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Title: Other People's Money
Author: Gaboriau, Emile
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Other People's Money" ***

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OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY

By Emile Gaboriau



PART I


I

There is not, perhaps, in all Paris, a quieter street than the Rue
St. Gilles in the Marais, within a step of the Place Royale.  No
carriages there; never a crowd.  Hardly is the silence broken by
the regulation drums of the Minims Barracks near by, by the chimes
of the Church of St. Louis, or by the joyous clamors of the pupils
of the Massin School during the hours of recreation.

At night, long before ten o’clock, and when the Boulevard
Beaumarchais is still full of life, activity, and noise, every thing
begins to close.  One by one the lights go out, and the great windows
with diminutive panes become dark.  And if, after midnight, some
belated citizen passes on his way home, he quickens his step, feeling
lonely and uneasy, and apprehensive of the reproaches of his
concierge, who is likely to ask him whence he may be coming at so
late an hour.

In such a street, every one knows each other: houses have no mystery;
families, no secrets,--a small town, where idle curiosity has always
a corner of the veil slyly raised, where gossip flourishes as rankly
as the grass on the street.

Thus on the afternoon of the 27th of April, 1872 (a Saturday), a fact
which anywhere else might have passed unnoticed was attracting
particular attention.

A man some thirty years of age, wearing the working livery of
servants of the upper class,--the long striped waistcoat with
sleeves, and the white linen apron,--was going from door to door.

“Who can the man be looking for?” wondered the idle neighbors,
closely watching his evolutions.

He was not looking for any one.  To such as he spoke to, he stated
that he had been sent by a cousin of his, an excellent cook, who,
before taking a place in the neighborhood, was anxious to have all
possible information on the subject of her prospective masters.  And
then, “Do you know M. Vincent Favoral?” he would ask.

Concierges and shop-keepers knew no one better; for it was more than
a quarter of a century before, that M. Vincent Favoral, the day after
his wedding, had come to settle in the Rue St. Gilles; and there
his two children were born,--his son M. Maxence, his daughter Mlle.
Gilberte.

He occupied the second story of the house.  No. 38,--one of those
old-fashioned dwellings, such as they build no more, since ground is
sold at twelve hundred francs the square metre; in which there is no
stinting of space.  The stairs, with wrought iron balusters, are wide
and easy, and the ceilings twelve feet high.

“Of course, we know M. Favoral,” answered every one to the servant’s
questions; “and, if there ever was an honest man, why, he is
certainly the one.  There is a man whom you could trust with your
funds, if you had any, without fear of his ever running off to
Belgium with them.”  And it was further explained, that M. Favoral
was chief cashier, and probably, also, one of the principal
stockholders, of the Mutual Credit Society, one of those admirable
financial institutions which have sprung up with the second empire,
and which had won at the bourse the first installment of their
capital, the very day that the game of the Coup d’Etat was being
played in the street.

“I know well enough the gentleman’s business,” remarked the servant;
“but what sort of a man is he?  That’s what my cousin would like to
know.”

The wine-man at No. 43, the oldest shop-keeper in the street, could
best answer.  A couple of petits-verres politely offered soon started
his tongue; and, whilst sipping his Cognac:

“M. Vincent Favoral,” he began, “is a man some fifty-two or three
years old, but who looks younger, not having a single gray hair.  He
is tall and thin, with neatly-trimmed whiskers, thin lips, and small
yellow eyes; not talkative.  It takes more ceremony to get a word
from his throat than a dollar from his pocket.  ‘Yes,’  ‘no,’
‘good-morning,’ ‘good-evening;’ that’s about the extent of his
conversation.  Summer and winter, he wears gray pantaloons, a long
frock-coat, laced shoes, and lisle-thread gloves.  ‘Pon my word, I
should say that he is still wearing the very same clothes I saw upon
his back for the first time in 1845, did I not know that he has two
full suits made every year by the concierge at No. 29, who is also a
tailor.”

“Why, he must be an old miser,” muttered the servant.

“He is above all peculiar,” continued the shop-keeper, “like most
men of figures, it seems.  His own life is ruled and regulated like
the pages of his ledger.  In the neighborhood they call him Old
Punctuality; and, when he passes through the Rue Turenne, the
merchants set their watches by him.  Rain or shine, every morning of
the year, on the stroke of nine, he appears at the door on the way
to his office.  When he returns, you may be sure it is between twenty
and twenty-five minutes past five.  At six he dines; at seven he goes
to play a game of dominoes at the Cafe Turc; at ten he comes home
and goes to bed; and, at the first stroke of eleven at the Church of
St. Louis, out goes his candle.”

“Hem!” grumbled the servant with a look of contempt, “the question
is, will my cousin be willing to live with a man who is a sort of
walking clock?”

“It isn’t always pleasant,” remarked the wine-man; “and the best
evidence is, that the son, M. Maxence, got tired of it.”

“He does not live with his parents any more?”

“He dines with them; but he has his own lodgings on the Boulevard du
Temple.  The falling-out made talk enough at the time; and some
people do say that M. Maxence is a worthless scamp, who leads a very
dissipated life; but I say that his father kept him too close.  The
boy is twenty-five, quite good looking, and has a very stylish
mistress: I have seen her. . . . I would have done just as he did.”

“And what about the daughter, Mlle. Gilberte?”

“She is not married yet, although she is past twenty, and pretty as
a rosebud.  After the war, her father tried to make her marry a
stock-broker, a stylish man who always came in a two-horse carriage;
but she refused him outright.  I should not be a bit surprised to
hear that she has some love-affair of her own.  I have noticed
lately a young gentleman about here who looks up quite suspiciously
when he goes by No. 38.”  The servant did not seem to find these
particulars very interesting.

“It’s the lady,” he said, “that my cousin would like to know most
about.”

“Naturally.  Well, you can safely tell her that she never will have
had a better mistress.  Poor Madame Favoral!  She must have had a
sweet time of it with her maniac of a husband!  But she is not young
any more; and people get accustomed to every thing, you know.  The
days when the weather is fine, I see her going by with her daughter
to the Place Royale for a walk.  That’s about their only amusement.”

“The mischief!” said the servant, laughing.  “If that is all, she
won’t ruin her husband, will she?”

“That is all,” continued the shop-keeper, “or rather, excuse me, no:
every Saturday, for many years, M. and Mme. Favoral receive a few
of their friends: M. and Mme. Desclavettes, retired dealers in
bronzes, Rue Turenne; M. Chapelain, the old lawyer from the Rue St.
Antoine, whose daughter is Mlle. Gilberte’s particular friend; M.
Desormeaux, head clerk in the Department of Justice; and three or
four others; and as this just happens to be Saturday--”

But here he stopped short, and pointing towards the street:

“Quick,” said he, “look!  Speaking of the--you know--It is twenty
minutes past five, there is M. Favoral coming home.”

It was, in fact, the cashier of the Mutual Credit Society, looking
very much indeed as the shop-keeper had described him.  Walking with
his head down, he seemed to be seeking upon the pavement the very
spot upon which he had set his foot in the morning, that he might set
it back again there in the evening.

With the same methodical step, he reached his house, walked up the
two pairs of stairs, and, taking out his pass-key, opened the door
of his apartment.

The dwelling was fit for the man; and every thing from the very hall,
betrayed his peculiarities.  There, evidently, every piece of
furniture must have its invariable place, every object its irrevocable
shelf or hook.  All around were evidences, if not exactly of poverty,
at least of small means, and of the artifices of a respectable
economy.  Cleanliness was carried to its utmost limits: every thing
shone.  Not a detail but betrayed the industrious hand of the
housekeeper, struggling to defend her furniture against the ravages
of time.  The velvet on the chairs was darned at the angles as with
the needle of a fairy.  Stitches of new worsted showed through the
faded designs on the hearth-rugs.  The curtains had been turned so
as to display their least worn side.

All the guests enumerated by the shop-keeper, and a few others
besides, were in the parlor when M. Favoral came in.  But, instead
of returning their greeting:

“Where is Maxence?” he inquired.

“I am expecting him, my dear,” said Mme. Favoral gently.

“Always behind time,” he scolded.  “It is too trifling.”

His daughter, Mlle. Gilberte, interrupted him:

“Where is my bouquet, father?” she asked.

M. Favoral stopped short, struck his forehead, and with the accent
of a man who reveals something incredible, prodigious, unheard of,

“Forgotten,” he answered, scanning the syllables: “I have for-got-ten
it.”

It was a fact.  Every Saturday, on his way home, he was in the habit
of stopping at the old woman’s shop in front of the Church of St.
Louis, and buying a bouquet for Mlle. Gilberte.  And to-day . . .

“Ah!  I catch you this time, father!” exclaimed the girl.

Meantime, Mme. Favoral, whispering to Mme. Desclavettes:

“Positively,” she said in a troubled voice, “something serious must
have happened to--my husband.  He to forget!  He to fail in one of
his habits!  It is the first time in twenty-six years.”

The appearance of Maxence at this moment prevented her from going on.
M. Favoral was about to administer a sound reprimand to his son, when
dinner was announced.

“Come,” exclaimed M. Chapelain, the old lawyer, the conciliating man
par excellence,--“come, let us to the table.”

They sat down.  But Mme. Favoral had scarcely helped the soup, when
the bell rang violently.  Almost at the same moment the servant
appeared, and announced:

“The Baron de Thaller!”

More pale than his napkin, the cashier stood up.  “The manager,” he
stammered, “the director of the Mutual Credit Society.”



II

Close upon the heels of the servant M. de Thaller came.

Tall, thin, stiff, he had a very small head, a flat face, pointed
nose, and long reddish whiskers, slightly shaded with silvery threads,
falling half-way down his chest.  Dressed in the latest style, he
wore a loose overcoat of rough material, pantaloons that spread
nearly to the tip of his boots, a wide shirt-collar turned over a
light cravat, on the bow of which shone a large diamond, and a tall
hat with rolled brims.  With a blinking glance, he made a rapid
estimate of the dining-room, the shabby furniture, and the guests
seated around the table.  Then, without even condescending to touch
his hat, with his large hand tightly fitted into a lavender glove,
in a brief and imperious tone, and with a slight accent which he
affirmed was the Alsatian accent:

“I must speak with you, Vincent,” said he to his cashier, “alone and
at once.”

M. Favoral made visible efforts to conceal his anxiety.  “You see,”
 he commenced, “we are dining with a few friends, and--”

“Do you wish me to speak in presence of everybody?” interrupted
harshly the manager of the Mutual Credit.

The cashier hesitated no longer.  Taking up a candle from the table,
he opened the door leading to the parlor, and, standing respectfully
to one side:

“Be kind enough to pass on, sir,” said he: “I follow you.”

And, at the moment of disappearing himself,

“Continue to dine without me,” said he to his guests, with a last
effort at self-control.  “I shall soon catch up with you.  This will
take but a moment.  Do not be uneasy in the least.”

They were not uneasy, but surprised, and, above all, shocked at the
manners of M. de Thaller.

“What a brute!” muttered Mme. Desclavettes.

M. Desormeaux, the head clerk at the Department of Justice, was an
old legitimist, much imbued with reactionary ideas.

“Such are our masters,” said he with a sneer, “the high barons of
financial feudality.  Ah! you are indignant at the arrogance of the
old aristocracy; well, on your knees, by Jupiter! on your face,
rather, before the golden crown on field of gules.”

No one replied: every one was trying his best to hear.

In the parlor, between M. Favoral and M. de Thaller, a discussion of
the utmost violence was evidently going on.  To seize the meaning
of it was not possible; and yet through the door, the upper panels of
which were of glass, fragments could be heard; and from time to time
such words distinctly reached the ear as dividend, stockholders,
deficit, millions, etc.

“What can it all mean? great heaven!” moaned Mme. Favoral.

Doubtless the two interlocutors, the director and the cashier, had
drawn nearer to the door of communication; for their voices, which
rose more and more, had now become quite distinct.

“It is an infamous trap!” M. Favoral was saying.  “I should have been
notified--”

“Come, come,” interrupted the other.  “Were you not fully warned? did
I ever conceal any thing from you?”

Fear, a fear vague still, and unexplained, was slowly taking
possession of the guests; and they remained motionless, their forks
in suspense, holding their breath.

“Never,” M. Favoral was repeating, stamping his foot so violently
that the partition shook,--“never, never!”

“And yet it must be,” declared M. de Thaller.  “It is the only, the
last resource.”

“And suppose I will not!”

“Your will has nothing to do with it now.  It is twenty years ago
that you might have willed, or not willed.  But listen to me, and
let us reason a little.”

Here M. de Thaller dropped his voice; and for some minutes nothing
was heard in the dining-room, except confused words, and
incomprehensible exclamations, until suddenly,

“That is ruin,” he resumed in a furious tone: “it is bankruptcy on
the last of the month.”

“Sir,” the cashier was replying,--“sir!”

“You are a forger, M. Vincent Favoral; you are a thief!”

Maxence leaped from his seat.

“I shall not permit my father to be thus insulted in his own house,”
 he exclaimed.

“Maxence,” begged Mme. Favoral, “my son!”

The old lawyer, M. Chapelain, held him by the arm; but he struggled
hard, and was about to burst into the parlor, when the door opened,
and the director of the Mutual Credit stepped out.

With a coolness quite remarkable after such a scene, he advanced
towards Mlle. Gilberte, and, in a tone of offensive protection,

“Your father is a wretch, mademoiselle,” he said; “and my duty should
be to surrender him at once into the hands of justice.  On account of
your worthy mother, however, of your father himself, above all, on
your own account, mademoiselle, I shall forbear doing so.  But let
him fly, let him disappear, and never more be heard from.”

He drew from his pocket a roll of bank-notes, and, throwing them upon
the table,

“Hand him this,” he added.  “Let him leave this very night.  The
police may have been notified.  There is a train for Brussels at
five minutes past eleven.”

And, having bowed, he withdrew, no one addressing him a single word,
so great was the astonishment of all the guests of this house,
heretofore so peaceful.

Overcome with stupor, Maxence had dropped upon his chair.  Mlle.
Gilberte alone retained some presence of mind.

“It is a shame,” she exclaimed, “for us to give up thus!  That man
is an impostor, a wretch; he lies!  Father, father!”

M. Favoral had not waited to be called, and was standing up against
the parlor-door, pale as death, and yet calm.

“Why attempt any explanations?” he said.  “The money is gone; and
appearances are against me.”

His wife had drawn near to him, and taken his hand.  “The misfortune
is immense,” she said, “but not irreparable.  We will sell everything
we have.”

“Have you not friends?  Are we not here,” insisted the others,--M.
Desclavettes, M. Desormeaux, and M. Chapelain.

Gently he pushed his wife aside, and coldly.

“All we had,” he said, “would be as a grain of sand in an ocean.
But we have no longer anything; we are ruined.”

“Ruined!” exclaimed M. Desormeaux,--“ruined!  And where are the
forty-five thousand francs I placed into your hands?”

He made no reply.

“And our hundred and twenty thousand francs?” groaned M. and Mme.
Desclavettes.

“And my sixty thousand francs?” shouted M. Chapelain, with a
blasphemous oath.

The cashier shrugged his shoulders.  “Lost,” he said, “irrevocably
lost!”

Then their rage exceeded all bounds.  Then they forgot that this
unfortunate man had been their friend for twenty years, that they
were his guests; and they commenced heaping upon him threats and
insults without name.

He did not even deign to defend himself.

“Go on,” he uttered, “go on.  When a poor dog, carried away by the
current, is drowning, men of heart cast stones at him from the bank.
Go on!”

“You should have told us that you speculated,” screamed M.
Desclavettes.

On hearing these words, he straightened himself up, and with a
gesture so terrible that the others stepped back frightened.

“What!” said he, in a tone of crushing irony, “it is this evening
only, that you discover that I speculated?  Kind friends!  Where,
then, and in whose pockets, did you suppose I was getting the
enormous interests I have been paying you for years?  Where have
you ever seen honest money, the money of labor, yield twelve or
fourteen per cent?  The money that yields thus is the money of the
gaming table, the money of the bourse.  Why did you bring me your
funds?  Because you were fully satisfied that I knew how to handle
the cards.  Ah!  If I was to tell you that I had doubled your capital,
you would not ask how I did it, nor whether I had stocked the cards.
You would virtuously pocket the money.  But I have lost: I am a
thief.  Well, so be it.  But, then, you are all my accomplices.  It
is the avidity of the dupes which induces the trickery of the
sharpers.”

Here he was interrupted by the servant coming in.  “Sir,” she
exclaimed excitedly, “O sir! the courtyard is full of police agents.
They are speaking to the concierge.  They are coming up stairs: I
hear them!”



III

According to the time and place where they are uttered, there are
words which acquire a terrible significance.  In this disordered
room, in the midst of these excited people, that word, the “police,”
 sounded like a thunderclap.

“Do not open,” Maxence ordered; “do not open, however they may ring
or knock.  Let them burst the door first.”

The very excess of her fright restored to Mme. Favoral a portion of
her energy.  Throwing herself before her husband as if to protect
him, as if to defend him,

“They are coming to arrest you, Vincent,” she exclaimed.  “They are
coming; don’t you hear them?”

He remained motionless, his feet seemingly riveted to the floor.

“That is as I expected,” he said.

And with the accent of the wretch who sees all hope vanish, and who
utterly gives up all struggle,

“Be it so,” he said.  “Let them arrest me, and let all be over at once.
I have had enough anxiety, enough unbearable alternatives.  I am tired
always to feign, to deceive, and to lie.  Let them arrest me!  Any
misfortune will be smaller in reality than the horrors of uncertainty.
I have nothing more to fear now.  For the first time in many years I
shall sleep to-night.”

He did not notice the sinister expression of his guests.  “You think
I am a thief,” he added: “well, be satisfied, justice shall be done.”

But he attributed to them sentiments which were no longer theirs.
They had forgotten their anger, and their bitter resentment for their
lost money.

The imminence of the peril awoke suddenly in their souls the
memories of the past, and that strong affection which comes from
long habit, and a constant exchange of services rendered.  Whatever
M. Favoral might have done, they only saw in him now the friend, the
host whose bread they had broken together more than a hundred times,
the man whose probity, up to this fatal night, had remained far
above suspicion.

Pale, excited, they crowded around him.

“Have you lost your mind?” spoke M. Desormeaux.  “Are you going to
wait to be arrested, thrown into prison, dragged into a criminal
court?”

He shook his head, and in a tone of idiotic obstinacy,

“Have I not told you,” he repeated, “that every thing is against me?
Let them come; let them do what they please with me.”

“And your wife,” insisted M. Chapelain, the old lawyer, “and your
children!”

“Will they be any the less dishonored if I am condemned by default?”

Wild with grief, Mme. Favoral was wringing her hands.

“Vincent,” she murmured, “in the name of Heaven spare us the
harrowing agony to have you in prison.”

Obstinately he remained silent.  His daughter, Mlle. Gilberte,
dropped upon her knees before him, and, joining her hands:

“I beseech you, father,” she begged.

He shuddered all over.  An unspeakable expression of suffering and
anguish contracted his features; and, speaking in a scarcely
intelligible voice:

“Ah! you are cruelly protracting my agony,” he stammered.  “What
do you ask of me?”

“You must fly,” declared M. Desclavettes.

“Which way?  How?  Do you not think that every precaution has been
taken, that every issue is closely watched?”

Maxence interrupted him with a gesture:

“The windows in sister’s room, father,” said he, “open upon the
courtyard of the adjoining house.”

“Yes; but here we are up two pairs of stairs.”

“No matter: I have a way.”

And turning towards his sister:

“Come, Gilberte,” went on the young man, “give me a light, and let
me have some sheets.”

They went out hurriedly.  Mme. Favoral felt a gleam of hope.

“We are saved!” she said.

“Saved!” repeated the cashier mechanically.  “Yes; for I guess
Maxence’s idea.  But we must have an understanding.  Where will you
take refuge?”

“How can I tell?”

“There is a train at five minutes past eleven,” remarked M.
Desormeaux.  “Don’t let us forget that.”

“But money will be required to leave by that train,” interrupted the
old lawyer.  “Fortunately, I have some.”

And, forgetting his hundred and sixty thousand francs lost, he took
out his pocket-book.  Mme. Favoral stopped him.  “We have more than
we need,” said she.

She took from the table, and held out to her husband, the roll of
bank notes which the director of the Mutual Credit Society had thrown
down before going.

He refused them with a gesture of rage.

“Rather starve to death!” he exclaimed.  “‘Tis he, ‘tis that wretch--”
 But he interrupted himself, and more gently:

“Put away those bank-bills,” said he to his wife, “and let Maxence
take them back to M. de Thaller to-morrow.”

The bell rang violently.

“The police!” groaned Mme. Desclavettes, who seemed on the point of
fainting away.

“I am going to negotiate,” said M. Desormeaux.  “Fly, Vincent: do
not lose a minute.”

And he ran to the front-door, whilst Mme. Favoral was hurrying her
husband towards Mlle. Gilberte’s room.

Rapidly and stoutly Maxence had fastened four sheets together by the
ends, which gave a more than sufficient length.  Then, opening the
window, he examined carefully the courtyard of the adjoining house.

“No one,” said he: “everybody is at dinner.  We’ll succeed.”

M. Favoral was tottering like a drunken man.  A terrible emotion
convulsed his features.  Casting a long look upon his wife and
children:

“O Lord!” he murmured, “what will become of you?”

“Fear nothing, father,” uttered Maxence.  “I am here.  Neither my
mother nor my sister will want for any thing.”

“My son!” resumed the cashier, “my children!”

Then, with a choking voice:

“I am worthy neither of your love nor your devotion, wretch that I
am!  I made you lead a miserable existence, spend a joyless youth.
I imposed upon you every trial of poverty, whilst I--And now I leave
you nothing but ruin and a dishonored name.”

“Make haste, father,” interrupted Mlle. Gilberte.  It seemed as if he
could not make up his mind.

“It is horrible to abandon you thus.  What a parting!  Ah! death
would indeed be far preferable.  What will you think of me?  I am
very guilty, certainly, but not as you think.  I have been betrayed,
and I must suffer for all.  If at least you knew the whole truth.
But will you ever know it?  We will never see each other again.”

Desperately his wife clung to him.

“Do not speak thus,” she said.  “Wherever you may find an asylum,
I will join you.  Death alone can separate us.  What do I care what
you may have done, or what the world will say?  I am your wife.  Our
children will come with me.  If necessary, we will emigrate to
America; we’ll change our name; we will work.”

The knocks on the outer door were becoming louder and louder; and M.
Desormeaux’ voice could be heard, endeavoring to gain a few moments
more.

“Come,” said Maxence, “you cannot hesitate any longer.”

And, overcoming his father’s reluctance, he fastened one end of the
sheets around his waist.

“I am going to let you down, father,” said he; “and, as soon as you
touch the ground, you must undo the knot.  Take care of the
first-story windows; beware of the concierge; and, once in the street,
don’t walk too fast.  Make for the Boulevard, where you will be sooner
lost in the crowd.”

The knocks had now become violent blows; and it was evident that the
door would soon be broken in, if M. Desormeaux did not make up his
mind to open it.

The light was put out.  With the assistance of his daughter, M.
Favoral lifted himself upon the window-sill, whilst Maxence held
the sheets with both hands.

“I beseech you, Vincent,” repeated Mme. Favoral, “write to us.  We
shall be in mortal anxiety until we hear of your safety.”

Maxence let the sheets slip slowly: in two seconds M. Favoral stood
on the pavement below.

“All right,” he said.

The young man drew the sheets back rapidly, and threw them under
the bed.  But Mlle. Gilberte remained long enough at the window to
recognize her father’s voice asking the concierge to open the door,
and to hear the heavy gate of the adjoining house closing behind
him.

“Saved!” she said.

It was none too soon.  M. Desormeaux had just been compelled to
yield; and the commissary of police was walking in.



IV

The commissaries of police of Paris, as a general thing, are no
simpletons; and, if they are ever taken in, it is because it has
suited them to be taken in.

Their modest title covers the most important, perhaps, of
magistracies, almost the only one known to the lower classes; an
enormous power, and an influence so decisive, that the most sensible
statesman of the reign of Louis Philippe ventured once to say, “Give
me twenty good commissaries of police in Paris, and I’ll undertake
to suppress any government: net profit, one hundred millions.”

Parisian above all, the commissary has had ample time to study his
ground when he was yet only a peace-officer.  The dark side of the
most brilliant lives has no mysteries for him.  He has received the
strangest confidences: he has listened to the most astounding
confessions.  He knows how low humanity can stoop, and what
aberrations there are in brains apparently the soundest.  The
work woman whom her husband beats, and the great lady whom her husband
cheats, have both come to him.  He has been sent for by the
shop-keeper whom his wife deceives, and by the millionaire who has
been blackmailed.  To his office, as to a lay confessional, all
passions fatally lead.  In his presence the dirty linen of two
millions of people is washed _en famille_.

A Paris commissary of police, who after ten years’ practice, could
retain an illusion, believe in something, or be astonished at any
thing in the world, would be but a fool.  If he is still capable
of some emotion, he is a good man.

The one who had just walked into M. Favoral’s apartment was already
past middle age, colder than ice, and yet kindly, but of that
commonplace kindliness which frightens like the executioner’s
politeness at the scaffold.

He required but a single glance of his small but clear eyes to
decipher the physiognomies of all these worthy people standing
around the disordered table.  And beckoning to the agents who
accompanied him to stop at the door,--“Monsieur Vincent Favoral?”
 he inquired.  The cashier’s guests, M. Desormeaux excepted,
seemed stricken with stupor.  Each one felt as if he had a share
of the disgrace of this police invasion.  The dupes who are
sometimes caught in clandestine “hells” have the same humiliated
attitudes.

At last, and not without an effort,

“M. Favoral is no longer here,” replied M. Chapelain, the old
lawyer.

The commissary of police started.  Whilst they were discussing with
him through the door, he had perfectly well understood that they
were only trying to gain time; and, if he had not at once burst in
the door, it was solely owing to his respect for M. Desormeaux
himself, whom he knew personally, and still more for his title of
head clerk at the Department of Justice.  But his suspicions did
not extend beyond the destruction of a few compromising papers.
Whereas, in fact:

“You have helped M. Favoral to escape, gentlemen?” said he.

No one replied.

“Silence means assent,” he added.  “Very well: which way did he get
off?”

Still no answer.  M. Desclavettes would have been glad to add
something to the forty-five thousand francs he had just lost, to be,
together with Mme. Desclavettes, a hundred miles away.

“Where is Mme. Favoral?” resumed the commissary, evidently well
informed. “Where are Mlle. Gilberte and M. Maxence Favoral?”

They continued silent.  No one in the dining-room knew what might
have taken place in the other room; and a single word might be treason.

The commissary then became impatient.

“Take up a light,” said he to one of the agents who had remained at
the door, “and follow me.  We shall see.”

And without a shadow of hesitation, for it seems to be the privilege
of police-agents to be at home everywhere, he crossed the parlor,
and reached Mlle. Gilberte’s room just as she was withdrawing from
the window.

“Ah, it is that way he escaped!” he exclaimed.

He rushed to the window, and remained long enough leaning on his
elbows to thoroughly examine the ground, and understand the situation
of the apartment.

“It’s evident,” he said at last, “this window opens on the courtyard
of the next house.”

This was said to one of his agents, who bore an unmistakable
resemblance to the servant who had been asking so many questions in
the afternoon.

“Instead of gathering so much useless information,” he added, “why
did you not post yourself as to the outlets of the house?”

He was “sold”; and yet he manifested neither spite nor anger.  He
seemed in no wise anxious to run after the fugitive.  Upon the
features of Maxence and of Mlle. Gilberte, and more still in Mme.
Favoral’s eyes, he had read that it would be useless for the present.

“Let us examine the papers, then,” said he.

“My husband’s papers are all in his study,” replied Mme. Favoral.

“Please lead me to it, madame.”

The room which M. Favoral called loftily his study was a small room
with a tile floor, white-washed walls, and meanly lighted through a
narrow transom.

It was furnished with an old desk, a small wardrobe with grated door,
a few shelves upon which were piled some bandboxes and bundles of
old newspapers, and two or three deal chairs.

“Where are the keys?” inquired the commissary of police.

“My father always carries them in his pocket, sir,” replied Maxence.

“Then let some one go for a locksmith.”  Stronger than fear,
curiosity had drawn all the guests of the cashier of the Mutual
Credit Society, M. Desormeaux, M. Chapelain, M. Desclavettes himself;
and, standing within the door-frame, they followed eagerly every
motion of the commissary, who, pending the arrival of the locksmith,
was making a flying examination of the bundles of papers left exposed
upon the desk.

After a while, and unable to hold in any longer:

“Would it be indiscreet,” timidly inquired the old bronze-merchant,
“to ask the nature of the charges against that poor Favoral?”

“Embezzlement, sir.”

“And is the amount large?”

“Had it been small, I should have said theft.  Embezzling commences
only when the sum has reached a round figure.”

Annoyed at the sardonic tone of the commissary:

“The fact is,” resumed M. Chapelain, “Favoral was our friend; and,
if we could get him out of the scrape, we would all willingly
contribute.”

“It’s a matter of ten or twelve millions, gentlemen.”  Was it
possible?  Was it even likely?  Could any one imagine so many
millions slipping through the fingers of M. de Thaller’s methodic
cashier?

“Ah, sir!” exclaimed Mme. Favoral, “if any thing could relieve my
feelings, the enormity of that sum would.  My husband was a man of
simple and modest tastes.”

The commissary shook his head.

“There are certain passions,” he interrupted, “which nothing betrays
externally.  Gambling is more terrible than fire.  After a fire, some
charred remnants are found.  What is there left after a lost game?
Fortunes may be thrown into the vortex of the bourse, without a trace
of them being left.”

The unfortunate woman was not convinced.

“I could swear, sir,” she protested, “that I knew how my husband
spent every hour of his life.”

“Do not swear, madame.”

“All our friends will tell you how parsimonious my husband was.”

“Here, madame, towards yourself and your children, I have no doubt;
for seeing is believing: but elsewhere--”

He was interrupted by the arrival of the locksmith, who, in less
than five minutes, had picked all the locks of the old desk.

But in vain did the commissary search all the drawers.  He found
only those useless papers which are made relics of by people who
have made order their religious faith,--uninteresting letters,
grocers’ and butchers’ bills running back twenty years.

“It is a waste of time to look for any thing here,” he growled.

And in fact he was about to give up his perquisitions, when a bundle
thinner than the rest attracted his attention.  He cut the thread
that bound it; and almost at once:

“I knew I was right,” he said.  And holding out a paper to Mme. Favoral:

“Read, madame, if you please.”

It was a bill.  She read thus:

   “Sold to M. Favoral an India Cashmere, fr. 8,500.
    Received payment,           FORBE & Towler.”

“Is it for you, madame,” asked the commissary, “that this magnificent
shawl was bought?”

Stupefied with astonishment, the poor woman still refused to admit
the evidence.

“Madame de Thaller spends a great deal,” she stammered.  “My husband
often made important purchases for her account.”

“Often, indeed!” interrupted the commissary of police; “for here
are many other receipted bills,--earrings, sixteen thousand francs;
a bracelet, three thousand francs; a parlor set, a horse, two velvet
dresses.  Here is a part, at least, if not the whole, of the ten
millions.”



V

Had the commissary received any information in advance? or was he
guided only by the scent peculiar to men of his profession, and the
habit of suspecting every thing, even that which seems most unlikely?

At any rate he expressed himself in a tone of absolute certainty.

The agents who had accompanied and assisted him in his researches
were winking at each other, and giggling stupidly.  The situation
struck them as rather pleasant.

The others, M. Desclavettes, M. Chapelain, and the worthy M.
Desormeaux himself, could have racked their brains in vain to find
terms wherein to express the immensity of their astonishments.
Vincent Favoral, their old friend, paying for cashmeres, diamonds,
and parlor sets!  Such an idea could not enter in their minds.  For
whom could such princely gifts be intended?  For a mistress, for
one of those redoubtable creatures whom fancy represents crouching
in the depths of love, like monsters at the bottom of their caves!

But how could any one imagine the methodic cashier of the Mutual
Credit Society carried away by one of those insane passions which
knew no reason?  Ruined by gambling, perhaps, but by a woman!

Could any one picture him, so homely and so plain here, Rue St.
Gilles, at the head of another establishment, and leading elsewhere
in one of the brilliant quarters of Paris, a reckless life, such as
strike terror in the bosom of quiet families?

Could any one understand the same man at once miserly-economical and
madly-prodigal, storming when his wife spent a few cents, and robbing
to supply the expenses of an adventuress, and collecting in the same
drawer the jeweler’s accounts and the butcher’s bills?

“It is the climax of absurdity,” murmured good M. Desormeaux.

Maxence fairly shook with wrath.  Mlle. Gilberte was weeping.

Mme. Favoral alone, usually so timid, boldly defended, and with her
utmost energy, the man whose name she bore.  That he might have
embezzled millions, she admitted: that he had deceived and betrayed
her so shamefully, that he had made a wretched dupe of her for so
many years, seemed to her insensate, monstrous, impossible.

And purple with shame:

“Your suspicions would vanish at once, sir,” she said to the
commissary, “if I could but explain to you our mode of life.”

Encouraged by his first discovery, he was proceeding more minutely
with his perquisitions, undoing the strings of every bundle.

“It is useless, madame,” he answered in that brief tone which made so
much impression upon M. Desclavettes.  “You can only tell me what you
know; and you know nothing.”

“Never, sir, did a man lead a more regular life than M. Favoral.”

“In appearance, you are right.  Besides, to regulate one’s disorder
is one of the peculiarities of our time.  We open credits to our
passions, and we keep account of our infamies by double entry.  We
operate with method.  We embezzle millions that we may hang diamonds
to the ears of an adventuress; but we are careful, and we keep the
receipted bills.”

“But, sir, I have already told you that I never lost sight of my
husband.”

“Of course.”

“Every morning, precisely at nine o’clock, he left home to go to M.
de Thaller’s office.”

“The whole neighborhood knows that, madame.”

“At half-past five he came home.”

“That, also, is a well-known fact.”

“After dinner he went out to play a game, but it was his only
amusement; and at eleven o’clock he was always in bed.”

“Perfectly correct.”

“Well, then, sir, where could M. Favoral have found time to abandon
himself to the excesses of which you accuse him?”

Imperceptibly the commissary of police shrugged his shoulders.

“Far from me, madame,” he uttered, “to doubt your good faith.  What
matters it, moreover, whether your husband spent in this way or in
that way the sums which he is charged with having appropriated?  But
what do your objections prove?  Simply that M. Favoral was very
skillful, and very much self-possessed.  Had he breakfasted when he
left you at nine?  No.  Pray, then, where did he breakfast?  In a
restaurant?  Which?  Why did he come home only at half-past five,
when his office actually closed at three o’clock?  Are you quite
sure that it was to the Cafe Turc that he went every evening?
Finally, why do not you say anything of the extra work which he
always had to attend to, as he pretended, once or twice a month?
Sometimes it was a loan, sometimes a liquidation, or a settlement
of dividends, which devolved upon him.  Did he come home then?  No.
He told you that he would dine out, and that it would be more
convenient for him to have a cot put up in his office; and thus
you were twenty-four or forty-eight hours without seeing him.
Surely this double existence must have weighed heavily upon him;
but he was forbidden from breaking off with you, under penalty of
being caught the very next day with his hand in the till.  It is
the respectability of his official life here which made the other
possible,--that which has absorbed such enormous sums.  The harsher
and the closer he were here, the more magnificent he could show
himself elsewhere.  His household in the Rue St. Gilles was for
him a certificate of impunity.  Seeing him so economical, every one
thought him rich.  People who seem to spend nothing are always
trusted.  Every privation which he imposed upon you increased his
reputation of austere probity, and raised him farther above
suspicion.”

Big tears were rolling down Mme. Favoral’s cheeks.

“Why not tell me the whole truth?” she stammered.

“Because I do not know it,” replied the commissary; “because these
are all mere presumptions.  I have seen so many instances of similar
calculations!”

Then regretting, perhaps, to have said so much,

“But I may be mistaken,” he added: “I do not pretend to be
infallible.”  He was just then completing a brief inventory of all
the papers found in the old desk.  There was nothing left but to
examine the drawer which was used for a cash drawer.  He found in
it in gold, notes, and small change, seven hundred and eighteen
francs.

Having counted this sum, the commissary offered it to Mme. Favoral,
saying,

“This belongs to you madame.”

But instinctively she withdrew her hand.

“Never!” she said.

The commissary went on with a gesture of kindness,--“I understand
your scruples, madame, and yet I must insist.  You may believe me
when I tell you that this little sum is fairly and legitimately
yours.  You have no personal fortune.”

The efforts of the poor woman to keep from bursting into loud sobs
were but too visible.

“I possess nothing in the world, sir,” she said in a broken voice.
“My husband alone attended to our business-affairs.  He never spoke
to me about them; and I would not have dared to question him.  Alone
he disposed of our money.  Every Sunday he handed me the amount which
he thought necessary for the expenses of the week, and I rendered him
an account of it.  When my children or myself were in need of any
thing, I told him so, and he gave me what he thought proper.  This
is Saturday: of what I received last Sunday I have five francs left:
that, is our whole fortune.”

Positively the commissary was moved.

“You see, then, madame,” he said, “that you cannot hesitate: you must
live.”

Maxence stepped forward.

“Am I not here, sir?” he said.

The commissary looked at him keenly, and in a grave tone,

“I believe indeed, sir,” he replied, “that you will not suffer your
mother and sister to want for any thing.  But resources are not
created in a day.  Yours, if I have not been deceived, are more than
limited just now.”

And as the young man blushed, and did not answer, he handed the seven
hundred francs to Mlle. Gilberte, saying,

“Take this, mademoiselle: your mother permits it.”  His work was done.
To place his seals upon M. Favoral’s study was the work of a moment.

Beckoning, then, to his agents to withdraw, and being ready to leave
himself,

“Let not the seals cause you any uneasiness, madame,” said the
commissary of police to Mme. Favoral.  “Before forty-eight hours,
some one will come to remove these papers, and restore to you the
free use of that room.”

He went out; and, as soon as the door had closed behind him,

“Well?” exclaimed M. Desormeaux;

But no one had any thing to say.  The guests of that house where
misfortune had just entered were making haste to leave.  The
catastrophe was certainly terrible and unforeseen; but did it not
reach them too?  Did they not lose among them more than three hundred
thousand francs?

Thus, after a few commonplace protestations, and some of those
promises which mean nothing, they withdrew; and, as they were going
down the stairs,

“The commissary took Vincent’s escape too easy,” remarked M.
Desormeaux.  “He must know some way to catch him again.”



VI

At last Mme. Favoral found herself alone with her children and free
to give herself up to the most frightful despair.

She dropped heavily upon a seat; and, drawing to her bosom Maxence
and Gilberte,

“O my children!” she sobbed, covering them with her kisses and her
tears,--“my children, we are most unfortunate.”

Not less distressed than herself, they strove, nevertheless, to
mitigate her anguish, to inspire her with sufficient courage to bear
this crushing trial; and kneeling at her feet, and kissing her hands,

“Are we not with you still, mother?” they kept repeating.

But she seemed not to hear them.

“It is not for myself that I weep,” she went on.  “I! what had I
still to wait or hope for in life?  Whilst you, Maxence, you, my
poor Gilberte!--If, at least, I could feel myself free from blame!
But no.  It is my weakness and my want of courage that have brought
on this catastrophe.  I shrank from the struggle.  I purchased my
domestic peace at the cost of your future in the world.  I forgot
that a mother has sacred duties towards her children.”

Mme. Favoral was at this time a woman of some forty-three years,
with delicate and mild features, a countenance overflowing with
kindness, and whose whole being exhaled, as it were, an exquisite
perfume of _noblesse_ and distinction.

Happy, she might have been beautiful still,--of that autumnal
beauty whose maturity has the splendors of the luscious fruits of
the later season.

But she had suffered so much!  The livid paleness of her complexion,
the rigid fold of her lips, the nervous shudders that shook her
frame, revealed a whole existence of bitter deceptions, of exhausting
struggles, and of proudly concealed humiliations.

And yet every thing seemed to smile upon her at the outset of life.

She was an only daughter; and her parents, wealthy silk-merchants,
had brought her up like the daughter of an archduchess desired to
marry some sovereign prince.

But at fifteen she had lost her mother.  Her father, soon tired of
his lonely fireside, commenced to seek away from home some diversion
from his sorrow.

He was a man of weak mind,--one of those marked in advance to play
the part of eternal dupes.  Having money, he found many friends.
Having once tasted the cup of facile pleasures, he yielded readily
to its intoxication.  Suppers, cards, amusements, absorbed his
time, to the utter detriment of his business.  And, eighteen months
after his wife’s death, he had already spent a large portion of his
fortune, when he fell into the hands of an adventuress, whom, without
regard for his daughter, he audaciously brought beneath his own roof.

In provincial cities, where everybody knows everybody else, such
infamies are almost impossible.  They are not quite so rare in Paris,
where one is, so to speak, lost in the crowd, and where the
restraining power of the neighbor’s opinion is lacking.

For two years the poor girl, condemned to bear this illegitimate
stepmother, endured nameless sufferings.

She had just completed her eighteenth year, when, one evening, her
father took her aside.

“I have made up my mind to marry again,” he said;  “but I wish first
to provide you with a husband.  I have looked for one, and found him.
He is not very brilliant perhaps; but he is, it seems, a good,
hard-working, economical fellow, who’ll make his way in the world.
I had dreamed of something better for you; but times are hard, trade
is dull: in short, having only a dowry of twenty thousand francs to
give you, I have no right to be very particular.  To-morrow I’ll
bring you my candidate.”

And, sure enough, the next day that excellent father introduced M.
Vincent Favoral to his daughter.

She was not pleased with him; but she could hardly have said that
she was displeased.

He was, at the age of twenty-five, which he had just reached, a man
so utterly lacking in individuality, that he could scarcely have
excited any feeling either of sympathy or affection.

Suitably dressed, he seemed timid and awkward, reserved, quite
diffident, and of mediocre intelligence.  He confessed to have
received a most imperfect education, and declared himself quite
ignorant of life.  He had scarcely any means outside his profession.
He was at this time chief accountant in a large factory of the
Faubourg St. Antoine, with a salary of four thousand Francs a year.

The young girl did not hesitate a moment.  Any thing appeared to
her preferable to the contact of a woman whom she abhorred and
despised.

She gave her consent; and, twenty days after the first interview,
she had become Mme. Favoral.

Alas!  six weeks had not elapsed, before she knew that she had but
exchanged her wretched fate for a more wretched one still.

Not that her husband was in any way unkind to her (he dared not, as
yet); but he had revealed himself enough to enable her to judge him.
He was one of those formidably selfish men who wither every thing
around them, like those trees within the shadow of which nothing can
grow.  His coldness concealed a stupid obstinacy; his mildness, an
iron will.

If he had married, ‘twas because he thought a wife a necessary
adjunct, because he desired a home wherein to command, because, above
all, he had been seduced by the dowry of twenty thousand francs.

For the man had one passion,--money.  Under his placid countenance
revolved thoughts of the most burning covetousness.  He wished to
be rich.

Now, as he had no illusion whatever upon his own merits, as he knew
himself to be perfectly incapable of any of those daring conceptions
which lead to rapid fortune, as he was in no wise enterprising, he
conceived but one means to achieve wealth, that is, to save, to
economize, to stint himself, to pile penny upon penny.

His profession of accountant had furnished him with a number of
instances of the financial power of the penny daily saved, and
invested so as to yield its maximum of interest.

If ever his blue eye became animated, it was when he calculated what
would be at the present time the capital produced by a simple penny
placed at five per cent interest the year of the birth of our Saviour.

For him this was sublime.  He conceived nothing beyond.  One penny!
He wished, he said, he could have lived eighteen hundred years, to
follow the evolutions of that penny, to see it grow tenfold, a
hundred-fold, produce, swell, enlarge, and become, after centuries,
millions and hundreds of millions.

In spite of all, he had, during the early months of his marriage,
allowed his wife to have a young servant.  He gave her from time to
time, a five-franc-piece, and took her to the country on Sundays.

This was the honeymoon; and, as he declared himself, this life of
prodigalities could not last.

Under a futile pretext, the little servant was dismissed.  He
tightened the strings of his purse.  The Sunday excursions were
suppressed.

To mere economy succeeded the niggardly parsimony which counts the
grains of salt in the _pot-au-feu_, which weighs the soap for the
washing, and measures the evening’s allowance of candle.

Gradually the accountant took the habit of treating his young wife
like a servant, whose honesty is suspected; or like a child, whose
thoughtlessness is to be feared.  Every morning he handed her the
money for the expenses of the day; and every evening he expressed
his surprise that she had not made better use of it.  He accused her
of allowing herself to be grossly cheated, or even to be in collusion
with the dealers.  He charged her with being foolishly extravagant;
which fact, however, he added, did not surprise him much on the part
of the daughter of a man who had dissipated a large fortune.

To cap the climax, Vincent Favoral was on the worst possible terms
with his father-in-law.  Of the twenty thousand francs of his wife’s
dowry, twelve thousand only had been paid, and it was in vain that he
clamored for the balance.  The silk-merchant’s business had become
unprofitable; he was on the verge of bankruptcy.  The eight thousand
francs seemed in imminent danger.

His wife alone he held responsible for this deception.  He repeated
to her constantly that she had connived with her father to “take
him in,” to fleece him, to ruin him.

What an existence!  Certainly, had the unhappy woman known where to
find a refuge, she would have fled from that home where each of her
days was but a protracted torture.  But where could she go?  Of whom
could she beg a shelter?

She had terrible temptations at this time, when she was not yet
twenty, and they called her the beautiful Mme. Favoral.

Perhaps she would have succumbed, when she discovered that she was
about to become a mother.  One year, day for day, after her marriage,
she gave birth to a son, who received the name of Maxence.

The accountant was but indifferently pleased at the coming of this
son.  It was, above all, a cause of expense.  He had been compelled
to give some thirty francs to a nurse, and almost twice as much for
the baby’s clothes.  Then a child breaks up the regularity of one’s
habits; and he, as he affirmed, was attached to his as much as to
life itself.  And now he saw his household disturbed, the hours of
his meals altered, his own importance reduced, his authority even
ignored.

But what mattered now to his young wife the ill-humor which he no
longer took the trouble to conceal?  Mother, she defied her tyrant.

Now, at least, she had in this world a being upon whom she could
lavish all her caresses so brutally repelled.  There existed a soul
within which she reigned supreme.  What troubles would not a smile
of her son have made her forget?

With the admirable instinct of an egotist, M. Favoral understood so
well what passed in the mind of his wife, that he dared not complain
too much of what the little fellow cost.  He made up his mind bravely;
and when four years later, his daughter Gilberte was born, instead
of lamenting:

“Bash!” said he: “God blesses large families.”



VII

But already, at this time, M. Vincent Favoral’s situation had been
singularly modified.

The revolution of 1848 had just taken place.  The factory in the
Faubourg St. Antoine, where he was employed, had been compelled to
close its doors.

One evening, as he came home at the usual hour, he announced that
he had been discharged.

Mme. Favoral shuddered at the thought of what her husband might be,
without work, and deprived of his salary.

“What is to become of us?” she murmured.

He shrugged his shoulders.  Visibly he was much excited.  His cheeks
were flushed; his eyes sparkled.

“Bash!” he said: “we shan’t starve for all that.”  And, as his wife
was gazing at him in astonishment:

“Well,” he went on, “what are you looking at?  It is so: I know many a one
who affects to live on his income, and who are not as well off as
we are.”

It was, for over six years since he was married, the first time that
he spoke of his business otherwise than to groan and complain, to
accuse fate, and curse the high price of living.  The very day before,
he had declared himself ruined by the purchase of a pair of shoes
for Maxence.  The change was so sudden and so great, that she hardly
knew what to think, and wondered if grief at the loss of his situation
had not somewhat disturbed his mind.

“Such are women,” he went on with a giggle.  “Results astonish them,
because they know nothing of the means used to bring them about.  Am
I a fool, then?  Would I impose upon myself privations of all sorts,
if it were to accomplish nothing?  Parbleu!  I love fine living
too, I do, and good dinners at the restaurant, and the theatre, and
the nice little excursions in the country.  But I want to be rich.
At the price of all the comforts which I have not had, I have saved
a capital, the income of which will support us all.  Eh, eh!  That’s
the power of the little penny put out to fatten!”

As she went to bed that night, Mme. Favoral felt more happy than she
had done since her mother’s death.  She almost forgave her husband
his sordid parsimony, and the humiliations he had heaped upon her.

“Well, be it so,” she thought.  “I shall have lived miserably, I shall
have endured nameless sufferings; but my children shall be rich, their
life shall be easy and pleasant.”

The next day M. Favoral’s excitement had completely abated.
Manifestly he regretted his confidences.

“You must not think on that account that you can waste and pillage
every thing,” he declared rudely.  “Besides, I have greatly
exaggerated.”

And he started in search of a situation.

To find one was likely to be difficult.  Times of revolution are not
exactly propitious to industry.  Whilst the parties discussed in the
Chamber, there were on the street twenty thousand clerks, who, every
morning as they rose, wondered where they would dine that day.

For want of any thing better, Vincent Favoral undertook to keep
books in various places,--an hour here, an hour there, twice a week
in one house, four times in another.

In this way he earned as much and more than he did at the factory;
but the business did not suit him.

What he liked was the office from which one does not stir, the
stove-heated atmosphere, the elbow-worn desk, the leather-cushioned
chair, the black alpaca sleeves over the coat.  The idea that he
should on one and the same day have to do with five or six different
houses, and be compelled to walk an hour, to go and work another hour
at the other end of Paris, fairly irritated him.  He found himself
out of his reckoning, like a horse who has turned a mill for ten
years; if he is made to trot straight before him.

So, one morning, he gave up the whole thing, swearing that he would
rather remain idle until he could find a place suited to his taste
and his convenience; and, in the mean time, all they would have to
do would be to put a little less butter in the soup, and a little
more water in the wine.

He went out, nevertheless, and remained until dinner-time.  And he
did the same the next and the following days.

He started off the moment he had swallowed the last mouthful of his
breakfast, came home at six o’clock, dined in haste, and disappeared
again, not to return until about midnight.  He had hours of delirious
joy, and moments of frightful discouragement.  Sometimes he seemed
horribly uneasy.

“What can he be doing?” thought Mme. Favoral.

She ventured to ask him the question one morning, when he was in
fine humor.

“Well,” he answered, “am I not the master?  I am operating at the
bourse, that’s all!”

He could hardly have owned to any thing that would have frightened
the poor woman as much.

“Are you not afraid,” she objected, “to lose all we have so
painfully accumulated?  We have children--”

He did not allow her to proceed.

“Do you take me for a child?” he exclaimed; “or do I look to you
like a man so easy to be duped?  Mind to economize in your household
expenses, and don’t meddle with my business.”

And he continued.  And he must have been lucky in his operations;
for he had never been so pleasant at home.  All his ways had changed.
He had had clothes made at a first-class tailor’s, and was evidently
trying to look elegant.  He gave up his pipe, and smoked only cigars.
He got tired of giving every morning the money for the house, and
took the habit of handing it to his wife every week, on Sunday.  A
mark of vast confidence, as he observed to her.  And so, the first
time:

“Be careful,” he said, “that you don’t find yourself penniless
before Thursday.”

He became also more communicative.  Often during the dinner, he
would tell what he had heard during the day, anecdotes, gossip.
He enumerated the persons with whom he had spoken.  He named a
number of people whom he called his friends, and whose names Mme.
Favoral carefully stored away in her memory.

There was one especially, who seemed to inspire him with a profound
respect, a boundless admiration, and of whom he never tired of
talking.  He was, said he, a man of his age,--M. de Thaller, the
Baron de Thaller.

“This one,” he kept repeating, “is really mad: he is rich, he has
ideas, he’ll go far.  It would be a great piece of luck if I could
get him to do something for me!”

Until at last one day:

“Your parents were very rich once?” he asked his wife.

“I have heard it said,” she answered.

“They spent a good deal of money, did they not?  They had friends:
they gave dinner-parties.”

“Yes, they received a good deal of company.”

“You remember that time?”

“Surely I do.”

“So that if I should take a fancy to receive some one here, some
one of note, you would know how to do things properly?”

“I think so.”

He remained silent for a moment, like a man who thinks before taking
an important decision, and then:

“I wish to invite a few persons to dinner,” he said.  She could
scarcely believe her ears.  He had never received at his table any
one but a fellow-clerk at the factory, named Desclavettes, who had
just married the daughter of a dealer in bronzes, and succeeded to
his business.

“Is it possible?” exclaimed Mme. Favoral.

“So it is.  The question is now, how much would a first-class dinner
cost, the best of every thing?”

“That depends upon the number of guests.”

“Say three or four persons.”

The poor woman set herself to figuring diligently for some time;
and then timidly, for the sum seemed formidable to her:

“I think,” she began, “that with a hundred francs--”

Her husband commenced whistling.

“You’ll need that for the wines alone;” he interrupted.  “Do you
take me for a fool?  But here, don’t let us go into figures.  Do as
your parents did when they did their best; and, if it’s well, I
shall not complain of the expense.  Take a good cook, hire a waiter
who understands his business well.”

She was utterly confounded; and yet she was not at the end of her
surprises.

Soon M. Favoral declared that their table-ware was not suitable, and
that he must buy a new set.  He discovered a hundred purchases to
be made, and swore that he would make them.  He even hesitated a
moment about renewing the parlor furniture, although it was in
tolerably good condition still, and was a present from his
father-in-law.

And, having finished his inventory:

“And you,” he asked his wife: “what dress will you wear?”

“I have my black silk dress--”

He stopped her.

“Which means that you have none at all,” he said.  “Very well.  You
must go this very day and get yourself one,--a very handsome, a
magnificent one; and you’ll send it to be made to a fashionable
dressmaker.  And at the same time you had better get some little
suits for Maxence and Gilberte.  Here are a thousand francs.”

Completely bewildered:

“Who in the world are you going to invite, then?” she asked.

“The Baron and the Baroness de Thaller,” he replied with an emphasis
full of conviction.  “So try and distinguish yourself.  Our fortune
is at stake.”

That this dinner was a matter of considerable import, Mme. Favoral
could not doubt when she saw her husband’s fabulous liberality
continue without flinching for a number of days.

Ten times of an afternoon he would come home to tell his wife the
name of some dish that had been mentioned before him, or to consult
her on the subject of some exotic viand he had just noticed in some
shop-window.  Daily he brought home wines of the most fantastic
vintages,--those wines which dealers manufacture for the special
use of verdant fools, and which they sell in odd-shaped bottles
previously overlaid with secular dust and cobwebs.

He subjected to a protracted cross-examination the cook whom Mme.
Favoral had engaged, and demanded that she should enumerate the
houses where she had cooked.  He absolutely required the man who was
to wait at the table to exhibit the dress-coat he was to wear.

The great day having come, he did not stir from the house, going
and coming from the kitchen to the dining-room, uneasy, agitated,
unable to stay in one place.  He breathed only when he had seen the
table set and loaded with the new china he had purchased and the
magnificent silver he had gone to hire in person.  And when his
young wife made her appearance, looking lovely in her new dress,
and leading by the hands the two children, Maxence and Gilberte, in
their new suits:

“That’s perfect,” he exclaimed, highly delighted.  “Nothing could be
better.  Now, let our four guests come!”

They arrived a few minutes before seven, in two carriages, the
magnificence of which astonished the Rue St. Gilles.

And, the presentations over, Vincent Favoral had at last the
ineffable satisfaction to see seated at his table the Baron and
Baroness de Thaller, M. Saint Pavin, who called himself a financial
editor, and M. Jules Jottras, of the house of Jottras & Brother.

It was with an eager curiosity that Mme. Favoral observed these
people whom her husband called his friends, and whom she saw herself
for the first time.

M. de Thaller, who could not then have been much over thirty, was
already a man without any particular age.

Cold, stiff, aping evidently the English style, he expressed
himself in brief sentences, and with a strong foreign accent.
Nothing to surprise on his countenance.  He had the forehead
prominent, the eyes of a dull blue, and the nose very thin.  His
scanty hair was spread over the top of his head with labored
symmetry; and his red, thick, and carefully-trimmed whiskers seemed
to engross much of his attention.

M. Saint Pavin had not the same stiff manner.  Careless in his
dress, he lacked breeding.  He was a robust fellow, dark and bearded,
with thick lips, the eye bright and prominent, spreading upon the
table-cloth broad hands ornamented at the joints with small tufts of
hair, speaking loud, laughing noisily, eating much and drinking more.

By the side of him, M. Jules Jottras, although looking like a
fashion-plate, did not show to much advantage.  Delicate, blonde,
sallow, almost beardless, M. Jottras distinguished himself only by
a sort of unconscious impudence, a harmless cynicism, and a sort of
spasmodic giggle, that shook the eye-glasses which he wore stuck
over his nose.

But it was above all Mme. de Thaller who excited Mme. Favoral’s
apprehensions.

Dressed with a magnificence of at least questionable taste, very
much _decolletee_, wearing large diamonds at her ears, and rings on
all her fingers, the young baroness was insolently handsome, of a
beauty sensuous even to coarseness.  With hair of a bluish black,
twisted over the neck in heavy ringlets, she had skin of a pearly
whiteness, lips redder than blood, and great eyes that threw flames
from beneath their long, curved lashes.  It was the poetry of flesh;
and one could not help admiring.  Did she speak, however, or make
a gesture, all admiration vanished.  The voice was vulgar, the motion
common.  Did M. Jottras venture upon a double-entendre, she would
throw herself back upon her chair to laugh, stretching her neck, and
thrusting her throat forward.

Wholly absorbed in the care of his guests, M. Favoral remarked
nothing.  He only thought of loading the plates, and filling the
glasses, complaining that they ate and drank nothing, asking
anxiously if the cooking was not good, if the wines were bad, and
almost driving the waiter out of his wits with questions and
suggestions.

It is a fact, that neither M. de Thaller nor M. Jottras had much
appetite.  But M. Saint Pavin officiated for all; and the sole task
of keeping up with him caused M. Favoral to become visibly animated.

His cheeks were much flushed, when, having passed the champagne all
around, he raised his froth-tipped glass, exclaiming:

“I drink to the success of the business.”

“To the success of the business,” echoed the others, touching his
glass.

And a few moments later they passed into the parlor to take coffee.

This toast had caused Mme. Favoral no little uneasiness.  But she
found it impossible to ask a single question; Mme. de Thaller
dragging her almost by force to a seat by her side on the sofa,
pretending that two women always have secrets to exchange, even when
they see each other for the first time.

The young baroness was fully _au fait_ in matters of bonnets and
dresses; and it was with giddy volubility that she asked Mme.
Favoral the names of her milliner and her dressmaker, and to what
jeweler she intrusted her diamonds to be reset.

This looked so much like a joke, that the poor housekeeper of the
Rue St. Gilles could not help smiling whilst answering that she had
no dressmaker, and that, having no diamonds, she had no possible
use for the services of a jeweler.

The other declared she could not get over it.  No diamonds!  That
was a misfortune exceeding all.  And quick she seized the opportunity
charitably to enumerate the parures in her jewel-case, and laces in
her drawers, and the dresses in her wardrobes.  In the first place, it
would have been impossible for her, she swore, to live with a husband
either miserly or poor.  Hers had just presented her with a lovely
coupe, lined with yellow satin, a perfect bijou.  And she made good
use of it too; for she loved to go about.  She spent her days
shopping, or riding in the Bois.  Every evening she had the choice
of the theatre or a ball, often both.  The genre theatres were those
she preferred.  To be sure, the opera and the Italiens were more
stylish; but she could not help gaping there.

Then she wished to kiss the children; and Gilberte and Maxence had
to be brought in.  She adored children, she vowed: it was her
weakness, her passion.  She had herself a little girl, eighteen
months old, called Cesarine, to whom she was devoted; and certainly
she would have brought her, had she not feared she would have been
in the way.

All this verbiage sounded like a confused murmur to Mme. Favoral’s
ears.  “Yes, no,” she answered, hardly knowing to what she did answer.

Her head heavy with a vague apprehension, it required her utmost
attention to observe her husband and his guests.

Standing by the mantel-piece, smoking their cigars, they conversed
with considerable animation, but not loud enough to enable her to
hear all they said.  It was only when M. Saint Pavin spoke that she
understood that they were still discussing the “business;” for he
spoke of articles to publish, stocks to sell, dividends to distribute,
sure profits to reap.

They all, at any rate, seemed to agree perfectly; and at a certain
moment she saw her husband and M. de Thaller strike each other’s
hand, as people do who exchange a pledge.

Eleven o’clock struck.

M. Favoral was insisting to make his guests accept a cup of tea or
a glass of punch; but M. de Thaller declared that he had some work
to do, and that, his carriage having come, he must go.

And go he did, taking with him the baroness, followed by M. Saint
Pavin and M. Jottras.  And when, the door having closed upon them,
M. Favoral found himself alone with his wife,

“Well,” he exclaimed, swelling with gratified vanity, “what do you
think of our friends?”

“They surprised me,” she answered.

He fairly jumped at that word.

“I should like to know why?”

Then, timidly, and with infinite precautions, she commenced
explaining that M. de Thaller’s face inspired her with no confidence;
that M. Jottras had seemed to her a very impudent personage; that M.
Saint Pavin appeared low and vulgar; and that, finally, the young
baroness had given her of herself the most singular idea.

M. Favoral refused to hear more.

“It’s because you have never seen people of the best society,” he
exclaimed.

“Excuse me.  Formerly, during my mother’s life--”

“Eh!  Your mother never received but shop-keepers.”

The poor woman dropped her head.

“I beg of you, Vincent,” she insisted, “before doing any thing with
these new friends, think well, consult--”

He burst out laughing.

“Are you not afraid that they will cheat me?” he said,--“people ten
times as rich as we are.  Here, don’t let us speak of it any more,
and let us go to bed.  You’ll see what this dinner will bring us, and
whether I ever have reason to regret the money we have spent.”



VIII

When, on the morning after this dinner, which was to form an era in
her life, Mme. Favoral woke up, her husband was already up, pencil
in hand, and busy figuring.

The charm had vanished with the fumes of the champagne; and the
clouds of the worst days were gathering upon his brow.

Noticing that his wife was looking at him,

“It’s expensive work,” he said in a bluff tone, “to set a business
going; and it wouldn’t do to commence over again every day.”

To hear him speak, one would have thought that Mme. Favoral alone,
by dint of hard begging, had persuaded him into that expense which
he now seemed to regret so much.  She quietly called his attention
to the fact, reminding him that, far from urging, she had endeavored
to hold him back; repeating that she augured ill of that business
over which he was so enthusiastic, and that, if he would believe her,
he would not venture.

“Do you even know what the project is?” he interrupted rudely.

“You have not told me.”

“Very well, then: leave me in peace with your presentiments.  You
dislike my friends; and I saw very well how you treated Mme. de
Thaller.  But I am the master; and what I have decided shall be.
Besides, I have signed.  Once for all, I forbid you ever speaking
to me again on that subject.”

Whereupon, having dressed himself with much care, he started off,
saying that he was expected at breakfast by Saint Pavin, the
financial editor, and by M. Jottras, of the house of Jottras
& Brother.

A shrewd woman would not have given it up so easy, and, in the end,
would probably have mastered the despot, whose intellect was far
from brilliant.  But Mme. Favoral was too proud to be shrewd; and
besides, the springs of her will had been broken by the successive
oppression of an odious stepmother and a brutal master.  Her
abdication of all was complete.  Wounded, she kept the secret of
her wound, hung her head, and said nothing.

She did not, therefore, venture a single allusion; and nearly a
week elapsed, during which the names of her late guests were not
once mentioned.

It was through a newspaper, which M. Favoral had forgotten in the
parlor, that she learned that the Baron de Thaller had just founded
a new stock company, the Mutual Credit Society, with a capital of
several millions.

Below the advertisement, which was printed in enormous letters,
came a long article, in which it was demonstrated that the new
company was, at the same time, a patriotic undertaking and an
institution of credit of the first class; that it supplied a great
public want; that it would be of inestimable benefit to industry;
that its profits were assured; and that to subscribe to its stock
was simply to draw short bills upon fortune.

Already somewhat re-assured by the reading of this article, Mme.
Favoral became quite so when she read the names of the board of
directors.  Nearly all were titled, and decorated with many foreign
orders; and the remainder were bankers, office-holders, and even
some ex-ministers.

“I must have been mistaken,” she thought, yielding unconsciously to
the influence of printed evidence.

And no objection occurred to her, when, a few days later, her
husband told her,

“I have the situation I wanted.  I am head cashier of the company
of which M. de Thaller is manager.”

That was all.  Of the nature of this society, of the advantages
which it offered him, not one word.

Only by the way in which he expressed himself did Mme. Favoral judge
that he must have been well treated; and he further confirmed her in
that opinion by granting her, of his own accord, a few additional
francs for the daily expenses of the house.

“We must,” he declared on this memorable occasion, “do honor to our
social position, whatever it may cost.”

For the first time in his life, he seemed heedful of public opinion.
He recommended his wife to be careful of her dress and of that of
the children, and re-engaged a servant.  He expressed the wish of
enlarging their circle of acquaintances, and inaugurated his Saturday
dinners, to which came assiduously, M. and Mme. Desclavettes, M.
Chapelain the attorney, the old man Desormeaux, and a few others.

As to himself he gradually settled down into those habits from
which he was nevermore to depart, and the chronometric regularity
of which had secured him the nickname of Old Punctuality, of which
he was proud.

In all other respects never did a man, to such a degree, become so
utterly indifferent to his wife and children.  His house was for him
but a mere hotel, where he slept, and took his evening meal.  He
never thought of questioning his wife as to the use of her time, and
what she did in his absence.  Provided she did not ask him for money,
and was there when he came home, he was satisfied.

Many women, at Mme. Favoral’s age, might have made a strange use of
that insulting indifference and of that absolute freedom.

If she did avail herself of it, it was solely to follow one of those
inspirations which can only spring in a mother’s heart.

The increase in the budget of the household was relatively large, but
so nicely calculated, that she had not one cent more that she could
call her own.

With the most intense sorrow, she thought that her children might
have to endure the humiliating privations which had made her own
life wretched.  They were too young yet to suffer from the paternal
parsimony; but they would grow; their desires would develop; and it
would be impossible for her to grant them the most innocent
satisfactions.

Whilst turning over and over in her mind this distressing thought,
she remembered a friend of her mother’s, who kept, in the Rue St.
Denis, a large establishment for the sale of hosiery and woollen
goods.  There, perhaps, lay the solution of the problem.  She called
to see the worthy woman, and, without even needing to confess the
whole truth to her, she obtained sundry pieces of work, ill paid
as a matter of course, but which, by dint of close application,
might be made to yield from eight to twelve francs a week.

From this time she never lost a minute, concealing her work as if
it were an evil act.

She knew her husband well enough to feel certain that he would
break out, and swear that he spent money enough to enable his wife
to live without being reduced to making a work woman of herself.

But what joy, the day when she hid way down at the bottom of a
drawer the first twenty-franc-piece she had earned, a beautiful
gold-piece, which belonged to her without contest, and which she
might spend as she pleased, without having to render any account
to any one!

And with what pride, from week to week, she saw her little treasure
swell, despite the drafts she made upon it, sometimes to buy a toy
for Maxence, sometimes to add a few ribbons or trinkets to Gilberte’s
toilet!

This was the happiest time of her life, a halt in that painful
journey through which she had been dragging herself for so many
years.  Between her two children, the hours flew light and rapid
as so many seconds.  If all the hopes of the young girl and of the
woman had withered before they had blossomed, the mother’s joys
at least should not fail her.  Because, whilst the present sufficed
to her modest ambition, the future had ceased to cause her any
uneasiness.

No reference had ever been made, between herself and her husband,
to that famous dinner-party: he never spoke to her of the Mutual
Credit Society; but now and then he allowed some words or exclamations
to escape, which she carefully recorded, and which betrayed a
prosperous state of affairs.

“That Thaller is a tough fellow!” he would exclaim, “and he has the
most infernal luck!”

And at other times,

“Two or three more operations like the one we have just successfully
wound up, and we can shut up shop!”

From all this, what could she conclude, if not that he was marching
with rapid strides towards that fortune, the object of all his
ambition?

Already in the neighborhood he had that reputation to be very rich,
which is the beginning of riches itself.  He was admired for keeping
his house with such rigid economy; for a man is always esteemed who
has money, and does not spend it.

“He is not the man ever to squander what he has,” the neighbors
repeated.

The persons whom he received on Saturdays believed him more than
comfortably off.  When M. Desclavettes and M. Chapelain had
complained to their hearts’ contents, the one of the shop, the
other of his office, they never failed to add,

“You laugh at us, because you are engaged in large operations, where
people make as much money as they like.”

They seemed to hold his financial capacities in high estimation.
They consulted him, and followed his advice.

M. Desormeaux was wont to say,

“Oh! he knows what he is about.”

And Mme. Favoral tried to persuade herself, that, in this respect
at least, her husband was a remarkable man.  She attributed his
silence and his distractions to the grave cares that filled his mind.
In the same manner that he had once announced to her that they had
enough to live on, she expected him, some fine morning, to tell her
that he was a millionaire.



IX

But the respite granted by fate to Mme. Favoral was drawing to an
end: her trials were about to return more poignant than ever,
occasioned, this time, by her children, hitherto her whole happiness
and her only consolation.

Maxence was nearly twelve.  He was a good little fellow, intelligent,
studious at times, but thoughtless in the extreme, and of a
turbulence which nothing could tame.

At the Massin School, where he had been sent, he made his teachers’
hair turn white; and not a week went by that he did not signalize
himself by some fresh misdeed.

A father like any other would have paid but slight attention to the
pranks of a schoolboy, who, after all, ranked among the first of his
class, and of whom the teachers themselves, whilst complaining, said,

“Bash!  What matters it, since the heart is sound and the mind sane?”

But M. Favoral took every thing tragically.  If Maxence was kept in,
or otherwise punished, he pretended that it reflected upon himself,
and that his son was disgracing him.

If a report came home with this remark, “execrable conduct,” he fell
into the most violent passion, and seemed to lose all control of
himself.

“At your age,” he would shout to the terrified boy, “I was working
in a factory, and earning my livelihood.  Do you suppose that I
will not tire of making sacrifices to procure you the advantages
of an education which I lacked myself?  Beware.  Havre is not far
off; and cabin-boys are always in demand there.”

If, at least, he had confined himself to these admonitions, which,
by their very exaggeration, failed in their object!  But he favored
mechanical appliances as a necessary means of sufficiently impressing
reprimands upon the minds of young people; and therefore, seizing
his cane, he would beat poor Maxence most unmercifully, the more so
that the boy, filled with pride, would have allowed himself to be
chopped to pieces rather than utter a cry, or shed a tear.

The first time that Mme. Favoral saw her son struck, she was seized
with one of those wild fits of anger which do not reason, and never
forgive.  To be beaten herself would have seemed to her less
atrocious, less humiliating.  Hitherto she had found it impossible
to love a husband such as hers: henceforth, she took him in utter
aversion: he inspired her with horror.  She looked upon her son as
a martyr for whom she could hardly ever do enough.

And so, after these harrowing scenes, she would press him to her
heart in the most passionate embrace; she would cover with her kisses
the traces of the blows; and she would strive, by the most delirious
caresses, to make him forget the paternal brutalities.  With him she
sobbed.  Like him, she would shake her clinched fists in the vacant
space; exclaiming, “Coward, tyrant, assassin!”  The little Gilberte
mingled her tears with theirs; and, pressed against each other, they
deplored their destiny, cursing the common enemy, the head of the
family.

Thus did Maxence spend his boyhood between equally fatal
exaggerations, between the revolting brutalities of his father, and
the dangerous caresses of his mother; the one depriving him of every
thing, the other refusing him nothing.

For Mme. Favoral had now found a use for her humble savings.

If the idea had never come to the cashier of the Mutual Credit
Society to put a few sous in his son’s pocket, the too weak mother
would have suggested to him the want of money in order to have the
pleasure of gratifying it.

She who had suffered so many humiliations in her life, she could not
bear the idea of her son having his pride wounded, and being unable
to indulge in those little trifling expenses which are the vanity
of schoolboys.

“Here, take this,” she would tell him on holidays, slipping a few
francs into his hands.

Unfortunately, to her present she joined the recommendation not to
allow his father to know any thing about it; forgetting that she was
thus training Maxence to dissimulate, warping his natural sense of
right, and perverting his instincts.

No, she gave; and, to repair the gaps thus made in her treasure, she
worked to the point of ruining her sight, with such eager zeal, that
the worthy shop-keeper of the Rue St. Denis asked her if she did not
employ working girls.  In truth, the only help she received was from
Gilberte, who, at the age of eight, already knew how to make herself
useful.

And this is not all.  For this son, in anticipation of growing
expenses, she stooped to expedients which formerly would have seemed
to her unworthy and disgraceful.  She robbed the household, cheating
on her own marketing.  She went so far as to confide to her servant,
and to make of the girl the accomplice of her operations.  She
applied all her ingenuity to serve to M. Favoral dinners in which
the excellence of the dressing concealed the want of solid substance.
And on Sunday, when she rendered her weekly accounts, it was without
a blush that she increased by a few centimes the price of each object,
rejoicing when she had thus scraped a dozen francs, and finding, to
justify herself to her own eyes, those sophisms which passion never
lacks.

At first Maxence was too young to wonder from what sources his mother
drew the money she lavished upon his schoolboy fancies.  She
recommended him to hide from his father: he did so, and thought it
perfectly natural.

As he grew older, he learned to discern.

The moment came when he opened his eyes upon the system under which
the paternal household was managed.  He noticed there that anxious
economy which seems to betray want, and the acrimonious discussions
which arose upon the inconsiderate use of a twenty-franc-piece.  He
saw his mother realize miracles of industry to conceal the shabbiness
of her toilets, and resort to the most skillful diplomacy when she
wished to purchase a dress for Gilberte.

And, despite all this, he had at his disposition as much money as
those of his comrades whose parents had the reputation to be the
most opulent and the most generous.

Anxious, he questioned his mother.

“Eh, what does it matter?” she answered, blushing
and confused.  “Is that any thing to worry you?”

And, as he insisted,

“Go ahead,” she said: “we are rich enough.”  But he could hardly
believe her, accustomed as he was to hear every one talk of poverty;
and, as he fixed upon her his great astonished eyes,

“Yes,” she resumed, with an imprudence which fatally was to bear its
fruits, “we are rich; and, if we live as you see, it is because it
suits your father, who wishes to amass a still greater fortune.”

This was hardly an answer; and yet Maxence asked no further question.
But he inquired here and there, with that patient shrewdness of young
people possessed with a fixed idea.

Already, at this time, M. Favoral had in the neighborhood, and ever
among his friends, the reputation to be worth at least a million.
The Mutual Credit Society had considerably developed itself: he must,
they thought, have benefitted largely by the circumstance; and the
profits must have swelled rapidly in the hands of so able a man,
and one so noted for his rigid economy.

Such is the substance of what Maxence heard; and people did not fail
to add ironically, that he need not rely upon the paternal fortune
to amuse himself.

M. Desormeaux himself, whom he had “pumped” rather cleverly, had
told him, whilst patting him amicably on the shoulder,

“If you ever need money for your frolics, young man, try and earn
it; for I’ll be hanged if it’s the old man who’ll ever supply it.”

Such answers complicated, instead of explaining, the problem which
occupied Maxence.

He observed, he watched; and at last he acquired the certainty that
the money he spent was the fruit of the joint labor of his mother
and sister.

“Ah! why not have told me so?” he exclaimed, throwing his arms
around his mother’s neck.  “Why have exposed me to the bitter regrets
which I feel at this moment?”

By this sole word the poor woman found herself amply repaid.  She
admired the _noblesse_ of her son’s feelings and the kindness of his
heart.

“Do you not understand,” she told him, shedding tears of joy, “do
you not see, that the labor which can promote her son’s pleasure is
a happiness for his mother?”

But he was dismayed at his discovery.

“No matter!” he said.  “I swear that I shall no longer scatter to
the winds, as I have been doing, the money that you give me.”

For a few weeks, indeed, he was faithful to his pledge.  But at
fifteen resolutions are not very stanch.  The impressions he had
felt wore off.  He became tired of the small privations which he had
to impose upon himself.

He soon came to take to the letter what his mother had told him, and
to prove to his own satisfaction that to deprive himself of a
pleasure was to deprive her.  He asked for ten francs one day, then
ten francs another, and gradually resumed his old habits.

He was at this time about leaving school.

“The moment has come,” said M. Favoral, “for him to select a career,
and support himself.”



X

To think of a profession, Maxence Favoral had not waited for the
paternal warnings.

Modern schoolboys are precocious: they know the strong and the weak
side of life; and, when they take their degree, they already have
but few illusions left.

And how could it be otherwise?  In the interior of the colleges is
fatally found the echo of the thoughts, and the reflex of the manners,
of the time.  Neither walls nor keepers can avail.  At the same time,
as the city mud that stains their boots, the scholars bring back on
their return from holidays their stock of observations and of facts.

And what have they seen during the day in their families, or among
their friends?

Ardent cravings, insatiable appetites for luxuries, comforts,
enjoyments, pleasures, contempt for patient labor, scorn for austere
convictions, eager longing for money, the will to become rich at any
cost, and the firm resolution to ravish fortune on the first
favorable occasion.

To be sure, they have dissembled in their presence; but their
perceptions are keen.

True, their father has told them in a grave tone, that there is
nothing respectable in this world except labor and honesty; but they
have caught that same father scarcely noticing a poor devil of an
honest man, and bowing to the earth before some clever rascal bearing
the stigma of three judgments, but worth six millions.

Conclusion?  Oh! they know very well how to conclude; for there are
none such as young people to be logical, and to deduce the utmost
consequences of a fact.

They know, the most of them, that they will have to do something or
other; but what?  And it is then, that, during the recreations,
their imagination strives to find that hitherto unknown profession
which is to give them fortune without work, and freedom at the same
time as a brilliant situation.

They discuss and criticise freely all the careers which are open to
youthful ambition.  And how they laugh, if some simple fellow
ventures upon suggesting some of those modest situations where they
earn one hundred and fifty francs a month at the start!  One hundred
and fifty francs!--why, it’s hardly as much as many a boy spends
for his cigars, and his cab-fares when he is late.

Maxence was neither better nor worse than the rest.  Like the rest
he strove to discover the ideal profession which makes a man rich,
and amuses him at the same time.

Under the pretext that he drew nicely, he spoke of becoming a painter,
calculating coolly what painting may yield, and reckoning, according
to some newspaper, the earnings of Corot or Geroine, Ziem, Bouguereau,
and some others, who are reaping at last the fruits of unceasing
efforts and crushing labors.

But, in the way of pictures, M. Vincent Favoral appreciated only the
blue vignettes of the Bank of France.

“I wish no artists in my family,” he said, in a tone that admitted
of no reply.

Maxence would willingly have become an engineer, for it’s rather
the style to be an engineer now-a-days; but the examinations for
the Polytechnic School are rather steep.  Or else a cavalry officer;
but the two years at Saint Cyr are not very gay.  Or chief clerk,
like M. Desormeaux; but he would have to begin by being supernumerary.

Finally after hesitating for a long time between law and medicine,
he made up his mind to become a lawyer, influenced above all, by
the joyous legends of the Latin quarter.

That was not exactly M. Vincent Favoral’s dream.

“That’s going to cost money again,” he growled.

The fact is, he had indulged in the fallacious hope that his son,
as soon as he left college, would enter at once some business-house,
where he would earn enough to take care of himself.

He yielded at last, however, to the persistent entreaties of his
wife, and the solicitations of his friends.

“Be it so,” he said to Maxence: “you will study law.  Only, as it
cannot suit me that you should waste your days lounging in the
billiard-rooms of the left bank, you shall at the same time work
in an attorney’s office.  Next Saturday I shall arrange with my
friend Chapelain.”

Maxence had not bargained for such an arrangement; and he came near
backing out at the prospect of a discipline which he foresaw must
be as exacting as that of the college.

Still, as he could think of nothing better, he persevered.  And,
vacations over, he was duly entered at the law-school, and settled
at a desk in M. Chapelain’s office, which was then in the Rue St.
Antoine.

The first year every thing went on tolerably.  He enjoyed as much
freedom as he cared to.  His father did not allow him one centime
for his pocket-money; but the attorney, in his capacity of an old
friend of the family, did for him what he had never done before for
an amateur clerk, and allowed him twenty francs a month.  Mme.
Favoral adding to this a few five-franc pieces, Maxence declared
himself entirely satisfied.

Unfortunately, with his lively imagination and his impetuous temper,
no one was less fit than himself for that peaceful existence, that
steady toil, the same each day, without the stimulus of difficulties
to overcome, or the satisfaction of results obtained.

Before long he became tired of it.

He had found at the law-school a number of his old schoolmates whose
parents resided in the provinces, and who, consequently, lived as
they pleased in the Latin quarter, less assiduous to the lectures
than to the Spring Brewery and the Closerie des Lilas.[*]

   [ * A noted dancing-garden. ]

He envied them their joyous life, their freedom without control,
their facile pleasures, their furnished rooms, and even the low
eating-house where they took their meals.  And, as much as possible,
he lived with them and like them.

But it is not with M. Chapelain’s twenty francs that it would have
been possible for him to keep up with fellows, who, with superb
recklessness, took on credit everything they could get, reserving
the amount of their allowance for those amusements which had to be
paid for in cash.

But was not Mme. Favoral here?

She had worked so much, the poor woman, especially since Mlle.
Gilberte had become almost a young lady; she had so much saved, so
much stinted, that her reserve, notwithstanding repeated drafts,
amounted to a good round sum.

When Maxence wanted two or three napoleons, he had but a word to
say; and he said it often.  Thus, after a while, he became an
excellent billiard-player; he kept his colored meerschaum in the
rack of a popular brewery; he took absinthe before dinner, and
spent his evenings in the laudable effort to ascertain how many mugs
of beer he could “put away.”  Gaining in audacity, he danced at
Bullier’s, dined at Foyd’s, and at last had a mistress.

So much so, that one afternoon, M. Favoral having to visit on
business the other side of the water, found himself face to face
with his son, who was coming along, a cigar in his mouth, and having
on his arm a young lady, painted in superior style, and harnessed
with a toilet calculated to make the cab-horses rear.

He returned to the Rue St. Gilles in a state of indescribable rage.

“A woman!” he exclaimed in a tone of offended modesty.  “A woman!
--he, my son!”

And when that son made his appearance, looking quite sheepish, his
first impulse was to resort to his former mode of correction.

But Maxence was now over nineteen years of age.

At the sight of the uplifted cane, he became whiter than his shirt;
and, wrenching it from his father’s hands, he broke it across his
knees, threw the pieces violently upon the floor, and sprang out
of the house.

“He shall never again set his foot here!” screamed the cashier of
the Mutual Credit, thrown beside himself by an act of resistance
which seemed to him unheard of.  “I banish him.  Let his clothes be
packed up, and taken to some hotel: I never want to see him again.”

For a long time Mme. Favoral and Gilberte fairly dragged themselves
at his feet, before he consented to recall his determination.

“He will disgrace us all!” he kept repeating, seeming unable to
understand that it was himself who had, as it were, driven Maxence
on to the fatal road which he was pursuing, forgetting that the
absurd severities of the father prepared the way for the perilous
indulgence of the mother, unwilling to own that the head of a
family has other duties besides providing food and shelter for his
wife and children, and that a father has but little right to
complain who has not known how to make himself the friend and the
adviser of his son.

At last, after the most violent recriminations, he forgave, in
appearance at least.

But the scales had dropped from his eyes.  He started in quest of
information, and discovered startling enormities.

He heard from M. Chapelain that Maxence remained whole weeks at a
time without appearing at the office.  If he had not complained
before, it was because he had yielded to the urgent entreaties of
Mme. Favoral; and he was now glad, he added, of an opportunity to
relieve his conscience by a full confession.

Thus the cashier discovered, one by one, all his son’s tricks.  He
heard that he was almost unknown at the law-school, that he spent
his days in the cafes, and that, in the evening, when he believed
him in bed and asleep, he was in fact running out to theatres and
to balls.

“Ah! that’s the way, is it?” he thought.  “Ah, my wife and children
are in league against me,--me, the master.  Very well, we’ll see.”



XI

From that morning war was declared.

From that day commenced in the Rue St. Gilles one of those domestic
dramas which are still awaiting their Moliere,--a drama of
distressing vulgarity and sickening realism, but poignant,
nevertheless; for it brought into action tears, blood, and a savage
energy.

M. Favoral thought himself sure to win; for did he not have the key
of the cash, and is not the key of the cash the most formidable
weapon in an age where every thing begins and ends with money?

Nevertheless, he was filled with irritating anxieties.

He who had just discovered so many things which he did not even
suspect a few days before, he could not discover the source whence
his son drew the money which flowed like water from his prodigal
hands.

He had made sure that Maxence had no debts; and yet it could not be
with M. Chapelain’s monthly twenty francs that he fed his frolics.

Mme. Favoral and Gilberte, subjected separately to a skillful
interrogatory, had managed to keep inviolate the secret of their
mercenary labor.  The servant, shrewdly questioned, had said nothing
that could in any way cause the truth to be suspected.

Here was, then, a mystery; and M. Favoral’s constant anxiety could
be read upon his knitted brows during his brief visits to the house;
that is, during dinner.

From the manner in which he tasted his soup, it was easy to see that
he was asking himself whether that was real soup, and whether he was
not being imposed upon.  From the expression of his eyes, it was
easy to guess this question constantly present to his mind.

“They are robbing me evidently; but how do they do it?”

And he became distrustful, fussy, and suspicious, to an extent that
he had never been before.  It was with the most insulting precautions
that he examined every Sunday his wife’s accounts.  He took a look at
the grocer’s, and settled it himself every month: he had the butcher’s
bills sent to him in duplicate.  He would inquire the price of an
apple as he peeled it over his plate, and never failed to stop at the
fruiterer’s and ascertain that he had not been deceived.

But it was all in vain.

And yet he knew that Maxence always had in his pocket two or three
five-franc pieces.

“Where do you steal them?” he asked him one day.

“I save them out of my salary,” boldly answered the young man.

Exasperated, M. Favoral wished to make the whole world take an
interest in his investigations.  And one Saturday evening, as he
was talking with his friends, M. Chapelain, the worthy Desclavettes,
and old man Desormeaux, pointing to his wife and daughter:

“Those d---d women rob me,” he said, “for the benefit of my son;
and they do it so cleverly that I can’t find out how.  They have
an understanding with the shop-keepers, who are but licensed thieves;
and nothing is eaten here that they don’t make me pay double its
value.”

M. Chapelain made an ill-concealed grimace; whilst M. Desclavettes
sincerely admired a man who had courage enough to confess his
meanness.

But M. Desormeaux never minced things.

“Do you know, friend Vincent,” he said, “that it requires a strong
stomach to take dinner with a man who spends his time calculating
the cost of every mouthful that his guests swallow?”

M. Favoral turned red in the face.

“It is not the expense that I deplore,” he replied, “but the
duplicity.  I am rich enough, thank Heaven! not to begrudge a few
francs; and I would gladly give to my wife twice as much as she takes,
if she would only ask it frankly.”

But that was a lesson.

Hereafter he was careful to dissimulate, and seemed exclusively
occupied in subjecting his son to a system of his invention, the
excessive rigor of which would have upset a steadier one than he.

He demanded of him daily written attestations of his attendance both
at the law-school and at the lawyer’s office.  He marked out the
itinerary of his walks for him, and measured the time they required,
within a few minutes.  Immediately after dinner he shut him up in
his room, under lock and key, and never failed, when he came home
at ten o’clock to make sure of his presence.

He could not have taken steps better calculated to exalt still more
Mme. Favoral’s blind tenderness.

When she heard that Maxence had a mistress, she had been rudely
shocked in her most cherished feelings.  It is never without a secret
jealousy that a mother discovers that a woman has robbed her of her
son’s heart.  She had retained a certain amount of spite against him
on account of disorders, which, in her candor, she had never
suspected.  She forgave him every thing when she saw of what
treatment he was the object.

