Robbins, reporter for the /Picayune/, and Dumars, of /L'Abeille/--the
old French newspaper that has buzzed for nearly a century--were good
friends, well proven by years of ups and downs together. They were
seated where they had a habit of meeting--in the little, Creole-
haunted cafe of Madame Tibault, in Dumaine Street. If you know the
place, you will experience a thrill of pleasure in recalling it to
mind. It is small and dark, with six little polished tables, at which
you may sit and drink the best coffee in New Orleans, and concoctions
of absinthe equal to Sazerac's best. Madame Tibault, fat and
indulgent, presides at the desk, and takes your money. Nicolette and
Meme, madame's nieces, in charming bib aprons, bring the desirable
Dumars, with true Creole luxury, was sipping his absinthe, with half-
closed eyes, in a whirl of cigarette smoke. Robbins was looking over
the morning /Pic./, detecting, as young reporters will, the gross
blunders in the make-up, and the envious blue-pencilling his own stuff
had received. This item, in the advertising columns, caught his eye,
and with an exclamation of sudden interest he read it aloud to his
Public Auction.--At three o'clock this afternoon there will be
sold to the highest bidder all the common property of the Little
Sisters of Samaria, at the home of the Sisterhood, in Bonhomme
Street. The sale will dispose of the building, ground, and the
complete furnishings of the house and chapel, without reserve.
This notice stirred the two friends to a reminiscent talk concerning
an episode in their journalistic career that had occurred about two
years before. They recalled the incidents, went over the old theories,
and discussed it anew from the different perspective time had brought.
There were no other customers in the cafe. Madame's fine ear had
caught the line of their talk, and she came over to their table--for
had it not been her lost money--her vanished twenty thousand dollars--
that had set the whole matter going?
The three took up the long-abandoned mystery, threshing over the old,
dry chaff of it. It was in the chapel of this house of the Little
Sisters of Samaria that Robbins and Dumars had stood during that
eager, fruitless news search of theirs, and looked upon the gilded
statue of the Virgin.
"Thass so, boys," said madame, summing up. "Thass ver' wicked man,
M'sieur Morin. Everybody shall be cert' he steal those money I plaze in
his hand for keep safe. Yes. He's boun' spend that money, somehow."
Madame turned a broad and contemplative smile upon Dumars. "I
ond'stand you, M'sieur Dumars, those day you come ask fo' tell
ev'ything I know 'bout M'sieur Morin. Ah! yes, I know most time when
those men lose money you say '/Cherchez la femme/'--there is somewhere
the woman. But not for M'sieur Morin. No, boys. Before he shall die,
he is like one saint. You might's well, M'sieur Dumars, go try find
those money in the statue of Virgin Mary that M'sieur Morin present at
those /p'tite soeurs/, as try find one /femme/."
At Madame Tibault's last words, Robbins started slightly and cast a
keen, sidelong glance at Dumars. The Creole sat, unmoved, dreamily
watching the spirals of his cigarette smoke.
It was then nine o'clock in the morning and, a few minutes later, the
two friends separated, going different ways to their day's duties. And
now follows the brief story of Madame Tibault's vanished thousands:
* * * * *
New Orleans will readily recall to mind the circumstances attendant
upon the death of Mr. Gaspard Morin, in that city. Mr. Morin was an
artistic goldsmith and jeweller in the old French Quarter, and a man
held in the highest esteem. He belonged to one of the oldest French
families, and was of some distinction as an antiquary and historian.
He was a bachelor, about fifty years of age. He lived in quiet
comfort, at one of those rare old hostelries in Royal Street. He was
found in his rooms, one morning, dead from unknown causes.
When his affairs came to be looked into, it was found that he was
practically insolvent, his stock of goods and personal property barely
--but nearly enough to free him from censure--covering his
liabilities. Following came the disclosure that he had been entrusted
with the sum of twenty thousand dollars by a former upper servant in
the Morin family, one Madame Tibault, which she had received as a
legacy from relatives in France.
The most searching scrutiny by friends and the legal authorities
failed to reveal the disposition of the money. It had vanished, and
left no trace. Some weeks before his death, Mr. Morin had drawn the
entire amount, in gold coin, from the bank where it had been placed
while he looked about (he told Madame Tibault) for a safe investment.
