they had died all around him, and more had died after,
Hortebise snatched up the paper and glanced at it.
"You are right," said he; "it is the art of cipher writing in its infancy."
"I had succeeded in reading it,--but how to make use of it! The mass of waste paper in which I found it had been purchased from a servant in a country house near Vendome. A friend of mine, who was accustomed to drawing plans and maps, came to my aid, and discovered some faint signs of a crest in one corner of the paper. With the aid of a powerful magnifying glass, I discovered it to be the cognizance of the ducal house of Champdoce. The light that guided me was faint and uncertain, and many another man would have given up the quest. But the thought was with me in my waking hours, and was the companion of my pillow during the dark hours of the night. Six months later I knew that it was the Duchess who had addressed this missive to her husband, and why she had done so. By degrees I learned all the secret to which this scrap of paper gave me the clue; and if I have been a long while over it, it is because one link was wanting which I only discovered yesterday."
"Ah," said the doctor, "then Caroline Schimmel has spoken."
"Yes; drink was the magician that disclosed the secret that for twenty years she had guarded with unswerving fidelity."
As Mascarin uttered these words he opened a drawer, and drew from it a large pile of manuscript, which he waved over his head with an air of triumph.
"This is the greatest work that I have ever done," exclaimed he. "Listen to it, Hortebise, and you shall see how it is that I hold firmly, at the same time, both the Duke and Duchess of Champdoce, and Diana the Countess of Mussidan. Listen to me, Catenac,--you who distrusted me, and were ready to play the traitor, and tell me if I do not grasp success in my strong right hand." Then, holding out the roll of papers to Paul, he cried, "And do you, my dear boy, take this and read it carefully. Let nothing escape you, for there is not one item, however trivial it may seem to you, that has not its importance. It is the history of a great and noble house, and one in which you are more interested than you may think."
Paul opened the manuscript, and, in a voice which quivered with emotion, he read the facts announced by Mascarin, which he had entitled "The Mystery of Champdoce."