She took sides with him, believing him to be the victim of a most
unjust persecution.  In the evening, after her husband had gone out,
Gilberte and herself would take their sewing, sit in the hall outside
his room, and converse with him through the door.  Never had they
worked so hard for the shop-keeper in the Rue St. Denis.  Some weeks
they earned as much as twenty-five or thirty francs.

But Maxence’s patience was exhausted; and one morning he declared
resolutely that he would no longer attend the law-school, that he
had been mistaken in his vocation, and that there was no human power
capable to make him return to M. Chapelain’s.

“And where will you go?” exclaimed his father.  “Do you expect me
eternally to supply your wants?”

He answered that it was precisely in order to support himself, and
conquer his independence, that he had resolved to abandon a
profession, which, after two years, yielded him twenty francs a month.

“I want some business where I have a chance to get rich,” he replied.
“I would like to enter a banking-house, or some great financial
establishment.”

Mme. Favoral jumped at the idea.

“That’s a fact,” she said to her husband.  “Why couldn’t you find
a place for our son at the Mutual Credit?  There he would be under
your own eyes.  Intelligent as he is, backed by M. de Thaller and
yourself, he would soon earn a good salary.”

M. Favoral knit his brows.

“That I shall never do,” he uttered.  “I have not sufficient
confidence in my son.  I cannot expose myself to have him compromise
the consideration which I have acquired for myself.”

And, revealing to a certain extent the secret of his conduct:

“A cashier,” he added, “who like me handles immense sums cannot be
too careful of his reputation.  Confidence is a delicate thing in
these times, when there are so many cashiers constantly on the road
to Belgium.  Who knows what would be thought of me, if I was known
to have such a son as mine?”

Mme. Favoral was insisting, nevertheless, when he seemed to make up
his mind suddenly.

“Enough,” he said.  “Maxence is free.  I allow him two years to
establish himself in some position.  That delay over, good-by: he
can find board and lodging where he please.  That’s all.  I don’t
want to hear any thing more about it.”

It was with a sort of frenzy that Maxence abused that freedom; and
in less than two weeks he had dissipated three months’ earnings of
his mother and sister.

That time over, he succeeded, thanks to M. Chapelain, in finding a
place with an architect.

This was not a very brilliant opening; and the chances were, that
he might remain a clerk all his life.  But the future did not trouble
him much.  For the present, he was delighted with this inferior
position, which assured him each month one hundred and seventy-five
francs.

One hundred and seventy-five francs!  A fortune.  And so he rushed
into that life of questionable pleasures, where so many wretches have
left not only the money which they had, which is nothing, but the
money which they had not, which leads straight to the police-court.

He made friends with those shabby fellows who walk up and down in
front of the Cafe Riche, with an empty stomach, and a tooth-pick
between their teeth.  He became a regular customer at those low cafes
of the Boulevards, where plastered girls smile to the men.  He
frequented those suspicious table d’hotes where they play baccarat
after dinner on a wine-stained table-cloth, and where the police make
periodical raids.  He ate suppers in those night restaurants where
people throw the bottles at each other’s heads after drinking their
contents.

Often he remained twenty-four hours without coming to the Rue St.
Gilles; and then Mme. Favoral spent the night in the most fearful
anxiety.  Then, suddenly, at some hour when he knew his father to be
absent, he would appear, and, taking his mother to one side:

“I very much want a few louis,” he would say in a sheepish tone.

She gave them to him; and she kept giving them so long as she had
any, not, however, without observing timidly to him that Gilberte
and herself could not earn very much.

Until finally one evening, and to a last demand:

“Alas!” she answered sorrowfully, “I have nothing left, and it is
only on Monday that we are to take our work back.  Couldn’t you
wait until then?”

He could not wait: he was expected for a game.  Blind devotion begets
ferocious egotism.  He wanted his mother to go out and borrow the
money from the grocer or the butcher.  She was hesitating.  He spoke
louder.

Then Mlle. Gilberte appeared.

“Have you, then, really no heart?” she said.  “It seems to me, that,
if I were a man, I would not ask my mother and sister to work for me.”



XII

Gilberte Favoral had just completed her eighteenth year.  Rather
tall, slender, her every motion betrayed the admirable proportions
of her figure, and had that grace which results from the harmonious
blending of litheness and strength.  She did not strike at first
sight; but soon a penetrating and indefinable charm arose from her
whole person; and one knew not which to admire most,--the exquisite
perfections of her figure, the divine roundness of her neck, her
aerial carriage, or the placid ingenuousness of her attitudes.  She
could not be called beautiful, inasmuch as her features lacked
regularity; but the extreme mobility of her countenance, upon which
could be read all the emotions of her soul, had an irresistible
seduction.  Her large eyes, of velvety blue, had untold depths and
an incredible intensity of expression; the imperceptible quiver of
her rosy nostrils revealed an untamable pride; and the smile that
played upon her lips told her immense contempt for every thing mean
and small.  But her real beauty was her hair,--of a blonde so
luminous that it seemed powdered with diamond-dust; so thick and
so long, that to be able to twist and confine it, she had to cut off
heavy locks of it to the very root.

Alone, in the house, she did not tremble at her father’s voice.  The
studied despotism which had subdued Mme. Favoral had revolted her,
and her energy had become tempered under the same system of
oppression which had unnerved Maxence.

Whilst her mother and her brother lied with that quiet impudence of
the slave, whose sole weapon is duplicity, Gilberte preserved a
sullen silence.  And if complicity was imposed upon her by
circumstances, if she had to maintain a falsehood, each word cost
her such a painful effort, that her features became visibly altered.

Never, when her own interests were alone at stake, had she stooped
to an untruth.  Fearlessly, and whatever might be the result,

“That is the fact,” she would say.

Accordingly, M. Favoral could not help respecting her to a degree;
and, when he was in fine humor, he called her the Empress Gilberte.
For her alone he had some deference and some attentions.  He
moderated, when she looked at him, the brutality of his language.
He brought her a few flowers every Saturday.

He had even allowed her a professor of music; though he was wont to
declare that a woman needs but two accomplishments,--to cook and
to sew.  But she had insisted so much, that he had at last
discovered for her, in an attic of the Rue du Pas-de-la-Mule, an
old Italian master, the Signor Gismondo Pulei, a sort of unknown
genius, for whom thirty francs a month were a fortune, and who
conceived a sort of religious fanaticism for his pupil.

Though he had always refused to write a note, he consented, for her
sake, to fix the melodies that buzzed in his cracked brain; and some
of them proved to be admirable.  He dreamed to compose for her an
opera that would transmit to the most remote generations the name
of Gismondo Pulei.

“The Signora Gilberte is the very goddess of music,” he said to M.
Favoral, with transports of enthusiasm, which intensified still his
frightful accent.

The cashier of the Mutual Credit Society shrugged his shoulders,
answering that there is no harmony for a man who spends his days
listening to the exciting music of golden coins.  In spite of which
his vanity seemed highly gratified, when on Saturday evenings, after
dinner, Mlle. Gilberte sat at the piano, and Mme. Desclavettes,
suppressing a yawn, would exclaim,

“What remarkable talent the dear child has!”

The young girl had, then, a positive influence; and it was to her
entreaties alone, and not to those of his wife, that he had several
times forgiven Maxence.  He would have done much more for her, had
she wished it; but she would have been compelled to ask, to insist,
to beg.

“And it’s humiliating,” she used to say.

Sometimes Mme. Favoral scolded her gently, saying that her father
would certainly not refuse her one of those pretty toilets which are
the ambition and the joy of young girls.

But she:

“It is much less mortification to me to wear these rags than to meet
with a refusal,” she replied.  “I am satisfied with my dresses.”

With such a character, surrounded, however, by a meek resignation,
and an unalterable _sang-froid_, she inspired a certain respect to
both her mother and her brother, who admired in her an energy of
which they felt themselves incapable.

And when she appeared, and commenced reproaching him in an indignant
tone of voice, with the baseness of his conduct, and his insatiate
demands, Maxence was almost stunned.

“I did not know,” he commenced, turning as red as fire.

She crushed him with a look of mingled contempt and pity; and, in
an accent of haughty irony:

“Indeed,” she said, “you do not know whence the money comes that
you extort from our mother!”

And holding up her hand, still remarkably handsome, though slightly
deformed by the constant handling of the needle; the fourth finger
of the right hand bent by the thread, and the fore-finger of the
left tattooed and lacerated by the needle:

“Indeed,” she repeated, “you do not know that my mother and myself,
we spend all our days, and the greater part of our nights, working?”

Hanging his head, he said nothing.

“If it were for myself alone,” she continued, “I would not speak to
you thus.  But look at our mother!  See her poor eyes, red and weak
from her ceaseless labor!  If I have said nothing until now, it is
because I did not as yet despair of your heart; because I hoped that
you would recover some feeling of decency.  But no, nothing.  With
time, your last scruples seem to have vanished.  Once you begged
humbly; now you demand rudely.  How soon will you resort to blows?”

“Gilberte!” stammered the poor fellow, “Gilberte!”

She interrupted him:

“Money!” she went on, “always, and without time, you must have money;
no matter whence it comes, nor what it costs.  If, at least, you
had to justify your expenses, the excuse of some great passion, or
of some object, were it absurd, ardently pursued!  But I defy you
to confess upon what degrading pleasures you lavish our humble
economies.  I defy you to tell us what you mean to do with the sum
that you demand to-night,--that sum for which you would have our
mother stoop to beg the assistance of a shop-keeper, to whom we
would be compelled to reveal the secret of our shame.”

Touched by the frightful humiliation of her son:

“He is so unhappy!” stammered Mme. Favoral.

“He unhappy!” she exclaimed.  “What, then, shall
we say of us? and, above all, what shall you say of yourself, mother?
Unhappy!--he, a man, who has liberty and strength, who may undertake
every thing, attempt any thing, dare any thing.  Ah, I wish I were
a man!  I!  I would be a man as there are some, as I know some; and
I would have avenged you, O beloved mother! long, long ago, from
father; and I would have begun to repay you all the good you have
done me.”

Mme. Favoral was sobbing.

“I beg of you,” she murmured, “spare him.”

“Be it so,” said the young girl.  “But you must allow me to tell him
that it is not for his sake that I devote my youth to a mercenary
labor.  It is for you, adored mother, that you may have the joy to
give him what he asks, since it is your only joy.”

Maxence shuddered under the breath of that superb indignation.  That
frightful humiliation, he felt that he deserved it only too much.
He understood the justice of these cruel reproaches.  And, as his
heart had not yet spoiled with the contact of his boon companions,
as he was weak, rather than wicked, as the sentiments which are the
honor and pride of a man were not dead within him.

“Ah! you are a brave sister, Gilberte,” he exclaimed; “and what you
have just done is well.  You have been harsh, but not as much as I
deserve.  Thanks for your courage, which will give me back mine.
Yes, it is a shame for me to have thus cowardly abused you both.”

And, raising his mother’s hand to his lips:
“Forgive, mother,” he continued, his eyes overflowing with tears;
“forgive him who swears to you to redeem his past, and to become
your support, instead of being a crushing burden--”

He was interrupted by the noise of steps on the stairs, and the
shrill sound of a whistle.

“My husband!” exclaimed Mme. Favoral,--“your father, my children!”

“Well,” said Mlle. Gilberte coldly.

“Don’t you hear that he is whistling? and do you forget that it is
a proof that he is furious?  What new trial threatens us again?”



XIII

Mme. Favoral spoke from experience.  She had learned, to her cost,
that the whistle of her husband, more surely than the shriek of the
stormy petrel, announces the storm.--And she had that evening more
reasons than usual to fear.  Breaking from all his habits, M. Favoral
had not come home to dinner, and had sent one of the clerks of the
Mutual Credit Society to say that they should not wait for him.

Soon his latch-key grated in the lock; the door swung open; he came
in; and, seeing his son:

“Well, I am glad to find you here,” he exclaimed with a giggle, which
with him was the utmost expression of anger.

Mme. Favoral shuddered.  Still under the impression of the scene
which had just taken place, his heart heavy, and his eyes full of
tears, Maxence did not answer.

“It is doubtless a wager,” resumed the father, “and you wish to know
how far my patience may go.”

“I do not understand you,” stammered the young man.

“The money that you used to get, I know not where, doubtless fails
you now, or at least is no longer sufficient, and you go on making
debts right and left--at the tailor’s, the shirt maker’s, the
jeweler’s.  Of course, it’s simple enough.  We earn nothing; but
we wish to dress in the latest style, to wear a gold chain across
our vest, and then we make dupes.”

“I have never made any dupes, father.”

“Bah!  And what, then, do you call all these people who came this
very day to present me their bills?  For they did dare to come to
my office!  They had agreed to come together, expecting thus to
intimidate me more easily.  I told them that you were of age, and
that your business was none of mine.  Hearing this, they became
insolent, and commenced speaking so loud, that their voices could
be heard in the adjoining rooms.  At that very moment, the manager,
M. de Thaller, happened to be passing through the hall.  Hearing
the noise of a discussion, he thought that I was having some
difficulty with some of our stockholders, and he came in, as he
had a right to.  Then I was compelled to confess everything.”

He became excited at the sound of his words, like a horse at the
jingle of his bells.  And, more and more beside himself:

“That is just what your creditors wished,” he pursued.  “They
thought I would be afraid of a row, and that I would ‘come down.’
It is a system of blackmailing, like any other.  An account is
opened to some young rascal; and, when the amount is reasonably
large, they take it to the family, saying, ‘Money, or I make row.’
Do you think it is to you, who are penniless, that they give credit?
It’s on my pocket that they were drawing,--on my pocket, because
they believed me rich.  They sold you at exorbitant prices every
thing they wished; and they relied on me to pay for trousers at
ninety francs, shirts at forty francs, and watches at six hundred
francs.”

Contrary to his habit, Maxence did not offer any denial.

“I expect to pay all I owe,” he said.

“You!”

“I give my word I will!”

“And with what, pray?”

“With my salary.”

“You have a salary, then?”

Maxence blushed.

“I have what I earn at my employer’s.”

“What employer?”

“The architect in whose office M. Chapelain helped me to find a
place.”

With a threatening gesture, M. Favoral interrupted him.

“Spare me your lies,” he uttered.  “I am better posted than you
suppose.  I know, that, over a month ago, your employer, tired of
your idleness, dismissed you in disgrace.”

Disgrace was superfluous.  The fact was, that Maxence, returning
to work after an absence of five days, had found another in his
place.

“I shall find another place,” he said.

M. Favoral shrugged his shoulders with a movement of rage.

“And in the mean time,” he said, “I shall have to pay.  Do you know
what your creditors threaten to do?--to commence a suit against me.
They would lose it, of course, they know it; but they hope that I
would yield before a scandal.  And this is not all: they talk of
entering a criminal complaint.  They pretend that you have
audaciously swindled them; that the articles you purchased of them
were not at all for your own use, but that you sold them as fast as
you got them, at any price you could obtain, to raise ready money.
The jeweler has proofs, he says, that you went straight from his
shop to the pawnbroker’s, and pledged a watch and chain which he
had just sold you.  It is a police matter.  They said all that in
presence of my superior officer--in presence of M. de Thaller.  I
had to get the janitor to put them out.  But, after they had left,
M. de Thaller gave me to understand that he wished me very much to
settle everything.  And he is right.  My consideration could not
resist another such scene.  What confidence can be placed in a
cashier whose son behaves in this manner?  How can a key of a safe
containing millions be left with a man whose son would have been
dragged into the police-courts?  In a word, I am at your mercy.
In a word, my honor, my position, my fortune, rest upon you.  As
often as it may please you to make debts, you can make them, and
I shall be compelled to pay.”

Gathering all his courage:

“You have been sometimes very harsh with me, father,” commenced
Maxence; “and yet I will not try to justify my conduct.  I swear to
you, that hereafter you shall have nothing to fear from me.”

“I fear nothing,” uttered M. Favoral with a sinister smile.  “I
know the means of placing myself beyond the reach of your follies
--and I shall use them.”

“I assure you, father, that I have taken a firm resolution.”

“Oh! you may dispense with your periodical repentance.”

Mlle. Gilberte stepped forward.

“I’ll stand warrant,” she said, “for Maxence’s resolutions.”

Her father did not permit her to proceed.

“Enough,” he interrupted somewhat harshly.  “Mind your own business,
Gilberte!  I have to speak to you too.”

“To me, father?”

“Yes.”

He walked up and down three or four times through the parlor, as if
to calm his irritation.  Then planting himself straight before his
daughter, his arms folded across his breast:

“You are eighteen years of age,” he said; “that is to say, it is
time to think of your marriage.  An excellent match offers itself.”

She shuddered, stepped back, and, redder than a peony:

“A match!” she repeated in a tone of immense surprise.

“Yes, and which suits me.”

“But I do not wish to marry, father.”

“All young girls say the same thing; and, as soon as a pretender
offers himself, they are delighted.  Mine is a fellow of twenty-six,
quite good looking, amiable, witty, and who has had the greatest
success in society.”

“Father, I assure you that I do not wish to leave mother.”

“Of course not.  He is an intelligent, hard-working man, destined,
everybody says, to make an immense fortune.  Although he is rich
already, for he holds a controlling interest in a stock-broker’s
firm, he works as hard as any poor devil.  I would not be surprised
to hear that he makes half a million of francs a year.  His wife
will have her carriage, her box at the opera, diamonds, and dresses
as handsome as Mlle. de Thaller’s.”

“Eh!  What do I care for such things?”

“It’s understood.  I’ll present him to you on Saturday.”

But Mlle. Gilberte was not one of those young girls who allow
themselves, through weakness or timidity, to become engaged, and so
far engaged, that later, they can no longer withdraw.  A discussion
being unavoidable, she preferred to have it out at once.

“A presentation is absolutely useless, father,” she declared
resolutely.

“Because?”

“I have told you that I did not wish to marry.”

“But if it is my will?”

“I am ready to obey you in every thing except that.”

“In that as in every thing else,” interrupted the cashier of the
Mutual Credit in a thundering voice.

And, casting upon his wife and children a glance full of defiance
and threats:

“In that, as in every thing else,” he repeated, “because I am the
master; and I shall prove it.  Yes, I will prove it; for I am tired
to see my family leagued against my authority.”

And out he went, slamming the door so violently, that the partitions
shook.

“You are wrong to resist your father thus,” murmured the weak Mme.
Favoral.

The fact is, that the poor woman could not understand why her
daughter refused the only means at her command to break off with
her miserable existence.

“Let him present you this young man,” she said.  “You might like
him.”

“I am sure I shall not like him.”

She said this in such a tone, that the light suddenly flashed upon
Mme. Favoral’s mind.

“Heavens!” she murmured.  “Gilberte, my darling child, have you then
a secret which your mother does not know?”



XIV

Yes, Mlle. Gilberte had her secret--a very simple one, though,
chaste, like herself, and one of those which, as the old women say,
must cause the angels to rejoice.

The spring of that year having been unusually mild, Mme. Favoral
and her daughter had taken the habit of going daily to breathe the
fresh air in the Place Royale.  They took their work with them,
crotchet or knitting; so that this salutary exercise did not in any
way diminish the earnings of the week.  It was during these walks
that Mlle. Gilberte had at last noticed a young man, unknown to her,
whom she met every day at the same place.

Tall and robust, he had a grand look, notwithstanding his modest
clothes, the exquisite neatness of which betrayed a sort of
respectable poverty.  He wore his full beard; and his proud and
intelligent features were lighted up by a pair of large black eyes,
of those eyes whose straight and clear look disconcerts hypocrites
and knaves.

He never failed, as he passed by Mlle. Gilberte, to look down, or
turn his head slightly away; and in spite of this, in spite of the
expression of respect which she had detected upon his face, she
could not help blushing.

“Which is absurd,” she thought; “for after all, what on earth do I
care for that young man?”

The infallible instinct, which is the experience of inexperienced
young girls, told her that it was not chance alone that brought
this stranger in her way.  But she wished to make sure of it.  She
managed so well, that each day of the following week, the hour of
their walk was changed.  Sometimes they went out at noon, sometimes
after four o’clock.

But, whatever the hour, Mlle. Gilberte, as she turned the corner of
the Rue des Minimes, noticed her unknown admirer under the arcades,
looking in some shop-window, and watching out of the corner of his
eye.  As soon as she appeared, he left his post, and hurried fast
enough to meet her at the gate of the Place.

“It is a persecution,” thought Mlle. Gilberte.

How, then, had she not spoken of it to her mother?  Why had she not
said any thing to her the day, when, happening, to look out of the
window, she saw her “persecutor” passing before the house, or,
evidently looking in her direction?

“Am I losing my mind?” she thought, seriously irritated against
herself.  “I will not think of him any more.”

And yet she was thinking of him, when one afternoon, as her mother
and herself were working, sitting upon a bench, she saw the stranger
come and sit down not far from them.  He was accompanied by an
elderly man with long white mustaches, and wearing the rosette
of the Legion of Honor.

“This is an insolence,” thought the young girl, whilst seeking a
pretext to ask her mother to change their seats.

But already had the young man and his elderly friend seated
themselves, and so arranged their chairs, that Mlle. Gilberte could
not miss a word of what they were about to say.  It was the young
man who spoke first.

“You know me as well as I know myself, my dear count,” he commenced
--“you who were my poor father’s best friend, you who dandled me
upon your knees when I was a child, and who has never lost sight of
me.”

“Which is to say, my boy, that I answer for you as for myself,” put
in the old man.  “But go on.”

“I am twenty-six years old.  My name is Yves-Marius-Genost de Tregars.
My family, which is one of the oldest of Brittany, is allied to all
the great families.”

“Perfectly exact,” remarked the old gentleman.

“Unfortunately, my fortune is not on a par with my nobility.  When
my mother died, in 1856, my father, who worshiped her, could no
longer bear, in the intensity of his grief, to remain at the Chateau
de Tregars where he had spent his whole life.  He came to Paris,
which he could well afford, since we were rich then, but
unfortunately, made acquaintances who soon inoculated him with the
fever of the age.  They proved to him that he was mad to keep lands
which barely yielded him forty thousand francs a year, and which he
could easily sell for two millions; which amount, invested merely
at five per cent, would yield him an income of one hundred thousand
francs.  He therefore sold every thing, except our patrimonial
homestead on the road from Quimper to Audierne, and rushed into
speculations.  He was rather lucky at first.  But he was too honest
and too loyal to be lucky long.  An operation in which he became
interested early in 1869 turned out badly.  His associates became
rich; but he, I know not how, was ruined, and came near being
compromised.  He died of grief a month later.”

The old soldier was nodding his assent.

“Very well, my boy,” he said.  “But you are too modest; and there’s
a circumstance which you neglect.  You had a right, when your father
became involved in these troubles, to claim and retain your mother’s
fortune; that is, some thirty thousand francs a year.  Not only you
did not do so; but you gave up every thing to his creditors.  You
sold the domain of Tregars, except the old castle and its park, and
paid over the proceeds to them; so that, if your father did die
ruined, at least he did not owe a cent.  And yet you knew, as well
as myself, that your father had been deceived and swindled by a lot
of scoundrels who drive their carriages now, and who, perhaps, if
the courts were applied to, might still be made to disgorge their
ill-gotten plunder.”

Her head bent upon her tapestry, Mlle. Gilberte seemed to be working
with incomparable zeal.  The truth is, she knew not how to conceal
the blushes on her cheeks, and the trembling of her hands.  She had
something like a cloud before her eyes; and she drove her needle at
random.  She scarcely preserved enough presence of mind to reply to
Mme. Favoral, who, not noticing any thing, spoke to her from time to
time.

Indeed, the meaning of this scene was too clear to escape her.

“They have had an understanding,” she thought, “and it is for me
alone that they are speaking.”

Meantime, Marius de Tregars was going on:

“I should lie, my old friend, were I to say that I was indifferent
to our ruin.  Philosopher though one may be, it is not without some
pangs that one passes from a sumptuous hotel to a gloomy garret.
But what grieved me most of all was that I saw myself compelled
to give up the labors which had been the joy of my life, and upon
which I had founded the most magnificent hopes.  A positive vocation,
stimulated further by the accidents of my education, had led me to
the study of physical sciences.  For several years, I had applied all
I have of intelligence and energy to certain investigations in
electricity.  To convert electricity into an incomparable
motive-power which would supersede steam,--such was the object I
pursued without pause.  Already, as you know, although quite young,
I had obtained results which had attracted some attention in the
scientific world.  I thought I could see the last of a problem, the
solution of which would change the face of the globe.  Ruin was the
death of my hopes, the total loss of the fruits of my labors; for
my experiments were costly, and it required money, much money, to
purchase the products which were indispensable to me, and to
construct the machines which I contrived.

“And I was about being compelled to earn my daily bread.

“I was on the verge of despair, when I met a man whom I had formerly
seen at my father’s, and who had seemed to take some interest in my
researches, a speculator named Marcolet.  But it is not at the bourse
that he operates.  Industry is the field of his labors.  Ever on the
lookout for those obstinate inventors who are starving to death in
their garrets, he appears to them at the hour of supreme crisis: he
pities them, encourages them, consoles them, helps them, and almost
always succeeds in becoming the owner of their discovery.  Sometimes
he makes a mistake; and then all he has to do is to put a few
thousand francs to the debit of profit or loss.  But, if he has
judged right, then he counts his profits by hundreds of thousands;
and how many patents does he work thus!  Of how many inventions does
he reap the results which are a fortune, and the inventors of
which have no shoes to wear!  Every thing is good to him; and he
defends with the same avidity a cough-sirup, the formula of
which he has purchased of some poor devil of a druggist, and an
improvement to the steam-engine, the patent for which has been sold
to him by an engineer of genius.  And yet Marcolet is not a bad man.
Seeing my situation, he offered me a certain yearly sum to undertake
some studies of industrial chemistry which he indicated to me.  I
accepted; and the very next day I hired a small basement in the Rue
des Tournelles, where I set up my laboratory, and went to work at
once.  That was a year ago.  Marcolet must be satisfied.  I have
already found for him a new shade for dyeing silk, the cost price
of which is almost nothing.  As to me, I have lived with the
strictest economy, devoting all my surplus earnings to the
prosecution of the problem, the solution of which would give me
both glory and fortune.”

Palpitating with inexpressible emotion, Mlle. Gilberte was listening
to this young man, unknown to her a few moments since, and whose
whole history she now knew as well as if she had always lived near
him; for it never occurred to her to suspect his sincerity.

No voice had ever vibrated to her ear like this voice, whose grave
sonorousness stirred within her strange sensations, and legions of
thoughts which she had never suspected.  She was surprised at the
accent of simplicity with which he spoke of the illustriousness of
his family, of his past opulence, of his obscure labors, and of his
exalted hopes.

She admired the superb disregard for money which beamed forth in his
every word.  Here was then one man, at least, who despised that
money before which she had hitherto seen all the people she knew
prostrated in abject worship.

After a pause of a few moments, Marius de Tregars, still addressing
himself apparently to his aged companion, went on:

“I repeat it, because it is the truth, my old friend, this life of
labor and privation, so new to me, was not a burden.  Calm, silence,
the constant exercise of all the faculties of the intellect, have
charms which the vulgar can never suspect.  I was happy to think,
that, if I was ruined, it was through an act of my own will.  I found
a positive pleasure in the fact that I, the Marquis de Tregars, who
had had a hundred thousand a year--I must the next moment go out in
person to the baker’s and the green-grocer’s to purchase my supplies
for the day.  I was proud to think that it was to my labor alone, to
the work for which I was paid by Marcolet, that I owed the means of
prosecuting my task.  And, from the summits where I was carried on
the wings of science, I took pity on your modern existence, on that
ridiculous and tragical medley of passions, interests, and cravings;
that struggle without truce or mercy, whose law is, woe to the weak,
in which whosoever falls is trampled under feet.

“Sometimes, however, like a fire that has been smouldering under
the ashes, the flame of youthful passions blazed up within me.  I
had hours of madness, of discouragement, of distress, during which
solitude was loathsome to me.  But I had the faith which raises
mountains--faith in myself and my work.  And soon, tranquilized, I
would go to sleep in the purple of hope, beholding in the vista of
the distant future the triumphal arches erected to my success.

“Such was my situation, when, one afternoon in the month of February
last, after an experiment upon which I had founded great hopes, and
which had just miserably failed, I came here to breathe a little
fresh air.

“It was a beautiful spring day, warm and sunny.  The sparrows were
chirping on the branches, swelled with sap: bands of children were
running along the alleys, filling the air with their joyous screams.

“I was sitting upon a bench, ruminating over the causes of my failure,
when two ladies passed by me; one somewhat aged, the other quite
young.  They were walking so rapidly, that I hardly had time to
see them.

“But the young lady’s step, the noble simplicity of her carriage,
had struck me so much, that I rose to follow her with the intention
of passing her, and then walking back to have a good view of her
face.  I did so; and I was fairly dazzled.  At the moment when my
eyes met hers, a voice rose within me, crying that it was all over
now, and that my destiny was fixed.”

“I remember, my dear boy,” remarked the old soldier in a tone of
friendly raillery; “for you came to see me that night, and I had
not seen you for months before.”

Marius proceeded without heeding the remark.

“And yet you know that I am not the man to yield to first impression.
I struggled: with determined energy I strove to drive off that
radiant image which I carried within my soul, which left me no more,
which haunted me in the midst of my studies.

“Vain efforts.  My thoughts obeyed me no longer--my will escaped
my control.  It was indeed one of those passions that fill the whole
being, overpower all, and which make of life an ineffable felicity
or a nameless torture, according that they are reciprocated, or not.
How many days I spent there, waiting and watching for her of whom I
had thus had a glimpse, and who ignored my very existence!  And what
insane palpitations, when, after hours of consuming anxiety, I saw
at the corner of the street the undulating folds of her dress!  I
saw her thus often, and always with the same elderly person, her
mother.  They had adopted in this square a particular bench, where
they sat daily, working at their sewing with an assiduity and zeal
which made me think that they lived upon the product of their labor.”

Here he was suddenly interrupted by his companion.  The old gentleman
feared that Mme. Favoral’s attention might at last be attracted by
too direct allusions.

“Take care, boy!” he whispered, not so low, however, but what
Gilberte overheard him.

But it would have required much more than this to draw Mme. Favoral
from her sad thoughts.  She had just finished her band of tapestry;
and, grieving to lose a moment:

“It is perhaps time to go home,” she said to her daughter.  “I have
nothing more to do.”

Mlle. Gilberte drew from her basket a piece of canvas, and, handing
it to her mother:

“Here is enough to go on with, mamma,” she said in a troubled voice.
“Let us stay a little while longer.”

And, Mme. Favoral having resumed her work, Marius proceeded:

“The thought that she whom I loved was poor delighted me.  Was not
this similarity of positions a link between us?  I felt a childish
joy to think that I would work for her and for her mother, and that
they would be indebted to me for their ease and comfort in life.

“But I am not one of those dreamers who confide their destiny to the
wings of a chimera.  Before undertaking any thing, I resolved to
inform myself.  Alas! at the first words that I heard, all my fine
dreams took wings.  I heard that she was rich, very rich.  I was
told that her father was one of those men whose rigid probity
surrounds itself with austere and harsh forms.  He owed his fortune,
I was assured, to his sole labor, but also to prodigies of economy
and the most severe privations.  He professed a worship, they said,
for that gold that had cost him so much; and he would never give the
hand of his daughter to a man who had no money.  This last comment
was useless.  Above my actions, my thoughts, my hopes, higher than
all, soars my pride.  Instantly I saw an abyss opening between me
and her whom I love more than my life, but less than my dignity.
When a man’s name is Genost de Tregars, he must support his wife,
were it by breaking stones.  And the thought that I owed my fortune
to the woman I married would make me execrate her.

“You must remember, my old friend, that I told you all this at the
time.  You thought, too, that it was singularly impertinent, on my
part, thus to flare up in advance, because, certainly a millionaire
does not give his daughter to a ruined nobleman in the pay of
Marcolet, the patent-broker, to a poor devil of an inventor, who is
building the castles of his future upon the solution of a problem
which has been given up by the most brilliant minds.

“It was then that I determined upon an extreme resolution, a
foolish one, no doubt, and yet to which you, the Count de Villegre,
my father’s old friend, you have consented to lend yourself.

“I thought that I would address myself to her, to her alone, and
that she would at least know what great, what immense love she had
inspired.  I thought I would go to her and tell her, ‘This is who
I am, and what I am.  For mercy’s sake, grant me a respite of three
years.  To a love such as mine there is nothing impossible.  In
three years I shall be dead, or rich enough to ask your hand.  From
this day forth, I give up my task for work of more immediate profit.
The arts of industry have treasures for successful inventors.  If
you could only read in my soul, you would not refuse me the delay I
am asking.  Forgive me!  One word, for mercy’s sake, only one!  It
is my sentence that I am awaiting.’”

Mlle. Gilberte’s thoughts were in too great a state of confusion
to permit her to think of being offended at this extraordinary
proceeding.  She rose, quivering, and addressing herself to Mme.
Favoral:

“Come, mother,” she said, “come: I feel that I have taken cold.
I must go home and think.  To-morrow, yes, to-morrow, we will come
again.”

Deep as Mme. Favoral was plunged in her meditations, and a thousand
miles as she was from the actual situation, it was impossible that
she should not notice the intense excitement under which her daughter
labored, the alteration of her features, and the incoherence of her
words.

“What is the matter?” she asked, somewhat alarmed.  “What are you
saying?”

“I feel unwell,” answered her daughter in a scarcely audible voice,
“quite unwell.  Come, let us go home.”

As soon as they reached home, Mlle. Gilberte took refuge in her own
room.  She was in haste to be alone, to recover her self-possession,
to collect her thoughts, more scattered than dry leaves by a storm
wind.

It was a momentous event which had just suddenly fallen in her life
so monotonous and so calm--an inconceivable, startling event, the
consequences of which were to weigh heavily upon her entire future.

Staggering still, she was asking herself if she was not the victim
of an hallucination, and if really there was a man who had dared to
conceive and execute the audacious project of coming thus under the
eyes of her mother, of declaring his love, and of asking her in
return a solemn engagement.  But what stupefied her more still, what
confused her, was that she had actually endured such an attempt.

Under what despotic influence had she, then, fallen?  To what
undefinable sentiments had she obeyed?  And if she had only
tolerated!  But she had done more: she had actually encouraged.
By detaining her mother when she wished to go home (and she had
detained her), had she not said to this unknown?--“Go on, I allow
it: I am listening.”

And he had gone on.  And she, at the moment of returning home, she
had engaged herself formally to reflect, and to return the next day
at a stated hour to give an answer.  In a word, she had made an
appointment with him.

It was enough to make her die of shame.  And, as if she had needed
the sound of her own words to convince herself of the reality of the
fact, she kept repeating loud,

“I have made an appointment--I, Gilberte, with a man whom my parents
do not know, and of whose name I was still ignorant yesterday.”

And yet she could not take upon herself to be indignant at the
imprudent boldness of her conduct.  The bitterness of the reproaches
which she was addressing to herself was not sincere.  She felt it so
well, that at last:

“Such hypocrisy is unworthy of me,” she exclaimed, “since now,
still, and without the excuse of being taken by surprise, I would
not act otherwise.”

The fact is, the more she pondered, the less she could succeed in
discovering even the shadow of any offensive intention in all that
Marius de Tregars had said.  By the choice of his confidant, an old
man, a friend of his family, a man of the highest respectability,
he had done all in his power to make his step excusable.  It was
impossible to doubt his sincerity, to suspect the fairness of
his intentions.

Mlle. Gilberte, better than almost any other young girl, could
understand the extreme measure resorted to by M. de Tregars.  By her
own pride she could understand his.  No more than he, in his place,
would she have been willing to expose herself to a certain refusal.
What was there, then, so extraordinary in the fact of his coming
directly to her, in his exposing to her frankly and loyally his
situation, his projects, and his hopes?

“Good heavens!” she thought, horrified at the sentiments which she
discovered in the deep recesses of her soul, “good heavens!  I
hardly know myself any more.  Here I am actually approving what he
has done!”

Well, yes, she did approve him, attracted, fascinated, by the very
strangeness of the situation.  Nothing seemed to her more admirable
than the conduct of Marius de Tregars sacrificing his fortune and
his most legitimate aspirations to the honor of his name, and
condemning himself to work for his living.

“That one,” she thought, “is a man; and his wife will have just
cause to be proud of him.”

Involuntarily she compared him to the only men she knew: to M.
Favoral, whose miserly parsimony had made his whole family wretched;
to Maxence, who did not blush to feed his disorders with the fruits
of his mother’s and his sister’s labor.

How different was Marius!  If he was poor, it was of his own will.
Had she not seen what confidence he had in himself.  She shared it
fully.  She felt certain that, within the required delay, he would
conquer that indispensable fortune.  Then he might present himself
boldly.  He would take her, away from the miserable surroundings
among which she seemed fated to live: she would become the
Marchioness de Tregars.

“Why, then, not answer, Yes!” thought she, with the harrowing
emotions of the gambler who is about to stake his all upon one card.
And what a game for Mlle. Gilberte, and what a stake!

Suppose she had been mistaken.  Suppose that Marius should be one
of those villains who make of seduction a science.  Would she still
be her own mistress, after answering?  Did she know to what hazards
such an engagement would expose her?  Was she not about rushing
blindfolded towards those deceiving perils where a young girl
leaves her reputation, even when she saves her honor?

She thought, for a moment, of consulting her mother.  But she knew
Mme. Favoral’s shrinking timidity, and that she was as incapable
of giving any advice as to make her will prevail.  She would be
frightened; she would approve all; and, at the first alarm, she
would confess all.

“Am I, then, so weak and so foolish,” she thought, “that I cannot
take a determination which affects me personally?”

She could not close her eyes all night; but in the morning her
resolution was settled.

And toward one o’clock:

“Are we not going out mother?” she said.

Mme. Favoral was hesitating.

“These early spring days are treacherous,” she objected: “you
caught cold yesterday.”

“My dress was too thin.  To-day I have taken my precautions.”

They started, taking their work with them, and came to occupy their
accustomed seats.

Before they had even passed the gates, Mlle. Gilberte had recognized
Marius de Tregars and the Count de Villegre, walking in one of the
side alleys.  Soon, as on the day before, they took two chairs, and
settled themselves within hearing.

Never had the young girl’s heart beat with such violence.  It is
easy enough to take a resolution; but it is not always quite so easy
to execute it, and she was asking herself if she would have strength
enough to articulate a word.  At last, gathering her whole courage:

“You don’t believe in dreams, do you mother?” she asked.

Upon this subject, as well as upon many others, Mme. Favoral had no
particular opinion.

“Why do you ask the question?” said she.

“Because I have had such a strange one.”

“Oh!”

“It seemed to me that suddenly a young man, whom I did not know,
stood before me.  He would have been most happy, said he to me, to
ask my hand, but he dared not, being very poor.  And he begged me
to wait three years, during which he would make his fortune.”

Mme. Favoral smiled.

“Why it’s quite a romance,” said she.

“But it wasn’t a romance in my dream,” interrupted Mlle. Gilberte.
“This young man spoke in a tone of such profound conviction, that
it was impossible for me, as it were, to doubt him.  I thought to
myself that he would be incapable of such an odious villainy as to
abuse the confiding credulity of a poor girl.”

“And what did you answer him?”

Moving her seat almost imperceptibly, Mlle. Gilberte could, from
the corner of her eye, have a glimpse of M. de Tregars.  Evidently
he was not missing a single one of the words which she was addressing
to her mother.  He was whiter than a sheet; and his face betrayed the
most intense anxiety.

This gave her the energy to curb the last revolts of her conscience.

“To answer was painful,” she uttered; “and yet I--dared to answer
him.  I said to him, ‘I believe you, and I have faith in you.
Loyally and faithfully I shall await your success; but until then
we must be strangers to one another.  To resort to ruse, deceit,
and falsehood would be unworthy of us.  You surely would not expose
to a suspicion her who is to be your wife.’”

“Very well,” approved Mme. Favoral; “only I did not know you were
so romantic.”

She was laughing, the good lady, but not loud enough to prevent
Gilberte from hearing M. de Tregars’ answer.

“Count de Villegre,” said he, “my old friend, receive the oath which
I take to devote my life to her who has not doubted me.  It is to-day
the 4th of May, 1870--on the 4th of May, 1873, I shall have
succeeded: I feel it, I will it, it must be!”



XV

It was done: Gilberte Favoral had just irrevocably disposed of
herself.  Prosperous or wretched, her destiny henceforth was linked
with another.  She had set the wheel in motion; and she could no
longer hope to control its direction, any more than the will can
pretend to alter the course of the ivory ball upon the surface of
the roulette-table.  At the outset of this great storm of passion
which had suddenly surrounded her, she felt an immense surprise,
mingled with unexplained apprehensions and vague terrors.

Around her, apparently, nothing was changed.  Father, mother,
brother, friends, gravitated mechanically in their accustomed orbits.
The same daily facts repeated themselves monotonous and regular as
the tick-tack of the clock.

And yet an event had occurred more prodigious for her than the moving
of a mountain.

Often during the weeks that followed, she would repeat to herself,
“Is it true, is it possible even?”

Or else she would run to a mirror to make sure once more that nothing
upon her face or in her eyes betrayed the secret that palpitated
within her.

The singularity of the situation was, moreover, well calculated to
trouble and confound her mind.

Mastered by circumstances, she had in utter disregard of all accepted
ideas, and of the commonest propriety, listened to the passionate
promises of a stranger, and pledged her life to him.  And, the pact
concluded and solemnly sworn, they had parted without knowing when
propitious circumstances might bring them together again.

“Certainly,” thought she, “before God, M. de Tregars is my betrothed
husband; and yet we have never exchanged a word.  Were we to meet in
society, we should be compelled to meet as strangers: if he passes by
me in the street, he has no right to bow to me.  I know not where he
is, what becomes of him, nor what he is doing.”

And in fact she had not seen him again: he had given no sign of life,
so faithfully did he conform to her expressed wish.  And perhaps
secretly, and without acknowledging it to herself, had she wished him
less scrupulous.  Perhaps she would not have been very angry to see
him sometimes gliding along at her passage under the old Arcades of
the Rue des Vosges.

But, whilst suffering from this separation, she conceived for the
character of Marius the highest esteem; for she felt sure that he
must suffer as much and more than she from the restraint which he
imposed upon himself.

Thus he was ever present to her thoughts.  She never tired of
turning over in her mind all he had said of his past life: she
tried to remember his words, and the very tone of his voice.

And by living constantly thus with the memory of Marius de Tregars,
she made herself familiar with him, deceived to that extent, by
the illusion of absence, that she actually persuaded herself that
she knew him better and better every day.

Already nearly a month had elapsed, when one afternoon, as she
arrived on the Place Royal; she recognized him, standing near that
same bench where they had so strangely exchanged their pledges.

He saw her coming too: she knew it by his looks.  But, when she
had arrived within a few steps of him, he walked off rapidly,
leaving on the bench a folded newspaper.

Mme. Favoral wished to call him back and return it; but Mlle.
Gilberte persuaded her not to.

“Never mind, mother,” said she, “it isn’t worth while; and, besides,
the gentleman is too far now.”

But while getting out her embroidery, with that dexterity which never
fails even the most naive girls, she slipped the newspaper in her
work-basket.

Was she not certain that it had been left there for her?

As soon as she had returned home, she locked herself up in her own
room, and, after searching for some time through the columns, she
read at last:

“One of the richest and most intelligent manufacturers in Paris,
M. Marcolet, has just purchased in Grenelle the vast grounds
belonging to the Lacoche estate.  He proposes to build upon them
a manufacture of chemical products, the management of which is to
be placed in the hands of M. de T--.

“Although still quite young, M. de T----  is already well known in
connection with his remarkable studies on electricity.  He was,
perhaps, on the eve of solving the much controverted problem of
electricity as a motive-power, when his father’s ruin compelled him
to suspend his labors.  He now seeks to earn by his personal industry
the means of prosecuting his costly experiments.

“He is not the first to tread this path.  Is it not to the invention
of the machine bearing his name, that the engineer Giffard owes the
fortune which enables him to continue to seek the means of steering
balloons?  Why should not M. de T--, who has as much skill and energy,
have as much luck?”

“Ah! he does not forget me,” thought Mlle. Gilberte, moved to tears
by this article, which, after all, was but a mere puff, written by
Marcolet himself, without the knowledge of M. de Tregars.

She was still under that impression, thinking that Marius was already
at work, when her father announced to her that he had discovered a
husband, and enjoined her to find him to her liking, as he, the
master, thought it proper that she should.

Hence the energy of her refusal.

But hence also, the imprudent vivacity which had enlightened Mme.
Favoral, and which made her say:

“You hide something from me, Gilberte?”

Never had the young girl been so cruelly embarrassed as she was at
this moment by this sudden and unforeseen perspicacity.

Would she confide to her mother?

She felt, indeed, no repugnance to do so, certain as she was, in
advance, of the inexhaustible indulgence of the poor woman; and,
besides, she would have been delighted to have some one at last
with whom she could speak of Marius.

But she knew that her father was not the man to give up a project
conceived by himself.  She knew that he would return to the charge
obstinately, without peace, and without truce.  Now, as she was
determined to resist with a no less implacable obstinacy, she
foresaw terrible struggles, all sorts of violence and persecutions.

Informed of the truth, would Mme. Favoral have strength enough to
resist these daily storms?  Would not a time come, when, called upon
by her husband to explain the refusals of her daughter, threatened,
terrified, she would confess all?

At one glance Mlle. Gilberte estimated the danger; and, drawing from
necessity an audacity which was very foreign to her nature:

“You are mistaken, dear mother,” said she, “I have concealed nothing
from you.”

Not quite convinced, Mme. Favoral shook her head.

“Then,” said she, “you will yield.”

“Never!”

“Then there must be some reason you do not tell me.”

“None, except that I do not wish to leave you.  Have you ever
thought what would be your existence if I were no longer here?  Have
you ever asked yourself what would become of you, between my father,
whose despotism will grow heavier with age, and my brother?”

Always prompt to defend her son:

“Maxence is not bad,” she interrupted: “he will know how to
compensate me for the sorrows he has inflicted upon me.”

The young girl made a gesture of doubt:

“I wish it, dear mother,” said she, “with all my heart; but I dare
not hope for it.  His repentance to-night was great and sincere; but
will he remember it to-morrow?  Besides, don’t you know that father
has fully resolved to separate himself from Maxence?  Think of
yourself alone here with father.”

Mme. Favoral shuddered at the mere idea.

“I would not suffer very long,” she murmured.  Mlle. Gilberte
kissed her.

“It is because I wish you to live to be happy that I refuse to
marry,” she exclaimed.  “Must you not have your share of happiness
in this world?  Let me manage.  Who knows what compensations the
future may have in store for you?  Besides, this person whom father
has selected for me does not suit me.  A stock-jobber, who would
think of nothing but money,--who would examine my house-accounts
as papa does yours, or else who would load me with cashmeres and
diamonds, like Mme. de Thaller, to make of me a sign for his shop?
No, no!  I want no such man.  So, mother dear, be brave, take sides
boldly with your daughter, and we shall soon be rid of this would-be
husband.”

“Your father will bring him to you: he said he would.”

“Well, he is a man of courage, if he returns three times.”

At this moment the parlor-door opened suddenly.

“What are you plotting here again?” cried the irritated voice of
the master.  “And you, Mme. Favoral, why don’t you go to bed?”

The poor slave obeyed, without saying a word.  And, whilst making
her way to her room:

“There is trouble ahead,” thought Mlle. Gilberte.  “But bash!  If I
do have to suffer some, it won’t be great harm, after all.  Surely
Marius does not complain, though he gives up for me his dearest
hopes, becomes the salaried employe of M. Marcolet, and thinks of
nothing but making money,--he so proud and so disinterested!”

Mlle. Gilberte’s anticipations were but too soon realized.  When M.
Favoral made his appearance the next morning, he had the sombre brow
and contracted lips of a man who has spent the night ruminating a
plan from which he does not mean to swerve.

Instead of going to his office, as usual, without saying a word to
any one, he called his wife and children to the parlor; and, after
having carefully bolted all the doors, he turned to Maxence.

“I want you,” he commenced, “to give me a list of your creditors.
See that you forget none; and let it be ready as soon as possible.”

But Maxence was no longer the same man.  After the terrible and
well-deserved reproaches of his sister, a salutary revolution had
taken place in him.  During the preceding night, he had reflected
over his conduct for the past four years; and he had been dismayed
and terrified.  His impression was like that of the drunkard, who,
having become sober, remembers the ridiculous or degrading acts
which he has committed under the influence of alcohol, and, confused
and humiliated, swears never more to drink.

Thus Maxence had sworn to himself to change his mode of life,
promising that it would be no drunkard’s oath, either.  And his
attitude and his looks showed the pride of great resolutions.

Instead of lowering his eyes before the irritated glance of M.
Favoral, and stammering excuses and vague promises:

“It is useless, father,” he replied, “to give you the list you ask
for.  I am old enough to bear the responsibility of my acts.  I
shall repair my follies: what I owe, I shall pay.  This very day I
shall see my creditors, and make arrangements with them.”

“Very well, Maxence,” exclaimed Mme. Favoral, delighted.

But there was no pacifying the cashier of the Mutual Credit.

“Those are fine-sounding words,” he said with a sneer; “but I doubt
if the tailors and the shirt-makers will take them in payment.
That’s why I want that list.”

“Still--”

“It’s I who shall pay.  I do not mean to have another such scene
as that of yesterday in my office.  It must not be said that my
son is a sharper and a cheat at the very moment when I find for my
daughter a most unhoped-for match.”

And, turning to Mlle. Gilberte:

“For I suppose you have got over your foolish ideas,” he uttered.

The young girl shook her head.

“My ideas are the same as they were last night.”

“Ah, ah!”

“And so, father, I beg of you, do not insist.  Why wrangle and
quarrel?  You must know me well enough to know, that, whatever may
happen, I shall never yield.”

Indeed, M. Favoral was well aware of his daughter’s firmness; for
he had already been compelled on several occasions, as he expressed
it himself, “to strike his flag” before her.  But he could not
believe that she would resist when he took certain means of
enforcing his will.

“I have pledged my word,” he said.

“But I have not pledged mine, father.”

He was becoming excited: his cheeks were flushed; and his little
eyes sparkled.

“And suppose I were to tell you,” he resumed, doing at least to his
daughter the honor of controlling his anger: “suppose I were to
tell you that I would derive from this marriage immense, positive,
and immediate advantages?”

“Oh!” she interrupted with a look of disgust, “oh, for mercy’s sake!”

“Suppose I were to tell you that I have a powerful interest in it;
that it is indispensable to the success of vast combinations?”

Mlle. Gilberte looked straight at him.

“I would answer you,” she exclaimed, “that it does not suit me to
be made use of as an earnest to your combinations.  Ah! it’s an
operation, is it? an enterprise, a big speculation? and you throw
in your daughter in the bargain as a bonus.  Well, no!  You can
tell your partner that the thing has fallen through.”

M. Favoral’s anger was growing with each word.

“I’ll see if I can’t make you yield,” he said.

“You may crush me, perhaps.  Make me yield, never!”

“Well, we shall see.  You will see--Maxence and you--whether there
are no means by which a father can compel his rebellious children to
submit to his authority.”

And, feeling that he was no longer master of himself, he left,
swearing loud enough to shake the plaster from the stair-walls.

Maxence shook with indignation.

“Never,” he uttered, “never until now, had I understood the infamy
of my conduct.  With a father such as ours, Gilberte, I should be
your protector.  And now I am debarred even of the right to
interfere.  But never mind, I have the will; and all will soon be
repaired.”

Left alone, a few moments after, Mlle. Gilberte was congratulating
herself upon her firmness.

“I am sure,” she thought, “Marius would approve, if he knew.”

She had not long to wait for her reward.  The bell rang: it was her
old professor, the Signor Gismondo Pulei, who came to give her his
daily lesson.

The liveliest joy beamed upon his face, more shriveled than an
apple at Easter; and the most magnificent anticipations sparkled in
his eyes.

“I knew it, signora!” he exclaimed from the threshold: “I knew that
angels bring good luck.  As every thing succeeds to you, so must
every thing succeed to those who come near you.”

She could not help smiling at the appropriateness of the compliment.

“Something fortunate has happened to you, dear master?” she asked.

“That is to say, I am on the high-road to fortune and glory,” he
replied.  “My fame is extending; pupils dispute the privilege of
my lesson.”

Mlle. Gilberte knew too well the thoroughly Italian exaggeration of
the worthy maestro to be surprised.

“This morning,” he went on, “visited by inspiration, I had risen
early, and I was working with marvelous facility, when there was a
knock at my door.  I do not remember such an occurrence since the
blessed day when your worthy father called for me.  Surprised, I
nevertheless said, ‘Come in;’ when there appeared a tall and robust
young man, proud and intelligent-looking.”

The young girl started.

“Marius!” cried a voice within her.

“This young man,” continued the old Italian, “had heard me spoken
of, and came to apply for lessons.  I questioned him; and from the
first words I discovered that his education had been frightfully
neglected, that he was ignorant of the most vulgar notions of the
divine art, and that he scarcely knew the difference between a
sharp and a quaver.  It was really the A, B, C, which he wished me
to teach him.  Laborious task, ungrateful labor!  But he manifested
so much shame at his ignorance, and so much desire to be instructed,
that I felt moved in his favor.  Then his countenance was most
winning, his voice of a superior tone; and finally he offered me
sixty francs a month.  In short, he is now my pupil.”

As well as she could, Mlle. Gilberte was hiding her blushes behind
a music-book.

“We remained over two hours talking,” said the good and simple
maestro, “and I believe that he has excellent dispositions.
Unfortunately, he can only take two lessons a week.  Although a
nobleman, he works; and, when he took off his glove to hand me a
month in advance, I noticed that one of his hands was blackened,
as if burnt by some acid.  But never mind, signora, sixty francs,
together with what your father gives me, it’s a fortune.  The end
of my career will be spared the privations of its beginning.  This
young man will help making me known.  The morning has been dark;
but the sunset will be glorious.”

The young girl could no longer have any doubts: M. de Tregars had
found the means of hearing from her, and letting her hear from him.

The impression she felt contributed no little to give her the
patience to endure the obstinate persecution of her father, who,
twice a day, never failed to repeat to her:

“Get ready to properly receive my protege on Saturday.  I have not
invited him to dinner: he will only spend the evening with us.”

And he mistook for a disposition to yield the cold tone in which
she answered:

“I beg you to believe that this introduction is wholly unnecessary.”

Thus, the famous day having come, he told his usual Saturday guests,
M. and Mme. Desclavettes, M. Chapelain, and old man Desormeaux:

“Eh, eh!  I guess you are going to see a future son-in-law!”

At nine o’clock, just as they had passed into the parlor, the sound
of carriage-wheels startled the Rue St. Gilles.

“There he is!” exclaimed the cashier of the Mutual Credit.

And, throwing open a window:

“Come, Gilberte,” he added, “come and see his carriage and horses.”

She never stirred; but M. Desclavettes and M. Chapelain ran.  It was
night, unfortunately; and of the whole equipage nothing was visible
but the two lanterns that shone like stars.  Almost at the same time
the parlor-door flew open; and the servant, who had been properly
trained in advance, announced:

“Monsieur Costeclar.”

Leaning toward Mme. Favoral, who was seated by her side on the sofa,

“A nice-looking man, isn’t he?  a really nice-looking man,” whispered
Mme. Desclavettes.

And indeed he really thought so himself.  Gesture, attitude, smile,
every thing in M. Costeclar, betrayed the satisfaction of self, and
the assurance of a man accustomed to success.  His head, which was
very small, had but little hair left; but it was artistically drawn
towards the temples, parted in the middle, and cut short around
the forehead.  His leaden complexion, his pale lips, and his dull
eye, did not certainly betray a very rich blood; he had a great long
nose, sharp and curved like a sickle; and his beard, of undecided
color, trimmed in the Victor Emmanuel style, did the greatest honor
to the barber who cultivated it.  Even when seen for the first time,
one might fancy that he recognized him, so exactly was he like three
or four hundred others who are seen daily in the neighborhood of
the Cafe Riche, who are met everywhere where people run who pretend
to amuse themselves,--at the bourse or in the bois; at the first
representations, where they are just enough hidden to be perfectly
well seen at the back of boxes filled with young ladies with
astonishing chignons; at the races; in carriages, where they drink
champagne to the health of the winner.

He had on this occasion hoisted his best looks, and the full dress
_de rigueur_--dress-coat with wide sleeves, shirt cut low in the neck,
and open vest, fastened below the waist by a single button.

“Quite the man of the world,” again remarked Mme. Desclavettes.

M. Favoral rushed toward him; and the latter, hastening, met him
half way, and, taking both his hands into his--“I cannot tell you,
dear friend,” he commenced, “how deeply I feel the honor you do me
in receiving me in the midst of your charming family and your
respectable friends.”

And he bowed all around during this speech, which he delivered in
the condescending tone of a lord visiting his inferiors.

“Let me introduce you to my wife,” interrupted the cashier.  And,
leading him towards Mme. Favoral--“Monsieur Costeclar, my dear,”
 said he: “the friend of whom we have spoken so often.”

M. Costeclar bowed, rounding his shoulders, bending his lean form
in a half-circle, and letting his arms hang forward.

“I am too much the friend of our dear Favoral, madame,” he uttered,
“not to have heard of you long since, nor to know your merits, and
the fact that he owes to you that peaceful happiness which he enjoys,
and which we all envy him.”

Standing by the mantel-piece, the usual Saturday evening guests
followed with the liveliest interest the evolutions of the pretender.
Two of them, M. Chapelain and old Desormeaux, were perfectly able
to appreciate him at his just value; but, in affirming that he made
half a million a year, M. Favoral had, as it were, thrown over his
shoulders that famous ducal cloak which concealed all deformities.

Without waiting for his wife’s answer, M. Favoral brought his
protege in front of Mlle. Gilberte.

“Dear daughter,” said he, “Monsieur Costeclar, the friend of whom
I have spoken.”

M. Costeclar bowed still lower, and rounded off his shoulders again;
but the young lady looked at him from head to foot with such a
freezing glance, that his tongue remained as if paralyzed in his
mouth, and he could only stammer out:

“Mademoiselle! the honor, the humblest of your admirers.”

Fortunately Maxence was standing three steps off--he fell back in
good order upon him, and seizing his hand, which he shook vigorously:

“I hope, my dear sir, that we shall soon be quite intimate friends.
Your excellent father, whose special concern you are, has often
spoken to me of you.  Events, so he has confided to me, have not
hitherto responded to your expectations.  At your age, this is not
a very grave matter.  People, now-a-days, do not always find at the
first attempt the road that leads to fortune.  You will find yours.
From this time forth I place at your command my influence and my
experience; and, if you will consent to take me for your guide--”

Maxence had withdrawn his hand.

“I am very much obliged to you, sir,” he answered coldly; “but I am
content with my lot, and I believe myself old enough to walk alone.”

Almost any one would have lost countenance.  But M. Costeclar was
so little put out, that it seemed as though he had expected just
such a reception.  He turned upon his heels, and advanced towards
M. Favoral’s friends with a smile so engaging as to make it evident
that he was anxious to conquer their suffrages.

This was at the beginning of the month of June, 1870.  No one as
yet could foresee the frightful disasters which were to mark the
end of that fatal year.  And yet there was everywhere in France
that indefinable anxiety which precedes great social convulsions.
The plebiscitum had not succeeded in restoring confidence.  Every
day the most alarming rumors were put in circulation and it was with
a sort of passion that people went in quest of news.

Now, M. Costeclar was a wonderfully well-posted man.  He had,
doubtless, on his way, stopped on the Boulevard des Italiens, that
blessed ground where nightly the street-brokers labor for the
financial prosperity of the country.  He had gone through the Passage
de l’Opera, which is, as is well known, the best market for the most
correct and the most reliable news.  Therefore he might safely be
believed.

Placing his back to the chimney, he had taken the lead in the
conversation; and he was talking, talking, talking.  Being a “bull,”
 he took a favorable view of every thing.  He believed in the
eternity of the second empire.  He sang the praise of the new
cabinet: he was ready to pour out his blood for Emile Ollivier.
True, some people complained that business was dull and slow; but
those people, he thought, were merely “bears.”  Business had never
been so brilliant.  At no time had prosperity been greater.  Capital
was abundant.  The institutions of credit were flourishing.
Securities were rising.  Everybody’s pockets were full to bursting.
And the others listened in astonishment to this inexhaustible
prattle, this “gab,” more filled with gold spangles than Dantzig
cordial, with which the commercial travelers of the bourse catch
their customers.

Suddenly:

“But you must excuse me,” he said, rushing towards the other end of
the parlor.

Mme. Favoral had just left the room to order tea to be brought in;
and, the seat by Mlle. Gilberte being vacant, M. Costeclar occupied
it promptly.

“He understands his business,” growled M. Desormeaux.

“Surely,” said M. Desclavettes, “if I had some funds to dispose of
just now.”

“I would be most happy to have him for my son-in-law,” declared M.
Favoral.

He was doing his best.  Somewhat intimidated by Mlle. Gilberte’s
first look, he had now fully recovered his wits.

He commenced by sketching his own portrait.

He had just turned thirty, and had experienced the strong and the
weak side of life.  He had had “successes,” but had tired of them.
Having gauged the emptiness of what is called pleasure, he only
wished now to find a partner for life, whose graces and virtues
would secure his domestic happiness.

He could not help noticing the absent look of the young girl; but
he had, thought he, other means of compelling her attention.  And
he went on, saying that he felt himself cast of the metal of which
model husbands are made.  His plans were all made in advance.  His
wife would be free to do as she pleased.  She would have her own
carriage and horses, her box at the Italiens and at the Opera, and
an open account at Worth’s and Van Klopen’s.  As to diamonds, he
would take care of that.  He meant that his wife’s display of
wealth should be noticed; and even spoken of in the newspapers.

Was this the terms of a bargain that he was offering?

If so, it was so coarsely, that Mlle. Gilberte, ignorant of life as
she was, wondered in what world it might be that he had met with so
many “successes.”  And, somewhat indignantly:

“Unfortunately,” she said, “the bourse is perfidious; and the man
who drives his own carriage to-day, to-morrow may have no shoes to
wear.”

M. Costeclar nodded with a smile.

“Exactly so,” said he.  “A marriage protects one against such
reverses.

“Every man in active business, when he marries, settles upon his
wife reasonable fortune.  I expect to settle six hundred thousand
francs upon mine.”

“So that, if you were to meet with an--accident?”

“We should enjoy our thirty thousand a year under the very nose of
the creditors.”

Blushing with shame, Mlle. Gilberte rose.

“But then,” said she, “it isn’t a wife that you are looking for: it
is an accomplice.”

He was spared the embarrassment of an answer, by the servant, who
came in, bringing in tea.  He accepted a cup; and after two or
three anecdotes, judging that he had done enough for a first visit,
he withdrew, and a moment later they heard his carriage driving off
at full gallop.



XVI

It was not without mature thought that M. Costeclar had determined
to withdraw, despite M. Favoral’s pressing overtures.  However
infatuated he might be with his own merits, he had been compelled
to surrender to evidence, and to acknowledge that he had not exactly
succeeded with Mlle. Gilberte.  But he also knew that he had the
head of the house on his side; and he flattered himself that he
had produced an excellent impression upon the guests of the house.

“Therefore,” had he said to himself, “if I leave first, they will
sing my praise, lecture the young person, and make her listen to
reason.”

He was not far from being right.  Mme. Desclavettes had been
completely subjugated by the grand manners of this pretender; and
M. Desclavettes did not hesitate to affirm that he had rarely met
any one who pleased him more.

The others, M. Chapelain and old Desormeaux, did not, doubtless,
share this optimism; but M. Costeclar’s annual half-million
obscured singularly their clear-sightedness.

They thought perhaps, they had discovered in him some alarming
features; but they had full and entire confidence in their friend
Favoral’s prudent sagacity.

The particular and methodic cashier of the Mutual Credit was not
apt to be enthusiastic; and, if he opened the doors of his house to
a young man, if he was so anxious to have him for his son-in-law,
he must evidently have taken ample information.

Finally there are certain family matters from which sensible people
keep away as they would from the plague; and, on the question of
marriage especially, he is a bold man who would take side for or
against.

Thus Mme. Desclavettes was the only one to raise her voice.  Taking
Mlle. Gilberte’s hands within hers:

“Let me scold you, my dear,” said she, “for having received thus a
poor young man who was only trying to please you.”

Excepting her mother, too weak to take her defence, and her brother,
who was debarred from interfering, the young girl understood readily,
that, in that parlor, every one, overtly or tacitly, was against her.
The idea came to her mind to repeat there boldly what she had already
told her father that she was resolved not to marry, and that she
would not marry, not being one of those weak girls, without energy,
whom they dress in white, and drag to church against their will.

Such a bold declaration would be in keeping with her character.
But she feared a terrible, and perhaps degrading scene.  The most
intimate friends of the family were ignorant of its most painful
sores.  In presence of his friends, M. Favoral dissembled, speaking
in a mild voice, and assuming a kindly smile.  Should she suddenly
reveal the truth?

“It is childish of you to run the risk of discouraging a clever
fellow who makes half a million a year,” continued the wife of the
old bronze-merchant, to whom such conduct seemed an abominable crime
of _lese-money_.  Mlle. Gilberte had withdrawn her hands.

“You did not hear what he said, madame.”

“I beg your pardon: I was quite near, and involuntarily--”

“You have heard his--propositions?”

“Perfectly.  He was promising you a carriage, a box at the opera,
diamonds, freedom.  Isn’t that the dream of all young ladies?”

“It is not mine, madame!”

“Dear me!  What better can you wish?  You must not expect more from
a husband than he can possibly give.”

“That is not what I shall expect of him.”

In a tone of paternal indulgence, which his looks belied:

“She is mad,” suggested M. Favoral.

Tears of indignation filled Mlle. Gilberte’s eyes.

“Mme. Desclavettes,” she exclaimed, “forgets something.  She forgets
that this gentleman dared to tell me that he proposed to settle upon
the woman he marries a large fortune, of which his creditors would
thus be cheated in case of his failure in business.”

She thought, in her simplicity, that a cry of indignation would rise
at these words.  Instead of which:

“Well, isn’t it perfectly natural?” said M. Desclavettes.

“It seems to me more than natural,” insisted Mme. Desclavettes,
“that a man should be anxious to preserve from ruin his wife and
children.”

“Of course,” put in M. Favoral.

Stepping resolutely toward her father:

“Have you, then, taken such precautions yourself?” demanded Mlle.
Gilberte.

“No,” answered the cashier of the Mutual Credit.  And, after a
moment of hesitation:

“But I am running no risks,” he added.  “In business, and when a
man may be ruined by a mere rise or fall in stocks, he would be
insane indeed who did not secure bread for his family, and, above
all, means for himself, wherewith to commence again.  The Baron de
Thaller did not act otherwise; and, should he meet with a disaster,
Mme. de Thaller would still have a handsome fortune.”

M. Desormeaux was, perhaps, the only one not to admit freely that
theory, and not to accept that ever-decisive reason, “Others do it.”

But he was a philosopher, and thought it silly not to be of his time.
He therefore contented himself with saying:

“Hum!  M. de Thaller’s creditors might not think that mode of
proceeding entirely regular.”

“Then they might sue,” said M. Chapelain, laughing.  “People can
always sue; only when the papers are well drawn--”

Mlle. Gilberte stood dismayed.  She thought of Marius de Tregars
giving up his mother’s fortune to pay his father’s debts.

“What would he say,” thought she, “should he hear such opinions!”

The cashier of the Mutual Credit resumed:

“Surely I blame every species of fraud.  But I pretend, and I
maintain, that a man who has worked twenty years to give a handsome
dowry to his daughter has the right to demand of his son-in-law
certain conservative measures to guarantee the money, which, after
all, is his own, and which is to benefit no one but his own family.”

This declaration closed the evening.  It was getting late.  The
Saturday guests put on their overcoats; and, as they were walking
home,

“Can you understand that little Gilberte?” said Mme. Desclavettes.
“I’d like to see a daughter of mine have such fancies!  But her
poor mother is so weak!”

“Yes; but friend Favoral is firm enough for both,” interrupted M.
Desormeaux; “and it is more than probable that at this very moment
he is correcting his daughter of the sin of sloth.”

Well, not at all.  Extremely angry as M. Favoral must have been,
neither that evening, nor the next day, did he make the remotest
allusion to what had taken place.

The following Monday only, before leaving for his office, casting
upon his wife and daughter one of his ugliest looks:

“M. Costeclar owes us a visit,” said he; “and it is possible that
he may call in my absence.  I wish him to be admitted; and I forbid
you to go out, so that you can have no pretext to refuse him the
door.  I presume there will not be found in my house any one bold
enough to ill receive a man whom I like, and whom I have selected
for my son-in-law.”

But was it probable, was it even possible, that M. Costeclar could
venture upon such a step after Mlle. Gilberte’s treatment of him on
the previous Saturday evening?

“No, a thousand times no!” affirmed Maxence to his mother and sister.
“So you may rest easy.”

Indeed they tried to be, until that very afternoon the sound of
rapidly-rolling wheels attracted Mme. Favoral to the window.  A
coupe, drawn by two gray horses, had just stopped at the door.

“It must be he,” she said to her daughter.

Mlle. Gilberte had turned slightly pale.

“There is no help for it, mother,” she said: “You must receive him.”

“And you?”

“I shall remain in my room.”

“Do you suppose he won’t ask for you?”

“You will answer that I am unwell.  He will understand.”

“But your father, unhappy child, your father?”

“I do not acknowledge to my father the right of disposing of my
person against my wishes.  I detest that man to whom he wishes to
marry me.  Would you like to see me his wife, to know me given up
to the most intolerable torture?  No, there is no violence in the
world that will ever wring my consent from me.  So, mother dear,
do what I ask you.  My father can say what he pleases: I take the
whole responsibility upon myself.”

There was no time to argue: the bell rang.  Mlle. Gilberte had
barely time to escape through one of the doors of the parlor,
whilst M. Costeclar was entering at the other.

If he did have enough perspicacity to guess what had just taken
place, he did not in any way show it.  He sat down; and it was
only after conversing for a few moments upon indifferent subjects,
that he asked how Mlle. Gilberte was.

“She is somewhat--unwell,” stammered Mme. Favoral.

He did not appear surprised; only,

“Our dear Favoral,” he said, “will be still more pained than I am
when he hears of this mishap.”

Better than any other mother, Mme. Favoral must have understood and
approved Mlle. Gilberte’s invincible repugnance.  To her also, when
she was young, her father had come one day, and said, “I have
discovered a husband for you.”  She had accepted him blindly.  Bruised
and wounded by daily outrages, she had sought refuge in marriage as
in a haven of safety.

And since, hardly a day had elapsed that she had not thought it
would have been better for her to have died rather then to have
riveted to her neck those fetters that death alone can remove.  She
thought, therefore, that her daughter was perfectly right.  And yet
twenty years of slavery had so weakened the springs of her energy,
that under the glance of Costeclar, threatening her with her
husband’s name, she felt embarrassed, and could scarcely stammer
some timid excuses.  And she allowed him to prolong his visit, and
consequently her torment, for over an half an hour; then, when he
had gone,

“He and your father understand each other,” said she to her daughter,
“that is but too evident.  What is the use of struggling?”

A fugitive blush colored the pale cheeks of Mlle. Gilberte.  For
the past forty-eight hours she had been exhausting herself, seeking
an issue to an impossible situation; and she had accustomed her mind
to the worst eventualities.

“Do you wish me, then, to desert the paternal roof?” she exclaimed.

Mme. Favoral almost dropped on the floor.

“You would run away,” she stammered, “you!”

“Rather than become that man’s wife, yes!”

“And where would you go, unfortunate child?  what would you do?”

“I can earn my living.”

Mme. Favoral shook her head sadly.  The same suspicions were reviving
within her that she had felt once before.

“Gilberte,” she said in a beseeching tone, “am I, then, no longer
your best friend?  and will you not tell me from what sources you
draw your courage and your resolution?”

And, as her daughter said nothing:

“God alone knows what may happen!” sighed the poor woman.

Nothing happened, but what could have been easily foreseen.  When
M. Favoral came home to dinner, he was whistling a perfect storm
on the stairs.  He abstained at first from all recrimination; but
towards the end of the meal, with the most sarcastic look he could
assume:

“It seems,” he said to his daughter, “that you were unwell this
afternoon?”

Bravely, and without flinching, she sustained his look; and, in a
firm voice:

“I shall always be indisposed,” she replied, “when M. Costeclar
calls.  You hear me, don’t you, father--always!”

But the cashier of the Credit Mutual was not one of those men whose
wrath finds vent in mere sarcasms.  Rising suddenly to his feet:

“By the holy heavens!” he screamed forth, “you are wrong to trifle
thus with my will; for, all of you here, I shall crush you as I do
this glass.”

And, with a frenzied gesture, he dashed the glass he held in his
hand against the wall, where it broke in a thousand pieces.
Trembling like a leaf, Mme. Favoral staggered upon her chair.



XVII

“Better kill her at once,” said Mlle. Gilberte coldly.  “She would
suffer less.”

It was by a torrent of invective that M. Favoral replied.  His rage,
dammed up for the past four days, finding at last an outlet, flowed
in gross insults and insane threats.  He spoke of throwing out in
the street his wife and children, or starving them out, or shutting
up his daughter in a house of correction; until at last, language
failing his fury, beside himself, he left, swearing that he would
bring M. Costeclar home himself, and then they would see.

“Very well, we shall see,” said Mlle. Gilberte.

Motionless in his place, and white as a plaster cast, Maxence had
witnessed this lamentable scene.  A gleam of common-sense had
enabled him to control his indignation, and to remain silent.  He
had understood, that, at the first word, his father’s fury would
have turned against him; and then what might have happened?  The
most frightful dramas of the criminal courts have often had no
other origin.

“No, this is no longer bearable!” he exclaimed.

Even at the time of his greatest follies, Maxence had always had
for his sister a fraternal affection.  He admired her from the day
she had stood up before him to reproach him for his misconduct.  He
envied her her quiet determination, her patient tenacity, and that
calm energy that never failed her.

“Have patience, my poor Gilberte,” he added: “the day is not far,
I hope, when I may commence to repay you all you have done for me.
I have not lost my time since you restored me my reason.  I have
arranged with my creditors.  I have found a situation, which, if
not brilliant, is at least sufficiently lucrative to enable me
before long to offer you, as well as to our mother, a peaceful
retreat.”

“But it is to-morrow,” interrupted Mme. Favoral, “to-morrow that
your father is to bring M. Costeclar.  He has said so, and he will
do it.”

And so he did.  About two o’clock in the afternoon M. Favoral and
his protege arrived in the Rue St. Gilles, in that famous coupe
with the two horses, which excited the wonder of the neighbors.

But Mlle. Gilberte had her plan ready.  She was on the lookout;
and, as soon as she heard the carriage stop, she ran to her room,
undressed in a twinkling, and went to bed.

When her father came for her, and saw her in bed, he remained
surprised and puzzled on the threshold of the door.

“And yet I’ll make you come into the parlor!” he said in a hoarse
voice.

“Then you must carry me there as I am,” she said in a tone of
defiance; “for I shall certainly not get up.”

For the first time since his marriage, M. Favoral met in his own
house a more inflexible will than his own, and a more unyielding
obstinacy.  He was baffled.  He threatened his daughter with his
clinched fists, but could discover no means of making her obey.
He was compelled to surrender, to yield.

“This will be settled with the rest,” he growled, as he went out.

“I fear nothing in the world, father,” said the girl.

It was almost true, so much did the thought of Marius de Tregars
inflame her courage.  Twice already she had heard from him through
the Signor Gismondo Pulei, who never tired talking of this new pupil,
to whom he had already given two lessons.

“He is the most gallant man in the world,” he said, his eye sparkling
with enthusiasm, “and the bravest, and the most generous, and the
best; and no quality that can adorn one of God’s creatures shall be
wanting in him when I have taught him the divine art.  It is not
with a little contemptible gold that he means to reward my zeal.
To him I am as a second father; and it is with the confidence of a
son that he explains to me his labors and his hopes.”

Thus Mlle. Gilberte learned through the old maestro, that the
newspaper article she had read was almost exactly true, and that
M. de Tregars and M. Marcolet had become associated for the purpose
of working, in joint account, certain recent discoveries, which bid
fair to yield large profits in a near future.

“And yet it is for my sake alone that he has thus thrown himself
into the turmoil of business, and has become as eager for gain as
that M. Marcolet himself.”

And, at the height of her father’s persecutions, she felt glad of
what she had done, and of her boldness in placing her destiny in the
hands of a stranger.  The memory of Marius had become her refuge,
the element of all her dreams and of all her hopes; in a word, her
life.

It was of Marius she was thinking, when her mother, surprising her
gazing into vacancy, would ask her, “What are you thinking of?”  And,
at every new vexation she had to endure, her imagination decked him
with a new quality, and she clung to him with a more desperate grasp.

“How much he would grieve,” thought she, “if he knew of what
persecution I am the object!”

And very careful was she not to allow the Signor Gismondo Pulei to
suspect any thing of it, affecting, on the contrary, in his presence,
the most cheerful serenity.

And yet she was a prey to the most cruel anxiety, since she observed
a new and most incredible transformation in her father.

That man so violent and so harsh, who flattered himself never to
have been bent, who boasted never to have forgotten or forgiven any
thing, that domestic tyrant, had become quite a debonair personage.
He had referred to the expedient imagined by Mlle. Gilberte only to
laugh at it, saying that it was a good trick, and he deserved it;
for he repented bitterly, he protested, his past brutalities.

He owned that he had at heart his daughter’s marriage with M.
Costeclar; but he acknowledged that he had made use of the surest
means for making it fail.  He should, he humbly confessed, have
expected every thing of time and circumstances, of M. Costeclar’s
excellent qualities, and of his beautiful, darling daughter’s
good sense.

More than of all his violence, Mme. Favoral was terrified at this
affected good nature.

“Dear me!” she sighed, “what does it all mean?”

But the cashier of the Mutual Credit was not preparing any new
surprise to his family.  If the means were different, it was still
the same object that he was pursuing with the tenacity of an insect.
When severity had failed, he hoped to succeed by gentleness, that’s
all.  Only this assumption of hypocritical meekness was too new
to him to deceive any one.  At every moment the mask fell off, the
claws showed, and his voice trembled with ill-suppressed rage in
the midst of his most honeyed phrases.

Moreover, he entertained the strangest illusions.  Because for
forty-eight hours he had acted the part of a good-natured man,
because one Sunday he had taken his wife and daughter out riding in
the Bois de Vincennes, because he had given Maxence a hundred-franc
note, he imagined that it was all over, that the past was obliterated,
forgotten, and forgiven.

And, drawing Gilberte upon his knees,

“Well, daughter,” he said, “you see that I don’t importune you any
more, and I leave you quite free.  I am more reasonable than you are.”

But on the other hand, and according to an expression which escaped
him later, he tried to turn the enemy.

He did every thing in his power to spread in the neighborhood the
rumor of Mlle. Gilberte’s marriage with a financier of colossal
wealth,--that elegant young man who came in a coupe with two horses.
Mme. Favoral could not enter a shop without being covertly
complimented upon having found such a magnificent establishment for
her daughter.

Loud, indeed, must have been the gossip; for its echo reached even
the inattentive ears of the Signor Gismondo Pulei.

One day, suddenly interrupting his lesson,--“You are going to be
married, signora?” he inquired.

Mlle. Gilberte started.

What the old Italian had heard, he would surely ere long repeat to
Marius.  It was therefore urgent to undeceive him.

“It is true,” she replied, “that something has been said about a
marriage, dear maestro.”

“Ah, ah!”

“Only my father had not consulted me.  That marriage will never
take place: I swear it.”

She expressed herself in a tone of such ardent conviction, that the
old gentleman was quite astonished, little dreaming that it was not
to him that this energetic denial was addressed.

“My destiny is irrevocably fixed,” added Mlle. Gilberte.  “When I
marry, I will consult the inspirations of my heart only.”

In the mean time, it was a veritable conspiracy against her.  M.
Favoral had succeeded in interesting in the success of his designs
his habitual guests, not M. and Mme. Desclavettes, who had been
seduced from the first, but M. Chapelain and old Desormeaux himself.
So that they all vied with each other in their efforts to bring the
“dear child” to reason, and to enlighten her with their counsels.

“Father must have a still more considerable interest in this alliance
than he has allowed us to think,” she remarked to her brother.
Maxence was also absolutely of the same opinion.

“And then,” he added, “our father must be terribly rich; for, do not
deceive yourself, it isn’t solely for your pretty blue eyes that
this Costeclar persists in coming here twice a week to pocket a new
mortification.  What enormous dowry can he be hoping for?  I am
going to speak to him myself, and try to find out what he is after.”

But Mlle. Gilberte had but slight confidence in her brother’s
diplomacy.

“I beg of you,” she said, “don’t meddle with that business!”

“Yes, yes, I will!  Fear nothing, I’ll be prudent.”

Having taken his resolution, Maxence placed himself on the lookout;
and the very next day, as M. Costeclar was stepping out of his
carriage at the door, he walked straight up to him.

“I wish to speak to you, sir,” he said.  Self-possessed as he was,
the brilliant financier succeeded but poorly in concealing a surprise
that looked very much like fright.

“I am going in to call on your parents, sir,” he replied; “and whilst
waiting for your father, with whom I have an appointment, I shall be
at your command.”

“No, no!” interrupted Maxence.  “What I have to say must be heard by
you alone.  Come along this way, and we shall not be interrupted.”

And he led M. Costeclar away as far as the Place Royal.  Once there,

“You are very anxious to marry my sister, sir,” he commenced.

During their short walk M. Costeclar had recovered himself.  He had
resumed all his impertinent assurance.  Looking at Maxence from head
to foot with any thing but a friendly look,

“It is my dearest and my most ardent wish, sir,” he replied.

“Very well.  But you must have noticed the very slight success, to
use no harsher word, of your assiduities.”

“Alas!”

“And, perhaps, you will judge, like myself, that it would be the act
of a gentleman to withdraw in presence of such positive repugnance?”

An ugly smile was wandering upon M. Costeclar’s pale lips.

“Is it at the request of your sister, sir, that you make me this
communication?”

“No, sir.”

“Are you aware whether your sister has some inclination that may be
an obstacle to the realization of my hopes?”

“Sir!”

“Excuse me!  What I say has nothing to offend.  It might very well
be that your sister, before I had the honor of being introduced to
her, had already fixed her choice.”

He spoke so loud, that Maxence looked sharply around to see whether
there was not some one within hearing.  He saw no one but a young
man, who seemed quite absorbed reading a newspaper.

“But, sir,” he resumed, “what would you answer, if I, the brother
of the young lady whom you wish to marry against her wishes,--I
called upon you to cease your assiduities?”

M. Costeclar bowed ceremoniously,

“I would answer you, sir,” he uttered, “that your father’s assent
is sufficient for me.  My suit has nothing but is honorable.  Your
sister may not like me: that is a misfortune; but it is not
irreparable.  When she knows me better, I venture to hope that she
will overcome her unjust prejudices.  Therefore I shall persist.”

Maxence insisted no more.  He was irritated at M. Costeclar’s
coolness; but it was not his intention to push things further.

“There will always be time,” he thought, “to resort to violent
measures.”

But when he reported this conversation to his sister,

“It is clear,” he said, “that, between our father and that man,
there is a community of interests which I am unable to discover.
What business have they together?  In what respect can your marriage
either help or injure them?  I must see, try and find out exactly
who is this Costeclar: the deuse take him!”

He started out the same day, and had not far to go.

M. Costeclar was one of those personalities which only bloom in
Paris, and are only met in Paris,--the same as cab-horses, and
young ladies with yellow chignons.

He knew everybody, and everybody knew him.

He was well known at the bourse, in all the principal restaurants,
where he called the waiters by their first names, at the box-office
of the theatres, at all the pool-rooms, and at the European Club,
otherwise called the Nomadic Club, of which he was a member.

He operated at the bourse: that was sure.  He was said to own a
third interest in a stock-broker’s office.  He had a good deal of
business with M. Jottras, of the house of Jottras and Brother, and
M. Saint Pavin, the manager of a very popular journal, “The Financial
Pilot.”

It was further known that he had on Rue Vivienne, a magnificent
apartment, and that he had successively honored with his liberal
protection Mlle. Sidney of the Varieties, and Mme. Jenny Fancy, a
lady of a certain age already, but so situated as to return to her
lovers in notoriety what they gave her in good money.  So much did
Maxence learn without difficulty.  As to any more precise details,
it was impossible to obtain them.  To his pressing questions upon
M. Costeclar’s antecedents,

“He is a perfectly honest man,” answered some.

“He is simply a speculator,” affirmed others.

But all agreed that he was a sharp one; who would surely make his
fortune, and without passing through the police-courts, either.

“How can our father and such a man be so intimately connected?”
 wondered Maxence and his sister.

And they were lost in conjectures, when suddenly, at an hour when
he never set his foot in the house, M. Favoral appeared.

Throwing a letter upon his daughter’s lap,

“See what I have just received from Costeclar,” he said in a hoarse
voice.  “Read.”

She read, “Allow me, dear friend, to release you from your engagement.
Owing to circumstances absolutely beyond my control, I find myself
compelled to give up the honor of becoming a member of your family.”

What could have happened?

Standing in the middle of the parlor, the cashier of the Mutual Credit
held, bowed down beneath his glance, his wife and children, Mme.
Favoral trembling, Maxence starting in mute surprise, and Mlle.
Gilberte, who needed all the strength of her will to control the
explosion of her immense joy.

Every thing in M. Favoral betrayed, nevertheless, much more the
excitement of a disaster than the rage of a deception.

Never had his family seen him thus,--livid, his cravat undone, his
hair wet with perspiration, and clinging to his temples.

“Will you please explain this letter?” he asked at last.

And, as no one answered him, he took up that letter again from the
table where Mlle. Gilberte had laid it, and commenced reading it
again, scanning each syllable, as if in hopes of discovering in each
word some hidden meaning.

“What did you say to Costeclar?” he resumed, “what did you do to
him to make him take such a determination?”

“Nothing,” answered Maxence and Mlle. Gilberte.

The hope of being at last rid of that man inspired Mme. Favoral with
something like courage.

“He has doubtless understood,” she meekly suggested, “that he could
not triumph over our daughter’s repugnance.”

But her husband interrupted her,

“No,” he uttered, “Costeclar is not the man to trouble himself about
the ridiculous caprices of a little girl.  There is something else.
But what is it?  Come, if you know it, any of you, if you suspect it
even, speak, say it.  You must see that I am in a state of fearful
anxiety.”

It was the first time that he thus allowed something to appear of
what was passing within him, the first time that he ever complained.

“M. Costeclar alone, father, can give you the explanation you ask of
us,” said Mlle. Gilberte.

The cashier of the Mutual Credit shook his head.  “Do you suppose,
then, that I have not questioned him?  I found his letter this
morning at the office.  At once I ran to his apartments, Rue
Vivienne.  He had just gone out; and it is in vain that I called
for him at Jottras’, and at the office of ‘The Financial Pilot.’
I found him at last at the bourse, after running three hours.  But
I could only get from him evasive answers and vague explanations.
Of course he did not fail to say, that, if he does withdraw, it is
because he despairs of ever succeeding in pleasing Gilberte.  But
it isn’t so: I know it; I am sure of it; I read it in his eyes.
Twice his lips moved as if he were about to confess all; and then
he said nothing.  And the more I insisted, the more he seemed ill
at ease, embarrassed, uneasy, troubled, the more he appeared to me
like a man who has been threatened, and dares not brave the threat.”

He directed upon his children one of those obstinate looks which
search the inmost depths of the conscience.

“If you have done any thing to drive him off,” he resumed, “confess
it frankly, and I swear I will not reproach you.”

“We did not.”

“You did not threaten him?”

“No!”

M. Favoral seemed appalled.

“Doubtless you deceive me,” he said, “and I hope you do.  Unhappy
children! you do not know what this rupture may cost you.”

And, instead of returning to his office, he shut himself up in that
little room which he called his study, and only came out of it at
about five o’clock, holding under his arm an enormous bundle of
papers, and saying that it was useless to wait for him for dinner,
as he would not come home until late in the night, if he came home
at all, being compelled to make up for his lost day.