Therefore, Mr. Morin's memory seemed doomed to bear the cloud of
dishonesty, while madame was, of course, disconsolate.
Then it was that Robbins and Dumars, representing their respective
journals, began one of those pertinacious private investigations
which, of late years, the press has adopted as a means to glory and
the satisfaction of public curiosity.
"/Cherchez la femme/," said Dumars.
"That's the ticket!" agreed Robbins. "All roads lead to the eternal
feminine. We will find the woman."
They exhausted the knowledge of the staff of Mr. Morin's hotel, from
the bell-boy down to the proprietor. They gently, but inflexibly,
pumped the family of the deceased as far as his cousins twice removed.
They artfully sounded the employees of the late jeweller, and dogged
his customers for information concerning his habits. Like bloodhounds
they traced every step of the supposed defaulter, as nearly as might
be, for years along the limited and monotonous paths he had trodden.
At the end of their labours, Mr. Morin stood, an immaculate man. Not
one weakness that might be served up as a criminal tendency, not one
deviation from the path of rectitude, not even a hint of a
predilection for the opposite sex, was found to be placed in his
debit. His life had been as regular and austere as a monk's; his
habits, simple and unconcealed. Generous, charitable, and a model in
propriety, was the verdict of all who knew him.
"What, now?" asked Robbins, fingering his empty notebook.
"/Cherchez la femme/," said Dumars, lighting a cigarette. "Try Lady
This piece of femininity was the race-track favourite of the season.
Being feminine, she was erratic in her gaits, and there were a few
heavy losers about town who had believed she could be true. The
reporters applied for information.
Mr. Morin? Certainly not. He was never even a spectator at the races.
Not that kind of a man. Surprised the gentlemen should ask.
"Shall we throw it up?" suggested Robbins, "and let the puzzle
department have a try?"
"/Cherchez la femme/," hummed Dumars, reaching for a match. "Try the
Little Sisters of What-d'-you-call-'em."
It had developed, during the investigation, that Mr. Morin had held
this benevolent order in particular favour. He had contributed
liberally toward its support and had chosen its chapel as his
favourite place of private worship. It was said that he went there
daily to make his devotions at the altar. Indeed, toward the last of
his life his whole mind seemed to have fixed itself upon religious
matters, perhaps to the detriment of his worldly affairs.
Thither went Robbins and Dumars, and were admitted through the narrow
doorway in the blank stone wall that frowned upon Bonhomme Street. An
old woman was sweeping the chapel. She told them that Sister Felicite,
the head of the order, was then at prayer at the altar in the alcove.
In a few moments she would emerge. Heavy, black curtains screened the
alcove. They waited.
Soon the curtains were disturbed, and Sister Felicite came forth. She
was tall, tragic, bony, and plain-featured, dressed in the black gown
and severe bonnet of the sisterhood.
Robbins, a good rough-and-tumble reporter, but lacking the delicate
touch, began to speak.
They represented the press. The lady had, no doubt, heard of the Morin
affair. It was necessary, in justice to that gentleman's memory, to
probe the mystery of the lost money. It was known that he had come
often to this chapel. Any information, now, concerning Mr. Morin's
habits, tastes, the friends he had, and so on, would be of value in
doing him posthumous justice.
Sister Felicite had heard. Whatever she knew would be willingly told,
but it was very little. Monsieur Morin had been a good friend to the
order, sometimes contributing as much as a hundred dollars. The
sisterhood was an independent one, depending entirely upon private
contributions for the means to carry on its charitable work. Mr. Morin
had presented the chapel with silver candlesticks and an altar cloth.
He came every day to worship in the chapel, sometimes remaining for an
hour. He was a devout Catholic, consecrated to holiness. Yes, and also
in the alcove was a statue of the Virgin that he had himself modeled,
cast, and presented to the order. Oh, it was cruel to cast a doubt
upon so good a man!
