A cloud settled on Paul’s brow, for the idea that his life was to be passed in this office was most displeasing to him. Mascarin divined his inmost thoughts with perfect ease. “And the young fool does not know where to go for a crust of bread,” thought he. “Ah, if there were no Flavia, no Champdoce;” then, speaking aloud, he resumed, “don’t fancy, my dear boy, that I wish to condemn you to the treadmill that I am compelled to pass my life in. I have other views for you, far more worthy of your merits. I have taken a great liking to you, and I will do all I can to further your ambitious views. I was thinking a great deal of you, and in my head I raised the scaffolding of your future greatness. ‘He is poor,’ said I, ’and at his age, and with his tastes, this is a cruel thing. Why, pray, should I not find a wife for him among those heiresses who have a million or two to give the man they marry? When I talk like this, it is because I know of an heiress, and my friend, Dr. Hortebise, shall introduce her to you. She is nearly, if not quite, as pretty as Rose, and has the advantage of her in being well-born, well-educated, and wealthy. She has influential relatives, and if her husband should happen to be a poet, or a composer, she could assist him in becoming famous.”
A flush came over Paul’s face, This seemed like the realization of some of his former dreams.
“With regard to your birth,” continued Mascarin, “I have devised a wonderful plan. Before ’93, you know, every bastard was treated as a gentleman, as he might have been the son of some high and mighty personage. Who can say that your father may not have been of the noblest blood of France, and that he has not lands and wealth? He may even now be looking for you, in order to acknowledge you and make you his heir. Would you like to be a duke?”
“Ah, sir,” stammered the young man.
Mascarin burst into a fit of laughter. “Up to now,” said he, “we are only in the region of suppositions.”
“Well, sir, what do you wish me to do?” asked Paul, after a short pause.
Mascarin put on a serious face. “I want absolute obedience from you,” said he; “a blind and undeviating obedience, one that makes no objections and asks no questions.”
“I will obey you, sir; but, oh! do not desert me.”
Without making any reply, Mascarin rang for Beaumarchef, and as soon as the latter appeared, said, “I am going to Van Klopen’s, and shall leave you in charge here.” Then, turning to Paul, he added, “I always mean what I say; we will go and breakfast at a neighboring restaurant. I want to have a talk with you, and afterward—afterward, my boy, I will show you the girl I intend to be your wife. I am curious to know how you like her looks.”