“What is the matter with your father, my poor children?” exclaimed
Mme. Favoral.  “I have never seen him in such a state.”

“Doubtless,” replied Maxence, “the rupture with Costeclar is going
to break up some combination.”

But that explanation did not satisfy him any more than it did his
mother.  He, too, felt a vague apprehension of some impending
misfortune.  But what?  He had nothing upon which to base his
conjectures.  He knew nothing, any more than his mother, of his
father’s affairs, of his relations, of his interests, or even of
his life, outside the house.

And mother and son lost themselves in suppositions as vain as if
they had tried to find the solution of a problem, without possessing
its terms.

With a single word Mlle. Gilberte thought she might have enlightened
them.

In the unerring certainty of the blow, in the crushing promptness
of the result, she thought she could recognize the hand of Marius
de Tregars.

She recognized the hand of the man who acts, and does not talk.
And the girl’s pride felt flattered by this victory, by this proof
of the powerful energy of the man whom, unknown to all, she had
selected.  She liked to imagine Marius de Tregars and M. Costeclar
in presence of each other,--the one as imperious and haughty as
she had seen him meek and trembling; the other more humble still
than he was arrogant with her.

“One thing is certain,” she repeated to herself; “and that is, I
am saved.”

And she wished the morrow to come, that she might announce her
happiness to the very involuntary and very unconscious accomplice
of Marius, the worthy Maestro Gismondo Pulei.

The next day M. Favoral seemed to have resigned himself to the
failure of his projects; and, the following Saturday, he told as a
pleasant joke, how Mlle. Gilberte had carried the day, and had
managed to dismiss her lover.

But a close observer could discover in him symptoms of devouring
cares.  Deep wrinkles showed along his temples; his eyes were sunken;
a continued tension of mind contracted his features.  Often during
the dinner he would remain motionless for several minutes, his
fork aloft; and then he would murmur, “How is it all going to end?”

Sometimes in the morning, before his departure for his office, M.
Jottras, of the house of Jottras and Brother, and M. Saint Pavin,
the manager of “The Financial Pilot,” came to see him.  They
closeted themselves together, and remained for hours in conference,
speaking so low, that not even a vague murmur could be heard
outside the door.

“Your father has grave subjects of anxiety, my children,” said Mme.
Favoral: “you may believe me,--me, who for twenty years have been
trying to guess our fate upon his countenance.”

But the political events were sufficient to explain any amount of
anxiety.  It was the second week of July, 1870; and the destinies
of France trembled, as upon a cast of the dice, in the hands of a
few presumptuous incapables.  Was it war with Prussia, or was it
peace, that was to issue from the complications of a childishly
astute policy?

The most contradictory rumors caused daily at the bourse the most
violent oscillations, which endangered the safest fortunes.  A few
words uttered in a corridor by Emile Ollivier had made a dozen heavy
operators rich, but had ruined five hundred small ones.  On all
hands, credit was trembling.

Until one evening when he came home,

“War is declared,” said M. Favoral.

It was but too true; and no one then had any fears of the result
for France.  They had so much exalted the French army, they had
so often said that it was invincible, that every one among the
public expected a series of crushing victories.

Alas! the first telegram announced a defeat.  People refused to
believe it at first.  But there was the evidence.  The soldiers had
died bravely; but the chiefs had been incapable of leading them.

From that time, and with a vertiginous rapidity, from day to day,
from hour to hour, the fatal news came crowding on.  Like a river
that overflows its banks, Prussia was overrunning France.  Bazaine
was surrounded at Metz; and the capitulation of Sedan capped the
climax of so many disasters.

At last, on the 4th of September, the republic was proclaimed.

On the 5th, when the Signor Gismondo Pulei presented himself at Rue
St. Gilles, his face bore such an expression of anguish, that Mlle.
Gilberte could not help asking what was the matter.

He rose on that question, and, threatening heaven with his clinched
fist,

“Implacable fate does not tire to persecute me,” he replied.  “I
had overcome all obstacles: I was happy: I was looking forward to
a future of fortune and glory.  No, the dreadful war must break out.”

For the worthy maestro, this terrible catastrophe was but a new
caprice of his own destiny.

“What has happened to you?” inquired the young girl, repressing a
smile.

“It happens to me, signora, that I am about to lose my beloved
pupil.  He leaves me; he forsakes me.  In vain have I thrown myself
at his feet.  My tears have not been able to detain him.  He is going
to fight; he leaves; he is a soldier!”

Then it was given to Mlle. Gilberte to see clearly within her soul.
Then she understood how absolutely she had given herself up, and to
what extent she had ceased to belong to herself.

Her sensation was terrible, such as if her whole blood had suddenly
escaped through her open arteries.  She turned pale, her teeth
chattered; and she seemed so near fainting, that the Signor Gismondo
sprang to the door, crying, “Help, help! she is dying.”

Mme. Favoral, frightened, came running in.  But already, thanks to
an all-powerful projection of will, Mlle. Gilberte had recovered,
and, smiling a pale smile,

“It’s nothing, mamma,” she said.  “A sudden pain in the head; but
it’s gone already.”

The worthy maestro was in perfect agony.  Taking Mme. Favoral aside,

“It is my fault,” he said.  “It is the story of my unheard-of
misfortunes that has upset her thus.  Monstrous egotist that I am!
I should have been careful of her exquisite sensibility.”

She insisted, nevertheless, upon taking her lesson as usual, and
recovered enough presence of mind to extract from the Signor Gismondo
everything that his much-regretted pupil had confided to him.

That was not much.  He knew that his pupil had gone, like anyone
else, to Rue de Cherche Midi; that he had signed an engagement;
and had been ordered to join a regiment in process of formation
near Tours.  And, as he went out,

“That is nothing,” said the kind maestro to Mme. Favoral.  “The
signora has quite recovered, and is as gay as a lark.”

The signora, shut up in her room, was shedding bitter tears.  She
tried to reason with herself, and could not succeed.  Never had
the strangeness of her situation so clearly appeared to her.  She
repeated to herself that she must be mad to have thus become
attached to a stranger.  She wondered how she could have allowed
that love, which was now her very life, to take possession of her
soul.  But to what end?  It no longer rested with her to undo what
had been done.

When she thought that Marius de Tregars was about to leave Paris
to become a soldier, to fight, to die perhaps, she felt her head
whirl; she saw nothing around her but despair and chaos.

And, the more she thought, the more certain she felt that Marius
could not have trusted solely to the chance gossip of the Signor
Pulei to communicate to her his determination.

“It is perfectly inadmissible,” she thought.  “It is impossible that
he will not make an effort to see me before going.”

Thoroughly imbued with the idea, she wiped her eyes, took a seat
by an open window; and, whilst apparently busy with her work, she
concentrated her whole attention upon the street.

There were more people out than usual.  The recent events had
stirred Paris to its lowest depths, and, as from the crater of a
volcano in labor, all the social scoriae rose to the surface.  Men
of sinister appearance left their haunts, and wandered through the
city.  The workshops were all deserted; and people strolled at
random, stupor or terror painted on their countenance.  But in vain
did Mlle. Gilberte seek in all this crowd the one she hoped to see.
The hours went by, and she was getting discouraged, when suddenly,
towards dusk, at the corner of the Rue Turenne,

“‘Tis he,” cried a voice within her.

It was, in fact, M. de Tregars.  He was walking towards the
Boulevard, slowly, and his eyes raised.

Palpitating, the girl rose to her feet.  She was in one of those
moments of crisis when the blood, rushing to the brain, smothers
all judgment.  Unconscious, as it were, of her acts, she leaned
over the window, and made a sign to Marius, which he understood very
well, and which meant, “Wait, I am coming down.”

“Where are you going, dear?” asked Mme. Favoral, seeing Gilberte
putting on her bonnet.

“To the shop, mamma, to get a shade of worsted I need.”

Mlle. Gilberte was not in the habit of going out alone; but it
happened quite often that she would go down in the neighborhood on
some little errand.

“Do you wish the girl to go out with you?” asked Mme. Favoral.

“Oh, it isn’t worth while!”

She ran down the stairs; and once out, regardless of the looks that
might be watching her, she walked straight to M. de Tregars, who was
waiting on the corner of the Rue des Minimes.

“You are going away?” she said, too much agitated to notice his own
emotion, which was, however, quite evident.

“I must,” he answered.

“Oh!”

“When France is invaded, the place for a man who bears my name is
where the fighting is.”

“But there will be fighting in Paris too.”

“Paris has four times as many defenders as it needs.  It is outside
that soldiers will be wanted.”

They walked slowly, as they spoke thus, along the Rue des Minimes,
one of the least frequented in Paris; and there were only to be
seen at this hour five or six soldiers talking in front of the
barracks gate.

“Suppose I were to beg you not to go,” resumed Mlle. Gilberte.
“Suppose I beseeched you, Marius!”

“I should remain then,” he answered in a troubled voice; “but I
would be betraying my duty, and failing to my honor; and remorse
would weigh upon our whole life.  Command now, and I will obey.”

They had stopped; and no one seeing them standing there side by
side affectionate and familiar could have believed that they were
speaking to each other for the first time.  They themselves did not
notice it, so much had they come, with the help of all-powerful
imagination, and in spite of separation, to the understanding of
intimacy.  After a moment of painful reflection,

“I do not ask you any longer to stay,” uttered the young girl.
He took her hand, and raised it to his lips.

“I expected no less of your courage,” he said, his voice vibrating
with love.  But he controlled himself, and, in a more quiet tone,

“Thanks to the indiscretion of Pulei,” he added, “I was in hopes of
seeing you, but not to have the happiness of speaking to you.  I
had written--”

He drew from his pocket a large envelope, and, handing it to Mlle.
Gilberte,

“Here is the letter,” he continued, “which I intended for you.  It
contains another, which I beg you to preserve carefully, and not to
open unless I do not return.  I leave you in Paris a devoted friend,
the Count de Villegre.  Whatever may happen to you, apply to him
with all confidence, as you would to myself.”

Mlle. Gilberte, staggering, leaned against the wall.

“When do you expect to leave?” she inquired.

“This very night.  Communications may be cut off at any moment.”

Admirable in her sorrow, but also full of energy, the poor girl
looked up, and held out her hand to him.

“Go then,” she said, “O my only friend! go, since honor commands.
But do not forget that it is not your life alone that you are going
to risk.”

And, fearing to burst into sobs, she fled, and reached the Rue St.
Gilles a few moments before her father, who had gone out in quest
of news.

Those he brought home were of the most sinister kind.

Like the rising tide, the Prussians spread and advanced, slowly,
but steadily.  Their marches were numbered; and the day and hour
could be named when their flood would come and strike the walls
of Paris.

And so, at all the railroad stations, there was a prodigious rush
of people who wished to leave at any cost, in any way, in the
baggage-car if needs be, and who certainly were not, like Marius,
rushing to meet the enemy.

One after another, M. Favoral had seen nearly every one he knew
take flight.

The Baron and Baroness de Thaller and their daughter had gone to
Switzerland; M. Costeclar was traveling in Belgium; the elder
Jottras was in England, buying guns and cartridge; and if the
younger Jottras, with M. Saint Pavin of “The Financial Pilot,”
 remained in Paris, it was because, through the gallant influence
of a lady whose name was not mentioned, they had obtained some
valuable contracts from the government.

The perplexities of the cashier of the Mutual Credit were great.
The day that the Baron and the Baroness de Thaller had left,

“Pack up our trunks,” he ordered his wife.  “The bourse is going
to close; and the Mutual Credit can very well get along without me.”

But the next day he became undecided again.  What Mlle. Gilberte
thought she could guess, was, that he was dying to start alone, and
leave his family, but dared not do it.  He hesitated so long, that
at last, one evening,

“You may unpack the trunks,” he said to his wife.  “Paris is
invested; and no one can now leave.”



XVIII

In fact, the news had just come, that the Western Railroad, the last
one that had remained open, was now cut off.

Paris was invested; and so rapid had been the investment, that it
could hardly be believed.

People went in crowds on all the culminating points, the hills of
Montmartre, and the heights of the Trocadero.  Telescopes had been
erected there; and every one was anxious to scan the horizon, and
look for the Prussians.

But nothing could be discovered.  The distant fields retained their
quiet and smiling aspect under the mild rays of the autumn sun.

So that it really required quite an effort of imagination to realize
the sinister fact, to understand that Paris, with its two millions
of inhabitants, was indeed cut off from the world and separated from
the rest of France, by an insurmountable circle of steel.

Doubt, and something like a vague hope, could be traced in the tone
of the people who met on the streets, saying,

“Well, it’s all over: we can’t leave any more.  Letters, even,
cannot pass.  No more news, eh?”

But the next day, which was the 19th of September, the most
incredulous were convinced.

For the first time Paris shuddered at the hoarse voice of the cannon,
thundering on the heights of Chatillon.  The siege of Paris, that
siege without example in history, had commenced.

The life of the Favorals during these interminable days of anguish
and suffering, was that of a hundred thousand other families.

Incorporated in the battalion of his ward, the cashier of the Mutual
Credit went off two or three times a week, as well as all his
neighbors, to mount guard on the ramparts,--a useless service
perhaps, but which those that performed it did not look upon as such,
--a very arduous service, at any rate, for poor merchants, accustomed
to the comforts of their shops, or the quiet of their offices.

To be sure, there was nothing heroic in tramping through the mud,
in receiving the rain or the snow upon the back, in sleeping on the
ground or on dirty straw, in remaining on guard with the thermometer
twenty degrees below the freezing-point.  But people die of pleurisy
quite as certainly as of a Prussian bullet; and many died of it.

Maxence showed himself but rarely at Rue St. Gilles: enlisted in a
battalion of sharpshooters, he did duty at the advanced posts.  And,
as to Mme. Favoral and Mlle. Gilberte, they spent the day trying to
get something to live on.  Rising before daylight, through rain or
snow, they took their stand before the butcher’s stall, and, after
waiting for hours, received a small slice of horse-meat.

Alone in the evening, by the side of the hearth where a few pieces
of green wood smoked without burning, they started at each of the
distant reports of the cannon.  At each detonation that shook the
window-panes, Mme. Favoral thought that it was, perhaps, the one
that had killed her son.

And Mlle. Gilberte was thinking of Marius de Tregars.  The accursed
days of November and December had come.  There were constant rumors
of bloody battles around Orleans.  She imagined Marius, mortally
wounded, expiring on the snow, alone, without help, and without a
friend to receive his supreme will and his last breath.

One evening the vision was so clear, and the impression so strong,
that she started up with a loud cry.

“What is it?” asked Mme. Favoral, alarmed.  “What is the matter?”

With a little perspicacity, the worthy woman could easily have
obtained her daughter’s secret; for Mlle. Gilberte was not in
condition to deny anything.  But she contented herself with an
explanation which meant nothing, and had not a suspicion, when
the girl answered with a forced smile,

“It’s nothing, dear mother, nothing but an absurd idea that crossed
my mind.”

Strange to say, never had the cashier of the Mutual Credit been for
his family what he was during these months of trials.

During the first weeks of the siege he had been anxious, agitated,
nervous; he wandered through the house like a soul in trouble; he
had moments of inconceivable prostration, during which tears could
be seen rolling down upon his cheeks, and then fits of anger
without motive.

But each day that elapsed had seemed to bring calm to his soul.
Little by little, he had become to his wife so indulgent and so
affectionate, that the poor helot felt her heart touched.  He had
for his daughter attentions which caused her to wonder.

Often, when the weather was fine, he took them out walking, leading
them along the quays towards a part of the walls occupied by the
battalion of their ward.  Twice he took them to St. Onen, where the
sharp-shooters were encamped to which Maxence belonged.

Another day he wished to take them to visit M. de Thaller’s house,
of which he had charge.  They refused, and instead of getting angry,
as he certainly would have done formerly, he commenced describing to
them the splendors of the apartments, the magnificent furniture, the
carpets and the hangings, the paintings by the great masters, the
objects of arts, the bronzes, in a word,  all that dazzling luxury
of which financiers make use, somewhat as hunters do of the mirror
with which larks are caught.

Of business, nothing was ever said.

He went every morning as far as the office of the Mutual Credit;
but, as he said, it was solely as a matter of form.  Once in a long
while, M. Saint Pavin and the younger Jottras paid a visit to the
Rue St. Gilles.  They had suspended,--the one the payments of his
banking house; the other, the publication of “The Financial Pilot.”

But they were not idle for all that; and, in the midst of the public
distress, they still managed to speculate upon something, no one
knew what, and to realize profits.

They rallied pleasantly the fools who had faith in the defence, and
imitated in the most laughable manner the appearance, under their
soldier’s coat, of three or four of their friends who had joined
the marching battalions.  They boasted that they had no privations
to endure, and always knew where to find the fresh butter wherewith
to dress the large slices of beef which they possessed the art of
finding.  Mme. Favoral heard them laugh; and M. Saint Pavin, the
manager of “The Financial Pilot,” exclaimed,

“Come, come! we would be fools to complain.  It is a general
liquidation, without risks and without costs.”  Their mirth had
something revolting in it; for it was now the last and most acute
period of the siege.

At the beginning, the greatest optimists hardly thought that Paris
could hold out longer than six weeks.  And now the investment had
lasted over four months.  The population was reduced to nameless
articles of food.  The supply of bread had failed; the wounded, for
lack of a little soup, died in the ambulances; old people and
children perished by the hundred; on the left bank the shells came
down thick and fast, the weather was intensely cold, and there was
no more fuel.

And yet no one complained.  From the midst of that population of
two millions of inhabitants, not one voice rose to beg for their
comfort, their health, their life even, at the cost of a
capitulation.

Clear-sighted men had never hoped that Paris alone could compel
the raising of the siege; but they thought, that by holding out,
and keeping the Prussians under its walls, Paris would give to
France time to rise, to organize armies, and to rush upon the enemy.
There was the duty of Paris; and Paris was toiling to fulfil it to
the utmost limits of possibility, reckoning as a victory each day
that it gained.

Unfortunately, all this suffering was to be in vain.  The fatal
hour struck, when, supplies being exhausted, it became necessary
to surrender.  During three days the Prussians camped in the Champs
Elysees, gazing with longing eyes upon that city, object of their
most eager desires,--that Paris within which, victorious though
they were, they had not dared to venture.  Then, soon after,
communications were reopened; and one morning, as he received a
letter from Switzerland,

“It is from the Baron de Thaller!” exclaimed M. Favoral.

Exactly so.  The manager of the Mutual Credit was a prudent man.
Pleasantly situated in Switzerland, he was in nowise anxious to
return to Paris before being quite certain that he had no risks
to run.

Upon receiving M. Favoral’s assurances to that effect, he started;
and, almost at the same time the elder Jottras and M. Costeclar
made their appearance.



XIX

It was a curious spectacle, the return of those braves for whom
Parisian slang had invented the new and significant expression of
_franc-fileur_.

They were not so proud then as they have been since.  Feeling rather
embarrassed in the midst of a population still quivering with the
emotions of the siege, they had at least the good taste to try and
find pretexts for their absence.

“I was cut off,” affirmed the Baron de Thaller.  “I had gone to
Switzerland to place my wife and daughter in safety.  When I came
back, good-by! the Prussians had closed the doors.  For more than
a week, I wandered around Paris, trying to find an opening.  I
became suspected of being a spy.  I was arrested.  A little more,
and I was shot dead!”

“As to myself,” declared M. Costeclar, “I foresaw exactly what has
happened.  I knew that it was outside, to organize armies of relief,
that men would be wanted.  I went to offer my services to the
government of defence; and everybody in Bordeaux saw me booted and
spurred, and ready to leave.”

He was consequently soliciting the Cross of the Legion of Honor,
and was not without hopes of obtaining it through the all-powerful
influence of his financial connections.

“Didn’t So-and-so get it?” he replied to objections.  And he named
this or that individual whose feats of arms consisted principally
in having exhibited themselves in uniforms covered with gold lace
to the very shoulders.

“But I am the man who deserves it most, that cross,” insisted the
younger M. Jottras; “for I, at least, have rendered valuable
services.”

And he went on telling how, after searching for arms all over
England, he had sailed for New York, where he had purchased any
number of guns and cartridges, and even some batteries of artillery.

This last journey had been very wearisome to him, he added and yet
he did not regret it; for it had furnished him an opportunity to
study on the spot the financial morals of America; and he had
returned with ideas enough to make the fortune of three or four
stock companies with twenty millions of capital.

“Ah, those Americans!” he exclaimed.  “They are the men who
understand business!  We are but children by the side of them.”

It was through M. Chapelain, the Desclavettes, and old Desormeaux,
that these news reached the Rue St. Gilles.

It was also through Maxence, whose battalion had been dissolved,
and who, whilst waiting for something better, had accepted a
clerkship in the office of the Orleans Railway, where he earned
two hundred francs a month.  For M. Favoral saw and heard nothing
that was going on around him.  He was wholly absorbed in his
business: he left earlier, came home later, and hardly allowed
himself time to eat and drink.

He told all his friends that business was looking up again in the
most unexpected manner; that there were fortunes to be made by
those who could command ready cash; and that it was necessary to
make up for lost time.

He pretended that the enormous indemnity to be paid to the Prussians
would necessitate an enormous movement of capital, financial
combinations, a loan, and that so many millions could not be handled
without allowing a few little millions to fall into intelligent
pockets.

Dazzled by the mere enumeration of those fabulous sums, “I should
not be a bit surprised,” said the others, “to see Favoral double
and treble his fortune.  What a famous match his daughter will be!”

Alas! never had Mlle. Gilberte felt in her heart so much hatred
and disgust for that money, the only thought, the sole subject of
conversation, of those around her,--for that cursed money which
had risen like an insurmountable obstacle between Marius and
herself.

For two weeks past, the communications had been completely restored;
and there was as yet no sign of M. de Tregars.  It was with the most
violent palpitations of her heart that she awaited each day the hour
of the Signor Gismondo Pulei’s lesson: and more painful each time
became her anguish when she heard him exclaim,

“Nothing, not a line, not a word.  The pupil has forgotten his old
master!”

But Mlle. Gilberte knew well that Marius did not forget.  Her blood
froze in her veins when she read in the papers the interminable
list of those poor soldiers who had succumbed during the invasion,
--the more fortunate ones under Prussian bullets; the others along
the roads, in the mud or in the snow, of cold, of fatigue, of
suffering and of want.

She could not drive from her mind the memory of that lugubrious
vision which had so much frightened her; and she was asking herself
whether it was not one of those inexplicable presentiments, of
which there are examples, which announce the death of a beloved
person.

Alone at night in her little room, Mlle. Gilberte withdrew from the
hiding-place, where she kept it preciously, that package which
Marius had confided to her, recommending her not to open it until
she was sure that he would not return.  It was very voluminous,
enclosed in an envelope of thick paper, sealed with red wax, bearing
the arms of Tregars; and she had often wondered what it could
possibly contain.  And now she shuddered at the thought that she
had perhaps the right to open it.

And she had no one of whom she could ask for a word of hope.  She
was compelled to hide her tears, and to put on a smile.  She was
compelled to invent pretexts for those who expressed their wonder
at seeing her exquisite beauty withering in the bud,--for her
mother, whose anxiety was without limit, when she saw her thus pale,
her eyes inflamed, and undermined by a continuous fever.

True, Marius, on leaving, had left her a friend, the Count de
Villegre; and, if any one knew any thing, he certainly did.  But
she could see no way of hearing from him without risking her secret.
Write to him?  Nothing was easier, since she had his address,--Rue
Turenne.  But where could she ask him to direct his answer?  Rue St.
Gilles?  Impossible!  True, she might go to him, or make an
appointment in the neighborhood.  But how could she escape, even
for an hour, without exciting Mme. Favoral’s suspicions?

Sometimes it occurred to her to confide in Maxence, who was laboring
with admirable constancy to redeem his past.

But what! must she, then, confess the truth,--confess that she,
Gilberte, had lent her ears to the words of a stranger, met by
chance in the street, and that she looked forward to no happiness
in life save through him?  She dared not.  She could not take upon
herself to overcome the shame of such a situation.

She was on the verge of despair, the day when the Signor Pulei
arrived radiant, exclaiming from the very threshold, “I have news!”

And at once, without surprise at the awful emotion of the girl,
which he attributed solely to the interest she felt for him,--him
Gismondo Pulei, he went on,--“I did not get them direct, but through
a respectable signor with long mustaches, and a red ribbon at his
buttonhole, who, having received a letter from my dear pupil, has
deigned to come to my room, and read it to me.”

The worthy maestro had not forgotten a single word of that letter;
and it was almost literally that he repeated it.

Six weeks after having enlisted, his pupil had been promoted
corporal, then sergeant, then lieutenant.  He had fought in all
the battles of the army of the Loire without receiving a scratch.
But at the battle of the Maus, whilst leading back his men, who
were giving way, he had been shot twice, full in the breast.
Carried dying into an ambulance, he had lingered three weeks
between life and death, having lost all consciousness of self.
Twenty-four hours after, he had recovered his senses; and he took
the first opportunity to recall himself to the affection of his
friends.  All danger was over, he suffered scarcely any more; and
they promised him, that, within a month, he would be up, and able
to return to Paris.

For the first time in many weeks Mlle. Gilberte breathed freely.
But she would have been greatly surprised, had she been told that
a day was drawing near when she would bless those wounds which
detained Marius upon a hospital cot.  And yet it was so.

Mme. Favoral and her daughter were alone, one evening, at the house,
when loud clamors arose from the street, in the midst of which
could be heard drunken voices yelling the refrains of revolutionary
songs, accompanied by continuous rumbling sounds.  They ran to the
window.  The National Guards had just taken possession of the cannon
deposited in the Place Royale.  The reign of the Commune was
commencing.

In less than forty-eight hours, people came to regret the worst days
of the siege.  Without leaders, without direction, the honest men
had lost their heads.  All the braves who had returned at the time
of the armistice had again taken flight.  Soon people had to hide
or to fly to avoid being incorporated in the battalions of the
Commune.  Night and day, around the walls, the fusillade rattled,
and the artillery thundered.

Again M. Favoral had given up going to his office.  What’s the use?
Sometimes, with a singular look, he would say to his wife and
children,

“This time it is indeed a liquidation.  Paris is lost!”

And indeed they thought so, when at the hour of the supreme struggle,
among the detonations of the cannon and the explosion of the shells;
they felt their house shaking to its very foundations; when in the
midst of the night they saw their apartment as brilliantly lighted
as at mid-day by the flames which were consuming the Hotel de Ville
and the houses around the Place de la Bastille.  And, in fact, the
rapid action of the troops alone saved Paris from destruction.

But towards the end of the following week, matters had commenced to
quiet down; and Gilberte learned the return of Marius.



XX

“At last it has been given to my eyes to contemplate him, and to my
arms to press him against my heart!”

It was in these terms that the old Italian master, all vibrating
with enthusiasm, and with his most terrible accent, announced to
Mlle. Gilberte that he had just seen that famous pupil from whom he
expected both glory and fortune.

“But how weak he is still!” he added, “and suffering from his wounds.
I hardly recognized him, he has grown so pale and so thin.”

But the girl was listening to him no more.  A flood of life filled
her heart.  This moment made her forget all her troubles and all
her anguish.

“And I too,” thought she, “shall see him again to-day.”

And, with the unerring instinct of the woman who loves, she
calculated the moment when Marius would appear in Rue St. Gilles.
It would probably be about nightfall, like the first time, before
leaving; that is, about eight o’clock, for the days just then were
about the longest in the year.  Now it so happened, that, on that
very day and hour, Mlle. Gilberte expected to be alone at home.
It was understood that her mother would, after dinner, call on
Mme. Desclavettes, who was in bed, half dead of the fright she had
had during the last convulsions of the Commune.  She would therefore
be free and would not need to invent a pretext to go out for a few
moments.  She could not help, however, but feel that this was a
bold and most venturesome step for her to take; and, when her mother
went out, she had not yet fully decided what to do.  But her bonnet
was within reach, and Marius’ letter was in her pocket.  She went
to sit at the window.  The street was solitary and silent as of
old.  Night was coming; and heavy black clouds floated over Paris.
The heat was overpowering: there was not a breath of air.

One by one, as the hour was approaching when she expected to see
Marius, the hesitations of the young girl vanished like smoke.  She
feared but one thing,--that he would not come, or that he may
already have come and left, without succeeding in seeing her.

Already did the objects become less distinct; and the gas was being
lit in the back-shops, when she recognized him on the other side of
the street.  He looked up as he went by; and, without stopping, he
addressed her a rapid gesture, which she alone could understand, and
which meant, “Come, I beseech you!”

Her heart beating loud enough to be heard, Mlle. Gilberte ran down
the stairs.  But it was only when she found herself in the street
that she could appreciate the magnitude of the risk she was running.
Concierges and shopkeepers were all sitting in front of their doors,
taking the fresh air.  All knew her.  Would they not be surprised
to see her out alone at such an hour?  Twenty steps in front of her
she could see Marius.  But he had understood the danger; for,
instead of turning the corner of the Rue des Minimes, he followed
the Rue St. Gilles straight, and only stopped on the other side of
the Boulevard.

Then only did Mlle. Gilberte join him; and she could not withhold
an exclamation, when she saw that he was as pale as death, and
scarcely able to stand and to walk.

“How imprudent of you to have returned so soon!” she said.

A little blood came to M. de Tregars’ cheeks.  His face brightened
up, and, in a voice quivering with suppressed passion,

“It would have been more imprudent still to stay away,” he uttered.
“Far from you, I felt myself dying.”

They were both leaning against the door of a closed shop; and they
were as alone in the midst of the throng that circulated on the
Boulevards, busy looking at the fearful wrecks of the Commune.

“And besides,” added Marius, “have I, then, a minute to lose?  I
asked you for three years.  Fifteen months have gone, and I am no
better off than on the first day.  When this accursed war broke out,
all my arrangements were made.  I was certain to rapidly accumulate
a sufficient fortune to enable me to ask for your hand without being
refused.  Whereas now--”

“Well?”

“Now every thing is changed.  The future is so uncertain, that no
one wishes to venture their capital.  Marcolet himself, who certainly
does not lack boldness, and who believes firmly in the success of our
enterprise, was telling me yesterday, ‘There is nothing to be done
just now: we must wait.’”

There was in his voice such an intensity of grief, that the girl
felt the tears coming to her eyes.

“We will wait then,” she said, attempting to smile.

But M. de Tregars shook his head.

“Is it possible?” he said.  “Do you, then, think that I do not know
what a life you lead?”

Mlle. Gilberte looked up.

“Have I ever complained?” she asked proudly.

“No.  Your mother and yourself, you have always religiously kept the
secret of your tortures; and it was only a providential accident
that revealed them to me.  But I learned every thing at last.  I know
that she whom I love exclusively and with all the power of my soul is
subjected to the most odious despotism, insulted, and condemned to
the most humiliating privations.  And I, who would give my life for
her a thousand times over,--I can do nothing for her.  Money raises
between us such an insuperable obstacle, that my love is actually an
offence.  To hear from her, I am driven to accept accomplices.  If I
obtain from her a few moments of conversation, I run the risk of
compromising her maidenly reputation.”

Deeply affected by his emotion:

“At least,” said Mlle. Gilberte, “you succeeded in delivering me
from M. Costeclar.”

“Yes, I was fortunately able to find weapons against that scoundrel.
But can I find some against all others that may offer?  Your father
is very rich; and the men are numerous for whom marriage is but a
speculation like any other.”

“Would you doubt me?”

“Ah, rather would I doubt myself!  But I know what cruel trials your
refusal to marry M. Costeclar imposed upon you: I know what a
merciless struggle you had to sustain.  Another pretender may come,
and then--No, no, you see that we cannot wait.”

“What would you do?”

“I know not.  I have not yet decided upon my future course.  And yet
Heaven knows what have been the labors of my mind during that long
month I have just spent upon an ambulance-bed, that month during
which you were my only thought.  Ah! when I think of it, I cannot
find words to curse the recklessness with which I disposed of my
fortune.”

As if she had heard a blasphemy, the young girl drew back a step.

“It is impossible,” she exclaimed, “that you should regret having
paid what your father owed.”

A bitter smile contracted M. de Tregars’ lips.

“And suppose I were to tell you,” he replied, “that my father in
reality owed nothing?”

“Oh!”

“Suppose I told you they took from him his entire fortune, over two
millions, as audaciously as a pick-pocket robs a man of his
handkerchief?  Suppose I told you, that, in his loyal simplicity,
he was but a man of straw in the hands of skillful knaves?  Have you
forgotten what you once heard the Count de Villegre say?”

Mlle. Gilberte had forgotten nothing.

“The Count de Villegre,” she replied, “pretended that it was time
enough still to compel the men who had robbed your father to
disgorge.”

“Exactly!” exclaimed Marius.  “And now I am determined to make them
disgorge.”

In the mean time night had quite come.  Lights appeared in the
shop-windows; and along the line of the Boulevard the gas-lamps were
being lit.  Alarmed by this sudden illumination, M. de Tregars drew
off Mlle. Gilberte to a more obscure spot, by the stairs that lead
to the Rue Amelot; and there, leaning against the iron railing, he
went on,

“Already, at the time of my father’s death, I suspected the
abominable tricks of which he was the victim.  I thought it unworthy
of me to verify my suspicions.  I was alone in the world: my wants
were few.  I was fully convinced that my researches would give me,
within a brief time, a much larger fortune than the one I gave up.
I found something noble and grand, and which flattered my vanity,
in thus abandoning every thing, without discussion, without
litigation, and consummating my ruin with a single dash of my pen.
Among my friends the Count de Villegre alone had the courage to tell
me that this was a guilty piece of folly; that the silence of the
dupes is the strength of the knaves; that my indifference, which
made the rascals rich, would make them laugh too.  I replied that I
did not wish to see the name of Tregars dragged into court in a
scandalous law-suit, and that to preserve a dignified silence was
to honor my father’s memory.  Treble fool that I was!  The only way
to honor my father’s memory was to avenge him, to wrest his spoils
from the scoundrels who had caused his death.  I see it clearly
to-day.  But, before undertaking any thing, I wished to consult you.”

Mlle. Gilberte was listening with the most intense attention.  She
had come to mingle so completely in her thoughts her future life and
that of M. de Tregars, that she saw nothing unusual in the fact of
his consulting her upon matters affecting their prospects, and of
seeing herself standing there deliberating with him.

“You will require proofs,” she suggested.

“I have none, unfortunately,” replied M. de Tregars; “at least, none
sufficiently positive, and such as are required by courts of justice.
But I think I may find them.  My former suspicions have become a
certainty.  The same good luck that enabled me to deliver you of M.
Costeclar’s persecutions, also placed in my hands the most valuable
information.”

“Then you must act,” uttered Mlle. Gilberte resolutely.

Marius hesitated for a moment, as if seeking expression to convey
what he had still to say.  Then,

“It is my duty,” he proceeded, “to conceal nothing from you.  The
task is a heavy one.  The obscure schemers of ten years ago have
become big financiers, intrenched behind their money-bags as behind
an impregnable fort.  Formerly isolated, they have managed to gather
around them powerful interests, accomplices high in office, and
friends whose commanding situation protects them.  Having succeeded,
they are absolved.  They have in their favor what is called public
consideration,--that idiotic thing which is made up of the admiration
of the fools, the approbation of the knaves, and the concert of all
interested vanities.  When they pass, their horses at full trot,
their carriage raising a cloud of dust, insolent, impudent, swelled
with the vulgar fatuity of wealth, people bow to the ground, and say,
‘Those are smart fellows!’  And in fact, yes, by skill or luck, they
have hitherto avoided the police-courts where so many others have
come to grief.  Those who despise them fear them, and shake hands
with them.  Moreover, they are rich enough not to steal any more
themselves.  They have employes to do that.  I take Heaven to witness
that never until lately had the idea come to me to disturb in their
possession the men who robbed my father.  Alone, what need had I of
money?  Later, O my friend! I thought I could succeed in conquering
the fortune I needed to obtain your hand.  You had promised to wait;
and I was happy to think that I should owe you to my sole exertions.
Events have crushed my hopes.  I am to-day compelled to acknowledge
that all my efforts would be in vain.  To wait would be to run the
risk of losing you.  Therefore I hesitate no longer.  I want what’s
mine: I wish to recover that of which I have been robbed.  Whatever
I may do,--for, alas! I know not to what I may be driven, what
role I may have to play,--remember that of all my acts, of all my
thoughts, there will not be a single one that does not aim to bring
nearer the blessed day when you shall become my wife.”

There was in his voice so much unspeakable affection, that the young
girl could hardly restrain her tears.

“Never, whatever may happen, shall I doubt you, Marius,” she uttered.

He took her hands, and, pressing them passionately within his,

“And I,” he exclaimed, “I swear, that, sustained by the thought of
you, there is no disgust that I will not overcome, no obstacle that
I will not overthrow.”

He spoke so loud, that two or three persons stopped.  He noticed it,
and was brought suddenly from sentiment to the reality,

“Wretches that we are,” he said in a low voice, and very fast, “we
forget what this interview may cost us!”

And he led Mlle. Gilberte across the Boulevard; and, whilst making
their way to the Rue St. Gilles, through the deserted streets,

“It is a dreadful imprudence we have just committed,” resumed M. de
Tregars.  “But it was indispensable that we should see each other;
and we had not the choice of means.  Now, and for a long time, we
shall be separated.  Every thing you wish me to know,--say it to
that worthy Gismondo, who repeats faithfully to me every word you
utter.  Through him, also, you shall hear from me.  Twice a week,
on Tuesdays and Fridays, about nightfall, I shall pass by your house;
and, if I am lucky enough to have a glimpse of you, I shall return
home fired with fresh energy.  Should any thing extraordinary
happen, beckon to me, and I’ll wait for you in the Rue des Minimes.
But this is an expedient to which we must only resort in the last
extremity.  I should never forgive myself, were I to compromise your
fair name.”

They had reached the Rue St. Gilles.  Marius stopped.

“We must part,” he began.

But then only Mlle. Gilberte remembered M. de Tregars’ letter, which
she had in her pocket.  Taking it out, and handing it to him,

“Here,” she said, “is the package you deposited with me.”

“No,” he answered, repelling her gently, “keep that letter: it must
never be opened now, except by the Marquise de Tregars.”

And raising her hand to his lips, and in a deeply agitated voice,

“Farewell!” he murmured.  “Have courage, and have hope.”



XXI

Mlle. Gilberte was soon far away; and Marius de Tregars remained
motionless at the corner of the street, following her with his eyes
through the darkness.

She was walking fast, staggering over the rough pavement.  Leaving
Marius, she fell back upon the earth from the height of her dreams.
The deceiving illusion had vanished, and, returned to the world of
sad reality, she was seized with anxiety.

How long had she been out?  She knew not, and found it impossible
to reckon.  But it was evidently getting late; for some of the shops
were already closing.

Meantime, she had reached the house.  Stepping back, and looking up,
she saw that there was light in the parlor.

“Mother has returned,” she thought, trembling with apprehension.

She hurried up, nevertheless; and, just as she reached the landing,
Mme. Favoral opened the door, preparing to go down.

“At last you are restored to me!” exclaimed the poor mother, whose
sinister apprehensions were revealed by that single exclamation.  “I
was going out to look for you at random,--in the streets, anywhere.”

And, drawing her daughter within the parlor, she clasped her in her
arms with convulsive tenderness, exclaiming,

“Where were you?  Where do you come from?  Do you know that it is
after nine o’clock?”

Such had been Mlle. Gilberte’s state of mind during the whole of
that evening, that she had not even thought of finding a pretext
to justify her absence.  Now it was too late.  Besides, what
explanation would have been plausible?  Instead, therefore, of
answering,

“Why, dear mother,” she said with a forced smile, “has it not
happened to me twenty times to go out in the neighborhood?”

But Mme. Favoral’s confiding credulity existed no longer.

“I have been blind, Gilberte,” she interrupted; “but this time my
eyes must open to evidence.  There is in your life a mystery,
something extraordinary, which I dare not try to guess.”

Mlle. Gilberte drew herself up, and, looking her mother straight in
the eyes, with her beautiful, clear glance,

“Would you suspect me of something wrong, then?” she exclaimed.

Mme. Favoral stopped her with a gesture.

“A young girl who conceals something from her mother always does
wrong,” she uttered.  “It is a long while since I have had for the
first time the presentiment that you were hiding something from me.
But, when I questioned you, you succeeded in quieting my suspicions.
You have abused my confidence and my weakness.”

This reproach was the most cruel that could be addressed to Mlle.
Gilberte.  The blood rushed to her face, and, in a firm voice,

“Well, yes,” said she: “I have a secret.”

“Dear me!”

“And, if I did not confide it to you, it is because it is also the
secret of another.  Yes, I confess it, I have been imprudent in the
extreme; I have stepped beyond all the limits of propriety and social
custom; I have exposed myself to the worst calumnies.  But never,--I
swear it,--never have I done any thing of which my conscience can
reproach me, nothing that I have to blush for, nothing that I regret,
nothing that I am not ready to do again to-morrow.”

“I said nothing, ‘tis true; but it was my duty.  Alone I had to
suffer the responsibility of my acts.  Having alone freely engaged
my future, I wished to bear alone the weight of my anxiety.  I should
never have forgiven myself for having added this new care to all your
other sorrows.”

Mme. Favoral stood dismayed.  Big tears rolled down her withered
cheeks.

“Don’t you see, then,” she stammered, “that all my past suffering is
as nothing compared to what I endure to-day?  Good heavens! what have
I ever done to deserve so many trials?  Am I to be spared none of the
troubles of this world?  And it is through my own daughter that I am
the most cruelly stricken!”

This was more than Mlle. Gilberte could bear.  Her heart was breaking
at the sight of her mother’s tears, that angel of meekness and
resignation.  Throwing her arms around her neck, and kissing her on
the eyes,

“Mother,” she murmured, “adored mother, I beg of you do not weep
thus!  Speak to me!  What do you wish me to do?”

Gently the poor woman drew back.

“Tell me the truth,” she answered.

Was it not certain that this was the very thing she would ask; in
fact, the only thing she could ask?  Ah! how much would the young
girl have preferred one of her father’s violent scenes, and
brutalities which would have exalted her energy, instead of
crushing it!

Attempting to gain time,

“Well, yes,” she answered, “I’ll tell you every thing, mother, but
not now, to-morrow, later.”

She was about to yield, however, when her father’s arrival cut
short their conversation.

The cashier of the Mutual Credit was quite lively that night.  He
was humming a tune, a thing which did not happen to him four times
a year, and which was indicative of the most extreme satisfaction.
But he stopped short at the sight of the disturbed countenance of his
wife and daughter.

“What is the matter?” he inquired.

“Nothing,” hastily answered Mlle. Gilberte,--“nothing at all,
father.”

“Then you are crying for your amusement,” he said.  “Come, be candid
for once, and confess that Maxence has been at his tricks again!”

“You are mistaken, father: I swear it!”

He asked no further questions, being in his nature not very curious,
whether because family matters were of so little consequence to him,
or because he had a vague idea that his general behavior deprived
him of all right to their confidence.

“Very well, then,” he said in a gruff tone, “let us all go to bed.
I have worked so hard to-day, that I am quite exhausted.  People
who pretend that business is dull make me laugh.  Never has M. de
Thaller been in the way of making so much money as now.”

When he spoke, they obeyed.  So that Mlle. Gilberte was thus going
to have the whole night before her to resume possession of herself,
to pass over in her mind the events of the evening, and deliberate
coolly upon the decision she must come to; for, she could not doubt
it, Mme. Favoral would, the very next day, renew her questions.

What should she say?  All?  Mlle. Gilberte felt disposed to do so
by all the aspirations of her heart, by the certainty of indulgent
complicity, by the thought of finding in a sympathetic soul the echo
of her joys, of her troubles, and of her hopes.

Yes.  But Mme. Favoral was still the same woman, whose firmest
resolutions vanished under the gaze of her husband.  Let a pretender
come; let a struggle begin, as in the case of M. Costeclar,--would
she have strength enough to remain silent?  No!

Then it would be a fearful scene with M. Favoral.  He might,
perhaps, even go to M. de Tregars.  What scandal!  For he was a man
who spared no one; and then a new obstacle would rise between them,
more insurmountable still than the others.

Mlle. Gilberte was thinking, too, of Marius’s projects; of that
terrible game he was about to play, the issue of which was to decide
their fate.  He had said enough to make her understand all its
perils, and that a single indiscretion might suffice to set at
nought the result of many months’ labor and patience.  Besides, to
speak, was it not to abuse Marius’s confidence.  How could she
expect another to keep a secret she had been unable to keep herself?

At last, after protracted and painful hesitation, she decided that
she was bound to silence, and that she would only vouchsafe the
vaguest explanations.

It was in vain, then, that, on the next and the following days,
Mme. Favoral tried to obtain that confession which she had seen,
as it were, rise to her daughter’s lips.  To her passionate
adjurations, to her tears, to her ruses even, Mlle. Gilberte
invariably opposed equivocal answers, a story through which nothing
could be guessed, save one of those childish romances which stop
at the preface,--a schoolgirl love for a chimerical hero.

There was nothing in this very reassuring to a mother; but Mme.
Favoral knew her daughter too well to hope to conquer her invincible
obstinacy.  She insisted no more, appeared convinced, but resolved
to exercise the utmost vigilance.  In vain, however, did she display
all the penetration of which she was capable.  The severest
attention did not reveal to her a single suspicious fact, not a
circumstance from which she could draw an induction, until, at last,
she thought that she must have been mistaken.

The fact is, that Mlle. Gilberte had not been long in feeling
herself watched; and she observed herself with a tenacious
circumspection that could hardly have been expected of her resolute
and impatient nature.  She had trained herself to a sort of cheerful
carelessness, to which she strictly adhered, watching every
expression of her countenance, and avoiding carefully those hours
of vague revery in which she formerly indulged.

For two successive weeks, fearing to be betrayed by her looks, she
had the courage not to show herself at the window at the hour when
she knew Marius would pass.  Moreover, she was very minutely
informed of the alternatives of the campaign undertaken by M. de
Tregars.

More enthusiastic than ever about his pupil, the Signor Gismondo
Pulei never tired of singing his praise, and with such pomp of
expression, and so curious an exuberance of gesticulation, that Mme.
Favoral was much amused; and, on the days when she was present at
her daughter’s lesson, she was the first to inquire,

“Well, how is that famous pupil?”

And, according to what Marius had told him,

“He is swimming in the purest satisfaction,” answered the candid
maestro.  “Every thing succeeds miraculously well, and much beyond
his hopes.”

Or else, knitting his brows--

“He was sad yesterday,” he said, “owing to an unexpected
disappointment; but he does not lose courage.  We shall succeed.”

The young girl could not help smiling to see her mother assisting
thus the unconscious complicity of the Signor Gismondo.  Then she
reproached herself for having smiled, and for having thus come,
through a gradual and fatal descent, to laugh at a duplicity at
which she would have blushed in former times.  In spite of herself,
however, she took a passionate interest in the game that was being
played between her mother and herself, and of which her secret was
the stake.  It was an ever-palpitating interest in her hitherto
monotonous life, and a source of constantly-renewed emotions.

The days became weeks, and the weeks months; and Mme. Favoral
relaxed her useless surveillance, and, little by little, gave it
up almost entirely.  She still thought, that, at a certain moment,
something unusual had occurred to her daughter; but she felt
persuaded, that, whatever that was, it had been forgotten.

So that, on the stated days, Mlle. Gilberte could go and lean upon
the window, without fear of being called to account for the emotion
which she felt when M. de Tregars appeared.  At the expected hour,
invariably, and with a punctuality to shame M. Favoral himself, he
turned the corner of the Rue Turenne, exchanged a rapid glance with
the young girl, and passed on.

His health was completely restored; and with it he had recovered
that graceful virility which results from the perfect blending of
suppleness and strength.  But he no longer wore the plain garments
of former days.  He was dressed now with that elegant simplicity
which reveals at first sight that rarest of objects,--a “perfect
gentleman.”  And, whilst she accompanied him with her eyes as he
walked towards the Boulevard, she felt thoughts of joy and pride
rising from the bottom of her soul.

“Who would ever imagine,” thought she, “that this young gentleman
walking away yonder is my affianced husband, and that the day is
perhaps not far, when, having become his wife, I shall lean upon
his arm?  Who would think that all my thoughts belong to him, that
it is for my sake that he has given up the ambition of his life,
and is now prosecuting another object?  Who would suspect that it
is for Gilberte Favoral’s sake that the Marquis de Tregars is
walking in the Rue St. Gilles?”

And, indeed, Marius did deserve some credit for these walks; for
winter had come, spreading a thick coat of mud over the pavement
of all those little streets which are always forgotten by the
street-cleaners.

The cashier’s home had resumed its habits of before the war, its
drowsy monotony scarcely disturbed by the Saturday dinner, by M.
Desclavettes’ naivetes or old Desormeaux’s puns.

Maxence, in the mean time, had ceased to live with his parents.  He
had returned to Paris immediately after the Commune; and, feeling no
longer in the humor to submit to the paternal despotism, he had
taken a small apartment on the Boulevard du Temple; but, at the
pressing instance of his mother, he had consented to come every
night to dine at the Rue St. Gilles.

Faithful to his oath, he was working hard, though without getting
on very fast.  The moment was far from propitious; and the occasion,
which he had so often allowed to escape, did not offer itself again.
For lack of any thing better, he had kept his clerkship at the
railway; and, as two hundred francs a month were not quite sufficient
for his wants, he spent a portion of his nights copying documents
for M. Chapelain’s successor.

“What do you need so much money for?” his mother said to him when
she noticed his eyes a little red.

“Every thing is so dear!” he answered with a smile, which was
equivalent to a confidence, and yet which Mme. Favoral did not
understand.

He had, nevertheless, managed to pay all his debts, little by
little.  The day when, at last, he held in his hand the last
receipted bill, he showed it proudly to his father, begging him to
find him a place at the Mutual Credit, where, with infinitely less
trouble, he could earn so much more.

M. Favoral commenced to giggle.

“Do you take me for a fool, like your mother?” he exclaimed.  “And
do you think I don’t know what life you lead?”

“My life is that of a poor devil who works as hard as he can.”

“Indeed!  How is it, then, that women are constantly seen at your
house, whose dresses and manners are a scandal in the neighborhood?”

“You have been deceived, father.”

“I have seen.”

“It is impossible.  Let me explain.”

“No, you would have your trouble for nothing.  You are, and you will
ever remain, the same; and it would be folly on my part to introduce
into an office where I enjoy the esteem of all, a fellow, who, some
day or other, will be fatally dragged into the mud by some lost
creature.”

Such discussions were not calculated to make the relations between
father and son more cordial.  Several times M. Favoral had
insinuated, that, since Maxence lodged away from home, he might as
well dine away too.  And he would evidently have notified him to
do so, had he not been prevented by a remnant of human respect,
and the fear of gossip.

On the other hand, the bitter regret of having, perhaps, spoiled
his life, the uncertainty of the future, the penury of the moment,
all the unsatisfied desires of youth, kept Maxence in a state of
perpetual irritation.

The excellent Mme. Favoral exhausted all her arguments to quiet him.

“Your father is harsh for us,” she said; “but is he less harsh for
himself?  He forgives nothing; but he has never needed to be
forgiven himself.  He does not understand youth, but he has never
been young himself; and at twenty he was as grave and as cold as
you see him now.  How could he know what pleasure is?--he to whom
the idea has never come to take an hour’s enjoyment.”

“Have I, then, been guilty of any crimes, to be thus treated by my
father?” exclaimed Maxence, flushed with anger.  “Our existence here
is an unheard-of thing.  You, poor, dear mother!--you have never
had the free disposition of a five-franc-piece.  Gilberte spends
her days turning her dresses, after having had them dyed.  I am
driven to a petty clerkship.  And my father has fifty thousand
francs a year!”

Such, indeed, was the figure at which the most moderate estimated
M. Favoral’s fortune.  M. Chapelain, who was supposed to be well
informed, insinuated freely that his friend Vincent, besides being
the cashier of the Mutual Credit, must also be one of its principal
stock-holders.  Now, judging from the dividend which had just been
paid, the Mutual Credit must, since the war, have realized enormous
profits.  All its enterprises were successful; and it was on the
point of negotiating a foreign loan which would infallibly fill its
exchequer to overflowing.

M. Favoral, moreover, defended himself feebly from these accusations
of concealed opulence.  When M. Desormeaux told him, “Come, now,
between us, candidly, how many millions have you?” he had such a
strange way of affirming that people were very much mistaken, that
his friends’ convictions became only the more settled.  And, as
soon as they had a few thousand francs of savings, they promptly
brought them to him, imitated in this by a goodly number of the
small capitalists of the neighborhood, who were wont to remark
among themselves,

“That man is safer than the bank!”

Millionaire or otherwise, the cashier of the Mutual Credit became
daily more difficult to live with.  If strangers, those who had
with him but a superficial intercourse, if the Saturday guests
themselves, discovered in him no appreciable change, his wife and
his children followed with anxious surprise the modifications of
his humor.

If outwardly he still appeared the same impassible, precise, and
grave man, he showed himself at home more fretful than an old maid,
--nervous, agitated, and subject to the oddest whims.  After
remaining three or four days without opening his lips, he would
begin to speak upon all sorts of subjects with amazing volubility.
Instead of watering his wine freely, as formerly, he had begun to
drink it pure; and he often took two bottles at his meal, excusing
himself upon the necessity that he felt the need of stimulating
himself a little after his excessive labors.

Then he would be taken with fits of coarse gayety; and he related
singular anecdotes, intermingled with slang expressions, which
Maxence alone could understand.

On the morning of the first day of January, 1872, as he sat down
to breakfast, he threw upon the table a roll of fifty napoleons,
saying to his children,

“Here is your New Year’s gift!  Divide, and buy anything you like.”

And as they were looking at him, staring, stupid with astonishment,

“Well, what of it?” he added with an oath.  “Isn’t it well, once in
a while, to scatter the coins a little?”

Those unexpected thousand francs Maxence and Mlle. Gilberte applied
to the purchase of a shawl, which their mother had wished for
ten years.

She laughed and she cried with pleasure and emotion, the poor woman;
and, whilst draping it over her shoulders,

“Well, well, my dear children,” she said: “your father, after all,
is not such a bad man.”

Of which they did not seem very well convinced.  “One thing is sure,”
 remarked Mlle. Gilberte: “to permit himself such liberality, papa
must be awfully rich.”

M. Favoral was not present at this scene.  The yearly accounts kept
him so closely confined to his office, that he remained forty-eight
hours without coming home.  A journey which he was compelled to
undertake for M. de Thaller consumed the balance of the week.

But on his return he seemed satisfied and quiet.  Without giving up
his situation at the Mutual Credit, he was about, he stated, to
associate himself with the Messrs. Jottras, M. Saint Pavin of
“The Financial Pilot,” and M. Costeclar, to undertake the
construction of a foreign railway.

M. Costeclar was at the head of this enterprise, the enormous
profits of which were so certain and so clear; that they could be
figured in advance.

And whilst on this same subject,

“You were very wrong,” he said to Mlle. Gilberte, “not to make haste
and marry Costeclar when he was willing to have you.  You will never
find another such match,--a man who, before ten years, will be a
financial power.”

The very name of M. Costeclar had the effect of irritating the young
girl.

“I thought you had fallen out?” she said to her father.

“So we had,” he replied with some embarrassment, “because he has
never been willing to tell me why he had withdrawn; but people
always make up again when they have interests in common.”

Formerly, before the war, M. Favoral would certainly never have
condescended to enter into all these details.  But he was becoming
almost communicative.  Mlle. Gilberte, who was observing him with
interested attention, fancied she could see that he was yielding
to that necessity of expansion, more powerful than the will itself,
which besets the man who carries within him a weighty secret.

Whilst for twenty years he had, so to speak, never breathed a word
on the subject of the Thaller family, now he was continually
speaking of them.  He told his Saturday friends all about the
princely style of the baron, the number of his servants and horses,
the color of his liveries, the parties that he gave, what he spent
for pictures and objects of art, and even the very names of his
mistresses; for the baron had too much respect for himself not to
lay every year a few thousand napoleons at the feet of some young
lady sufficiently conspicuous to be mentioned in the society
newspapers.

M. Favoral confessed that he did not approve the baron; but it was
with a sort of bitter hatred that he spoke of the baroness.  It was
impossible, he affirmed to his guests, to estimate even approximately
the fabulous sums squandered by her, scattered, thrown to the four
winds.  For she was not prodigal, she was prodigality itself,--that
idiotic, absurd, unconscious prodigality which melts a fortune in a
turn of the hand; which cannot even obtain from money the
satisfaction of a want, a wish, or a fancy.

He said incredible things of her,--things which made Mme.
Desclavettes jump upon her seat, explaining that he learned all
these details from M. de Thaller, who had often commissioned him to
pay his wife’s debts, and also from the baroness herself, who did
not hesitate to call sometimes at the office for twenty francs; for
such was her want of order, that, after borrowing all the savings
of her servants, she frequently had not two cents to throw to a
beggar.

Neither did the cashier of the Mutual Credit seem to have a very
good opinion of Mademoiselle de Thaller.

Brought up at hap-hazard, in the kitchen much more than in the
parlor, until she was twelve, and, later, dragged by her mother
anywhere,--to the races, to the first representations, to the
watering-places, always escorted by a squadron of the young men
of the bourse, Mlle. de Thaller had adopted a style which would
have been deemed detestable in a man.  As soon as some questionable
fashion appeared, she appropriated it at once, never finding any
thing eccentric enough to make herself conspicuous.  She rode on
horseback, fenced, frequented pigeon-shooting matches, spoke slang,
sang Theresa’s songs, emptied neatly her glass of champagne, and
smoked her cigarette.

The guests were struck dumb with astonishment.

“But those people must spend millions!” interrupted M. Chapelain.

M. Favoral started as if he had been slapped on the back.

“Bash!” he answered.  “They are so rich, so awfully rich!”

He changed the conversation that evening; but on the following
Saturday, from the very beginning of the dinner,

“I believe,” he said, “that M. de Thaller has just discovered a
husband for his daughter.”

“My compliments!” exclaimed M. Desormeaux.  “And who may this bold
fellow be?”

“A nobleman, of course,” he replied.  “Isn’t that the tradition?
As soon as a financier has made his little million, he starts in
quest of a nobleman to give him his daughter.”

One of those painful presentiments, such as arise in the inmost
recesses of the soul, made Mlle. Gilberte turn pale.  This
presentiment suggested to her an absurd, ridiculous, unlikely thing;
and yet she was sure that it would not deceive her,--so sure,
indeed, that she rose under the pretext of looking for something in
the side-board, but in reality to conceal the terrible emotion which
she anticipated.

“And this gentleman?” inquired M. Chapelain.

“Is a marquis, if you please,--the Marquis de Tregars.”

Well, yes, it was this very name that Mlle. Gilberte was expecting,
and well that she did; for she was thus able to command enough
control over herself to check the cry that rose to her throat.

“But this marriage is not made yet,” pursued M. Favoral.  “This
marquis is not yet so completely ruined, that he can be made to do
any thing they please.  Sure, the baroness has set her heart upon
it, oh! but with all her might!”

A discussion which now arose prevented Gilberte from learning any
more; and as soon as the dinner, which seemed eternal to her, was
over, she complained of a violent headache, and withdrew to her room.

She shook with fever; her teeth chattered.  And yet she could not
believe that Marius was betraying her, nor that he could have the
thought of marrying such a girl as M. Favoral had described, and
for money too!  Poor, ah!  No, that was not admissible.  Although
she remembered well that Marius had made her swear to believe
nothing that might be said of him, she spent a horrible Sunday,
and she felt like throwing herself in the Signor Gismondo’s arms,
when, in giving her his lesson the following Monday,

“My poor pupil,” he said, “feels miserable.  A marriage has been
spoken of for him, for which he has a perfect horror; and he trembles
lest the rumor may reach his intended, whom he loves exclusively.”

Mlle. Gilberte felt re-assured after that.  And yet there remained
in her heart an invincible sadness.  She could hardly doubt that
this matrimonial scheme was a part of the plan planned by Marius
to recover his fortune.  But why, then, had he applied to M. de
Thaller?  Who could be the man who had despoiled the Marquis de
Tregars?

Such were the thoughts which occupied her mind on that Saturday
evening when the commissary of police presented himself in the Rue
St. Gilles to arrest M. Favoral, charged with embezzling ten or
twelve millions.



XXII

The hour had now come for the denouement of that home tragedy which
was being enacted in the Rue St. Gilles.

The reader will remember the incidents narrated at the beginning of
this story,--M. de Thaller’s visit and angry words with M. Favoral,
his departure after leaving a package of bank-notes in Mlle.
Gilberte’s hands, the advent of the commissary of police, M.
Favoral’s escape, and finally the departure of the Saturday evening
guests.

The disaster which struck Mme. Favoral and her children had been so
sudden and so crushing, that they had been, on the moment, too
stupefied to realize it.  What had happened went so far beyond the
limits of the probable, of the possible even, that they could not
believe it.  The too cruel scenes which had just taken place were
to them like the absurd incidents of a horrible nightmare.

But when their guests had retired after a few commonplace
protestations, when they found themselves alone, all three, in that
house whose master had just fled, tracked by the police,--then
only, as the disturbed equilibrium of their minds became somewhat
restored, did they fully realize the extent of the disaster, and
the horror of the situation.

Whilst Mme. Favoral lay apparently lifeless on an arm-chair,
Gilberte kneeling at her feet, Maxence was walking up and down the
parlor with furious steps.  He was whiter than the plaster on the
halls; and a cold perspiration glued his tangled hair to his temples.

His eyes glistening, and his fists clinched,

“Our father a thief!” he kept repeating in a hoarse voice, “a forger!”

And in fact never had the slightest suspicion arisen in his mind.
In these days of doubtful reputations, he had been proud indeed of
M. Favoral’s reputation of austere integrity.  And he had endured
many a cruel reproach, saying to himself that his father had, by his
own spotless conduct, acquired the right to be harsh and exacting.

“And he has stolen twelve millions!” he exclaimed.

And he went on, trying to calculate all the luxury and splendor
which such a sum represents, all the cravings gratified, all the
dreams realized, all it can procure of things that may be bought.
And what things are not for sale for twelve millions!

Then he examined the gloomy home in the Rue St. Gilles,--the
contracted dwelling, the faded furniture, the prodigies of a
parsimonious industry, his mother’s privations, his sister’s penury,
and his own distress.  And he exclaimed again,

“It is a monstrous infamy!”

The words of the commissary of police had opened his eyes; and he
now fancied the most wonderful things.  M. Favoral, in his mind,
assumed fabulous proportions.  By what miracles of hypocrisy and
dissimulation had he succeeded in making himself ubiquitous as it
were, and, without awaking a suspicion, living two lives so distinct
and so different,--here, in the midst of his family, parsimonious,
methodic, and severe; elsewhere, in some illicit household,
doubtless facile, smiling, and generous, like a successful thief.

For Maxence considered the bills found in the secretary as a
flagrant, irrefutable and material proof.

Upon the brink of that abyss of shame into which his father had just
tumbled, he thought he could see, not the inevitable woman, that
incentive of all human actions, but the entire legion of those
bewitching courtesans who possess unknown crucibles wherein to swell
fortunes, and who have secret filtres to stupefy their dupes, and
strip them of their honor, after robbing them of their last cent.

“And I,” said Maxence,--“I, because at twenty I was fond of
pleasure, I was called a bad son!  Because I had made some three
hundred francs of debts, I was deemed a swindler!  Because I love
a poor girl who has for me the most disinterested affection, I am
one of those rascals whom their family disown, and from whom nothing
can be expected but shame and disgrace!”

He filled the parlor with the sound of his voice, which rose like
his wrath.

And at the thought of all the bitter reproaches which had been
addressed to him by his father, and of all the humiliations that
had been heaped upon him,

“Ah, the wretch!” he fairly shrieked, “--the coward!”

As pale as her brother, her face bathed in tears, and her beautiful
hair hanging undone, Mlle. Gilberte drew herself up.

“He is our father, Maxence,” she said gently.

But he interrupted her with a wild burst of laughter.  “True,” he
answered; “and, by virtue of the law which is written in the code,
we owe him affection and respect.”

“Maxence!” murmured the girl in a beseeching tone.  But he went on,
nevertheless,

“Yes, he is our father, unfortunately.  But I should like to know
his titles to our respect and our affection.  After making our
mother the most miserable of creatures, he has embittered our
existence, withered our youth, ruined my future, and done his best
to spoil yours by compelling you to marry Costeclar.  And, to crown
all these deeds of kindness, he runs away now, after stealing twelve
millions, leaving us nothing but misery and a disgraced name.

“And yet,” he added, “is it possible that a cashier should take
twelve millions, and his employer know nothing of it?  And is our
father really the only man who benefitted by these millions?”

Then came back to the mind of Maxence and Mlle. Gilberte the last
words of their father at the moment of his flight,

“I have been betrayed; and I must suffer for all!”

And his sincerity could hardly be called in question; for he was
then in one of those moments of decisive crisis in which the truth
forces itself out in spite of all calculation.

“He must have accomplices then,” murmured Maxence.

Although he had spoken very low, Mme. Favoral overheard him.  To
defend her husband, she found a remnant of energy, and, straightening
herself on her seat,

“Ah! do not doubt it,” she stammered out.  “Of his own inspiration,
Vincent could never have committed an evil act.  He has been
circumvented, led away, duped!”

“Very well; but by whom?”

“By Costeclar,” affirmed Mlle. Gilberte.

“By the Messrs. Jottras, the bankers,” said Mme. Favoral, “and also
by M. Saint Pavin, the editor of ‘the Financial Pilot.’”

“By all of them, evidently,” interrupted Maxence, “even by his
manager, M. de Thaller.”

When a man is at the bottom of a precipice, what is the use of
finding out how he has got there,--whether by stumbling over a
stone, or slipping on a tuft of grass!  And yet it is always our
foremost thought.  It was with an eager obstinacy that Mme. Favoral
and her children ascended the course of their existence, seeking in
the past the incidents and the merest words which might throw some
light upon their disaster; for it was quite manifest that it was
not in one day and at the same time that twelve millions had been
subtracted from the Mutual Credit.  This enormous deficit must have
been, as usual, made gradually, with infinite caution at first,
whilst there was a desire, and some hope, to make it good again,
then with mad recklessness towards the end when the catastrophe had
become inevitable.

“Alas!” murmured Mme. Favoral, “why did not Vincent listen to my
presentiments on that ever fatal day when he brought M. de Thaller,
M. Jottras, and M. Saint Pavin to dine here?  They promised him a
fortune.”

Maxence and Mlle. Gilberte were too young at the time of that dinner
to have preserved any remembrance of it; but they remembered many
other circumstances, which, at the time they had taken place, had
not struck them.  They understood now the temper of their father,
his perpetual irritation, and the spasms of his humor.  When his
friends were heaping insults upon him, he had exclaimed,

“Be it so! let them arrest me; and to-night, for the first time in
many years, I shall sleep in peace.”

There were years, then, that he lived, as it were upon burning coals,
trembling at the fear of discovery, and wondering, as he went to
sleep each night, whether he would not be awakened by the rude hand
of the police tapping him on the shoulder.  No one better than Mme.
Favoral could affirm it.

“Your father, my children,” she said, “had long since lost his sleep.
There was hardly ever a night that he did not get up and walk the
room for hours.”

They understood, now, his efforts to compel Mlle. Gilberte to marry
M. Costeclar.

“He thought that Costeclar would help him out of the scrape,”
 suggested Maxence to his sister.

The poor girl shuddered at the thought, and she could not help
feeling thankful to her father for not having told her his situation;
for would she have had the sublime courage to refuse the sacrifice,
if her father had told her?

“I have stolen!  I am lost!  Costeclar alone can save me; and he
will save me if you become his wife.”

M. Favoral’s pleasant behavior during the siege was quite natural.
Then he had no fears; and one could understand how in the most
critical hours of the Commune, when Paris was in flames, he could
have exclaimed almost cheerfully,

“Ah! this time it is indeed the final liquidation.”

Doubtless, in the bottom of his heart, he wished that Paris might
be destroyed, and, with it, the evidences of his crime.  And
perhaps he was not the only one to form that impious wish.

“That’s why, then,” exclaimed Maxence,--“that’s why my father
treated me so rudely: that’s why he so obstinately persisted in
closing the offices of the Mutual Credit against me.”

He was interrupted by a violent ringing of the door-bell.  He looked
at the clock: ten o’clock was about to strike.

“Who can call so late?” said Mme. Favoral.

Something like a discussion was heard in the hall,--a voice hoarse
with anger, and the servant’s voice.

“Go and see who’s there,” said Gilberte to her brother.

It was useless; the servant appeared.

“It’s M. Bertan,” she commenced, “the baker--”  He had followed her,
and, pushing her aside with his robust arm, he appeared himself.
He was a man about forty years of age, tall, thin, already bald,
and wearing his beard trimmed close.

“M. Favoral?” he inquired.

“My father is not at home,” replied Maxence.

“It’s true, then, what I have just been told?”

“What?”

“That the police came to arrest him, and he escaped through a window.”

“It’s true,” replied Maxence gently.

The baker seemed prostrated.

“And my money?” he asked.

“What money?”

“Why, my ten thousand francs!  Ten thousand francs which I brought
to M. Favoral, in gold, you hear? in ten rolls, which I placed
there, on that very table, and for which he gave me a receipt.  Here
it is,--his receipt.”

He held out a paper; but Maxence did not take it.

“I do not doubt your word, sir,” he replied; “but my father’s
business is not ours.”

“You refuse to give me back my money?”

“Neither my mother, my sister, nor myself, have any thing.”

The blood rushed to the man’s face, and, with a tongue made thick
by anger,

“And you think you are going to pay me off in that way?” he
exclaimed.  “You have nothing!  Poor little fellow!  And will you
tell me, then, what has become of the twenty millions your father
has stolen?  for he has stolen twenty millions.  I know it: I have
been told so.  Where are they?”

“The police, sir, has placed the seals over my fathers papers.”

“The police?” interrupted the baker, “the seals?  What do I care
for that?  It’s my money I want: do you hear?  Justice is going to
take a hand in it, is it?  Arrest your father, try him?  What good
will that do me?  He will be condemned to two or three years’
imprisonment.  Will that give me a cent?  He will serve out his time
quietly; and, when he gets out of prison, he’ll get hold of the pile
that he’s got hidden somewhere; and while I starve, he’ll spend my
money under my very nose.  No, no!  Things won’t suit me that way.
It’s at once that I want to be paid.”

And throwing himself upon a chair his head back, and his legs
stretched forward--

“And what’s more,” he declared, “I am not going out of here until
I am paid.”

It was not without the greatest efforts that Maxence managed to
keep his temper.

“Your insults are useless, sir,” he commenced.

The man jumped up from his seat.

“Insults!” he cried in a voice that could have been heard all
through the house.  “Do you call it an insult when a man claims his
own?  If you think you can make me hush, you are mistaken in your
man, M. Favoral, Jun.  I am not rich myself: my father has not
stolen to leave me an income.  It is not in gambling at the bourse
that I made these ten thousand francs.  It is by the sweat of my
body, by working hard night and day for years, by depriving myself
of a glass of wine when I was thirsty.  And I am to lose them?  By
the holy name of heaven, we’ll have to see about that!  If everybody
was like me, there would not be so many scoundrels going about,
their pockets filled with other people’s money, and from the top of
their carriage laughing at the poor fools they have ruined.  Come,
my ten thousand francs, canaille, or I take my pay on your back.”

Maxence, enraged, was about to throw himself upon the man, and a
disgusting struggle was about to begin, when Mlle. Gilberte stepped
between them.

“Your threats are as cowardly as your insults, Monsieur Bertan,”
 she uttered in a quivering voice.  “You have known us long enough
to be aware that we know nothing of our father’s business, and that
we have nothing ourselves.  All we can do is to give up to our
creditors our very last crumb.  Thus it shall be done.  And now,
sir, please retire.”

There was so much dignity in her sorrow, and so imposing was her
attitude, that the baker stood abashed.

“Ah! if that’s the way,” he stammered awkwardly; “and since you
meddle with it, mademoiselle--”  And he retreated precipitately,
growling at the same time threats and excuses, and slamming the
doors after him hard enough to break the partitions.

“What a disgrace!” murmured Mme. Favoral.  Crushed by this last
scene, she was choking; and her children had to carry her to the
open window.  She recovered almost at once; but thus, through the
darkness, bleak and cold, she had like a vision of her husband; and,
throwing herself back,

“O great heavens!” she uttered, “where did he go when he left us?
Where is he now?  What is he doing?  What has become of him?”

Her married life had been for Mme. Favoral but a slow torture.  It
was in vain that she would have looked back through her past life
for some of those happy days which leave their luminous track in
life, and towards which the mind turns in the hours of grief.
Vincent Favoral had never been aught but a brutal despot, abusing
the resignation of his victim.  And yet, had he died, she would have
wept bitterly over him in all the sincerity of her honest and simple
soul.  Habit!  Prisoners have been known to shed tears over the
grave of their jailer.  Then he was her husband, after all, the
father of her children, the only man who existed for her.  For
twenty-six years they had never been separated: they had sat at the
same table: they had slept side by side.

Yes, she would have wept over him.  But how much less poignant would
her grief have been than at this moment, when it was complicated by
all the torments of uncertainty, and by the most frightful
apprehensions!

Fearing lest she might take cold, her children had removed her to
the sofa, and there, all shivering,

“Isn’t it horrible,” she said, “not to know any thing of your father?
--to think that at this very moment, perhaps, pursued by the police,
he is wandering in despair through the streets, without daring to
ask anywhere for shelter.”

Her children had no time to answer and comfort her; for at this
moment the door-bell rang again.

“Who can it be now?” said Mme. Favoral with a start.

This time there was no discussion in the hall.  Steps sounded on the
floor of the dining-room; the door opened; and M. Desclavettes, the
old bronze-merchant, walked, or rather slipped into the parlor.

Hope, fear, anger, all the sentiments which agitated his soul, could
be read on his pale and cat-like face.

“It is I,” he commenced.

Maxence stepped forward.

“Have you heard any thing from my father, sir?”

“No,” answered the old merchant, “I confess I have not; and I was
just coming to see if you had yourselves.  Oh, I know very well that
this is not exactly the hour to call at a house; but I thought,
that, after what took place this evening, you would not be in bed
yet.  I could not sleep myself.  You understand a friendship of
twenty years’ standing!  So I took Mme. Desclavettes home, and here
I am.”

“We feel very thankful for your kindness,” murmured Mme. Favoral.

“I am glad you do.  The fact is, you see, I take a good deal of
interest in the misfortune that strikes you,--a greater interest
than any one else.  For, after all, I, too, am a victim.  I had
intrusted one hundred and twenty thousand francs to our dear Vincent.”

“Alas, sir!” said Mlle. Gilberte.

But the worthy man did not allow her to proceed.  “I have no fault
to find with him,” he went on--“absolutely none.  Why, dear me!
haven’t I been in business myself?  and don’t I know what it is?
First, we borrow a thousand francs or so from the cash account,
then ten thousand, then a hundred thousand.  Oh! without any bad
intention, to be sure, and with the firm resolution to return them.
But we don’t always do what we wish to do.  Circumstances sometimes
work against us, if we operate at the bourse to make up the deficit
we lose.  Then we must borrow again, draw from Peter to pay Paul.
We are afraid of being caught: we are compelled, reluctantly of
course, to alter the books.  At last a day comes when we find that
millions are gone, and the bomb-shell bursts.  Does it follow from
this that a man is dishonest?  Not the least in the world: he is
simply unlucky.”

He stopped, as if awaiting an answer; but, as none came, he resumed,

“I repeat, I have no fault to find with Favoral.  Only then, now,
between us, to lose these hundred and twenty thousand francs would
simply be a disaster for me.  I know very well that both Chapelain
and Desormeaux had also deposited funds with Favoral.  But they are
rich: one of them owns three houses in Paris, and the other has a
good situation; whereas I, these hundred and twenty thousand francs
gone, I’d have nothing left but my eyes to weep with.  My wife is
dying about it.  I assure you our position is a terrible one.”

To M. Desclavettes,--as to the baker a few moments before,

“We have nothing,” said Maxence.

“I know it,” exclaimed the old merchant.  “I know it as well as you
do yourself.  And so I have come to beg a little favor of you, which
will cost you nothing.  When you see Favoral, remember me to him,
explain my situation to him, and try to make him give me back my
money.  He is a hard one to fetch, that’s a fact.  But if you go
right about it, above all, if our dear Gilberte will take the matter
in hand.”

“Sir!”

“Oh! I swear I sha’n’t say a word about it, either to Desormeaux
or Chapelain, nor to any one else.  Although reimbursed, I’ll make
as much noise as the rest,--more noise, even.  Come, now, my dear
friends, what do you say?”

He was almost crying.

“And where the deuse,” exclaimed Maxence, “do you expect my father
to take a hundred and twenty thousand francs?  Didn’t you see him go
without even taking the money that M. de Thaller had brought?”

A smile appeared upon M. Desclavettes’ pale lips.

“That will do very well to say, my dear Maxence;” he said, “and
some people may believe it.  But don’t say it to your old friend,
who knows too much about business for that.  When a man puts off,
after borrowing twelve millions from his employers, he would be a
great fool if he had not put away two or three in safety.  Now,
Favoral is not a fool.”

Tears of shame and anger started from Mlle. Gilberte’s eyes.

“What you are saying is abominable, sir!” she exclaimed.

He seemed much surprised at this outburst of violence.

“Why so?” he answered.  “In Vincent’s place, I should not have
hesitated to do what he has certainly done.  And I am an honest man
too.  I was in business for twenty years; and I dare any one to
prove that a note signed Desclavettes ever went to protest.  And
so, my dear friends, I beseech you, consent to serve your old
friend, and, when you see your father--”

The old man’s tone of voice exasperated even Mme. Favoral herself.

“We never expect to see my husband again,” she uttered.

He shrugged his shoulders, and, in a tone of paternal reproach,

“You just give up all such ugly ideas,” he said.  “You will see him
again, that dear Vincent; for he is much too sharp to allow himself
to be caught.  Of course, he’ll stay away as long as it may be
necessary; but, as soon as he can return without danger, he will
do so.  The Statute of Limitations has not been invented for the
Grand Turk.  Why, the Boulevard is crowded with people who have all
had their little difficulty, and who have spent five or ten years
abroad for their health.  Does any one think any thing of it?  Not
in the least; and no one hesitates to shake hands with them.
Besides, those things are so soon forgotten.”

He kept on as if he never intended to stop; and it was not without
trouble that Maxence and Gilberte succeeded in sending him off, very
much dissatisfied to see his request so ill received.  It was after
twelve o’clock.  Maxence was anxious to return to his own home; but,
at the pressing instances of his mother, he consented to remain,
and threw himself, without undressing, on the bed in his old room.

“What will the morrow bring forth?” he thought.



XXIII

After a few hours of that leaden sleep which follows great
catastrophes, Mme. Favoral and her children were awakened on the
morning of the next day, which was Sunday, by the furious clamors
of an exasperated crowd.  Each one, from his own room, understood
that the apartment had just been invaded.  Loud blows upon the door
were mingled with the noise of feet, the oaths of men, and the
screams of women.  And, above this confused and continuous tumult,
such vociferations as these could be heard:

“I tell you they must be at home!”

“Canailles, swindlers, thieves!”

“We want to go in: we will go in!”

“Let the woman come, then: we want to see her, to speak to her!”

Occasionally there were moments of silence, during which the
plaintive voice of the servant could be heard; but almost at once
the cries and the threats commenced again, louder than ever.
Maxence, being ready first, ran to the parlor, where his mother and
sister joined him directly, their eyes swollen by sleep and by tears.
Mme. Favoral was trembling so much that she could not succeed in
fastening her dress.

“Do you hear?” she said in a choking voice.

From the parlor, which was divided from the dining-room by
folding-doors, they did not miss a single insult.

“Well,” said Mlle. Gilberte coldly, “what else could we expect?  If
Bertan came alone last night, it is because he alone had been
notified.  Here are the others now.”

And, turning to her brother,

“You must see them,” she added, “speak to them.”

But Maxence did not stir.  The idea of facing the insults and the
curses of these enraged creditors was too repugnant to him.

“Would you rather let them break in the door?” said Mlle. Gilberte.
“That won’t take long.”

He hesitated no more.  Gathering all his courage, he stepped into
the dining-room.  The disorder was beyond limits.  The table had
been pushed towards one of the corners, the chairs were upset.
They were there some thirty men and women,--concierges,
shop-keepers, and retired bourgeois of the neighborhood, their
cheeks flushed, their eyes staring, gesticulating as if they had a
fit, shaking their clinched fists at the ceiling.

“Gentlemen,” commenced Maxence.

But his voice was drowned by the most frightful shouts.  He had
hardly got in, when he was so closely surrounded, that he had been
unable to close the parlor-door after him, and had been driven and
backed against the embrasure of a window.

“My father, gentlemen,” he resumed.

Again he was interrupted.  There were three or four before him, who
were endeavoring before all to establish their own claims clearly.

They were speaking all at once, each one raising his own voice so
as to drown that of the others.  And yet, through their confused
explanations, it was easy to understand the way in which the cashier
of the Mutual Credit had managed things.

Formerly it was only with great reluctance that he consented to take
charge of the funds which were offered to him; and then he never
accepted sums less than ten thousand francs, being always careful to
say, that, not being a prophet, he could not answer for any thing,
and might be mistaken, like any one else.  Since the Commune, on the
contrary, and with a duplicity, that could never have been suspected,
he had used all his ingenuity to attract deposits.  Under some
pretext or other, he would call among the neighbors, the
shop-keepers; and, after lamenting with them about the hard times
and the difficulty of making money, he always ended by holding up to
them the dazzling profits which are yielded by certain investments
unknown to the public.

If these very proceedings had not betrayed him, it is because he
recommended to each the most inviolable secrecy, saying, that, at
the slightest indiscretion, he would be assailed with demands, and
that it would be impossible for him to do for all what he did for one.

At any rate, he took every thing that was offered, even the most
insignificant sums, affirming, with the most imperturbable assurance,
that he could double or treble them without the slightest risk.

The catastrophe having come, the smaller creditors showed themselves,
as usual, the most angry and the most intractable.  The less money
one has, the more anxious one is to keep it.  There was there an old
newspaper-vender, who had placed in M. Favoral’s hands all she had
in the world, the savings of her entire life,--five hundred francs.
Clinging desperately to Maxence’s garments, she begged him to give
them back to her, swearing, that, if he did not, there was nothing
left for her to do, except to throw herself in the river.  Her groans
and her cries of distress exasperated the other creditors.

That the cashier of the Mutual Credit should have embezzled millions,
they could well understand, they said.  But that he could have
robbed this poor woman of her five hundred francs,--nothing more
low, more cowardly, and more vile could be imagined; and the law
had no chastisement severe enough for such a crime.

“Give her back her five hundred francs;” they cried.  For there was
not one of them but would have wagered his head that M. Favoral had
lots of money put away; and some went even so far as to say that he
must have hid it in the house, and, if they looked well, they would
find it.

Maxence, bewildered, was at a loss what to do, when, in the midst
of this hostile crowd, he perceived M. Chapelain’s friendly face.

Driven from his bed at daylight by the bitter regrets at the heavy
loss he had just sustained, the old lawyer had arrived in the Rue
St. Gilles at the very moment when the creditors invaded M. Favoral’s
apartment.  Standing behind the crowd, he had seen and heard every
thing without breathing a word; and, if he interfered now, it was
because he thought things were about to take an ugly turn.  He was
well known; and, as soon as he showed himself,

“He is a friend of the rascal!” they shouted on all sides.

But he was not the man to be so easily frightened.  He had seen many
a worse case during twenty years that he had practised law, and had
witnessed all the sinister comedies and all the grotesque dramas of
money.  He knew how to speak to infuriated creditors, how to handle
them, and what strings can be made to vibrate within them.  In the
most quiet tone,

“Certainly,” he answered, “I was Favoral’s intimate friend; and the
proof of it is, that he has treated me more friendly than the rest.
I am in for a hundred and sixty thousand francs.”

By this mere declaration he conquered the sympathies of the crowd.
He was a brother in misfortune; they respected him: he was a skilful
business-man; they stopped to listen to him.

At once, and in a short and trenchant tone, he asked these invaders
what they were doing there, and what they wanted.  Did they not know
to what they exposed themselves in violating a domicile?  What would
have happened, if, instead of stopping to parley, Maxence had sent
for the commissary of police?  Was it to Mme. Favoral and her
children that they had intrusted their funds?  No!  What did they
want with them then?  Was there by chance among them some of those
shrewd fellows who always try to get themselves paid in full, to the
detriment of the others?

This last insinuation proved sufficient to break up the perfect
accord that had hitherto existed among all the creditors.  Distrust
arose; suspicious glances were exchanged; and, as the old newspaper
woman was keeping up her groans,

“I should like to know why you should be paid before us,” two women
told her roughly.  “Our rights are just as good as yours!”

Prompt to avail himself of the dispositions of the crowd,

“And, moreover,” resumed the old lawyer, “in whom did we place our
confidence?  Was it in Favoral the private individual?  To a certain
extent, yes; but it was much more to the cashier of the Mutual
Credit.  Therefore that establishment owes us, at least, some
explanations.  And this is not all.  Are we really so badly burned,
that we should scream so loud?  What do we know about it?  That
Favoral is charged with embezzlement, that they came to arrest him,
and that he has run away.  Is that any reason why our money should
be lost?  I hope not.  And so what should we do?  Act prudently,
and wait patiently for the work of justice.”

Already, by this time, the creditors had slipped out one by one;
and soon the servant closed the door on the last of them.

Then Mme. Favoral, Maxence, and Mlle. Gilberte surrounded M.
Chapelain, and, pressing his hands,

“How thankful we feel, sir, for the service you have just
rendered us!”

But the old lawyer seemed in no wise proud of his victory.

“Do not thank me,” he said.  “I have only done my duty,--what any
honest man would have done in my place.”

And yet, under the appearance of impassible coldness, which he owed
to the long practice of a profession which leaves no illusions, he
evidently felt a real emotion.

“It is you whom I pity,” he added, “and with all my soul,--you,
madame, you, my dear Gilberte, and you, too, Maxence.  Never had I
so well understood to what degree is guilty the head of a family
who leaves his wife and children exposed to the consequences of his
crimes.”

He stopped.  The servant was trying her best to put the dining-room
in some sort of order wheeling the table to the centre of the room,
and lifting up the chairs from the floor.

“What pillage!” she grumbled.  “Neighbors too,--people from whom
we bought our things!  But they were worse than savages; impossible
to do any thing with them.”

“Don’t trouble yourself, my good girl,” said M. Chapelain: “they
won’t come back any more!”

Mme. Favoral looked as if she wished to drop on her knees before
the old lawyer.

“How, very kind you are!” she murmured: “you are not too angry with
my poor Vincent!”

With the look of a man who has made up his mind to make the best of
a disaster that he cannot help, M. Chapelain shrugged his shoulders.

“I am angry with no one but myself,” he uttered in a bluff tone.
“An old bird like me should not have allowed himself to be caught
in a pigeon-trap.  I am inexcusable.  But we want to get rich.  It’s
slow work getting rich by working, and it’s so much easier to get
the money already made out of our neighbor’s pockets!  I have been
unable to resist the temptation myself.  It’s my own fault; and I
should say it was a good lesson, if it did not cost so dear.”



XXIV

So much philosophy could hardly have been expected of him.

“All my father’s friends are not as indulgent as you are,” said
Maxence,--“M. Desclavettes, for instance.”

“Have you seen him?”

“Yes, last night, about twelve o’clock.  He came to ask us to get
father to pay him back, if we should ever see him again.”

“That might be an idea!”

Mlle. Gilberte started.

“What!” said she, “you, too, sir, can imagine that my father has
run away with millions?”

The old lawyer shook his head.

“I believe nothing,” he answered.  “Favoral has taken me in so
completely,--me, who had the pretension of being a judge of men,
--that nothing from him, either for good or for evil, could surprise
me hereafter.”

Mme. Favoral was about to offer some objection; but he stopped her
with a gesture.

“And yet,” he went on, “I’d bet that he has gone off with empty
pockets.  His recent operations reveal a frightful distress.  Had
he had a few thousand francs at his command, would he have extorted
five hundred francs from a poor old woman, a newspaper-vender?
What did he want with the money?  Try his luck once more, no doubt.”