Robbins was also profoundly grieved at the imputation. But, until it
was found what Mr. Morin had done with Madame Tibault's money, he
feared the tongue of slander would not be stilled. Sometimes--in fact,
very often--in affairs of the kind there was--er--as the saying goes--
er--a lady in the case. In absolute confidence, now--if--perhaps--
Sister Felicite's large eyes regarded him solemnly.
"There was one woman," she said, slowly, "to whom he bowed--to whom he
gave his heart."
Robbins fumbled rapturously for his pencil.
"Behold the woman!" said Sister Felicite, suddenly, in deep tones.
She reached a long arm and swept aside the curtain of the alcove. In
there was a shrine, lit to a glow of soft colour by the light pouring
through a stained-glass window. Within a deep niche in the bare stone
wall stood an image of the Virgin Mary, the colour of pure gold.
Dumars, a conventional Catholic, succumbed to the dramatic in the act.
He bowed his head for an instant and made the sign of the cross. The
somewhat abashed Robbins, murmuring an indistinct apology, backed
awkwardly away. Sister Felicite drew back the curtain, and the
On the narrow sidewalk of Bonhomme Street, Robbins turned to Dumars,
with unworthy sarcasm.
"Well, what next? Churchy law fem?"
"Absinthe," said Dumars.
With the history of the missing money thus partially related, some
conjecture may be formed of the sudden idea that Madame Tibault's
words seemed to have suggested to Robbins's brain.
Was it so wild a surmise--that the religious fanatic had offered up
his wealth--or, rather, Madame Tibault's--in the shape of a material
symbol of his consuming devotion? Stranger things have been done in
the name of worship. Was it not possible that the lost thousands were
molded into that lustrous image? That the goldsmith had formed it of
the pure and precious metal, and set it there, through some hope of a
perhaps disordered brain to propitiate the saints and pave the way to
his own selfish glory?
That afternoon, at five minutes to three, Robbins entered the chapel
door of the Little Sisters of Samaria. He saw, in the dim light, a
crowd of perhaps a hundred people gathered to attend the sale. Most of
them were members of various religious orders, priests and churchmen,
come to purchase the paraphernalia of the chapel, lest they fall into
desecrating hands. Others were business men and agents come to bid
upon the realty. A clerical-looking brother had volunteered to wield
the hammer, bringing to the office of auctioneer the anomaly of choice
diction and dignity of manner.
A few of the minor articles were sold, and then two assistants brought
forward the image of the Virgin.
Robbins started the bidding at ten dollars. A stout man, in an
ecclesiastical garb, went to fifteen. A voice from another part of the
crowd raised to twenty. The three bid alternately, raising by bids of
five, until the offer was fifty dollars. Then the stout man dropped
out, and Robbins, as a sort of /coup de main/, went to a hundred.
"One hundred and fifty," said the other voice.
"Two hundred," bid Robbins, boldly.
"Two-fifty," called his competitor, promptly.
The reporter hesitated for the space of a lightning flash, estimating
how much he could borrow from the boys in the office, and screw from
the business manager from his next month's salary.
"Three hundred," he offered.
"Three-fifty," spoke up the other, in a louder voice--a voice that
sent Robbins diving suddenly through the crowd in its direction, to
catch Dumars, its owner, ferociously by the collar.
"You unconverted idiot!" hissed Robbins, close to his ear--"pool!"
"Agreed!" said Dumars, coolly. "I couldn't raise three hundred and
fifty dollars with a search-warrant, but I can stand half. What you
come bidding against me for?"
"I thought I was the only fool in the crowd," explained Robbins.
No one else bidding, the statue was knocked down to the syndicate at
their last offer. Dumars remained with the prize, while Robbins
hurried forth to wring from the resources and credit of both the
price. He soon returned with the money, and the two musketeers loaded
their precious package into a carriage and drove with it to Dumars's
room, in old Chartres Street, nearby. They lugged it, covered with a
cloth, up the stairs, and deposited it on a table. A hundred pounds it
weighed, if an ounce, and at that estimate, according to their
calculation, if their daring theory were correct, it stood there,
worth twenty thousand golden dollars.
Robbins removed the covering, and opened his pocket-knife.
"/Sacre/!" muttered Dumars, shuddering. "It is the Mother of Christ.
