, flame!
Real flame, that blinded me by its brightness, that seemed to pierce my brain with a sword, so long and deep had been the darkness.
I took my paper stop from oil the gas and heard the serpent hiss once more — this time without fear.
I lit the issuing gas, and then sat looking at it as Bartimens might have done in the joy of his new found sight.
I had done; I had light and air; but still I must have employment, or I should rave.
Employment. The thought came to me of that unfortunate sentence that had caused me to run this risk: ‘"If I had access to his books I would prove that fraud was possible."’
There they were — every one; not one missing. Could I prove it?
Could — I must — my good name depended on proving it. If he were true, I was false.
I set to work, and with my pencil, which I happily had with me, I went through account after account, from beginning to end, and well was I rewarded; for I learned that my uncle, supposed to be rich, had been systematically robbed for years by this scoundrel, and was now almost ruined, and that his daughter's portion, invested in English securities, had been sold out, and the interest paid by M. Vernay
So that father and daughter were at the mercy of this man.
These facts I learned from a small locked book that was in a box marked with M. Vernay
So confident had the servant been of his master's trust in him that he had left in that master's safe the whole of the securities of his nefarious investments, and there they were, with a systematic account of them in this locked book; so that while the master, who was supposed to be worth his hundreds of thousands, was almost a bankrupt, his clerk was a man of immense wealth.
When I broke the lock of that book and read down its columns I felt a joy and a pleasure that would have enabled me again to endure what I had suffered if it would have led to the same result.
I made notes of the whole affair, and took the securities into my possession, and then calmly waited long, long hours; I could not tell how long; for I was waked up from a kind of stupor by the sound of a door opening, and then I heard the voice I knew so well — that of M. Vernay
‘"You need not stay; I can bring up all I need.
Give me a lucifer."’
He was speaking to the porter.
I heard the muffled-sounding footsteps; I heard the key turn in the lock; and then, as the door opened, I stood face to face with my foe, and where he expected to find darkness and death he found light and life.
He saw me — saw in my hand his book that contained the secrets of a lifetime, with the lock forced — saw his schemes defeated, and himself an outcast.
It was too much for his mind.
He shrieked a cry of mingled horror and fear, and fell forward in the doorway as if he were dead.
I went up-stairs to the office, said to the porter, ‘"M. Vernay
is below in the strong room; go down and see to him,"’ and went over to the house.
I suffered a long illness, during the whole of which Victorine was my nurse, and, thanks to that and a good constitution, I recovered, and got up such a clear case against M. Vernay
that the whole of the property I had rescued was restored to my uncle.
To M. Vernay
this was a matter of indifference, for his mind never recovered the shock, and he spent the short remainder of his life in a criminal lunatic asylum.
The mistake of the thousand francs was easily explained by the application of a magnifying glass to the figures.
He had cleverly altered the one
to a nought,
and bribed Francois to put the missing note into my room.
Need I add that I am now in possession of my uncle's business, and blessed by my Victorine's constant presence; and further, that my present strong room can be opened from the inside with perfect case?