He was seated, his elbow upon the arm of the chair, his head resting
upon his hands, thinking; and the contraction of his features
indicated an extraordinary tension of mind.

Suddenly he drew himself up.

“But why,” he exclaimed, “why wander in idle conjectures?  What do
we know about Favoral?  Nothing.  One entire side of his existence
escapes us,--that fantastic side, of which the insane prodigalities
and inconceivable disorders have been revealed to us by the bills
found in his desk.  He is certainly guilty; but is he as guilty as
we think?  and, above all, is he alone guilty?  Was it for himself
alone that he drew all this money?  Are the missing millions really
lost?  and wouldn’t it be possible to find the biggest share of them
in the pockets of some accomplice?  Skilful men do not expose
themselves.  They have at their command poor wretches, sacrificed
in advance, and who, in exchange for a few crumbs that are thrown
to them, risk the criminal court, are condemned, and go to prison.”

“That’s just what I was telling my mother and sister, sir,”
 interrupted Maxence.

“And that’s what I am telling myself,” continued the old lawyer.
“I have been thinking over and over again of last evening’s scene;
and strange doubts have occurred to my mind.  For a man who has
been robbed of a dozen millions, M. de Thaller was remarkably quiet
and self-possessed.  Favoral appeared to me singularly calm for a
man charged with embezzlement and forgery.  M. de Thaller, as
manager of the Mutual Credit, is really responsible for the stolen
funds, and, as such, should have been anxious to secure the guilty
party, and to produce him.  Instead of that, he wished him to go,
and actually brought him the money to enable him to leave.  Was he
in hopes of hushing up the affair?  Evidently not, since the police
had been notified.  On the other hand, Favoral seemed much more
angry than surprised by the occurrence.  It was only on the
appearance of the commissary of police that he seems to have lost
his head; and then some very strange things escaped him, which I
cannot understand.”

He was walking at random through the parlor, apparently rather
answering the objections of his own mind than addressing himself to
his interlocutors, who were listening, nevertheless, with all the
attention of which they were capable.

“I don’t know,” he went on.  “An old traveler like me to be taken
in thus!  Evidently there is under all this one of those diabolical
combinations which time even fails to unravel.  We ought to see,
to inquire--”

And then, suddenly stopping in front of Maxence,

“How much did M. de Thaller bring to your father last evening?” he
asked.

“Fifteen thousand francs.”

“Where are they?”

“Put away in mother’s room.”

“When do you expect to take them back to M. de Thaller?”

“To-morrow.”

“Why not to-day?”

“This is Sunday.  The offices of the Mutual Credit must be closed.”

“After the occurrences of yesterday, M. de Thaller must be at his
office.  Besides, haven’t you his private address?”

“I beg your pardon, I have.”

The old lawyer’s small eyes were shining with unusual brilliancy.
He certainly felt deeply the loss of his money; but the idea that
he had been swindled for the benefit of some clever rascal was
absolutely insupportable to him.

“If we were wise,” he said again, “we’d do this.  Mme. Favoral
would take these fifteen thousand francs, and we would go together,
she and I, to see M. de Thaller.”

It was an unexpected good-fortune for Mme. Favoral, that M.
Chapelain should consent to assist her.  So, without hesitating,

“The time to dress, sir,” she said, “and I am ready.”  She left the
parlor; but as she reached her room, her son joined her.

“I am obliged to go out, dear mother,” he said; “and I shall
probably not be home to breakfast.”

She looked at him with an air of painful surprise.  “What,” she said,
“at such a moment!”

“I am expected home.”

“By whom?  A woman?” she murmured.

“Well, yes.”

“And it is for that woman’s sake that you want to leave your sister
alone at home?”

“I must, mother, I assure you; and, if you only knew--”

“I do not wish to know, any thing.”

But his resolution had been taken.  He went off; and a few moments
later Mme. Favoral and M. Chapelain entered a cab which had been
sent for, and drove to M. de Thaller’s.

Left alone, Mlle. Gilberte had but one thought,--to notify M. de
Tregars, and obtain word from him.  Any thing seemed preferable to
the horrible anxiety which oppressed her.  She had just commenced
a letter, which she intended to have taken to the Count de Villegre,
when a violent ring of the bell made her start; and almost
immediately the servant came in, saying,

“It is a gentleman who wishes to see you, a friend of monsieur’s,
--M. Costeclar, you know.”

Mlle. Gilberte started to her feet, trembling with excitement.

“That’s too much impudence!” she exclaimed.  She was hesitating
whether to refuse him the door, or to see him, and dismiss him
shamefully herself, when she had a sudden inspiration.  “What does
he want?” she thought.  “Why not see him, and try and find out what
he knows?  For he certainly must know the truth.”

But it was no longer time to deliberate.  Above the servant’s
shoulder M. Costeclar’s pale and impudent face showed itself.

The girl having stepped to one side, he appeared, hat in hand.
Although it was not yet nine o’clock, his morning toilet was
irreproachably correct.  He had already passed through the
hair-dresser’s hands; and his scanty hair was brought forward over
his low fore-head with the usual elaborate care.

He wore a pair of those ridiculous trousers which grow wide from
the knee down, and which were invented by Prussian tailors to hide
their customers’ ugly feet.  Under his light-colored overcoat could
be seen a velvet-faced jacket, with a rose in its buttonhole.

Meantime, he remained motionless on the threshold of the door,
trying to smile, and muttering one of those sentences which are
never intended to be finished.

“I beg you to believe, mademoiselle--your mother’s absence--my most
respectful admiration--”

In fact, he was taken aback by the disorder of the girl’s toilet,
--disorder which she had had no time to repair since the clamors
of the creditors had started her from her bed.

She wore a long brown cashmere wrapper, fitting quite close over
the hips setting off the vigorous elegance of her figure, the
maidenly perfections of her waist, and the exquisite contour of
her neck.  Gathered up in haste, her thick blonde hair escaped
from beneath the pins, and spread over her shoulders in luminous
cascades.  Never had she appeared to M. Costeclar as lovely as at
this moment, when her whole frame was vibrating with suppressed
indignation, her cheeks flushed, her eyes flashing.

“Please come in, sir,” she uttered.

He stepped forward, no longer bowing humbly as formerly, but with
legs outstretched, chest thrown out, with an ill-concealed look of
gratified vanity.  “I did not expect the honor of your visit, sir,”
 said the young girl.

Passing rapidly his hat and his cane from the right hand into the
left, and then the right hand upon his heart, his eyes raised to
the ceiling, and with all the depth of expression of which he was
capable,

“It is in times of adversity that we know our real friends,
mademoiselle,” he uttered.  “Those upon whom we thought we could
rely the most, often, at the first reverse, take flight forever!”

She felt a shiver pass over her.  Was this an allusion to Marius?

The other, changing his tone, went on,

“It’s only last night that I heard of poor Favoral’s discomfiture,
at the bourse where I had gone for news.  It was the general topic
of conversation.  Twelve millions!  That’s pretty hard.  The Mutual
Credit Society might not be able to stand it.  From 580, at which
it was selling before the news, it dropped at once to 300.  At nine
o’clock, there were no takers at 180.  And yet, if there is nothing
beyond what they say, at 180, I am in.”

Was he forgetting himself, or pretending to?

“But please excuse me, mademoiselle,” he resumed:  “that’s not what
I came to tell you.  I came to ask if you had any news of our poor
Favoral.”

“We have none, sir.”

“Then it is true: he succeeded in getting away through this window?”

“Yes.”

“And he did not tell you where he meant to take refuge?”

Observing M. Costeclar with all her power of penetration, Mlle.
Gilberte fancied she discovered in him something like a certain
surprise mingled with joy.

“Then Favoral must have left without a sou!”

“They accuse him of having carried away millions, sir; but I would
swear that it is not so.”

M. Costeclar approved with a nod.

“I am of the same opinion,” he declared, “unless--but no, he was not
the man to try such a game.  And yet--but again no, he was too
closely watched.  Besides, he was carrying a very heavy load, a load
that exhausted all his resources.”

Mlle. Gilberte, hoping that she was going to learn something, made
an effort to preserve her indifference.

“What do you mean?” she inquired.

He looked at her, smiled, and, in a light tone,

“Nothing,” he answered, “only some conjectures of my own.”

And throwing himself upon a chair, his head leaning upon its back,

“That is not the object of my visit either,” he uttered.  “Favoral
is overboard: don’t let us say any thing more about him.  Whether
he has got ‘the bag’ or not, you’ll never see him again: he is as
good as dead.  Let us, therefore, talk of the living, of yourself.
What’s going to become of you?”

“I do not understand your question, sir.”

“It is perfectly limpid, nevertheless.  I am asking myself how you
are going to live, your mother and yourself?”

“Providence will not abandon us, sir.”

M. Costeclar had crossed his legs, and with the end of his cane he
was negligently tapping his immaculate boot.

“Providence!” he giggled; “that’s very good on the stage, in a play,
with low music in the orchestra.  I can just see it.  In real life,
unfortunately, the life which we both live, you and I, it is not
with words, were they a yard long, that the baker, the grocer, and
those rascally landlords, can be paid, or that dresses and shoes
can be bought.”

She made no answer.

“Now, then,” he went on, “here you are without a penny.  Is it
Maxence who will supply you with money?  Poor fellow!  Where would
he get it?  He has hardly enough for himself.  Therefore, what are
you going to do?”

“I shall work, sir.”

He got up, bowed low, and, resuming his seat,

“My sincere compliments,” he said.  “There is but one obstacle to
that fine resolution: it is impossible for a woman to live by her
labor alone.  Servants are about the only ones who ever get their
full to eat.”

“I’ll be a servant, if necessary.”

For two or three seconds he remained taken aback, but, recovering
himself,

“How different things would be,” he resumed in an insinuating tone,
“if you had not rejected me when I wanted to become your husband!
But you couldn’t bear the sight of me.  And yet, ‘pon my word, I was
in love with you, oh, but for good and earnest!  You see, I am a
judge of women; and I saw very well how you would look, handsomely
dressed and got up, leaning back in a fine carriage in the Bois--”

Stronger than her will, disgust rose to her lips.

“Ah, sir!” she said.

He mistook her meaning.

“You are regretting all that,” he continued.  “I see it.  Formerly,
eh, you would never have consented to receive me thus, alone with
you, which proves that girls should not be headstrong, my dear child.”

He, Costeclar, he dared to call her, “My dear child.”  Indignant and
insulted, “Oh!” she exclaimed.  But he had started, and kept on,

“Well, such as I was, I am still.  To be sure, there probably would
be nothing further said about marriage between us; but, frankly,
what would you care if the conditions were the same,--a fine house,
carriages, horses, servants--”

Up to this moment, she had not fully understood him.  Drawing
herself up to her fullest height, and pointing to the door,

“Leave this moment,” she ordered.

But he seemed in no wise disposed to do so: on the contrary, paler
than usual, his eyes bloodshot, his lips trembling, and smiling a
strange smile, he advanced towards Mlle. Gilberte.

“What!” said he.  “You are in trouble, I kindly come to offer my
services, and this is the way you receive me!  You prefer to work,
do you?  Go ahead then, my lovely one, prick your pretty fingers,
and redden your eyes.  My time will come.  Fatigue and want, cold
in the winter, hunger in all seasons, will speak to your little
heart of that kind Costeclar who adores you, like a big fool that
he is, who is a serious man and who has money,--much money.”

Beside herself,

“Wretch!” cried the girl, “leave, leave at once.”

“One moment,” said a strong voice.

M. Costeclar looked around.

Marius de Tregars stood within the frame of the open door.

“Marius!” murmured Mlle. Gilberte, rooted to the spot by a surprise
hardly less immense than her joy.

To behold him thus suddenly, when she was wondering whether she
would ever see him again; to see him appear at the very moment
when she found herself alone, and exposed to the basest outrages,
--it was one of those fortunate occurrences which one can scarcely
realize; and from the depth of her soul rose something like a hymn
of thanks.

Nevertheless, she was confounded at M. Costeclar’s attitude.
According to her, and from what she thought she knew, he should have
been petrified at the sight of M. de Tregars.

And he did not even seem to know him.  He seemed shocked, annoyed
at being interrupted, slightly surprised, but in no wise moved or
frightened.  Knitting his brows,

“What do you wish?” he inquired in his most impertinent tone.

M. de Tregars stepped forward.  He was somewhat pale, but unnaturally
calm, cool, and collected.  Bowing to Mlle. Gilberte,

“If I have thus ventured to enter your apartment, mademoiselle,” he
uttered gently, “it is because, as I was going by the door, I
thought I recognized this gentleman’s carriage.”

And, with his finger over his shoulder, he was pointing to M.
Costeclar.

“Now,” he went on, “I had reason to be somewhat astonished at this,
after the positive orders I had given him never to set his feet, not
only in this house, but in this part of the city.  I wished to find
out exactly.  I came up: I heard--”

All this was said in a tone of such crushing contempt, that a slap
on the face would have been less cruel.  All the blood in M.
Costeclar’s veins rushed to his face.

“You!” he interrupted insolently: “I do not know you.”

Imperturbable, M. de Tregars was drawing off his gloves.

“Are you quite certain of that?” he replied.  “Come, you certainly
know my old friend, M. de Villegre?”

An evident feeling of anxiety appeared on M. Costeclar’s countenance.

“I do,” he stammered.

“Did not M. Villegre call upon you before the war?”

“He did.”

“Well, ‘twas I who sent him to you; and the commands which he
delivered to you were mine.”

“Yours?”

“Mine.  I am Marius de Tregars.”

A nervous shudder shook M. Costeclar’s lean frame.  Instinctively
his eye turned towards the door.

“You see,” Marius went on with the same gentleness, “we are, you
and I, old acquaintances.  For you quite remember me now, don’t
you?  I am the son of that poor Marquis de Tregars who came to
Paris, all the way from his old Brittany with his whole fortune,
--two millions.”

“I remember,” said the stock-broker: “I remember perfectly well.”

“On the advice of certain clever people, the Marquis de Tregars
ventured into business.  Poor old man!  He was not very sharp.  He
was firmly persuaded that he had already more than doubled his
capital, when his honorable partners demonstrated to him that he was
ruined, and, besides, compromised by certain signatures imprudently
given.”

Mlle. Gilberte was listening, her mouth open, and wondering what
Marius was aiming at, and how he could remain so calm.

“That disaster,” he went on, “was at the time the subject of an
enormous number of very witty jokes.  The people of the bourse
could hardly admire enough these bold financiers who had so deftly
relieved that candid marquis of his money.  That was well done for
him; what was he meddling with?  As to myself, to stop the
prosecutions with which my father was threatened, I gave up all I
had.  I was quite young, and, as you see, quite what you call, I
believe, ‘green.’  I am no longer so now.  Were such a thing to
happen to me to-day, I should want to know at once what had become
of the millions: I would feel all the pockets around me.  I would
say, ‘Stop thief!’”

At every word, as it were, M. Costeclar’s uneasiness became more
manifest.

“It was not I,” he said, “who received the benefit of M. de Tregars’
fortune.”

Marius nodded approvingly.

“I know now,” he replied, “among whom the spoils were divided.  You,
M. Costeclar, you took what you could get, timidly, and according to
your means.  Sharks are always accompanied by small fishes, to which
they abandon the crumbs they disdain.  You were but a small fish
then: you accommodated yourself with what your patrons, the sharks,
did not care about.  But, when you tried to operate alone, you were
not shrewd enough: you left proofs of your excessive appetite for
other people’s money.  Those proofs I have in my possession.”

M. Costeclar was now undergoing perfect torture.

“I am caught,” he said, “I know it: I told M. de Villegre so.”

“Why are you here, then?”

“How did I know that the count had been sent by you?”

“That’s a poor reason, sir.”

“Besides, after what has occurred, after Favoral’s flight, I thought
myself relieved of my engagement.”

“Indeed!”

“Well, if you insist upon it, I am wrong, I suppose.”

“Not only you are wrong,” uttered Marius still perfectly cool, “but
you have committed a great imprudence.  By failing to keep your
engagements, you have relieved me of mine.  The pact is broken.
According to the agreement, I have the right, as I leave here, to go
straight to the police.”

M. Costeclar’s dull eye was vacillating.

“I did not think I was doing wrong,” he muttered.  “Favoral was my
friend.”

“And that’s the reason why you were coming to propose to Mlle.
Favoral to become your mistress?  There she is, you thought, without
resources, literally without bread, without relatives, without
friends to protect her: this is the time to come forward.  And
thinking you could be cowardly, vile, and infamous with impunity,
you came.”

To be thus treated, he, the successful man, in presence of this
young girl, whom, a moment before, he was crushing with his impudent
opulence, no, M. Costeclar could not stand it.  Losing completely
his head,

“You should have let me know, then,” he exclaimed, “that she was
your mistress.”

Something like a flame passed over M. de Tregars’ face.  His eyes
flashed.  Rising in all the height of his wrath, which broke out
terrible at last,

“Ah, you scoundrel!” he exclaimed.

M. Costeclar threw himself suddenly to one side.

“Sir!”

But at one bound M. de Tregars had caught him.

“On your knees!” he cried.

And, seizing him by the collar with an iron grip, he lifted him
clear off the floor, and then threw him down violently upon both
knees.

“Speak!” he commanded.  “Repeat,--‘Mademoiselle’”

M. Costeclar had expected worse from M. de Tregars’ look.  A horrible
fear had instantly crushed within him all idea of resistance.

“Mademoiselle,” he stuttered in a choking voice.  “I am the vilest
of wretches,” continued Marius.  M. Costeclar’s livid face was
oscillating like an inert object.

“I am,” he repeated, “the vilest of wretches.”

“And I beg of you--”

But Mlle. Gilberte was sick of the sight.

“Enough,” she interrupted, “enough!”

Feeling no longer upon his shoulders the heavy hand of M. de Tregars,
the stock-broker rose with difficulty to his feet.  So livid was his
face, that one might have thought that his whole blood had turned
to gall.

Dusting with the end of his glove the knees of his trousers, and
restoring as best he could the harmony of his toilet, which had been
seriously disturbed,

“Is it showing any courage,” he grumbled, “to abuse one’s physical
strength?”

M. de Tregars had already recovered his self-possession; and Mlle.
Gilberte thought she could read upon his face regret for his violence.

“Would it be better to make use of what you know?” M. Costeclar
joined his hands.

“You would not do that,” he said.  “What good would it do you to
ruin me?”

“None,” answered M. de Tregars: “you are right.  But yourself?”

And, looking straight into M. Costeclar’s eyes,--“If you could be
of service to me,” he inquired, “would you be willing?”

“Perhaps.  That I might recover possession of the papers you have.”

M. de Tregars was thinking.

“After what has just taken place,” he said at last, “an explanation
is necessary between us.  I will be at your house in an hour.  Wait
for me.”

M. Costeclar had become more pliable than his own lavender kid
gloves: in fact, alarmingly pliable.

“I am at your command, sir,” he replied to M. de Tregars.

And, bowing to the ground before Mlle. Gilberte, he left the parlor;
and, a few moments after, the street-door was heard to close upon him.

“Ah, what a wretch!” exclaimed the girl, dreadfully agitated.
“Marius, did you see what a look he gave us as he went out?”

“I saw it,” replied M. de Tregars.

“That man hates us: he will not hesitate to commit a crime to avenge
the atrocious humiliation you have just inflicted upon him.”

“I believe it too.”

Mlle. Gilberte made a gesture of distress.

“Why did you treat him so harshly?” she murmured.

“I had intended to remain calm, and it would have been politic to
have done so.  But there are some insults which a man of heart
cannot endure.  I do not regret what I have done.”

A long pause followed; and they remained standing, facing each other,
somewhat embarrassed.  Mlle. Gilberte felt ashamed of the disorder
of her dress.  M. de Tregars wondered how he could have been bold
enough to enter this house.

“You have heard of our misfortune,” said the young girl at last.

“I read about it this morning, in the papers.”

“What! the papers know already?”

“Every thing.”

“And our name is printed in them?”

“Yes.”

She covered her face with her two hands.

“What disgrace!” she said.

“At first,” went on M. de Tregars, “I could hardly believe what I
read.  I hastened to come; and the first shopkeeper I questioned
confirmed only too well what I had seen in the papers.  From that
moment, I had but one wish,--to see and speak to you.  When I
reached the door, I recognized M. Costeclar’s equipage, and I had
a presentiment of the truth.  I inquired from the concierge for
your mother or your brother, and heard that Maxence had gone out
a few moments before, and that Mme. Favoral had just left in a
carriage with M. Chapelain, the old lawyer.  At the idea that you
were alone with Costeclar, I hesitated no longer.  I ran up stairs,
and, finding the door open, had no occasion to ring.”

Mlle. Gilberte could hardly repress the sobs that rose to her throat.

“I never hoped to see you again,” she stammered; “and you’ll find
there on the table the letter I had just commenced for you when M.
Costeclar interrupted me.”

M. de Tregars took it up quickly.  Two lines only were written.  He
read: “I release you from your engagement, Marius.  Henceforth you
are free.”

He became whiter than his shirt.

“You wish to release me from my engagement!” he exclaimed.  “You--”

“Is it not my duty?  Ah! if it had only been our fortune, I should
perhaps have rejoiced to lose it.  I know your heart.  Poverty would
have brought us nearer together.  But it’s honor, Marius, honor that
is lost too!  The name I bear is forever stained.  Whether my father
is caught, or whether he escapes, he will be tried all the same,
condemned, and sentenced to a degrading penalty for embezzlement and
forgery.”

If M. de Tregars was allowing her to proceed thus, it was because he
felt all his thoughts whirling in his brain; because she looked so
beautiful thus, all in tears, and her hair loose; because there
arose from her person so subtle a charm, that words failed him to
express the sensations that agitated him.

“Can you,” she went on, “take for your wife the daughter of a
dishonored man?  No, you cannot.  Forgive me, then, for having for
a moment turned away your life from its object; forgive the sorrow
which I have caused you; leave me to the misery of my fate;
forget me!”

She was suffocating.

“Ah, you have never loved me!” exclaimed Marius.

Raising her hands to heaven,

“Thou hearest him, great God!” she uttered, as if shocked by a
blasphemy.

“Would it be easy for you to forget me then?  Were I to be struck
by misfortune, would you break our engagement, cease to love me?”

She ventured to take his hands, and, pressing them between hers,

“To cease loving you no longer depends on my will,” she murmured
with quivering lips.  “Poor, abandoned of all, disgraced, criminal
even, I should love you still and always.”

With a passionate gesture, Marius threw his arm around her waist,
and, drawing her to his breast, covered her blonde hair with
burning kisses.

“Well, ‘tis thus that I love you too!” he exclaimed, “and with all
my soul, exclusively, and for life!  What do I care for your
parents?  Do I know them?  Your father--does he exist?  Your name
--it is mine, the spotless name of the Tregars.  You are my wife!
mine, mine!”

She was struggling feebly: an almost invincible stupor was creeping
over her.  She felt her reason disturbed, her energy giving way, a
film before her eyes, the air failing to her heaving chest.

A great effort of her will restored her to consciousness.  She
withdrew gently, and sank upon a chair, less strong against joy
than she had been against sorrow.

“Pardon me,” she stammered, “pardon me for having doubted you!”

M. de Tregars was not much less agitated than Mlle. Gilberte: but he
was a man; and the springs of his energy were of a superior temper.
In less than a minute he had fully recovered his self-possession
and imposed upon his features their accustomed expression.  Drawing
a chair by the side of Mlle. Gilberte,

“Permit me, my friend,” he said, “to remind you that our moments are
numbered, and that there are many details which it is urgent that I
should know.”

“What details?” she asked, raising her head.

“About your father.”

She looked at him with an air of profound surprise.

“Do you not know more about it than I do?” she replied, “more than
my mother, more than any of us?  Did you not, whilst following up
the people who robbed your father, strike mine unwittingly?  And
‘tis I, wretch that I am, who inspired you to that fatal resolution;
and I have not the heart to regret it.”

M. de Tregars had blushed imperceptibly.  “How did you know?” he
began.

“Was it not said that you were about to marry Mlle. de Thaller?”

He drew up suddenly.

“Never,” he exclaimed, “has this marriage existed, except in the
brain of M. de Thaller, and, more still, of the Baroness de Thaller.
That ridiculous idea occurred to her because she likes my name, and
would be delighted to see her daughter Marquise de Tregars.  She
has never breathed a word of it to me; but she has spoken of it
everywhere, with just enough secrecy to give rise to a good piece
of parlor gossip.  She went so far as to confide to several persons
of my acquaintance the amount of the dowry, thinking thus to
encourage me.  As far as I could, I warned you against this false
news through the Signor Gismondo.”

“The Signor Gismondo relieved me of cruel anxieties,” she replied;
“but I had suspected the truth from the first.  Was I not the
confidante of your hopes?  Did I not know your projects?  I had
taken for granted that all this talk about a marriage was but a
means to advance yourself in M. de Thaller’s intimacy without
awaking his suspicions.”

M. de Tregars was not the man to deny a true fact.

“Perhaps, indeed, I have not been wholly foreign to M. Favoral’s
disaster.  At least I may have hastened it a few months, a few
days only, perhaps; for it was inevitable, fatal.  Nevertheless,
had I suspected the real facts, I would have given up my designs
--Gilberte, I swear it--rather than risk injuring your father.
There is no undoing what is done; but the evil may, perhaps, be
somewhat lessened.”

Mlle. Gilberte started.

“Great heavens!” she exclaimed, “do you, then, believe my father
innocent?”

Better than any one else, Mlle. Gilberte must have been convinced
of her father’s guilt.  Had she not seen him humiliated and
trembling before M. de Thaller?  Had she not heard him, as it were,
acknowledge the truth of the charge that was brought against him?
But at twenty hope never forsakes us, even in presence of facts.

And when she understood by M. de Tregars’ silence that she was
mistaken,

“It’s madness,” she murmured, dropping her head:

“I feel it but too well.  But the heart speaks louder than reason.
It is so cruel to be driven to despise one’s father!”

She wiped the tears which filled her eyes, and, in a firmer voice,

“What happened is so incomprehensible!” she went on.  “How can I help
imagining some one of those mysteries which time alone unravels.
For twenty-four hours we have been losing ourselves in idle
conjectures, and, always and fatally, we come to this conclusion,
that my father must be the victim of some mysterious intrigue.

“M. Chapelain, whom a loss of a hundred and sixty thousand francs
has not made particularly indulgent, is of that opinion.”

“And so am I,” exclaimed Marius.

“You see, then--”

But without allowing her to proceed and taking gently her hand,

“Let me tell you all,” he interrupted, “and try with you to find
an issue to this horrible situation.  Strange rumors are afloat
about M. Favoral.  It is said that his austerity was but a mask,
his sordid economy a means of gaining confidence.  It is affirmed
that in fact he abandoned himself to all sorts of disorders; that
he had, somewhere in Paris, an establishment, where he lavished the
money of which he was so sparing here.  Is it so?  The same thing
is said of all those in whose hands large fortunes have melted.”

The young girl had become quite red.

“I believe that is true,” she replied.  “The commissary of police
stated so to us.  He found among my father’s papers receipted bills
for a number of costly articles, which could only have been intended
for a woman.”

M. de Tregars looked perplexed.

“And does any one know who this woman is?” he asked.

“Whoever she may be, I admit that she may have cost M. Favoral
considerable sums.  But can she have cost him twelve millions?”

“Precisely the remark which M. Chapelain made.”

“And which every sensible man must also make.  I know very well
that to conceal for years a considerable deficit is a costly
operation, requiring purchases and sales, the handling and shifting
of funds, all of which is ruinous in the extreme.  But, on the other
hand, M. Favoral was making money, a great deal of money.  He was
rich: he was supposed to be worth millions.  Otherwise, Costeclar
would never have asked your hand.”

“M. Chapelain pretends that at a certain time my father had at least
fifty thousand francs a year.”

“It’s bewildering.”

For two or three minutes M. de Tregars remained silent, reviewing
in his mind every imaginable eventuality, and then,

“But no matter,” he resumed.  “As soon as I heard this morning the
amount of the deficit, doubts came to my mind.  And it is for that
reason, dear friend, that I was so anxious to see you and speak to
you.  It would be necessary for me to know exactly what occurred
here last night.”

Rapidly, but without omitting a single useful detail, Mlle. Gilberte
narrated the scenes of the previous night--the sudden appearance of
M. de Thaller, the arrival of the commissary of police, M. Favoral’s
escape, thanks to Maxence’s presence of mind.  Every one of her
father’s words had remained present to her mind; and it was almost
literally that she repeated his strange speeches to his indignant
friends, and his incoherent remarks at the moment of flight, when,
whilst acknowledging his fault, he said that he was not as guilty
as they thought; that, at any rate, he was not alone guilty; and
that he had been shamefully sacrificed.  When she had finished,

“That’s exactly what I thought,” said M. de Tregars.

“What?”

“M. Favoral accepted a role in one of those terrible financial
dramas which ruin a thousand poor dupes to the benefit of two or
three clever rascals.  Your father wanted to be rich: he needed
money to carry on his intrigues.  He allowed himself to be tempted.
But whilst he believed himself one of the managers, called upon to
divide the receipts, he was but a scene-shifter with a stated
salary.  The moment of this denouement having come, his so-called
partners disappeared through a trap-door with the cash, leaving
him alone, as they say, to face the music.”

“If that’s the case,” replied the young girl, “why didn’t my father
speak?”

“What was he to say?”

“Name his accomplices.”

“And suppose he had no proofs of their complicity to offer?  He was
the cashier of the Mutual Credit; and it is from his cash that the
millions are gone.”

Mlle. Gilberte’s conjectures had run far ahead of that sentence.
Looking straight at Marius,

“Then,” she said, “you believe, as M. Chapelain does, that M. de
Thaller--”

“Ah! M. Chapelain thinks--”

“That the manager of the Mutual Credit must have known the fact of
the frauds.”

“And that he had his share of them?”

“A larger share than his cashier, yes.”

A singular smile curled M. de Tregars’ lips.  “Quite possible,” he
replied: “that’s quite possible.”

For the past few moments Mlle. Gilberte’s embarrassment was quite
evident in her look.  At last, overcoming her hesitation,

“Pardon me,” said she, “I had imagined that M. de Thaller was one
of those men whom you wished to strike; and I had indulged in the
hope, that, whilst having justice done to your father, you were
thinking, perhaps, of avenging mine.”

M. de Tregars stood up, as if moved by a spring.  “Well, yes!” he
exclaimed.  “Yes, you have correctly guessed.  But how can we
obtain this double result?  A single misstep at this moment might
lose all.  Ah, if I only knew your father’s real situation; if I
could only see him and speak to him!  In one word he might, perhaps,
place in my hands a sure weapon,--the weapon that I have as yet
been unable to find.”

“Unfortunately,” replied Mlle. Gilberte with a gesture of despair,
“we are without news of my father; and he even refused to tell us
where he expected to take refuge.”

“But he will write, perhaps.  Besides, we might look for him,
quietly, so as not to excite the suspicions of the police; and if
your brother Maxence was only willing to help me--”

“Alas! I fear that Maxence may have other cares.  He insisted upon
going out this morning, in spite of mother’s request to the contrary.”

But Marius stopped her, and, in the tone of a man who knows much
more than he is willing to say,--“Do not calumniate Maxence,” he
said: “it is through him, perhaps, that we will receive the help
that we need.”

Eleven o’clock struck.  Mlle. Gilberte started.

“Dear me!” she exclaimed, “mother will be home directly.”

M. de Tregars might as well have waited for her.  Henceforth he had
nothing to conceal.  Yet, after duly deliberating with the young
girl, they decided that he should withdraw, and that he would send
M. de Villegre to declare his intentions.  He then left, and, five
minutes later, Mme. Favoral and M. Chapelain appeared.

The ex-attorney was furious; and he threw the package of bank-notes
upon the table with a movement of rage.

“In order to return them to M. de Thaller,” he exclaimed, “it was at
least necessary to see him.  But the gentleman is invisible; keeps
himself under lock and key, guarded by a perfect cloud of servants
in livery.”

Meantime, Mme. Favoral had approached her daughter.

“Your brother?” she asked in a whisper.

“He has not yet come home.”

“Dear me!” sighed the poor mother: “at such a time he forsakes us,
and for whose sake?”



XXV

Mme. Favoral, usually so indulgent, was too severe this time; and
it was very unjustly that she accused her son.  She forgot, and
what mother does not forget, that he was twenty-five years of age,
that he was a man, and that, outside of the family and of herself,
he must have his own interests and his passions, his affections and
his duties.  Because he happened to leave the house for a few hours,
Maxence was surely not forsaking either his mother or his sister.
It was not without a severe internal struggle that he had made up
his mind to go out, and, as he was going down the steps,

“Poor mother,” he thought.  “I am sure I am making her very unhappy;
but how can I help it?”

This was the first time that he had been in the street since his
farther’s disaster had been known; and the impression produced upon
him was painful in the extreme.  Formerly, when he walked through
the Rue St. Gilles, that street where he was born, and where he used
to play as a boy, every one met him with a friendly nod or a familiar
smile.  True he was then the son of a man rich and highly esteemed;
whereas this morning not a hand was extended, not a hat raised, on
his passage.  People whispered among themselves, and pointed him
out with looks of hatred and irony.  That was because he was now
the son of the dishonest cashier tracked by the police, of the man
whose crime brought disaster upon so many innocent parties.

Mortified and ashamed, Maxence was hurrying on, his head down, his
cheek burning, his throat parched, when, in front of a wine-shop,

“Halloo!” said a man; “that’s the son.  What cheek!”

And farther on, in front of the grocer’s.

“I tell you what,” said a woman in the midst of a group, “they still
have more than we have.”

Then, for the first time, he understood with what crushing weight
his father’s crime would weigh upon his whole life; and, whilst
going up the Rue Turenne:

“It’s all over,” he thought: “I can never get over it.”  And he
was thinking of changing his name, of emigrating to America, and
hiding himself in the deserts of the Far West, when, a little
farther on, he noticed a group of some thirty persons in front
of a newspaper-stand.  The vender, a fat little man with a red
face and an impudent look, was crying in a hoarse voice,

“Here are the morning papers!  The last editions!  All about the
robbery of twelve millions by a poor cashier.  Buy the morning
papers!”

And, to stimulate the sale of his wares, he added all sorts of
jokes of his own invention, saying that the thief belonged to the
neighborhood; that it was quite flattering, etc.

The crowd laughed; and he went on,

“The cashier Favoral’s robbery! twelve millions!  Buy the paper,
and see how it’s done.”

And so the scandal was public, irreparable.  Maxence was listening
a few steps off.  He felt like going; but an imperative feeling,
stronger than his will, made him anxious to see what the papers said.

Suddenly he made up his mind, and, stepping up briskly, he threw
down three sous, seized a paper, and ran as if they had all known
him.

“Not very polite, the gentleman,” remarked two idlers whom he had
pushed a little roughly.

Quick as he had been, a shopkeeper of the Rue Turenne had had time
to recognize him.

“Why, that’s the cashier’s son!” he exclaimed.  “Is it possible?”

“Why don’t they arrest him?”

Half a dozen curious fellows, more eager than the rest, ran after
him to try and see his face.  But he was already far off.

Leaning against a gas-lamp on the Boulevard, he unfolded the paper
he had just bought.  He had no trouble looking for the article.  In
the middle of the first page, in the most prominent position, he
read in large letters,

  “At the moment of going to press, the greatest agitation prevails
   among the stock-brokers and operators at the bourse generally,
   owing to the news that one of our great banking establishments
   has just been the victim of a theft of unusual magnitude.

  “At about five o’clock in the afternoon, the manager of the
   Mutual Credit Society, having need of some documents, went to
   look for them in the office of the head cashier, who was then
   absent.  A memorandum forgotten on the table excited his
   suspicions.  Sending at once for a locksmith, he had all the
   drawers broken open, and soon acquired the irrefutable evidence
   that the Mutual Credit had been defrauded of sums, which, as far
   as now known, amount to upwards of twelve millions.

  “At once the police was notified; and M. Brosse, commissary of
   police, duly provided with a warrant, called at the guilty
   cashier’s house.

  “That cashier, named Favoral,--we do not hesitate to name him,
   since his name has already been made public,--had just sat down
   to dinner with some friends.  Warned, no one knows how, he
   succeeded in escaping through a window into the yard of the
   adjoining house, and up to this hour has succeeded in eluding
   all search.

  “It seems that these embezzlements had been going on for years,
   but had been skillfully concealed by false entries.

  “M. Favoral had managed to secure the esteem of all who knew him.
   He led at home a more than modest existence.  But that was only,
   as it were, his official life.  Elsewhere, and under another name,
   he indulged in the most reckless expenses for the benefit of a
   woman with whom he was madly in love.

  “Who this woman is, is not yet exactly known.

  “Some mention a very fascinating young actress, who performs at
   a theatre not a hundred miles from the Rue Vivienne; others, a
   lady of the financial high life, whose equipages, diamonds, and
   dresses are justly famed.

  “We might easily, in this respect, give particulars which would
   astonish many people; for we know all; but, at the risk of
   seeming less well informed than some others of our morning
   contemporaries, we will observe a silence which our readers will
   surely appreciate.  We do not wish to add, by a premature
   indiscretion, any thing to the grief of a family already so
   cruelly stricken; for M. Favoral leaves behind him in the deepest
   sorrow a wife and two children,--a son of twenty-five, employed
   in a railroad office, and a daughter of twenty, remarkably
   handsome, who, a few months ago, came very near marrying M.
   C. ----.

  “Next--”

Tears of rage obscured Maxence’s sight whilst reading the last few
lines of this terrible article.  To find himself thus held up to
public curiosity, though innocent, was more than he could bear.

And yet he was, perhaps, still more surprised than indignant.  He
had just learned in that paper more than his father’s most intimate
friends knew, more than he knew himself.  Where had it got its
information?  And what could be these other details which the writer
pretended to know, but did not wish to publish as yet?  Maxence felt
like running to the office of the paper, fancying that they could
tell him there exactly where and under what name M. Favoral led that
existence of pleasure and luxury, and who the woman was to whom the
article alluded.

But in the mean time he had reached his hotel,--the Hotel des
Folies.  After a moment of hesitation,

“Bash!” he thought, “I have the whole day to call at the office of
the paper.”

And he started in the corridor of the hotel, a corridor that was so
long, so dark, and so narrow, that it gave an idea of the shaft of
a mine, and that it was prudent, before entering it, to make sure
that no one was coming in the opposite direction.  It was from the
neighboring theatre, des Folies-Nouvelles (now the Theatre Dejazet),
that the hotel had taken its name.

It consists of the rear building of a large old house, and has no
frontage on the Boulevard, where nothing betrays its existence,
except a lantern hung over a low and narrow door, between a cafe
and a confectionery-shop.  It is one of those hotels, as there are
a good many in Paris, somewhat mysterious and suspicious, ill-kept,
and whose profits remain a mystery for simple-minded folks.  Who
occupy the apartments of the first and second story?  No one knows.
Never have the most curious of the neighbors discovered the face
of a tenant.  And yet they are occupied; for often, in the
afternoon, a curtain is drawn aside, and a shadow is seen to move.
In the evening, lights are noticed within; and sometimes the sound
of a cracked old piano is heard.

Above the second story, the mystery ceases.  All the upper rooms,
the price of which is relatively modest, are occupied by tenants
who may be seen and heard,--clerks like Maxence, shop-girls from
the neighborhood, a few restaurant-waiters, and sometimes some poor
devil of an actor or chorus-singer from the Theatre Dejazet, the
Circus, or the Chateau d’Eau.  One of the great advantages of the
Hotel des Folies--and Mme. Fortin, the landlady, never failed to
point it out to the new tenants, an inestimable advantage, she
declared--was a back entrance on the Rue Beranger.

“And everybody knows,” she concluded, “that there is no chance of
being caught, when one has the good luck of living in a house that
has two outlets.”

When Maxence entered the office, a small, dark, and dirty room,
the proprietors, M. and Mme. Fortin were just finishing their
breakfast with an immense bowl of coffee of doubtful color, of
which an enormous red cat was taking a share.

“Ah, here is M. Favoral!” they exclaimed.

There was no mistaking their tone.  They knew the catastrophe;
and the newspaper lying on the table showed how they had heard it.

“Some one called to see you last night,” said Mme. Fortin, a large
fat woman, whose nose was always besmeared with snuff, and whose
honeyed voice made a marked contrast with her bird-of-prey look.

“Who?”

“A gentleman of about fifty, tall and thin, with a long overcoat,
coming down to his heels.”

Maxence imagined, from this description, that he recognized his own
father.  And yet it seemed impossible, after what had happened, that
he should dare to show himself on the Boulevard du Temple, where
everybody knew him, within a step of the Cafe Turc, of which he
was one of the oldest customers.

“At what o’clock was he here?” he inquired.

“I really can’t tell,” answered the landlady.  “I was half asleep
at the time; but Fortin can tell us.”

M. Fortin, who looked about twenty years younger than his wife, was
one of those small men, blonde, with scanty beard, a suspicious
glance, and uneasy smile, such as the Madame Fortins know how to
find, Heaven knows where.

“The confectioner had just put up his shutters,” he replied:
“consequently, it must have been between eleven and a quarter-past
eleven.”

“And didn’t he leave any word?” said Maxence.

“Nothing, except that he was very sorry not to find you in.  And,
in fact, he did look quite annoyed.  We asked him to leave his name;
but he said it wasn’t worth while, and that he would call again.”

At the glance which the landlady was throwing toward him from the
corner of her eyes, Maxence understood that she had on the subject
of that late visitor the same suspicion as himself.

And, as if she had intended to make it more apparent still,

“I ought, perhaps, to have given him your key,” she said.

“And why so, pray?”

“Oh! I don’t know, an idea of mine, that’s all.  Besides, Mlle.
Lucienne can probably tell you more about it; for she was there
when the gentleman came, and I even think that they exchanged a
few words in the yard.”

Maxence, seeing that they were only seeking a pretext to question
him, took his key, and inquired,

“Is--Mlle. Lucienne at home?”

“Can’t tell.  She has been going and coming all the morning, and
I don’t know whether she finally staid in or out.  One thing is
sure, she waited for you last night until after twelve; and she
didn’t like it much, I can tell you.”

Maxence started up the steep stairs; and, as he reached the upper
stories, a woman’s voice, fresh and beautifully toned, reached his
ears more and more distinctly.

She was singing a popular tune,--one of those songs which are
monthly put in circulation by the singing cafes--

          “To hope!  O charming word,
           Which, during all life,
           Husband and children and wife
           Repeat in common accord!
           When the moment of success
           From us ever further slips,
          ‘Tis Hope from its rosy lips
           Whispers, To-morrow you will bless.
          ‘Tis very nice to run,
           But to have is better fun.”

“She is in,” murmured Maxence, breathing more freely.

Reaching the fourth story, he stopped before the door which faced
the stairs, and knocked lightly.

At once, the voice, which had just commenced another verse stopped
short, and inquired, “Who’s there?”

“I, Maxence!”

“At this hour!” replied the voice with an ironical laugh.  “That’s
lucky.  You have probably forgotten that we were to go to the
theatre last night, and start for St. Germain at seven o’clock
this morning.”

“Don’t you know then?” Maxence began, as soon as he could put in a
word.

“I know that you did not come home last night.”

“Quite true.  But when I have told you--”

“What?  the lie you have imagined?  Save yourself the trouble.”

“Lucienne, I beg of you, open the door.”

“Impossible, I am dressing.  Go to your own room: as soon as I am
dressed, I’ll join you.”

And, to cut short all these explanations, she took up her song again:

         “Hope, I’ve waited but too long
          For thy manna divine!
          I’ve drunk enough of thy wine,
          And I know thy siren song:
          Waiting for a lucky turn,
          I have wasted my best days:
          Take up thy magic-lantern
          And elsewhere display its rays.
         ‘Tis very nice to run,
          But to have is better fun!”



XXVI

It was on the opposite side of the landing that what Mme. Fortin
pompously called “Maxence’s apartment” was situated.

It consisted of a sort of antechamber, almost as large as a
handkerchief (decorated by the Fortins with the name of dining-room),
a bedroom, and a closet called a dressing-room in the lease.
Nothing could be more gloomy than this lodging, in which the ragged
paper and soiled paint retained the traces of all the wanderers who
had occupied it since the opening of the Hotel des Folies.  The
dislocated ceiling was scaling off in large pieces; the floor
seemed affected with the dry-rot; and the doors and windows were
so much warped and sprung, that it required an effort to close them.
The furniture was on a par with the rest.

“How everything does wear out!” sighed Mme. Fortin.  “It isn’t ten
years since I bought that furniture.”

In point of fact it was over fifteen, and even then she had bought
it secondhanded, and almost unfit for use.  The curtains retained
but a vague shade of their original color.  The veneer was almost
entirely off the bedstead.  Not a single lock was in order, whether
in the bureau or the secretary.  The rug had become a nameless rag;
and the broken springs of the sofa, cutting through the threadbare
stuff, stood up threateningly like knife-blades.

The most sumptuous object was an enormous China stove, which
occupied almost one-half of the hall-dining-room.  It could not be
used to make a fire; for it had no pipe.  Nevertheless, Mme. Fortin
refused obstinately to take it out, under the pretext that it gave
such a comfortable appearance to the apartment.  All this elegance
cost Maxence forty-five francs a month, and five francs for the
service; the whole payable in advance from the 1st to the 3d of
the month.  If, on the 4th, a tenant came in without money, Mme.
Fortin squarely refused him his key, and invited him to seek
shelter elsewhere.

“I have been caught too often,” she replied to those who tried to
obtain twenty-four hours’ grace from her.  “I wouldn’t trust my
own father till the 5th, he who was a superior officer in Napoleon’s
armies, and the very soul of honor.”

It was chance alone which had brought Maxence, after the Commune,
to the Hotel des Folies; and he had not been there a week, before
he had fully made up his mind not to wear out Mme. Fortin’s
furniture very long.  He had even already found another and more
suitable lodging, when, about a year ago, a certain meeting on
the stairs had modified all his views, and lent a charm to his
apartment which he did not suspect.

As he was going out one morning to his office, he met on the very
landing a rather tall and very dark girl, who had just come
running up stairs.  She passed before him like a flash, opened
the opposite door, and disappeared.  But, rapid as the apparition
had been, it had left in Maxence’s mind one of those impressions
which are never obliterated.  He could not think of any thing
else the whole day; and after business-hours, instead of going to
dine in Rue St. Gilles, as usual, he sent a despatch to his mother
to tell her not to wait for him, and bravely went home.

But it was in vain, that, during the whole evening, he kept watch
behind his door, left slyly ajar: he did not get a glimpse of the
neighbor.  Neither did she show herself on the next or the three
following days; and Maxence was beginning to despair, when at last,
on Sunday, as he was going down stairs, he met her again face to
face.  He had thought her quite pretty at the first glance: this
time he was dazzled to that extent, that he remained for over a
minute, standing like a statue against the wall.

And certainly it was not her dress that helped setting off her
beauty.  She wore a poor dress of black merino, a narrow collar,
and plain cuffs, and a bonnet of the utmost simplicity.  She had
nevertheless an air of incomparable dignity, a grace that charmed,
and yet inspired respect, and the carriage of a queen.  This was
on the 30th of July.  As he was handing in his key, before leaving,

“My apartment suits me well enough,” said Maxence to Mme. Fortin:
“I shall keep it.  And here are fifty francs for the month of August.”

And, while the landlady was making out a receipt,

“You never told me,” he began with his most indifferent look, “that
I had a neighbor.”

Mme. Fortin straightened herself up like an old warhorse that hears
the sound of the bugle.

“Yes, yes!” she said,--“Mademoiselle Lucienne.”

“Lucienne,” repeated Maxence: “that’s a pretty name.”

“Have you seen her?”

“I have just seen her.  She’s rather good looking.”

The worthy landlady jumped on her chair.  “Rather good looking!”
 she interrupted.  “You must be hard to please, my dear sir; for I,
who am a judge, I affirm that you might hunt Paris over for four
whole days without finding such a handsome girl.  Rather good
looking!  A girl who has hair that comes down to her knees, a
dazzling complexion, eyes as big as this, and teeth whiter than
that cat’s.  All right, my friend.  You’ll wear out more than one
pair of boots running after women before you catch one like her.”

That was exactly Maxence’s opinion; and yet with his coldest look,

“Has she been long your tenant, dear Mme. Fortin?” he asked.

“A little over a year.  She was here during the siege; and just
then, as she could not pay her rent, I was, of course, going to
send her off; but she went straight to the commissary of police,
who came here, and forbade me to turn out either her or anybody
else.  As if people were not masters in their own house!”

“That was perfectly absurd!” objected Maxence, who was determined
to gain the good graces of the landlady.

“Never heard of such a thing!” she went on.  “Compel you to lodge
people free!  Why not feed them too?  In short, she remained so
long, that, after the Commune, she owed me a hundred and eighty
francs.  Then she said, that, if I would let her stay, she would
pay me each month in advance, besides the rent, ten francs on the
old account.  I agreed, and she has already paid up twenty francs.”

“Poor girl!” said Maxence.

But Mme. Fortin shrugged her shoulders.

“Really,” she replied, “I don’t pity her much; for, if she only
wanted, in forty-eight hours I should be paid, and she would have
something else on her back besides that old black rag.  I tell her
every day, ‘In these days, my child, there is but one reliable
friend, which is better than all others, and which must be taken as
it comes, without making any faces if it is a little dirty: that’s
money.’  But all my preaching goes for nothing.  I might as well
sing.”

Maxence was listening with intense delight.

“In short, what does she do?” he asked.

“That’s more than I know,” replied Mme. Fortin.  “The young lady
has not much to say.  All I know is, that she leaves every morning
bright and early, and rarely gets home before eleven.  On Sunday
she stays home, reading; and sometimes, in the evening, she goes
out, always alone, to some theatre or ball.  Ah! she is an odd
one, I tell you!”

A lodger who came in interrupted the landlady; and Maxence walked
off dreaming how he could manage to make the acquaintance of his
pretty and eccentric neighbor.

Because he had once spent some hundreds of napoleons in the company
of young ladies with yellow chignons, Maxence fancied himself a man
of experience, and had but little faith in the virtue of a girl of
twenty, living alone in a hotel, and left sole mistress of her own
fancy.  He began to watch for every occasion of meeting her; and,
towards the last of the month, he had got so far as to bow to her,
and to inquire after her health.

But, the first time he ventured to make love to her, she looked at
him head to foot, and turned her back upon him with so much contempt,
that he remained, his mouth wide open, perfectly stupefied.

“I am losing my time like a fool,” he thought.

Great, then, was his surprise, when the following week, on a fine
afternoon, he saw Mlle. Lucienne leave her room, no longer clad in
her eternal black dress, but wearing a brilliant and extremely rich
toilet.  With a beating heart he followed her.

In front of the Hotel des Folies stood a handsome carriage and
horses.

As soon as Mlle. Lucienne appeared, a footman opened respectfully
the carriage-door.  She went in; and the horses started at a full
trot.

Maxence watched the carriage disappear in the distance, like a
child who sees the bird fly upon which he hoped to lay hands.

“Gone,” he muttered, “gone!”

But, when he turned around, he found himself face to face with the
Fortins, man and wife; who were laughing a sinister laugh.

“What did I tell you?” exclaimed Mme. Fortin.  “There she is,
started at last.  Get up, horse!  She’ll do well, the child.”

The magnificent equipage and elegant dress had already produced
quite an effect among the neighbors.  The customers sitting in front
of the cafe were laughing among themselves.  The confectioner and
his wife were casting indignant glances at the proprietors of the
Hotel des Folies.

“You see, M. Favoral,” replied Mme. Fortin, “such a girl as that
was not made for our neighborhood.  You must make up your mind to
it; you won’t see much more of her on the Boulevard du Temple.”

Without saying a word, Maxence ran to his room, the hot tears
streaming from his eyes.  He felt ashamed of himself; for, after
all, what was this girl to him?

“She is gone!” he repeated to himself.  “Well, good-by, let her go!”

But, despite all his efforts at philosophy, he felt an immense
sadness invading his heart: ill-defined regrets and spasms of anger
agitated him.  He was thinking what a fool he had been to believe
in the grand airs of the young lady, and that, if he had had dresses
and horses to give her, she might not have received him so harshly.
At last he made up his mind to think no more of her,--one of those
fine resolutions which are always taken, and never kept; and in the
evening he left his room to go and dine in the Rue St. Gilles.

But, as was often his custom, he stopped at the cafe next door, and
called for a drink.  He was mixing his absinthe when he saw the
carriage that had carried off Mlle. Lucienne in the morning returning
at a rapid gait, and stopping short in front of the hotel.  Mlle.
Lucienne got out slowly, crossed the sidewalk, and entered the
narrow corridor.  Almost immediately, the carriage turned around,
and drove off.

“What does it mean?” thought Maxence, who was actually forgetting
to swallow his absinthe.

He was losing himself in absurd conjectures, when, some fifteen
minutes later, he saw the girl coming out again.  Already she had
taken off her elegant clothes, and resumed her cheap black dress.
She had a basket on her arm, and was going towards the Rue Chariot.
Without further reflections, Maxence rose suddenly, and started to
follow her, being very careful that she should not see him.  After
walking for five or six minutes, she entered a shop, half-eating
house, and half wine-shop, in the window of which a large sign
could be read: “Ordinary at all hours for forty centimes.  Hard
boiled eggs, and salad of the season.”

Maxence, having crept up as close as he could, saw Mlle. Lucienne
take a tin box out of her basket, and have what is called an
“ordinaire” poured into it; that is, half a pint of soup, a piece
of beef as large as the fist, and a few vegetables.  She then had
a small bottle half-filled with wine, paid, and walked out with
that same look of grave dignity which she always wore.

“Funny dinner,” murmured Maxence, “for a woman who was spreading
herself just now in a ten-thousand-franc carriage.”

From that moment she became the sole and only object of his thoughts.
A passion, which he no longer attempted to resist, was penetrating
like a subtle poison to the innermost depths of his being.  He
thought himself happy, when, after watching for hours, he caught a
glimpse of this singular creature, who, after that extraordinary
expedition, seemed to have resumed her usual mode of life.  Mme.
Fortin was dumfounded.

“She has been too exacting,” she said to Maxence, “and the thing
has fallen through.”

He made no answer.  He felt a perfect horror for the honorable
landlady’s insinuations; and yet he never ceased to repeat to
himself that he must be a great simpleton to have faith for a
moment in that young lady’s virtue.  What would he not have given
to be able to question her?  But he dared not.  Often he would
gather up his courage, and wait for her on the stairs; but, as
soon as she fixed upon him her great black eye, all the phrases
he had prepared took flight from his brain, his tongue clove to
his mouth, and he could barely succeed in stammering out a timid,

“Good-morning, mademoiselle.”

He felt so angry with himself, that he was almost on the point of
leaving the Hotel des Folies, when one evening:

“Well,” said Mme. Fortin to him, “all is made up again, it seems.
The beautiful carriage called again to-day.”

Maxence could have beaten her.

“What good would it do you,” he replied, “if Lucienne were to turn
out badly?”

“It’s always a pleasure,” she grumbled, “to have one more woman to
torment the men.  Those are the girls, you see, who avenge us poor
honest women!”

The sequel seemed at first to justify her worst previsions.  Three
times during that week, Mlle. Lucienne rode out in grand style; but
as she always returned, and always resumed her eternal black woolen
dress,

“I can’t make head or tail of it,” thought Maxence.  “But never mind,
I’ll clear the matter up yet.”

He applied, and obtained leave of absence; and from the very next
day he took up a position behind the window of the adjoining cafe.
On the first day he lost his time; but on the second day, at about
three o’clock, the famous equipage made its appearance; and, a few
moments later, Mlle. Lucienne took a seat in it.  Her toilet was
richer, and more showy still, than the first time.  Maxence jumped
into a cab.

“You see that carriage,” he said to the coachman,  “Wherever it
goes, you must follow it.  I give ten francs extra pay.”

“All right!” replied the driver, whipping up his horses.

And much need he had, too, of whipping them; for the carriage that
carried off Mlle. Lucienne started at full trot down the Boulevards,
to the Madeleine, then along the Rue Royale, and through the Place
de la Concorde, to the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, where the horses
were brought down to a walk.  It was the end of September, and one
of those lovely autumnal days which are a last smile of the blue
sky and the last caress of the sun.

There were races in the Bois de Boulogne; and the equipages were
five and six abreast on the avenue.  The side-alleys were crowded
with idlers.  Maxence, from the inside of his cab, never lost sight
of Mlle. Lucienne.

She was evidently creating a sensation.  The men stopped to look
at her with gaping admiration: the women leaned out of their
carriages to see her better.

“Where can she be going?” Maxence wondered.

She was going to the Bois; and soon her carriage joined the
interminable line of equipages which were following the grand drive
at a walk.  It became easier now to follow on foot.  Maxence sent
off his cab to wait for him at a particular spot, and took the
pedestrians’ road, that follows the edge of the lakes.  He had
not gone fifty steps, however, before he heard some one call him.
He turned around, and, within two lengths of his cane, saw M. Saint
Pavin and M. Costeclar.  Maxence hardly knew M. Saint Pavin, whom
he had only seen two or three times in the Rue St. Gilles, and
execrated M. Costeclar.  Still he advanced towards them.

Mlle. Lucienne’s carriage was now caught in the file; and he was
sure of joining it whenever he thought proper.

“It is a miracle to see you here, my dear Maxence!”  exclaimed M.
Costeclar, loud enough to attract the attention of several persons.

To occupy the attention of others, anyhow and at any cost, was M.
Costeclar’s leading object in life.  That was evident from the
style of his dress, the shape of his hat, the bright stripes of his
shirt, his ridiculous shirt-collar, his cuffs, his boots, his gloves,
his cane, every thing, in fact.

“If you see us on foot,” he added, “it is because we wanted to walk
a little.  The doctor’s prescription, my dear.  My carriage is
yonder, behind those trees.  Do you recognize my dapple-grays?”
 And he extended his cane in that direction, as if he were addressing
himself, not to Maxence alone, but to all those who were passing by.

“Very well, very well! everybody knows you have a carriage,”
 interrupted M. Saint Pavin.

The editor of “The Financial Pilot” was the living contrast of his
companion.  More slovenly still than M. Costeclar was careful of
his dress, he exhibited cynically a loose cravat rolled over a shirt
worn two or three days, a coat white with lint and plush, muddy
boots, though it had not rained for a week, and large red hands,
surprisingly filthy.

He was but the more proud; and he wore, cocked up to one side, a
hat that had not known a brush since the day it had left the hatter’s.

“That fellow Costeclar,” he went on, “he won’t believe that there
are in France a number of people who live and die without ever
having owned a horse or a coupe; which is a fact, nevertheless.
Those fellows who were born with fifty or sixty thousand francs’
income in their baby-clothes are all alike.”

The unpleasant intention was evident; but M. Costeclar was not the
man to get angry for such a trifle.

“You are in bad humor to-day, old fellow,” he said.  The editor of
“The Financial Pilot” made a threatening gesture.

“Well, yes,” he answered, “I am in bad humor, like a man who for
ten years past has been beating the drum in front of your d--d
financial shops, and who does not pay expenses.  Yes, for ten years
I have shouted myself hoarse for your benefit: ‘Walk in, ladies and
gentlemen, and, for every twenty-cent-piece you deposit with us,
we will return you a five-franc-piece.  Walk in, follow the crowd,
step up to the office: this is the time.’  They go in.  You receive
mountains of twenty-cent-pieces: you never return anything, neither
a five-franc-piece, nor even a centime.  The trick is done, the
public is sold.  You drive your own carriage; you suspend diamonds
to your mistress’ ears; and I, the organizer of success, whose puffs
open the tightest closed pockets, and start up the old louis from
the bottom of the old woolen stocking,--I am driven to have my boots
half-soled.  You stint me my existence; you kick as soon as I ask
you to pay for the big drums bursted in your behalf.”

He spoke so loud, that three or four idlers had stopped.  Without
being very shrewd, Maxence understood readily that he had happened
in the midst of an acrimonious discussion.  Closely pressed, and
desirous of gaining time, M. Costeclar had called him in the hopes
of effecting a diversion.

Bowing, therefore, politely,

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” he said: “I fear I have interrupted you.”

But M. Costeclar detained him.

“Don’t go,” he declared; “you must come down and take a glass of
Madeira with us, down at the Cascade.”

And, turning to the editor of “The Pilot”:

“Come, now, shut up,” he said: “you shall have what you want.”

“Really?”

“Upon my word.”

“I’d rather have two or three lines in black and white.”

“I’ll give them to you to-night.”

“All right, then!  Forward the big guns!  Look out for next Sunday’s
number!”

Peace being made, the gentlemen continued their walk in the most
friendly manner, M. Costeclar pointing out to Maxence all the
celebrities who were passing by them in their carriages.

He had just designated to his attention Mme. and Mlle. de Thaller,
accompanied by two gigantic footmen, when, suddenly interrupting
himself, and rising on tiptoe,

“Sacre bleu!” he exclaimed: “what a handsome woman!”

Without too much affectation, Maxence fell back a step or two.  He
felt himself blushing to his very ears, and trembled lest his sudden
emotion were noticed, and he were questioned; for it was Mlle.
Lucienne who thus excited M. Costeclar’s noisy enthusiasm.  Once
already she had been around the lake; and she was continuing
her circular drive.

“Positively,” approved the editor of “The Financial Pilot,” “she is
somewhat better than the rest of those ladies we have just seen
going by.”

M. Costeclar was on the point of pulling out what little hair he
had left.

“And I don’t know her!” he went on.  “A lovely woman rides in the
Bois, and I don’t know who she is!  That is ridiculous and
prodigious!  Who can post us?”

A little ways off stood a group of gentlemen, who had also just left
their carriages, and were looking on this interminable procession of
equipages and this amazing display of toilets.

“They are friends of mine,” said M. Costeclar: “let us join them.”

They did so; and, after the usual greetings,

“Who is that?” inquired M. Costeclar,--“that dark person, whose
carriage follows Mme. de Thaller’s?”

An old young man, with scanty hair, dyed beard, and a most impudent
smile, answered him,

“That’s just what we are trying to find out.  None of us have ever
seen her.”

“I must and shall find out,” interrupted M. Costeclar.  “I have a
very intelligent servant.”

Already he was starting in the direction of the spot where his
carriage was waiting for him.  The old beau stopped him.

“Don’t bother yourself, my dear friend,” he said.  “I have also a
servant who is no fool; and he has had orders for over fifteen
minutes.”

The others burst out laughing.

“Distanced, Costeclar!” exclaimed M. Saint Pavin, who,
notwithstanding his slovenly dress and cynic manners, seemed
perfectly well received.

No one was now paying any attention to Maxence; and he slipped off
without the slightest care as to what M. Costeclar might think.
Reaching the spot where his cab awaited him,

“Which way, boss?” inquired the driver.  Maxence hesitated.  What
better had he to do than to go home?  And yet . . .

“We’ll wait for that same carriage,” he answered; “and we’ll follow
it on the return.”

But he learned nothing further.  Mlle. Lucienne drove straight to
the Boulevard du Temple, and, as before, immediately resumed her
eternal black dress; and Maxence saw her go to the little restaurant
for her modest dinner.

But he saw something else too.

Almost on the heels of the girl, a servant in livery entered the hotel
corridor, and only went off after remaining a full quarter of an hour
in busy conference with Mme. Fortin.

“It’s all over,” thought the poor fellow.  “Lucienne will not be
much longer my neighbor.”

He was mistaken.  A month went by without bringing about any change.
As in the past, she went out early, came home late, and on Sundays
remained alone all day in her room.  Once or twice a week, when the
weather was fine, the carriage came for her at about three o’clock,
and brought her home at nightfall.  Maxence had exhausted all
conjectures, when one evening, it was the 31st of October, as he
was coming in to go to bed, he heard a loud sound of voices in the
office of the hotel.  Led by an instinctive curiosity, he approached
on tiptoe, so as to see and hear every thing.  The Fortins and Mlle.
Lucienne were having a great discussion.

“That’s all nonsense,” shrieked the worthy landlady; “and I mean
to be paid.”

Mlle. Lucienne was quite calm.

“Well,” she replied: “don’t I pay you?  Here are forty francs,
--thirty in advance for my room, and ten on the old account.”

“I don’t want your ten francs!”

“What do you want, then?”

“Ah,--the hundred and fifty francs which you owe me still.”

The girl shrugged her shoulders.

“You forget our agreement,” she uttered.

“Our agreement?”

“Yes.  After the Commune, it was understood that I would give you
ten francs a month on the old account; as long as I give them to
you, you have nothing to ask.”

Crimson with rage, Mme. Fortin had risen from her seat.

“Formerly,” she interrupted, “I presumed I had to deal with a poor
working-girl, an honest girl.”

Mlle. Lucienne took no notice of the insult.

“I have not the amount you ask,” she said coldly.

“Well, then,” vociferated the other, “you must go and ask it of
those who pay for your carriages and your dresses.”

Still impassible, the girl, instead of answering, stretched her
hand towards her key; but M. Fortin stopped her arm.

“No, no!” he said with a giggle.  “People who don’t pay their
hotel-bill sleep out, my darling.”

Maxence, that very morning, had received his month’s pay, and he
felt, as it were, his two hundred francs trembling in his pockets.

Yielding to a sudden inspiration, he threw open the office-door,
and, throwing down one hundred and fifty francs upon the table,

“Here is your money, wretch!” he exclaimed.  And he withdrew at
once.



XXVII

Maxence had not spoken to Mlle. Lucienne for nearly a month.  He
tried to persuade himself that she despised him because he was poor.
He kept watching for her, for he could not help it; but as much as
possible he avoided her.

“I shall be miserable,” he thought, “the day when she does not come
home; and yet it would be the very best thing that could happen
for me.”

Nevertheless, he spent all his time trying to find some explanations
for the conduct of this strange girl, who, beneath her woolen dress,
had the haughty manners of a great lady.  Then he delighted to
imagine between her and himself some of those subjects of confidence,
some of those facilities which chance never fails to supply to
attentive passion, or some event which would enable him to emerge
from his obscurity, and to acquire some rights by virtue of some
great service rendered.

But never had he dared to hope for an occasion as propitious as the
one he had just seized.  And yet, after he had returned to his room,
he hardly dared to congratulate himself upon the promptitude of his
decision.  He knew too well Mlle. Lucienne’s excessive pride and
sensitive nature.

“I should not be surprised if she were angry with me for what I’ve
done,” he thought.

The evening being quite chilly, he had lighted a few sticks; and,
sitting by the fireside, he was waiting, his mind filled with vague
hopes.  It seemed to him that his neighbor could not absolve herself
from coming to thank him; and he was listening intently to all the
noises of the house, starting at the sound of footsteps on the
stairs, and at the slamming of doors.  Ten times, at least, he went
out on tiptoe to lean out of the window on the landing, to make sure
that there was no light in Mlle. Lucienne’s room.  At eleven o’clock
she had not yet come home; and he was deliberating whether he would
not start out in quest of information, when there was a knock at the
door.

“Come in!” he cried, in a voice choked with emotion.  Mlle. Lucienne
came in.  She was somewhat paler than usual, but calm and perfectly
self-possessed.  Having bowed without the slightest shade of
embarrassment, she laid upon the mantel-piece the thirty
five-franc-notes which Maxence had thrown down to the Fortins; and,
in her most natural tone,

“Here are your hundred and fifty francs, sir,” she uttered.  “I am
more grateful than I can express for your prompt kindness in lending
them to me; but I did not need them.”

Maxence had risen from his seat, and was making every effort to
control his own feelings.

“Still,” he began, “after what I heard--”

“Yes,” she interrupted, “Mme. Fortin and her husband were trying to
frighten me.  But they were losing their time.  When, after the
Commune, I settled with them the manner in which I would discharge
my debt towards them, having a just estimate of their worth, I
made them write out and sign our agreement.  Being in the right, I
could resist them, and was resisting them when you threw them those
hundred and fifty francs.  Having laid hands upon them, they had the
pretension to keep them.  That’s what I could not suffer.  Not being
able to recover them by main force, I went at once to the commissary
of police.  He was luckily at his office.  He is an honest man, who
already, once before, helped me out of a scrape.  He listened to me
kindly, and was moved by my explanations.  Notwithstanding the
lateness of the hour, he put on his overcoat, and came with me to
see our landlord.  After compelling them to return me your money, he
signified to them to observe strictly our agreement, under penalty
of incurring his utmost severity.”

Maxence was wonderstruck.

“How could you dare?” he said.

“Wasn’t I in the right?”

“Oh, a thousand times yes!  Still--”

“What?  Should my right be less respected because I am but a woman?
And, because I have no one to protect me, am I outside the law, and
condemned in advance to suffer the iniquitous fancies of every
scoundrel?  No, thank Heaven!  Henceforth I shall feel easy.  People
like the Fortins, who live off I know not what shameful traffic, have
too much to fear from the police to dare to molest me further.”

The resentment of the insult could be read in her great black eyes;
and a bitter disgust contracted her lips.

“Besides,” she added, “the commissary had no need of my explanations
to understand what abject inspirations the Fortins were following.
The wretches had in their pocket the wages of their infamy.  In
refusing me my key, in throwing me out in the street at ten o’clock
at night, they hoped to drive me to seek the assistance of the base
coward who paid their odious treason.  And we know the price which
men demand for the slightest service they render to a woman.”

Maxence turned pale.  The idea flashed upon his mind that it was to
him, perhaps, that these last words were addressed.

“Ah, I swear it!” he exclaimed, “it is without after-thought that
I tried to help you.  You do not owe me any thanks even.”

“I do not thank you any the less, though,” she said gently, “and
from the bottom of my heart.”

“It was so little!”

“Intention alone makes the value of a service, neighbor.  And,
besides, do not say that a hundred and fifty francs are nothing to
you: perhaps you do not earn much more each month.”

“I confess it,” he said, blushing a little.

“You see, then?  No, it was not to you that my words were addressed,
but to the man who has paid the Fortins.  He was waiting on the
Boulevard, the result of the manoeuvre, which, they thought, was
about to place me at his mercy.  He ran quickly to me when I went
out, and followed me all the way to the office of the commissary
of police, as he follows me everywhere for the past month, with his
sickening gallantries and his degrading propositions.”

The eye flashing with anger,

“Ah, if I had known!” exclaimed Maxence.  “If you had told me but
a word!”

She smiled at his vehemence.

“What would you have done?” she said.  “You cannot impart
intelligence to a fool, heart to a coward, or delicacy of feeling
to a boor.”

“I could have chastised the miserable insulter.”

She had a superb gesture of indifference.

“Bash!” she interrupted.  “What are insults to me?  I am so
accustomed to them, that they no longer have any effect upon me.
I am eighteen: I have neither family, relatives, friends, nor any
one in the world who even knows my existence; and I live by my
labor.  Can’t you see what must be the humiliations of each day?
Since I was eight years old, I have been earning the bread I eat,
the dress I wear, and the rent of the den where I sleep.  Can you
understand what I have endured, to what ignominies I have been
exposed, what traps have been set for me, and how it has happened
to me sometimes to owe my safety to mere physical force?  And yet
I do not complain, since through it all I have been able to retain
the respect of myself, and to remain virtuous in spite of all.”

She was laughing a laugh that had something wild in it.

And, as Maxence was looking at her with immense surprise,

“That seems strange to you, doesn’t it?” she resumed.  “A girl of
eighteen, without a sou, free as air, very pretty, and yet virtuous
in the midst of Paris.  Probably you don’t believe it, or, if you
do, you just think, ‘What on earth does she make by it?’

“And really you are right; for, after all, who cares, and who thinks
any the more of me, if I work sixteen hours a day to remain virtuous?
But it’s a fancy of my own; and don’t imagine for a moment that I am
deterred by any scruples, or by timidity, or ignorance.  No, no!
I believe in nothing.  I fear nothing; and I know as much as the
oldest libertines, the most vicious, and the most depraved.  And I
don’t say that I have not been tempted sometimes, when, coming home
from work, I’d see some of them coming out of the restaurants,
splendidly dressed, on their lover’s arm, and getting into carriages
to go to the theatre.  There were moments when I was cold and hungry,
and when, not knowing where to sleep, I wandered all night through
the streets like a lost dog.  There were hours when I felt sick of
all this misery, and when I said to myself, that, since it was my
fate to end in the hospital, I might as well make the trip gayly.
But what!  I should have had to traffic my person, to sell myself!”

She shuddered, and in a hoarse voice,

“I would rather die,” she said.

It was difficult to reconcile words such as these with certain
circumstances of Mlle. Lucienne’s existence,--her rides around the
lake, for instance, in that carriage that came for her two or three
times a week; her ever renewed costumes, each time more eccentric
and more showy.  But Maxence was not thinking of that.  What she
told him he accepted as absolutely true and indisputable.  And he
felt penetrated with an almost religious admiration for this young
and beautiful girl, possessed of so much vivid energy, who alone,
through the hazards, the perils, and the temptations of Paris, had
succeeded in protecting and defending herself.

“And yet,” he said, “without suspecting it, you had a friend near
you.”

She shuddered; and a pale smile flitted upon her lips.  She knew
well enough what friendship means between a youth of twenty-five
and a girl of eighteen.

“A friend!” she murmured.

Maxence guessed her thought; and, in all the sincerity of his soul,

“Yes, a friend,” he repeated, “a comrade, a brother.”  And thinking
to touch her, and gain her confidence,

“I could understand you,” he added; “for I, too, have been very
unhappy.”

But he was singularly mistaken.  She looked at him with an astonished
air, and slowly,

“You unhappy!” she uttered,--“you who have a family, relations, a
mother who adores you, a sister.”  Less excited, Maxence might have
wondered how she had found this out, and would have concluded that
she must feel some interest in him, since she had doubtless taken
the trouble of getting information.

“Besides, you are a man,” she went on; “and I do not understand how
a man can complain.  Have you not the freedom, the strength, and the
right to undertake and to dare any thing?  Isn’t the world open to
your activity and to your ambition?  Woman submits to her fate: man
makes his.”

This was hurting the dearest pretensions of Maxence, who seriously
thought that he had exhausted the rigors of adversity.

“There are circumstances,” he began.

But she shrugged her shoulders gently, and, interrupting him,

“Do not insist,” she said, “or else I might think that you lack
energy.  What are you talking of circumstances?  There are none
so adverse but that can be overcome.  What would you like, then?
To be born with a hundred thousand francs a year, and have nothing
to do but to live according to your whim of each day, idle, satiated,
a burden upon yourself, useless, or offensive to others?  Ah!  If I
were a man, I would dream of another fate.  I should like to start
from the Foundling Asylum, without a name, and by my will, my
intelligence, my daring, and my labor, make something and somebody
of myself.  I would start from nothing, and become every thing!”

With flashing eyes and quivering nostrils, she drew herself up
proudly.  But almost at once, dropping her head,

“The misfortune is,” she added, “that I am but a woman; and you who
complain, if you only knew--”

She sat down, and with her elbow on the little table, her head
resting upon her hand, she remained lost in her meditations, her
eyes fixed, as if following through space all the phases of the
eighteen years of her life.

There is no energy but unbends at some given moment, no will but
has its hour of weakness; and, strong and energetic as was Mlle.
Lucienne, she had been deeply touched by Maxence’s act.  Had she,
then, found at last upon her path the companion of whom she had
often dreamed in the despairing hours of solitude and wretchedness?
After a few moments, she raised her head, and, looking into
Maxence’s eyes with a gaze that made him quiver like the shock of
an electric battery,

“Doubtless,” she said, in a tone of indifference somewhat forced,
“you think you have in me a strange neighbor.  Well, as between
neighbors; it is well to know each other.  Before you judge me,
listen.”

The recommendation was useless.  Maxence was listening with all
the powers of his attention.

“I was brought up,” she began, “in a village of the neighborhood of
Paris,--in Louveciennes.  My mother had put me out to nurse with
some honest gardeners, poor, and burdened with a large family.
After two months, hearing nothing of my mother, they wrote to
her: she made no answer.  They then went to Paris, and called at
the address she had given them.  She had just moved out; and no one
knew what had become of her.  They could no longer, therefore,
expect a single sou for the cares they would bestow upon me.  They
kept me, nevertheless, thinking that one child the more would not
make much difference.  I know nothing of my parents, therefore,
except what I heard through these kind gardeners; and, as I was
still quite young when I had the misfortune to lose them, I have
but a very vague remembrance of what they told me.  I remember very
well, however, that according to their statements, my mother was a
young working-woman of rare beauty, and that, very likely, she was
not my father’s wife.  If I was ever told the name of my mother or
my father, if I ever knew it, I have quite forgotten it.  I had
myself no name.  My adopted parents called me the Parisian.  I was
happy, nevertheless, with these kind people, and treated exactly
like their own children.  In winter, they sent me to school; in
summer, I helped weeding the garden.  I drove a sheep or two along
the road, or else I went to gather violets and strawberries
through the woods.

“This was the happiest, indeed, the only happy time of my life,
towards which my thoughts may turn when I feel despair and
discouragement getting the better of me.  Alas!  I was but eight,
when, within the same week, the gardener and his wife were both
carried off by the same disease,--inflammation of the lungs.

“On a freezing December morning, in that house upon which the hand
of death had just fallen, we found ourselves, six children, the
oldest of whom was not eleven, crying with grief, fright, cold,
and hunger.

“Neither the gardener nor his wife had any relatives; and they
left nothing but a few wretched pieces of furniture, the sale of
which barely sufficed to pay the expenses of their funeral.  The
two younger children were taken to an asylum: the others were taken
charge of by the neighbors.

“It was a laundress of Marly who took me.  I was quite tall and
strong for my age.  She made an apprentice of me.  She was not
unkind by nature; but she was violent and brutal in the extreme.
She compelled me to do an excessive amount of work, and often of a
kind above my strength.

“Fifty times a day, I had to go from the river to the house,
carrying on my shoulders enormous bundles of wet napkins or sheets,
wring them, spread them out, and then run to Rueil to get the soiled
clothes from the customers.  I did not complain (I was already too
proud to complain); but, if I was ordered to do something that seemed
to me too unjust, I refused obstinately to obey, and then I was
unmercifully beaten.  In spite of all, I might, perhaps, have become
attached to the woman, had she not had the disgusting habit of
drinking.  Every week regularly, on the day when she took the clothes
to Paris (it was on Wednesdays), she came home drunk.  And then,
according as, with the fumes of the wine, anger or gayety rose to
her brain, there were atrocious scenes or obscene jests.

“When she was in that condition, she inspired me with horror.  And
one Wednesday, as I showed my feelings too plainly, she struck me
so hard, that she broke my arm.  I had been with her for twenty
months.  The injury she had done me sobered her at once.  She
became frightened, overpowered me with caresses, begging me to say
nothing to any one.  I promised, and kept faithfully my word.

“But a physician had to be called in.  There had been witnesses who
spoke.  The story spread along the river, as far as Bougival and
Rueil.  And one morning an officer of gendarmes called at the house;
and I don’t exactly know what would have happened, if I had not
obstinately maintained that I had broken my arm in falling down
stairs.”

What surprised Maxence most was Mlle. Lucienne’s simple and natural
tone.  No emphasis, scarcely an appearance of emotion.  One might
have thought it was somebody’s else life that she was narrating.
Meantime she was going on,

“Thanks to my obstinate denials the woman was not disturbed.  But
the truth was known; and her reputation, which was not good before,
became altogether bad.  I became an object of interest.  The very
same people who had seen me twenty times staggering painfully under
a load of wet clothes, which was terrible, began to pity me
prodigiously because I had had an arm broken, which was nothing.

“At last a number of our customers arranged to take me out of a
house, in which, they said, I must end by perishing under bad
treatment.

“And, after many fruitless efforts, they discovered, at last, at
La Jonchere, an old Jewess lady, very rich, and a widow without
children, who consented to take charge of me.

“I hesitated at first to accept these offers; but noticing that the
laundress, since she had hurt me, had conceived a still greater
aversion for me, I made up my mind to leave her.

“It was on the day when I was introduced to my new mistress that I
first discovered I had no name.  After examining me at length,
turning me around and around, making me walk, and sit down, ‘Now,’
she inquired, ‘what is your name?’

“I stared at her in surprise; for indeed I was then like a savage,
not having the slightest notions of the things of life.

“‘My name is the Parisian,’ I replied.

“She burst out laughing, as also another old lady, a friend of hers,
who assisted at my presentation; and I remember that my little pride
was quite offended at their hilarity.  I thought they were laughing
at me.

“‘That’s not a name,’ they said at last.  ‘That’s a nickname.’

“‘I have no other.’

“They seemed dumfounded, repeating over and over that such a thing
was unheard of; and on the spot they began to look for a name for me.

“‘Where were you born?’ inquired my new mistress.

“‘At Louveciennes.’

“‘Very well,’ said the other: ‘let us call her Louvecienne.’

“A long discussion followed, which irritated me so much that I felt
like running away; and it was agreed at last, that I should be
called, not Louvecienne, but Lucienne; and Lucienne I have remained.

“There was nothing said about baptism, since my new mistress was a
Jewess.

“She was an excellent woman, although the grief she had felt at the
loss of her husband had somewhat deranged her faculties.

“As soon as it was decided that I was to remain, she desired to
inspect my trousseau.  I had none to show her, possessing nothing
in the world but the rags on my back.  As long as I had remained
with the laundress, I had finished wearing out her old dresses; and
I had never worn any other under-clothing save that which I borrowed,
‘by authority,’ from the clients,--an economical system adopted by
many laundresses.

“Dismayed at my state of destitution, my new mistress sent for a
seamstress, and at once ordered wherewith to dress and change me.

“Since the death of the poor gardeners, this was the first time that
any one paid any attention to me, except to exact some service of me.
I was moved to tears; and, in the excess of my gratitude, I would
gladly have died for that kind old lady.

“This feeling gave me the courage and the constancy required to bear
with her whimsical nature.  She had singular manias, disconcerting
fancies, ridiculous and often exorbitant exactions.  I lent myself
to it all as best I could.

“As she already had two servants, a cook and a chambermaid, I had
myself no special duties in the house.  I accompanied her when she
went out riding.  I helped to wait on her at table, and to dress her.
I picked up her handkerchief when she dropped it; and, above all, I
looked for her snuff-box, which she was continually mislaying.

“She was pleased with my docility, took much interest in me, and,
that I might read to her, she made me learn to read, for I hardly
knew my letters.  And the old man whom she gave me for a teacher,
finding me intelligent, taught me all he knew, I imagine, of French,
of geography, and of history.

“The chambermaid, on the other hand, had been commissioned to teach
me to sew, to embroider, and to execute all sorts of fancy-work;
and she took the more interest in her lessons, that little by little
she shifted upon me the most tedious part of her work.

“I would have been happy in that pretty house at La Jonchere, if I
had only had some society better suited to my age than the old women
with whom I was compelled to live, and who scolded me for a loud
word or a somewhat abrupt gesture.  What would I not have given to
have been allowed to play with the young girls whom I saw on Sundays
passing in crowds along the road!

“As time went on, my old mistress became more and more attached to
me, and endeavored in every way to give me proofs of her affection.
I sat at table with her, instead of waiting on her, as at first.
She had given me clothes, so that she could take me and introduce
me anywhere.

“She went about repeating everywhere that she was as fond of me as
of a daughter; that she intended to set me up in life; and that
certainly she would leave a part of her fortune to me.

“Alas!  She said it too loud, for my misfortune,--so loud, that
the news reached at last the ears of some nephews of hers in Paris,
who came once in a while to La Jonchere.

“They had never paid much attention to me up to this time.  Those
speeches opened their eyes: they noticed what progress I had made
in the heart of their relative; and their cupidity became alarmed.

“Trembling lest they should lose an inheritance which they
considered as theirs, they united against me, determined to put a
stop to their aunt’s generous intentions by having me sent off.

“But it was in vain, that, for nearly a year, their hatred exhausted
itself in skillful manoeuvres.

“The instinct of preservation stimulating my perspicacity I had
penetrated their intentions, and I was struggling with all my might.
Every day, to make myself more indispensable, I invented some novel
attention.

“They only came once a week to La Jonchere: I was there all the time.
I had the advantage.  I struggled successfully, and was probably
approaching the end of my troubles, when my poor old mistress was
taken sick.  After forty-eight hours, she was very low.  She was
fully conscious, but for that very reason she could appreciate the
danger; and the fear of death made her crazy.

“Her nieces had come to sit by her bedside; and I was expressly
forbidden to enter the room.  They had understood that this was an
excellent opportunity to get rid of me forever.

“Evidently gained in advance, the physicians declared to my poor
benefactress that the air of La Jonchere was fatal to her, and
that her only chance of recovery was to establish herself in Paris.
One of her nephews offered to have her taken to his house in a
litter.  She would soon get well, they said; and she could then go
to finish her convalescence in some southern city.

“Her first word was for me.  She did not wish to be separated from
me, she protested, and insisted absolutely upon taking me with her.
Her nephews represented gravely to her that this was an
impossibility; that she must not think of burdening herself with
me; that the simplest thing was to leave me at La Jonchere; and
that, moreover, they would see that I should get a good situation.

“The sick woman struggled for a long time, and with an energy of
which I would not have thought her capable.

“But the others were pressing.  The physicians kept repeating that
they could not answer for any thing, if she did not follow their
advice.  She was afraid of death.  She yielded, weeping.

“The very next morning, a sort of litter, carried by eight men,
stopped in front of the door.  My poor mistress was laid into it;
and they carried her off, without even permitting me to kiss her
for the last time.

“Two hours later, the cook and the chambermaid were dismissed.  As
to myself, the nephew who had promised to look after me put a
twenty-franc-piece in my hand saying, ‘Here are your eight days in
advance.  Pack up your things immediately, and clear out!’”

It was impossible that Mlle. Lucienne should not be deeply moved
whilst thus stirring the ashes of her past.  She showed no evidence
of it, however, except, now and then, a slight alteration in her
voice.

As to Maxence, he would vainly have tried to conceal the passionate
interest with which he was listening to these unexpected confidences.

“Have you, then, never seen your benefactress again?” he asked.

“Never,” replied Mlle. Lucienne.  “All my efforts to reach her have
proved fruitless.  She does not live in Paris now.  I have written
to her: my letters have remained without answer.  Did she ever get
them?  I think not.  Something tells me that she has not forgotten
me.”

She remained silent for a few moments, as if collecting herself
before resuming the thread of her narrative.  And then,

“It was thus brutally,” she resumed, “that I was sent off.  It
would have been useless to beg, I knew; and, moreover, I have never
known how to beg.  I piled up hurriedly in two trunks and in some
bandboxes all I had in the world,--all I had received from the
generosity of my poor mistress; and, before the stated hour, I was
ready.  The cook and the chambermaid had already gone.  The man who
was treating me so cruelly was waiting for me.  He helped me carry
out my boxes and trunks, after which he locked the door, put the
key in his pocket; and, as the American omnibus was passing, he
beckoned to it to stop.  And then, before entering it,

“‘Good luck, my pretty girl!’ he said with a laugh.

“This was in the month of January, 1866.  I was just thirteen.  I
have had since more terrible trials, and I have found myself in much
more desperate situations: but I do not remember ever feeling such
intense discouragement as I did that day, when I found myself alone
upon that road, not knowing which way to go.  I sat down on one of
my trunks.  The weather was cold and gloomy: there were few persons
on the road.  They looked at me, doubtless wondering what I was doing
there.  I wept.  I had a vague feeling that the well-meant kindness
of my poor benefactress, in bestowing upon me the blessings of
education, would in reality prove a serious impediment in the
life-struggle which I was about to begin again.  I thought of what
I suffered with the laundress; and, at the idea of the tortures
which the future still held in store for me, I desired death.  The
Seine was near: why not put an end at once to the miserable
existence which I foresaw?

“Such were my reflections, when a woman from Rueil, a
vegetable-vender, whom I knew by sight, happened to pass, pushing
her hand-cart before her over the muddy pavement.  She stopped when
she saw me; and, in the softest voice she could command,

“‘What are you doing there, my darling?’ she asked.

“In a few words I explained to her my situation.  She seemed more
surprised than moved.

“‘Such is life,’ she remarked,--‘sometimes up, sometimes down.’

