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Other People's Money by Emile Gaboriau

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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

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