What would you do?"
"Shut up, Judas!" said Robbins, coldly. "It's too late for you to be
With a firm hand, he chipped a slice from the shoulder of the image.
The cut showed a dull, grayish metal, with a thin coating of gold
"Lead!" announced Robbins, hurling his knife to the floor--"gilded!"
"To the devil with it!" said Dumars, forgetting his scruples. "I must
have a drink."
Together they walked moodily to the cafe of Madame Tribault, two
It seemed that madame's mind had been stirred that day to fresh
recollections of the past services of the two young men in her behalf.
"You mustn't sit by those table," she interposed, as they were about
to drop into their accustomed seats. "Thass so, boys. But no. I mek
you come at this room, like my /tres bon amis/. Yes. I goin' mek for
you myself one /anisette/ and one /cafe royale/ ver' fine. Ah! I lak
treat my fren' nize. Yes. Plis come in this way."
Madame led them into the little back room, into which she sometimes
invited the especially favoured of her customers. In two comfortable
armchairs, by a big window that opened upon the courtyard, she placed
them, with a low table between. Bustling hospitably about, she began
to prepare the promised refreshments.
It was the first time the reporters had been honoured with admission
to the sacred precincts. The room was in dusky twilight, flecked with
gleams of the polished, fine woods and burnished glass and metal that
the Creoles love. From the little courtyard a tiny fountain sent in an
insinuating sound of trickling waters, to which a banana plant by the
window kept time with its tremulous leaves.
Robbins, an investigator by nature, sent a curious glance roving about
the room. From some barbaric ancestor, madame had inherited a
/penchant/ for the crude in decoration.
The walls were adorned with cheap lithographs--florid libels upon
nature, addressed to the taste of the /bourgeoisie/--birthday cards,
garish newspaper supplements, and specimens of art-advertising
calculated to reduce the optic nerve to stunned submission. A patch of
something unintelligible in the midst of the more candid display
puzzled Robbins, and he rose and took a step nearer, to interrogate it
at closer range. Then he leaned weakly against the wall, and called
"Madame Tibault! Oh, madame! Since when--oh! since when have you been
in the habit of papering your walls with five thousand dollar United
States four per cent. gold bonds? Tell me--is this a Grimm's fairy
tale, or should I consult an oculist?"
At his words, Madame Tibault and Dumars approached.
"H'what you say?" said madame, cheerily. "H'what you say, M'sieur
Robbin? /Bon/! Ah! those nize li'l peezes papier! One tam I think
those w'at you call calendair, wiz ze li'l day of mont' below. But,
no. Those wall is broke in those plaze, M'sieur Robbin', and I plaze
those li'l peezes papier to conceal ze crack. I did think the couleur
harm'nize so well with the wall papier. Where I get them from? Ah,
yes, I remem' ver' well. One day M'sieur Morin, he come at my houze--
thass 'bout one mont' before he shall die--thass 'long 'bout tam he
promise fo' inves' those money fo' me. M'sieur Morin, he leave thoze
li'l peezes papier in those table, and say ver' much 'bout money thass
hard for me to ond'stan. /Mais/ I never see those money again. Thass
ver' wicked man, M'sieur Morin. H'what you call those peezes papier,
"There's your twenty thousand dollars, with coupons attached," he
said, running his thumb around the edge of the four bonds. "Better get
an expert to peel them off for you. Mister Morin was right. I'm going
out to get my ears trimmed."
He dragged Dumars by the arm into the outer room. Madame was screaming
for Nicolette and Meme to come and observe the fortune returned to her
by M'sieur Morin, that best of men, that saint in glory.
"Marsy," said Robbins, "I'm going on a jamboree. For three days the
esteemed /Pic./ will have to get along without my valuable services. I
advise you to join me. Now, that green stuff you drink is no good. It
stimulates thought. What we want to do is to forget to remember. I'll
introduce you to the only lady in this case that is guaranteed to
produce the desired results. Her name is Belle of Kentucky, twelve-
year-old Bourbon. In quarts. How does the idea strike you?"
"/Allons/!" said Dumars. "/Cherchez la femme/."