“And, stepping up nearer,

“‘What do you expect to do now?’ she interrogated in a tone of voice
so different from that in which she had spoken at first, that I felt
more keenly the horror of my altered situation.

“‘I have no idea,’ I replied.

“After thinking for a moment,

“‘You can’t stay there,’ she resumed: ‘the gendarmes would arrest
you.  Come with me.  We will talk things over at the house; and
I’ll give you my advice.’

“I was so completely crushed, that I had neither strength nor will.
Besides, what was the use of thinking?  Had I any choice of
resolutions?  Finally, the woman’s offer seemed to me a last favor
of destiny.

“‘I shall do as you say, madame,’ I replied.

“She proceeded at once to load up my little baggage on her cart.
We started; and soon we arrived ‘home.’

“What she called thus was a sort of cellar, at least twelve inches
lower than the street, receiving its only light through the glass
door, in which several broken panes had been replaced by sheets of
paper.  It was revoltingly filthy, and filled with a sickening odor.
On all sides were heaps of vegetables,--cabbages, potatoes, onions.
In one corner a nameless heap of decaying rags, which she called
her bed; in the centre, a small cast-iron stove, the worn-out pipe
of which allowed the smoke to escape in the room.

“‘Anyway,’ she said to me, ‘you have a home now!’

“I helped her to unload the cart.  She filled the stove with coal,
and at once declared that she wanted to inspect my things.

“My trunks were opened; and it was with exclamations of surprise
that the woman handled my dresses, my skirts, my stockings.

“‘The mischief!’ she exclaimed, ‘you dressed well, didn’t you?’

“Her eyes sparkled so, that a strong feeling of mistrust arose in
my mind.  She seemed to consider all my property as an unexpected
godsend to herself.  Her hands trembled as she handled some piece
of jewelry; and she took me to the light that she might better
estimate the value of my ear-rings.

“And so, when she asked me if I had any money, determined to hide
at least my twenty-franc-piece, which was my sole fortune, I replied
boldly, ‘No.’

“‘That’s a pity,’ she grumbled.

“But she wished to know my history, and I was compelled to tell it
to her.  One thing only surprised her,--my age; and in fact, though
only thirteen, I looked fully sixteen.

“When I had done,

“‘Never mind!’ she said.  ‘It was lucky for you that you met me.
You are at least certain now of eating every day; for I am going
to take charge of you.  I am getting old: you’ll help me to drag
my cart.  If you are as smart as you are pretty, we’ll make money.’

“Nothing could suit me less.  But how could I resist?  She threw a
few rags upon the floor; and on them I had to sleep.  The next day,
wearing my meanest dress, and a pair of wooden shoes which she had
bought for me, and which bruised my feet horribly, I had to harness
myself to the cart by means of a leather strap, which cut my
shoulders and my chest.  She was an abominable creature, that woman;
and I soon found out that her repulsive features indicated but too
well her ignoble instincts.  After leading a life of vice and shame,
she had, with the approach of old age, fallen into the most abject
poverty, and had adopted the trade of vegetable-vender, which she
carried on just enough to escape absolute starvation.  Enraged at
her fate, she found a detestable pleasure in ill-treating me, or
in endeavoring to stain my imagination by the foulest speeches.

“Ah, if I had only known where to fly, and where to take refuge!
But, abusing my ignorance, that execrable woman had persuaded me,
that, if I attempted to go out alone, I would be arrested.  And I
knew no one to whom I could apply for protection and advice.  And
then I began to learn that beauty, to a poor girl, is a fatal gift.
One by one, the woman had sold every thing I had,--dresses,
underclothes, jewels; and I was now reduced to rags almost as mean
as when I was with the laundress.

“Every morning, rain or shine, hot or cold, we started, wheeling
our cart from village to village, all along the Seine, from
Courbevoie to Pont-Marly.  I could see no end to this wretched
existence, when one evening the commissary of police presented
himself at our hovel, and ordered us to follow him.

“We were taken to prison; and there I found myself thrown among
some hundred women, whose faces, words, and gestures frightened
me.  The vegetable-woman had committed a theft; and I was accused
of complicity.  Fortunately I was easily able to demonstrate my
innocence; and, at the end of two weeks, a jailer opened the door
to me, saying, ‘Go: you are free!’”

Maxence understood now the gently ironical smile with which Mlle.
Lucienne had heard him assert that he, too, had been very unhappy.
What a life hers had been!  And how could such things be within a
step of Paris, in the midst of a society which deems its organization
too perfect to consent to modify it!

Mlle. Lucienne went on, speaking somewhat faster,

“I was indeed free; but of what use could my freedom be to me?  I
knew not which way to go.  A mechanical instinct took me back to
Rueil.  I fancied I would be safer among people who all knew me,
and that I might find shelter in our old lodgings.  But this
last hope was disappointed.  Immediately after our arrest, the
owner of the building had thrown out every thing it contained, and
had rented it to a hideous beggar, who offered me, with a giggle,
to become his housekeeper.  I ran off as fast as I could.

“The situation was certainly more horrible now than the day when
I had been turned out of my benefactress’ house.  But the eight
months I had just spent with the horrible woman had taught me anew
how to bear misery, and had nerved up my energy.

“I took out from a fold of my dress, where I had kept it constantly
hid, the twenty-franc-piece I had received; and, as I was hungry,
I entered a sort of eating and lodging house, where I had
occasionally taken a meal.  The proprietor was a kind-hearted man.
When I had told him my situation, he invited me to remain with
him until I could find something better.  On Sundays and Mondays
the customers were plenty; and he was obliged to take an extra
servant.  He offered me that work to do, promising, in exchange,
my lodging and one meal a day.  I accepted.  The next day being
Sunday, I commenced the arduous duties of a bar-maid in a low
drinking house.  My _pourboires_ amounted sometimes to five or ten
francs; I had my board and lodging free; and at the end of three
months I had been able to provide myself with some decent clothing,
and was commencing to accumulate a little reserve, when the
lodging-house keeper, whose business had unexpectedly developed
itself to a considerable extent, concluded to engage a man-waiter,
and urged me to look elsewhere for work.  I did so.  An old neighbor
of ours told me of a situation at Bougival, where she said I would
be very comfortable.  Overcoming my repugnance, I applied, and was
accepted.  I was to get thirty francs a month.

“The place might have been a good one.  There were only three in
the family,--the gentleman and his wife, and a son of twenty-five.
Every morning, father and son left for Paris by the first train,
and only came home to dinner at about six o’clock.  I was therefore
alone all day with the woman.  Unfortunately, she was a cross and
disagreeable person, who, never having had a servant before, felt
an insatiable desire of showing and exercising her authority.  She
was, moreover, extremely suspicious, and found some pretext to visit
regularly my trunks once or twice a week, to see if I had not
concealed some of her napkins or silver spoons.  Having told her
that I had once been a laundress, she made me wash and iron all the
clothes in the house, and was forever accusing me of using too much
soap and too much coal.  Still I liked the place well enough; and I
had a little room in the attic; which I thought charming, and where
I spent delightful evenings reading or sewing.

“But luck was against me.  The young gentleman of the house took a
fancy to me, and determined to make me his mistress.  I discouraged
him in a way; but he persisted in his loathsome attention, until one
night he broke into my room, and I was compelled to shout for help
with all my might, before I could get rid of him.

“The next day I left that house; but I tried in vain to find another
situation in Bougival.  I resolved then to seek a place in Paris.
I had a big trunk full of good clothes, and about a hundred francs
of savings; and I felt no anxiety.

“When I arrived in Paris, I went straight to an intelligence-office.
I was extremely well received by a very affable old woman who
promised to get me a good place, and, in the mean time, solicited
me to board with her.  She kept a sort of boarding-house for servants
out of place; and there were there some fifty or sixty of us, who
slept at night in long dormitories.

“Time went by, and still I did not find that famous place.  The
board was expensive, too, for my scanty means; and I determined to
leave.  I started in quest of new lodgings, followed by a porter,
carrying my trunk; but as I was crossing the Boulevard, not getting
quick enough out of the way of a handsome private carriage which
was coming at full trot, I was knocked down, and trampled under the
horses’s feet.”

Without allowing Maxence to interrupt her,

“I had lost consciousness,” went on Mlle. Lucienne.  “When I came
to my senses, I was sitting in a drugstore; and three or four
persons were busy around me.  I had no fracture, but only some
severe contusions, and a deep cut on the head.

“The physician who had attended me requested me to try and walk; but
I could not even stand on my feet.  Then he asked me where I lived,
that I might be taken there; and I was compelled to own that I was a
poor servant out of place, without a home or a friend to care for me.

“‘In that case,’ said the doctor to the druggist, ‘we must send her
to the hospital.’

“And they sent for a cab.

“In the mean time, quite a crowd had gathered outside, and the
conduct of the person who was in the carriage that had run over me
was being indignantly criticised.  It was a woman; and I had caught
a glimpse of her at the very moment I was falling under the horses’
feet.  She had not even condescended to get out of her carriage;
but, calling a policeman, she had given him her name and address,
adding, loud enough to be heard by the crowd, ‘I am in too great a
hurry to stop.  My coachman is an awkward fellow, whom I shall
dismiss as soon as I get home.  I am ready to pay any thing that
may be asked.’

“She had also sent one of her cards for me.  A policeman handed it
to me; and I read the name, Baronne de Thaller.

“‘That’s lucky for you,’ said the doctor.  ‘That lady is the wife of
a very rich banker; and she will be able to help you when you get
well.’

“The cab had now come.  I was carried into it; and, an hour later,
I was admitted at the hospital, and laid on a clean, comfortable bed.

“But my trunk!--my trunk, which contained all my things, all I had
in the world, and, worse still, all the money I had left.  I asked
for it, my heart filled with anxiety.  No one had either seen or
heard of it.  Had the porter missed me in the crowd?  or had he
basely availed himself of the accident to rob me?  This was hard to
decide.

“The good sisters promised that they would have it looked after,
and that the police would certainly be able to find that man whom
I had engaged near the intelligence-office.  But all these
assurances failed to console me.  This blow was the finishing one.
I was taken with fever; and for more than two weeks my life was
despaired of.  I was saved at last: but my convalescence was long
and tedious; and for over two months I lingered with alternations
of better and of worse.

“Yet such had been my misery for the past two years, that this
gloomy stay in a hospital was for me like an oasis in the desert.
The good sisters were very kind to me; and, when I was able, I
helped them with their lighter work, or went to the chapel with
them.  I shuddered at the thought that I must leave them as soon
as I was entirely well; and then what would become of me?  For my
trunk had not been found, and I was destitute of all.

“And yet I had, at the hospital, more than one subject for gloomy
reflections.  Twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays, visitors were
admitted; and there was not on those days a single patient who did
not receive a relative or a friend.  But I, no one, nothing, never!

“But I am mistaken.  I was commencing to get well, when one Sunday
I saw by my bedside an old man, dressed all in black, of alarming
appearance, wearing blue spectacles, and holding under his arm an
enormous portfolio, crammed full of papers.

“‘You are Mlle. Lucienne, I believe,’ he asked.

“‘Yes,’ I replied, quite surprised.

“‘You are the person who was knocked down by a carriage on the corner
of the Boulevard and the Faubourg St. Martin?’

“‘Yes sir.’

“‘Do you know whose equipage that was?’

“‘The Baronne de Thaller’s, I was told.’

“He seemed a little surprised, but at once,

“‘Have you seen that lady, or caused her to be seen in your behalf?’

“‘No.’

“‘Have you heard from her in any manner?’

“‘No.’

“A smile came back upon his lips.

“‘Luckily for you I am here,’ he said.  ‘Several times already I have
called; but you were too unwell to hear me.  Now that you are better,
listen.’

“And thereupon, taking a chair, he commenced to explain his
profession to me.

“He was a sort of broker; and accidents were his specialty.  As
soon as one took place, he was notified by some friends of his at
police headquarters.  At once he started in quest of the victim,
overtook her at home or at the hospital, and offered his services.
For a moderate commission he undertook, if needs be, to recover
damages.  He commenced suit when necessary; and, if he thought the
case tolerably safe, he made advances.  He stated, for instance,
that my case was a plain one, and that he would undertake to obtain
four or five thousand francs, at least, from Mme. de Thaller.  All
he wanted was my power of attorney.  But, in spite of his pressing
instances, I declined his offers; and he withdrew, very much
displeased, assuring me that I would soon repent.

“Upon second thought, indeed, I regretted to have followed the first
inspiration of my pride, and the more so, that the good sisters whom
I consulted on the subject told me that I was wrong, and that my
reclamation would be perfectly proper.  At their suggestion, I then
adopted another line of conduct, which, they thought, would as surely
bring about the same result.

“As briefly as possible, I wrote out the history of my life from
the day I had been left with the gardeners at Louveciennes.  I added
to it a faithful account of my present situation; and I addressed
the whole to Mme. de Thaller.

“‘You’ll see if she don’t come before a day or two,’ said the sisters.

“They were mistaken.  Mme. de Thaller came neither the next nor the
following days; and I was still awaiting her answer, when, one
morning, the doctor announced that I was well enough to leave the
hospital.

“I cannot say that I was very sorry.  I had lately made the
acquaintance of a young workwoman, who had been sent to the hospital
in consequence of a fall, and who occupied the bed next to mine.
She was a girl of about twenty, very gentle, very obliging, and whose
amiable countenance had attracted me from the first.

“Like myself, she had no parents.  But she was rich, very rich.  She
owned the furniture of the room, a sewing-machine, which had cost
her three hundred francs, and, like a true child of Paris, she
understood five or six trades, the least lucrative of which yielded
her twenty-five or thirty cents a day.  In less than a week, we had
become good friends; and, when she left the hospital,

“‘Believe me,’ she said: ‘when you come out yourself, don’t waste
your time looking for a place.  Come to me: I can accommodate you.
I’ll teach you what I know; and, if you are industrious, you’ll make
your living, and you’ll be free.’

“It was to her room that I went straight from the hospital, carrying,
tied in a handkerchief, my entire baggage,--one dress, and a few
undergarments that the good sisters had given me.

“She received me like a sister, and after showing me her lodging,
two little attic-rooms shining with cleanliness,

“‘You’ll see,’ she said, kissing me, ‘how happy we’ll be here.’”

It was getting late.  M. Fortin had long ago come up and put out
the gas on the stairs.  One by one, every noise had died away in
the hotel.  Nothing now disturbed the silence of the night save
the distant sound of some belated cab on the Boulevard.  But neither
Maxence nor Mlle. Lucienne were noticing the flight of time, so
interested were they, one in telling, and the other in listening to,
this story of a wonderful existence.  However, Mlle. Lucienne’s
voice had become hoarse with fatigue.  She poured herself a glass
of water, which she emptied at a draught, and then at once,

“Never yet,” she resumed, “had I been agitated by such a sweet
sensation.  My eyes were full of tears; but they were tears of
gratitude and joy.  After so many years of isolation, to meet with
such a friend, so generous, and so devoted: it was like finding a
family.  For a few weeks, I thought that fate had relented at last.
My friend was an excellent workwoman; but with some intelligence,
and the will to learn, I soon knew as much as she did.

“There was plenty of work.  By working twelve hours, with the help
of the thrice-blessed sewing-machine, we succeeded in making six,
seven, and even eight francs a day.  It was a fortune.

“Thus several months elapsed in comparative comfort.

“Once more I was afloat, and I had more clothes than I had lost in
my trunk.  I liked the life I was leading; and I would be leading
it still, if my friend had not one day fallen desperately in love
with a young man she had met at a ball.  I disliked him very much,
and took no trouble to conceal my feelings: nevertheless, my friend
imagined that I had designs upon him, and became fiercely jealous
of me.  Jealousy does not reason; and I soon understood that we
would no longer be able to live in common, and that I must look
elsewhere for shelter.  But my friend gave me no time to do so.

“Coming home one Monday night at about eleven, she notified me to
clear out at once.  I attempted to expostulate: she replied with
abuse.  Rather than enter upon a degrading struggle, I yielded,
and went out.

“That night I spent on a chair in a neighbor’s room.  But the next
day, when I went for my things, my former friend refused to give
them, and presumed to keep every thing.  I was compelled, though
reluctantly, to resort to the intervention of the commissary of
police.

“I gained my point.  But the good days had gone.  Luck did not follow
me to the wretched furnished house where I hired a room.  I had no
sewing-machine, and but few acquaintances.  By working fifteen or
sixteen hours a day, I made thirty or forty cents.  That was not
enough to live on.  Then work failed me altogether, and, piece by
piece, every thing I had went to the pawnbroker’s.  On a gloomy
December morning, I was turned out of my room, and left on the
pavement with a ten-cent-piece for my fortune.

“Never had I been so low; and I know not to what extremities I might
have come at last, when I happened to think of that wealthy lady
whose horses had upset me on the Boulevard.  I had kept her card.
Without hesitation, I went unto a grocery, and calling for some
paper and a pen, I wrote, overcoming the last struggle of my pride,

“‘Do you remember, madame, a poor girl whom your carriage came near
crushing to death?  Once before she applied to you, and received no
answer.  She is to-day without shelter and without bread; and you
are her supreme hope.’

“I placed these few lines in an envelope, and ran to the address
indicated on the card.  It was a magnificent residence, with a vast
court-yard in front.  In the porter’s lodge, five or six servants
were talking as I came in, and looked at me impudently, from head
to foot, when I requested them to take my letter to Mme. de Thaller.
One of them, however, took pity on me,

“‘Come with me,’ he said, ‘come along!’

“He made me cross the yard, and enter the vestibule; and then,

“‘Give me your letter,’ he said, ‘and wait here for me.’”

Maxence was about to express the thoughts which Mme. de Thaller’s
name naturally suggested to his mind, but Mlle. Lucienne interrupted
him,

“In all my life,” she went on, “I had never seen any thing so
magnificent as that vestibule with its tall columns, its tessellated
floor, its large bronze vases filled with the rarest flowers, and
its red velvet benches, upon which tall footmen in brilliant livery
were lounging.

“I was, I confess, somewhat intimidated by all of this splendor; and
I remained awkwardly standing, when suddenly the servants stood up
respectfully.

“A door had just opened, through which appeared a man already past
middle age, tall, thin, dressed in the extreme of fashion, and
wearing long red whiskers falling over his chest.”

“The Baron de Thaller,” murmured Maxence.

Mlle. Lucienne took no notice of the interruption.

“The attitude of the servants,” she went on, “had made me easily
guess that he was the master.  I was bowing to him, blushing and
embarrassed, when, noticing me, he stopped short, shuddering from
head to foot.

“‘Who are you?’ he asked me roughly.

“I attributed his manner to the sad condition of my dress, which
appeared more miserable and more dilapidated still amid the
surrounding splendors; and, in a scarcely intelligible voice, I began,

“‘I am a poor girl, sir--’

“But he interrupted me.

“‘To the point!  What do you want?’

“‘I am awaiting an answer, sir, to a request which I have just
forwarded to the baroness.’

“‘What about?’

“‘Once sir, I was run over in the street by the baroness’s carriage:
I was severely wounded, and had to be taken to the hospital.’

“I fancied there was something like terror in the man’s look.

“‘It is you, then, who once before sent a long letter to my wife, in
which you told the story of your life?’

“‘Yes, sir, it was I.’

“‘You stated in that letter that you had no parents, having been
left by your mother with some gardeners at Louveciennes?’

“‘That is the truth.’

“‘What has become of these gardeners?’

“‘They are dead.’

“‘What was your mother’s name?’

“‘I never knew.’

“To M. de Thaller’s first surprise had succeeded a feeling of
evident irritation; but, the more haughty and brutal his manners,
the cooler and the more self-possessed I became.

“‘And you are soliciting assistance?’ he said.

“I drew myself up, and, looking at him straight in the eyes,

“‘I beg your pardon,’ I replied: ‘it is a legitimate indemnity which
I claim.’

“Indeed, it seemed to me that my firmness alarmed him.  With a
feverish haste, he began to feel in his pockets.  He took out their
contents of gold and bank-notes all in a heap, and, thrusting it
into my hands without counting,

“‘Here,’ he said, ‘take this.  Are you satisfied?’

“I observed to him, that, having sent a letter to Mme. de Thaller,
it would perhaps be proper to await her answer.  But he replied that
it was not necessary, and, pushing me towards the door,

“‘You may depend upon it,’ he said, ‘I shall tell my wife that I
saw you.’

“I started to go out; but I had not gone ten steps across the yard,
when I heard him crying excitedly to his servants,

“‘You see that beggar, don’t you?  Well, the first one who allows
her to cross the threshold of my door shall be turned out on the
instant.’

“A beggar, I!  Ah the wretch!  I turned round to cast his alms into
his face; but already he had disappeared, and I only found before me
the footman, chuckling stupidly.

“I went out; and, as my anger gradually passed off, I felt thankful
that I had been unable to follow the dictates of my wounded pride.

“‘Poor girl,’ I thought to myself, ‘where would you be at this hour?
You would only have to select between suicide and the vilest
existence; whereas now you are above want.’

“I was passing before a small restaurant.  I went in; for I was
very hungry, having, so to speak, eaten nothing for several days
past.  Besides, I felt anxious to count my treasure.  The Baron de
Thaller had given me nine hundred and thirty francs.

“This sum, which exceeded the utmost limits of my ambition, seemed
inexhaustible to me: I was dazzled by its possession.

“‘And yet,’ I thought, ‘had M. de Thaller happened to have ten
thousand francs in his pockets he would have given them to me all
the same.’

“I was at a loss to explain this strange generosity.  Why his
surprise when he first saw me, then his anger, and his haste to get
rid of me?  How was it that a man whose mind must be filled with
the gravest cares had so distinctly remembered me, and the letter
I had written to his wife?  Why, after showing himself so generous,
had he so strictly excluded me from his house?

“After vainly trying for some time to solve this riddle, I concluded
that I must be the victim of my own imagination; and I turned my
attention to making the best possible use of my sudden fortune.  On
the same day, I took a little room in the Faubourg St. Denis; and
I bought myself a sewing-machine.  Before the week was over, I had
work before me for several months.  Ah! this time it seemed indeed
that I had nothing more to apprehend from destiny; and I looked
forward, without fear, to the future.  At the end of a month, I was
earning four to five francs a day, when, one afternoon, a stout man,
very well dressed, looking honest and good-natured, and speaking
French with some difficulty, made his appearance at my room.  He
was an American he stated, and had been sent to me by the woman for
whom I worked.  Having need of a skilled Parisian work-woman, he
came to propose to me to follow him to New York, where he would
insure me a brilliant position.

“But I knew several poor girls, who, on the faith of dazzling
promises, had expatriated themselves.  Once abroad, they had been
shamefully abandoned, and had been driven, to escape starvation,
to resort to the vilest expedients.  I refused, therefore, and
frankly gave him my reasons for doing so.

“My visitor at once protested indignantly.  Whom did I take him
for?  It was a fortune that I was refusing.  He guaranteed me in
New York board, lodging, and two hundred francs a month.  He would
pay all traveling and moving expenses.  And, to prove to me the
fairness of his intentions, he was ready, he said, to sign an
agreement, and pay me a thousand down.

“These offers were so brilliant, that I was staggered in my
resolution.

“‘Well,’ I said, ‘give me twenty-four hours to decide.  I wish to
see my employer.’

“He seemed very much annoyed; but, as I remained firm in my purpose,
he left, promising to return the next day to receive my final answer.

“I ran at once to my employer.  She did not know what I was talking
about.  She had sent no one, and was not acquainted with any American.

“Of course, I never saw him again; and I couldn’t help thinking of
this singular adventure, when, one evening during the following
week, as I was coming home at about eleven o’clock, two policemen
arrested me, and, in spite of my earnest protestations, took me
to the station-house, where I was locked up with a dozen unfortunates
who had just been taken up on the Boulevards.  I spent the night
crying with shame and anger; and I don’t know what would have become
of me, if the justice of the peace, who examined me the next morning,
had not happened to be a just and kind man.  As soon as I had
explained to him that I was the victim of a most humiliating error
he sent an agent in quest of information, and having satisfied
himself that I was an honest girl, working for my living, he
discharged me.  But, before permitting me to go,

“‘Beware, my child,’ he said to me: ‘it is upon a formal and
well-authenticated declaration that you were arrested.  Therefore
you must have enemies.  People have an interest in getting rid of
you.’”

Mademoiselle Lucienne was evidently almost exhausted with fatigue:
her voice was failing her.  But it was in vain that Maxence begged
her to take a few moments of rest.

“No,” she answered, “I’d rather get through as quick as possible.”

And, making an effort, she resumed her narrative, hurrying more
and more.

“I returned home, my mind all disturbed by the judge’s warnings.
I am no coward; but it is a terrible thing to feel one’s self
incessantly threatened by an unknown and mysterious danger, against
which nothing can be done.

“In vain did I search my past life: I could think of no one who
could have any interest in effecting my ruin.  Those alone have
enemies who have had friends.  I had never had but one friend, the
kind-hearted girl who had turned me out of her home in a fit of
absurd jealousy.  But I knew her well enough to knew that she was
incapable of malice, and that she must long since have forgotten
the unlucky cause of our rupture.

“Weeks after weeks passed without any new incident.  I had plenty
of work and was earning enough money to begin saving.  So I felt
comfortable, laughed at my former fears, and neglected the
precautions which I had taken at first; when, one evening, my
employer, having a very important and pressing order, sent for me.
We did not get through our work until long after midnight.

“She wished me to spend the rest of the night with her; but it would
have been necessary to make up a bed for me, and disturb the whole
household.

“‘Bash!’ I said, ‘this will not be the first time I cross Paris in
the middle of the night.’

“I started; and I was going along, walking as fast as I could, when,
from the angle of a dark, narrow street, a man sprang upon me,
threw me down, struck me, and would doubtless have killed me, but
for two brave gentlemen who heard my screams and rushed to my
assistance.  The man ran off; and I was able to walk the rest of
the way home, having received but a very slight wound.

“But the very next morning I ran to see my friend, the justice of
the peace.  He listened to me gravely, and, when I had concluded,

“‘How were you dressed?’ he inquired.

“‘All in black,’ I replied, ‘very modestly, like a workwoman.’

“‘Had you nothing on your person that could tempt a thief?’

“‘Nothing.  No watch-chain, no jewelry, no ear-rings even.’

“‘Then,’ he uttered, knitting his brows, ‘it is not a fortuitous
crime: it is another attempt on the part of your enemies.’

“Such was also my opinion.  And yet:

“‘But, sir,’ I exclaimed, ‘who can have any interest to destroy me,
--a poor obscure girl as I am?  I have thought carefully and well,
and I have not a single enemy that I can think of.’  And, as I had
full confidence in his kindness, I went on telling him the story
of my life.

“‘You are a natural child,’ he said as soon as I had done, ‘and you
have been basely abandoned.  That fact alone would be sufficient to
justify every supposition.  You do not know your parents; but it is
quite possible that they may know you, and that they may never have
lost sight of you.  Your mother was a working-girl, you think?  That
may be.  But your father?  Do you know what interests your existence
may threaten?  Do you know what elaborate edifice of falsehood and
infamy your sudden appearance might tumble to the ground?’

“I was listening dumfounded.

“Never had such conjectures crossed my mind; and, whilst I doubted
their probability, I had, at least, to admit their possibility.

“‘What must I do, then?’ I inquired.

“The peace-officer shook his head.

“‘Indeed, my poor child, I hardly know what to advise.  The police
is not omnipotent.  It can do nothing to anticipate a crime conceived
in the brain of an unknown scoundrel.’

“I was terrified.  He saw it, and took pity on me.

“‘In your place,’ he added, ‘I would change my domicile.  You might,
perhaps, thus make them lose your track.  And, above all, do not
fail to give me your new address.  Whatever I can do to protect you,
and insure your safety, I shall do.’

“That excellent man has kept his word; and once again I owed my
safety to him.  ‘Tis he who is now commissary of police in this
district, and who protected me against Mme. Fortin.  I hastened to
follow his advice, and two days later I had hired the room in this
house in which I am still living.  In order to avoid every chance
of discovery, I left my employer, and requested her to say, if any
one came to inquire after me, that I had gone to America.

“I soon found work again in a very fashionable dress-making
establishment, the name of which you must have heard,--Van Klopen’s.
Unfortunately, war had just been declared.  Every day announced a new
defeat.  The Prussians were coming; then the siege began.  Van Klopen
had closed his shop, and left Paris.  I had a few savings, thank
heaven; and I husbanded them as carefully as shipwrecked mariners do
their last ration of food, when I unexpectedly found some work.

“It was one Sunday, and I had gone out to see some battalions of
National Guards passing along the Boulevard, when suddenly I saw
one of the vivandieres, who was marching behind the band, stop, and
run towards me with open arms.  It was my old friend from the
Batignolles, who had recognized me.  She threw her arms around my
neck, and, as we had at once become the centre of a group of at
least five hundred idlers,

“‘I must speak to you,’ she said.  ‘If you live in the neighborhood,
let’s go to your room.  The service can wait.’

“I brought her here, and at once she commenced to excuse herself
for her past conduct, begging me to restore her my friendship.  As
I expected, she had long since forgotten the young man, cause of
our rupture.  But she was now in love, and seriously this time, she
declared, with a furniture-maker, who was a captain in the National
Guards.  It was through him that she had become a vivandiere; and
she offered me a similar position, if I wished it.  But I did not
wish it; and, as I was complaining that I could find no work, she
swore that she would get me some through her captain, who was a very
influential man.

“Through him, I did in fact obtain a few dozen jackets to make.
This work was very poorly paid; but the little I earned was that
much less to take from my humble resources.  In that way I managed
to get through the siege without suffering too much.

“After the armistice, unfortunately, M. Van Klopen had not yet
returned.  I was unable to procure any work; my resources were
exhausted; and I would have starved during the Commune, but for
my old friend, who several times brought me a little money, and
some provisions.  Her captain was now a colonel, and was about to
become a member of the government; at least, so she assured me.
The entrance of the troops into Paris put an end to her dream.
One night she came to me livid with fright.  She supposed herself
gravely compromised, and begged me to hide her.  For four days
she remained with me.  On the fifth, just as we were sitting down
to dinner, my room was invaded by a number of police-agents, who
showed us an order of arrest, and commanded us to follow them.

“My friend sank down upon a chair, stupid with fright.  But I
retained my presence of mind, and persuaded one of the agents to
go and notify my friend the justice.  He happened luckily to be at
home, and at once hastened to my assistance.  He could do nothing,
however, for the moment; the agents having positive orders to take
us straight to Versailles.

“‘Well,’ said he, ‘I shall accompany you.’

“From the very first steps he took the next morning, he discovered
that my position was indeed grave.  But he also and very clearly
recognized a new device of the enemy to bring about my destruction.
The information filed against me stated that I had remained in the
service of the Commune to the last moment; that I had been seen
behind the barricades with a gun in my hand; and that I had formed
one of a band of vile incendiaries.  This infamous scheme had
evidently been suggested by my relations with my friend from the
Batignolles, who was still more terribly compromised than she
thought, the poor girl; her colonel having been captured, and
convicted of pillage and murder, and herself charged with complicity.

“Isolated as I was, without resources, and without relatives, I
would certainly have perished, but for the devoted efforts of my
friend the justice, whose official position gave him access
everywhere, and enabled him to reach my judges.  He succeeded in
demonstrating my entire innocence; and after forty-eight hours’
detention, which seemed an age to me, I was set at liberty.

“At the door; I found the man who had just saved me.  He was waiting
for me, but would not suffer me to express the gratitude with which
my heart overflowed.

“‘You will thank me,’ he said, ‘when I have deserved it better.  I
have done nothing as yet that any honest man wouldn’t have done in
my place.  What I wish is to discover what interests you are
threatening without knowing it, and which must be considerable, if
I may judge by the passion and the tenacity of those who are
pursuing you.  What I desire to do is to lay hands upon the cowardly
rascals in whose way you seem to stand.’

“I shook my head.

“‘You will not succeed,’ I said to him.

“‘Who knows?  I’ve done harder things than that in my life.’

“And taking a large envelope from his pocket,

“‘This,’ he said, ‘is the letter which caused your arrest.  I have
examined it attentively; and I am certain that the handwriting is
not disguised.  That’s something to start with, and may enable me
to verify my suspicions, should any occur to my mind.  In the mean
time, return quietly to Paris, resume your ordinary occupations,
answer vaguely any questions that may be asked about this matter,
and above all, never mention my name.  Remain at the Hotel des
Folies: it is in my district, in my legitimate sphere of action;
besides, the proprietors are in a position where they dare not
disobey my orders.  Never come to my office, unless something grave
and unforeseen should occur.  Our chances of success would be
seriously compromised, if they could suspect the interest I take
in your welfare.  Keep your eyes open on every thing that is going
on around you, and, if you notice any thing suspicious, write to me.
I will myself organize a secret surveillance around you.  If I can
bag one of the rascals who are watching you, that’s all I want.’

“‘And now,’ added this good man, ‘good-by.  Patience and courage.’

“Unfortunately he had not thought of offering me a little money: I
had not dared to ask him for any, and I had but eight sous left.
It was on foot, therefore, that I was compelled to return to Paris.

“Mme. Fortin received me with open arms.  With me returned the hope
of recovering the hundred and odd francs which I owed her, and
which she had given up for lost.  Moreover, she had excellent news
for me.  M. Van Klopen had sent for me during my absence, requesting
me to call at his shop.  Tired as I was, I went to see him at once.
I found him very much downcast by the poor prospects of business.
Still he was determined to go on, and offered to employ me, not as
work-woman, as heretofore, but to try on garments for customers, at
a salary of one hundred and twenty francs a month.  I was not in a
position to be very particular.  I accepted; and there I am still.

“Every morning, when I get to the shop, I take off this simple
costume, and I put on a sort of livery that belongs to M. Van Klopen,
--wide skirts, and a black silk dress.

“Then whenever a customer comes who wants a cloak, a mantle, or
some other ‘wrapping,’ I step up and put on the garment, that the
purchaser may see how it looks.  I have to walk, to turn around,
sit down, etc.  It is absurdly ridiculous, often humiliating; and
many a time, during the first days, I felt tempted to give back
to M. Van Klopen his black silk dress.

“But the conjectures of my friend the peace-officer were constantly
agitating my brain.  Since I thought I had discovered a mystery in
my existence, I indulged in all sorts of fancies, and was momentarily
expecting some extraordinary occurrence, some compensation of destiny,
and I remained.

“But I was not yet at the end of my troubles.”

Since she had been speaking of M. Van Klopen, Mlle. Lucienne seemed
to have lost her tone of haughty assurance and imperturbable
coolness; and it was with a look of mingled confusion and sadness
that she went on.

“What I was doing at Van Klopen’s was exceedingly painful to me;
and yet he very soon asked me to do something more painful still.
Gradually Paris was filling up again.  The hotels had re-opened;
foreigners were pouring in; and the Bois Boulogne was resuming
its wonted animation.  Still but few orders came in, and those for
dresses of the utmost simplicity, of dark color and plain material,
on which it was hard to make twenty-five per cent profit.  Van
Klopen was disconsolate.  He kept speaking to me of the good old
days, when some of his customers spent as much as thirty thousand
francs a month for dresses and trifles, until one day,

“‘You are the only one,’ he told me, ‘who can help me out just
now.  You are really good looking; and I am sure that in full dress,
spread over the cushions of a handsome carriage, you would create
quite a sensation, and that all the rest of the women would be
jealous of you, and would wish to look like you.  There needs but
one, you know, to give the good example.’”

Maxence started up suddenly, and, striking his head with hand,

“Ah, I understand now!” he exclaimed.

“I thought that Van Klopen was jesting,” went on the young girl.
“But he had never been more in earnest; and, to prove it, he
commenced explaining to me what he wanted.  He proposed to get up
for me some of those costumes which are sure to attract attention;
and two or three times a week he would send me a fine carriage, and
I would go and show myself in the Bois.

“I felt disgusted at the proposition.

“‘Never!’ I said.

“‘Why not?’

“‘Because I respect myself too much to make a living advertisement
of myself.’

“He shrugged his shoulders.

“‘You are wrong,’ he said.  ‘You are not rich, and I would give you
twenty francs for each ride.  At the rate of eight rides a month, it
would be one hundred and sixty francs added to your wages.  Besides,’
he added with a wink, ‘it would be an excellent opportunity to make
your fortune.  Pretty as you are, who knows but what some millionaire
might take a fancy to you!’

“I felt indignant.

“‘For that reason alone, if for no other,’ I exclaimed, ‘I refuse.’

“‘You are a little fool,’ he replied.  ‘If you do not accept, you
cease being in my employment.  Reflect!’

“My mind was already made up, and I was thinking of looking out for
some other occupation, when I received a note from my friend the
peace-officer, requesting me to call at his office.

“I did so, and, after kindly inviting me to a seat,

“‘Well,’ he said, ‘what is there new?’

“‘Nothing.  I have noticed no one watching me.’

“He looked annoyed.

“‘My agents have not detected any thing, either,’ he grumbled.
‘And yet it is evident that your enemies cannot have given it up
so.  They are sharp ones: if they keep quiet, it is because they
are preparing some good trick.  What it is I must and shall find
out.  Already I have an idea which would be an excellent one, if I
could discover some way of throwing you among what is called good
society.’

“I explained to him, that, being employed at Van Klopen’s, I had an
opportunity to see there many ladies of the best society.

“‘That is not enough,’ he said.

“Then M. Van Klopen’s propositions came back to my mind, and I
stated them to him.

“‘Just the thing!’ he exclaimed, starting upon his chair: ‘a manifest
proof that luck is with us.  You must accept.’

“I felt bound to tell him my objections, which reflection had much
increased.

“‘I know but too well,’ I said, ‘what must happen if I accept this
odious duty.  Before I have been four times to the Bois, I shall be
noticed, and every one will imagine that they know for what purpose
I come there.  I shall be assailed with vile offers.  True, I have no
fears for myself.  I shall always be better guarded by my pride than
by the most watchful of parents.  But my reputation will be lost.’

“I failed to convince him.

“‘I know very well that you are an honest girl,’ he said to me; ‘but,
for that very reason, what do you care what all these people will
think, whom you do not know?  Your future is at stake.  I repeat it,
you must accept.’

“‘If you command me to do so,’ I said.

“‘Yes, I command you; and I’ll explain to you why.’”

For the first time, Mlle. Lucienne manifested some reticence, and
omitted to repeat the explanations of the peace-officer.  And,
after a few moments’ pause,

“You know the rest, neighbor,” she said, “since you have seen me
yourself in that inept and ridiculous role of living advertisement,
of fashionable lay-figure; and the result has been just as I
expected.  Can you find any one who believes in my honesty of
purpose?  You have heard Mme. Fortin to-night?  Yourself, neighbor
--what did you take me for?  And yet you should have noticed
something of my suffering and my humiliation the day that you were
watching me so closely in the Bois de Boulogne.”

“What!” exclaimed Maxence with a start, “you know?”

“Have I not just told you that I always fear being watched and
followed, and that I am always on the lookout?  Yes, I know that
you tried to discover the secret of my rides.”

Maxence tried to excuse himself.

“That will do for the present,” she uttered.  “You wish to be my
friend, you say?  Now that you know my whole life almost as well
as I do myself, reflect, and to-morrow you will tell me the result
of your thoughts.”

Whereupon she went out.



XXVIII

For about a minute Maxence remained stupefied at this sudden
denouement; and, when he had recovered his presence of mind and his
voice, Mlle. Lucienne had disappeared, and he could hear her bolting
her door, and striking a match against the wall.

He might also have thought that he was awaking from a dream, had he
not had, to attest the reality, the vague perfume which filled his
room, and the light shawl, which Mlle. Lucienne wore as she came in,
and which she had forgotten, on a chair.

The night was almost ended: six o’clock had just struck.  Still he
did not feel in the least sleepy.  His head was heavy, his temples
throbbing, his eyes smarting.  Opening his window, he leaned out to
breathe the morning air.  The day was dawning pale and cold.  A
furtive and livid light glanced along the damp walls of the narrow
court of the Hotel des Folies, as at the bottom of a well.  Already
arose those confused noises which announce the waking of Paris, and
above which can be heard the sonorous rolling of the milkmen’s carts,
the loud slamming of doors, and the sharp sound of hurrying steps on
the hard pavement.

But soon Maxence felt a chill coming over him.  He closed the window,
threw some wood in the chimney, and stretched himself on his chair,
his feet towards the fire.  It was a most serious event which had
just occurred in his existence; and, as much as he could, he
endeavored to measure its bearings, and to calculate its consequences
in the future.

He kept thinking of the story of that strange girl, her haughty
frankness when unrolling certain phases of her life, of her
wonderful impassibility, and of the implacable contempt for humanity
which her every word betrayed.  Where had she learned that dignity,
so simple and so noble, that measured speech, that admirable respect
of herself, which had enabled her to pass through so much filth
without receiving a stain?

“What a woman!” he thought.

Before knowing her, he loved her.  Now he was convulsed by one of
those exclusive passions which master the whole being.  Already he
felt himself so much under the charm, subjugated, dominated,
fascinated; he understood so well that he was going to cease being
his own master; that his free will was about escaping from him;
that he would be in Mlle. Lucienne’s hands like wax under the
modeler’s fingers; he saw himself so thoroughly at the discretion
of an energy superior to his own, that he was almost frightened.

“It’s my whole future that I am going to risk,” he thought.

And there was no middle path.  Either he must fly at once, without
waiting for Mlle. Lucienne to awake, fly without looking behind, or
else stay, and then accept all the chances of an incurable passion
for a woman who, perhaps, might never care for him.  And he remained
wavering, like the traveler who finds himself at the intersection
of two roads, and, knowing that one leads to the goal, and the other
to an abyss, hesitates which to take.

With this difference, however, that if the traveler errs, and
discovers his error, he is always free to retrace his steps; whereas
man, in life, can never return to his starting-point.  Every step he
takes is final; and if he has erred, if he has taken the fatal road,
there is no remedy.

“Well, no matter!” exclaimed Maxence.  “It shall not be said that
through cowardice I have allowed that happiness to escape which
passes within my reach.  I shall stay.”  And at once he began to
examine what reasonably he might expect; for there was no mistaking
Mlle. Lucienne’s intentions.  When she had said, “Do you wish to be
friends?” she had meant exactly that, and nothing else,--friends,
and only friends.

“And yet,” thought Maxence, “if I had not inspired her with a real
interest, would she have so wholly confided unto me?  She is not
ignorant of the fact that I love her; and she knows life too well
to suppose that I will cease to love her when she has allowed me a
certain amount of intimacy.”

His heart filled with hope at the idea.

“My mistress,” he thought, “never, evidently, but my wife.  Why not?”

But the very next moment he became a prey to the bitterest
discouragement.  He thought that perhaps Mlle. Lucienne might have
some capital interest in thus making a confidant of him.  She had
not told him the explanation given her by the peace-officer.  Had
she not, perhaps, succeeded in lifting a corner of the veil which
covered the secret of her birth?  Was she on the track of her
enemies?  and had she discovered the motive of their animosity?

“Is it possible,” thought Maxence, “that I should be but one of the
powers in the game she is playing?  How do I know, that, if she wins,
she will not cast me off?”

In the midst of these thoughts, he had gradually fallen asleep,
murmuring to the last the name of Lucienne.

The creaking of his opening door woke him up suddenly.  He started
to his feet, and met Mlle. Lucienne coming in.

“How is this?” said she.  “You did not go to bed?”

“You recommended me to reflect,” he replied.  “I’ve been reflecting.”

He looked at his watch: it was twelve o’clock.

“Which, however,” he added, “did not keep me from going to sleep.”

All the doubts that besieged him at the moment when he had been
overcome by sleep now came back to his mind with painful vividness.

“And not only have I been sleeping,” he went on, “but I have been
dreaming too.”

Mlle. Lucienne fixed upon him her great black eyes.

“Can you tell me your dream?” she asked.

He hesitated.  Had he had but one minute to reflect, perhaps he
would not have spoken; but he was taken unawares.

“I dreamed,” he replied, “that we were friends in the noblest and
purest acceptance of that word.  Intelligence, heart, will, all that
I am, and all that I can,--I laid every thing at your feet.  You
accepted the most entire devotion, the most respectful and the most
tender that man is capable of.  Yes, we were friends indeed; and
upon a glimpse of love, never expressed, I planned a whole future
of love.”  He stopped.

“Well?” she asked.

“Well, when my hopes seemed on the point of being realized, it
happened that the mystery of your birth was suddenly revealed to
you.  You found a noble, powerful, and wealthy family.  You resumed
the illustrious name of which you had been robbed; your enemies were
crushed; and your rights were restored to you.  It was no longer
Van Klopen’s hired carriage that stopped in front of the Hotel des
Folies, but a carriage bearing a gorgeous coat of arms.  That
carriage was yours; and it came to take you to your own residence
in the Faubourg St. Germain, or to your ancestral manor.”

“And yourself?” inquired the girl.

Maxence repressed one of those nervous spasms which frequently break
out in tears, and, with a gloomy look,

“I,” he answered, “standing on the edge of the pavement, I waited
for a word or a look from you.  You had forgotten my very existence.
Your coachman whipped his horses; they started at a gallop; and soon
I lost sight of you.  And then a voice, the inexorable voice of fate,
cried to me, ‘Never more shalt thou see her!’”

With a superb gesture Mlle. Lucienne drew herself up.

“It is not with your heart, I trust, that you judge
me, M. Maxence Favoral,” she uttered.

He trembled lest he had offended her.

“I beseech you,” he began.

But she went on in a voice vibrating with emotion,

“I am not of those who basely deny their past.  Your dream will
never be realized.  Those things are only seen on the stage.  If
it did realize itself, however, if the carriage with the
coat-of-arms did come to the door, the companion of the evil days,
the friend who offered me his month’s salary to pay my debt, would
have a seat by my side.”

That was more happiness than Maxence would have dared to hope for.
He tried, in order to express his gratitude, to find some of those
words which always seem to be lacking at the most critical moments.
But he was suffocating; and the tears, accumulated by so many
successive emotions, were rising to his eyes.

With a passionate impulse, he seized Mlle. Lucienne’s hand, and,
taking it to his lips, he covered it with kisses.  Gently but
resolutely she withdrew her hand, and, fixing upon him her beautiful
clear gaze,

“Friends,” she uttered.

Her accent alone would have been sufficient to dissipate the
presumptuous illusions of Maxence, had he had any.  But he had none.

“Friends only,” he replied, “until the day when you shall be my wife.
You cannot forbid me to hope.  You love no one?”

“No one.”

“Well since we are going to tread the path of life, let me think
that we may find love at some turn of the road.”

She made no answer.  And thus was sealed between them a treaty of
friendship, to which they were to remain so strictly faithful, that
the word “love” never once rose to their lips.

In appearance there was no change in their mode of life.

Every morning, at seven o’clock, Mlle. Lucienne went to M. Van
Klopen’s, and an hour later Maxence started for his office.  They
returned home at night, and spent their evenings together by the
fireside.

But what was easy to foresee now took place.

Weak and undecided by nature, Maxence began very soon to feel the
influence of the obstinate and energetic character of the girl.
She infused, as it were, in his veins, a warmer and more generous
blood.  Gradually she imbued him with her ideas, and from her own
will gave him one.

He had told her in all sincerity his history, the miseries of his
home, M. Favoral’s parsimony and exaggerated severity, his mother’s
resigned timidity, and Mlle. Gilberte’s resolute nature.

He had concealed nothing of his past life, of his errors and his
follies, confessing even the worst of his actions; as, for instance,
having abused his mother’s and sister’s affection to extort from
them all the money they earned.

He had admitted to her that it was only with great reluctance and
under pressure of necessity, that he worked at all; that he was far
from being rich; that although he took his dinner with his parents,
his salary barely sufficed for his wants; and that he had debts.

He hoped, however, he added, that it would not be always thus, and
that, sooner or later, he would see the termination of all this
misery and privation; for his father had at least fifty thousand
francs a year and some day he must be rich.

Far from smiling, Mlle. Lucienne frowned at such a prospect.

“Ah! your father is a millionaire, is he?” she interrupted.  “Well,
I understand now how, at twenty-five, after refusing all the
positions which have been offered to you, you have no position.  You
relied on your father, instead of relying on yourself.  Judging that
he worked hard enough for two, you bravely folded your arms, waiting
for the fortune which he is amassing, and which you seem to consider
yours.”

Such morality seemed a little steep to Maxence.  “I think,” he began,
“that, if one is the son of a rich man--”

“One has the right to be useless, I suppose?” added the girl.

“I do not mean that; but--”

“There is no but about it.  And the proof that your views are wrong,
is that they have brought you where you are, and deprived you of your
own free will.  To place one’s self at the mercy of another, be that
other your own father, is always silly; and one is always at the
mercy of the man from whom he expects money that he has not earned.
Your father would never have been so harsh, had he not believed that
you could not do without him.”

He wanted to discuss: she stopped him.

“Do you wish the proof that you are at M. Favoral’s mercy?” she said.
“Very well.  You spoke of marrying me.”

“Ah, if you were willing!”

“Very well.  Go and speak of it to your father.”

“I suppose--”

“You don’t suppose any thing at all: you are absolutely certain that
he will refuse you his consent.”

“I could do without it.”

“I admit that you could.  But do you know what he would do then?
He would arrange things in such a way that you would never get a
centime of his fortune.”

Maxence had never thought of that.

“Therefore,” the young girl went on gayly, “though there is as yet
no question of marriage, learn to secure your independence; that
is, the means of living.  And to that effect let us work.”

It was from that moment, that Mme. Favoral had noticed in her son
the change that had surprised her so much.

Under the inspiration, under the impulsion, of Mlle. Lucienne,
Maxence had been suddenly taken with a zeal for work, and a desire
to earn money, of which he could not have been suspected.

He was no longer late at his office, and had not, at the end of each
month, ten or fifteen francs’ fines to pay.

Every morning, as soon as she was up, Mlle. Lucienne came to knock
at his door.  “Come, get up!” she cried to him.

And quick he jumped out of bed and dressed, so that he might bid
her good-morning before she left.

In the evening, the last mouthful of his dinner was hardly swallowed,
before he began copying the documents which he procured from M.
Chapelain’s successor.

And often he worked quite late in the night whilst by his side Mlle.
Lucienne applied herself to some work of embroidery.

The girl was the cashier of the association; and she administered
the common capital with such skillful and such scrupulous economy,
that Maxence soon succeeded in paying off his creditors.

“Do you know,” she was saying at the end of December, “that, between
us, we have earned over six hundred francs this month?”

On Sundays only, after a week of which not a minute had been lost,
they indulged in some little recreation.

If the weather was not too bad, they went out together, dined in
some modest restaurant, and finished the day at the theatre.

Having thus a common existence, both young, free, and having their
rooms divided only by a narrow passage it was difficult that people
should believe in the innocence of their intercourse.  The
proprietors of the Hotel des Folies believed nothing of the kind;
and they were not alone in that opinion.

Mlle. Lucienne having continued to show herself in the Bois on the
afternoons when the weather was fine, the number of fools who annoyed
her with their attentions had greatly increased.  Among the most
obstinate could be numbered M. Costeclar, who was pleased to
declare, upon his word of honor, that he had lost his sleep, and
his taste for business, since the day when, together with M. Saint
Pavin, he had first seen Mlle. Lucienne.

The efforts of his valet, and the letters which he had written,
having proved useless, M. Costeclar had made up his mind to act in
person; and gallantly he had come to put himself on guard in front
of the Hotel des Folies.

Great was his surprise, when he saw Mlle. Lucienne coming out arm
in arm with Maxence; and greater still was his spite.

“That girl is a fool,” he thought, “to prefer to me a fellow who
has not two hundred francs a month to spend.  But never mind!  He
laughs best who laughs last.”

And, as he was a man fertile in expedients, he went the next day
to take a walk in the neighborhood of the Mutual Credit; and, having
met M. Favoral by chance, he told him how his son Maxence was ruining
himself for a young lady whose toilets were a scandal, insinuating
delicately that it was his duty, as the head of the family, to put a
stop to such a thing.

This was precisely the time when Maxence was endeavoring to obtain
a situation in the office of the Mutual Credit.

It is true that the idea was not original with him, and that he had
even vehemently rejected it, when, for the first time, Mlle.
Lucienne had suggested it.

“What!” had he exclaimed, “be employed in the same establishment as
my father?  Suffer at the office the same intolerable despotism as
at home?  I’d rather break stones on the roads.”

But Mlle. Lucienne was not the girl to give up so easily a project
conceived and carefully matured by herself.

She returned to the charge with that infinite art of women, who
understand so marvelously well how to turn a position which they
cannot carry in front.  She kept the matter so well before him, she
spoke of it so often and so much, on every occasion, and under all
pretexts, that he ended by persuading himself that it was the only
reasonable and practical thing he could do, the only way in which
he had any chance of making his fortune; and so, one evening
overcoming his last hesitations,

“I am going to speak about it to my father,” he said to Mlle.
Lucienne.

But whether he had been influenced by M. Costeclar’s insinuations,
or for some other reason, M. Favoral had rejected indignantly his
son’s request, saying that it was impossible to trust a young man
who was ruining himself for the sake of a miserable creature.

Maxence had become crimson with rage on hearing the woman spoken of
thus, whom he loved to madness, and who, far from ruining him, was
making him.

He returned to the Hotel des Folies in an indescribable state of
exasperation.

“There’s the result,” he said to Mlle. Lucienne, “of the step which
you have urged me so strongly to take.”

She seemed neither surprised nor irritated.

“Very well,” she replied simply.

But Maxence could not resign himself so quietly to such a cruel
disappointment; and, not having the slightest suspicion of
Costeclar’s doings,

“And such is,” he added, “the result of all the gossip of these
stupid shop-keepers who run to see you every time you go out in
the carriage.”

The girl shrugged her shoulders contemptuously.  “I expected it,”
 she said, “the day when I accepted M. Van Klopen’s offers.”

“Everybody believes that you are my mistress.”

“What matters it, since it is not so?”

Maxence did not dare to confess that this was precisely what made
him doubly angry; and he shuddered at the thought of the ridicule
that would certainly be heaped upon him, if the true state of the
case was known.

“We ought to move,” he suggested.

“What’s the use?  Wherever we should go, it would be the same thing.
Besides, I don’t want to leave this neighborhood.”

“And I am too much your friend not to tell you, that your reputation
in it is absolutely lost.”

“I have no accounts to render to any one.”

“Except to your friend the commissary of police, however.”

A pale smile flitted upon her lips.  “Ah!” she uttered, “he knows
the truth.”

“You have seen him again, then?”

“Several times.”

“Since we have known each other?”

“Yes.”

“And you never told me anything about it?”

“I did not think it necessary.”

Maxence insisted no more; but, by the sharp pang that he felt, he
realized how dear Mlle. Lucienne had become to him.

“She has secrets from me,” thought he,--“from me who would deem it
a crime to have any from her.”

What secrets?  Had she concealed from him that she was pursuing an
object which had become, as it were, that of her whole life.  Had
she not told him, that with the assistance of her friend the
peace-officer, who had now become commissary of police of the
district, she hoped to penetrate the mystery of her birth, and to
revenge herself on the villains, who, three times, had attempted to
do away with her?

She had never mentioned her projects again; but it was evident that
she had not abandoned them, for she would at the same time have
given up her rides to the bois, which were to her an abominable
torment.

But passion can neither reason nor discuss.

“She mistrusts me, who would give my life for hers,” repeated Maxence.

And the idea was so painful to him, that he resolved to clear his
doubts at any cost, preferring the worst misery to the anxiety which
was gnawing at his heart.

And as soon as he found himself alone with Mlle. Lucienne, arming
himself with all his courage, and looking her straight in the eyes,

“You never speak to me any more of your enemies?” he said.

She doubtless understood what was passing within him.

“It’s because I don’t hear any thing of them myself,” she answered
gently.

“Then you have given up your purpose?”

“Not at all.”

“What are your hopes, then, and what are your prospects?”

“Extraordinary as it may seem to you, I must confess that I know
nothing about it.  My friend the commissary has his plan, I am
certain; and he is following it with an indefatigable obstinacy.
I am but an instrument in his hands.  I never do any thing without
consulting him; and what he advises me to do I do.”

Maxence started upon his chair.

“Was it he, then,” he said in a tone of bitter irony, “who suggested
to you the idea of our fraternal association?”

A frown appeared upon the girl’s countenance.  She evidently felt
hurt by the tone of this species of interrogatory.

“At least he did not disapprove of it,” she replied.

But that answer was just evasive enough to excite Maxence’s anxiety.

“Was it from him too,” he went on, “that came the lovely idea of
having me enter the Mutual Credit?”

“Yes, it was from him.”

“For what purpose?”

“He did not explain.”

“Why did you not tell me?”

“Because he requested me not to do so.”

From being red at the start, Maxence had now become very pale.

“And so,” he resumed, “it is that man, that police-agent, who is
the real arbiter of my fate; and if to-morrow he commanded you to
break off with me--”

Mlle. Lucienne drew herself up.

“Enough!” she interrupted in a brief tone, “enough!  There is not
in my whole existence a single act which would give to my bitterest
enemy the right to suspect my loyalty; and now you accuse me of
the basest treason.  What have you to reproach me with?  Have I
not been faithful to the pact sworn between us.  Have I not always
been for you the best of comrades and the most devoted of friends?
I remained silent, because the man in whom I have the fullest
confidence requested me to do so; but he knew, that, if you
questioned me, I would speak.  Did you question me?  And now what
more do you want?  That I should stoop to quiet the suspicions of
your morbid mind?  That I do not mean to do.”

She was not, perhaps, entirely right; but Maxence was certainly
wrong.  He acknowledged it, wept, implored her pardon, which was
granted; and this explanation only served to rivet more closely
the fetters that bound him.

It is true, that, availing himself of the permission that had been
granted him, he kept himself constantly informed of Mlle. Lucienne’s
doings.  He learnt from her that her friend the commissary had held
a most minute investigation at Louveciennes, and that the footman
who went to the bois with her was now, in reality, a detective.
And at last, one day,

“My friend the commissary,” she said, “thinks he is on the right
track now.”



XXIX

Such was the exact situation of Maxence and Mlle. Lucienne on that
eventful Saturday evening in the month of April, 1872, when the
police came to arrest M. Vincent Favoral, on the charge of
embezzlement and forgery.

It will be remembered, how, at his mother’s request, Maxence had
spent that night in the Rue St. Gilles, and how, the next morning,
unable any longer to resist his eager desire to see Mlle. Lucienne,
he had started for the Hotel des Folies, leaving his sister alone
at home.

He retired to his room, as she had requested him, and, sinking
upon his old arm-chair in a fit of the deepest distress,

“She is singing,” he murmured: “Mme. Fortin has not told her any
thing.”

And at the same moment Mlle. Lucienne had resumed her song, the
words of which reached him like a bitter raillery,

          “Hope!  O sweet, deceiving word!
           Mad indeed is he,
           Who does think he can trust thee,
           And take thy coin can afford.
           Over his door every one
           Will hang thee to his sorrow,
           Then saying of days begone,
          ‘Cash to-day, credit to-morrow!’
          ‘Tis very nice to run;
           But to have is better fun!”

“What will she say,” thought Maxence, “when she learns the horrible
truth?”

And he felt a cold perspiration starting on his temples when he
remembered Mlle. Lucienne’s pride, and that honor has her only faith,
the safety-plank to which she had desperately clung in the midst of
the storms of her life.  What if she should leave him, now that the
name he bore was disgraced!

A rapid and light step on the landing drew him from his gloomy
thoughts.  Almost immediately, the door opened, and Mlle. Lucienne
came in.

She must have dressed in haste; for she was just finishing hooking
her dress, the simplicity of which seemed studied, so marvelously
did it set off the elegance of her figure, the splendors of her
waist, and the rare perfections of her shoulders and of her neck.

A look of intense dissatisfaction could be read upon her lovely
features; but, as soon as she had seen Maxence, her countenance
changed.

And, in fact, his look of utter distress, the disorder of his
garments, his livid paleness, and the sinister look of his eyes,
showed plainly enough that a great misfortune had befallen him.
In a voice whose agitation betrayed something more than the anxiety
and the sympathy of a friend,

“What is the matter?  What has happened?” inquired the girl.

“A terrible misfortune,” he replied.

He was hesitating: he wished to tell every thing at once, and knew
not how to begin.

“I have told you,” he said, “that my family was very rich.”

“Yes.”

“Well, we have nothing left, absolutely nothing!”  She seemed to
breathe more freely, and, in a tone of friendly irony,

“And it is the loss of your fortune,” she said, “that distresses
you thus?”

He raised himself painfully to his feet, and, in a low hoarse voice,

“Honor is lost too,” he uttered.

“Honor?”

“Yes.  My father has stolen: my father has forged!”

She had become whiter than her collar.

“Your father!” she stammered.

“Yes.  For years he has been using the money that was intrusted to
him, until the deficit now amounts to twelve millions.”

“Great heavens!”

“And, notwithstanding the enormity of that sum, he was reduced,
during the latter months, to the most miserable expedients,--going
from door to door in the neighborhood, soliciting deposits, until
he actually basely swindled a poor newspaper-vender out of five
hundred francs.”

“Why, this is madness!  And how did you find out?”

“Last night they came to arrest him.  Fortunately we had been
notified; and I helped him to escape through a window of my sister’s
room, which opens on the yard of an adjoining house.”

“And where is he now?”

“Who knows?”

“Had he any money?”

“Everybody thinks that he carries off millions.  I do not believe
it.  He even refused to take the few thousand francs which M. de
Thaller had brought him to facilitate his flight.”

Mlle. Lucienne shuddered.

“Did you see M. de Thaller?” she asked.

“He got to the house a few moments in advance of the commissary of
police; and a terrible scene took place between him and my father.”

“What was he saying?”

“That my father had ruined him.”

“And your father?”

“He stammered incoherent phrases.  He was like a man who has
received a stunning blow.  But we have discovered incredible things.
My father, so austere and so parsimonious at home, led a merry life
elsewhere, spending money without stint.  It was for a woman that
he robbed.”

“And--do you know who that woman is?”

“No.  But I can find out from the writer of the article in this
paper, who says that he knows her.  See!”

Mlle. Lucienne took the paper which Maxence was holding out to her:
but she hardly condescended to look at it.

“But what’s your idea now?”

“I do not believe that my father is innocent; but I believe that
there are people more guilty than he,--skillful and prudent knaves,
who have made use of him as a man of straw,--villains who will
quietly digest their share of the millions (the biggest one, of
course), while he will be sent to prison.”

A fugitive blush colored Mlle. Lucienne’s cheeks.

“That being the case,” she interrupted, “what do you expect to do?”

“Avenge my father, if possible, and discover his accomplices, if he
has any.”

She held out her hand to him.

“That’s right,” she said.  “But how will you go about it?”

“I don’t know yet.  At any rate, I must first of all run to the
newspaper office, and get that woman’s address.”

But Mlle. Lucienne stopped him.

“No,” she uttered: “it isn’t there that you must go.  You must come
with me to see my friend the commissary.”

Maxence received this suggestion with a gesture of surprise, almost
of terror.

“Why, how can you think of such a thing?” he exclaimed.  “My father
is fleeing from justice; and you want me to take for my confidant a
commissary of police,--the very man whose duty it is to arrest him,
if he can find him!”

But he interrupted himself for a moment, staring and gaping, as if
the truth had suddenly flashed upon his mind in dazzling evidence.

“For my father has not gone abroad,” he went on.  “It is in Paris
that he is hiding: I am sure of it.  You have seen him?”

Mlle. Lucienne really thought that Maxence was losing his mind.

“I have seen your father--I?” she said.

“Yes, last evening.  How could I have forgotten it?  While you were
waiting for me down stairs, between eleven and half-past eleven a
middle-aged man, thin, wearing a long overcoat, came and asked for
me.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“He spoke to you in the yard.”

“That’s a fact.”

“What did he tell you?”

She hesitated for a moment, evidently trying to tax her memory; then,

“Nothing,” she replied, “that he had not already said before the
Fortins; that he wanted to see you on important business, and was
sorry not to find you in.  What surprised me, though, is, that he
was speaking as if he knew me, and knew that I was a friend of yours.”
 Then, striking her forehead,

“Perhaps you are right,” she went on.  “Perhaps that man was indeed
your father.  Wait a minute.  Yes, he seemed quite excited, and at
every moment he looked around towards the door.  He said it would be
impossible for him to return, but that he would write to you, and
that probably he would require your assistance and your services.”

“You see,” exclaimed Maxence, almost crazy with subdued excitement,
“it was my father.  He is going to write; to return, perhaps; and,
under the circumstances, to apply to a commissary of police would
be sheer folly, almost treason.”

She shook her head.

“So much the more reason,” she uttered, “why you should follow my
advice.  Have you ever had occasion to repent doing so?”

“No, but you may be mistaken.”

“I am not mistaken.”

She expressed herself in a tone of such absolute certainty, that
Maxence, in the disorder of his mind, was at a loss to know what to
imagine, what to believe.

“You must have some reason to urge me thus,” he said.

“I have.”

“Why not tell it to me then?”

“Because I should have no proofs to furnish you of my assertions.
Because I should have to go into details which you would not
understand.  Because, above all, I am following one of those
inexplicable presentiments which never deceive.”

It was evident that she was not willing to unveil her whole mind;
and yet Maxence felt himself terribly staggered.

“Think of my agony,” he said, “if I were to cause my father’s arrest.”

“Would my own be less?  Can any misfortune strike you without
reaching me?  Let us reason a little.  What were you saying a moment
since?  That certainly your father is not as guilty as people think;
at any rate, that he is not alone guilty; that he has been but the
instrument of rascals more skillful and more powerful than himself;
and that he has had but a small share of the twelve millions?”

“Such is my absolute conviction.”

“And that you would like to deliver up to justice the villains who
have benefitted by your father’s crime, and who think themselves sure
of impunity?”

Tears of anger fell from Maxence’s eyes.

“Do you wish to take away all my courage?” he murmured.

“No; but I wish to demonstrate to you the necessity of the step
which I advise you to take.  The end justifies the means; and we
have not the choice of means.  Come, ‘tis to an honest man and a
tried friend that I shall take you.  Fear nothing.  If he remembers
that he is commissary of police, it will be to serve us, not to
injure you.  You hesitate?  Perhaps at this moment he already
knows more than we do ourselves.”

Maxence took a sudden resolution.

“Very well,” he said: “let us go.”

In less than five minutes they were off; and, as they went out, they
had to disturb Mme. Fortin, who stood at the door, gossiping with
two or three of the neighboring shop-keepers.

As soon as Maxence and Mlle. Lucienne were out of hearing,

“You see that young man,” said the honorable proprietress of the
Hotel des Folies to her interlocutors.  “Well, he is the son of that
famous cashier who has just run off with twelve millions, after
ruining a thousand families.  It don’t seem to trouble him, either;
for there he is, going out to spend a pleasant day with his mistress,
and to treat her to a fine dinner with the old man’s money.”

Meantime, Maxence and Lucienne reached the commissary’s house.  He
was at home; they walked in.  And, as soon as they appeared,

“I expected you,” he said.

He was a man already past middle age, but active and vigorous still.
With his white cravat and long frock-coat, he looked like a notary.
Benign was the expression of his countenance; but the lustre of his
little gray eyes, and the mobility of his nostrils, showed that it
should not be trusted too far.

“Yes, I expected you,” he repeated, addressing himself as much to
Maxence as to Mlle. Lucienne.  “It is the Mutual Credit matter which
brings you here?”

Maxence stepped forward,

“I am Vincent Favoral’s son, sir,” he replied.  “I have still my
mother and a sister.  Our situation is horrible.  Mlle. Lucienne
suggested that you might be willing to give me some advice; and here
we are.”

The commissary rang, and, on the bell being answered,

“I am at home for no one,” he said.

And then turning to Maxence,

“Mlle. Lucienne did well to bring you,” he said; “for it may be,
that, whilst rendering her an important service, I may also render
you one.  But I have no time to lose.  Sit down, and tell me all
about it.”  With the most scrupulous exactness Maxence told the
history of his family, and the events of the past twenty-four hours.

Not once did the commissary interrupt him; but, when he had done,

“Tell me your father’s interview with M. de Thaller all over again,”
 he requested, “and, especially, do not omit any thing that you have
heard or seen, not a word, not a gesture, not a look.”

And, Maxence having complied,

“Now,” said the commissary, “repeat every thing your father said at
the moment of going.”

He did so.  The commissary took a few notes, and then,

“What were,” he inquired, “the relations of your family with the
Thaller family?”

“There were none.”

“What!  Neither Mme. nor Mlle. de Thaller ever visited you?”

“Never.”

“Do you know the Marquis de Tregars?”

Maxence stared in surprise.

“Tregars!” he repeated.  “It’s the first time that I hear that
name.”

The usual clients of the commissary would have hesitated to recognize
him, so completely had he set aside his professional stiffness, so
much had his freezing reserve given way to the most encouraging
kindness.

“Now, then,” he resumed, “never mind M. de Tregars: let us talk of
the woman, who, you seem to think, has been the cause of M. Favoral’s
ruin.”

On the table before him lay the paper in which Maxence had read in
the morning the terrible article headed: “Another Financial Disaster.”

“I know nothing of that woman,” he replied; “but it must be easy to
find out, since the writer of this article pretends to know.”

The commissary smiled, not having quite as much faith in newspapers
as Maxence seemed to have.

“Yes, I read that,” he said.

“We might send to the office of that paper,” suggested Mlle. Lucienne.

“I have already sent, my child.”

And, without noticing the surprise of Maxence and of the young girl,
he rang the bell, and asked whether his secretary had returned.  The
secretary answered by appearing in person.

“Well?” inquired the commissary.

“I have attended to the matter, sir,” he replied.  “I saw the
reporter who wrote the article in question; and, after beating about
the bush for some time, he finally confessed that he knew nothing
more than had been published, and that he had obtained his
information from two intimate friends of the cashier, M. Costeclar
and M. Saint Pavin.”

“You should have gone to see those gentlemen.”

“I did.”

“Very well.  What then?”

“Unfortunately, M. Costeclar had just gone out.  As to M. Saint
Pavin, I found him at the office of his paper, ‘The Financial Pilot.’
He is a coarse and vulgar personage, and received me like a
pickpocket.  I had even a notion to--”

“Never mind that!  Go on.”

“He was closeted with another gentleman, a banker, named Jottras,
of the house of Jottras and Brother.  They were both in a terrible
rage, swearing like troopers, and saying that the Favoral
defalcation would ruin them; that they had been taken in like fools,
but that they were not going to take things so easy, and they were
preparing a crushing article.”

But he stopped, winking, and pointing to Maxence and Mlle. Lucienne,
who were listening as attentively as they could.

“Speak, speak!” said the commissary.  “Fear nothing.”

“Well,” he went on, “M. Saint Pavin and M. Jottras were saying that
M. Favoral was only a poor dupe, but that they would know how to
find the others.”

“What others?”

“Ah! they didn’t say.”

The commissary shrugged his shoulders.

“What!” he exclaimed, “you find yourself in presence of two men
furious to have been duped, who swear and threaten, and you can’t
get from them a name that you want?  You are not very smart,
my dear!”

And as the poor secretary, somewhat put out of countenance, looked
down, and said nothing,

“Did you at least ask them,” he resumed, “who the woman is to whom
the article refers, and whose existence they have revealed to the
reporter?”

“Of course I did, sir.”

“And what did they answer?”

“That they were not spies, and had nothing to say.  M. Saint Pavin
added, however, that he had said it without much thought, and only
because he had once seen M. Favoral buying a three thousand francs
bracelet, and also because it seemed impossible to him that a man
should do away with millions without the aid of a woman.”

The commissary could not conceal his ill humor.

“Of course!” he grumbled.  “Since Solomon said, ‘Look for the woman’
(for it was King Solomon who first said it), every fool thinks it
smart to repeat with a cunning look that most obvious of truths.
What next?”

“M. Saint Pavin politely invited me to go to--well, not here.”

The commissary wrote rapidly a few lines, put them in an envelope,
which he sealed with his private seal, and handed it to his
secretary, saying,

“That will do.  Take this to the prefecture yourself.”  And, after
the secretary had gone out,

“Well, M. Maxence,” he said, “you have heard?”  Of course he had.
Only Maxence was thinking much less of what he had just heard than
of the strange interest this commissary had taken in his affairs,
even before he had seen him.

“I think,” he stammered, “that it is very unfortunate the woman
cannot be found.”

With a gesture full of confidence,

“Be easy,” said the commissary: “she shall be found.  A woman cannot
swallow millions at that rate, without attracting attention.
Believe me, we shall find her, unless--”

He paused for a moment, and, speaking slowly and emphatically,

“Unless,” he added, “she should have behind her a very skillful and
very prudent man.  Or else that she should be in a situation where
her extravagance could not have created any scandal.”

Mlle. Lucienne started.  She fancied she understood the commissary’s
idea, and could catch a glimpse of the truth.

“Good heavens!” she murmured.

But Maxence didn’t notice any thing, his mind being wholly bent upon
following the commissary’s deductions.

“Or unless,” he said, “my father should have received almost nothing
for his share of the enormous sums subtracted from the Mutual Credit,
in which case he could have given relatively but little to that woman.
M. Saint Pavin himself acknowledges that my father has been
egregiously taken in.”

“By whom?”

Maxence hesitated for a moment.

“I think,” he said at last, “and several friends of my family (among
whom M. Chapelain, an old lawyer) think as I do, that it is very
strange that my father should have drawn millions from the Mutual
Credit without any knowledge of the fact on the part of the manager.”

“Then, according to you, M. de Thaller must be an accomplice.”

Maxence made no answer.

“Be it so,” insisted the commissary.  “I admit M. de Thaller’s
complicity; but then we must suppose that he had over your father
some powerful means of action.”

“An employer always has a great deal of influence over his
subordinates.”

“An influence sufficiently powerful to make them run the risk of
the galleys for his benefit!  That is not likely.  We must try and
imagine something else.”

“I am trying; but I don’t find any thing.”

“And yet it is not all.  How do you explain your father’s silence
when M. de Thaller was heaping upon him the most outrageous insults?”

“My father was stunned, as it were.”

“And at the moment of escaping, if he did have any accomplices, how
is it that he did not mention their names to you, to your mother,
or to your sister?”

“Because, doubtless, he had no proofs of their complicity to offer.”

“Would you have asked him for any?”

“O sir!”

“Therefore such is not evidently the motive of his silence; and it
might better be attributed to some secret hope that he still had
left.”

The commissary now had all the information, which, voluntarily or
otherwise, Maxence was able to give him.  He rose, and in the
kindest tone,

“You have come,” he said to him, “to ask me for advice.  Here it is:
say nothing, and wait.  Allow justice and the police to pursue their
work.  Whatever may be your suspicions, hide them.  I shall do for
you as I would for Lucienne, whom I love as if she were my own
child; for it so happens, that, in helping you, I shall help her.”

He could not help laughing at the astonishment, which at those words
depicted itself upon Maxence’s face; and gayly,

“You don’t understand,” he added.  “Well, never mind.  It is not
necessary that you should.”



XXX

Two o’clock struck as Mlle. Lucienne and Maxence left the office
of the commissary of police, she pensive and agitated, he gloomy and
irritated.  They reached the Hotel des Folies without exchanging a
word.  Mme. Fortin was again at the door, speechifying in the midst
of a group with indefatigable volubility.  Indeed, it was a perfect
godsend for her, the fact of lodging the son of that cashier who
had stolen twelve millions, and had thus suddenly become a celebrity.
Seeing Maxence and Mlle. Lucienne coming, she stepped toward them,
and, with her most obsequious smile,

“Back already?” she said.

But they made no answer; and, entering the narrow corridor, they
hurried to their fourth story.  As he entered his room, Maxence
threw his hat upon his bed with a gesture of impatience; and, after
walking up and down for a moment, he returned to plant himself in
front of Mlle. Lucienne.

“Well,” he said, “are you satisfied now?”

She looked at him with an air of profound commiseration, knowing
his weakness too well to be angry at his injustice.

“Of what should I be satisfied?” she asked gently.

“I have done what you wished me to.”

“You did what reason dictated, my friend.”

“Very well: we won’t quarrel about words.  I have seen your friend
the commissary.  Am I any better off?”

She shrugged her shoulders almost imperceptibly.

“What did you expect of him, then?” she asked.  “Did you think that
he could undo what is done?  Did you suppose, that, by the sole
power of his will, he would make up the deficit in the Mutual
Credit’s cash, and rehabilitate your father?”

“No, I am not quite mad yet.”

“Well, then, could he do more than promise you his most ardent and
devoted co-operation?”

But he did not allow her to proceed.

“And how do I know,” he exclaimed, “that he is not trifling with me?
If he was sincere, why his reticence and his enigmas?  He pretends
that I may rely on him, because to serve me is to serve you.  What
does that mean?  What connection is there between your situation and
mine, between your enemies and those of my father?  And I--I replied
to all his questions like a simpleton.  Poor fool!  But the man who
drowns catches at straws; and I am drowning, I am sinking, I am
foundering.”

He sank upon a chair, and, hiding his face in his hands,

“Ah, how I do suffer!” he groaned.

Mlle. Lucienne approached him, and in a severe tone, despite her
emotion,

“Are you, then, such a coward?” she uttered.  “What! at the first
misfortune that strikes you,--and this is the first real misfortune
of your life, Maxence,--you despair.  An obstacle rises, and,
instead of gathering all your energy to overcome it, you sit down
and weep like a woman.  Who, then, is to inspire courage in your
mother and in your sister, if you give up so?”

At the sound of these words, uttered by that voice which was
all-powerful over his soul, Maxence looked up.

“I thank you, my friend,” he said.  “I thank you for reminding me
of what I owe to my mother and sister.  Poor women!  They are
wondering, doubtless, what has become of me.”

“You must return to them,” interrupted the girl.

He got up resolutely.

“I will,” he replied.  “I should be unworthy of you if I could not
raise my own energy to the level of yours.”

And, having pressed her hand, he left.  But it was not by the usual
route that he reached the Rue St. Gilles.  He made a long detour, so
as not to meet any of his acquaintances.

“Here you are at last,” said the servant as she opened the door.
“Madame was getting very uneasy, I can tell you.  She is in the
parlor, with Mlle. Gilberte and M. Chapelain.”

It was so.  After his fruitless attempt to reach M. de Thaller, M.
Chapelain had breakfasted there, and had remained, wishing, he said,
to see Maxence.  And so, as soon as the young man appeared, availing
himself of the privileges of his age and his old intimacy,

“How,” said he, “dare you leave your mother and sister alone in a
house where some brutal creditor may come in at any moment?”

“I was wrong,” said Maxence, who preferred to plead guilty rather
than attempt an explanation.

“Don’t do it again then,” resumed M. Chapelain.  “I was waiting for
you to say that I was unable to see M. de Thaller, and that I do not
care to face once more the impudence of his valets.  You will,
therefore, have to take back the fifteen thousand francs he had
brought to your father.  Place them in his own hands; and don’t
give them up without a receipt.”

After some further recommendations, he went off, leaving Mme. Favoral
alone at last with her children.  She was about to call Maxence to
account for his absence, when Mlle. Gilberte interrupted her.

“I have to speak to you, mother,” she said with a singular
precipitation, “and to you also, brother.”

And at once she began telling them of M. Costeclar’s strange visit,
his inconceivable audacity, and his offensive declarations.

Maxence was fairly stamping with rage.

“And I was not here,” he exclaimed, “to put him out of the house!”

But another was there; and this was just what Mlle. Gilberte wished
to come to.  But the avowal was difficult, painful even; and it was
not without some degree of confusion that she resumed at last,

“You have suspected for a long time, mother, that I was hiding
something from you.  When you questioned me, I lied; not that I had
any thing to blush for, but because I feared for you my father’s
anger.”

Her mother and her brother were gazing at her with a look of blank
amazement.

“Yes, I had a secret,” she continued.  “Boldly, without consulting
any one, trusting the sole inspirations of my heart, I had engaged
my life to a stranger: I had selected the man whose wife I wished
to be.”

Mme. Favoral raised her hands to heaven.

“But this is sheer madness!” she said.

“Unfortunately,” went on the girl, “between that man, my affianced
husband before God, and myself, rose a terrible obstacle.  He was
poor: he thought my father very rich; and he had asked me a delay
of three years to conquer a fortune which might enable him to aspire
to my hand.”

She stopped: all the blood in her veins was rushing to her face.

“This morning,” she said, “at the news of our disaster, he came . . .”

“Here?” interrupted Maxence.

“Yes, brother, here.  He arrived at the very moment, when, basely
insulted by M. Costeclar, I commanded him to withdraw, and, instead
of going, he was walking towards me with outstretched arms.”

“He dared to penetrate here!” murmured Mme. Favoral.

“Yes, mother: he came in just in time to seize M. Costeclar by his
coat-collar, and to throw him at my feet, livid with fear, and
begging for mercy.  He came, notwithstanding the terrible calamity
that has befallen us.  Notwithstanding ruin, and notwithstanding
shame, he came to offer me his name, and to tell me, that, in the
course of the day, he would send a friend of his family to apprise
you of his intentions.”

Here she was interrupted by the servant, who, throwing open the
parlor-door, announced,

“The Count de Villegre.”

If it had occurred to the mind of Mme. Favoral or Maxence that Mlle.
Gilberte might have been the victim of some base intrigue, the mere
appearance of the man who now walked in must have been enough to
disabuse them.

He was of a rather formidable aspect, with his military bearing, his
bluff manners, his huge white mustache, and the deep scar across
his forehead.

But in order to be re-assured, and to feel confident, it was enough
to look at his broad face, at once energetic and debonair, his clear
eye, in which shone the loyalty of his soul, and his thick red lips,
which had never opened to utter an untruth.

At this moment, however, he was hardly in possession of all his
faculties.

That valiant man, that old soldier, was timid; and he would have
felt much more at ease under the fire of a battery than in that
humble parlor in the Rue St. Gilles, under the uneasy glance of
Maxence and Mme. Favoral.

Having bowed, having made a little friendly sign to Mlle. Gilberte,
he had stopped short, two steps from the door, his hat in his hand.

Eloquence was not his forte.  He had prepared himself well in
advance; but though he kept coughing: hum! broum! though he kept
running his finger around his shirt-collar to facilitate his
delivery, the beginning of his speech stuck in his throat.

Seeing how urgent it was to come to his assistance,

“I was expecting you, sir,” said Mlle. Gilberte.  With this
encouragement, he advanced towards Mme. Favoral, and, bowing low,

“I see that my presence surprises you, madame,” he began; “and I
must confess that--hum!--it does not surprise me less than it does
you.  But extraordinary circumstances require exceptional action.
On any other occasion, I would not fall upon you like a bombshell.
But we had no time to waste in ceremonious formalities.  I will,
therefore, ask your leave to introduce myself: I am General Count
de Villegre.”

Maxence had brought him a chair.

“I am ready to hear you, sir,” said Mme. Favoral.  He sat down, and,
with a further effort,

“I suppose, madame,” he resumed, “that your daughter has explained
to you our singular situation, which, as I had the honor of telling
you--hum!--is not strictly in accordance with social usage.”

Mlle. Gilberte interrupted him.

“When you came in, general, I was only just beginning to explain
the facts to my mother and brother.”

The old soldier made a gesture, and a face which showed plainly that
he did not much relish the prospect of a somewhat difficult
explanation--broum!  Nevertheless, making up his mind bravely,

“It is very simple,” he said: “I come in behalf of M. de Tregars.”

Maxence fairly bounced upon his chair.  That was the very name which
he had just heard mentioned by the commissary of police.

“Tregars!” he repeated in a tone of immense surprise.

“Yes,” said M. de Villegre.  “Do you know him, by chance?”

“No, sir, no!”

“Marius de Tregars is the son of the most honest man I ever knew, of
the best friend I ever had,--of the Marquis de Tregars, in a word,
who died of grief a few years ago, after--hum!--some quite
inexplicable--broum!--reverses of fortune.  Marius could not be
dearer to me, if he were my own son.  He has lost his parents: I
have no relatives; and I have transferred to him all the feelings
of affection which still remained at the bottom of my old heart.

“And I can say that never was a man more worthy of affection.  I
know him.  To the most legitimate pride and the most scrupulous
integrity, he unites a keen and supple mind, and wit enough to get
the better of the toughest rascal.  He has no fortune for the reason
that--hum!--he gave up all he had to certain pretended creditors
of his father.  But whenever he wishes to be rich, he shall be; and
--broum!--he may be so before long.  I know his projects, his hopes,
his resources.”

But, as if feeling that he was treading on dangerous ground, the
Count de Villegre stopped short, and, after taking breath for a
moment,

“In short,” he went on, “Marius has been unable to see Mlle.
Gilberte, and to appreciate the rare qualities of her heart,
without falling desperately in love with her.”

Mme. Favoral made a gesture of protest,

“Allow me, sir,” she began.

But he interrupted her.

“I understand you, madame,” he resumed.  “You wonder how M. de
Tregars can have seen your daughter, have known her, and have
appreciated her, without your seeing or hearing any thing of it.
Nothing is more simple, and, if I may venture to say--hum!--more
natural.”

And the worthy old soldier began to explain to Mme. Favoral the
meetings in the Place-Royale, his conversations with Marius,
intended really for Mlle. Gilberte, and the part he had consented
to play in this little comedy.  But he became embarrassed in his
sentences, he multiplied his hum! and his broum! in the most
alarming manner; and his explanations explained nothing.

Mlle. Gilberte took pity on him; and, kindly interrupting him, she
herself told her story, and that of Marius.

She told the pledge they had exchanged, how they had seen each other
twice, and how they constantly heard of each other through the very
innocent and very unconscious Signor Gismondo Pulei.

Maxence and Mme. Favoral were dumbfounded.  They would have
absolutely refused to believe such a story, had it not been told by
Mlle. Gilberte herself.

“Ah, my dear sister!” thought Maxence, “who could have suspected
such a thing, seeing you always so calm and so meek!”

“Is it possible,” Mme. Favoral was saying to herself; “that I can
have been so blind and so deaf?”

As to the Count de Villegre, he would have tried in vain to express
the gratitude he felt towards Mlle. Gilberte for having spared him
these difficult explanations.

“I could not have done half as well myself, by the eternal!” he
thought, like a man who has no illusions on his own account.

But, as soon as she had done, addressing himself to Mme. Favoral,

“Now, madame,” he said, “you know all; and you will understand
that the irreparable disaster that strikes you has removed the
only obstacle which had hitherto stood in the way of Marius.”

He rose, and in a solemn tone, without any hum or broum, this time,

“I have the honor, madame,” he uttered, “to solicit the hand of Mlle.
Gilberte, your daughter, for my friend Yves-Marius de Genost, Marquis
de Tregars.”

A profound silence followed this speech.  But this silence the Count
de Villegre doubtless interpreted in his own favor; for, stepping to
the parlor-door, he opened it, and called, “Marius!”

Marius de Tregars had foreseen all that had just taken place, and
had so informed the Count de Villegre in advance.

Being given Mme. Favoral’s disposition, he knew what could be
expected of her; and he had his own reasons to fear nothing from
Maxence.  And, if he mistrusted somewhat the diplomatic talents
of his ambassador, he relied absolutely upon Mlle. Gilberte’s energy.

And so confident was he of the correctness of his calculations, that
he had insisted upon accompanying his old friend, so as to be on
hand at the critical moment.

When the servant had opened the door to them, he had ordered her to
introduce M. de Villegre, stating that he would himself wait in the
dining-room.  This arrangement had not seemed entirely natural to
the girl; but so many strange things had happened in the house for
the past twenty-four hours, that she was prepared for any thing.

Besides recognizing Marius as the gentleman who had had a violent
altercation in the morning with M. Costeclar, she did as he
requested, and, leaving him alone in the dining-room, went to
attend to her duties.

He had taken a seat, impassive in appearance, but in reality
agitated by that internal trepidation of which the strongest men
cannot free themselves in the decisive moments of their life.

To a certain extent, the prospects of his whole life were to be
decided on the other side of that door which had just closed behind
the Count de Villegre.  To the success of his love, other interests
were united, which required immediate success.

And, counting the seconds by the beatings of his heart,

“How very slow they are!” he thought.

And so, when the door opened at last, and his old friend called him,
he jumped to his feet, and collecting all his coolness and
self-possession, he walked in.

