Part 2 out of 10
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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."
To think of a profession, Maxence Favoral had not waited for the
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
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
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
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.
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
"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."
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
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
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
"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
M. Chapelain made an ill-concealed grimace; whilst M. Desclavettes
sincerely admired a man who had courage enough to confess his
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
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
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
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
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."
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
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,
"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.
"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
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?"
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
Contrary to his habit, Maxence did not offer any denial.
"I expect to pay all I owe," he said.
"I give my word I will!"
"And with what, pray?"
"With my salary."
"You have a salary, then?"
"I have what I earn at my employer's."
"The architect in whose office M. Chapelain helped me to find a
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
"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?"
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
"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
"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
"You are wrong to resist your father thus," murmured the weak Mme.
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
"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?"
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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.
"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
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
"What is the matter?" she asked, somewhat alarmed. "What are you
"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
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
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
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
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
"Why do you ask the question?" said she.
"Because I have had such a strange one."
"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
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!"
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
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
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
Not quite convinced, Mme. Favoral shook her head.
"Then," said she, "you will yield."
"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
"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
"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."
"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."
"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
"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
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
The liveliest joy beamed upon his face, more shriveled than an
apple at Easter; and the most magnificent anticipations sparkled in
"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
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
"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
"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:
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
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