Maxence had risen to receive him; but, when he saw him, he stepped
back, his eyes glaring in utter surprise.

“Ah, great heavens!” he muttered in a smothered voice.

But M. de Tregars seemed not to notice his stupor.  Quite
self-possessed, notwithstanding his emotion, he cast a rapid glance
over the Count de Villegre, Mme. Favoral and Mlle. Gilberte.  At
their attitude, and at the expression of their countenance, he
easily guessed the point to which things had come.

And, advancing towards Mme. Favoral, he bowed with an amount of
respect which was certainly not put on.

“You have heard the Count de Villegre, madame,” he said in a
slightly altered tone of voice.  “I am awaiting my fate.”

The poor woman had never before in all her life been so fearfully
perplexed.  All these events, which succeeded each other so rapidly,
had broken the feeble springs of her soul.  She was utterly incapable
of collecting her thoughts, or of taking a determination.

“At this moment, sir,” she stammered, taken unawares, “it would be
impossible for me to answer you.  Grant me a few days for reflection.
We have some old friends whom I ought to consult.”

But Maxence, who had got over his stupor, interrupted her.

“Friends, mother!” he exclaimed.  “And who are they?  People in our
position have no friends.  What! when we are perishing, a man of
heart holds out his hand to us, and you ask to reflect?  To my
sister, who bears a name henceforth disgraced, the Marquis de
Tregars offers his name, and you think of consulting.”

The poor woman was shaking her head.

“I am not the mistress, my son,” she murmured; “and your father--”

“My father!” interrupted the young man,--“my father!  What rights
can he have over us hereafter?”  And without further discussion,
without awaiting an answer, he took his sister’s hand, and,
placing it in M. de Tregars’ hand,

“Ah! take her, sir,” he uttered.  “Never, whatever she may do, will
she acquit the debt of eternal gratitude which we this day contract
towards you.”

A tremor that shook their frames, a long look which they exchanged,
betrayed alone the feelings of Marius and Mlle. Gilberte.  They had
of life a too cruel experience not to mistrust their joy.

Returning to Mme. Favoral,

“You do not understand, madame,” he went on, “why I should have
selected for such a step the very moment when an irreparable calamity
befalls you.  One word will explain all.  Being in a position to
serve you, I wished to acquire the right of doing so.”

Fixing upon him a look in which the gloomiest despair could be read,

“Alas!” stammered the poor woman, “what can you do for me, sir?  My
life is ended.  I have but one wish left,--that of knowing where
my husband is hid.  It is not for me to judge him.  He has not given
me the happiness which I had, perhaps, the right to expect; but he
is my husband, he is unhappy: my duty is to join him wherever he may
be, and to share his sufferings.”

She was interrupted by the servant, who was calling her at the
parlor-door, “Madame, madame!”

“What is the matter?” inquired Maxence.

“I must speak to madame at once.”

Making an effort to rise and walk, Mme. Favoral went out.  She was
gone but a minute; and, when she returned, her agitation had further
increased.  “It is the hand of Providence, perhaps,” she said.  The
others were all looking at her anxiously.  She took a seat, and,
addressing herself more especially to M. de Tregars,

“This is what happens,” she said in a feeble voice.  “M. Favoral
was in the habit of always changing his coat as soon as he came home.
As usual, he did so last evening.  When they came to arrest him, he
forgot to change again, and went off with the coat he had on.  The
other remained hanging in the room, where the girl took it just now
to brush it, and put it away; and this portfolio, which my husband
always carries with him, fell from its pocket.”

It was an old Russia leather portfolio, which had once been red, but
which time and use had turned black.  It was full of papers.

“Perhaps, indeed,” exclaimed Maxence, “we may find some information
there.”

He opened it, and had already taken out three-fourths of its contents
without finding any thing of any consequence, when suddenly he
uttered an exclamation.  He had just opened an anonymous note,
evidently written in a disguised hand, and at one glance had read,

“I cannot understand your negligence.  You should get through that
Van Klopen matter.  There is the danger.”

“What is that note?” inquired M. de Tregars.

Maxence handed it to him.

“See!” said he, “but you will not understand the immense interest
it has for me.”

But having read it,

“You are mistaken,” said Marius.  “I understand perfectly; and I’ll
prove it to you.”

The next moment, Maxence took out of the portfolio, and read aloud,
the following bill, dated two days before.

“Sold to ---- two leather trunks with safety locks at 220 francs each;
say, francs 440.”

M. de Tregars started.

“At last,” he said, “here is doubtless one end of the thread which
will guide us to the truth through this labyrinth of iniquities.”

And, tapping gently on Maxence’s shoulders,

“We must talk,” he said, “and at length.  To-morrow, before you go
to M. de Thaller’s with his fifteen thousand francs, call and see
me: I shall expect you.  We are now engaged upon a common work; and
something tells me, that, before long, we shall know what has become
of the Mutual Credit’s millions.”



PART II. FISHING IN TROUBLED WATERS.


I

“When I think,” said Coleridge, “that every morning, in Paris alone,
thirty thousand fellows wake up, and rise with the fixed and settled
idea of appropriating other people’s money, it is with renewed wonder
that every night, when I go home, I find my purse still in my pocket.”

And yet it is not those who simply aim to steal your portemonnaie
who are either the most dishonest or the most formidable.

To stand at the corner of some dark street, and rush upon the first
man that comes along, demanding, “Your money or your life,” is but a
poor business, devoid of all prestige, and long since given up to
chivalrous natures.

A man must be something worse than a simpleton to still ply his
trade on the high-roads, exposed to all sorts of annoyances on the
part of the gendarmes, when manufacturing and financial enterprises
offer such a magnificently fertile field to the activity of
imaginative people.

And, in order to thoroughly understand the mode of proceeding in
this particular field, it is sufficient to open from time to time a
copy of “The Police Gazette,” and to read some trial, like that, for
instance, of one Lefurteux, ex-president of the Company for the
Drainage and Improvement of the Orne Swamps.

This took place less than a month ago in one of the police-courts.

The Judge to the Accused--Your profession?

M. Lefurteux--President of the company.

Question--Before that what were you doing?

Answer--I speculated at the bourse.

Q--You had no means?

A--I beg your pardon: I was making money.

Q--And it was under such circumstances that you had the audacity
to organize a company with a capital stock of three million of
francs, divided in shares of five hundred francs?

A--Having discovered an idea, I did not suppose that I was forbidden
to work it up.

Q--What do you call an idea?

A--The idea of draining swamps, and making them productive.

Q--What swamps?  Yours never had any existence, except in your
prospectus.

A--I expected to buy them as soon as my capital was paid in.

Q--And in the mean time you promised ten per cent to your
stockholders.

A--That’s the least that draining operations ever pay.

Q--You have advertised?

A--Of course.

Q--To what extent?

A--To the extent of about sixty thousand francs.

Q--Where did you get the money?

A--I commenced with ten thousand francs, which a friend of mine had
lent me; then I used the funds as they came in.

Q--In other words, you made use of the money of your first dupes to
attract others?

A--Many people thought it was a good thing.

Q--Who?  Those to whom you sent your prospectus with a plan of your
pretended swamps?

A--Excuse me.  Others too.

Q--How much money did you ever receive?

A--About six hundred thousand francs, as the expert has stated.

Q--And you have spent the whole of the money?

A--Permit me?  I have never applied to my personal wants anything
beyond the salary which was allowed me by the By-laws.

Q--How is it, then, that, when you were arrested, there were only
twelve hundred and fifty francs found in your safe, and that amount
had been sent you through the post-office that very morning?  What
has become of the rest?

A--The rest has been spent for the good of the company.

Q--Of course!  You had a carriage?

A--It was allowed to me by Article 27 of the By-laws.

Q--For the good of the company too, I suppose.

A--Certainly.  I was compelled to make a certain display.  The head
of an important company must endeavor to inspire confidence.

The Judge, with an Ironical Look--Was it also to inspire confidence
that you had a mistress, for whom you spent considerable sums of
money?

The Accused, in a Tone of Perfect Candor--Yes, sir.

After a pause of a few moments, the judge resumes,

Q--Your offices were magnificent.  They must have cost you a great
deal to furnish.

A--On the contrary, sir, almost nothing.  The furniture was all
hired.  You can examine the upholsterer.

The upholsterer is sent for, and in answer to the judge’s questions,

“What M. Lefurteux has stated,” he says, “is true.  My specialty is
to hire office-fixtures for financial and other companies.  I furnish
every thing, from the book-keepers’ desks to the furniture for the
president’s private room: from the iron safe to the servant’s livery.
In twenty-four hours, every thing is ready, and the subscribers can
come.  As soon as a company is organized, like the one in question,
the officers call on me, and, according to the magnitude of the
capital required, I furnish a more or less costly establishment.  I
have a good deal of experience, and I know just what’s wanted.
When M. Lefurteux came to see me, I gauged his operation at a glance.
Three millions of capital, swamps in the Orne, shares of five hundred
francs, small subscribers, anxious and noisy.

“‘Very well,’ I said to him, ‘it’s a six-months’ job.  Don’t go into
useless expenses.  Take reps for your private office: that’s good
enough.’”

The Judge, in a tone of Profound Surprise--You told him that?

The Upholsterer, in the Simple Accent of an Honest Man--Exactly as
I am telling your Honor.  He followed my advice; and I sent him red
hot the furniture and fixtures which had been used by the River
Fishery Company, whose president had just been sent to prison for
three years.

When, after such revelations, renewed from week to week, with
instructive variations, purchasers may still be found for the shares
of the Tiffla Mines, the Bretoneche Lands, and the Forests of
Formanoid, is it to be wondered that the Mutual Credit Company found
numerous subscribers?

It had been admirably started at that propitious hour of the
December Coup d’Etat, when the first ideas of mutuality were
beginning to penetrate the financial world.

It had lacked neither capital nor powerful patronage at the start,
and had been at once admitted to the honor of being quoted at the
bourse.

Beginning business ostensibly as an accommodation bank for
manufacturers and merchants, the Mutual Credit had had, for a number
of years, a well-determined specialty.

But gradually it had enlarged the circle of its operations, altered
its by-laws, changed its board of directors; and at the end the
original subscribers would have been not a little embarrassed to
tell what was the nature of its business, and from what sources it
drew its profits.

All they knew was, that it always paid respectable dividends; that
their manager, M. de Thaller, was personally very rich; and that
they were willing to trust him to steer clear of the code.

There were some, of course, who did not view things in quite so
favorable a light; who suggested that the dividends were suspiciously
large; that M. de Thaller spent too much money on his house, his
wife, his daughter, and his mistress.

One thing is certain, that the shares of the Mutual Credit Society
were much above par, and were quoted at 580 francs on that Saturday,
when, after the closing of the bourse, the rumor had spread that
the cashier, Vincent Favoral, had run off with twelve millions.

“What a haul!” thought, not without a feeling of envy, more than
one broker, who, for merely one-twelfth of that amount would have
gayly crossed the frontier.  It was almost an event in Paris.

Although such adventures are frequent enough, and not taken much
notice of, in the present instance, the magnitude of the amount
more than made up for the vulgarity of the act.

Favoral was generally pronounced a very smart man; and some persons
declared, that to take twelve millions could hardly be called
stealing.

The first question asked was,

“Is Thaller in the operation?  Was he in collusion with his cashier?”

“That’s the whole question.”

“If he was, then the Mutual Credit is better off than ever:
otherwise, it is gone under.”

“Thaller is pretty smart.”

“That Favoral was perhaps more so still.”

This uncertainty kept up the price for about half an hour.  But soon
the most disastrous news began to spread, brought, no one knew
whence or by whom; and there was an irresistible panic.

From 425, at which price it had maintained itself for a time, the
Mutual Credit fell suddenly to 300, then 200, and finally to 150
francs.

Some friends of M. de Thaller, M. Costeclar, for instance, had
endeavored to keep up the market; but they had soon recognized the
futility of their efforts, and then they had bravely commenced
doing like the rest.

The next day was Sunday.  From the early morning, it was reported,
with the most circumstantial details, that the Baron de Thaller
had been arrested.

But in the evening this had been contradicted by people who had
gone to the races, and who had met there Mme. de Thaller and her
daughter, more brilliant than ever, very lively, and very talkative.
To the persons who went to speak to them,

“My husband was unable to come,” said the baroness.  “He is busy
with two of his clerks, looking over that poor Favoral’s accounts.
It seems that they are in the most inconceivable confusion.  Who
would ever have thought such a thing of a man who lived on bread and
nuts?  But he operated at the bourse; and he had organized, under a
false name, a sort of bank, in which he has very foolishly sunk
large sums of money.”

And with a smile, as if all danger had been luckily averted,

“Fortunately,” she added, “the damage is not as great as has been
reported, and this time, again, we shall get off with a good fright.”

But the speeches of the baroness were hardly sufficient to quiet
the anxiety of the people who felt in their coat-pockets the
worthless certificates of Mutual Credit stock.

And the next day, Monday, as early as eight o’clock, they began to
arrive in crowds to demand of M. de Thaller some sort of an
explanation.

They were there, at least a hundred, huddled together in the
vestibule, on the stairs, and on the first landing, a prey to the
most painful emotion and the most violent excitement; for they had
been refused admittance.

To all those who insisted upon going in, a tall servant in livery,
standing before the door, replied invariably, “The office is not
open, M. de Thaller has not yet come.”

Whereupon they uttered such terrible threats and such loud
imprecations, that the frightened concierge had run, and hid himself
at the very bottom of his lodge.

No one can imagine to what epileptic contortions the loss of money
can drive an assemblage of men, who has not seen a meeting of
shareholders on the morrow of a great disaster, with their clinched
fists, their convulsed faces, their glaring eyes, and foaming lips.

They felt indignant at what had once been their delight.  They laid
the blame of their ruin upon the splendor of the house, the
sumptuousness of the stairs, the candelabras of the vestibule, the
carpets, the chairs, every thing.

“And it is our money too,” they cried, “that has paid for all that!”

Standing upon a bench, a little short man was exciting transports
of indignation by describing the magnificence of the Baron de
Thaller’s residence, where he had once had some dealings.

He had counted five carriages in the carriage-house, fifteen horses
in the stables, and Heaven knows how many servants.

He had never been inside the apartments, but he had visited the
kitchen; and he declared that he had been dazzled by the number
and brightness of the saucepans, ranged in order of size over
the furnace.

Gathered in a group under the vestibule, the most sensible deplored
their rash confidence.

“That’s the way,” concluded one, “with all these adventurous affairs.”

“That’s a fact.  There’s nothing, after all, like government bonds.”

“Or a first mortgage on good property, with subrogation of the wife’s
rights.”

But what exasperated them all was not to be admitted to the presence
of M. de Thaller, and to see that servant mounting guard before
the door.

“What impudence,” they growled, “to leave us on the stairs!--we who
are the masters, after all.”

“Who knows where M. de Thaller may be?”

“He is hiding, of course.”

“No matter: I will see him,” clamored a big fat man, with a
brick-colored face, “if I shouldn’t stir from here for a week.”

“You’ll see nothing at all,” giggled his neighbor.  “Do you suppose
they don’t have back-stairs and private entrances in this infernal
shop?”

“Ah! if I believed any thing of the kind,” exclaimed the big man
in a voice trembling with passion.  “I’d soon break in some of these
doors: it isn’t so hard, after all.”

Already he was gazing at the servant with an alarming air, when an
old gentleman with a discreet look, stepped up to him, and inquired,

“Excuse me, sir: how many shares have you?”

“Three,” answered the man with the brick-colored face.

The other sighed.

“I have two hundred and fifty,” he said.  “That’s why, being at
least as interested as yourself in not losing every thing, I beg of
you to indulge in no violent proceedings.”

There was no need of further speaking.

The door which the servant was guarding flew open.  A clerk appeared,
and made sign that he wished to speak.

“Gentlemen,” he began, “M. de Thaller has just come; but he is just
now engaged with the examining judge.”

Shouts having drowned his voice, he withdrew precipitately.

“If the law gets its finger in,” murmured the discreet gentleman,
“good-by!”

“That’s a fact,” said another.  “But we will have the precious
advantage of hearing that dear baron condemned to one year’s
imprisonment, and a fine of fifty francs.  That’s the regular rate.
He wouldn’t get off so cheap, if he had stolen a loaf of bread from
a baker.”

“Do you believe that story about the judge?” interrupted rudely the
big man.

They had to believe it, when they saw him appear, followed by a
commissary of police and a porter, carrying on his back a load of
books and papers.  They stood aside to let them pass; but there was
no time to make any comments, as another clerk appeared immediately
who said,

“M. de Thaller is at your command, gentlemen.  Please walk in.”

There was then a terrible jamming and pushing to see who would get
first into the directors’ room, which stood wide open.

M. de Thaller was standing against the mantel-piece, neither paler
nor more excited than usual, but like a man who feels sure of
himself and of his means of action.  As soon as silence was restored,

“First of all, gentlemen,” he began, “I must tell you that the board
of directors is about to meet, and that a general meeting of the
stockholders will be called.”

Not a murmur.  As at the touch of a magician’s wand, the dispositions
of the shareholders seemed to have changed.

“I have nothing new to inform you of,” he went on.  “What happened
is a misfortune, but not a disaster.  The thing to do was to save
the company; and I had first thought of calling for funds.”

“Well,” said two or three timid voices, “If it was absolutely
necessary--”

“But there is no need of it.”

“Ah, ah!”

“And I can manage to carry every thing through by adding to our
reserve fund my own personal fortune.”

This time the hurrahs and the bravos drowned the voice.

M. de Thaller received them like a man who deserves them, and,
more slowly,

“Honor commanded it,” he continued.  “I confess it, gentlemen, the
wretch who has so basely deceived us had my entire confidence.  You
will understand my apparent blindness when you know with what
infernal skill he managed.”

Loud imprecations burst on all sides against Vincent Favoral.  But
the president of the Mutual Credit proceeded,

“For the present, all I have to ask of you is to keep cool, and
continue to give me your confidence.”

“Yes, yes!”

“The panic of night before last was but a stock-gambling manoeuvre,
organized by rival establishments, who were in hopes of taking our
clients away from us.  They will be disappointed, gentlemen.  We
will triumphantly demonstrate our soundness; and we shall come out
of this trial more powerful than ever.”

It was all over.  M. de Thaller understood his business.  They
offered him a vote of thanks.  A smile was beaming upon the same
faces that were a moment before contracted with rage.

One stockholder alone did not seem to share the general enthusiasm:
he was no other than our old friend, M. Chapelain, the ex-lawyer.

“That fellow, Thaller, is just capable of getting himself out of
the scrape,” he grumbled.  “I must tell Maxence.”



II

We have every species of courage in France, and to a superior
degree, except that of braving public opinion.  Few men would have
dared, like Marius de Tregars, to offer their name to the daughter
of a wretch charged with embezzlement and forgery, and that at the
very moment when the scandal of the crime was at its height.  But,
when Marius judged a thing good and just, he did it without
troubling himself in the least about what others would think.  And
so his mere presence in the Rue. St. Gilles had brought back hope
to its inmates.  Of his designs he had said but a word,--“I have
the means of helping you: I mean, by marrying Gilberte, to acquire
the right of doing so.”

But that word had been enough.  Mme. Favoral and Maxence had
understood that the man who spoke thus was one of those cool and
resolute men whom nothing disconcerts or discourages, and who knows
how to make the best of the most perilous situations.

And, when he had retired with the Count de Villegre,

“I don’t know what he will do,” said Mlle. Gilberte to her mother
and her brother: “but he will certainly do something; and, if it
is humanly possible to succeed, he will succeed.”

And how proudly she spoke thus!  The assistance of Marius was the
justification of her conduct.  She trembled with joy at the thought
that it would, perhaps, be to the man whom she had alone and boldly
selected, that her family would owe their salvation.  Shaking his
head, and making allusion to events of which he kept the secret,

“I really believe,” approved Maxence, “that, to reach the enemies
of our father, M. de Tregars possesses some powerful means; and what
they are we will doubtless soon know, since I have an appointment
with him for to-morrow morning.”

It came at last, that morrow, which he had awaited with an impatience
that neither his mother nor his sister could suspect.  And towards
half-past nine he was ready to go out, when M. Chapelain came in.
Still irritated by the scenes he had just witnessed at the Mutual
Credit office, the old lawyer had a most lugubrious countenance.

“I bring bad news,” he began.  “I have just seen the Baron de
Thaller.”

He had said so much the day before about having nothing more to do
with it, that Maxence could not repress a gesture of surprise.

“Oh! it isn’t alone that I saw him,” added M. Chapelain, “but
together with at least a hundred stockholders of the Mutual Credit.”

“They are going to do something, then?”

“No: they only came near doing something.  You should have seen them
this morning!  They were furious; they threatened to break every
thing; they wanted M. de Thaller’s blood.  It was terrible.  But M.
de Thaller condescended to receive them; and they became at once as
meek as lambs.  It is perfectly simple.  What do you suppose
stockholders can do, no matter how exasperated they may be, when
their manager tells them?

“‘Well, yes, it’s a fact you have been robbed, and your money is in
great jeopardy; but if you make any fuss, if you complain thus, all
is sure to be lost.’ Of course, the stockholders keep quiet.  It is
a well-known fact that a business which has to be liquidated through
the courts is gone; and swindled stockholders fear the law almost as
much as the swindling manager.  A single fact will make the situation
clearer to you.  Less than an hour ago, M. de Thaller’s stockholders,
offered him money to make up the loss.”

And, after a moment of silence,

“But this is not all.  Justice has interfered; and M. de Thaller
spent the morning with an examining-magistrate.”

“Well?”

“Well, I have enough experience to affirm that you must not rely
any more upon justice than upon the stockholders.  Unless there are
proofs so evident that they are not likely to exist, M. de Thaller
will not be disturbed.”

“Oh!”

“Why?  Because, my dear, in all those big financial operations,
justice, as much as possible, remains blind.  Not through corruption
or any guilty connivance, but through considerations of public
interest.  If the manager was prosecuted he would be condemned to a
few years’ imprisonment; but his stockholders would at the same time
be condemned to lose what they have left; so that the victims would
be more severely punished than the swindler.  And so, powerless,
justice does not interfere.  And that’s what accounts for the
impudence and impunity of all these high-flown rascals who go about
with their heads high, their pockets filled with other people’s money,
and half a dozen decorations at their button-hole.”

“And what then?” asked Maxence.

“Then it is evident that your father is lost.  Whether or not he
did have accomplices, he will be alone sacrificed.  A scapegoat is
needed to be slaughtered on the altar of credit.  Well, they will
give that much satisfaction to the swindled stockholders.  The
twelve millions will be lost; but the shares of the Mutual Credit
will go up, and public morality will be safe.”

Somewhat moved by the old lawyer’s tone,

“What do you advise me to do, then?” inquired Maxence.

“The very reverse of what, on the first impulse, I advised you to
do.  That’s why I have come.  I told you yesterday, ‘Make a row,
act, scream.  It is impossible that your father be alone guilty;
attack M. de Thaller.’  To-day, after mature deliberation, I say,
‘Keep quiet, hide yourself, let the scandal drop.’”

A bitter smile contracted Maxence’s lips.

“It is not very brave advice you are giving me there,” he said.

“It is a friend’s advice,--the advice of a man who knows life
better than yourself.  Poor young man, you are not aware of the
peril of certain struggles.  All knaves are in league and sustain
each other.  To attack one is to attack them all.  You have no
idea of the occult influences of which a man can dispose who
handles millions, and who, in exchange for a favor, has always a
bonus to offer, or a good operation to propose.  If at least I
could see any chance of success!  But you have not one.  You never
can reach M. de Thaller, henceforth backed by his stockholders.
You will only succeed in making an enemy whose hostility will weigh
upon your whole life.”

“What does it matter?”

M. Chapelain shrugged his shoulders.

“If you were alone,” he went on, “I would say as you do, ‘What does
it matter?’ But you are no longer alone: you have your mother and
sister to take care of.  You must think of food before thinking of
vengeance.  How much a month do you earn?  Two hundred francs!  It
is not much for three persons.  I would never suggest that you
should solicit M. de Thaller’s protection; but it would be well,
perhaps, to let him know that he has nothing to fear from you.  Why
shouldn’t you do so when you take his fifteen thousand francs back
to him?  If, as every thing indicates, he has been your father’s
accomplice, he will certainly be touched by the distress of your
family, and, if he has any heart left, he will manage to make you
find, without appearing to have any thing to do with it, a situation
better suited to your wants.  I know that such a step must be very
painful; but I repeat it, my dear child, you can no longer think of
yourself alone; and what one would not do for himself, one does for
a mother and a sister.”

Maxence said nothing.  Not that he was in any way affected by the
worthy old lawyer’s speech; but he was asking himself whether or
not he should confide to him the events which in the past twenty-four
hours had so suddenly modified the situation.  He did not feel
authorized to do so.

Marius de Tregars had not bound him to secrecy; but an indiscretion
might have fatal consequences.  And, after a moment of thought,

“I am obliged to you, sir,” he replied evasively, “for the interest
you have manifested in our welfare; and we shall always greatly
prize your advice.  But for the present you must allow me to leave
you with my mother and sister.  I have an appointment with--a
friend.”

And, without waiting for an answer, he slipped M. de Thaller’s
fifteen thousand francs in his pocket, and hurried out.  It was not
to M. de Tregars that he went first, however, but to the Hotel des
Folies.

“Mlle. Lucienne has just come home with a big bundle,” said Mme.
Fortin to Maxence, with her pleasantest smile, as soon as she had
seen him emerge from the shades of the corridor.

For the past twenty-four hours, the worthy hostess had been watching
for her guest, in the hopes of obtaining some information which she
might communicate to the neighbors.  Without even condescending to
answer, a piece of rudeness at which she felt much hurt, he crossed
the narrow court of the hotel at a bound, and started up stairs.

Mlle. Lucienne’s room was open.  He walked in, and, still out of
breath from his rapid ascension,

“I am glad to find you in,” he exclaimed.  The young girl was busy,
arranging upon her bed a dress of very light colored silk, trimmed
with ruches and lace, an overdress to match, and a bonnet of
wonderful shape, loaded with the most brilliant feathers and flowers.

“You see what brings me here,” she replied.  “I came home to dress.
At two o’clock the carriage is coming to take me to the bois, where
I am to exhibit this costume, certainly the most ridiculous that Van
Klopen has yet made me wear.”

A smile flitted upon Maxence’s lips.

“Who knows,” said he, “if this is not the last time you will have
to perform this odious task?  Ah, my friend! what events have taken
place since I last saw you!”

“Fortunate ones?”

“You will judge for yourself.”

He closed the door carefully, and, returning to Mlle. Lucienne,

“Do you know the Marquis de Tregars?” he asked.

“No more than you do.  It was yesterday, at the commissary of police,
that I first heard his name.”

“Well, before a month, M. de Tregars will be Mlle. Gilberte Favoral’s
husband.”

“Is it possible?” exclaimed Mlle. Lucienne with a look of extreme
surprise.

But, instead of answering,

“You told me,” resumed Maxence, “that once, in a day of supreme
distress, you had applied to Mme. de Thaller for assistance, whereas
you were actually entitled to an indemnity for having been run over
and seriously hurt by her carriage.”

“That is true.”

“Whilst you were in the vestibule, waiting for an answer to your
letter, which a servant had taken up stairs, M. de Thaller came in;
and, when he saw you, he could not repress a gesture of surprise,
almost of terror.”

“That is true too.”

“This behavior of M. de Thaller always remained an enigma to you.”

“An inexplicable one.”

“Well, I think that I can explain it to you now.”

“You?”

Lowering his voice; for he knew that at the Hotel des Folies there
was always to fear some indiscreet ear.

“Yes, I,” he answered; “and for the reason that yesterday, when M.
de Tregars appeared in my mother’s parlor, I could not suppress an
exclamation of surprise, for the reason, Lucienne, that, between
Marius de Tregars and yourself, there is a resemblance with which it
is impossible not to be struck.”

Mlle. Lucienne had become very pale.

“What do you suppose, then?” she asked.

“I believe, my friend, that we are very near penetrating at once the
mystery of your birth and the secret of the hatred that has pursued
you since the day when you first set your foot in M. de Thaller’s
house.”

Admirably self-possessed as Mlle. Lucienne usually was, the
quivering of her lips betrayed at this moment the intensity of her
emotion.

After more than a minute of profound meditation,

“The commissary of police,” she said, “has never told me his hopes,
except in vague terms.  He has told me enough, however, to make me
think that he has already had suspicions similar to yours.”

“Of course!  Would he otherwise have questioned me on the subject
of M. de Tregars?”

Mlle. Lucienne shook her head.

“And yet,” she said, “even after your explanation, it is in vain
that I seek why and how I can so far disturb M. de Thaller’s security
that he wishes to do away with me.”

Maxence made a gesture of superb indifference.  “I confess,” he
said, “that I don’t see it either.  But what matters it?  Without
being able to explain why, I feel that the Baron de Thaller is the
common enemy, yours, mine, my father’s, and M. de Tregars’.  And
something tells me, that, with M. de Tregars’ help, we shall triumph.
You would share my confidence, Lucienne, if you knew him.  There is
a man! and my sister has made no vulgar choice.  If he has told my
mother that he has the means of serving her, it is because he
certainly has.”

He stopped, and, after a moment of silence, “Perhaps,” he went on,
“the commissary of police might readily understand what I only dimly
suspect; but, until further orders, we are forbidden to have recourse
to him.  It is not my own secret that I have just told you; and, if
I have confided it to you, it is because I feel that it is a great
piece of good fortune for us; and there is no joy for me, that you
do not share.”

Mlle. Lucienne wanted to ask many more particulars.  But, looking at
his watch,

“Half-past ten!” he exclaimed, “and M. de Tregars waiting for me.”

And he started off, repeating once more to the young girl,

“I will see you to-night: until then, good hope and good courage.”

In the court, two ill-looking men were talking with the Fortins.
But it happened often to the Fortins to talk with ill-looking men:
so he took no notice of them, ran out to the Boulevard, and jumping
into a cab,

“Rue Lafitte 70,” he cried to the driver, “I pay the trip,--three
francs.”

When Marius de Tregars had finally determined to compel the bold
rascals who had swindled his father to disgorge, he had taken in
the Rue Lafitte a small, plainly-furnished apartment on the entresol,
a fit dwelling for the man of action, the tent in which he takes
shelter on the eve of battle; and he had to wait upon him an old
family servant, whom he had found out of place, and who had for him
that unquestioning and obstinate devotion peculiar to Breton servants.

It was this excellent man who came at the first stroke of the bell
to open the door.  And, as soon as Maxence had told him his name,

“Ah!” he exclaimed, “my master has been expecting you with a
terrible impatience.”

It was so true, that M. de Tregars himself appeared at the same
moment, and, leading Maxence into the little room which he used
as a study,

“Do you know,” he said whilst shaking him cordially by the hand,
“that you are almost an hour behind time?”

Maxence had, among others the detestable fault, sure indication of
a weak nature, of being never willing to be in the wrong, and of
having always an excuse ready.  On this occasion, the excuse was
too tempting to allow it to escape; and quick he began telling how
he had been detained by M. Chapelain, and how he had heard from the
old lawyer what had taken place at the Mutual Credit office.

“I know the scene already,” said M. de Tregars.  And, fixing upon
Maxence a look of friendly raillery,

“Only,” he added, “I attributed your want of punctuality to another
reason, a very pretty one this time, a brunette.”

A purple cloud spread over Maxence’s cheeks.

“What!” he stammered, “you know?”

“I thought you must have been in haste to go and tell a person of
your acquaintance why, when you saw me yesterday, you uttered an
exclamation of surprise.”

This time Maxence lost all countenance.

“What,” he said, “you know too?”

M. de Tregars smiled.

“I know a great many things, my dear M. Maxence,” he replied; “and
yet, as I do not wish to be suspected of witchcraft, I will tell
you where all my science comes from.  At the time when your house
was closed to me, after seeking for a long time some means of
hearing from your sister, I discovered at last that she had for
her music-teacher an old Italian, the Signor Gismondo Pulei.  I
applied to him for lessons, and became his pupil.  But, in the
beginning, he kept looking at me with singular persistence.  I
inquired the reason; and he told me that he had once had for a
neighbor, at the Batignolles, a young working-girl, who resembled
me prodigiously.  I paid no attention to this circumstance, and
had, in fact, completely forgotten it; when, quite lately, Gismondo
told me that he had just seen his former neighbor again, and, what’s
more, arm in arm with you, and that you both entered together the
Hotel des Folies.  As he insisted again upon that famous resemblance,
I determined to see for myself.  I watched, and I stated, _de visa_,
that my old Italian was not quite wrong, and that I had, perhaps,
just found the weapon I was looking for.”

His eyes staring, and his mouth gaping, Maxence looked like a man
fallen from the clouds.

“Ah, you did watch!” he said.

M. de Tregars snapped his fingers with a gesture of indifference.

“It is certain,” he replied, “that, for a month past, I have been
doing a singular business.  But it is not by remaining on my chair,
preaching against the corruption of the age, that I can attain my
object.  The end justifies the means.  Honest men are very silly,
I think, to allow the rascals to get the better of them under the
sentimental pretext that they cannot condescend to make use of their
weapons.”

But an honorable scruple was tormenting Maxence.

“And you think yourself well-informed, sir?” he inquired.  “You
know Lucienne?”

“Enough to know that she is not what she seems to be, and what
almost any other would have been in her place; enough to be certain,
that, if she shows herself two or three times a week riding around
the lake, it is not for her pleasure; enough, also, to be persuaded,
that, despite appearances, she is not your mistress, and that, far
from having disturbed your life, and compromised your prospects,
she set you back into the right road, at the moment, perhaps, when
you were about to branch off into the wrong path.”

Marius de Tregars was assuming fantastic proportions in the mind of
Maxence.

“How did you manage,” he stammered, “thus to find out the truth?”

“With time and money, every thing is possible.”

“But you must have had grave reasons to take so much trouble about
Lucienne.”

“Very grave ones, indeed.”

“You know that she was basely forsaken when quite a child?”

“Perfectly.”

“And that she was brought up through charity?”

“By some poor gardeners at Louveciennes: yes, I know all that.”

Maxence was trembling with joy.  It seemed to him that his most
dazzling hopes were about to be realized.  Seizing the hands of
Marius de Tregars,

“Ah, you know Lucienne’s family!” he exclaimed.  But M. de Tregars
shook his head.

“I have suspicions,” he answered; “but, up to this time, I have
suspicions only, I assure you.”

“But that family does exist; since they have already, at three
different times, attempted to get rid of the poor girl.”

“I think as you do; but we must have proofs: and we shall find some.
You may rest assured of that.”

Here he was interrupted by the noise of the opening door.

The old servant came in, and advancing to the centre of the room
with a mysterious look,

“Madame la Baronne de Thaller,” he said in a low voice.

Marius de Tregars started violently.

“Where?” he asked.

“She is down stairs in her carriage,” replied the servant.  “Her
footman is here, asking whether monsieur is at home, and whether
she can come up.”

“Can she possibly have heard any thing?” murmured M. de Tregars
with a deep frown.  And, after a moment of reflection,

“So much the more reason to see her,” he added quickly.  “Let her
come.  Request her to do me the honor of coming up stairs.”

This last incident completely upset all Maxence’s ideas.  He no
longer knew what to imagine.

“Quick,” said M. de Tregars to him: “quick, disappear; and, whatever
you may hear, not a word!”

And he pushed him into his bedroom, which was divided from the study
by a mere tapestry curtain.  It was time; for already in the next
room could be heard a great rustling of silk and starched petticoats.
Mme. de Thaller appeared.

She was still the same coarsely beautiful woman, who, sixteen years
before, had sat at Mme. Favoral’s table.  Time had passed without
scarcely touching her with the tip of his wing.  Her flesh had
retained its dazzling whiteness; her hair, of a bluish black, its
marvelous opulence; her lips, their carmine hue; her eyes, their
lustre.  Her figure only had become heavier, her features less
delicate; and her neck and throat had lost their undulations, and
the purity of their outlines.

But neither the years, nor the millions, nor the intimacy of the
most fashionable women, had been able to give her those qualities
which cannot be acquired,--grace, distinction, and taste.

If there was a woman accustomed to dress, it was she: a splendid
dry-goods store could have been set up with the silks and the
velvets, the satins and cashmeres, the muslins, the laces, and all
the known tissues, that had passed over her shoulders.

Her elegance was quoted and copied.  And yet there was about her
always and under all circumstances, an indescribable flavor of the
_parvenue_.  Her gestures had remained trivial; her voice, common and
vulgar.

Throwing herself into an arm-chair, and bursting into a loud laugh,

“Confess, my dear marquis,” she said, “that you are terribly
astonished to see me thus drop upon you, without warning, at eleven
o’clock in the morning.”

“I feel, above all, terribly flattered,” replied M. de Tregars,
smiling.

With a rapid glance she was surveying the little study, the modest
furniture, the papers piled on the desk, as if she had hoped that
the dwelling would reveal to her something of the master’s ideas
and projects.

“I was just coming from Van Klopen’s,” she resumed; “and passing
before your house, I took a fancy to come in and stir you up; and
here I am.”

M. de Tregars was too much a man of the world, and of the best world,
to allow his features to betray the secret of his impressions; and
yet, to any one who had known him well, a certain contraction of the
eyelids would have revealed a serious annoyance and an intense
anxiety.

“How is the baron?” he inquired.

“As sound as an oak,” answered Mme. de Thaller, “notwithstanding all
the cares and the troubles, which you can well imagine.  By the way,
you know what has happened to us?”

“I read in the papers that the cashier of the Mutual Credit had
disappeared.”

“And it is but too true.  That wretch Favoral has gone off with an
enormous amount of money.”

“Twelve millions, I heard.”

“Something like it.  A man who had the reputation of a saint too; a
puritan.  Trust people’s faces after that!  I never liked him, I
confess.  But M. de Thaller had a perfect fancy for him; and, when
he had spoken of his Favoral, there was nothing more to say.  Any
way, he has cleared out, leaving his family without means.  A very
interesting family, it seems, too,--a wife who is goodness itself,
and a charming daughter: at least, so says Costeclar, who is very
much in love with her.”

M. de Tregars’ countenance remained perfectly indifferent, like
that of a man who is hearing about persons and things in which he
does not take the slightest interest.

Mme. de Thaller noticed this.

“But it isn’t to tell you all this,” she went on, “that I came up.
It is an interested motive brought me.  We have, some of my friends
and myself, organized a lottery--a work of charity, my dear marquis,
and quite patriotic--for the benefit of the Alsatians, I have lots of
tickets to dispose of; and I’ve thought of you to help me out.”

More smiling than ever,

“I am at your orders, madame,” answered Marius, “but, in mercy,
spare me.”

She took out some tickets from a small shell pocket-book.

“Twenty, at ten francs,” she said.  “It isn’t too much, is it?”

“It is a great deal for my modest resources.”

She pocketed the ten napoleons which he handed her, and, in a tone
of ironical compassion,

“Are you so very poor, then?” she asked.

“Why, I am neither banker nor broker, you know.”

She had risen, and was smoothing the folds of her dress.

“Well, my dear marquis,” she resumed, “it is certainly not me who
will pity you.  When a man of your age, and with your name, remains
poor, it is his own fault.  Are there no rich heiresses?”

“I confess that I haven’t tried to find one yet.”  She looked at
him straight in the eyes, and then suddenly bursting out laughing,

“Look around you,” she said, “and I am sure you’ll not be long
discovering a beautiful young girl, very blonde, who would be
delighted to become Marquise de Tregars, and who would bring in
her apron a dowry of twelve or fifteen hundred thousand francs in
good securities,--securities which the Favorals can’t carry off.
Think well, and then come to see us.  You know that M. de Thaller
is very fond of you; and, after all the trouble we have been having,
you owe us a visit.”

Whereupon she went out, M. de Tregars going down to escort her to
her carriage.  But as he came up,

“Attention!” he cried to Maxence; “for it’s very evident that the
Thallers have wind of something.”



III

It was a revelation, that visit of Mme. de Thaller’s; and there was
no need of very much perspicacity to guess her anxiety beneath her
bursts of laughter, and to understand that it was a bargain she had
come to propose.  It was evident, therefore, that Marius de Tregars
held within his hands the principal threads of that complicated
intrigue which had just culminated in that robbery of twelve
millions.  But would he be able to make use of them?  What were his
designs, and his means of action?  That is what Maxence could not in
any way conjecture.

He had no time to ask questions.

“Come,” said M. Tregars, whose agitation was manifest,--“come, let
us breakfast: we have not a moment to lose.”

And, whilst his servant was bringing in his modest meal,

“I am expecting M. d’Escajoul,” he said.  “Show him in as soon as
he comes.”

Retired as he had lived from the financial world, Maxence had yet
heard the name of Octave d’Escajoul.

Who has not seen him, happy and smiling, his eye bright, and his lip
ruddy, notwithstanding his fifty years, walking on the sunny side
of the Boulevard, with his royal blue jacket and his eternal white
vest?  He is passionately fond of everything that tends to make life
pleasant and easy; dines at Bignon’s, or the Cafe Anglais; plays
baccarat at the club with extraordinary luck; has the most comfortable
apartment and the most elegant coupe in all Paris.  With all this,
he is pleased to declare that he is the happiest of men, and is
certainly one of the most popular; for he cannot walk three blocks
on the Boulevard without lifting his hat at least fifty times, and
shaking hands twice as often.

And when any one asks, “What does he do?” the invariable answer is,
“Why he operates.”

To explain what sort of operations, would not be, perhaps, very
easy.  In the world of rogues, there are some rogues more formidable
and more skillful than the rest, who always manage to escape the hand
of the law.  They are not such fools as to operate in person,--not
they!  They content themselves with watching their friends and
comrades.  If a good haul is made, at once they appear and claim
their share.  And, as they always threaten to inform, there is no
help for it but to let them pocket the clearest of the profit.

Well, in a more elevated sphere, in the world of speculation, it is
precisely that lucrative and honorable industry which M. d’Escajoul
carries on.  Thoroughly master of his ground, possessing a superior
scent and an imperturbable patience, always awake, and continually
on the watch, he never operates unless he is sure to win.

And the day when the manager of some company has violated his
charter or stretched the law a little too far, he may be sure to
see M. d’Escajoul appear, and ask for some little--advantages,
and proffer, in exchange, the most thorough discretion, and even
his kind offices.

Two or three of his friends have heard him say,

“Who would dare to blame me?  It’s very moral, what I am doing.”

Such is the man who came in, smiling, just as Maxence and Marius de
Tregars had sat down at the table.  M. de Tregars rose to receive him.

“You will breakfast with us?” he said.

“Thank you,” answered M. d’Escajoul.  “I breakfasted precisely at
eleven, as usual.  Punctuality is a politeness which a man owes to
his stomach.  But I will accept with pleasure a drop of that old
Cognac which you offered me the other evening.”

He took a seat; and the valet brought him a glass, which he set on
the edge of the table.  Then,

“I have just seen our man,” he said.

Maxence understood that he was referring to M. de Thaller.

“Well?” inquired M. de Tregars.

“Impossible to get any thing out of him.  I turned him over and
over, every way.  Nothing!”

“Indeed!”

“It’s so; and you know if I understand the business.  But what can
you say to a man who answers you all the time, ‘The matter is in
the hands of the law; experts have been named; I have nothing to
fear from the most minute investigations’?”

By the look which Marius de Tregars kept riveted upon M. d’Escajoul,
it was easy to see that his confidence in him was not without limits.
He felt it, and, with an air of injured innocence,

“Do you suspect me, by chance,” he said, “to have allowed myself to
be hoodwinked by Thaller?”

And as M. de Tregars said nothing, which was the most eloquent of
answers,

“Upon my word,” he insisted, “you are wrong to doubt me.  Was it
you who came after me?  No.  It was I, who, hearing through Marcolet
the history of your fortune, came to tell you, ‘Do you want to know
a way of swamping Thaller?’  And the reasons I had to wish that
Thaller might be swamped: I have them still.  He trifled with me,
he ‘sold’ me, and he must suffer for it; for, if it came to be known
that I could be taken in with impunity, it would be all over with my
credit.”

After a moment of silence,

“Do you believe, then,” asked M. de Tregars, “that M. de Thaller is
innocent?”

“Perhaps.”

“That would be curious.”

“Or else his measures are so well taken that he has absolutely
nothing to fear.  If Favoral takes everything upon himself, what
can they say to the other?  If they have acted in collusion, the
thing has been prepared for a long time; and, before commencing
to fish, they must have troubled the water so well, that justice
will be unable to see anything in it.”

“And you see no one who could help us?”

“Favoral--”

To Maxence’s great surprise, M. de Tregars shrugged his shoulders.

“That one is gone,” he said; “and, were he at hand, it is quite
evident that if he was in collusion with M. de Thaller, he would
not speak.”

“Of course.”

“That being the case, what can we do?”

“Wait.”

M. de Tregars made a gesture of discouragement.

“I might as well give up the fight, then,” he said, “and try to
compromise.”

“Why so?  We don’t know what may happen.  Keep quiet, be patient;
I am here, and I am looking out for squalls.”

He got up and prepared to leave.

“You have more experience than I have,” said M. de Tregars; “and,
since that’s your opinion----”

M. d’Escajoul had resumed all his good humor.

“Very well, then, it’s understood,” he said, pressing M. de Tregars’
hand.  “I am watching for both of us; and if I see a chance, I come
at once, and you act.”

But the outer door had hardly closed, when suddenly the countenance
of Marius de Tregars changed.  Shaking the hand which M. d’Escajoul
had just touched,--“Pouah!” he said with a look of thorough
disgust,--“pouah!”

And noticing Maxence’s look of utter surprise,

“Don’t you understand,” he said, “that this old rascal has been sent
to me by Thaller to feel my intentions, and mislead me by false
information?  I had scented him, fortunately; and, if either one of
us is dupe of the other, I have every reason to believe that it will
not be me.”

They had finished their breakfast.  M. de Tregars called his servant.

“Have you been for a carriage?” he asked.

“It is at the door, sir.”

“Well, then, come along.”

Maxence had the good sense not to over-estimate himself.  Perfectly
convinced that he could accomplish nothing alone, he was firmly
resolved to trust blindly to Marius de Tregars.

He followed him, therefore; and it was only after the carriage had
started, that he ventured to ask,

“Where are we going?”

“Didn’t you hear me,” replied M. de Tregars, “order the driver to
take us to the court-house?”

“I beg your pardon; but what I wish to know is, what we are going
to do there?”

“You are going, my dear friend, to ask an audience of the judge who
has your father’s case in charge, and deposit into his hands the
fifteen thousand francs you have in your pocket.”

“What!  You wish me to--”

“I think it better to place that money into the hands of justice,
which will appreciate the step, than into those of M. de Thaller,
who would not breathe a word about it.  We are in a position where
nothing should be neglected; and that money may prove an indication.”

But they had arrived.  M. de Tregars guided Maxence through the
labyrinth of corridors of the building, until he came to a long
gallery, at the entrance of which an usher was seated reading a
newspaper.

“M. Barban d’Avranchel?” inquired M. de Tregars.

“He is in his office,” replied the usher.

“Please ask him if he would receive an important deposition in the
Favoral case.”

The usher rose somewhat reluctantly, and, while he was gone,

“You will go in alone,” said M. de Tregars to Maxence.  “I shall
not appear; and it is important that my name should not even be
pronounced.  But, above all, try and remember even the most
insignificant words of the judge; for, upon what he tells you, I
shall regulate my conduct.”

The usher returned.

“M. d’Avranchel will receive you,” he said.  And, leading Maxence
to the extremity of the gallery, he opened a small door, and
pushed him in, saying at the same time,

“That is it, sir: walk in.”

It was a small room, with a low ceiling, and poorly furnished.  The
faded curtains and threadbare carpet showed plainly that more than
one judge had occupied it, and that legions of accused criminals
had passed through it.  In front of a table, two men--one old, the
judge; the other young, the clerk--were signing and classifying
papers.  These papers related to the Favoral case, and were all
indorsed in large letters: Mutual Credit Company.

As soon as Maxence appeared, the judge rose, and, after measuring
him with a clear and cold look:

“Who are you?” he interrogated.

In a somewhat husky voice, Maxence stated his name and surname.

“Ah! you are Vincent Favoral’s son,” interrupted the judge.  “And
it was you who helped him escape through the window?  I was going
to send you a summons this very day; but, since you are here, so
much the better.  You have something important to communicate, I
have been told.”

Very few people, even among the most strictly honest, can overcome
a certain unpleasant feeling when, having crossed the threshold of
the palace of justice, they find themselves in presence of a judge.
More than almost any one else, Maxence was likely to be accessible
to that vague and inexplicable feeling; and it was with an effort
that he answered,

“On Saturday evening, the Baron de Thaller called at our house a
few minutes before the commissary.  After loading my father with
reproaches, he invited him to leave the country; and, in order to
facilitate his flight, he handed him these fifteen thousand francs.
My father declined to accept them; and, at the moment of parting,
he recommended to me particularly to return them to M. de Thaller.
I thought it best to return them to you, sir.”

“Why?”

“Because I wished the fact known to you of the money having been
offered and refused.”

M. Barban d’Avranchel was quietly stroking his whiskers, once of a
bright red, but now almost entirely white.

“Is this an insinuation against the manager of the Mutual Credit?”
 he asked.

Maxence looked straight at him; and, in a tone which affirmed
precisely the reverse,

“I accuse no one,” he said.

“I must tell you,” resumed the judge, “that M. de Thaller has
himself informed me of this circumstance.  When he called at your
house, he was ignorant, as yet, of the extent of the embezzlements,
and was in hopes of being able to hush up the affair.  That’s why
he wished his cashier to start for Belgium.  This system of
helping criminals to escape the just punishment of their crimes is
to be bitterly deplored; but it is quite the habit of your financial
magnates, who prefer sending some poor devil of an employe to hang
himself abroad than run the risk of compromising their credit by
confessing that they have been robbed.”

Maxence might have had a great deal to say; but M. de Tregars had
recommended him the most extreme reserve.  He remained silent.

“On the other hand,” resumed the judge, “the refusal to accept the
money so generously offered does not speak in favor of Vincent
Favoral.  He was well aware, when he left, that it would require a
great deal of money to reach the frontier, escape pursuit, and hide
himself abroad; and, if he refused the fifteen thousand francs, it
must have been because he was well provided for already.”

Tears of shame and rage started from Maxence’s eyes.  “I am certain,
sir,” he exclaimed, “that my father went off without a sou.”

“What has become of the millions, then?” he asked coldly.

Maxence hesitated.  Why not mention his suspicions?  He dared not.

“My father speculated at the bourse,” he stammered.  “And he led a
scandalous conduct, keeping up, away from home, a style of living
which must have absorbed immense sums.”

“We knew nothing of it, sir; and our first suspicions were aroused
by what the commissary of police told us.”

The judge insisted no more; and in a tone which indicated that his
question was a mere matter of form, and he attached but little
importance to the answer,

“You have no news from your father?” he asked.

“None whatever.”

“And you have no idea where he has gone?”

“None in the least.”

M. d’Avranchel had already resumed his seat at the table, and was
again busy with his papers.

“You may retire,” he said.  “You will be notified if I need you.”

Maxence felt much discouraged when he joined M. de Tregars at the
entrance of the gallery.

“The judge is convinced of M. de Thaller’s entire innocence,” he
said.

But as soon as he had narrated, with a fidelity that did honor to
his memory, all that had just occurred,

“Nothing is lost yet,” declared M. de Tregars.  And, taking from
his pocket the bill for two trunks, which had been found in M.
Favoral’s portfolio,

“There,” he said, “we shall know our fate.”



IV

M. de Tregars and Maxence were in luck.  They had a good driver and
a fair horse; and in twenty minutes they were at the trunk store.
As soon as the cab stopped,

“Well,” exclaimed M. de Tregars, “I suppose it has to be done.”

And, with the look of a man who has made up his mind to do something
which is extremely repugnant to him, he jumped out, and, followed
by Maxence, entered the shop.

It was a modest establishment; and the people who kept it, husband
and wife, seeing two customers coming in, rushed to meet them, with
that welcoming smile which blossoms upon the lips of every Parisian
shopkeeper.

“What will you have, gentlemen?”

And, with wonderful volubility, they went on enumerating every
article which they had for sale in their shop,--from the
“indispensable-necessary,” containing seventy-seven pieces of solid
silver, and costing four thousand francs, down to the humblest
carpet-bag at thirty-nine cents.

But Marius de Tregars interrupted them as soon as he could get an
opportunity, and, showing them their bill,

“It was here, wasn’t it,” he inquired, “that the two trunks were
bought which are charged in this bill?”

“Yes, sir,” answered simultaneously both husband and wife.

“When were they delivered?”

“Our porter went to deliver them, less than two hours after they
were bought.”

“Where?”

By this time the shopkeepers were beginning to exchange uneasy looks.

“Why do you ask?” inquired the woman in a tone which indicated that
she had the settled intention not to answer, unless for good and
valid reason.

To obtain the simplest information is not always as easy as might
be supposed.  The suspicion of the Parisian tradesman is easily
aroused; and, as his head is stuffed with stories of spies and
robbers, as soon as he is questioned he becomes as dumb as an oyster.

But M. de Tregars had foreseen the difficulty:

“I beg you to believe, madame,” he went on, “that my questions are
not dictated by an idle curiosity.  Here are the facts.  A relative
of ours, a man of a certain age, of whom we are very fond, and whose
head is a little weak, left his home some forty-eight hours since.
We are looking for him, and we are in hopes, if we find these trunks,
to find him at the same time.”

With furtive glances, the husband and wife were tacitly consulting
each other.

“The fact is,” they said, “we wouldn’t like, under any consideration,
to commit an indiscretion which might result to the prejudice of a
customer.”

“Fear nothing,” said M. de Tregars with a reassuring gesture.  “If
we have not had recourse to the police, it’s because, you know, it
isn’t pleasant to have the police interfere in one’s affairs.  If
you have any objections to answer me, however, I must, of course,
apply to the commissary.”

The argument proved decisive.

“If that’s the case,” replied the woman, “I am ready to tell all I
know.”

“Well, then, madame, what do you know?”

“These two trunks were bought on Friday afternoon last, by a man of
a certain age, tall, very thin, with a stern countenance, and
wearing a long frock coat.”

“No more doubt,” murmured Maxence.  “It was he.”

“And now,” the woman went on, “that you have just told me that your
relative was a little weak in the head, I remember that this
gentleman had a strange sort of way about him, and that he kept
walking about the store as if he had fleas on his legs.  And awful
particular he was too!  Nothing was handsome enough and strong
enough for him; and he was anxious about the safety-locks, as he
had, he said, many objects of value, papers, and securities, to put
away.”

“And where did he tell you to send the two trunks?”

“Rue du Cirque, to Mme.--wait a minute, I have the name at the end
of my tongue.”

“You must have it on your books, too,” remarked M. de Tregars.

The husband was already looking over his blotter.

“April 26, 1872,” he said.  “26, here it is: ‘Two leather trunks,
patent safety-locks: Mme. Zelie Cadelle, 49 Rue du Cirque.’”

Without too much affectation, M. de Tregars had drawn near to the
shopkeeper, and was looking over his shoulder.

“What is that,” he asked, “written there, below the address?”

“That, sir, is the direction left by the customer ‘Mark on each end
of the trunks, in large letters, “Rio de Janeiro.”’”

Maxence could not suppress an exclamation.  “Oh!”

But the tradesman mistook him; and, seizing this magnificent
opportunity to display his knowledge,

“Rio de Janeiro is the capital of Brazil,” he said in a tone of
importance.  “And your relative evidently intended to go there; and,
if he has not changed his mind, I doubt whether you can overtake
him; for the Brazilian steamer was to have sailed yesterday from
Havre.”

Whatever may have been his intentions, M. de Tregars remained
perfectly calm.

“If that’s the case,” he said to the shopkeepers, “I think I had
better give up the chase.  I am much obliged to you, however, for
your information.”

But, once out again,

“Do you really believe,” inquired Maxence, “that my father has
left France?”

M. de Tregars shook his head.

“I will give you my opinion,” he uttered, “after I have investigated
matters in the Rue du Cirque.”

They drove there in a few minutes; and, the cab having stopped at
the entrance of the street, they walked on foot in front of No. 49.
It was a small cottage, only one story in height, built between a
sanded court-yard and a garden, whose tall trees showed above the
roof.  At the windows could be seen curtains of light-colored silk,
--a sure indication of the presence of a young and pretty woman.

For a few minutes Marius de Tregars remained in observation; but,
as nothing stirred,

“We must find out something, somehow,” he exclaimed impatiently.

And noticing a large grocery store bearing No. 62, he directed his
steps towards it, still accompanied by Maxence.

It was the hour of the day when customers are rare.  Standing in
the centre of the shop, the grocer, a big fat man with an air of
importance, was overseeing his men, who were busy putting things
in order.

M. de Tregars took him aside, and with an accent of mystery,

“I am,” he said, “a clerk with M. Drayton, the jeweler in the Rue
de la Paix; and I come to ask you one of those little favors which
tradespeople owe to each other.”

A frown appeared on the fat man’s countenance.  He thought, perhaps,
that M. Drayton’s clerks were rather too stylish-looking; or else,
perhaps, he felt apprehensive of one of those numerous petty swindles
of which shopkeepers are constantly the victims.

“What is it?” said he.  “Speak!”

“I am on my way,” spoke M. de Tregars, “to deliver a ring which a
lady purchased of us yesterday.  She is not a regular customer, and
has given us no references.  If she doesn’t pay, shall I leave the
ring?  My employer told me, ‘Consult some prominent tradesman of the
neighborhood, and follow his advice.’”

Prominent tradesman!  Delicately tickled vanity was dancing in the
grocer’s eyes.

“What is the name of the lady?” he inquired.

“Mme. Zelie Cadelle.”

The grocer burst out laughing.

“In that case, my boy,” he said, tapping familiarly the shoulder
of the so-called clerk, “whether she pays or not, you can deliver
the article.”

The familiarity was not, perhaps, very much to the taste of the
Marquis de Tregars.  No matter.

“She is rich, then, that lady?” he said.

“Personally no.  But she is protected by an old fool, who allows
her all her fancies.”

“Indeed!”

“It is scandalous; and you cannot form an idea of the amount of
money that is spent in that house.  Horses, carriages, servants,
dresses, balls, dinners, card-playing all night, a perpetual
carnival: it must be ruinous!”

M. de Tregars never winced.

“And the old man who pays?” he asked; “do you know him?”

“I have seen him pass,--a tall, lean, old fellow, who doesn’t look
very rich, either.  But excuse me: here is a customer I must wait
upon.”

Having walked out into the street,

“We must separate now,” declared M. de Tregars to Maxence.

“What!  You wish to--”

“Go and wait for me in that cafe yonder, at the corner of the street.
I must see that Zelie Cadelle and speak to her.”

And without suffering an objection on the part of Maxence, he walked
resolutely up to the cottage-gate, and rang vigorously.

At the sound of the bell, one of those servants stepped out into the
yard, who seem manufactured on purpose, heaven knows where, for the
special service of young ladies who keep house,--a tall rascal with
sallow complexion and straight hair, a cynical eye, and a low,
impudent smile.

“What do you wish, sir?” he inquired through the grating.

“That you should open the door, first,” uttered M. de Tregars, with
such a look and such an accent, that the other obeyed at once.

“And now,” he added, “go and announce me to Mme. Zelie Cadelle.”

“Madame is out,” replied the valet.

And noticing that M. de Tregars shrugged his shoulders,

“Upon my word,” he said, “she has gone to the bois with one of her
friends.  If you won’t believe me, ask my comrades there.”

And he pointed out two other servants of the same pattern as himself,
who were silting at a table in the carriage-house, playing cards,
and drinking.

But M. de Tregars did not mean to be imposed upon.  He felt certain
that the man was lying.  Instead, therefore, of discussing,

“I want you to take me to your mistress,” he ordered, in a tone that
admitted of no objection; “or else I’ll find my way to her alone.”

It was evident that he would do just as he said, by force if needs
be.  The valet saw this, and, after hesitating a moment longer,

“Come along, then,” he said, “since you insist so much.  We’ll talk
to the chambermaid.”

And, having led M. de Tregars into the vestibule, he called out,
“Mam’selle Amanda!”

A woman at once made her appearance who was a worthy mate for the
valet.  She must have been about forty, and the most alarming
duplicity could be read upon her features, deeply pitted by the
small-pox.  She wore a pretentious dress, an apron like a
stage-servant, and a cap profusely decorated with flowers and
ribbons.

“Here is a gentleman,” said the valet, “who insists upon seeing
madame.  You fix it with him.”

Better than her fellow servant, Mlle. Amanda could judge with whom
she had to deal.  A single glance at this obstinate visitor
convinced her that he was not one who can be easily turned off.

Putting on, therefore, her pleasantest smile, thus displaying at
the same time her decayed teeth,

“The fact is that monsieur will very much disturb madame,” she
observed.

“I shall excuse myself.”

“But I’ll be scolded.”

Instead of answering, M. de Tregars took a couple of
twenty-franc-notes out of his pocket, and slipped them into her
hand.

“Please follow me to the parlor, then,” she said with a heavy sigh.

M. de Tregars did so, whilst observing everything around him with
the attentive perspicacity of a deputy sheriff preparing to make
out an inventory.

Being double, the house was much more spacious than could have
been thought from the street, and arranged with that science of
comfort which is the genius of modern architects.

The most lavish luxury was displayed on all sides; not that solid,
quiet, and harmonious luxury which is the result of long years of
opulence, but the coarse, loud, and superficial luxury of the
_parvenu_, who is eager to enjoy quick, and to possess all that he
has craved from others.

The vestibule was a folly, with its exotic plants climbing along
crystal trellises, and its Sevres and China jardinieres filled with
gigantic azaleas.  And along the gilt railing of the stairs marble
and bronze statuary was intermingled with masses of growing flowers.

“It must take twenty thousand francs a year to keep up this
conservatory alone,” thought M. de Tregars.

Meantime the old chambermaid opened a satinwood door with silver
lock.

“That’s the parlor,” she said.  “Take a seat whilst I go and tell
madame.”

In this parlor everything had been combined to dazzle.  Furniture,
carpets, hangings, every thing, was rich, too rich, furiously,
incontestably, obviously rich.  The chandelier was a masterpiece,
the clock an original and unique piece of work.  The pictures
hanging upon the wall were all signed with the most famous names.

“To judge of the rest by what I have seen,” thought M. de Tregars,
“there must have been at least four or five hundred thousand francs
spent on this house.”

And, although he was shocked by a quantity of details which betrayed
the most absolute lack of taste, he could hardly persuade himself
that the cashier of the Mutual Credit could be the master of this
sumptuous dwelling; and he was asking himself whether he had not
followed the wrong scent, when a circumstance came to put an end to
all his doubts.

Upon the mantlepiece, in a small velvet frame, was Vincent Favoral’s
portrait.

M. de Tregars had been seated for a few minutes, and was collecting
his somewhat scattered thoughts, when a slight grating sound, and
a rustling noise, made him turn around.

Mme. Zelie Cadelle was coming in.

She was a woman of some twenty-five or six, rather tall, lithe, and
well made.  Her face was pale and worn; and her heavy dark hair was
scattered over her neck and shoulders.  She looked at once sarcastic
and good-natured, impudent and naive, with her sparkling eyes, her
turned-up nose, and wide mouth furnished with teeth, sound and white,
like those of a young dog.  She had wasted no time upon her dress;
for she wore a plain blue cashmere wrapper, fastened at the waist
with a sort of silk scarf of similar color.

From the very threshold,

“Dear me!” she exclaimed, “how very singular!”

M. de Tregars stepped forward.

“What?” he inquired.

“Oh, nothing!” she replied,--“nothing at all!”

And without ceasing to look at him with a wondering eye, but
suddenly changing her tone of voice,

“And so, sir,” she said, “my servants have been unable to keep you
from forcing yourself into my house!”

“I hope, madame,” said M. de Tregars with a polite bow, “that you
will excuse my persistence.  I come for a matter which can suffer
no delay.”

She was still looking at him obstinately.  “Who are you?” she asked.

“My name will not afford you any information.  I am the Marquis de
Tregars.”

“Tregars!” she repeated, looking up at the ceiling, as if in search
of an inspiration.  “Tregars!  Never heard of it!”

And throwing herself into an arm chair,

“Well, sir, what do you wish with me, then?  Speak!”

He had taken a seat near her, and kept his eyes riveted upon hers.

“I have come, madame,” he replied, “to ask you to put me in the way
to see and speak to the man whose photograph is there on the
mantlepiece.”

He expected to take her by surprise, and that by a shudder, a cry,
a gesture, she might betray her secret.  Not at all.

“Are you, then, one of M. Vincent’s friends?” she asked quietly.

M. de Tregars understood, and this was subsequently confirmed, that
it was under his Christian name of Vincent alone, that the cashier
of the Mutual Credit was known in the Rue du Cirque.

“Yes, I am a friend of his,” he replied; “and if I could see him,
I could probably render him an important service.”

“Well, you are too late.”

“Why?”

“Because M. Vincent put off more than twenty-four hours since?”

“Are you sure of that?”

“As sure as a person can be who went to the railway station
yesterday with him and all his baggage.”

“You saw him leave?”

“As I see you.”

“Where was he going?”

“To Havre, to take the steamer for Brazil, which was to sail on the
same day; so that, by this time, he must be awfully seasick.”

“And you really think that it was his intention to go to Brazil?”

“He said so.  It was written on his thirty-six trunks in letters
half a foot high.  Besides, he showed me his ticket.”

“Have you any idea what could have induced him to expatriate himself
thus, at his age?”

“He told me he had spent all his money, and also some of other
people’s; that he was afraid of being arrested; and that he was
going yonder to be quiet, and try to make another fortune.”

Was Mme. Zelie speaking in good faith?  To ask the question would
have been rather naive; but an effort might be made to find out.
Carefully concealing his own impressions, and the importance he
attached to this conversation,

“I pity you sincerely, madame,” resumed M. de Tregars; “for you must
be sorely grieved by this sudden departure.”

“Me!” she said in a voice that came from the heart.  “I don’t care
a straw.”

Marquis de Tregars knew well enough the ladies of the class to which
he supposed that Mme. Zelie Cadelle must belong, not to be surprised
at this frank declaration.

“And yet,” he said, “you are indebted to him for the princely
magnificence that surrounds you here.”

“Of course.”

“He being gone, as you say, will you be able to keep up your style
of living?”

Half raising herself from her seat,

“I haven’t the slightest idea of doing so,” she exclaimed.  “Never
in the whole world have I had such a stupid time as for the last
five months that I have spent in this gilded cage.  What a bore,
my beloved brethren!  I am yawning still at the mere thought of the
number of times I have yawned in it.”

M. de Tregars’ gesture of surprise was the more natural, that his
surprise was immense.

“You are tired being here?” he said.

“To death.”

“And you have only been here five months?”

“Dear me; yes! and by the merest chance, too, you’ll see.  One day
at the beginning of last December, I was coming from--but no matter
where I was coming from.  At any rate, I hadn’t a cent in my pocket,
and nothing but an old calico dress on my back; and I was going
along, not in the best of humor, as you may imagine, when I feel
that some one is following me.  Without looking around, and from
the corner of my eye, I look over my shoulder, and I see a
respectable-looking old gentleman, wearing a long frock-coat.”

“M. Vincent?”

“In his own natural person, and who was walking, walking.  I quietly
begin to walk slower; and, as soon as we come to a place where there
was hardly any one, he comes up alongside of me.”

Something comical must have happened at this moment, which Mme.
Zelie Cadelle said nothing about; for she was laughing most heartily,
--a frank and sonorous laughter.

“Then,” she resumed, “he begins at once to explain that I remind
him of a person whom he loved tenderly, and whom he has just had
the misfortune to lose, adding, that he would deem himself the
happiest of men if I would allow him to take care of me, and insure
me a brilliant position.”

“You see!  That rascally Vincent!” said M. de Tregars, just to be
saying something.

Mme. Zelie shook her head.

“You know him,” she resumed.  “He is not young; he is not handsome;
he is not funny.  I did not fancy him one bit; and, if I had only
known where to find shelter for the night, I’d soon have sent him
to the old Nick,--him and his brilliant position.  But, not having
enough money to buy myself a penny-loaf, it wasn’t the time to put
on any airs.  So I tell him that I accept.  He goes for a cab; we
get into it; and he brings me right straight here.”

Positively M. de Tregars required his entire self-control to conceal
the intensity of his curiosity.

“Was this house, then, already as it is now?” he interrogated.

“Precisely, except that there were no servants in it, except the
chambermaid Amanda, who is M. Favoral’s confidante.  All the others
had been dismissed; and it was a hostler from a stable near by who
came to take care of the horses.”

“And what then?”

“Then you may imagine what I looked like in the midst of all this
magnificence, with my old shoes and my fourpenny skirt.  Something
like a grease-spot on a satin dress.  M. Vincent seemed delighted,
nevertheless.  He had sent Amanda out to get me some under-clothing
and a ready-made wrapper; and, whilst waiting, he took me all
through the house, from the cellar to the garret, saying that
everything was at my command, and that the next day I would have a
battalion of servants to wait on me.”

It was evidently with perfect frankness that she was speaking, and
with the pleasure one feels in telling an extraordinary adventure.
But suddenly she stopped short, as if discovering that she was
forgetting herself, and going farther than was proper.

And it was only after a moment of reflection that she went on,

“It was like fairyland to me.  I had never tasted the opulence of
the great, you see, and I had never had any money except that which
I earned.  So, during the first days, I did nothing but run up and
down stairs, admiring everything, feeling everything with my own
hands, and looking at myself in the glass to make sure that I was
not dreaming.  I rang the bell just to make the servants come up;
I spent hours trying dresses; then I’d have the horses put to the
carriage, and either ride to the bois, or go out shopping.  M.
Vincent gave me as much money as I wanted; and it seemed as though I
never spent enough.  I shout, I was like a mad woman.”

A cloud appeared upon Mme. Zelie’s countenance, and, changing
suddenly her tone and her manner,

“Unfortunately,” she went on, “one gets tired of every thing.  At
the end of two weeks I knew the house from top to bottom, and after
a month I was sick of the whole thing; so that one night I began
dressing.

“‘Where do you want to go?’ Amanda asked me.
‘Why, to Mabille, to dance a quadrille, or two.’
‘Impossible!’
‘Why?’
‘Because M. Vincent does not wish you to go out at night.’
‘We’ll see about that!’

“The next day, I tell all this to M. Vincent; and he says that Amanda
is right; that it is not proper for a woman in my position to
frequent balls; and that, if I want to go out at night, I can stay.
Get out!  I tell you what, if it hadn’t been for the fine carriage,
and all that, I would have cleared out that minute.  Any way, I
became disgusted from that moment, and have been more and more ever
since; and, if M. Vincent had not himself left, I certainly would.”

“To go where?”

“Anywhere.  Look here, now! do you suppose I need a man to support
me!  No, thank Heaven!  Little Zelie, here present, has only to
apply to any dressmaker, and she’ll be glad to give her four francs
a day to run the machine.  And she’ll be free, at least; and she can
laugh and dance as much as she likes.”

M. de Tregars had made a mistake: he had just discovered it.

Mme. Zelie Cadelle was certainly not particularly virtuous; but she
was far from being the woman he expected to meet.

“At any rate,” he said, “you did well to wait patiently.”

“I do not regret it.”

“If you can keep this house--”

She interrupted him with a great burst of laughter.

“This house!” she exclaimed.  “Why, it was sold long ago, with every
thing in it,--furniture, horses, carriages, every thing except me.
A young gentleman, very well dressed, bought it for a tall girl, who
looks like a goose, and has far over a thousand francs of red hair on
her head.”

“Are you sure of that?”

“Sure as I live, having seen with my own eyes the young swell and
his red-headed friend counting heaps of bank-notes to M. Vincent.
They are to move in day after to-morrow; and they have invited me
to the house-warming.  But no more of it for me, I thank you!  I
am sick and tired of all these people.  And the proof of it is, I
am busy packing my things; and lots of them I have too,--dresses,
underclothes, jewelry.  He was a good-natured fellow, old Vincent
was, anyhow.  He gave me money enough to buy some furniture.  I
have hired a small apartment; and I am going to set up dress-making
on my own hook.  And won’t we laugh then! and won’t we have some
fun to make up for lost time!  Come, my children, take your places
for a quadrille.  Forward two!”

And, bouncing out of her chair, she began sketching out one of
those bold cancan steps which astound the policemen on duty in the
ball-rooms.

“Bravo!” said M. de Tregars, forcing himself to smile,--“bravo!”

He saw clearly now what sort of woman was Mme. Zelie Cadelle; how
he should speak to her, and what cords he might yet cause to vibrate
within her.  He recognized the true daughter of Paris, wayward and
nervous, who in the midst of her disorders preserves an instinctive
pride; who places her independence far above all the money in the
world; who gives, rather than sells, herself; who knows no law but
her caprice, no morality but the policeman, no religion but pleasure.

As soon as she had returned to her seat,

“There you are dancing gayly,” he said, “and poor Vincent is
doubtless groaning at this moment over his separation from you.”

“Ah! I’d pity him if I had time,” she said.

“He was fond of you?”

“Don’t speak of it.”

“If he had not been fond of you, he would not have put you here.”

Mme. Zelie made a little face of equivocal meaning.

“What proof is that?” she murmured.

“He would not have spent so much money for you.”

“For me!” she interrupted,--“for me!  What have I cost him of any
consequence?  Is it for me that he bought, furnished, and fitted
out this house?  No, no!  He had the cage; and he put in the bird,
--the first he happened to find.  He brought me here as he might
have brought any other woman, young or old, pretty or ugly, blonde
or brunette.  As to what I spent here, it was a mere bagatelle
compared with what the other did,--the one before me.  Amanda kept
telling me all the time I was a fool.  You may believe me, then,
when I tell you that M. Vincent will not wet many handkerchiefs
with the tears he’ll shed over me.”

“But do you know what became of the one before you, as you call her,
--whether she is alive or dead, and owing to what circumstances the
cage became empty?”

But, instead of answering, Mme. Zelie was fixing upon Marius de
Tregars a suspicious glance.  And, after a moment only,

“Why do you ask me that?” she said.

“I would like to know.”

She did not permit him to proceed.  Rising from her seat, and
stepping briskly up to him,

“Do you belong to the police, by chance?” she asked in a tone of
mistrust.

If she was anxious, it was evidently because she had motives of
anxiety which she had concealed.  If, two or three times she had
interrupted herself, it was because, manifestly, she had a secret
to keep.  If the idea of police had come into her mind, it is
because, very probably, they had recommended her to be on her guard.

M. de Tregars understood all this, and, also, that he had tried to
go too fast.

“Do I look like a secret police-agent?” he asked.

She was examining him with all her power of penetration.

“Not at all, I confess,” she replied.  “But, if you are not one, how
is it that you come to my house, without knowing me from this side
of sole leather, to ask me a whole lot of questions, which I am
fool enough to answer?”

“I told you I was a friend of M. Favoral.”

“Who’s that Favoral?”

“That’s M. Vincent’s real name, madame.”

She opened her eyes wide.

“You must be mistaken.  I never heard him called any thing but
Vincent.”

“It is because he had especial motives for concealing his
personality.  The money he spent here did not belong to him: he
took it, he stole it, from the Mutual Credit Company where he was
cashier, and where he left a deficit of twelve millions.”

Mme. Zelie stepped back as though she had trodden on a snake.

“It’s impossible!” she cried.

“It is the exact truth.  Haven’t you seen in the papers the case
of Vincent Favoral, cashier of the Mutual Credit?”

And, taking a paper from his pocket, he handed it to the young woman,
saying, “Read.”

But she pushed it back, not without a slight blush.  “Oh, I believe
you!” she said.

The fact is, and Marius understood it, she did not read very
fluently.

“The worst of M. Vincent Favoral’s conduct,” he resumed, “is, that,
while he was throwing away money here by the handful, he subjected
his family to the most cruel privations.”

“Oh!”

“He refused the necessaries of life to his wife, the best and the
worthiest of women; he never gave a cent to his son; and he
deprived his daughter of every thing.”

“Ah, if I could have suspected such a thing!” murmured Mme. Zelie.

“Finally, and to cap the--climax, he has gone, leaving his wife
and children literally without bread.”

Transported with indignation,

“Why, that man must have been a horrible old scoundrel!” exclaimed
the young woman.

This is just the point to which M. de Tregars wished to bring her.

“And now,” he resumed, “you must understand the enormous interest
we have in knowing what has become of him.”

“I have already told you.”

M. de Tregars had risen, in his turn.  Taking Mme. Zelie’s hands,
and fixing upon her one of those acute looks, which search for the
truth down to the innermost recesses of the conscience,

“Come, my dear child,” he began in a penetrating voice, “you are a
worthy and honest girl.  Will you leave in the most frightful
despair a family who appeal to your heart?  Be sure that no harm
will ever happen through us to Vincent Favoral.”

She raised her hand, as they do to take an oath in a court of
justice, and, in a solemn tone,

“I swear,” she uttered, “that I went to the station with M. Vincent;
that he assured me that he was going to Brazil; that he had his
passage-ticket; and that all his baggage was marked, ‘Rio de
Janeiro.’”

The disappointment was great: and M. de Tregars manifested it by
a gesture.

“At least,” he insisted, “tell me who the woman was whose place you
took here.”

But already had the young woman returned to her feeling of mistrust.

“How in the world do you expect me to know?” she replied.  “Go and
ask Amanda.  I have no accounts to give you.  Besides, I have to
go and finish packing my trunks.  So good-by, and enjoy yourself.”

And she went out so quick, that she caught Amanda, the chambermaid,
kneeling behind the door.

“So that woman was listening,” thought M. de Tregars, anxious and
dissatisfied.

But it was in vain that he begged Mme. Zelie to return, and to hear
a single word more.  She disappeared; and he had to resign himself
to leave the house without learning any thing more for the present.

He had remained there very long; and he was wondering, as he walked
out, whether Maxence had not got tired waiting for him in the little
cafe where he had sent him.

But Maxence had remained faithfully at his post.  And when Marius de
Tregars came to sit by him, whilst exclaiming, “Here you are at last!”
 he called his attention at the same time with a gesture, and a wink
from the corner of his eye, to two men sitting at the adjoining table
before a bowl of punch.

Certain, now, that M. de Tregars would remain on the lookout, Maxence
was knocking on the table with his fist, to call the waiter, who was
busy playing billiards with a customer.

And when he came at last, justly annoyed at being disturbed,

“Give us two mugs of beer,” Maxence ordered, “and bring us a pack
of cards.”

M. de Tregars understood very well that something extraordinary had
happened; but, unable to guess what, he leaned over towards his
companion.

“What is it?” he whispered.

“We must hear what these two men are saying; and we’ll play a game
of piquet for a subterfuge.”

The waiter returned, bringing two glasses of a muddy liquid, a piece
of cloth, the color of which was concealed under a layer of dirt, and
a pack of cards horribly soft and greasy.

“My deal,” said Maxence.

And he began shuffling, and giving the cards, whilst M. de Tregars
was examining the punch-drinkers at the next table.

In one of the two, a man still young, wearing a striped vest with
alpaca sleeves, he thought he recognized one of the rascally-looking
fellows he had caught a glimpse of in Mme. Zelie Cadelle’s
carriage-house.

The other, an old man, whose inflamed complexion and blossoming
nose betrayed old habits of drunkenness, looked very much like a
coachman out of place.  Baseness and duplicity bloomed upon his
countenance; and the brightness of his small eyes rendered still
more alarming the slyly obsequious smile that was stereotyped upon
his thin and pale lips.

They were so completely absorbed in their conversation, that they
paid no attention whatever to what was going on around them.

“Then,” the old one was saying, “it’s all over.”

“Entirely.  The house is sold.”

“And the boss?”

“Gone to America.”

“What!  Suddenly, that way?”

“No.  We supposed he was going on some journey, because, every day
since the beginning of the week, they were bringing in trunks and
boxes; but no one knew exactly when he would go.  Now, in the night
of Saturday to Sunday, he drops in the house like a bombshell, wakes
up everybody, and says he must leave immediately.  At once we
harness up, we load the baggage up, we drive him to the Western
Railway Station, and good-by, Vincent!”

“And the young lady?”

“She’s got to get out in the next twenty-four hours; but she don’t
seem to mind it one bit.  The fact is we are the ones who grieve
the most, after all.”

“Is it possible?”

“It is so.  She was a good girl; and we won’t soon find one like
her.”

The old man seemed distressed.

“Bad luck!” he growled.  “I would have liked that house myself.”

“Oh, I dare say you would!”

“And there is no way to get in?”

“Can’t tell.  It will be well to see the others, those who have
bought.  But I mistrust them: they look too stupid not to be mean.”

Listening intently to the conversation of these two men, it was
mechanically and at random that M. de Tregars and Maxence threw
their cards on the table, and uttered the common terms of the game
of piquet,

“Five cards!  Tierce, major!  Three aces.”

Meantime the old man was going on,

“Who knows but what M. Vincent may come back?”

“No danger of that!”

“Why?”

The other looked carefully around, and, seeing only two players
absorbed in their game,

“Because,” he replied, “M. Vincent is completely ruined, it seems.
He spent all his money, and a good deal of other people’s money
besides.  Amanda, the chambermaid, told me; and I guess she knows.”

“You thought he was so rich!”

“He was.  But no matter how big a bag is: if you keep taking out
of it, you must get to the bottom.”

“Then he spent a great deal?”

“It’s incredible!  I have been in extravagant houses; but nowhere
have I ever seen money fly as it has during the five months that I
have been in that house.  A regular pillage!  Everybody helped
themselves; and what was not in the house, they could get from the
tradespeople, have it charged on the bill; and it was all paid
without a word.”

“Then, yes, indeed, the money must have gone pretty lively,” said
the old one in a convinced tone.

“Well,” replied the other, “that was nothing yet.  Amanda the
chambermaid who has been in the house fifteen years, told us some
stories that would make you jump.  She was not much for spending,
Zelie; but some of the others, it seems . . .”

It required the greatest effort on the part of Maxence and M. de
Tregars not to play, but only to pretend to play, and to continue
to count imaginary points,--“One, two, three, four.”

Fortunately the coachman with the red nose seemed much interested.

“What others?” he asked.

“That I don’t know any thing about,” replied the younger valet.
“But you may imagine that there must have been more than one in that
little house during the many years that M. Vincent owned it,--a man who
hadn’t his equal for women, and who was worth millions.”

“And what was his business?”

“Don’t know that, either.”

“What! there were ten of you in the house, and you didn’t know the
profession of the man who paid you all?”

“We were all new.”

“The chambermaid, Amanda, must have known.”

“When she was asked, she said that he was a merchant.  One thing is
sure, he was a queer old chap.”

So interested was the old coachman, that, seeing the punch-bowl
empty, he called for another.  His comrade could not fail to show
his appreciation of such politeness.

“Ah, yes!” he went on, “old Vincent was an eccentric fellow; and
never, to see him, could you have suspected that he cut up such
capers, and that he threw money away by the handful.”

“Indeed!”

“Imagine a man about fifty years old, stiff as a post, with a face
about as pleasant as a prison-gate.  That’s the boss!  Summer and
winter, he wore laced shoes, blue stockings, gray pantaloons that
were too short, a cotton necktie, and a frock-coat that came down
to his ankles.  In the street, you would have taken him for a hosier
who had retired before his fortune was made.”

“You don’t say so!”

“No, never have I seen a man look so much like an old miser.  You
think, perhaps, that he came in a carriage.  Not a bit of it!  He
came in the omnibus, my boy, and outside too, for three sous; and
when it rained he opened his umbrella.  But the moment he had
crossed the threshold of the house, presto, pass! complete change
of scene.  The miser became pacha.  He took off his old duds, put
on a blue velvet robe; and then there was nothing handsome enough,
nothing good enough, nothing expensive enough for him.  And, when
he had acted the my lord to his heart’s content, he put on his old
traps again, resumed his prison-gate face, climbed up on top of the
omnibus, and went off as he came.”

“And you were not surprised, all of you, at such a life?”

“Very much so.”

“And you did not think that these singular whims must conceal
something?”

“Oh, but we did!”

“And you didn’t try to find out what that something was?”

“How could we?”

“Was it very difficult to follow your boss, and ascertain where he
went, after leaving the house?”

“Certainly not; but what then?”

“Why,” he replied, “you would have found out his secret in the end;
and then you would have gone to him and told him, ‘Give me so much,
or I peach.’”



V

This story of M. Vincent, as told by these two honest companions,
was something like the vulgar legend of other people’s money, so
eagerly craved, and so madly dissipated.  Easily-gotten wealth is
easily gotten rid of.  Stolen money has fatal tendencies, and turns
irresistibly to gambling, horse-jockeys, fast women, all the ruinous
fancies, all the unwholesome gratifications.

They are rare indeed, among the daring cut-throats of speculation,
those to whom their ill-gotten gain proves of real service,--so
rare, that they are pointed out, and are as easily numbered as the
girls who leap some night from the street to a ten-thousand-franc
apartment, and manage to remain there.

Seized with the intoxication of sudden wealth, they lose all measure
and all prudence.  Whether they believe their luck inexhaustible, or
fear a sudden turn of fortune, they make haste to enjoy themselves,
and they fill the noted restaurants, the leading cafes, the theatres,
the clubs, the race-courses, with their impudent personality, the
clash of their voice, the extravagance of their mistresses, the
noise of their expenses, and the absurdity of their vanity.  And
they go on and on, lavishing other people’s money, until the fatal
hour of one of those disastrous liquidations which terrify the
courts and the exchange, and cause pallid faces and a gnashing of
teeth in the “street,” until the moment when they have the choice
between a pistol-shot, which they never choose, the criminal court,
which they do their best to avoid, and a trip abroad.

What becomes of them afterwards?  To what gutters do they tumble
from fall to fall?  Does any one know what becomes of the women who
disappear suddenly after two or three years of follies and of
splendors?

But it happens sometimes, as you step out of a carriage in front of
some theatre, that you wonder where you have already seen the face
of the wretched beggar who opens the door for you, and in a husky
voice claims his two sous.  You saw him at the Cafe Riche, during
the six months that he was a big financier.

Some other time you may catch, in the crowd, snatches of a strange
conversation between two crapulous rascals.

“It was at the time,” says one, “when I drove that bright chestnut
team that I had bought for twenty thousand francs of the eldest son
of the Duke de Sermeuse.”

“I remember,” replies the other; “for at that moment I gave six
thousand francs a month to little Cabriole of the Varieties.”

And, improbable as this may seem, it is the exact truth; for one
was manager of a manufacturing enterprise that sank ten millions;
and the other was at the head of a financial operation that ruined
five hundred families.  They had houses like the one in the Rue du
Cirque, mistresses more expensive than Mme. Zelie Cadelle, and
servants like those who were now talking within a step of Maxence
and Marius de Tregars.  The latter had resumed their conversation;
and the oldest one, the coachman with the red nose, was saying to
his younger comrade,

“This Vincent affair must be a lesson to you.  If ever you find
yourself again in a house where so much money is spent, remember
that it hasn’t cost much trouble to make it, and manage somehow
to get as big a share of it as you can.”

“That’s what I’ve always done wherever I have been.”

“And, above all, make haste to fill your bag, because, you see,
in houses like that, one is never sure, one day, whether, the
next, the gentleman will not be at Mazas, and the lady at St.
Lazares.”

They had done their second bowl of punch, and finished their
conversation.  They paid, and left.

And Maxence and M. de Tregars were able, at last, to throw down
their cards.

Maxence was very pale; and big tears were rolling down his cheeks.

“What disgrace!” he murmured: “This, then, is the other side of
my father’s existence!  This is the way in which he spent the
millions which he stole; whilst, in the Rue St. Gilles, he
deprived his family of the necessaries of life!”

And, in a tone of utter discouragement,

“Now it is indeed all over, and it is useless to continue our
search.  My father is certainly guilty.”

But M. de Tregars was not the man thus to give up the game.

“Guilty?  Yes,” he said, “but dupe also.”

“Whose dupe?”

“That’s what we’ll find out, you may depend upon it.”

“What! after what we have just heard?”

“I have more hope than ever.”

“Did you learn any thing from Mme. Zelie Cadelle, then?”

“Nothing more than you know by those two rascals’ conversation.”

A dozen questions were pressing upon Maxence’s lips; but M. de
Tregars interrupted him.

“In this case, my friend, less than ever must we trust appearances.
Let me speak.  Was your father a simpleton?  No!  His ability to
dissimulate, for years, his double existence, proves, on the
contrary, a wonderful amount of duplicity.  How is it, then, that
latterly his conduct has been so extraordinary and so absurd?  But
you will doubtless say it was always such.  In that case, I answer
you, No; for then his secret could not have been kept for a year.
We hear that other women lived in that house before Mme. Zelie
Cadelle.  But who were they?  What has become of them?  Is there
any certainty that they have ever existed?  Nothing proves it.

“The servants having been all changed, Amanda, the chambermaid, is
the only one who knows the truth; and she will be very careful to
say nothing about it.  Therefore, all our positive information
goes back no farther than five months.  And what do we hear?  That
your father seemed to try and make his extravagant expenditures as
conspicuous as possible.  That he did not even take the trouble to
conceal the source of the money he spent so profusely; for he told
Mme. Zelie that he was at the end of his tether, and that, after
having spent his own fortune, he was spending other people’s money.
He had announced his intended departure; he had sold the house, and
received its price.  Finally, at the last moment, what does he do?

“Instead of going off quietly and secretly, like a man who is
running away, and who knows that he is pursued, he tells every one
where he intends to go; he writes it on all his trunks, in letters
half a foot high; and then rides in great display to the railway
station, with a woman, several carriages, servants, etc.  What is
the object of all this?  To get caught?  No, but to start a false
scent.  Therefore, in his mind, every thing must have been arranged
in advance, and the catastrophe was far from taking him by surprise;
therefore the scene with M. de Thaller must have been prepared;
therefore, it must have been on purpose that he left his pocketbook
behind, with the bill in it that was to lead us straight here;
therefore all we have seen is but a transparent comedy, got up for
our special benefit, and intended to cover up the truth, and
mislead the law.”

But Maxence was not entirely convinced.

“Still,” he remarked, “those enormous expenses.”

M. de Tregars shrugged his shoulders.

“Have you any idea,” he said, “what display can be made with a
million?  Let us admit that your father spent two, four millions
even.  The loss of the Mutual Credit is twelve millions.  What has
become of the other eight?”

And, as Maxence made no answer,

“It is those eight millions,” he added, “that I want, and that I
shall have.  It is in Paris that your father is hid, I feel certain.
We must find him; and we must make him tell the truth, which I
already more than suspect.”

Whereupon, throwing on the table the pint of beer which he had not
drunk, he walked out of the cafe with Maxence.

“Here you are at last!” exclaimed the coachman, who had been
waiting at the corner for over three hours, a prey to the utmost
anxiety.

But M. de Tregars had no time for explanations; and, pushing
Maxence into the cab, he jumped in after him, crying to the
coachman,

“24 Rue Joquelet.  Five francs extra for yourself.”  A driver who
expects an extra five francs, always has, for five minutes at least,
a horse as fast as Gladiateur.

Whilst the cab was speeding on to its destination,

“What is most important for us now,” said M. de Tregars to Maxence,
“is to ascertain how far the Mutual Credit crisis has progressed;
and M. Latterman of the Rue Joquelet is the man in all Paris who
can best inform us.”

Whoever has made or lost five hundred francs at the bourse knows M.
Latterman, who, since the war, calls himself an Alsatian and curses
with a fearful accent those “parparous Broossians.”  This worthy
speculator modestly calls himself a money-changer; but he would
be a simpleton who should ask him for change: and it is certainly
not that sort of business which gives him the three hundred thousand
francs’ profits which he pockets every year.

When a company has failed, when it has been wound up, and the
defrauded stockholders have received two or three per cent in all
on their original investment, there is a prevailing idea that the
certificates of its stocks are no longer good for any thing, except
to light the fire.  That’s a mistake.  Long after the company has
foundered, its shares float, like the shattered debris which the
sea casts upon the beach months after the ship has been wrecked.
These shares M. Latterman collects, and carefully stores away; and
upon the shelves of his office you may see numberless shares and
bonds of those numerous companies which have absorbed, in the past
twenty years, according to some statistics, twelve hundred millions,
and, according to others, two thousand millions, of the public
fortune.

Say but a word, and his clerks will offer you some “Franco-American
Company,” some “Steam Navigation Company of Marseilles,” some “Coal
and Metal Company of the Asturias,” some “Transcontinental
Memphis and El Paso” (of the United States), some “Caumart Slate
Works,” and hundreds of others, which, for the general public, have
no value, save that of old paper, that is from three to five cents
a pound.  And yet speculators are found who buy and sell these
rags.

In an obscure corner of the bourse may be seen a miscellaneous
population of old men with pointed beards, and overdressed young
men, who deal in every thing salable, and other things besides.
There are found foreign merchants, who will offer you stocks of
merchandise, goods from auction, good claims to recover, and who
at last will take out of their pockets an opera-glass, a Geneva
watch (smuggled in), a revolver, or a bottle of patent hair-restorer.

Such is the market to which drift those shares which were once
issued to represent millions, and which now represent nothing but
a palpable proof of the audacity of swindlers, and the credulity
of their dupes.  And there are actually buyers for these shares,
and they go up or down, according to the ordinary laws of supply
and demand; for there is a demand for them, and here comes in the
usefulness of M. Latterman’s business.

Does a tradesman, on the eve of declaring himself bankrupt, wish
to defraud his creditors of a part of his assets, to conceal
excessive expenses, or cover up some embezzlement, at once he goes
to the Rue Joquelet, procures a select assortment of “Cantonal
Credit,” “Rossdorif Mines,” or “Maumusson Salt Works,” and puts
them carefully away in his safe.

And, when the receiver arrives,

“There are my assets,” he says.  “I have there some twenty, fifty,
or a hundred thousand francs of stocks, the whole of which is not
worth five francs to-day; but it isn’t my fault.  I thought it a
good investment; and I didn’t sell, because I always thought the
price would come up again.”

And he gets his discharge, because it would really be too cruel to
punish a man because he has made unfortunate investments.

Better than any one, M. Latterman knows for what purpose are
purchased the valueless securities which he sells; and he actually
advises his customers which to take in preference, in order that
their purchase at the time of their issue may appear more natural,
and more likely.  Nevertheless, he claims to be a perfectly honest
man, and declares that he is no more responsible for the swindles
that are committed by means of his stocks than a gunsmith for a
murder committed with a gun that he has sold.

“But he will surely be able to tell us all about the Mutual Credit,”
 repeated Maxence to M. de Tregars.

Four o’clock struck when the carriage stopped in the Rue Joquelet.
The bourse had just closed; and a few groups were still standing in
the square, or along the railings.

“I hope we shall find this Latterman at home,” said Maxence.

They started up the stairs (for it is up on the second floor that
this worthy operator has his offices); and, having inquired,

“M. Latterman is engaged with a customer,” answered a clerk.
“Please sit down and wait.”

M. Latterman’s office was like all other caverns of the same kind.
A very narrow space was reserved to the public; and all around,
behind a heavy wire screen, the clerks could be seen busy with
figures, or handling coupons.  On the right, over a small window,
appeared the word, “CASHIER.”  A small door on the left led to
the private office.

M. de Tregars and Maxence had patiently taken a seat on a hard
leather bench, once red; and they were listening and looking on.

There was considerable animation about the place.  Every few
minutes, well-dressed young men came in with a hurried and
important look, and, taking out of their pocket a memorandum-book,
they would speak a few sentences of that peculiar dialect,
bristling with figures, which is the language of the bourse.  At
the end of fifteen or twenty minutes,

“Will M. Latterman be engaged much longer?” inquired M. de Tregars.

“I do not know,” replied a clerk.

At that very moment, the little door on the left opened, and the
customer came out who had detained M. Latterman so long.  This
customer was no other than M. Costeclar.  Noticing M. de Tregars
and Maxence, who had risen at the noise of the door, he appeared
most disagreeably surprised.  He even turned slightly pale, and
took a step backwards, as if intending to return precipitately
into the room that he was leaving; for M. Latterman’s office,
like that of all other large operators, had several doors, without
counting the one that leads to the police-court.  But M. de
Tregars gave him no time to effect this retreat.  Stepping suddenly
forward,

“Well?” he asked him in a tone that was almost threatening.

The brilliant financier had condescended to take off his hat,
usually riveted upon his head, and, with the smile of a knave caught
in the act,

“I did not expect to meet you here, my lord-marquis,” he said.

At the title of “marquis,” everybody looked up.  “I believe you,
indeed,” said M. de Tregars.  “But what I want to know is, how
is the matter progressing?”

“The plot is thickening.  Justice is acting.”

“Indeed!”

“It is a fact.  Jules Jottras, of the house of Jottras and Brother,
was arrested this morning, just as he arrived at the bourse.”

“Why?”

“Because, it seems, he was an accomplice of Favoral; and it was
he who sold the bonds stolen from the Mutual Credit.”

Maxence had started at the mention of his father’s name but, with
a significant glance, M. de Tregars bid him remain silent, and,
in a sarcastic tone,

“Famous capture!” he murmured.  “And which proves the
clear-sightedness of justice.”

“But this is not all,” resumed M. Costeclar.  “Saint Pavin, the
editor of ‘The Financial Pilot,’ you know, is thought to be seriously
compromised.  There was a rumor, at the close of the market, that a
warrant either had been, or was about to be, issued against him.”

“And the Baron de Thaller?”

The employes of the office could not help admiring M. Costeclar’s
extraordinary amount of patience.

“The baron,” he replied, “made his appearance at the bourse this
afternoon, and was the object of a veritable ovation.”

“That is admirable!  And what did he say?”

“That the damage was already repaired.”

“Then the shares of the Mutual Credit must have advanced.”

“Unfortunately, not.  They did not go above one hundred and ten
francs.”

“Were you not astonished at that?”

“Not much, because, you see, I am a business-man, I am; and I know
pretty well how things work.  When they left M. de Thaller this
morning, the stockholders of the Mutual Credit had a meeting; and
they pledged themselves, upon honor, not to sell, so as not to break
the market.  As soon as they had separated, each one said to himself,
‘Since the others are going to keep their stock, like fools, I am
going to sell mine.’ Now, as there were three or four hundred of
them who argued the same way, the market was flooded with shares.”

Looking the brilliant financier straight in the eyes,

“And yourself?” interrupted M. de Tregars.

“I!” stammered M. Costeclar, so visibly agitated, that the clerks
could not help laughing.

“Yes.  I wish to know if you have been more faithful to your word
than the stockholders of whom you are speaking, and whether you
have done as we had agreed.”

“Certainly; and, if you find me here--”

But M. de Tregars, placing his own hand over his shoulder, stopped
him short.

“I think I know what brought you here,” he uttered; “and in a few
moments I shall have ascertained.”

“I swear to you.”

“Don’t swear.  If I am mistaken, so much the better for you.  If I
am not mistaken, I’ll prove to you that it is dangerous to try any
sharp game on me, though I am not a business-man.”

Meantime M. Latterman, seeing no customer coming to take the place
of the one who had left, became impatient at last, and appeared
upon the threshold of his private office.

He was a man still young, small, thick-set, and vulgar.  At the
first glance, nothing of him could be seen but his abdomen,--a big,
great, and ponderous abdomen, seat of his thoughts, and tabernacle
of his aspirations, over which dangled a double gold chain, loaded
with trinkets.  Above an apoplectic neck, red as that of a
turkey-cock, stood his little head, covered with coarse red hair,
cut very short.  He wore a heavy beard, trimmed in the form of a fan.
His large, full-moon face was divided in two by a nose as flat as a
Kalmuck’s, and illuminated by two small eyes, in which could be read
the most thorough duplicity.

Seeing M. de Tregars and M. Costeclar engaged in conversation,

“Why!  you know each other?” he said.

M. de Tregars advanced a step,

“We are even intimate friends,” he replied.  “And it is very lucky
that we should have met.  I am brought here by the same matter as
our dear Costeclar; and I was just explaining to him that he has
been too hasty, and that it would be best to wait three or four days
longer.”

“That’s just what I told him,” echoed the honorable financier.

Maxence understood only one thing,--that M. de Tregars had
penetrated M. Costeclar’s designs; and he could not sufficiently
admire his presence of mind, and his skill in grasping an unexpected
opportunity.

“Fortunately there is nothing done yet,” added M. Latterman.

“And it is yet time to alter what has been agreed on,” said M. de
Tregars.  And, addressing himself to Costeclar,

“Come,” he added, “we’ll fix things with M. Latterman.”

But the other, who remembered the scene in the Rue St. Gilles, and
who had his own reasons to be alarmed, would sooner have jumped out
of the window.

“I am expected,” he stammered.  “Arrange matters without me.”

“Then you give me carte blanche?”

Ah, if the brilliant financier had dared!  But he felt upon him such
threatening eyes, that he dared not even make a gesture of denial.

“Whatever you do will be satisfactory,” he said in the tone of a
man who sees himself lost.

And, as he was going out of the door, M. de Tregars stepped into
M. Latterman’s private office.  He remained only five minutes; and
when he joined Maxence, whom he had begged to wait for him,

“I think that we have got them,” he said as they walked off.

Their next visit was to M. Saint Pavin, at the office of “The
Financial Pilot.”  Every one must have seen at least one copy of
that paper with its ingenious vignette, representing a bold mariner
steering a boat, filled with timid passengers, towards the harbor
of Million, over a stormy sea, bristling with the rocks of failure
and the shoals of ruin.  The office of “The Pilot” is, in fact,
less a newspaper office than a sort of general business agency.

As at M. Latterman’s, there are clerks scribbling behind wire
screens, small windows, a cashier, and an immense blackboard, on
which the latest quotations of the Rente, and other French and
foreign securities, are written in chalk.

As “The Pilot” spends some hundred thousand francs a year in
advertising, in order to obtain subscribers; as, on the other hand,
it only costs three francs a year,--it is clear that it is not on
its subscriptions that it realizes any profits.  It has other
sources of income: its brokerages first; for it buys, sells, and
executes, as the prospectus says, all orders for stocks, bonds, or
other securities, for the best interests of the client.  And it has
plenty of business.

To the opulent brokerages, must be added advertising and puffing,
--another mine.  Six times out of ten, when a new enterprise is set
on foot, the organizers send for Saint Pavin.  Honest men, or
knaves, they must all pass through his hands.  They know it, and
are resigned in advance.

“We rely upon you,” they say to him.

“What advantages have you to offer?” he replies.

Then they discuss the operation, the expected profits of the new
company, and M. Saint Pavin’s demands.  For a hundred thousand
francs he promises bursts of lyrism; for fifty thousand he will be
enthusiastic only.  Twenty thousand francs will secure a moderate
praise of the affair; ten thousand, a friendly neutrality.  And,
if the said company refuses any advantages to “The Pilot”--

“Ah, you must beware!” says Saint Pavin.

And from the very next number he commences his campaign.  He is
moderate at first, and leaves a door open for his retreat.  He
puts forth doubts only.  He does not know much about it.  “It may
be an excellent thing; it may be a wretched one: the safest is to
wait and see.”

That’s the first hint.  If it remains without result, he takes up
his pen again, and makes his doubts more pointed.

He knows how to steer clear of libel suits, how to handle figures
so as to demonstrate, according to the requirements of the case,
that two and two make three, or make five.  It is seldom, that,
before the third article, the company does not surrender at
discretion.

All Paris knows him; and he has many friends.  When M. de Tregars
and Maxence arrived, they found the office full of people
--speculators, brokers, go-betweens--come there to discuss
the fluctuations of the day and the probabilities of the evening
market.

“M. Saint Pavin is engaged,” one of the clerks told them.

Indeed, his coarse voice could be distinctly heard behind the screen.
Soon he appeared, showing out an old gentleman, who seemed utterly
confused at the scene, and to whom he was screaming,

“No, sir, no!  ‘The Financial Pilot’ does not take that sort of
business; and I find you very bold to come and propose to me a
twopenny rascality.”  But, noticing Maxence,

“M. Favoral!” he said.  “By Jove! it is your good star that has
brought you here.  Come into the private office, my dear sir: come,
we’ll have some fun now.”

Many of the people who were in the office had a word to say to M.
Saint Pavin, some advice to ask him, an order to transmit, or some
news to communicate.  They had all stepped forward, and were holding
out their hands with a friendly smile.  He set them aside with his
usual rudeness.

“By and by.  I am busy now: leave me alone.”

And pushing Maxence towards the office-door, which he had just
opened,

“Come in, come in!” he said in a tone of extraordinary impatience.

But M. de Tregars was coming in too; and, as he did not know him,

“What do you want, you?” he asked roughly.

“The gentleman is my best friend,” said Maxence, turning to him;
“and I have no secret from him.”

“Let him walk in, then; but, by Heaven, let us hurry!”

Once very sumptuous, the private office of the editor of “The
Financial Pilot” had fallen into a state of sordid dilapidation.
If the janitor had received orders never to use a broom or a duster
there, he obeyed them strictly.  Disorder and dirt reigned supreme.
Papers and manuscripts lay in all directions; and on the broad
sofas the mud from the boots of all those who had lounged upon
them had been drying for months.  On the mantel-piece, in the
midst of some half-dozen dirty glasses, stood a bottle of Madeira,
half empty.  Finally, before the fireplace, on the carpet, and
along the furniture, cigar and cigarette stumps were heaped in
profusion.

As soon as he had bolted the door, coming straight to Maxence,

“What has become of your father?” inquired M. Saint Pavin rudely.

Maxence started.  That was the last question he expected to hear.

“I do not know,” he replied.

The manager of “The Pilot” shrugged his shoulders.  “That you
should say so to the commissary of police, to the judges, and to
all Favoral’s enemies, I understand: it is your duty.  That they
should believe you, I understand too; for, after all, what do
they care?  But to me, a friend, though you may not think so, and
who has reasons not to be credulous----”

“I swear to you that we have no idea where he has taken refuge.”

Maxence said this with such an accent of sincerity, that doubt was
no longer possible.  M. Saint Pavin’s features expressed the utmost
surprise.

“What!” he exclaimed, “your father has gone without securing the
means of hearing from his family?”

“Yes.”

“Without saying a word of his intentions to your mother, or your
sister, or yourself?”

“Without one word.”

“Without leaving any money, perhaps?”

“We found only an insignificant sum after he left.”  The editor of
“The Pilot” made a gesture of ironical admiration.  “Well, the
thing is complete,” he said; “and Vincent is a smarter fellow than
I gave him credit for; or else he must have cared more for those
infernal women of his than any one supposed.”

M. de Tregars, who had remained hitherto silent, now stepped
forward.

“What women?” he asked.

“How do I know?” he replied roughly.  “How could any one ever find
out any thing about a man who was more hermetically shut up in his
coat than a Jesuit in his gown?”

“M. Costeclar--”

“That’s another nice bird!  Still he may possibly have discovered
something of Vincent’s life; for he led him a pretty dance.
Wasn’t he about to marry Mlle. Favoral once?”

“Yes, in spite of herself even.”

“Then you are right: he had discovered something.  But, if you rely
on him to tell you anything whatever, you are reckoning without
your host.”

“Who knows?” murmured M. de Tregars.

But M. Saint Pavin heard him not.  Prey to a violent agitation, he
was pacing up and down the room.

“Ah, those men of cold appearance,” he growled, “those men with
discreet countenance, those close-shaving calculators, those
moralists!  What fools they do make of themselves when once
started!  Who can imagine to what insane extremities this one
may have been driven under the spur of some mad passion!”

And stamping violently his foot upon the carpet, from which arose
clouds of dust,

“And yet,” he swore, “I must find him.  And, by thunder! wherever
he may be hid, I shall find him.”

M. de Tregars was watching M. Saint Pavin with a scrutinizing eye.

“You have a great interest in finding him, then?” he said.

The other stopped short.

“I have the interest,” he replied, “of a man who thought himself
shrewd, and who has been taken in like a child,--of a man to whom
they had promised wonders, and who finds his situation imperilled,
--of a man who is tired of working for a band of brigands who heap
millions upon millions, and to whom, for all reward, they offer
the police-court and a retreat in the State Prison for his old age,
--in a word, the interests of a man who will and shall have revenge,
by all that is holy!”

“On whom?”

“On the Baron de Thaller, sir!  How, in the world, has he been
able to compel Favoral to assume the responsibility of all, and
to disappear?  What enormous sum has he given to him?”

“Sir,” interrupted Maxence, “my father went off without a sou.”

M. Saint Pavin burst out in a loud laugh.

“And the twelve millions?” he asked.  “What has become of them?
Do you suppose they have been distributed in deeds of charity?”

And without waiting for any further objections,

“And yet,” he went on, “it is not with money alone that a man can
be induced to disgrace himself, to confess himself a thief and a
forger, to brave the galleys, to give up everything,--country,
family, friends.  Evidently the Baron de Thaller must have had
other means of action, some hold on Favoral--”

M. de Tregars interrupted him.

“You speak,” he said, “as if you were absolutely certain of M. de Thaller’s
complicity.”

“Of course.”

“Why don’t you inform on him, then?”

The editor of “The Pilot” started back.  “What!” he exclaimed, “draw
the fingers of the law into my own business!  You don’t think of it!
Besides, what good would that do me?  I have no proofs of my
allegations.  Do you suppose that Thaller has not taken his
precautions, and tied my hands?  No, no! without Favoral there is
nothing to be done.”

“Do you suppose, then, that you could induce him to surrender
himself?”

“No, but to furnish me the proofs I need, to send Thaller where they
have already sent that poor Jottras.”

And, becoming more and more excited,

“But it is not in a month that I should want those proofs,” he went
on, “nor even in two weeks, but to-morrow, but at this very moment.
Before the end of the week, Thaller will have wound up the operation,
realized, Heaven knows how many millions, and put every thing in
such nice order, that justice, who in financial matters is not of
the first capacity, will discover nothing wrong.  If he can do that,
he is safe, he is beyond reach, and will be dubbed a first-class
financier.  Then to what may he not aspire!  Already he talks of
having himself elected deputy; and he says everywhere that he has
found, to marry his daughter, a gentleman who bears one of the
oldest names in France,--the Marquis de Tregars.”

“Why, this is the Marquis de Tregars!” exclaimed Maxence, pointing
to Marius.

For the first time, M. Saint Pavin took the trouble to examine his
visitor; and he, who knew life too well not to be a judge of men,
he seemed surprised.

“Please excuse me, sir,” he uttered with a politeness very different
from his usual manner, “and permit me to ask you if you know the
reasons why M. de Thaller is so prodigiously anxious to have you
for a son-in-law.”

“I think,” replied M. de Tregars coldly, “that M. de Thaller would
not be sorry to deprive me of the right to seek the causes of my
father’s ruin.”

But he was interrupted by a great noise of voices in the adjoining
room; and almost at once there was a loud knock at the door, and a
voice called,

“In the name of the law!”

The editor of “The Pilot” had become whiter than his shirt.

“That’s what I was afraid of,” he said.  “Thaller has got ahead of
me; and perhaps I may be lost.”

Meantime he did not lose his wits.  Quick as thought he took out of
a drawer a package of letters, threw them into the fireplace, and
set fire to them, saying, in a voice made hoarse by emotion and
anger,

“No one shall come in until they are burnt.”

But it required an incredibly long time to make them catch fire;
and M. Saint Pavin, kneeling before the hearth, was stirring them
up, and scattering them, to make them burn faster.

“And now,” said M. de Tregars, “will you hesitate to deliver up
the Baron de Thaller into the hands of justice?”

He turned around with flashing eyes.

“Now,” he replied, “if I wish to save myself, I must save him too.
Don’t you understand that he holds me?”

And, seeing that the last sheets of his correspondence were consumed,

“You may open now,” he said to Maxence.

Maxence obeyed; and a commissary of police, wearing his scarf of
office, rushed into the room; whilst his men, not without difficulty,
kept back the crowd in the outer office.

The commissary, who was an old hand, and had perhaps been on a
hundred expeditions of this kind, had surveyed the scene at a
glance.  Noticing in the fireplace the carbonized debris, upon
which still fluttered an expiring flame,

“That’s the reason, then,” he said, “why you were so long opening
the door?”

A sarcastic smile appeared upon the lips of the editor of “The Pilot.”

“Private matters,” he replied; “women’s letters.”

“This will be moral evidence against you, sir.”

“I prefer it to material evidence.”

Without condescending to notice the impertinence, the commissary
was casting a suspicious glance on Maxence and M. de Tregars.

“Who are these gentlemen who were closeted with you?” he asked.

“Visitors, sir.  This is M. Favoral.”

“The son of the cashier of the Mutual Credit?”

“Exactly; and this gentleman is the Marquis de Tregars.”

“You should have opened the door when you heard a knocking in the
name of the law,” grumbled the commissary.

But he did not insist.  Taking a paper from his pocket, he opened
it, and, handing it to M. Saint Pavin,

“I have orders to arrest you,” he said.  “Here is the warrant.”

With a careless gesture, the other pushed it back.  “What’s the use
of reading?” he said.  “When I heard of the arrest of that poor
Jottras, I guessed at once what was in store for me.  It is about
the Mutual Credit swindle, I imagine.”

“Exactly.”

“I have no more to do with it than yourself, sir; and I shall have
very little trouble in proving it.  But that is not your business.
And you are going, I suppose, to put the seals on my papers?”

“Except on those that you have burnt.”

M. Saint Pavin burst out laughing.  He had recovered his coolness
and his impudence, and seemed as much at ease as if it were the
most natural thing in the world.

“Shall I be allowed to speak to my clerks,” he asked, “and to give
them my instructions?”

“Yes,” replied the commissary, “but in my presence.”

The clerks, being called, appeared, consternation depicted upon
their countenances, but joy sparkling in their eyes.  In reality
they were delighted at the misfortune which befell their employer.

“You see what happens to me, my boys,” he said.  “But don’t be
uneasy.  In less than forty-eight hours, the error of which I am
the victim will be recognized, and I shall be liberated on bail.
At any rate, I can rely upon you, can’t I?”

They all swore that they would be more attentive and more zealous
than ever.

And then addressing himself to his cashier, who was his
confidential and right-hand man,

“As to you, Bernard,” he said, “you will run to M. de Thaller’s,
and advise him of what’s going on.  Let him have funds ready; for
all our depositors will want to draw out their money at once.  You
will then call at the printing-office: have my article on the
Mutual Credit kept out, and insert in its place some financial news
cut out from other papers.  Above all, don’t mention my arrest,
unless M. de Thaller should demand it.  Go ahead, and let ‘The
Pilot’ appear as usual: that’s important.”

He had, whilst speaking, lighted a cigar.  The honest man, victim
of human iniquity, has not a firmer and more tranquil countenance.

“Justice does not know,” he said to the commissary, who was fumbling
in all the drawers of the desk, “what irreparable damage she may
cause by arresting so hastily a man who has charge of immense
interests like me.  It is the fortune of ten or twelve small
capitalists that is put in jeopardy.”

Already the witnesses of the arrest had retired, one by one, to go
and scatter the news along the Boulevard, and also to see what
could be made out of it; for, at the bourse, news is money.

M. de Tregars and Maxence left also.  As they passed the door,

“Don’t you say any thing about what I told you,” M. Saint Pavin
recommended to them.

M. de Tregars made no answer.  He had the contracted features and
tightly-drawn lips of a man who is maturing a grave determination,
which, once taken, will be irrevocable.

Once in the street, and when Maxence had opened the carriage-door,

“We are going to separate here,” he told him in that brief tone of
voice which reveals a settled plan.  “I know enough now to venture
to call at M. de Thaller’s.  There only shall I be able to see how
to strike the decisive blow.  Return to the Rue St. Gilles, and
relieve your mother’s and sister’s anxiety.  You shall see me during
the evening, I promise you.”

And, without waiting for an answer, he jumped into the cab, which
started off.

But it was not to the Rue St. Gilles that Maxence went.  He was
anxious, first, to see Mlle. Lucienne, to tell her the events of
that day, the busiest of his existence; to tell her his discoveries,
his surprises, his anxieties, and his hopes.

To his great surprise, he failed to find her at the Hotel des
Folies.  She had gone riding at three o’clock, M. Fortin told him,
and had not yet returned; but she could not be much longer, as it
was already getting dark.  Maxence went out again then, to see if
he could not meet her.  He had walked a little way along the
Boulevard, when, at some distance off, on the Place du Chateau
d’Eau, he thought he noticed an unusual bustle.  Almost
immediately he heard shouts of terror.  Frightened people were
running in all directions; and right before him a carriage, going
at full gallop, passed like a flash.

But, quick as it had passed, he had time to recognize Mlle.
Lucienne, pale, and clinging desperately to the seat.  Wild with
fear, he started after it as fast as he could run.  It was clear
that the driver had no control over his horses.  A policeman who
tried to stop them was knocked down.  Ten steps farther, the
hind-wheel of the carriage, catching the wheel of a heavy wagon,
broke to splinters; and Mlle. Lucienne was thrown into the street,
whilst the driver fell over on the sidewalk.



VI

The Baron de Thaller was too practical a man to live in the same
house, or even in the same district, where his offices were
located.  To dwell in the midst of his business; to be constantly
subjected to the contact of his employes, to the unkindly comments
of a crowd of subordinates; to expose himself to hourly annoyances,
to sickening solicitations, to the reclamations and eternal
complaints of his stockholders and his clients!  Pouah!  He’d have
given up the business first.  And so, on the very days when he had
established the offices of the Mutual Credit in the Rue de
Quatre-Septembre, he had purchased a house in the Rue de la
Pepiniere within a step of the Faubourg St. Honore.

It was a brand-new house, which had never yet been occupied, and
which had just been erected by a contractor who was almost
celebrated, towards 1866, at the moment of the great transformations
of Paris, when whole blocks were leveled to the ground, and rose
again so rapidly, that one might well wonder whether the masons,
instead of a trowel, did not make use of a magician’s wand.

This contractor, named Parcimieux, had come from the Limousin in
1860 with his carpenter’s tools for all fortune, and, in less than
six years, had accumulated, at the lowest estimate, six millions
of francs.  Only he was a modest man, and took as much pains to
conceal his fortune, and offend no one, as most _parvenus_ do to
display their wealth, and insult the public.

Though he could hardly sign his name, yet he knew and practised
the maxim of the Greek philosopher, which is, perhaps, the true
secret of happiness,--hide thy life.  And there were no expedients
to which he did not resort to hide it.  At the time of his greatest
prosperity, for instance, having need of a carriage, he had applied
to the manager of the Petites Voitures Company, and had had built
for himself two cabs, outwardly similar in every respect to those
used by the company, but within, most luxuriously upholstered, and
drawn by horses of common appearance, but who could go their
twenty-five miles in two hours any day.  And these he had hired by
the year.

Having his carriage, the worthy builder determined to have, also,
his house, his own house, built by himself.  But this required
infinitely greater precautions still.

“For, as you may imagine,” he explained to his friends, “a man does
not make as much money as I have, without also making many cruel,
bitter, and irreconcilable enemies.  I have against me all the
builders who have not succeeded, all the sub-contractors I employ,
and who say that I speculate on their poverty, and the thousands of
workmen who work for me, and swear that I grind them down to the
dust.  Already they call me brigand, slaver, thief, leech.  What
would it be, if they saw me living in a beautiful house of my own?
They’d swear that I could not possibly have got so rich honestly,
and that I must have committed some crimes.  Besides, to build me
a handsome house on the street would be, in case of a mob, setting
up windows for the stones of all the rascals who have been in my
employment.”

Such were M. Parcimieux’s thoughts, when, as he expressed it, he
resolved to build.

A lot was for sale in the Rue de la Pepiniere.  He bought it, and
at the same time purchased the adjoining house, which he
immediately caused to be torn down.  This operation placed in his
possession a vast piece of ground, not very wide, but of great
depth, stretching, as it did, back to the Rue Labaume.  At once
work was begun according to a plan which his architect and himself
had spent six months in maturing.  On the line of the street arose
a house of the most modest appearance, two stories in height only,
with a very high and very wide carriage-door for the passage of
vehicles.  This was to deceive the vulgar eye,--the outside of the
cab, as it were.  Behind this house, between a spacious court and a
vast garden was built the residence of which M. Parcimieux had
dreamed; and it really was an exceptional building both by the
excellence of the materials used, and by the infinite care which
presided over the minutest details.  The marbles for the vestibule
and the stairs were brought from Africa, Italy, and Corsica.  He
sent to Rome for workmen for the mosaics.  The joiner and
locksmithing work was intrusted to real artists.

Repeating to every one that he was working for a great foreign lord,
whose orders he went to take every morning, he was free to indulge
his most extravagant fancies, without fearing jests or unpleasant
remarks.

Poor old man!  The day when the last workman had driven in the
last nail, an attack of apoplexy carried him off, without giving
him time to say, “Oh!”  Two days after, all his relatives from the
Limousin were swooping into Paris like a pack of wolves.  Six
millions to divide: what a godsend!  Litigation followed, as a
matter of course; and the house was offered for sale under a
judgment.

M. de Thaller bought it for two hundred and seventy-five thousand
francs,--about one-third what it had cost to build.

A month later he had moved into it; and the expenses which he
incurred to furnish it in a style worthy of the building itself
was the talk of the town.  And yet he was not fully satisfied
with his purchase.

Unlike M. Parcimieux, he had no wish whatever to conceal his wealth.

What! he owned one of those exquisite houses which excite at once
the wonder and the envy of passers-by, and that house was hid
behind such a common-looking building!

“I must have that shanty pulled down,” he said from time to time.

And then he thought of something else; and the “shanty” was still
standing on that evening, when, after leaving Maxence, M. de
Tregars presented himself at M. de Thaller’s.

The servants had, doubtless, received their instructions; for, as
soon as Marius emerged from the porch of the front-house, the
porter advanced from his lodge, bent double, his mouth open to his
very ears by the most obsequious smile.

Without waiting for a question,

“The baron has not yet come home--,” he said.  “But he cannot be
much longer away; and certainly the baroness is at home for my
lord-marquis.  Please, then, give yourself the trouble to pass.”

And, standing aside, he struck upon the enormous gong that stood
near his lodge a single sharp blow, intended to wake up the
footman on duty in the vestibule, and to announce a visitor of
note.  Slowly, but not without quietly observing every thing, M.
de Tregars crossed the courtyard, covered with fine sand,--they
would have powdered it with golden dust, if they had dared,--and
surrounded on all sides with bronze baskets, in which beautiful
rhododendrons were blossoming.

It was nearly six o’clock.  The manager of the Mutual Credit dined
at seven; and the preparations for this important event were
everywhere apparent.  Through the large windows of the dining-room
the steward could be seen presiding over the setting of the table.
The butler was coming up from the cellar, loaded with bottles.
Finally, through the apertures of the basement arose the appetizing
perfumes of the kitchen.

What enormous business it required to support such a style, to
display this luxury, which would shame one of those German
princelings, who exchanged the crown of their ancestors for a
Prussian livery gilded with French gold!--other people’s money.

Meantime, the blow struck by the porter on the gong had produced
the desired effect; and the gates of the vestibule seemed to open
of their own accord before M. de Tregars as he ascended the stoop.

This vestibule with the splendor of which Mlle. Lucienne had been
so deeply impressed, would, indeed, have been worthy the attention
of an artist, had it been allowed to retain the simple grandeur
and the severe harmony which M. Parcimieux’s architect had imparted
to it.

But M. de Thaller, as he was proud of boasting, had a perfect horror
of simplicity; and, wherever he discovered a vacant space as big as
his hand, he hung a picture, a bronze, or a piece of china, any
thing and anyhow.

The two footmen were standing when M. de Tregars came in.  Without
asking any question, “Will M. le Marquis please follow me?” said
the youngest.

And, opening the broad glass doors, he began walking in front of
M. de Tregars, along a staircase with marble railing, the elegant
proportions of which were absolutely ruined by a ridiculous
profusion of “objects of art” of all nature, and from all sources.
This staircase led to a vast semicircular landing, upon which,
between columns of precious marble, opened three wide doors.  The
footman opened the middle one, which led to M. de Thaller’s
picture-gallery, a celebrated one in the financial world, and
which had acquired for him the reputation of an enlightened amateur.

But M. de Tregars had no time to examine this gallery, which,
moreover, he already knew well enough.  The footman showed him
into the small drawing-room of the baroness, a bijou of a room,
furnished in gilt and crimson satin.

“Will M. le Marquis be kind enough to take a seat?” he said.  “I
run to notify Mme. le Baronne of M. le Marquis’s visit.”

The footman uttered these titles of nobility with a singular pomp,
and as if some of their lustre was reflected upon himself.
Nevertheless, it was evident that “Marquis” jingled to his ear much
more pleasantly than “Baronne.”

Remaining alone, M. de Tregars threw himself upon a seat.  Worn out
by the emotions of the day, and by an extraordinary contention of
mind, he felt thankful for this moment of respite, which permitted
him, at the moment of a decisive step, to collect all his energy
and all his presence of mind.

And after two minutes he was so deeply absorbed in his thoughts,
that he started, like a man suddenly aroused from his sleep, at
the sound of an opening door.  At the same moment he heard a slight
exclamation of surprise, “Ah!”

Instead of the Baroness de Thaller, it was her daughter, Mlle.
Cesarine, who had come in.

Stepping forward to the centre of the room, and acknowledging by a
familiar gesture M. de Tregars’ most respectful bow,

“You should warn people,” she said.  “I came here to look for my
mother, and it is you I find.  Why, you scared me to death.  What
a crack!  Princess dear!”

And taking the young man’s hand, and pressing it to her breast,

“Feel,” she added, “how my heart beats.”

Younger than Mlle. Gilberte, Mlle. Cesarine de Thaller had a
reputation for beauty so thoroughly established, that to call it
in question would have seemed a crime to her numerous admirers.
And really she was a handsome person.  Rather tall and well made,
she had broad hips, the waist round and supple as a steel rod,
and a magnificent throat.  Her neck was, perhaps, a little too
thick and too short; but upon her robust shoulders was scattered
in wild ringlets the rebellious hair that escaped from her comb.
She was a blonde, but of that reddish blonde, almost as dark as
mahogany, which Titian admired, and which the handsome Venetians
obtained by means of rather repulsive practices, and by exposing
themselves to the noonday sun on the terraces of their palaces.
Her complexion had the gilded hues of amber.  Her lips, red as
blood, displayed as they opened, teeth of dazzling whiteness.  In
her large prominent eyes, of a milky blue, like the Northern skies,
laughed the eternal irony of a soul that no longer has faith in
any thing.  More anxious of her fame than of good taste, she wore
a dress of doubtful shade, puffed up by means of an extravagant
pannier, and buttoned obliquely across the chest, according to
that ridiculous and ungraceful style invented by flat or humped
women.

Throwing herself upon a chair, and placing cavalierly one foot
upon another, so as to display her leg, which was admirable,

“Do you know that it’s perfectly stunning to see you here?” she
said to M. de Tregars.  “Just imagine, for a moment, what a face
the Baron Three Francs Sixty-eight will make when he sees you!”

It was her father whom she called thus, since the day when she had
discovered that there was a German coin called thaler, which
represents three francs and sixty-eight centimes in French currency.

“You know, I suppose,” she went on, “that papa has just been badly
stuck?”

M. de Tregars was excusing himself in vague terms; but it was one
of Mlle. Cesarine’s habits never to listen to the answers which
were made to her questions.

“Favoral,” she continued, “papa’s cashier, has just started on an
international picnic.  Did you know him?”

“Very little.”

“An old fellow, always dressed like a country sexton, and with a
face like an undertaker.  And the Baron Three Francs Sixty-eight,
an old bird, was fool enough to be taken in by him!  For he was
taken in.  He had a face like a man whose chimney is on fire, when
he came to tell us, mamma and myself, that Favoral had gone off
with twelve millions.”

“And has he really carried off that enormous sum?”

“Not entire, of course, because it was not since day before
yesterday only that he began digging into the Mutual Credit’s pile.
There were years that this venerable old swell was leading a
somewhat-variegated existence, in company with rather-funny ladies,
you know.  And as he was not exactly calculated to be adored at par,
why, it cost papa’s stockholders a pretty lively premium.  But,
anyhow, he must have carried off a handsome nugget.”

And, bouncing to the piano, she began an accompaniment loud enough
to crack the window-panes, singing at the same time the popular
refrain of the “Young Ladies of Pautin”:

           Cashier, you’ve got the bag;
           Quick on your little nag,
           And then, ho, ho, for Belgium!

Any one but Marius de Tregars would have been doubtless strangely
surprised at Mlle. de Thaller’s manners.  But he had known her for
some time already: he was familiar with her past life, her habits,
her tastes, and her pretensions.  Until the age of fifteen, Mlle.
Cesarine had remained shut up in one of those pleasant Parisian
boarding-schools, where young ladies are initiated into the great
art of the toilet, and from which they emerge armed with the
gayest theories, knowing how to see without seeming to look, and
to lie boldly without blushing; in a word, ripe for society.  The
directress of the boarding-school, a lady of the ton, who had met
with reverses, and who was a good deal more of a dressmaker than
a teacher, said of Mlle. Cesarine, who paid her three thousand
five hundred francs a year,

“She gives the greatest hopes for the future; and I shall certainly
make a superior woman of her.”

But the opportunity was not allowed her.  The Baroness de Thaller
discovered, one morning, that it was impossible for her to live
without her daughter, and that her maternal heart was lacerated by
a separation which was against the sacred laws of nature.  She took
her home, therefore, declaring that nothing, henceforth, not even
her marriage, should separate them, and that she should finish
herself the education of the dear child.  From that moment, in fact,
whoever saw the Baroness de Thaller would also see Mlle. Cesarine
following in her wake.

A girl of fifteen, discreet and well-trained, is a convenient
chaperon; a chaperon which enables a woman to show herself boldly
where she might not have dared to venture alone.  In presence of
a mother followed by her daughter, disconcerted slander hesitates,
and dares not speak.

Under the pretext that Cesarine was still but a child and of no
consequence, Mme. de Thaller dragged her everywhere,--to the bois
and to the races, visiting and shopping, to balls and parties, to
the watering-places and the seashore, to the restaurant, and to
all the “first nights” at the Palais Royal, the Bouffes, the
Varietes, and the Delassements.  It was, therefore, especially at
the theatre, that the education of Mlle. de Thaller, so happily
commenced, had received the finishing touch.  At sixteen she was
thoroughly familiar with the repertoire of the genre theatres,
imitated Schneider far better than ever did Silly, and sang with
surprising intonations and astonishing gestures Blanche d’Autigny’s
successful moods, and Theresa’s most wanton verses.

Between times, she studied the fashion papers, and formed her
style in reading the “Vie Parisienne,” whose most enigmatic articles
had no allusions sufficiently obscure to escape her penetration.

She learned to ride on horseback, to fence and to shoot, and
distinguished herself at pigeon-matches.  She kept a betting-book,
played Trente et Quarante at Monaco; and Baccarat had no secrets
for her.  At Trouville she astonished the natives with the startling
novelty of her bathing-costumes; and, when she found herself the
centre of a reasonable circle of lookers-on, she threw herself in
the water with a pluck that drew upon her the applause of the
bathing-masters.  She could smoke a cigarette, empty nearly a glass
of champagne; and once her mother was obliged to bring her home,
and put her quick to bed, because she had insisted upon trying
absinthe, and her conversation had become somewhat too eccentric.

Leading such a life, it was difficult that public opinion should
always spare Mme. and Mlle. de Thaller.  There were sceptics who
insinuated that this steadfast friendship between mother and daughter
had very much the appearance of the association of two women bound
together by the complicity of a common secret.  A broker told how,
one evening, or one night rather, for it was nearly two o’clock,
happening to pass in front of the Moulin-Rouge, he had seen the
Baroness and Mlle. Cesarine coming out, accompanied by a gentleman,
to him unknown, but who, he was quite sure, was not the Baron de
Thaller.

A certain journey which mother and daughter had undertaken in the
heart of the winter, and which had lasted not less than two months,
had been generally attributed to an imprudence, the consequences
of which it had become impossible to conceal. They had been in
Italy, they said when they returned; but no one had seen them
there.  Yet, as Mme. and Mlle. de Thaller’s mode of life was, after
all, the same as that of a great many women who passed for being
perfectly proper, as there was no positive or palpable fact brought
against them, as no name was mentioned, many people shrugged their
shoulders, and replied,

“Pure slanders.”

And why not, since the Baron de Thaller, the most interested party,
held himself satisfied?

To the ill-advised friends who ventured some allusions to the public
rumors, he replied, according to his humor,

“My daughter can play the mischief generally, if she sees fit.  As
I shall give a dowry of a million, she will always find a husband.”

Or else, “And what of it?  Do not American young ladies enjoy
unlimited freedom?  Are they not constantly seen going out with
young gentlemen, or walking or traveling alone?  Are they, for all
that, less virtuous than our girls, who are kept under such close
watch?  Do they make less faithful wives, or less excellent mothers?
Hypocrisy is not virtue.”

To a certain extent, the Manager of the Mutual Credit was right.

Already Mlle. de Thaller had had to decide upon several quite
suitable offers of marriage and she had squarely refused them all.

“A husband!” she had answered each time.  “Thank you, none for me.
I have good enough teeth to eat up my dowry myself.  Later, we’ll
see,--when I’ve cut my wisdom teeth, and I am tired of my bachelor
life.”

She did not seem near getting tired of it, though she pretended
that she had no more illusions, was thoroughly blasee, had
exhausted every sensation, and that life henceforth had no surprise
in reserve for her.  Her reception of M. de Tregars was, therefore,
one of Mlle. Cesarine’s least eccentricities, as was also that
sudden fancy; to apply to the situation one of the most idiotic
rondos of her repertoires:

          “Cashier, you’ve got the bag;
           Quick on your little nag”

Neither did she spare him a single verse: and, when she stopped,

“I see with pleasure,” said M. de Tregars, “that the embezzlement
of which your father has just been the victim does not in any way
offend your good humor.”

She shrugged her shoulders.

“Would you have me cry,” she said, “because the stockholders of the
Baron Three Francs Sixty-eight have been swindled?  Console
yourself: they are accustomed to it.”

And, as M. de Tregars made no answer,

“And in all that,” she went on, “I see no one to pity except the
wife and daughter of that old stick Favoral.”

“They are, indeed, much to be pitied.”

“They say that the mother is a good old thing.”

“She is an excellent person.”

“And the daughter?  Costeclar was crazy about her once.  He made
eyes like a carp in love, as he told us, to mamma and myself,
‘She is an angel, mesdames, an angel!  And when I have given her a
little chic!’  Now tell me, is she really as good looking as all
that?”

“She is quite good looking.”

“Better looking than me?”

“It is not the same style, mademoiselle.”

Mlle. de Thaller had stopped singing; but she had not left the
piano.  Half turned towards M. de Tregars, she ran her fingers
listlessly over the keys, striking a note here and there, as if to
punctuate her sentences.

“Ah, how nice!” she exclaimed, “and, above all, how gallant!
Really, if you venture often on such declarations, mothers would be
very wrong to trust you alone with their daughters.”

“You did not understand me right, mademoiselle.”

“Perfectly right, on the contrary.  I asked you if I was better
looking than Mlle. Favoral; and you replied to me, that it was not
the same style.”

“It is because, mademoiselle, there is indeed no possible comparison
between you, who are a wealthy heiress, and whose life is a
perpetual enchantment, and a poor girl, very humble, and very modest,
who rides in the omnibus, and who makes her dresses herself.”

A contemptuous smile contracted Mlle. Cesarine’s lips.

“Why not?” she interrupted.  “Men have such funny tastes!”

And, turning around suddenly, she began another rondo, no less
famous than the first, and borrowed, this time, from the third act
of the Petites-Blanchisseuses:

           “What matters the quality?
           Beauty alone takes the prize
           Women before man must rise,
           And claim perfect equality.”

Very attentively M. de Tregars was observing her.  He had not been
the dupe of the great surprise she had manifested when she found
him in the little parlor.

“She knew I was here,” he thought; “and it is her mother who has
sent her to me.  But why?  and for what purpose?”

“With all that,” she resumed, “I see the sweet Mme. Favoral and her
modest daughter in a terribly tight place.  What a ‘bust,’ marquis!”

“They have a great deal of courage, mademoiselle.”

“Naturally.  But, what is better, the daughter has a splendid voice:
at least, so her professor told Costeclar.  Why should she not go on
the stage?  Actresses make lots of money, you know.  Papa’ll help
her, if she wishes.  He has a great deal of influence in the
theatres, papa has.”

“Mme. and Mlle. Favoral have friends.”

“Ah, yes!  Costeclar.”

“Others besides.”

“I beg your pardon; but it seems to me that this one will do to
begin with.  He is gallant, Costeclar, extremely gallant, and,
moreover, generous as a lord.  Why should he not offer to that
youthful and timid damsel a nice little position in mahogany and
rosewood?  That way, we should have the pleasure of meeting her
around the lake.”

And she began singing again, with a slight variation,

           “Manon, who, before the war,
           Carried clothes for a living,
           Now for her gains is trusting
           To that insane Costeclar.”

“Ah, that big red-headed girl is terribly provoking!” thought M.
de Tregars.

But, as he did not as yet understand very clearly what she wished
to come to, he kept on his guard, and remained cold as marble.

Already she had again turned towards him.

“What a face you are making!” she said.  “Are you jealous of the
fiery Costeclar, by chance?”

“No, mademoiselle, no!”

“Then, why don’t you want him to succeed in his love?  But he will,
you’ll see!  Five hundred francs on Costeclar!  Do you take it?
No?  I am sorry.  It’s twenty-five napoleons lost for me.  I know
very well that Mlle.--what’s her name?”

“Gilberte.”

“Hallo! a nice name for a cashier’s daughter!  I am aware that she
once sent that poor Costeclar and his offer to--Chaillot.  But she
had resources then; whilst now--It’s stupid as it can be; but
people have to eat!”

“There are still women, mademoiselle, capable of starving to death.”

M. de Tregars now felt satisfied.  It seemed evident to him that
they had somehow got wind of his intentions; that Mlle. de Thaller
had been sent to feel the ground; and that she only attacked Mlle.
Gilberte in order to irritate him, and compel him, in a moment of
anger, to declare himself.

“Bash!” she said, “Mlle. Favoral is like all the others.  If she
had to select between the amiable Costeclar and a charcoal furnace,
it is not the furnace she would take.”

At all times, Marius de Tregars disliked Mlle. Cesarine to a supreme
degree; but at this moment, without the pressing desire he had to
see the Baron and Baroness de Thaller, he would have withdrawn.

“Believe me, mademoiselle,” he uttered coldly.  “Spare a poor girl
stricken by a most cruel misfortune.  Worse might happen to you.”

“To me!  And what the mischief do you suppose can happen me?”

“Who knows?”

She started to her feet so violently, that she upset the piano-stool.

“Whatever it may be,” she exclaimed, “I say in advance, I am glad!”

And as M. de Tregars turned his head in some surprise,

“Yes, I am glad!” she repeated, “because it would be a change; and
I am sick of the life I lead.  Yes, sick to be eternally and
invariably happy of that same dreary happiness.  And to think that
there are idiots who believe that I amuse myself, and who envy my
fate!  To think, that, when I ride through the streets, I hear girls
exclaim, whilst looking at me, ‘Isn’t she lucky?’  Little fools!
I’d like to see them in my place.  They live, they do.  Their
pleasures are not all alike.  They have anxieties and hopes, ups
and downs, hours of rain and hours of sunshine; whilst I--always
dead calm! the barometer always at ‘Set fair.’  What a bore!  Do
you know what I did to-day?  Exactly the same thing as yesterday;
and to-morrow I’ll do the same thing as to-day.

“A good dinner is a good thing; but always the same dinner, without
extras or additions--pouah!  Too many truffles.  I want some
corned beef and cabbage.  I know the bill of fare by heart, you see.
In winter, theatres and balls; in summer, races and the seashore;
summer and winter, shopping, rides to the bois, calls, trying
dresses, perpetual adoration by mother’s friends, all of them
brilliant and gallant fellows to whom the mere thought of my dowry
gives the jaundice.  Excuse me, if I yawn: I am thinking of their
conversations.

“And to think,” she went on, “that such will be my existence until
I make up my mind to take a husband!  For I’ll have to come to it
too.  The Baron Three Sixty-eight will present to me some sort of
a swell, attracted by my money.  I’ll answer, ‘I’d just as soon
have him as any other,’ and he will be admitted to the honor of
paying his attentions to me.  Every morning he will send me a
splendid bouquet: every evening, after bank-hours, he’ll come along
with fresh kid gloves and a white vest.  During the afternoon, he
and papa will pull each other’s hair out on the subject of the dowry.
At last the happy day will arrive.  Can’t you see it from here?
Mass with music, dinner, ball.  The Baron Three Sixty-eight will
not spare me a single ceremony.  The marriage of the manager of the
Mutual Credit must certainly be an advertisement.  The papers will
publish the names of the bridesmaids and of the guests.

“To be sure, papa will have a face a yard long; because he will
have been compelled to pay the dowry the day before.  Mamma will
be all upset at the idea of becoming a grandmother.  The
bridegroom will be in a wretched humor, because his boots will be
too tight; and I’ll look like a goose, because I’ll be dressed
in white; and white is a stupid color, which is not at all becoming
to me.  Charming family gathering, isn’t it?  Two weeks later, my
husband will be sick of me, and I’ll be disgusted with him.  After
a month, we’ll be at daggers’ points.  He’ll go back to his club
and his mistresses; and I--I shall have conquered the right to go
out alone; and I’ll begin again going to the bois, to balls, to
races, wherever my mother goes.  I’ll spend an enormous amount of
money on my dress, and I’ll make debts which papa will pay.”

Though any thing might be expected of Mlle. Cesarine, still M.
de Tregars seemed visibly astonished.  And she, laughing at his
surprise,

“That’s the invariable programme,” she went on; “and that’s why I
say I’m glad at the idea of a change, whatever it may be.  You find
fault with me for not pitying Mlle. Gilberte.  How could I, since
I envy her?  She is happy, because her future is not settled, laid
out, fixed in advance.  She is poor; but she is free.  She is twenty;
she is pretty; she has an admirable voice; she can go on the stage
to-morrow, and be, before six months, one of the pet actresses of
Paris.  What a life then!  Ah, that is the one I dream, the one I
would have selected, had I been mistress of my destiny.”

But she was interrupted by the noise of the opening door.

The Baroness de Thaller appeared.  As she was, immediately after
dinner, to go to the opera, and afterwards to a party given by the
Viscountess de Bois d’Ardon, she was in full dress.  She wore a
dress, cut audaciously low in the neck, of very light gray satin,
trimmed with bands of cherry-colored silk edged with lace.  In her
hair, worn high over her head, she had a bunch of fuchsias, the
flexible stems of which, fastened by a large diamond star, trailed
down to her very shoulders, white and smooth as marble.

But, though she forced herself to smile, her countenance was not
that of festive days; and the glance which she cast upon her
daughter and Marius de Tregars was laden with threats.  In a voice
of which she tried in vain to control the emotion,

“How very kind of you, marquis,” she began, “to respond so soon to
my invitation of this morning!  I am really distressed to have kept
you waiting; but I was dressing.  After what has happened to M. de
Thaller, it is absolutely indispensable that I should go out, show
myself: otherwise our enemies will be going around to-morrow, saying
everywhere that I am in Belgium, preparing lodgings for my husband.”

And, suddenly changing her tone,

“But what was that madcap Cesarine telling you?” she asked.

It was with a profound surprise that M. de Tregars discovered that
the entente cordiale which he suspected between the mother and
daughter did not exist, at least at this moment.

Veiling under a jesting tone the strange conjectures which the
unexpected discovery aroused within him,

“Mlle. Cesarine,” he replied, “who is much to be pitied, was telling
me all her troubles.”

She interrupted him.

“Do not take the trouble to tell a story, M. le Marquis,” she said.
“Mamma knows it as well as yourself; for she was listening at the door.”

“Cesarine!” exclaimed Mme. de Thaller.

“And, if she came in so suddenly, it is because she thought it was
fully time to cut short my confidences.”

The face of the baroness became crimson.

“The child is mad!” she said.

The child burst out laughing.

“That’s my way,” she went on.  “You should not have sent me here by
chance, and against my wish.  You made me do it: don’t complain.
You were sure that I had but to appear, and M. de Tregars would
fall at my feet.  I appeared, and--you saw the effect through the
keyhole, didn’t you?”

Her features contracted, her eyes flashing, twisting her lace
handkerchief between her fingers loaded with rings,

“It is unheard of,” said Mme. de Thaller.  “She has certainly lost
her head.”

Dropping her mother an ironical courtesy,

“Thanks for the compliment!” said the young lady.  “Unfortunately,
I never was more completely in possession of all the good sense I
may boast of than I am now, dear mamma.  What were you telling me
a moment since?  ‘Run, the Marquis de Tregars is coming to ask
your hand: it’s all settled.’  And what did I answer?  ‘No use to
trouble myself: if, instead of one million, papa were to give me
two, four millions, indeed all the millions paid by France to
Prussia, M. de Tregars would not have me for a wife.’”

And, looking Marius straight in the face,

“Am I not right, M. le Marquis?” she asked.  “And isn’t it a fact
that you wouldn’t have me at any price?  Come, now, your hand upon
your heart, answer.”

M. de Tregars’ situation was somewhat embarrassing between these
two women, whose anger was equal, though it manifested itself in
a different way.  Evidently it was a discussion begun before, which
was now continued in his presence.

“I think, mademoiselle,” he began, “that you have been slandering
yourself gratuitously.”

“Oh, no!  I swear it to you,” she replied; “and, if mamma had not
happened in, you would have heard much more.  But that was not an
answer.”

And, as M. de Tregars said nothing, she turned towards the baroness,

“Ah, ah! you see,” she said.  “Who was crazy,--you, or I?  Ah!
you imagine here that money is everything, that every thing is for
sale, and that every thing can be bought.  Well, no!  There are
still men, who, for all the gold in the world, would not give their
name to Cesarine de Thaller.  It is strange; but it is so, dear
mamma, and we must make up our mind to it.”

Then turning towards Marius, and bearing upon each syllable, as if
afraid that the allusion might escape him,

“The men of whom I speak,” she added, “marry the girls who can
starve to death.”

Knowing her daughter well enough to be aware that she could not
impose silence upon her, the Baroness de Thaller had dropped upon
a chair.  She was trying hard to appear indifferent to what her
daughter was saying; but at every moment a threatening gesture, or
a hoarse exclamation, betrayed the storm that raged within her.

“Go on, poor foolish child!” she said,--“go on!”

And she did go on.

“Finally, were M. de Tregars willing to have me, I would refuse
him myself, because, then--”

A fugitive blush colored her cheeks, her bold eyes vacillated, and,
dropping her voice,

“Because, then,” she added, “he would no longer be what he is;
because I feel that fatally I shall despise the husband whom papa
will buy for me.  And, if I came here to expose myself to an affront
which I foresaw, it is because I wanted to make sure of a fact of
which a word of Costeclar, a few days ago, had given me an idea,
--of a fact which you do not, perhaps, suspect, dear mother, despite
your astonishing perspicacity.  I wanted to find out M. de Tregars’
secret; and I have found it out.”

M. de Tregars had come to the Thaller mansion with a plan well
settled in advance.  He had pondered long before deciding what he
would do, and what he would say, and how he would begin the decisive
struggle.  What had taken place showed him the idleness of his
conjectures, and, as a natural consequence, upset his plans.  To
abandon himself to the chances of the hour, and to make the best
possible use of them, was now the wisest thing to do.

“Give me credit, mademoiselle,” he uttered, “for sufficient
penetration to have perfectly well discerned your intentions.
There was no need of artifice, because I have nothing to conceal.
You had but to question me, I would have answered you frankly,
‘Yes, it is true I love Mlle. Gilberte; and before a month she
will be Marquise de Tregars.’”

Mme. de Thaller, at those words, had started to her feet, pushing
back her arm-chair so violently, that it rolled all the way to the
wall.

“What!” she exclaimed, “you marry Gilberte Favoral,--you!”

“I--yes.”

“The daughter of a defaulting cashier, a dishonored man whom justice
pursues and the galleys await!”

“Yes!”  And in an accent that caused a shiver to run over the white
shoulders of Mme. de Thaller,

“Whatever may have been,” he uttered, “Vincent Favoral’s crime;
whether he has or has not stolen, the twelve millions which are
wanting from the funds of the Mutual Credit; whether he is alone
guilty, or has accomplices; whether he be a knave, or a fool, an
impostor, or a dupe,--Mlle. Gilberte is not responsible.”

“You know the Favoral family, then?”

“Enough to make their cause henceforth my own.”

The agitation of the baroness was so great, that she did not even
attempt to conceal it.

“A nobody’s daughter!” she said.

“I love her.”

“Without a sou!”

Mlle. Cesarine made a superb gesture.

“Why, that’s the very reason why a man may marry her!” she exclaimed,
and, holding out her hand to M. de Tregars,

“What you do here is well,” she added, “very well.”

There was a wild look in the eyes of the baroness.

“Mad, unhappy child!” she exclaimed.  “If your father should hear!”

“And who, then, would report our conversation to him?  M. de Tregars?
He would not do such a thing.  You?  You dare not.”

Drawing herself up to her fullest height, her breast swelling with
anger, her head thrown back, her eyes flashing,

“Cesarine,” ordered Mme. de Thaller, her arm extended towards the
door--“Cesarine, leave the room; I command you.”

But motionless in her place the girl cast upon her mother a look
of defiance.

“Come, calm yourself,” she said in a tone of crushing irony, “or
you’ll spoil your complexion for the rest of the evening.  Do I
complain?  do I get excited?  And yet whose fault is it, if honor
makes it a duty for me to cry ‘Beware!’ to an honest man who wishes
to marry me?  That Gilberte should get married: that she should
be very happy, have many children, darn her husband’s stockings,
and skim her _pot-au-feu_,--that is her part in life.  Ours, dear
mother,--that which you have taught me--is to laugh and have fun,
all the time, night and day, till death.”

A footman who came in interrupted her.  Handing a card to Mme. de
Thaller,

“The gentleman who gave it to me,” he said, “is in the large parlor.”

The baroness had become very pale.

“Oh!” she said turning the card between her fingers,--“oh!”

Then suddenly she ran out exclaiming,

“I’ll be back directly.”

An embarrassing, painful silence followed, as it was inevitable that
it would, the Baroness de Thaller’s precipitate departure.

Mlle. Cesarine had approached the mantel-piece.  She was leaning
her elbow upon it, her forehead on her hand, all palpitating and
excited.  Intimidated for, perhaps, the first time in her life,
she turned away her great blue eyes, as if afraid that they should
betray a reflex of her thoughts.

As to M. de Tregars, he remained at his place, not having one whit
too much of that power of self-control, which is acquired by a long
experience of the world, to conceal his impressions.  If he had a
fault, it was certainly not self-conceit; but Mlle. de Thaller had
been too explicit and too clear to leave him a doubt.  All she
had said could be comprised in one sentence,

“My parents were in hopes that I would become your wife: I had
judged you well enough to understand their error.  Precisely because
I love you I acknowledge myself unworthy of you and I wish you to
know that if you had asked my hand,--the hand of a girl who has
a dowry of a million--I would have ceased to esteem you.”

That such a feeling should have budded and blossomed in Mlle.
Cesarine’s soul, withered as it was by vanity, and blunted by
pleasure was almost a miracle.  It was, at any rate, an astonishing
proof of love which she gave; and Marius de Tregars would not have
been a man, if he had not been deeply moved by it.  Suddenly,

“What a miserable wretch I am!” she uttered.

“You mean unhappy,” said M. de Tregars gently.

“What can you think of my sincerity?  You must, doubtless, find it
strange, impudent, grotesque.”

He lifted his hand in protest; for she gave him no time to put in
a word.

“And yet,” she went on, “this is not the first time that I am assailed
by sinister ideas, and that I feel ashamed of myself.  I was
convinced once that this mad existence of mine is the only enviable
one, the only one that can give happiness.  And now I discover that
it is not the right path which I have taken, or, rather, which
I have been made to take.  And there is no possibility of retracing
my steps.”

She turned pale, and, in an accent of gloomy despair,

“Every thing fails me,” she said.  “It seems as though I were rolling
into a bottomless abyss, without a branch or a tuft of grass to
cling to.  Around me, emptiness, night, chaos.  I am not yet twenty
and it seems to me that I have lived thousands of years, and
exhausted every sensation.  I have seen every thing, learned every
thing, experienced every thing; and I am tired of every thing, and
satiated and nauseated.  You see me looking like a brainless hoyden,
I sing, I jest, I talk slang.  My gayety surprises everybody.  In
reality, I am literally tired to death.  What I feel I could not
express, there are no words to render absolute disgust.  Sometimes I
say to myself, ‘It is stupid to be so sad.  What do you need?  Are
you not young, handsome, rich?’  But I must need something, or else
I would not be thus agitated, nervous, anxious, unable to stay in
one place, tormented by confused aspirations, and by desires which
I cannot formulate.  What can I do?  Seek oblivion in pleasure and
dissipation?  I try, and I succeed for an hour or so; but the
reaction comes, and the effect vanishes, like froth from champagne.
The lassitude returns; and, whilst outwardly I continue to laugh,
I shed within tears of blood which scald my heart.  What is to
become of me, without a memory in the past, or a hope in the future,
upon which to rest my thought?”

And bursting into tears,

“Oh, I am wretchedly unhappy!” she exclaimed; “and I wish I was
dead.”

M. de Tregars rose, feeling more deeply moved than he would, perhaps,
have liked to acknowledge.

“I was laughing at you only a moment since,” he said in his grave
and vibrating voice.  “Pardon me, mademoiselle.  It is with the utmost
sincerity, and from the innermost depths of my soul, that I pity
you.”

She was looking at him with an air of timid doubt, big tears
trembling between her long eyelashes.

“Honest?” she asked.

“Upon my honor.”

“And you will not go with too poor an opinion of me?”

“I shall retain the firm belief that when you were yet but a child,
you were spoiled by insane theories.”

Gently and sadly she was passing her hand over her forehead.

“Yes, that’s it,” she murmured.  “How could I resist examples coming
from certain persons?  How could I help becoming intoxicated when
I saw myself, as it were, in a cloud of incense when I heard nothing
but praises and applause?  And then there is the money, which
depraves when it comes in a certain way.”

She ceased to speak; but the silence was soon again broken by a
slight noise, which came from the adjoining room.

Mechanically, M. de Tregars looked around him.  The little parlor
in which he found himself was divided from the main drawing-room
of the house by a tall and broad door, closed only by heavy curtains,
which had remained partially drawn.  Now, such was the disposition
of the mirrors in the two rooms, that M. de Tregars could see
almost the whole of the large one reflected in the mirror over the
mantelpiece of the little parlor.  A man of suspicious appearance,
and wearing wretched clothes, was standing in it.

And, the more M. de Tregars examined him, the more it seemed to
him that he had already seen somewhere that uneasy countenance,
that anxious glance, that wicked smile flitting upon flat and thin
lips.

But suddenly the man bowed very low.  It was probable that Mme. de
Thaller, who had gone around through the hall to reach the grand
parlor, must be coming in; and in fact she almost immediately
appeared within the range of the glass.  She seemed much agitated;
and, with a finger upon her lips, she was recommending to the man
to be prudent, and to speak low.  It was therefore in a whisper,
and such a low whisper that not even a vague murmur reached the
little parlor, that the man uttered a few words.  They were such
that the baroness started back as if she had seen a precipice yawning
at her feet; and by this action it was easy to understand that she
must have said,

“Is it possible?”

With the voice which still could not be heard, but with a gesture
which could be seen, the man evidently replied,

“It is so, I assure you!”

And leaning towards Mme. de Thaller, who seemed in no wise shocked
to feel this repulsive personage’s lips almost touching her ear,
he began speaking to her.

The surprise which this species of vision caused to M. de Tregars
was great, but did not keep him from reflecting what could be the
meaning of this scene.  How came this suspicious-looking man to
have obtained access, without difficulty, into the grand parlor?
Why had the baroness, on receiving his card, turned whiter than the
laces on her dress?  What news had he brought, which had made such
a deep impression?  What was he saying that seemed at once to
terrify and to delight Mme. de Thaller?

But soon she interrupted the man, beckoned to him to wait,
disappeared for a minute; and, when she came in again, she held in
her hand a package of bank-notes, which she began counting upon
the parlor-table.

She counted twenty-five, which, so far as M. de Tregars could judge,
must have been hundred-franc notes.  The man took them, counted them
over, slipped them into his pocket with a grin of satisfaction, and
then seemed disposed to retire.

The baroness detained him, however; and it was she now, who, leaning
towards him, commenced to explain to him, or rather, as far as her
attitude showed, to ask him something.  It must have been a serious
matter; for he shook his head, and moved his arms, as if he meant
to say, “The deuse, the deuse!”

The strangest suspicions flashed across M. de Tregars’ mind.  What
was that bargain to which the mirror made him thus an accidental
witness?  For it was a bargain: there could be no mistake about it.
The man, having received a mission, had fulfilled it, and had come
to receive the price of it.  And now a new commission was offered
to him.

But M. de Tregars’ attention was now called off by Mlle. Cesarine.
Shaking off the torpor which for a moment had overpowered her,

“But why fret and worry?” she said, answering, rather, the objections
of her own mind than addressing herself to M. de Tregars.  “Things
are just as they are, and I cannot undo them.

“Ah! if the mistakes of life were like soiled clothes, which are
allowed to accumulate in a wardrobe, and which are all sent out at
once to the wash.  But nothing washes the past, not even repentance,
whatever they may say.  There are some ideas which should be set
aside.  A prisoner should not allow himself to think of freedom.

“And yet,” she added, shrugging her shoulders, “a prisoner has
always the hope of escaping; whereas I--”  Then, making a visible
effort to resume her usual manner,

“Bash!” she said, “that’s enough sentiment for one day; and instead
of staying here, boring you to death, I ought to go and dress; for
I am going to the opera with my sweet mamma, and afterwards to the
ball.  You ought to come.  I am going to wear a stunning dress.
The ball is at Mme. de Bois d’Ardon’s,--one of our friends, a
progressive woman.  She has a smoking-room for ladies.  What do
you think of that?  Come, will you go?  We’ll drink champagne,
and we’ll laugh.  No?  Zut then, and my compliments to your family.”

But, at the moment of leaving the room, her heart failed her.

“This is doubtless the last time I shall ever see you, M. de
Tregars,” she said.  “Farewell!  You know now why I, who have a
dowry of a million, I envy Gilberte Favoral.  Once more farewell.
And, whatever happiness may fall to your lot in life, remember
that Cesarine has wished it all to you.”

And she went out at the very moment when the Baroness de Thaller
returned.



VII

“Cesarine!” Mme. de Thaller called, in a voice which sounded at
once like a prayer and a threat.

“I am going to dress myself, mamma,” she answered.

“Come back!”

“So that you can scold me if I am not ready when you want to go?
Thank you, no.”

“I command you to come back, Cesarine.”

No answer.  She was far already.

Mme. de Thaller closed the door of the little parlor, and returning
to take a seat by M. de Tregars,

“What a singular girl!” she said.

Meantime he was watching in the glass what was going on in the
other room.  The suspicious-looking man was there still, and alone.
A servant had brought him pen, ink and paper; and he was writing
rapidly.

“How is it that they leave him there alone?” wondered Marius.

And he endeavored to find upon the features of the baroness an
answer to the confused presentiments which agitated his brain.  But
there was no longer any trace of the emotion which she had manifested
when taken unawares.  Having had time for reflection, she had
composed for herself an impenetrable countenance.  Somewhat surprised
at M. de Tregars’ silence,

“I was saying,” she repeated, “that Cesarine is a strange girl.”

Still absorbed by the scene in the grand parlor,

“Strange, indeed!” he answered.

“And such is,” said the baroness with a sigh, “the result of M. de
Thaller’s weakness, and above all of my own.

“We have no child but Cesarine; and it was natural that we should
spoil her.  Her fancy has been, and is still, our only law.  She
has never had time to express a wish: she is obeyed before she has
spoken.”

She sighed again, and deeper than the first time.  “You have just
seen,” she went on, “the results of that insane education.  And yet
it would not do to trust appearances.  Cesarine, believe me, is not
as extravagant as she seems.  She possesses solid qualities,--of
those which a man expects of the woman who is to be his wife.”

Without taking his eyes off the glass,

“I believe you madame,” said M. de Tregars.

“With her father, with me especially, she is capricious, wilful,
and violent; but, in the hands of the husband of her choice, she
would be like wax in the hands of the modeler.”

The man in the parlor had finished his letter, and, with an
equivocal smile, was reading it over.

“Believe me, madame,” replied M. de Tregars, “I have perfectly
understood how much naive boasting there was in all that Mlle.
Cesarine told me.”

“Then, really, you do not judge her too severely?”

“Your heart has not more indulgence for her than my own.”

“And yet it is from you that her first real sorrow comes.”

“From me?”

The baroness shook her head in a melancholy way, to convey an idea
of her maternal affection and anxiety.

“Yes, from you, my dear marquis,” she replied, “from you alone.
On the very day you entered this house, Cesarine’s whole nature
changed.”

Having read his letter over, the man in the grand parlor had folded
it, and slipped it into his pocket, and, having left his seat,
seemed to be waiting for something.  M. de Tregars was following,
in the glass, his every motion, with the most eager curiosity.  And
nevertheless, as he felt the absolute necessity of saying something,
were it only to avoid attracting the attention of the baroness,

“What!” he said, “Mlle. Cesarine’s nature did change, then?”

“In one night.  Had she not met the hero of whom every girl dreams?
--a man of thirty, bearing one of the oldest names in France.”

She stopped, expecting an answer, a word, an exclamation.  But, as
M. de Tregars said nothing,

“Did you never notice any thing then?” she asked.

“Nothing.”

“And suppose I were to tell you myself, that my poor Cesarine, alas!
--loves you?”

M. de Tregars started.  Had he been less occupied with the personage
in the grand parlor, he would certainly not have allowed the
conversation to drift in this channel.  He understood his mistake;
and, in an icy tone,

“Permit me, madame,” he said, “to believe that you are jesting.”

“And suppose it were the truth.”

“It would make me unhappy in the extreme.”

“Sir!”

“For the reason which I have already told you, that I love Mlle.
Gilberte Favoral with the deepest and the purest love, and that
for the past three years she has been, before God, my affianced
bride.”

Something like a flash of anger passed over Mme. de Thaller’s eyes.

“And I,” she exclaimed,--“I tell you that this marriage is senseless.”

“I wish it were still more so, that I might the better show to
Gilberte how dear she is to me.”

Calm in appearance, the baroness was scratching with her nails the
satin of the chair on which she was sitting.

“Then,” she went on, “your resolution is settled.”

“Irrevocably.”

“Still, now, come, between us who are no longer children, suppose
M. de Thaller were to double Cesarine’s dowry, to treble it?”

An expression of intense disgust contracted the manly features of
Marius de Tregars.

“Ah! not another word, madame,” he interrupted.

There was no hope left.  Mme. de Thaller fully realized it by the
tone in which he spoke.  She remained pensive for over a minute,
and suddenly, like a person who has finally made up her mind, she
rang.

A footman appeared.

“Do what I told you!” she ordered.

And as soon as the footman had gone, turning to M. de Tregars,

“Alas!” she said, “who would have thought that I would curse the day
when you first entered our house?”

But, whilst, she spoke, M. de Tregars noticed in the glass the
result of the order she had just given.

The footman walked into the grand parlor, spoke a few words; and at
once the man with the alarming countenance put on his hat and went
out.

“This is very strange!” thought M. de Tregars.  Meantime, the
baroness was going on,

“If your intentions are to that point irrevocable, how is it that
you are here?  You have too much experience of the world not to
have understood, this morning, the object of my visit and of my
allusions.”

Fortunately, M. de Tregars’ attention was no longer drawn by the
proceedings in the next room.  The decisive moment had come: the
success of the game he was playing would, perhaps, depend upon
his coolness and self-command.

“It is because I did understand, madame, and even better than you
suppose, that I am here.”

“Indeed!”

“I came, expecting to deal with M. de Thaller alone.  I have been
compelled, by what has happened, to alter my intentions.  It is
to you that I must speak first.”

Mme. de Thaller continued to manifest the same tranquil assurance;
but she stood up.  Feeling the approach of the storm, she wished
to be up, and ready to meet it.

“You honor me,” she said with an ironical smile.

There was, henceforth, no human power capable of turning Marius de
Tregars from the object he had in view.

“It is to you I shall speak,” he repeated, “because, after you have
heard me, you may perhaps judge that it is your interest to join me
in endeavoring to obtain from your husband what I ask, what I
demand, what I must have.”

With an air of surprise marvelously well simulated, if it was not
real, the baroness was looking at him.

“My father,” he proceeded to say, “the Marquis de Tregars, was once
rich: he had several millions.  And yet when I had the misfortune
of losing him, three years ago, he was so thoroughly ruined, that
to relieve the scruples of his honor, and to make his death easier,
I gave up to his creditors all I had in the world.  What had become
of my father’s fortune?  What filter had been administered to him
to induce him to launch into hazardous speculations,--he an old
Breton gentleman, full, even to absurdity, of the most obstinate
prejudices of the nobility?  That’s what I wished to ascertain.

“And now, madame, I--have ascertained.”

She was a strong-minded woman, the Baroness de Thaller.  She had
had so many adventures in her life, she had walked on the very edge
of so many precipices, concealed so many anxieties, that danger was,
as it were, her element, and that, at the decisive moment of an
almost desperate game, she could remain smiling like those old
gamblers whose face never betrays their terrible emotion at the
moment when they risk their last stake.  Not a muscle of her face
moved; and it was with the most imperturbable calm that she said,

“Go on, I am listening: it must be quite interesting.”

That was not the way to propitiate M. de Tregars.
He resumed, in a brief and harsh tone,

“When my father died, I was young.  I did not know then what I have
learned since,--that to contribute to insure the impunity of knaves
is almost to make one’s self their accomplice.  And the victim who
says nothing and submits, does contribute to it.  The honest man,
on the contrary, should speak, and point out to others the trap
into which he has fallen, that they may avoid it.”

The baroness was listening with the air of a person who is compelled
by politeness to hear a tiresome story.

“That is a rather gloomy preamble,” she said.  M. de Tregars took
no notice of the interruption.

“At all times,” he went on, “my father seemed careless of his
affairs: that affectation, he thought, was due to the name he bore.
But his negligence was only apparent.  I might mention things of
him that would do honor to the most methodical tradesman.  He had,
for instance, the habit of preserving all the letters of any
importance which he received.  He left twelve or fifteen boxes full
of such.  They were carefully classified; and many bore upon their
margin a few notes indicating what answer had been made to them.”

Half suppressing a yawn,

“That is order,” said the baroness, “if I know any thing about it.”

“At the first moment, determined not to stir up the past, I
attached no importance to those letters; and they would certainly
have been burnt, but for an old friend of the family, the Count de
Villegre, who had them carried to his own house.  But later, acting
under the influence of circumstances which it would be too long to
explain to you, I regretted my apathy; and I thought that I should,
perhaps, find in that correspondence something to either dissipate
or justify certain suspicions which had occurred to me.”

“So that, like a respectful son, you read it?”  M. de Tregars bowed
ceremoniously.

“I believe,” he said, “that to avenge a father of the imposture of
which he was the victim during his life, is to render homage to his
memory.  Yes, madame, I read the whole of that correspondence, and
with an interest which you will readily understand.  I had already,
and without result, examined the contents of several boxes, when in
the package marked 1852, a year which my father spent in Paris,
certain letters attracted my attention.  They were written upon
coarse paper, in a very primitive handwriting and wretchedly spelt.
They were signed sometimes Phrasie, sometimes Marquise de Javelle.
Some gave the address, ‘Rue des Bergers, No. 3, Paris-Grenelle.’

“Those letters left me no doubt upon what had taken place.  My
father had met a young working-girl of rare beauty: he had taken a
fancy to her; and, as he was tormented by the fear of being loved
for his money alone, he had passed himself off for a poor clerk in
one of the departments.”

“Quite a touching little love-romance,” remarked the baroness.

But there was no impertinence that could affect Marius de Tregars’
coolness.

“A romance, perhaps,” he said, “but in that case a money-romance,
not a love-romance.  This Phrasie or Marquise de Javelle, announces
in one of her letters, that in February, 1853, she has given birth
to a daughter, whom she has confided to some relatives of hers in
the south, near Toulouse.  It was doubtless that event which
induced my father to acknowledge who he was.  He confesses that
he is not a poor clerk, but the Marquis de Tregars, having an
income of over a hundred thousand francs.  At once the tone of
the correspondence changes.  The Marquise de Javelle has a stupid
time where she lives; the neighbors reproach her with her fault;
work spoils her pretty hands.  Result: less than two weeks after
the birth of her daughter, my father hires for his pretty mistress
a lovely apartment, which she occupies under the name of Mme. Devil;
she is allowed fifteen hundred francs a month, servants, horses,
carriage.”

Mme. de Thaller was giving signs of the utmost impatience.  Without
paying any attention to them, M. de Tregars proceeded,

“Henceforth free to see each other daily, my father and his mistress
cease to write.  But Mme. Devil does not waste her time.  During a
space of less than eight months, from February to September, she
induces my father to dispose--not in her favor, she is too
disinterested for that, but in favor of her daughter--of a sum
exceeding five hundred thousand francs.  In September, the
correspondence is resumed.  Mme. Devil discovers that she is not
happy, and acknowledges it in a letter, which shows, by its improved
writing and more correct spelling, that she has been taking lessons.

“She complains of her precarious situation: the future frightens her:
she longs for respectability.  Such is, for three months, the
constant burden of her correspondence.  She regrets the time when
she was a working girl: why has she been so weak?  Then, at last,
in a note which betrays long debates and stormy discussions, she
announces that she has an unexpected offer of marriage; a fine
fellow, who, if she only had two hundred thousand francs, would
give his name to herself and to her darling little daughter.  For
a long time my father hesitates; but she presses her point with
such rare skill, she demonstrates so conclusively that this marriage
will insure the happiness of their child, that my father yields at
last, and resigns himself to the sacrifice.  And in a memorandum
on the margin of a last letter, he states that he has just given
two hundred thousand francs to Mme. Devil; that he will never see
her again; and that he returns to live in Brittany, where he wishes,
by the most rigid economy, to repair the breach he has just made
in his fortune.”

“Thus end all these love-stories,” said Mme. de Thaller in a
jesting tone.

“I beg your pardon: this one is not ended yet.  For many years, my
father kept his word, and never left our homestead of Tregars.  But
at last he grew tired of his solitude, and returned to Paris.  Did
he seek to see his former mistress again?  I think not.  I suppose
that chance brought them together; or else, that, being aware of his
return, she managed to put herself in his way.  He found her more
fascinating than ever, and, according to what she wrote him, rich
and respected; for her husband had become a personage.  She would
have been perfectly happy, she added, had it been possible for her
to forget the man whom she had once loved so much, and to whom she
owed her position.

“I have that letter.  The elegant hand, the style, and the correct
orthography, express better than any thing else the transformations
of the Marquise de Javelle.  Only it is not signed.  The little
working-girl has become prudent: she has much to lose, and fears to
compromise herself.

“A week later, in a laconic note, apparently dictated by an
irresistible passion, she begs my father to come to see her at her
own house.  He does so, and finds there a little girl, whom he
believes to be his own child, and whom he at once begins to idolize.

“And that’s all.  Again he falls under the charm.  He ceases to
belong to himself: his former mistress can dispose, at her pleasure,
of his fortune and of his fate.

“But see now what bad luck!  The husband takes a notion to become
jealous of my father’s visits.  In a letter which is a masterpiece
of diplomacy, the lady explains her anxiety.

“‘He has suspicions,’ she writes; ‘and to what extremities might he
not resort, were he to discover the truth!’  And with infinite art
she insinuates that the best way to justify his constant presence
is to associate himself with that jealous husband.

“It is with childish haste that my father jumps at the suggestion.
But money is needed.  He sells his lands, and everywhere announces
that he has great financial ideas, and that he is going to increase
his fortune tenfold.

“There he is now, partner of his former mistress’s husband, engaged
in speculations, director of a company.  He thinks that he is doing
an excellent business: he is convinced that he is making lots of
money.  Poor honest man!  They prove to him, one morning, that he
is ruined, and, what is more, compromised.  And this is made to
look so much like the truth, that I interfere myself, and pay the
creditors.  We were ruined; but honor was safe.  A few weeks later,
my father died broken-hearted.”

Mme. de Thaller half rose from her seat with a gesture which
indicated the joy of escaping at last a merciless bore.  A glance
from M. de Tregars riveted her to her seat, freezing upon her lips
the jest she was about to utter.

“I have not done yet,” he said rudely.

And, without suffering any interruption,

“From this correspondence,” he resumed, “resulted the flagrant,
irrefutable proof of a shameful intrigue, long since suspected by
my old friend, General Count de Villegre.  It became evident to me
that my poor father had been most shamefully imposed upon by that
mistress, so handsome and so dearly loved, and, later, despoiled
by the husband of that mistress.  But all this availed me nothing.
Being ignorant of my father’s life and connections, the letters
giving neither a name nor a precise detail, I knew not whom to
accuse.  Besides, in order to accuse, it is necessary to have, at
least, some material proof.”

The baroness had resumed her seat; and every thing about her--her
attitude, her gestures, the motion of her lips--seemed to say,

“You are my guest.  Civility has its demands; but really you abuse
your privileges.”

M. de Tregars went on,

“At this moment I was still a sort of savage, wholly absorbed in
my experiments, and scarcely ever setting foot outside my
laboratory.  I was indignant; I ardently wished to find and to
punish the villains who had robbed us: but I knew not how to go
about it, nor in what direction to seek information.  The wretches
would, perhaps, have gone unpunished, but for a good and worthy man,
now a commissary of police, to whom I once rendered a slight service,
one night, in a riot, when he was close pressed by some half-dozen
rascals.  I explained the situation to him: he took much interest
in it, promised his assistance, and marked out my line of conduct.”

Mme. de Thaller seemed restless upon her seat.

“I must confess,” she began, “that I am not wholly mistress of my
time.  I am dressed, as you see: I have to go out.”

If she had preserved any hope of adjourning the explanation which
she felt coming, she must have lost it when she heard the tone in
which M. de Tregars interrupted her.

“You can go out to-morrow.”

And, without hurrying,

“Advised, as I have just told you,” he continued, “and assisted by
the experience of a professional man, I went first to No. 3, Rue
des Bergers, in Grenelle.  I found there some old people, the
foreman of a neighboring factory and his wife, who had been living
in the house for nearly twenty-five years.  At my first question,
they exchanged a glance, and commenced laughing.  They remembered
perfectly the Marquise de Javelle, which was but a nickname for a
young and pretty laundress, whose real name was Euphrasie Taponnet.
She had lived for eighteen months on the same landing as themselves:
she had a lover, who passed himself off for a clerk, but who was,
in fact, she had told them, a very wealthy nobleman.  They added
that she had given birth to a little girl, and that, two weeks later
she had disappeared, and they had never heard a word from her.  When
I left them, they said to me, ‘If you see Phrasie, ask her if she
ever knew old Chandour and his wife.  I am sure she’ll remember us.’”

For the first time Mme. de Thaller shuddered slightly; but it was
almost imperceptible.

“From Grenelle,” continued M. de Tregars, “I went to the house
where my father’s mistress had lived under the name of Mme. Devil.
I was in luck.  I found there the same concierge as in 1853.  As
soon as I mentioned Mme. Devil, she answered me that she had not in
the least forgotten her, but, on the contrary, would know her among
a thousand.  She was, she said, one of the prettiest little women
she had ever seen, and the most generous tenant.  I understood the
hint, handed her a couple of napoleons, and heard from her every
thing she knew on the subject.  It seemed that this pretty Mme.
Devil had, not one lover, but two,--the acknowledged one, who was
the master, and footed the bills; and the other an anonymous one,
who went out through the back-stairs, and who did not pay, on the
contrary.  The first was called the Marquis de Tregars: of the
second, she had never known but the first name, Frederic.  I
tried to ascertain what had become of Mme. Devil; but the worthy
concierge swore to me that she did not know.

“One morning, like a person who is going abroad, or who wishes to
cover up her tracks, Mme. Devil had sent for a furniture-dealer,
and a dealer in second-hand clothes, and had sold them every thing
she had, going away with nothing but a little leather satchel, in
which were her jewels and her money.”

The Baroness de Thaller still kept a good countenance.  After
examining her for a moment, with a sort of eager curiosity, Marius
de Tregars went on,

“When I communicated this information to my friend, the commissary
of police, he shook his head.  ‘Two years ago,’ he told me, ‘I
would have said, that’s more than we want to find those people; for
the public records would have given us at once the key of this
enigma.  But we have had the war and the Commune; and the books of
record have been burnt up.  Still we must not give up.  A last
hope remains; and I know the man who is capable of realizing it.’

“Two days after, he brought me an excellent fellow, named Victor
Chupin, in whom I could have entire confidence; for he was
recommended to me by one of the men whom I like and esteem the most,
the Duke de Champdoce.  Giving up all idea of applying at the
various mayors’ offices, Victor Chupin, with the patience and the
tenacity of an Indian following a scent, began beating about the
districts of Grenelle, Vargirard, and the Invalids.  And not in
vain; for, after a week of investigations he brought me a nurse,
residing Rue de l’Universite, who remembered perfectly having once
attended, on the occasion of her confinement, a remarkably pretty
young woman, living in the Rue des Bergers, and nicknamed the
Marquise de Javelle.  And as she was a very orderly woman, who at
all times had kept a very exact account of her receipts, she brought
me a little book in which I read this entry: ‘For attending Euphrasie
Taponnet, alias the Marquise de Javelle (a girl), one hundred francs.’
And this is not all.  This woman informed me, moreover, that she had
been requested to present the child at the mayor’s office, and that
she had been duly registered there under the names of Euphrasie
Cesarine Taponnet, born of Euphrasie Taponnet, laundress, and an
unknown father.  Finally she placed at my disposal her account-book
and her testimony.”

Taxed beyond measure, the energy of the baroness was beginning to
fail her; she was turning livid under her rice-powder.  Still in
the same icy tone,

“You can understand, madame,” said Marius de Tregars, “that this
woman’s testimony, together with the letters which are in my
possession, enables me to establish before the courts the exact
date of the birth of a daughter whom my father had of his mistress.
But that’s nothing yet.  With renewed zeal, Victor Chupin had
resumed his investigations.  He had undertaken the examination of
the marriage-registers in all the parishes of Paris, and, as early
as the following week, he discovered at Notre Dame des Lorettes the
entry of the marriage of Euphrasie Taponnet with Frederic de
Thaller.”

Though she must have expected that name, the baroness started up
violently and livid, and with a haggard look.

“It’s false!” she began in a choking voice.

A smile of ironical pity passed over Marius’ lips.

“Five minutes’ reflection will prove to you that it is useless to
deny,” he interrupted.  “But wait.  In the books of that same church,
Victor Chupin has found registered the baptism of a daughter of M.
and Mme de Thaller, bearing the same names as the first one,
--Euphrasie Cesarine.”

With a convulsive motion the baroness shrugged her shoulder.

“What does all that prove?” she said.

“That proves, madame, the well-settled intention of substituting
one child for another; that proves that my father was imprudently
deceived when he was made to believe that the second Cesarine was
his daughter, the daughter in whose favor he had formerly disposed
of over five hundred thousand francs; that proves that there is
somewhere in the world a poor girl who has been basely forsaken by
her mother, the Marquise de Javelle, now become the Baroness de
Thaller.”

Beside herself with terror and anger,

“That is an infamous lie!” exclaimed the baroness.  M. de Tregars
bowed.

“The evidence of the truth of my statements,” he said, “I shall
find at Louveciennes, and at the Hotel des Folies, Boulevard du
Temple, Paris.”

Night had come.  A footman came in carrying lamps, which he placed
upon the mantelpiece.  He was not all together one minute in the
little parlor; but that one minute was enough to enable the Marquise
de Thaller to recover her coolness, and to collect her ideas.  When
the footman retired, she had made up her mind, with the resolute
promptness of a person accustomed to perilous situations.  She gave
up the discussion, and, drawing near to M. de Tregars,

“Enough allusions,” she said: “let us speak frankly, and face to
face now.  What do you want?”

But the change was too sudden not to arouse Marius’s suspicions.

“I want a great many things,” he replied.

“Still you must specify.”

“Well, I claim first the five hundred thousand francs which my
father had settled upon his daughter,--the daughter whom you cast
off.”

“And what next?”

“I want besides, my own and my father’s fortune, of which we have
been robbed by M. de Thaller, with your assistance, madame.”

“Is that all, at least?”

M. de Tregars shook his head.

“That’s nothing yet,” he replied.

“Oh!”

“We have now to say something of Vincent Favoral’s affairs.”

An attorney who is defending the interests of a client is neither
calmer nor cooler than Mme. de Thaller at this moment.

“Do the affairs of my husband’s cashier concern me, then?” she said
with a shade of irony.

“Yes, madame, very much.”

“I am glad to hear it.”

“I know it from excellent sources, because, on my return from
Louveciennes, I called in the Rue du Cirque, where I saw one Zelie
Cadelle.”

He thought that the baroness would at least start on hearing that
name.  Not at all.  With a look of profound astonishment,

“Rue du Cirque,” she repeated, like a person who is making a
prodigious effort of memory,--“Rue du Cirque!  Zelie Cadelle!
Really, I do not understand.”

But, from the glance which M. de Tregars cast upon her, she must
have understood that she would not easily draw from him the
particulars which he had resolved not to tell.

“I believe, on the contrary,” he uttered, “that you understand
perfectly.”

“Be it so, if you insist upon it.  What do you ask for Favoral?”

“I demand, not for Favoral, but for the stockholders who have been
impudently defrauded, the twelve millions which are missing from
the funds of the Mutual Credit.”

Mme. de Thaller burst out laughing.

“Only that?” she said.

“Yes, only that!”

“Well, then, it seems to me that you should present your reclamations
to M. Favoral himself.  You have the right to run after him.”

“It is useless, for the reason that it is not he, the poor fool!
who has carried off the twelve millions.”

“Who is it, then?”

“M. le Baron de Thaller, no doubt.”

With that accent of pity which one takes to reply to an absurd
proposition,--“You are mad, my poor marquis,” said Mme. de Thaller.

“You do not think so.”

“But suppose I should refuse to do any thing more?”

He fixed upon her a glance in which she could read an irrevocable
determination; and slowly,

“I have a perfect horror of scandal,” he replied, “and, as you
perceive, I am trying to arrange every thing quietly between us.
But, if I do not succeed thus, I must appeal to the courts.”

“Where are your proofs?”

“Don’t be afraid: I have proofs to sustain all my allegations.”

The baroness had stretched herself comfortably in her arm-chair.

“May we know them?” she inquired.

Marius was getting somewhat uneasy in presence of Mme. de Thaller’s
imperturbable assurance.  What hope had she?  Could she see some
means of escape from a situation apparently so desperate?  Determined
to prove to her that all was lost, and that she had nothing to do
but to surrender,

“Oh!  I know, madame,” he replied, “that you have taken your
precautions.  But, when Providence interferes, you see, human
foresight does not amount to much.  See, rather, what happens in
regard to your first daughter,--the one you had when you were
still only Marquise de Javelle.”

And briefly he called to her mind the principal incidents of Mlle.
Lucienne’s life from the time that she had left her with the poor
gardeners at Louveciennes, without giving either her name or her
address,--the injury she had received by being run over by Mme. de
Thaller’s carriage; the long letter she had written from the
hospital, begging for assistance; her visit to the house, and her
meeting with the Baron de Thaller; the effort to induce her to
emigrate to America; her arrest by means of false information, and
her escape, thanks to the kind peace-officer; the attempt upon her
as she was going home late one night; and, finally, her imprisonment
after the Commune, among the _petroleuses_, and her release through
the interference of the same honest friend.

And, charging her with the responsibility of all these
infamous acts, he paused for an answer or a protest.

And, as Mme. de Thaller said nothing,

“You are looking at me, madame, and wondering how I have discovered
all that.  A single word will explain it all.  The peace-officer
who saved your daughter is precisely the same to whom it was once
my good fortune to render a service.  By comparing notes, we have
gradually reached the truth,--reached you, madame.  Will you
acknowledge now that I have more proofs than are necessary to apply
to the courts?”

Whether she acknowledged it or not, she did not condescend to discuss.

“What then?” she said coldly.

But M. de Tregars was too much on his guard to expose himself, by
continuing to speak thus, to reveal the secret of his designs.

Besides, whilst he was thoroughly satisfied as to the manoeuvres
used to defraud his father he had, as yet, but presumptions on what
concerned Vincent Favoral.

“Permit me not to say another word, madame,” he replied.  “I have
told you enough to enable you to judge of the value of my weapons.”

She must have felt that she could not make him change his mind, for
she rose to go.

“That is sufficient,” she uttered.  “I shall reflect; and to-morrow
I shall give you an answer.”

She started to go; but M. de Tregars threw himself quickly between
her and the door.

“Excuse me,” he said; “but it is not to-morrow that I want an answer:
it is to-night, this instant!”

Ah, if she could have annihilated him with a look.

“Why, this is violence,” she said in a voice which betrayed the
incredible effort she was making to control herself.

“It is imposed upon me by circumstances, madame.”

“You would be less exacting, if my husband were here.”

He must have been within hearing; for suddenly the door opened, and
he appeared upon the threshold.  There are people for whom the
unforeseen does not exist, and whom no event can disconcert.  Having
ventured every thing, they expect every thing.  Such was the Baron
de Thaller.  With a sagacious glance he examined his wife and M. de
Tregars; and in a cordial tone,

“We are quarreling here?” he said.

“I am glad you have come!” exclaimed the baroness.

“What is the matter?”

“The matter is, that M. de Tregars is endeavoring to take an odious
advantage of some incidents of our past life.”

“There’s woman’s exaggeration for you!” he said laughing.

And, holding out his hand to Marius,

“Let me make your peace--for you, my dear marquis,” he said: “that’s
within the province of the husband.”  But, instead of taking his
extended hand, M. de Tregars stepped back.

“There is no more peace possible, sir, I am an enemy.”

“An enemy!” he repeated in a tone of surprise which was wonderfully
well assumed, if it was not real.

“Yes,” interrupted the baroness; “and I must speak to you at once,
Frederic.  Come: M. de Tregars will wait for you.”

And she led her husband into the adjoining room, not without first
casting upon Marius a look of burning and triumphant hatred.

Left alone, M. de Tregars sat down.  Far from annoying him, this
sudden intervention of the manager of the Mutual Credit seemed to
him a stroke of fortune.  It spared him an explanation more painful
still than the first, and the unpleasant necessity of having to
confound a villain by proving his infamy to him.

“And besides,” he thought, “when the husband and the wife have
consulted with each other, they will acknowledge that they cannot
resist, and that it is best to surrender.”  The deliberation was
brief.  In less than ten minutes, M. de Thaller returned alone.  He was
pale; and his face expressed well the grief of an honest man who
discovers too late that he has misplaced his confidence.

“My wife has told me all, sir,” he began.

M. de Tregars had risen.  “Well?” he asked.

“You see me distressed.  Ah, M. le Marquis! how could I ever expect
such a thing from you?--you, whom I thought I had the right to look
upon as a friend.  And it is you, who, when a great misfortune
befalls me, attempts to give me the finishing stroke.  It is you who
would crush me under the weight of slanders gathered in the gutter.”

M. de Tregars stopped him with a gesture.

“Mme. de Thaller cannot have correctly repeated my words to you,
else you would not utter that word ‘slander.’”

“She has repeated them to me without the least change.”

“Then she cannot have told you the importance of the proofs I have
in my hands.”

But the Baron persisted, as Mlle. Cesarine would have said, to “do
it up in the tender style.”

“There is scarcely a family,” he resumed, “in which there is not
some one of those painful secrets which they try to withhold from
the wickedness of the world.  There is one in mine.  Yes, it is
true, that before our marriage, my wife had had a child, whom
poverty had compelled her to abandon.  We have since done everything
that was humanly possible to find that child, but without success.
It is a great misfortune, which has weighed upon our life; but it is
not a crime.  If, however, you deem it your interest to divulge our
secret, and to disgrace a woman, you are free to do so: I cannot
prevent you.  But I declare it to you, that fact is the only thing
real in your accusations.  You say that your father has been duped
and defrauded.  From whom did you get such an idea?

“From Marcolet, doubtless, a man without character, who has become
my mortal enemy since the day when he tried a sharp game on me, and
came out second best.  Or from Costeclar, perhaps, who does not
forgive me for having refused him my daughter’s hand, and who hates
me because I know that he committed forgery once, and that he would
be in prison but for your father’s extreme indulgence.  Well,
Costeclar and Marcolet have deceived you.  If the Marquis de Tregars
ruined himself, it is because he undertook a business that he knew
nothing about, and speculated right and left.  It does not take
long to sink a fortune, even without the assistance of thieves.

“As to pretend that I have benefitted by the embezzlements of my
cashier that is simply stupid; and there can be no one to suggest
such a thing, except Jottras and Saint Pavin, two scoundrels whom
I have had ten times the opportunity to send to prison and who were
the accomplices of Favoral.  Besides, the matter is in the hands of
justice; and I shall prove in the broad daylight of the court-room,
as I have already done in the office of the examining judge, that,
to save the Mutual Credit, I have sacrificed more than half my
private fortune.”

Tired of this speech, the evident object of which was to lead him
to discuss, and to betray himself,

“Conclude, sir,” M. de Tregars interrupted harshly.  Still in the
same placid tone,

“To conclude is easy enough,” replied the baron.  “My wife has told
me that you were about to marry the daughter of my old cashier,--a
very handsome girl, but without a sou.  She ought to have a dowry.”

“Sir!”

“Let us show our hands.  I am in a critical position: you know it,
and you are trying to take advantage of it.  Very well: we can still
come to an understanding.  What would you say, if I were to give to
Mlle. Gilberte the dowry I intended for my daughter?”

All M. de Tregars’ blood rushed to his face.

“Ah, not another word!” he exclaimed with a gesture of unprecedented
violence.  But, controlling himself almost at once,

“I demand,” he added, “my father’s fortune.  I demand that you
should restore to the Mutual Credit Company the twelve millions
which have been abstracted.”

“And if not?”

“Then I shall apply to the courts.”

They remained for a moment face to face, looking into each other’s
eyes.  Then,

“What have you decided?” asked M. de Tregars.

Without perhaps, suspecting that his offer was a new insult,

“I will go as far as fifteen hundred thousand francs,” replied M.
de Thaller, “and I pay cash.”

“Is that your last word?”

“It is.”

“If I enter a complaint, with the proofs in my hands,
you are lost.”

“We’ll see about that.”

To insist further would have been puerile.

“Very well, we’ll see, then,” said M. de Tregars.  But as he
walked out and got into his cab, which had been waiting for him at
the door, he could not help wondering what gave the Baron de
Thaller so much assurance, and whether he was not mistaken in his
conjectures.

It was nearly eight o’clock, and Maxence, Mme. Favoral and Mlle.
Gilberte must have been waiting for him with a feverish impatience;
but he had eaten nothing since morning, and he stopped in front of
one of the restaurants of the Boulevard.

He had just ordered his dinner, when a gentleman of a certain age,
but active and vigorous still, of military bearing, wearing a
mustache, and a tan-colored ribbon at his buttonhole, came to take
a seat at the adjoining table.

In less than fifteen minutes M. de Tregars had despatched a bowl
of soup and a slice of beef, and was hastening out, when his foot
struck his neighbor’s foot, without his being able to understand
how it had happened.

Though fully convinced that it was not his fault, he hastened to
excuse himself.  But the other began to talk angrily, and so loud,
that everybody turned around.

Vexed as he was, Marius renewed his apologies.

But the other, like those cowards who think they have found a
greater coward than themselves, was pouring forth a torrent of
the grossest insults.

M. de Tregars was lifting his hand to administer a well-deserved
correction, when suddenly the scene in the grand parlor of the
Thaller mansion came back vividly to his mind.  He saw again, as
in the glass, the ill-looking man listening, with an anxious look,
to Mme. de Thaller’s propositions, and afterwards sitting down to
write.

“That’s it!” he exclaimed, a multitude of circumstances occurring
to his mind, which had escaped him at the moment.

And, without further reflection, seizing his adversary by the
throat, he threw him over on the table, holding him down with his
knee.

“I am sure he must have the letter about him,” he said to the
people who surrounded him.

And in fact he did take from the side-pocket of the villain a letter,
which he unfolded, and commenced reading aloud,

“I am waiting for you, my dear major, come quick, for the thing is
pressing,--a troublesome gentleman who is to be made to keep quiet.
It will be for you the matter of a sword-thrust, and for us the
occasion to divide a round amount.”

“And, that’s why he picked a quarrel with me,” added M. de Tregars.

Two waiters had taken hold of the villain, who was struggling
furiously, and wanted to surrender him to the police.

“What’s the use?” said Marius.  “I have his letter: that’s enough.
The police will find him when they want him.”

And, getting back into his cab,

“Rue St. Gilles,” he ordered, “and lively, if possible.”



VIII

In the Rue St. Gilles the hours were dragging, slow and gloomy.
After Maxence had left to go and meet M. de Tregars, Mme. Favoral
and her daughter had remained alone with M. Chapelain, and had been
compelled to bear the brunt of his wrath, and to hear his
interminable complaints.

He was certainly an excellent man, that old lawyer, and too just to
hold Mlle. Gilberte or her mother responsible for Vincent Favoral’s
acts.  He spoke the truth when he assured them that he had for them
a sincere affection, and that they might rely upon his devotion.
But he was losing a hundred and sixty thousand francs; and a man
who loses such a large sum is naturally in bad humor, and not much
disposed to optimism.

The cruellest enemies of the poor women would not have tortured
them so mercilessly as this devoted friend.

He spared them not one sad detail of that meeting at the Mutual
Credit office, from which he had just come.  He exaggerated the
proud assurance of the manager, and the confiding simplicity of the
stockholders.  “That Baron de Thaller,” he said to them, “is
certainly the most impudent scoundrel and the cleverest rascal I
have ever seen.  You’ll see that he’ll get out of it with clean
hands and full pockets.  Whether or not he has accomplices, Vincent
will be the scapegoat.  We must make up our mind to that.”

His positive intention was to console Mme. Favoral and Gilberte.
Had he sworn to drive them to distraction, he could not have
succeeded better.

“Poor woman!” he said, “what is to become of you?  Maxence is a
good and honest fellow, I am sure, but so weak, so thoughtless, so
fond of pleasure!  He finds it difficult enough to get along by
himself.  Of what assistance will he be to you?”

Then came advice.

Mme. Favoral, he declared, should not hesitate to ask for a
separation, which the tribunal would certainly grant.  For want
of this precaution, she would remain all her life under the burden
of her husband’s debts, and constantly exposed to the annoyances of
the creditors.

And always he wound up by saying,

“Who could ever have expected such a thing from Vincent,--a friend
of twenty years’ standing!  A hundred and sixty thousand francs!
Who in the world can be trusted hereafter?”

Big tears were rolling slowly down Mme. Favoral’s withered cheeks.
But Mlle. Gilberte was of those for whom the pity of others is the
worst misfortune and the most acute suffering.

Twenty times she was on the point of exclaiming,

“Keep your compassion, sir: we are neither so much to be pitied nor
so much forsaken as you think.  Our misfortune has revealed to us a
true friend,--one who does not speak, but acts.”

At last, as twelve o’clock struck, M. Chapelain withdrew, announcing
that he would return the next day to get the news, and to bring
further consolation.

“Thank Heaven, we are alone at last!” said Mlle. Gilberte.

But they had not much peace, for all that.

Great as had been the noise of Vincent Favoral’s disaster, it had
not reached at once all those who had intrusted their savings to him.
All day long, the belated creditors kept coming in; and the scenes
of the morning were renewed on a smaller scale.  Then legal summonses
began to pour in, three or four at a time.  Mme. Favoral was losing
all courage.

“What disgrace!” she groaned.  “Will it always be so hereafter?”

And she exhausted herself in useless conjectures upon the causes of
the catastrophe; and such was the disorder of her mind, that she
knew not what to hope and what to fear, and that from one minute to
another she wished for the most contradictory things.

She would have been glad to hear that her husband was safe out of
the country, and yet she would have deemed herself less miserable,
had she known that he was hid somewhere in Paris.

And obstinately the same questions returned to her lips,

“Where is he now?  What is he doing?  What is he thinking about?
How can he leave us without news?  Is it possible that it is a
woman who has driven him into the precipice?  And, if so, who is
that woman?”

Very different were Mlle. Gilberte’s thoughts.

The great calamity that befell her family had brought about the
sudden realization of her hopes.  Her father’s disaster had given
her an opportunity to test the man she loved; and she had found
him even superior to all that she could have dared to dream.  The
name of Favoral was forever disgraced; but she was going to be
the wife of Marius, Marquise de Tregars.

And, in the candor of her loyal soul, she accused herself of not
taking enough interest in her mother’s grief, and reproached
herself for the quivers of joy which she felt within her.

“Where is Maxence?” asked Mme. Favoral.

“Where is M. de Tregars?  Why have they told us nothing of their
projects?”

“They will, no doubt, come home to dinner,” replied Mlle. Gilberte.

So well was she convinced of this, that she had given orders to the
servant to have a somewhat better dinner than usual; and her heart
was beating at the thought of being seated near Marius, between her
mother and her brother.

At about six o’clock, the bell rang violently.

“There he is!” said the young girl, rising to her feet.

But no: it was only the porter, bringing up a summons ordering Mme.
Favoral, under penalty of the law, to appear the next day, at one
o’clock precisely, before the examining judge, Barban d’Avranchel,
at his office in the Palace of Justice.

The poor woman came near fainting.

“What can this judge want with me?  It ought to be forbidden to
call a wife to testify against her husband,” she said.

“M. de Tregars will tell you what to answer, mamma,” said Mlle.
Gilberte.

Meantime, seven o’clock came, then eight, and still neither Maxence
nor M. de Tregars had come.

Both mother and daughter were becoming anxious, when at last, a
little before nine, they heard steps in the hall.

Marius de Tregars appeared almost immediately.

He was pale; and his face bore the trace of the crushing fatigues of
the day, of the cares which oppressed him, of the reflections which
had been suggested to his mind by the quarrel of which he had nearly
been the victim a few moments since.

“Maxence is not here?” he asked at once.

“We have not seen him,” answered Mlle. Gilberte.

He seemed so much surprised, that Mme. Favoral was frightened.

“What is the matter again, good God!” she exclaimed.

“Nothing, madame,” said M. de Tregars,--“nothing that should alarm
you.  Compelled, about two hours ago, to part from Maxence, I was to
have met him here.  Since he has not come, he must have been
detained.  I know where; and I will ask your permission to run and
join him.”

He went out; but Mlle. Gilberte followed him in the hall, and,
taking his hand,

“How kind of you!” she began, “and how can we ever sufficiently
thank you?”

He interrupted her.

“You owe me no thanks, my beloved; for, in what I am doing, there
is more selfishness than you think.  It is my own cause, more than
yours, that I am defending.  Any way, every thing is going on well.”

And, without giving any more explanations, he started again.  He
had no doubt that Maxence, after leaving him, had run to the Hotel
des Folies to give to Mlle. Lucienne an account of the day’s work.
And, though somewhat annoyed that he had tarried so long, on second
thought, he was not surprised.

It was, therefore, to the Hotel des Folies that he was going.  Now
that he had unmasked his batteries and begun the struggle, he was
not sorry to meet Mlle. Lucienne.

In less than five minutes he had reached the Boulevard du Temple.
In front of the Fortins’ narrow corridor a dozen idlers were
standing, talking.

M. de Tregars was listening as he went along.

“It is a frightful accident,” said one,--“such a pretty girl, and
so young too!”

“As to me,” said another, “it is the driver that I pity the most;
for after all, if that pretty miss was in that carriage, it was for
her own pleasure; whereas, the poor coachman was only attending to
his business.”

A confused presentiment oppressed M. de Tregars’ heart.  Addressing
himself to one of those worthy citizens,

“Have you heard any particulars?”

Flattered by the confidence,

“Certainly I have,” he replied.  “I didn’t see the thing with my
own proper eyes; but my wife did.  It was terrible.  The carriage,
a magnificent private carriage too, came from the direction of the
Madeleine.  The horses had run away; and already there had been an
accident in the Place du Chateau d’Eau, where an old woman had been
knocked down.  Suddenly, here, over there, opposite the toy-shop,
which is mine, by the way, the wheel of the carriage catches into
the wheel of an enormous truck; and at once, palata! the coachman
is thrown down, and so is the lady, who was inside,--a very
pretty girl, who lives in this hotel.”

Leaving there the obliging narrator, M. de Tregars rushed through
the narrow corridor of the Hotel des Folies.  At the moment when
he reached the yard, he found himself in presence of Maxence.

Pale, his head bare, his eyes wild, shaking with a nervous chill,
the poor fellow looked like a madman.  Noticing M. de Tregars,

“Ah, my friend!” he exclaimed, “what misfortune!”

“Lucienne?”

“Dead, perhaps.  The doctor will not answer for her recovery.  I
am going to the druggist’s to get a prescription.”

He was interrupted by the commissary of police, whose kind
protection had hitherto preserved Mlle. Lucienne.  He was coming
out of the little room on the ground-floor, which the Fortins used
for an office, bedroom, and dining-room.

He had recognized Marius de Tregars, and, coming up to him, he
pressed his hand, saying, “Well, you know?”

“Yes.”

“It is my fault, M. le Marquis; for we were fully notified.  I knew
so well that Mlle. Lucienne’s existence was threatened, I was so
fully expecting a new attempt upon her life, that, whenever she went
out riding, it was one of my men, wearing a footman’s livery, who
took his seat by the side of the coachman.  To-day my man was so
busy, that I said to myself, ‘Bash, for once!’  And behold the
consequences!”

It was with inexpressible astonishment that Maxence was listening.
It was with a profound stupor that he discovered between Marius and
the commissary that serious intimacy which is the result of long
intercourse, real esteem, and common hopes.

“It is not an accident, then,” remarked M. de Tregars.

“The coachman has spoken, doubtless?”

“No: the wretch was killed on the spot.”

And, without waiting for another question,

“But don’t let us stay here,” said the commissary.

“Whilst Maxence runs to the drug-store, let us go into the Fortins’
office.”

The husband was alone there, the wife being at that moment with
Mlle. Lucienne.

“Do me the favor to go and take a walk for about fifteen minutes,”
 said the commissary to him.  “We have to talk, this gentleman and
myself.”

Humbly, without a word, and like a man who does himself justice,
M. Fortin slipped off.

And at once,--“It is clear, M. le Marquis, it is manifest, that a
crime has been committed.  Listen, and judge for yourself.  I was
just rising from dinner, when I was notified of what was called
our poor Lucienne’s accident.  Without even changing my clothes, I
ran.  The carriage was lying in the street, broken to pieces.  Two
policemen were holding the horses, which had been stopped.  I
inquire.  I learn that Lucienne, picked up by Maxence, has been able
to drag herself as far as the Hotel des Folies, and that the driver
has been taken to the nearest drug-store.  Furious at my own
negligence, and tormented by vague suspicions, it is to the druggist’s
that I go first, and in all haste.  The driver was in a backroom,
stretched on a mattress.

“His head having struck the angle of the curbstone, his skull was
broken; and he had just breathed his last.  It was, apparently, the
annihilation of the hope which I had, of enlightening myself by
questioning this man.  Nevertheless, I give orders to have him
searched.  No paper is discovered upon him to establish his identity;
but, in one of the pockets of his pantaloons, do you know what they
find?  Two bank-notes of a thousand francs each, carefully wrapped
up in a fragment of newspaper.”

M. de Tregars had shuddered.

“What a revelation!” he murmured.

It was not to the present circumstance that he applied that word.
But the commissary naturally mistook him.

“Yes,” he went on, “it was a revelation.  To me these two thousand
francs were worth a confession: they could only be the wages of a
crime.  So, without losing a moment, I jump into a cab, and drive to
Brion’s.  Everybody was upside down, because the horses had just
been brought back.  I question; and, from the very first words, the
correctness of my presumption is demonstrated to me.  The wretch who
had just died was not one of Brion’s coachmen.  This is what had
happened.  At two o’clock, when the carriage ordered by M. Van
Klopen was ready to go for Mlle. Lucienne, they had been compelled
to send for the driver and the footman, who had forgotten themselves
drinking in a neighboring wine-shop, with a man who had called to
see them in the morning.  They were slightly under the influence of
wine, but not enough so to make it imprudent to trust them with
horses; and it was even probable that the fresh air would sober them
completely.  They had then started; but, they had not gone very far,
for one of their comrades had seen them stop the carriage in front
of a wine-shop, and join there the same individual with whom they
had been drinking all the morning.”

“And who was no other than the man who was killed?”

“Wait.  Having obtained this information, I get some one to take me
to the wine-shop; and I ask for the coachman and the footman from
Brion’s.  They were there still; and they are shown to me in a
private room, lying on the floor, fast asleep.  I try to wake them
up, but in vain.  I order to water them freely; but a pitcher of
water thrown on their faces has no effect, save to make them utter
an inarticulate groan.  I guess at once what they have taken.  I
send for a physician, and I call on the wine-merchant for
explanations.  It is his wife and his barkeeper who answer me.
They tell me, that, at about two o’clock, a man came in the shop,
who stated that he was employed at Brion’s, and who ordered three
glasses for himself and two comrades, whom he was expecting.

“A few moments later, a carriage stops at the door; and the driver
and the footman leave it to come in.  They were in a great hurry,
they said, and only wished to take one glass.  They do take three,
one after another; then they order a bottle.  They were evidently
forgetting their horses, which they had given to hold to a
commissionaire.  Soon the man proposes a game.  The others accept;
and here they are, settled in the back-room, knocking on the table
for sealed wine.  The game must have lasted at least twenty minutes.
At the end of that time, the man who had come in first appeared,
looking very much annoyed, saying that it was very unpleasant, that
his comrades were dead drunk, that they will miss their work, and
that the boss, who is anxious to please his customers, will
certainly dismiss them.  Although he had taken as much, and more
than the rest, he was perfectly steady; and, after reflecting for
a moment,--‘I have an idea,’ he says.  ‘Friends should help each
other, shouldn’t they?  I am going to take the coachman’s livery,
and drive in his stead.  I happen to know the customer they were
going after.  She is a very kind old lady, and I’ll tell her a
story to explain the absence of the footman.’

“Convinced that the man is in Brion’s employment, they have no
objection to offer to this fine project.

“The brigand puts on the livery of the sleeping coachman, gets up
on the box, and starts off, after stating that he will return for
his comrades as soon as he has got through the job, and that
doubtless they will be sober by that time.”

M. de Tregars knew well enough the savoir-faire of the commissary
not to be surprised at his promptness in obtaining precise information.

Already he was going on,

“Just as I was closing my examination, the doctor arrived.  I show
him my drunkards; and at once he recognizes that I have guessed
correctly, and that these men have been put asleep by means of one
of those narcotics of which certain thieves make use to rob their
victims.  A potion, which he administers to them by forcing their
teeth open with a knife, draws them from this lethargy.  They open
their eyes, and soon are in condition to reply to my questions.
They are furious at the trick that has been played upon them; but
they do not know the man.  They saw him, they swear to me, for the
first time that very morning; and they are ignorant even of his
name.”

There was no doubt possible after such complete explanations.  The
commissary had seen correctly, and he proved it.

It was not of a vulgar accident that Mlle. Lucienne had just been
the victim, but of a crime laboriously conceived, and executed with
unheard-of audacity,--of one of those crimes such as too many are
committed, whose combinations, nine times out of ten, set aside
even a suspicion, and foil all the efforts of human justice.

M. de Tregars knew now what had taken place, as clearly as if he
had himself received the confession of the guilty parties.

A man had been found to execute that perilous programme,--to make
the horses run away, and then to run into some heavy wagon.  The
wretch was staking his life on that game; it being evident that
the light carriage must be smashed in a thousand pieces.  But he
must have relied upon his skill and his presence of mind, to avoid
the shock, to jump off safe and sound; whilst Mlle. Lucienne,
thrown upon the pavement, would probably be killed on the spot.
The event had deceived his expectations, and he had been the victim
of his rascality; but his death was a misfortune.

“Because now,” resumed the commissary, “the thread is broken in our
hands which would infallibly have led us to the truth.  Who is it
that ordered the crime, and paid for it?  We know it, since we know
who benefits by the crime.  But that is not sufficient.  Justice
requires something more than moral proofs.  Living, this bandit
would have spoken.  His death insures the impunity of the wretches
of whom he was but the instrument.”

“Perhaps,” said M. Tregars.

And at the same time he took out of his pocket, and showed the note
found in Vincent Favoral’s pocket-book,--that note, so obscure the
day before, now so terribly clear.

“I cannot understand your negligence.  You should get through with
that Van Klopen affair: there is the danger.”

The commissary of police cast but a glance upon it, and, replying
to the objections of his old experience rather more than addressing
himself to M. de Tregars,

“There can be no doubt about it,” he murmured.  “It is to the crime
committed to-day that these pressing recommendations relate; and,
directed as they are to Vincent Favoral, they attest his complicity.
It was he who had charge of finishing the Van Klopen affair; in other
words, to get rid of Lucienne.  It was he, I’d wager my head, who
had treated with the false coachman.”

He remained for over a minute absorbed in his own thoughts, then,

“But who is the author of these recommendations to Vincent Favoral?
Do you know that, M. le Marquis?” he said.

They looked at each other; and the same name rose to their lips,

“The Baroness de Thaller!”

This name, however, they did not utter.

The commissary had placed himself under the gasburner which gave
light to the Fortin’s office; and, adjusting his glasses, he was
scrutinizing the note with the most minute attention, studying the
grain and the transparency of the paper, the ink, and the
handwriting.  And at last,

“This note,” he declared, “cannot constitute a proof against its
author: I mean an evident, material proof, such as we require to
obtain from a judge an order of arrest.”

And, as Marius was protesting,

“This note,” he insisted, “is written with the left hand, with
common ink, on ordinary foolscap paper, such as is found everywhere.
Now all left-hand writings look alike.  Draw your own conclusions.”

But M. de Tregars did not give it up yet.

“Wait a moment,” he interrupted.

And briefly, though with the utmost exactness, he began telling his
visit to the Thaller mansion, his conversation with Mlle. Cesarine,
then with the baroness, and finally with the baron himself.

He described in the most graphic manner the scene which had taken
place in the grand parlor between Mme. de Thaller and a worse than
suspicious-looking man,--that scene, the secret of which had been
revealed to him in its minutest details by the looking-glass.  Its
meaning was now as clear as day.

This suspicious-looking man had been one of the agents in arranging
the intended murder: hence the agitation of the baroness when she
had received his card, and her haste to join him.  If she had
started when he first spoke to her, it was because he was telling
her of the successful execution of the crime.  If she had afterwards
made a gesture of joy, it was because he had just informed her that
the coachman had been killed at the same time, and that she found
herself thus rid of a dangerous accomplice.

The commissary of police shook his head.

“All this is quite probable,” he murmured; “but that’s all.”

Again M. de Tregars stopped him.

“I have not done yet,” he said.

And he went on saying how he had been suddenly and brutally
assaulted by an unknown man in a restaurant; how he had collared
this abject scoundrel, and taken out of his pocket a crushing letter,
which left no doubt as to the nature of his mission.

The commissary’s eyes were sparkling,

“That letter!” he exclaimed, “that letter!”  And, as soon as he had
looked over it,

“Ah!  This time,” he resumed, “I think that we have something
tangible.  ‘A troublesome gentleman to keep quiet,’--the Marquis
de Tregars, of course, who is on the right track.  ‘It will be for
you the matter of a sword-thrust.’  Naturally, dead men tell no
tales.  ‘It will be for us the occasion of dividing a round amount.’
An honest trade, indeed!”

The good man was rubbing his hand with all his might.

“At last we have a positive fact,” he went on,--“a foundation upon
which to base our accusations.  Don’t be uneasy.  That letter is
going to place into our hands the scoundrel who assaulted you,--who
will make known the go-between, who himself will not fail to
surrender the Baroness de Thaller.  Lucienne shall be avenged.  If
we could only now lay our hands on Vincent Favoral!  But we’ll find
him yet.  I set two fellows after him this afternoon, who have a
superior scent, and understand their business.”

He was here interrupted by Maxence, who was returning all out of
breath, holding in his hand the medicines which he had gone after.

“I thought that druggist would never get through,” he said.

And regretting to have remained away so long, feeling uneasy, and
anxious to return up stairs,

“Don’t you wish to see Lucienne?” he added, addressing himself to M.
de Tregars rather more than to the commissary.

For all answer, they followed him at once.

A cheerless-looking place was Mlle. Lucienne’s room, without any
furniture but a narrow iron bedstead, a dilapidated bureau, four
straw-bottomed chairs, and a small table.  Over the bed, and at
the windows, were white muslin curtains, with an edging that had
once been blue, but had become yellow from repeated washings.

Often Maxence had begged his friend to take a more comfortable
lodging, and always she had refused.

“We must economize,” she would say.  “This room does well enough
for me; and, besides, I am accustomed to it.”

When M. de Tregars and the commissary walked in, the estimable
hostess of the Hotel des Folies was kneeling in front of the fire,
preparing some medicine.

Hearing the footsteps, she got up, and, with a finger upon her
lips,

“Hush!” she said.  “Take care not to wake her up!”  The precaution
was useless.

“I am not asleep,” said Mlle. Lucienne in a feeble voice.  “Who
is there?”

“I,” replied Maxence, advancing towards the bed.

It was only necessary to see the poor girl in order to understand
Maxence’s frightful anxiety.  She was whiter than the sheet; and
fever, that horrible fever which follows severe wounds, gave to her
eyes a sinister lustre.

“But you are not alone,” she said again.

“I am with him, my child,” replied the commissary.  “I come to beg
your pardon for having so badly protected you.”

She shook her head with a sad and gentle motion.

“It was myself who lacked prudence,” she said; “for to-day, while
out, I thought I noticed something wrong; but it looked so foolish
to be afraid!  If it had not happened to-day, it would have happened
some other day.  The villains who have been pursuing me for years
must be satisfied now.  They will soon be rid of me.”

“Lucienne,” said Maxence in a sorrowful tone.

M. de Tregars now stepped forward.

“You shall live, mademoiselle,” he uttered in a grave voice.  “You
shall live to learn to love life.”

And, as she was looking at him in surprise,

“You do not know me,” he added.

Timidly, and as if doubting the reality,

“You,” she said, “the Marquis de Tregars!”

“Yes, mademoiselle, your brother.”

Had he had the control of events, Marius de Tregars would probably
not have been in such haste to reveal this fact.

But how could he control himself in presence of that bed where a
poor girl was, perhaps, about to die, sacrificed to the terrors
and to the cravings of the miserable woman who was her mother,--to
die at twenty, victim of the basest and most odious of crimes?  How
could he help feeling an intense pity at the sight of this
unfortunate young woman who had endured every thing that a human
being can suffer, whose life had been but a long and painful
struggle, whose courage had risen above all the woes of adversity,
and who had been able to pass without a stain through the mud and
mire of Paris.

Besides, Marius was not one of those men who mistrust their first
impulse, who manifest their emotion only for a purpose, who reflect
and calculate before giving themselves up to the inspirations of
their heart.

Lucienne was the daughter of the Marquis de Tregars: of that he was
absolutely certain.  He knew that the same blood flowed in his veins
and in hers; and he told her so.

He told her so, above all, because he believed her in danger; and
he wished, were she to die, that she should have, at least, that
supreme joy.  Poor Lucienne!  Never had she dared to dream of such
happiness.  All her blood rushed to her cheeks; and, in a voice
vibrating with the most intense emotion,

“Ah, now, yes,” she uttered, “I would like to live.”

The commissary of police, also, felt moved.

“Do not be alarmed, my child,” he said in his kindest tone.
“Before two weeks you will be up.  M. de Tregars is a great
physician.”

In the mean time, she had attempted to raise herself on her pillow;
and that simple effort had wrung from her a cry of anguish.

“Dear me!  How I do suffer!”

“That’s because you won’t keep quiet, my darling,” said Mme. Fortin
in a tone of gentle scolding.  “Have you forgotten that the doctor
has expressly forbidden you to stir?”

Then taking aside the commissary, Maxence, and M. de Tregars, she
explained to them how imprudent it was to disturb Mlle. Lucienne’s
rest.  She was very ill, affirmed the worthy hostess; and her advice
was, that they should send for a sick-nurse as soon as possible.

She would have been extremely happy, of course, to spend the night
by the side of her dear lodger; but, unfortunately, she could not
think of it, the hotel requiring all her time and attention.
Fortunately, however, she knew in the neighborhood a widow, a very
honest woman, and without her equal in taking care of the sick.

With an anxious and beseeching look, Maxence was consulting M. de
Tregars.  In his eyes could be read the proposition that was burning
upon his lips,

“Shall I not go for Gilberte?”

But that proposition he had no time to express.  Though they had
been speaking very low, Mlle. Lucienne had heard.

“I have a friend,” she said, “who would certainly be willing to sit
up with me.”

They all went up to her.

“What friend,” inquired the commissary of police.

“You know her very well, sir.  It is that poor girl who had taken
me home with her at Batignolles when I left the hospital, who came
to my assistance during the Commune, and whom you helped to get
out of the Versailles prisons.”

“Do you know what has become of her?”

“Only since yesterday, when I received a letter from her, a very
friendly letter.  She writes that she has found money to set up a
dressmaking establishment, and that she is relying upon me to be
her forewoman.  She is going to open in the Rue St. Lazare; but,
in the mean time, she is stopping in the Rue du Cirque.”

M. de Tregars and Maxence had started slightly.

“What is your friend’s name?” they inquired at once.

Not being aware of the particulars of the two young men’s visit to
the Rue du Cirque, the commissary of police could not understand
the cause of their agitation.

“I think,” he said, “that it would hardly be proper now to send for
that girl.”

“It is to her alone, on the contrary, that we must resort,”
 interrupted M. de Tregars.

And, as he had good reasons to mistrust Mme. Fortin, he took the
commissary outside the room, on the landing; and there, in a few
words, he explained to him that this Zelie was precisely the same
woman whom they had found in the Rue du Cirque, in that sumptuous
mansion where Vincent Favoral, under the simple name of Vincent, had
been living, according to the neighbors, in such a princely style.

The commissary of police was astounded.  Why had he not known all
this sooner?  Better late than never, however.

“Ah! you are right, M. le Marquis, a hundred times right!” he
declared.  “This girl must evidently know Vincent Favoral’s secret,
the key of the enigma that we are vainly trying to solve.  What
she would not tell to you, a stranger, she will tell to Lucienne,
her friend.”

Maxence offered to go himself for Zelie Cadelle.

“No,” answered Marius.  “If she should happen to know you, she
would mistrust you, and would refuse to come.”

It was, therefore, M. Fortin who was despatched to the Rue du
Cirque, and who went off muttering, though he had received five
francs to take a carriage, and five francs for his trouble.

“And now,” said the commissary of police to Maxence, “we must both
of us get out of the way.  I, because the fact of my being a
commissary would frighten Mme. Cadelle; you because, being Vincent
Favoral’s son, your presence would certainly prove embarrassing
to her.”

And so they went out; but M. de Tregars did not remain long alone
with Mlle. Lucienne.  M. Fortin had had the delicacy not to tarry
on the way.

Eleven o’clock struck as Zelie Cadelle rushed like a whirlwind
into her friend’s room.

Such had been his haste, that she had given no thought whatever to
her dress.  She had stuck upon her uncombed hair the first bonnet
she had laid her hand upon, and thrown an old shawl over the
wrapper in which she had received Marius in the afternoon.

“What, my poor Lucienne!” she exclaimed.  “Are you so sick as all
that?”

But she stopped short as she recognized M. de Tregars; and, in a
suspicious tone,

“What a singular meeting!” she said.

Marius bowed.

“You know Lucienne?”

What she meant by that he understood perfectly.  “Lucienne is my
sister, madame,” he said coldly.

She shrugged her shoulders.  “What humbug!”

“It’s the truth,” affirmed Mlle. Lucienne; “and you know that I
never lie.”

Mme. Zelie was dumbfounded.

“If you say so,” she muttered.  “But no matter: that’s queer.”

M. de Tregars interrupted her with a gesture,

“And, what’s more, it is because Lucienne is my sister that you see
her there lying upon that bed.  They attempted to murder her to-day!”

“Oh!”

“It was her mother who tried to get rid of her, so as to possess
herself of the fortune which my father had left her; and there is
every reason to believe that the snare was contrived by Vincent
Favoral.”

Mme. Zelie did not understand very well; but, when Marius and Mlle.
Lucienne had informed her of all that it was useful for her to know,

“Why,” she exclaimed, “what a horrid rascal that old Vincent must
be!”

And, as M. de Tregars remained dumb,

“This afternoon,” she went on, “I didn’t tell you any stories; but
I didn’t tell you every thing, either.”  She stopped; and, after a
moment of deliberation,

“Well, I don’t care for old Vincent,” she said.  “Ah! he tried to
have Lucienne killed, did he?  Well, then, I am going to tell every
thing I know.  First of all, he wasn’t any thing to me.  It isn’t
very flattering; but it is so.  He has never kissed so much as the
end of my finger.  He used to say that he loved me, but that he
respected me still more, because I looked so much like a daughter
he had lost.  Old humbug!  And I believed him too!  I did, upon my
word, at least in the beginning.  But I am not such a fool as I
look.  I found out very soon that he was making fun of me; and that
he was only using me as a blind to keep suspicion away from another
woman.”

“From what woman?”

“Ah! now, I do not know!  All I know is that she is married, that
he is crazy about her, and that they are to run away together.”

“Hasn’t he gone, then?”

Mme. Cadelle’s face had become somewhat anxious, and for over a
minute she seemed to hesitate.

“Do you know,” she said at last, “that my answer is going to cost
me a lot?  They have promised me a pile of money; but I haven’t got
it yet.  And, if I say any thing, good-by! I sha’n’t have any thing.”

M. de Tregars was opening his lips to tell her that she might rest
easy on that score; but she cut him short.

“Well, no,” she said: “Old Vincent hasn’t gone.  He got up a comedy,
so he told me, to throw the lady’s husband off the track.  He sent
off a whole lot of baggage by the railroad; but he staid in Paris.”

“And do you know where he is hid?”

“In the Rue St. Lazare, of course: in the apartment that I hired
two weeks ago.”

In a voice trembling with the excitement of almost certain success,
“Would you consent to take me there?” asked M. de Tregars.

“Whenever you like,--to-morrow.”



IX

As he left Mlle. Lucienne’s room,

“There is nothing more to keep me at the Hotel des Folies,” said
the commissary of police to Maxence.  “Every thing possible will be
done, and well done, by M. de Tregars.  I am going home, therefore;
and I am going to take you with me.  I have a great deal to do and
you’ll help me.”

That was not exactly true; but he feared, on the part of Maxence,
some imprudence which might compromise the success of M. de
Tregars’ mission.

He was trying to think of every thing to leave as little as possible
to chance; like a man who has seen the best combined plans fail for
want of a trifling precaution.

Once in the yard, he opened the door of the lodge where the
honorable Fortins, man and wife, were deliberating, and exchanging
their conjectures, instead of going to bed.  For they were
wonderfully puzzled by all those events that succeeded each other,
and anxious about all these goings and comings.

“I am going home,” the commissary said to them; “but, before that,
listen to my instructions.  You will allow no one, you understand,
--no one who is not known to you, to go up to Mlle. Lucienne’s
room.  And remember that I will admit of no excuse, and that you
must not come and tell me afterwards, ‘It isn’t our fault, we can’t
see everybody that comes in,’ and all that sort of nonsense.”

He was speaking in that harsh and imperious tone of which
police-agents have the secret, when they are addressing people who
have, by their conduct, placed themselves under their dependence.

“We are going to close our front-door,” replied the estimable
hotel-keepers.  “We will comply strictly with your orders.”

“I trust so; because, if you should disobey me, I should hear it,
and the result would be a serious trouble to you.  Besides your
hotel being unmercifully closed up, you would find yourselves
implicated in a very bad piece of business.”

The most ardent curiosity could be read in Mme. Fortin’s little eyes.

“I understood at once,” she began, “that something extraordinary
was going on.”

But the commissary interrupted her,

“I have not done yet.  It may be that to-night or to-morrow some
one will call and inquire how Mlle. Lucienne is.”

“And then?”

“You will answer that she is as bad as possible; and that she has
neither spoken a word, nor recovered her senses, since the accident;
and that she will certainly not live through the day.”

The effort which Mme. Fortin made to remain silent gave, better than
any thing else, an idea of the terror with which the commissary
inspired her.

“That is not all,” he went on.  “As soon as the person in question
has started off, you will follow him, without affectation, as far
as the street-door, and you will point him out with your finger,
here, like that, to one of my agents, who will happen to be on the
Boulevard.”

“And suppose he should not be there?”

“He shall be there.  You can make yourself easy on that score.”

The looks of distress which the honorable hotel-keepers were
exchanging did not announce a very tranquil conscience.

“In other words, here we are under surveillance,” said M. Fortin
with a groan.  “What have we done to be thus mistrusted?”

To reply to him would have been a task more long than difficult.

“Do as I tell you,” insisted the commissary harshly, “and don’t
mind the rest, and, meantime, good-night.”

He was right in trusting implicitly to his agent’s punctuality;
for, as soon as he came out of the Hotel des Folies, a man passed
by him, and without seeming to address him, or even to recognize
him, said in a whisper,

“What news?”

“Nothing,” he replied, “except that the Fortins are notified.  The
trap is well set.  Keep your eyes open now, and spot any one who
comes to ask about Mlle. Lucienne.”

And he hurried on, still followed by Maxence, who walked along like
a body without soul, tortured by the most frightful anguish.

As he had been away the whole evening, four or five persons were
waiting for him at his office on matters of current business.  He
despatched them in less than no time; after which, addressing
himself to an agent on duty,

“This evening,” he said, “at about nine o’clock, in a restaurant on
the Boulevard, a quarrel took place.  A person tried to pick a
quarrel with another.

“You will proceed at once to that restaurant; you will get the
particulars of what took place; and you will ascertain exactly who
this man is, his name, his profession, and his residence.”

Like a man accustomed to such errands,

“Can I have a description of him?” inquired the agent.

“Yes.  He is a man past middle age, military bearing, heavy mustache,
ribbons in his buttonhole.”

“Yes, I see: one of your regular fighting fellows.”

“Very well.  Go then.  I shall not retire before your return.  Ah,
I forgot; find out what they thought to-night on the ‘street’ about
the Mutual Credit affair, and what they said of the arrest of one
Saint Pavin, editor of ‘The Financial Pilot,’ and of a banker named
Jottras.”

“Can I take a carriage?”

“Do so.”

The agent started; and he was not fairly out of the house, when the
commissary, opening a door which gave into a small study, called,
“Felix!”

It was his secretary, a man of about thirty, blonde, with a gentle
and timid countenance, having, with his long coat, somewhat the
appearance of a theological student.  He appeared immediately.

“You call me, sir?”

“My dear Felix,” replied the commissary, “I have seen you, sometimes,
imitate very nicely all sorts of hand-writings.”

The secretary blushed very much, no doubt on account of Maxence, who
was sitting by the side of his employer.  He was a very honest
fellow; but there are certain little talents of which people do not
like to boast; and the talent of imitating the writing of others is
of the number, for the reason, that, fatally and at once, it suggests
the idea of forgery.

“It was only for fun that I used to do that, sir,” he stammered.

“Would you be here if it had been otherwise?” said the commissary.
“Only this time it is not for fun, but to do me a favor that I
wish you to try again.”

And, taking out of his pocket the letter taken by M. de Tregars
from the man in the restaurant,

“Examine this writing,” he said, “and see whether you feel capable
of imitating it tolerably well.”

Spreading the letter under the full light of the lamp, the secretary
spent at least two minutes examining it with the minute attention of
an expert.  And at the same time he was muttering,

“Not at all convenient, this.  Hard writing to imitate.  Not a
salient feature, not a characteristic sign!  Nothing to strike the
eye, or attract attention.  It must be some old lawyer’s clerk who
wrote this.”

In spite of his anxiety of mind, the commissary smiled.

“I shouldn’t be surprised if you had guessed right.”

Thus encouraged,

“At any rate,” Felix declared, “I am going to try.”

He took a pen, and, after trying a dozen times,

“How is this?” he asked, holding out a sheet of paper.

The commissary carefully compared the original with the copy.

“It is not perfect,” he murmured; “but at night, with the imagination
excited by a great peril--Besides, we must risk something.”

“If I had a few hours to practise!”

“But you have not.  Come, take up your pen, and write as well as
you can, in that same hand, what I am going to tell you.”

And after a moment’s thought, he dictated as follows:

“All goes well.  T. drawn into a quarrel, is to fight in the morning
with swords.  But our man, whom I cannot leave, refuses to go ahead,
unless he is paid two thousand francs before the duel.  I have not
the amount.  Please hand it to the bearer, who has orders to wait
for you.”

The commissary, leaning over his secretary’s shoulder, was following
his hand, and, the last word being written,

“Perfect!” he exclaimed.  “Now quick, the address: Mme. la Baronne
de Thaller, Rue de le Pepiniere.”

There are professions which extinguish, in those who exercise them,
all curiosity.  It is with the most complete indifference, and
without asking a question, that the secretary had done what he had
been requested.

“Now, my dear Felix,” resumed the commissary, “you will please get
yourself up as near as possible like a restaurant-waiter, and take
this letter to its address.”

“At this hour!”

“Yes.  The Baroness de Thaller is out to a ball.  You will tell the
servants that you are bringing her an answer concerning an important
matter.  They know nothing about it; but they will allow you to wait
for their mistress in the porter’s lodge.  As soon as she comes in,
you will hand her the letter, stating that two gentlemen who are
taking supper in your restaurant are waiting for the answer.  It may
be that she will exclaim that you are a scoundrel, that she does not
know what it means: in that case, we shall have been anticipated, and
you must get away as fast as you can.  But the chances are, that she
will give you two thousand francs; and then you must so manage, that
she will be seen plainly when she does it.  Is it all understood?”

“Perfectly.”

“Go ahead, then, and do not lose a minute.  I shall wait.”

Away from Mlle. Lucienne, Maxence had gradually been recalled to
the strangeness of the situation; and it was with a mingled feeling
of curiosity and surprise that he observed the commissary acting
and bustling about.

The good man had found again all the activity of his youth, together
with that fever of hope and that impatience of success, which
usually disappear with age.

He was going over the whole of the case again,--his first meeting
with Mlle. Lucienne, the various attempts upon her life; and he had
just taken out of the file the letter of information which had been
intrusted to him, in order to compare the writing with that of the
letter taken from his adversary by M. de Tregars, when the latter
came in all out of breath.

“Zelie has spoken!” he said.

And, at once addressing Maxence,

“You, my dear friend,” he resumed, “you must run to the Hotel des
Folies.”

“Is Lucienne worse?”

“No.  Lucienne is getting on well enough.  Zelie has spoken; but
there is no certainty, that, after due reflection, she will not
repent, and go and give the alarm.  You will return, therefore,
and you will not lose sight of her until I call for her in the
morning.  If she wishes to go out, you must prevent her.”

The commissary had understood the importance of the precaution.

“You must prevent her,” he added, “even by force; and I authorize
you, if need be, to call upon the agent whom I have placed on duty,
watching the Hotel des Folies, and to whom I am going to send word
immediately.”

Maxence started off on a run.

“Poor fellow!” murmured Marius, “I know where your father is.  What
are we going to learn now?”

He had scarcely had time to communicate the information he had
received from Mme. Cadelle, when the first of the commissary’s
emissaries made his appearance.

“The commission is done,” he said, in that confident tone of a man
who thinks he has successfully accomplished a difficult task.

“You know the name of the individual who sought a quarrel with M.
de Tregars?”

“His name is Corvi.  He is well known in all the tables d’hote,
where there are women, and where they deal a healthy little game
after dinner.  I know him well too.  He is a bad fellow, who passes
himself off for a former superior officer in the Italian army.”

“His address?”

“He lives at Rue de la Michodiere, in a furnished house.  I went
there.  The porter told me that my man had just gone out with an
ill-looking individual, and that they must be in a little cafe on
the corner of the next street.  I ran there, and found my two
fellows drinking beer.”

“Won’t they give us the slip?”

“No danger of that: I have got them fixed.”

“How is that?”

“It is an idea of mine.  I just thought, ‘Suppose they put off?’
And at once I went to notify some policemen, and I returned to
station myself near the cafe.  It was just closing up.  My two
fellows came out: I picked a quarrel with them; and now they are
in the station-house, well recommended.”

The commissary knit his brows.

“That’s almost too much zeal,” he murmured.  “Well, what’s done is
done.  Did you make any inquiries about the Saint Pavin and Jottras
matter?”

“I had no time, it was too late.  You forget, perhaps, sir, that it
is nearly two o’clock.”

Just as he got through, the secretary who had been sent to the Rue
de la Pepiniere came in.

“Well?” inquired the commissary, not without evident anxiety.

“I waited for Mme. de Thaller over an hour,” he said.  “When she
came home, I gave her the letter.  She read it; and, in presence of
a number of her servants, she handed me these two thousand francs.”

At the sight of the bank notes, the commissary jumped to his feet.

“Now we have it!” he exclaimed.  “Here is the proof that we wanted.”



X

It was after four o’clock when M. de Tregars was at last permitted
to return home.  He had minutely, and at length, arranged every
thing with the commissary: he had endeavored to anticipate every
eventuality.  His line of conduct was perfectly well marked out,
and he carried with him the certainty that on the day which was
about to dawn the strange game that he was playing must be finally
won or lost.  When he reached home,

“At last, here you are, sir!” exclaimed his faithful servant.

It was doubtless anxiety that had kept up the old man all night; but
so absorbed was Marius’s mind, that he scarcely noticed the fact.

“Did any one call in my absence?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.  A gentleman called during the evening, M. Costeclar, who
appeared very much vexed not to find you in.  He stated that he came
on a very important matter that you would know all about: and he
requested me to ask you to wait for him to-morrow, that is to-day,
by twelve o’clock.”

Was M. Costeclar sent by M. de Thaller?  Had the manager of the
Mutual Credit changed his mind?  and had he decided to accept the
conditions which he had at first rejected?  In that case, it was
too late.  It was no longer in the power of any human being to
suspend the action of justice.  Without giving any further thought
to that visit,

“I am worn out with fatigue,” said M. de Tregars, “and I am going
to lie down.  At eight o’clock precisely you will call me.”

But it was in vain that he tried to find a short respite in sleep.
For forty-eight hours his mind had been taxed beyond measure, his
nerves had been wrought up to an almost intolerable degree of
exaltation.

As soon as he closed his eyes, it was with a merciless precision
that his imagination presented to him all the events which had taken
place since that afternoon in the Place-Royale when he had ventured
to declare his love to Mlle. Gilberte.  Who could have told him then,
that he would engage in that struggle, the issue of which must
certainly be some abominable scandal in which his name would be
mixed?  Who could have told him, that gradually, and by the very
force of circumstances, he would be led to overcome his repugnance,
and to rival the ruses and the tortuous combinations of the wretches
he was trying to reach?

But he was not of those who, once engaged, regret, hesitate, and
draw back.  His conscience reproached him for nothing.  It was for
justice and right that he was battling; and Mlle. Gilberte was the
prize that would reward him.

Eight o’clock struck; and his servant came in.

“Run for a cab,” he said: “I’ll be ready in a moment.”

He was ready, in fact, when the old servant returned; and, as he
had in his pocket some of those arguments that lend wings to the
poorest cab-horses, in less than ten minutes he had reached the
Hotel des Folies.

“How is Mlle. Lucienne?” he inquired first of all of the worthy
hostess.

The intervention of the commissary of police had made M. Fortin and
his wife more supple than gloves, and more gentle than doves.

“The poor dear child is much better,” answered Mme. Fortin; “and
the doctor, who has just left, now feels sure of her recovery.  But
there is a row up there.”

“A row?”

“Yes.  That lady whom my husband went after last night insists upon
going out; and M. Maxence won’t let her: so that they are quarreling
up there.  Just listen.”

The loud noise of a violent altercation could be heard distinctly.
M. de Tregars started up stairs, and on the second-story landing he
found Maxence holding on obstinately to the railing, whilst Mme.
Zelie Cadelle, redder than a peony, was trying to induce him to let
her pass, treating him at the same time to some of the choicest
epithets of her well-stocked repertory.  Catching sight of Marius,

“Is it you,” she cried, “who gave orders to keep me here against my
wishes?  By what right?  Am I your prisoner?”

To irritate her would have been imprudent.

“Why did you wish to leave,” said M. de Tregars gently, “at the very
moment when you knew that I was to call for you?”

But she interrupted him, and, shrugging her shoulders,

“Why don’t you tell the truth?” she said.  “You were afraid to
trust me.”

“Oh!”

“You are wrong!  What I promise to do I do.  I only wanted to go
home to dress.  Can I go in the street in this costume?”

And she was spreading out her wrapper, all faded and stained.

“I have a carriage below,” said Marius.  “No one will see us.”

Doubtless she understood that it was useless to hesitate.

“As you please,” she said.

M. de Tregars took Maxence aside, and in a hurried whisper,

“You must,” said he, “go at once to the Rue St. Gilles, and in my
name request your sister to accompany you.  You will take a closed
carriage, and you’ll go and wait in the Rue St. Lazare, opposite
No. 25.  It may be that Mlle. Gilberte’s assistance will become
indispensable to me.  And, as Lucienne must not be left alone, you
will request Mme. Fortin to go and stay with her.”

And, without waiting for an answer,

“Let us go,” he said to Mme. Cadelle.

They started but the young woman was far from being in her usual
spirits.  It was clear that she was regretting bitterly having gone
so far, and not having been able to get away at the last moment.
As the carriage went on, she became paler and a frown appeared upon
her face.

“No matter,” she began: “it’s a nasty thing I am doing there.”

“Do you repent then, assisting me to punish your friend’s assassins?”
 said M. de Tregars.

She shook her head.

“I know very well that old Vincent is a scoundrel,” she said; “but
he had trusted me, and I am betraying him.”

“You are mistaken, madame.  To furnish me the means of speaking to
M. Favoral is not to betray him; and I shall do every thing in my
power to enable him to escape the police, and make his way abroad.”

“What a joke!”

“It is the exact truth: I give you my word of honor.”  She seemed
to feel easier; and, when the carriage turned into the Rue St.
Lazare, “Let us stop a moment,” she said.

“Why?”

“So that I can buy old Vincent’s breakfast.  He can’t go out to eat,
of course; and so I have to take all his meals to him.”

Marius’s mistrust was far from being dissipated; and yet he did not
think it prudent to refuse, promising himself, however, not to lose
sight of Mme. Zelie.  He followed her, therefore, to the baker’s
and the butcher’s; and when she had done her marketing, he entered
with her the house of modest appearance where she had her apartment.

They were already going up stairs, when the porter ran out of his
lodge.

“Madame!” he said, “madame!”

Mme. Cadelle stopped.

“What is the matter?”

“A letter for you.”

“For me?”

“Here it is.  A lady brought it less than five minutes ago.  Really,
she looked annoyed not to find you in.  But she is going to come
back.  She knew you were to be here this morning.”

M. de Tregars had also stopped.

“What kind of a looking person was this lady?” he asked.

“Dressed all in black, with a thick veil on her face.”

“All right.  I thank you.”

The porter returned to his lodge.  Mme. Zelie broke the seal.  The
first envelope contained another, upon which she spelt, for she did
not read very fluently, “To be handed to M. Vincent.”

“Some one knows that he is hiding here,” she said in a tone of utter
surprise.  “Who can it be?”

“Who?  Why, the woman whose reputation M. Favoral was so anxious to
spare when he put you in the Rue du Cirque house.”

There was nothing that irritated the young woman so much as this idea.

“You are right,” she said.  “What a fool he made of me; the old rascal!
But never mind.  I am going to pay him for it now.”

Nevertheless when she reached her story, the third, and at the moment
of slipping the key into the keyhole, she again seemed perplexed.

“If some misfortune should happen,” she sighed.

“What are you afraid of?”

“Old Vincent has got all sorts of arms in there.  He has sworn to me
that the first person who forced his way into the apartments, he
would kill him like a dog.  Suppose he should fire at us?”

She was afraid, terribly afraid: she was livid, and her teeth
chattered.

“Let me go first,” suggested M. de Tregars.

“No.  Only, if you were a good fellow, you would do what I am going
to ask you.  Say, will you?”

“If it can be done.”

“Oh, certainly!  Here is the thing.  We’ll go in together; but you
must not make any noise.  There is a large closet with glass doors,
from which every thing can be heard and seen that goes on in the
large room.  You’ll get in there.  I’ll go ahead, and draw out old
Vincent into the parlor and at the right moment, v’lan! you appear.”

It was after all, quite reasonable.

“Agreed!” said Marius.

“Then,” she said, “every thing will go on right.  The entrance of
the closet with the glass doors is on the right as you go in.  Come
along now, and walk easy.”

And she opened the door.



XI

The apartment was exactly as described by Mme. Cadelle.  In the
dark and narrow ante-chamber, three doors opened,--on the left,
that of the dining-room; in the centre, that of a parlor and
bedroom which communicated; on the right, that of the closet.  M.
de Tregars slipped in noiselessly through the latter, and at once
recognized that Mme. Zelie had not deceived him, and that he would
see and hear every thing that went on in the parlor.  He saw the
young woman walk into it.  She laid her provisions down upon the
table, and called,

“Vincent!”

The former cashier of the Mutual Credit appeared at once, coming
out of the bedroom.

He was so changed, that his wife and children would have hesitated
in recognizing him.  He had cut off his beard, pulled out almost
the whole of his thick eye-brows, and covered his rough and
straight hair under a brown curly wig.  He wore patent-leather boots,
wide pantaloons, and one of those short jackets of rough material,
and with broad sleeves which French elegance has borrowed from
English stable-boys.  He tried to appear calm, careless, and playful;
but the contraction of his lips betrayed a horrible anguish, and
his look had the strange mobility of the wild beasts’ eye, when,
almost at bay, they stop for a moment, listening to the barking of
the hounds.

“I was beginning to fear that you would disappoint me,” he said to
Mme. Zelie.

“It took me some time to buy your breakfast.”

“And is that all that kept you?”

“The porter detained me too, to hand me a letter, in which I found
one for you.  Here it is.”

“A letter!” exclaimed Vincent Favoral.

And, snatching it from her, he tore off the envelope.  But he had
scarcely looked over it, when he crushed it in his hand, exclaiming,

“It is monstrous!  It is a mean, infamous treason!”  He was
interrupted by a violent ringing of the door-bell.

“Who can it be?” stammered Mme. Cadelle.

“I know who it is,” replied the former cashier.  “Open, open quick.”

She obeyed; and almost at once a woman walked into the parlor,
wearing a cheap, black woolen dress.  With a sudden gesture, she
threw off her veil; and M. de Tregars recognized the Baroness de
Thaller.

“Leave us!” she said to Mme. Zelie, in a tone which one would hardly
dare to assume towards a bar-maid.

The other felt indignant.

“What, what!” she began.  “I am in my own house here.”

“Leave us!” repeated M. Favoral with a threatening gesture.
“Go, go!”

She went out but only to take refuge by the side of M. de Tregars.

“You hear how they treat me,” she said in a hoarse voice.

He made no answer.  All his attention was centred upon the parlor.
The Baroness de Thaller and the former cashier were standing
opposite each other, like two adversaries about to fight a duel.

“I have just read your letter,” began Vincent Favoral.

Coldly the baroness said, “Ah!”

“It is a joke, I suppose.”

“Not at all.”

“You refuse to go with me?”

“Positively.”

“And yet it was all agreed upon.  I have acted wholly under your
urgent, pressing advice.  How many times have you repeated to me
that to live with your husband had become an intolerable torment
to you!  How many times have you sworn to me that you wished to be
mine alone, begging me to procure a large sum of money, and to fly
with you!”

“I was in earnest at the time.  I have discovered, at the last
moment, that it would be impossible for me thus to abandon my
country, my daughter, my friends.”

“We can take Cesarine with us.”

“Do not insist.”

He was looking at her with a stupid, gloomy gaze.

“Then,” he stammered, “those tears, those prayers, those oaths!”

“I have reflected.”

“It is not possible!  If you spoke the truth, you would not be here.”

“I am here to make you understand that we must give up projects
which cannot be realized.  There are some social conventionalities
which cannot be torn up.”  As if he scarcely understood what she
said, he repeated,

“Social conventionalities!”

And suddenly falling at Mme. de Thaller’s feet, his head thrown
back, and his hands clasped together,

“You lie!” he said.  “Confess that you lie, and that it is a final
trial which you are imposing upon me.  Or else have you, then,
never loved me?  That’s impossible!  I would not believe you if you
were to say so.  A woman who does not love a man cannot be to him
what you have been to me: she does not give herself up thus so
joyously and so completely.  Have you, then, forgotten every thing?
Is it possible that you do not remember those divine evenings in the
Rue de Cirque?--those nights, the mere thought of which fires my
brain, and consumes my blood.”

He was horrible to look at, horrible and ridiculous at the same
time.  As he wished to take Mme. de Thaller’s hands, she stepped
back, and he followed her, dragging himself on his knees.

“Where could you find,” he continued, “a man to worship you like me,
with an ardent, absolute, blind, mad passion?  With what can you
reproach me?  Have I not sacrificed to you without a murmur every
thing that a man can sacrifice here below,--fortune, family, honor,
--to supply your extravagance, to anticipate your slightest fancies,
to give you gold to scatter by the handful?  Did I not leave my own
family struggling with poverty?  I would have snatched bread from
my children’s mouths in order to purchase roses to scatter under
your footsteps.  And for years did ever a word from me betray the
secret of our love?  What have I not endured?  You deceived me.  I
knew it, and I said nothing.  Upon a word from you I stepped aside
before him whom your caprice made happy for a day.  You told me,
‘Steal!’ and I stole.  You told me, ‘Kill!’ and I tried to kill.”

“Fly.  A man who has twelve hundred thousand francs in gold,
bank-notes, and good securities, can always get along.”

“And my wife and children?”

“Maxence is old enough to help his mother.  Gilberte will find a
husband: depend upon it.  Besides, what’s to prevent you from
sending them money?”

“They would refuse it.”

“You will always be a fool, my dear!”

To Vincent Favoral’s first stupor and miserable weakness now
succeeded a terrible passion.  All the blood had left his face:
his eyes was flashing.

“Then,” he resumed, “all is really over?”

“Of course.”

“Then I have been duped like the rest,--like that poor Marquis de
Tregars, whom you had made mad also.  But he, at least saved his
honor; whereas I--And I have no excuse; for I should have known.
I knew that you were but the bait which the Baron de Thaller held
out to his victims.”

He waited for an answer; but she maintained a contemptuous silence.

“Then you think,” he said with a threatening laugh, “that it will
all end that way?”

“What can you do?”

“There is such a thing as justice, I imagine, and judges too.  I can
give myself up, and reveal every thing.”

She shrugged her shoulders.

“That would be throwing yourself into the wolf’s mouth for nothing,”
 she said.  “You know better than any one else that my precautions
are well enough taken to defy any thing you can do or say.  I have
nothing to fear.”

“Are you quite sure of that?”

“Trust to me,” she said with a smile of perfect security.

The former cashier of the Mutual Credit made a terrible gesture; but,
checking himself at once, he seized one of the baroness’s hands.
She withdrew it quickly, however, and, in an accent of insurmountable
disgust,

“Enough, enough!” she said.

In the adjoining closet Marius de Tregars could feel Mme. Zelie
Cadelle shuddering by his side.

“What a wretch that woman is!” she murmured; “and he--what a base
coward!”

The former cashier remained prostrated, striking the floor with his
head.

“And you would forsake me,” he groaned, “when we are united by a
past such as ours!  How could you replace me?  Where would you find
a slave so devoted to your every wish?”

The baroness was getting impatient.

“Stop!” she interrupted,--“stop these demonstrations as useless
as ridiculous.”

This time he did start up, as if lashed with a whip and, double
locking the door which communicated with the ante-chamber, he put
the key in his pocket; and, with a step as stiff and mechanical as
that of an automaton, he disappeared in the sleeping-room.

“He is going for a weapon,” whispered Mme. Cadelle.

It was also what Marius thought.

“Run down quick,” he said to Mme. Zelie.  “In a cab standing
opposite No. 25, you will find Mlle. Gilberte Favoral waiting.  Let
her come at once.”

And, rushing into the parlor,

“Fly!” he said to Mme. Thaller.

But she was as petrified by this apparition.

“M. de Tregars!”

“Yes, yes, me.  But hurry and go!”

And he pushed her into the closet.

It was but time.  Vincent Favoral reappeared upon the threshold of
the bedroom.  But, if it was a weapon he had gone for, it was not
for the one which Marius and Mme. Cadelle supposed.  It was a bundle
of papers which he held in his hand.  Seeing M. de Tregars there,
instead of Mme. de Thaller, an exclamation of terror and surprise
rose to his lips.  He understood vaguely what must have taken place;
that the man who stood there must have been concealed in the glass
closet, and that he had assisted the baroness to escape.

“Ah, the miserable wretch!” he stammered with a tongue made thick
by passion, “the infamous wretch!  She has betrayed me; she has
surrendered me.  I am lost!”

Mastering the most terrible emotion he had ever felt,

“No, no! you shall not be surrendered,” uttered M. de Tregars.

Collecting all the energy that the devouring passion which had
blasted his existence had left him, the former cashier of the
Mutual Credit took one or two steps forward.

“Who are you, then?” he asked.

“Do you not know me?  I am the son of that unfortunate Marquis de
Tregars of whom you spoke a moment since.  I am Lucienne’s brother.”

Like a man who has received a stunning blow, Vincent Favoral sank
heavily upon a chair.

“He knows all,” he groaned.

“Yes, all!”

“You must hate me mortally.”

“I pity you.”

The old cashier had reached that point when all the faculties, after
being strained to their utmost limits, suddenly break down, when
the strongest man gives up, and weeps like a child.

“Ah, I am the most wretched of villains!” he exclaimed.

He had hid his face in his hands; and in one second,--as it happens,
they say, to the dying on the threshold of eternity,--he reviewed
his entire existence.

“And yet,” he said, “I had not the soul of a villain.  I wanted to
get rich; but honestly, by labor, and by rigid economy.  And I
should have succeeded.  I had a hundred and fifty thousand francs
of my own when I met the Baron de Thaller.  Alas! why did I meet
him?  ‘Twas he who first gave me to understand that it was stupid
to work and save, when, at the bourse, with moderate luck, one might
become a millionaire in six months.”

He stopped, shook his head, and suddenly,

“Do you know the Baron de Thaller?” he asked.  And, without giving
Marius time to answer,

“He is a German,” he went on, “a Prussian.  His father was a
cab-driver in Berlin, and his mother waiting-maid in a brewery.  At
the age of eighteen, he was compelled to leave his country, owing
to some petty swindle, and came to take up his residence in Paris.
He found employment in the office of a stock-broker, and was living
very poorly, when he made the acquaintance of a young laundress
named Affrays, who had for a lover a very wealthy gentleman, the
Marquis de Tregars, whose weakness was to pass himself off for a
poor clerk.  Affrays and Thaller were well calculated to agree.
They did agree, and formed an association,--she contributing her
beauty; he, his genius for intrigue; both, their corruption and
their vices.  Soon after they met, she gave birth to a child, a
daughter; whom she intrusted to some poor gardeners at Louveciennes,
with the firm and settled intention to leave her there forever.
And yet it was upon this daughter, whom they firmly hoped never to
see again, that the two accomplices were building their fortune.

“It was in the name of that daughter that Affrays wrung
considerable sums from the Marquis de Tregars.  As soon as Thaller
and she found themselves in possession of six hundred thousand
francs, they dismissed the marquis, and got married.  Already, at
that time, Thaller had taken the title of baron, and lived in some
style.  But his first speculations were not successful.  The
revolution of 1848 finished his ruin, and he was about being expelled
from the bourse, when he found me on his way,--I, poor fool, who
was going about everywhere, asking how I could advantageously invest
my hundred and fifty thousand francs.”

He was speaking in a hoarse voice, shaking his clinched fist in the
air, doubtless at the Baron de Thaller.

“Unfortunately,” he resumed, “it was only much later that I
discovered all this.  At the moment, M. de Thaller dazzled me.  His
friends, Saint Pavin and the bankers Jottras, proclaimed him the
smartest and the most honest man in France.  Still I would not have
given my money, if it had not been for the baroness.  The first time
that I was introduced to her, and that she fixed upon me her great
black eyes, I felt myself moved to the deepest recesses of my soul.
In order to see her again, I invited her, together with her husband
and her husband’s friends, to dine with me, by the side of my wife
and children.  She came.  Her husband made me sign every thing he
pleased; but, as she went off, she pressed my hand.”

He was still shuddering at the recollection of it, the poor fellow!

“The next day,” he went on, “I handed to Thaller all I had in the
world; and, in exchange, he gave me the position of cashier in the
Mutual Credit, which he had just founded.  He treated me like an
inferior, and did not admit me to visit his family.  But I didn’t
care: the baroness had permitted me to see her again, and almost
every afternoon I met her at the Tuileries; and I had made bold to
tell her that I loved her to desperation.  At last, one evening,
she consented to make an appointment with me for the second
following day, in an apartment which I had rented.

“The day before I was to meet her, and whilst I was beside myself
with joy, the Baron de Thaller requested me to assist him, by
means of certain irregular entries, to conceal a deficit arising
from unsuccessful speculations.  How could I refuse a man, whom,
as I thought, I was about to deceive grossly!  I did as he wished.
The next day Mme. de Thaller became my mistress; and I was a lost
man.”

Was he trying to exculpate himself?  Was he merely yielding to that
imperious sentiment, more powerful than the will or the reason,
which impels the criminal to reveal the secret which oppresses him?

“From that day,” he went on, “began for me the torment of that
double existence which I underwent for years.  I had given to my
mistress all I had in the world; and she was insatiable.  She
wanted money always, any way, and in heaps.  She made me buy the
house in the Rue du Cirque for our meetings; and, between the
demands of the husband and those of the wife, I was almost insane.
I drew from the funds of the Mutual Credit as from an inexhaustible
mine; and, as I foresaw that some day must come when all would be
discovered, I always carried about me a loaded revolver, with
which to blow out my brains when they came to arrest me.”

And he showed to Marius the handle of a revolver protruding from his
pocket.

“And if only she had been faithful to me!” he continued, becoming
more and more animated.  “But what have I not endured!  When the
Marquis de Tregars returned to Paris, and they set about defrauding
him of his fortune, she did not hesitate a moment to become his
mistress again.  She used to tell me, ‘What a fool you are! all
I want is his money.  I love no one but you.’  But after his death
she took others.  She made use of our house in the Rue du Cirque
for purposes of dissipation for herself and her daughter Cesarine.
And I--miserable coward that I was!--I suffered all, so much
did I tremble to lose her, so much did I fear to be weaned from
the semblance of love with which she paid my fearful sacrifices.
And now she would betray me, forsake me!  For every thing that has
taken place was suggested by her in order to procure a sum wherewith
to fly to America.  It was she who imagined the wretched comedy
which I played, so as to throw upon myself the whole responsibility.
M. de Thaller has had millions for his share: I have only had twelve
hundred thousand francs.”

Violent nervous shudders shook his frame: his face became purple.
He drew himself up, and, brandishing the letters which he held in
his hand,

“But all is not over!” he exclaimed.  “There are proofs which
neither the baron nor his wife know that I have.  I have the proof
of the infamous swindle of which the Marquis de Tregars was the
victim.  I have the proof of the farce got up by M. de Thaller and
myself to defraud the stockholders of the Mutual Credit!”

“What do you hope for?”

He was laughing a stupid laugh.

“I?  I shall go and hide myself in some suburb of Paris, and write
to Affrays to come.  She knows that I have twelve hundred thousand
francs.  She will come; and she will keep coming as long as I have
any money.  And when I have no more:--”

He stopped short, starting back, his arms outstretched as if to
repel a terrifying apparition.  Mlle. Gilberte had just appeared
at the door.

“My daughter!” stammered the wretch.  “Gilberte!”

“The Marquise de Tregars,” uttered Marius.

An inexpressible look of terror and anguish convulsed the features
of Vincent Favoral: he guessed that it was the end.

“What do you want with me?” he stammered.

“The money that you have stolen, father,” replied the girl in an
inexorable tone of voice,--“the twelve hundred thousand francs which
you have here, then the proofs which are in your hands, and, finally
your weapons.”

He was trembling from head to foot.

“Take away my money!” he said.  “Why, that would be compelling me
to give myself up!  Do you wish to see me in prison?”

“The disgrace would fall back upon your children, sir,” said M. de
Tregars.  “We shall, on the contrary, do every thing in the world
to enable you to evade the pursuit of the police.”

“Well, yes, then.  But to-morrow I must write to Affrays: I must
see her!”

“You have lost your mind, father,” said Mlle. Gilberte.  “Come, do
as I ask you.”

He drew himself up to his full height.

“And suppose I refuse?”

But it was the last effort of his will.  He yielded, though not
without an agonizing struggle and gave up to his daughter the
money, the proofs and the arms.  And as she was walking away,
leaning on M. de Tregars’ arm,

“But send me your mother, at least,” he begged.  “She will
understand me: she will not be without pity.  She is my wife: let
her come quick.  I will not, I can not remain alone.”



XII

It was with convulsive haste that the Baroness de Thaller went over
the distance that separated the Rue St. Lazare from the Rue de la
Pepiniere.  The sudden intervention of M. de Tregars had upset all
her ideas.  The most sinister presentiments agitated her mind.  In
the courtyard of her residence, all the servants, gathered in a
group, were talking.  They did not take the trouble to stand aside
to let her pass; and she even noticed some smiles and ironical
gigglings.  This was a terrible blow to her.  What was the matter?
What had they heard?  In the magnificent vestibule, a man was
sitting as she came in.  It was the same suspicious character that
Marius de Tregars had seen in the grand parlor, in close conference
with the baroness.

“Bad news,” he said with a sheepish look.

“What?”

“That little Lucienne must have her soul riveted to her body.  She
is only wounded; and she’ll get over it.”

“Never mind Lucienne.  What about M. de Tregars?”

“Oh! he is another sharp one.  Instead of taking up our man’s
provocation, he collared him, and took away from him the note I
had sent him.”

Mme. de Thaller started violently.

“What is the meaning, then,” she asked, “of your letter of last
night, in which you requested me to hand two thousand francs to
the bearer?”

The man became pale as death.

“You received a letter from me,” he stammered, “last night?”

“Yes, from you; and I gave the money.”

The man struck his forehead.

“I understand it all!” he exclaimed.

“What?”

“They wanted proofs.  They imitated my handwriting, and you swallowed
the bait.  That’s the reason why I spent the night in the
station-house; and, if they let me go this morning, it was to find
out where I’d go.  I have been followed, they are shadowing me.  We
are gone up, Mme. le Baronne.  _Sauve qui peut!_”

And he ran out.

More agitated than ever Mme. de Thaller went up stairs.  In the
little red-and-gold parlor, the Baron de Thaller and Mlle. Cesarine
were waiting for her.  Stretched upon an arm-chair, her legs crossed,
the tip of her boot on a level with her eye, Mlle. Cesarine, with
a look of ironical curiosity, was watching her father, who, livid
and trembling with nervous excitement, was walking up and down, like
a wild beast in his cage.  As soon as the baroness appeared,

“Things are going badly,” said her husband, “very badly.  Our game
is devilishly compromised.”

“You think so?”

“I am but too sure of it.  Such a well-combined stroke too!  But
every thing is against us.  In presence of the examining magistrate,
Jottras held out well; but Saint Pavin spoke.  That dirty rascal
was not satisfied with the share allotted to him.  On the
information furnished by him, Costeclar was arrested this morning.
And Costeclar knows all, since he has been your confidant, Vincent
Favoral’s, and my own.  When a man has, like him, two or three
forgeries in his record, he is sure to speak.  He will speak.
Perhaps he has already done so, since the police has taken
possession of Latterman’s office, with whom I had organized the
panic and the tumble in the Mutual Credit stock.  What can we do
to ward off this blow?”

With a surer glance than her husband, Mme. de Thaller had measured
the situation.

“Do not try to ward it off,” she replied: “It would be useless.”

“Because?”

“Because M. de Tregars has found Vincent Favoral; because, at this
very moment, they are together, arranging their plans.”

The baron made a terrible gesture.

“Ah, thunder and lightning!” he exclaimed. “I always told you that
this stupid fool, Favoral, would cause our ruin.  It was so easy
for you to find an occasion for him to blow his brains out.”

“Was it so difficult for you to accept M. de Tregars’ offers?”

“It was you who made me refuse.”

“Was it me, too, who was so anxious to get rid of Lucienne?”

For years, Mlle. Cesarine had not seemed so amused; and, in a half
whisper, she was humming the famous tune, from “The Pearl of
Poutoise,”

        “Happy accord!  Happy couple!”

M. de Thaller, beside himself, was advancing to seize the baroness:
she was drawing back, knowing him, perhaps to be capable of any
thing, when suddenly there was a violent knocking at the door.

“In the name of the law!”

It was a commissary of police.

And, whilst surrounded by agents, they were taken to a cab.

                    *   *   *

“Orphan on both sides!” exclaimed Mlle. Cesarine, “I am free, then.
Now we’ll have some fun!”

At that very moment, M. de Tregars and Mlle. Gilberte reached the
Rue St. Gilles.

Hearing that her husband had been found,

“I must see him!” exclaimed Mme. Favoral.

And, in spite of any thing they could tell her, she threw a shawl
over her shoulders, and started with Mlle. Gilberte.

When they had entered Mme. Zelie’s apartment, of which they had a
key, they found in the parlor, with his back towards them, Vincent
Favoral sitting at the table, leaning forward, and apparently
writing.  Mme. Favoral approached on tiptoe, and over her husband’s
shoulder she read what he had just written,

“Affrays, my beloved, eternally-adored mistress, will you forgive
me?  The money that I was keeping for you, my darling, the proofs
which will crush your husband--they have taken every thing from me,
basely, by force.  And it is my daughter--”

He had stopped there.  Surprised at his immobility, Mme. Favoral
called,

“Vincent!”

He made no answer.  She pushed him with her finger.  He rolled to
the ground.  He was dead.

Three months later the great Mutual Credit suit was tried before
the Sixth Court.  The scandal was great; but public curiosity was
strangely disappointed.  As in most of these financial affairs,
justice, whilst exposing the most audacious frauds, was not able
to unravel the true secret.

She managed, at least, to lay hands upon every thing that the
Baron de Thaller had hoped to save.  That worthy was condemned to
five years’ prison; M. Costeclar got off with three years; and M.
Jottras with two.  M. Saint Pavin was acquitted.

Arrested for subornation of murder, the former Marquise de Javelle
the Baroness de Thaller, was released for want of proper proof.  But,
implicated in the suit against her husband, she lost three-fourths
of her fortune, and is now living with her daughter, whose debut is
announced at the Bouffes-Parisiens, or at the Delassements-Comiques.

Already, before that time, Mlle. Lucienne, completely restored, had
married Maxence Favoral.

Of the five hundred thousand francs which were returned to her, she
applied three hundred thousand to discharge the debts of her
father-in-law, and with the rest she induced her husband to emigrate
to America.  Paris had become odious to both.

Marius and Mlle. Gilberte, who has now become Marquise de Tregars,
have taken up their residence at the Chateau de Tregars, three
leagues from Quimper.  They have been followed in their retreat by
Mme. Favoral and by General Count de Villegre.

The greater portion of his father’s fortune, Marius had applied to
pay off all the personal creditors of the former cashier of the
Mutual Credit, all the trades-people, and also M. Chapelain, old
man Desormeaux, and M. and Mme. Desclavettes.

All that is left to the Marquis and Marquise de Tregars is some
twenty thousand francs a year, and if they ever lose them, it will
not be at the bourse.

The Mutual Credit is quoted at 467.25!





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